2015-06-04 / Opinion

Adjournment on the Horizon

EDITORIAL

Unless backers of a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in downtown Providence stage a ninth inning rally requiring legislative action, the General Assembly will probably adjourn its 2015 session by the end of this month.

As usual, the most important issues–jobs and the economy according to Newport-area lawmakers–will not finally unravel until the “11th hour"–or probably more like 3 a.m.

We are about to learn of the House Finance Committee’s “edits” to Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s proposed 2015-2016 $8.6 billion state budget. That is usually the tipoff as to where House and Senate Democratic Assembly leaders want to take the final state spending blueprint for the fiscal year.

If history is an accurate indicator, this will all be worked out between the Democratic governor and Democrat leaders just before it’s time to send lawmakers home.

Of course this year, not long after the governor unveiled her first state budget, word came down from state bean counters that–lo and behold–they were expecting a $143 million surplus for the current fiscal year. Add to that another $30 million available because of lowerthan expected “caseload” expenses and the one-time total of surplus revenue reached $173 million.

Political leaders quickly began talking in positive tones about Rhode Island’s improving economic prospects. A few checked in with lists of how best to spend the found money. We urge caution in that regard. Using one-time found money for new recurring expenses will only imperil the ability to balance future state budgets.

As Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, so ably put it, “One-time money should be used for one-time expenses.” We agree.

Meanwhile, those extra funds have transformed this year’s budgetmaking exercise from a high wire act without a net to a pleasant walk down Bellevue Avenue. We wholeheartedly agree with those leaders who have suggested that some of the surplus should be used to further address infrastructure problems with the state’s roads and bridges.

Take a ride, any ride, be it around Aquidneck Island or all over the state of Rhode Island, and you’ll encounter roadways and bridges in a deteriorated state. There is no time to lose on this, but the reality is that it will take years to address all of the infrastructure issues we face in Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, other legislation lingers quietly offstage. One such measure that has been around the Statehouse for several years now is H-5777. In the Senate, the bill is S-510–"The Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act." In simpler English, the bills would legalize possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and would regulate “the manufacture, sale and taxation” of the substance.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello has been quoted as saying “It’s an issue that will come up and we’ll consider it.” Gov. Raimondo has said, “It’s something we should evaluate.”

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