Faced with crises but full of cash, the McKee administration unveils three budgets

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“It’s been said that the four most dangerous words in finance are ‘This time it’s different,’ but budgeting in a time of COVID requires some focus on unique issues that we need to address,” said the administrative manager James E. Thorsen. “Specifically, protecting Rhode Islanders in the midst of a global pandemic, providing a fiscally responsible proposal to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars, and laying the foundation for a sustainable recovery.”

The General Assembly has already approved spending $119 million of Rhode Island’s American Rescue Plan Act funding — a 10% “down payment” on pandemic recovery measures. But on Thursday, budget officials laid out plans for the full $1.13 billion.

The biggest chunk, $250 million, would go to housing and homeless assistance. This includes $90 million to “create and preserve” about 1,500 units for households earning up to 80% of the region’s median income ($69,200 for a four-person household).

This includes $50 million in down payment assistance. “Homeownership is one of the most important ways to build generational wealth, but Rhode Island has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the country, largely because many households cannot pay the down payment,” the budget says.

This includes a $25 million grant program, administered by Rhode Island Housing, for the acquisition of properties to be redeveloped into affordable housing. That could help Central Falls, which is seeking $4.5 million for site acquisition costs to build about 200 apartments in the densely populated small town.

This includes $20 million to support “workforce housing” projects. “One thing we’ve heard from working-class and middle-class families in Rhode Island is that it’s hard to find housing if there’s no housing stock,” said the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Brian Daniels. “Sometimes there is a funding gap that makes it difficult to build housing for the workforce.”

And that includes $26.5 million to help people experiencing homelessness or housing instability. “So you have a continuum of services from homelessness assistance to down payment assistance to making sure all Rhode Islanders have access to housing,” Daniels said.

The administration is under increasing pressure to tap into federal funds to address homelessness.

In December, McKee announced the addition of 130 more beds in emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness. It came after lawyers accused the McKee administration of sitting on millions in federal relief funds as a homelessness crisis worsened and winter weather set in. in tents outside the State House to push for action on homelessness.

The state must budget the $1.13 billion by the end of 2024 for projects completed by the end of 2026. In addition to the $250 million for housing, this budget includes:

  • $211.8 million for economic and workforce development
  • $180.5 million for assistance to small businesses and industries affected by the pandemic
  • $152.2 million for public health
  • $132 million for climate change initiatives
  • $118.5 million for children, families and education
  • $42.3 million for behavioral health
  • $26.4 million for public infrastructure and technology
  • $16.9 million for administrative costs

In December, Rhode Island children’s advocate Jennifer Grifith sounded the alarm, telling a state Senate committee that children in state care were not getting the services they needed. and were often shipped out of state. “When I tell you that the situation has become much more serious and frankly dangerous over the past 60 days, I tell you the truth,” she said at the time. “I tell you that we are at an extreme level of desperation.”

The budget proposal includes $6 million to establish one or more psychiatric residential treatment facilities.

“Rhode Island does not have intensive residential treatment options for adolescent girls and young women who face serious and complex behavioral health issues,” the budget states. “The funding will support at least one (facility) and prevent disruptive out-of-state placements for this vulnerable population.”

Budget officials said the funding could support two or three facilities, but they did not have specifics on locations.

The budget includes $15 million to set up “municipal learning centers,” which would offer programs such as tutoring, art and music lessons, early education opportunities and purpose-built services. non-profit. The programs would be available all year round, but especially during after-school periods and holidays. Centers would start in 11 communities, but the goal is to have at least one in each of the state’s 39 cities and towns.

The budget proposal includes $10 million for a “minority business accelerator” that would provide support such as technical and financial assistance, entrepreneurship training, co-working and programming space, and access to low interest loans.

The proposal includes $3.3 million to equip adult correctional facilities with a Wi-Fi network.

“When programming was halted at adult correctional facilities to slow the spread of COVID-19 early in the pandemic, educational opportunities were delayed because the facility lacked the Wi-Fi connectivity needed to online learning,” says Budget. “Reliable internet access will allow incarcerated people to take online courses and gain the skills needed for education and employment after release, helping to reduce transitional barriers”

And the proposal includes $46 million to renovate the Port of Galilee, which takes in more than 48 million pounds of seafood each year, making it one of the largest commercial fishing ports on the East Coast. The funding would be used to replace the north bulkhead, replace the docks and upgrade the Coastal Resources Maintenance Building.

In his state budget proposal, McKee again proposed legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults. A similar proposal was stalled in last year’s legislative session, in part because the Senate proposal would create a new Cannabis Control Commission, while McKee’s proposal would retain those regulatory powers in the Department of Drug Regulation. state affairs.

The budget proposes a program “rooted in the principles of fairness, public health and safety”. It would invest in health equity areas and in law enforcement training, and it would allow automatic overturning of marijuana-related convictions. The proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on growing marijuana, an additional 10% excise tax on retail sales, and also apply a sales tax to cannabis transactions.

The state budget proposal would continue to phase out the motor vehicle excise tax — a cause championed by former House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello. The budget includes $166.6 million to compensate cities and towns for lost revenue.

McKee proposes to submit three borrowing proposals totaling $350 million to the November ballot:

  • A $250 million K-12 school building bond, which would provide $200 million for school construction projects and $50 million for the authority’s capital fund school building fund to fund projects to address gaps in health and fire safety codes.
  • A $62 million bond for higher education, including $50 million for improvements to the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay campus.
  • A $38 million Green Economy Bond, including $16 million for matching grants to help municipalities improve the resilience of infrastructure, vulnerable coastal habitats and floodplains, $5 million for grants for removing barriers to clean energy projects, $3 million to restore and protect water quality, and $3 million for forest and wildlife habitat.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.

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