Most states across the country and all of Rhode Island’s neighbors in New England have spent at least some of their share of US bailout aid, but the Ocean State has taken a more deliberate approach. .
Although Governor Dan McKee has attempted to dip into some of the $ 1.1 billion in state bank accounts, the General Assembly has so far ruled it out.
Now, as advocates turn around and next year’s election looms, lawmakers begin the process of figuring out what to do.
Next Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee and a special House task force will hold separate meetings to determine when the state may start scavenging for money between the proverbial couch cushions.
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Senate Finance Chairman Ryan Pearson said the first order of business for next week’s meeting will be to get a feel for what other states have done.
According to a map from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states plus Rhode Island have not earmarked any of their bailout money. (These do not include Idaho, which NCSL says has set aside $ 50 million for “unspecified needs” or New York, which it says sets deadlines for spending the money in. ‘by next April, but not how it will be spent.)
States were supposed to file written plans on how they would spend their bailout money with the federal government. Rhode Island’s submission details how it spent other federal dollars in COVID relief, but indicates that planning for the $ 1.1 billion is underway.
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About a dozen states have not posted plans on the National Association of State Budget Officers website.
Pearson said on Friday he believed lawmakers were right not to try to spend the $ 1.1 billion before ending their normal legislative session this summer.
“The first thing we need to do is align with our goals,” said Pearson. “I’m not sure spending the money is fair.”
Pearson, who is considering a post as treasurer general next year, said the state is also monitoring whether the bipartisan federal infrastructure package agreed to earlier this year passes Congress, easing some possible state needs.
McKee lobbied unsuccessfully for bailout money to build a new state health lab, then later hosted a series of Facebook Live sessions on how it could be spent, but no did not make a detailed proposal.
Pearson said he still expects the governor to testify on the use of the money this fall and wants to hear from interest groups and members of the public on how the money should be spent.
A committee formed by the Rhode Island Foundation, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and the Economic Progress Institute is also expected to present recommendations in mid-October.
Pearson said he believes the $ 1.1 billion should be spent outside of the normal annual budget process so that it goes towards future investments and not just existing operations. This could mean approving spending in installments instead of an annual budget at the end of the fiscal year.
When asked why Rhode Island is moving so much slower than its neighbors, Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi said it was about getting more public comment.
“We have kept the full amount for a more robust public process on the proposed uses for these funds, which are available for use over multiple years,” Shekarchi said in an email. “The working group is designed as one of many aspects of this process and will focus on developing a more in-depth understanding of permitted uses, expected updates to federal use guidelines, experience in other states and other relevant information that will help inform future deliberations. “
House and Senate leaders have been in talks with McKee and his aides on a number of topics, including bailout money and the legalization of marijuana.
The outcome of these talks will likely determine whether the Plenary Assembly resumes its sessions this fall.
On Twitter: @PatrickAnderso_