PROVIDENCE – The state House Republican caucus issued a fact sheet on nationwide action over budgets and the distribution of Coronavirus Relief Funds today, noting that Rhode Island is an outlier when it comes to not convening the legislature, or handing out needed federal aid to towns.
The fact sheet noted that 16 states across the U.S. enacted biennial budgets in 2019 for fiscal years 20 and 21, and of the remaining 34 states, 30 states were able to pass a FY21 budget prior to October 16.
Of the four states still without a FY21 budget, two convened to pass interim budgets during COVID. Only Rhode Island and South Carolina have not passed a budget covering FY21 or an interim budget.
Further, the caucus noted that most of the states in the northeast are distributing the federal Coronavirus Relief Funds at a far higher rate than Rhode Island.
The information echoes ongoing discussion of the Burrillville Town Council, where members have had much to say about the legislature’s inaction.
At a recent meeting, Councilor Raymond Trinque pointed to all of the workers who didn’t have the option to stay home through the pandemic, from nurses to grocery store employees.
“They’re working. Why isn’t the legislature working?” Trinque asked. “If there’s anyone that’s essential… they’re the only one that can make laws.”
“Get back to work, guys,” urged Council President John Pacheco. “We all know why this is happening. No one wants to go back to the state house and vote on anything before the election.”
Councilor Donald Fox urged his colleagues to be prepared to take legal action.
“If they were doing their job, we wouldn’t have authoritarian leadership for the past 7 months,” Fox said.
Town Manager Michael Wood agreed.
“The governor and legislature need to get back to business,” Wood said. “The longer we wait, the worse it is.”
Town officials are currently crafting a letter urging the state legislature to take action, and do something to help communities struggling with ongoing financial uncertainty. The board is expected to vote on the issue at their next meeting.
“It’s going to be bad for Burrillville, and we are not in a bad place,” compared to some Rhode Island communities, noted Trinque. “We have money.”
Rep. David Place of Burrillville has been among those in the Republican caucus urging a return of the state legislature.
“The consistent message I receive from constituents as I go door to door in District 47, is that the General Assembly needs to take action,” Place said.
“At a bare minimum, the General Assembly needs to begin to conduct oversight of the Governor’s Executive Orders, while most folks are calling on us to get back to work and to do our jobs.”
The Republican note that the data released today contradicts recent statements by the Speaker of the House and the governor indicating that Rhode Island is in lock-step with neighboring states regarding the status of the budget, the convening of the General Assembly, and the disbursement of relief funds, demonstrating that the state is, in fact, an outlier.
The RI legislature did reconvene in-person the week of July 13 to approve a 2020 supplemental budget and has held two joint COVID Relief Task Force meetings, and multiple Finance Committee meetings, with testimony offered via remote participation methods.
But Rhode Island has not passed a 2021 budget, and is operating off of FY20’s funding levels. The only other state operating at 2020 levels nationally is South Carolina.
On the subject of Coronavirus Relief Funds, Rhode Island had spent 24 percent of the $1.25 billion the state received in federal aid as of September 30, according to the memo.
By comparison, Connecticut has spent 71 percent; Massachusetts, 83 percent; New Hampshire, 80 percent; Vermont, 100 percent; Maine, 55 percent; New York, 42 percent; Pennsylvania, 67 percent; Delaware, 66 percent; and Maryland, 93 percent.
Of the north-eastern states, only New Jersey was behind Rhode Island in documenting the distribution of relief, with 10 percent spent as of July 22, and numbers not scheduled to be updated again until December.
“Accordingly, the Rhode Island House Republican Caucus again calls on the General Assembly to reconvene and undertake the necessary work to pass a full or interim budget, and for the governor to begin the rapid disbursement of the Coronavirus Relief Funds – just as our neighbors have effectively done for months,” the fact sheet noted.