Thursday, June 30, 2011

R.I. Budget Approved with Cuts to Developmental Disability Funding

PROVIDENCE, R.I. –– A $7.7-billion state budget for the year that begins Friday cleared the General Assembly on a hectic day at the State House, and now heads to Governor Chafee for his signature.

The tax-and-spending plan, approved on a 30-to-7 vote of the state Senate on Wednesday, was part of a packed agenda for lawmakers, who are pushing to bring the 2011 legislative session to a close by the end of the week, in time for the July 4 holiday.

Representatives and senators faced potential votes on more than 100 bills, including a number of controversial proposals that have been hotly debated all session.

The Senate passed legislation, already passed by the House, creating civil unions for gay couples in Rhode Island, and sent that to the governor. A key House committee took up legislation, already approved by the Senate, that would determine who controls the disposition of more than 40 prime acres of Providence real estate opened by the relocation of Route 195.

Meanwhile, opponents of binding arbitration flocked to the State House to pack hearing rooms in an effort to dissuade lawmakers from passing bills that, they claimed, will bring Rhode Island’s already financially struggling cities and towns to their knees.

“It makes no sense during the final 48 hours of this legislative session to rush this through,” complained Daniel L. Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

Senate budget approval followed more than one hour of debate in which a number of proposals to significantly alter the spending plan were resoundingly rejected leaving the House-approved plan unchanged.

Senate Republicans, by far the minority in the chamber, launched failed bids to repeal the $500 corporate-minimum tax and to introduce changes to state worker pensions.

Sen. John J. Tassoni, Jr., D-Smithfield, a former top-ranking labor union official, wanted to strike down language eliminating new longevity pay increases for state workers, a controversial part of the budget that unions say violates their collective bargaining rights.

And Sen. Harold M. Metts, D-Providence, failed in his attempt to add funding to human-service programs dealing with housing, subsidized health insurance for low-income families, and programs for the developmentally disabled.

“I agonized over the cuts to the most vulnerable in our society,” said Metts, whose district covers South Providence. “Why are we helping AIG and Bank of America, but we can’t help the poor? I can’t understand it.”

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