- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A budget with tax cuts for business passes, a report about the Providence VA uncovers some concerns and the first gubernatorial debate puts the three Democrats on stage together. Here are five things to know in Rhode Island:


The corporate and estate taxes would be cut and the gas tax would go up under an $8.7 billion budget plan passed by the House and set to be voted on in the Senate. The penny increase in the gas tax would eliminate a toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge that has been vociferously opposed by many residents and lawmakers on Aquidneck Island and in the East Bay. Despite objections from some lawmakers, the budget also includes a $12.3 million payment to cover losses in the $75 million deal with former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios.


Now that the budget has passed the House, lawmakers hope to wrap up their work for 2014 by Friday. Both the House and Senate plan to meet in rare Monday sessions to help meet that target. Among the outstanding issues are whether to raise the minimum wage by $1 per hour to $9, a measure that passed the Senate and awaits a House vote, and whether to eliminate straight-ticket voting, a bill that was approved in the House but still needs Senate approval.


Veterans Affairs data released this week shows the Providence VA had some of the longest wait times and highest mortality rates among VA facilities nationwide. Ninety percent of other VAs reported a lower mortality rate, but Providence VA spokeswoman Leslie Pierson says the number was inflated because the staff had incorrectly categorized hospice patients. She said the average projected wait time in April for new patients was closer to 35 days, not the reported 74 days. She said they are adding primary care teams at the hospital and at its outpatient clinic in Hyannis, Massachusetts, to address the wait times.


Few substantial policy differences emerged as the three Democrats running for governor met for the first debate of the 2014 election. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and former Obama administration official Clay Pell said they would focus on the bad economy if elected. They split on whether to appoint an independent commission to probe the 38 Studios deal, with Raimondo and Pell backing the idea and Taveras saying he’d let a criminal investigation and lawsuit conclude first. The Republicans - Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and businessman Ken Block - meet for their first debate Tuesday.


Gov. Lincoln Chafee and his five New England counterparts will meet Tuesday in Massachusetts to map out a regional response to what the Rhode Island Health Department has called a severe prescription and street-drug overdose crisis. Among the topics they plan to discuss is how to coordinate treatment and how law enforcement agencies can work together to keep opioids from being transported across state lines.

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