Much like its House counterpart, the Senate Finance Committee passed the FY16 budget bill unanimously with almost no discussion other than to speak on its merits.
“I would certainly characterize this budget as one that is not only ambitious, but one that makes a significant investment in areas that should have been invested in in the past,” Chairman Daniel DaPonte (D- District 14) said to begin the meeting. He added in a press release that the budget helps to put Rhode Island back on the right track economically.
“This is a budget that Rhode Island’s economy needs and through its passage will continue the economic stability and reform that delivers the message that Rhode Island’s economy is back and open for business.”
One of the short discussion points brought up during the meeting was whether or not the budget provided opportunities for youth.
“There have been some pockets that have been filled here, but I suggest that next year we consider providing more job opportunities for youth,” Senator Juan Pichardo (D- District 2) said.
DaPonte agreed with Pichardo, but also reminded the committee that there is no one specific way to keep youth working in the state.
“I think initiatives to focus on keeping young people here and getting them up and running are incorporated in the budget in a variety of different places and a variety of different ways,” he said. “I think the sum of all these parts is a statement to us not only wanting to keep these folks here, but increase the number of opportunities available.”
The night before, the House of Representatives was very kind to the bill as well, passing it through to the Senate after a swift three-hour session. Before its passage, many took the time to thank not only House Finance Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison (D- District 69), and Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, but the House Fiscal Advisory staff as well.
Other groups outside of the State House are also pleased with the budget. Planned Parenthood, which fought against the restrictive abortion insurance coverage in Article 18, said in a press release that they are pleased with the outcome of the bill.
“While we were disappointed the governor unnecessarily chose to widely expand the number of plans that do not cover abortion beyond federal minimum standards, the action by the General Assembly today ensures employers cannot unilaterally limit reproductive health care service coverage for their employers. This amendment will require employers and insurance carriers to clearly indicate when an employer is opting out of covering certain reproductive healthcare services, so that no one will be surprised by a lack of coverage for routine procedures.”
But, while many have championed the budget as a success story, there are still those that are dissatisfied. Common Cause Rhode Island, an advocacy and lobbyist group for transparent government, has expressed discontent with the budget’s provision for Governor Raimondo’s pension settlement.
“This extraordinary legislation, that will affect every Rhode Islander – and every Rhode Island state and municipal budget – for decades, should not be rolled into the annual budget as if it were just another article,” said executive director John Marion. “The budget debate that typically occurs in a single evening and includes debates on amendments concerning dozens of issues is not the place for this important legislation. It deserves special consideration so legislators, as much as they did in the special session in 2011, can take this up on the merits alone.”