Lawmakers approve plan to close $250M deficit from virus

The Rhode Island State House. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s Legislature approved Thursday a plan to close a roughly $250 million deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The General Assembly’s House and Senate debated and voted on the plan approved earlier this week by their finance committees. The House voted 60 to 13 and the Senate 31-7 in favor of the plan.

A part of the budget repair measure proposed by Democratic leaders allocates about $120 million of the state’s $200 million rainy day fund as well as federal money to mostly cover the shortfall in the budget year that ends June 30.

The revised $11.8 billion budget for the current year represents a $1.8 billion increase from the spending plan lawmakers approved last July, much of that also due to federal aid for the pandemic.

The legislature is expected to reconvene later this summer to address a more than $500 million shortfall for the next budget year, which starts July 1.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Assembly leaders say they’re waiting to see whether Congress plans to provide states with further aid.

The legislature convened Wednesday for the first time since the pandemic hit in March with three-sided plexiglass partitions installed around lawmaker desks and the main rostrums in the House and Senate chambers.

The protective barriers cost more than $166,000 to install, according to the legislature.

On Thursday, Rhode Island health officials reported nine new coronavirus deaths and 50 new cases. That brings the death toll in the state to 885. The state has reported more than 16,000 cases.