After much deliberation, the House Finance Committee gave a unanimous 19-0 vote on the FY 2016 budget late on Tuesday night, which included $37.7 million more than the proposed budget given by Governor Gina Raimondo back in March. The legislative budget proposal is for $8.67 billion dollars, with $3.55 billion from general revenue contributing to that.
“We concur with many of the governor’s initiatives for economic development,” House Finance Chairman Raymond Gallison (D-District 69) said in a press briefing tonight.
According to Gallison, the committee, in large part, accepted Raimondo’s budget, but there were some key provisions that saw change, including Social Security, Medicaid, and sales taxes to businesses.
Those who made between $80,000 and $100,000 will be exempt from paying social security income tax. These tax cuts will give retired Rhode Islanders $9.3 million in tax relief. Businesses are also now exempt from paying the sales tax on corporate utilities. Governor Raimondo had originally proposed phasing it out over five years, but will instead be taken out all at once this year. The earned income tax credit for middle to low income households has also increased from 10 percent to 12.5 percent.
The budget outlines a 2.5 percent Medicaid cut for hospitals, and a 2 percent cut for nursing homes. Gallison said this provides more protection for nursing homes. The House budget cuts Medicaid roughly $67 million, a far cry from the $90 million that the governor had proposed, but the hospital license fee has been increased to 5.862 percent, which would bring in $13 million in additional revenue.
“Funding to maintain HealthSource RI is included in the budget,” Gallison said, outlining the distribution changes to its funding. Now, individuals will pay a surcharge of 2.86 percent on their monthly premiums, and businesses will pay a .59 percent surcharge. The budget allocates $2.6 million for HealthSource RI going into FY 2016. There is also no more additional surcharge for outpatient and imaging services.
Full-day kindergarten is another key provision, with the governor allocating $1.4 million from general revenue to fund programs in the seven communities that don’t offer full-day kindergarten yet. Educational aid was increased by $35.8 million in order to pour money into the educational funding formula. There was also $20 million added for school construction purposes.
Higher education saw an increase of $7 million. The Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority is being downsized, with its responsibilities now being transferred to the Council of Post Secondary Education and the Office of the General Treasurer.
Other major provisions within the bill include cuts to all eight local tourism bureaus, a $2 million increase for RIPTA, and a $0.25 increase in the state sales tax on cigarettes, bringing it up to $3.75 per pack. The tax increase is estimated to bring in $1.7 million in revenue.
What is absent from the budget is just as significant as what is present.
“This budget does not contain anything whatsoever to do with a proposal for a stadium, or any tolls on trucks as proposed by the governor,” Gallison said during the hearing. Also notably absent is the “Taylor Swift tax” on million dollar homes in the state.
Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello has gone on the record saying that the proposed budget is business friendly, and will allow for economic development in the state.
“The budget that’s going to be voted on tonight is very pro-business, pro-economy. It’s going to serve as a catalyst for existing businesses as well as working to attract new businesses to the state of Rhode Island,” he told members of the media on Tuesday.
Gallison agreed with that sentiment, giving his own statement at the beginning of the hearing.
“We continue to move Rhode Island onto an economic path to enable businesses to continue to grow,” he said.
The bill is scheduled to go to the House of Representatives floor next Tuesday.