- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - House lawmakers are expected to consider a new budget plan next week, a plan to end tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge could mean an increase in the gas tax and Navy sailors might have to travel a bit if they want to keep smoking. Here are five things to know in Rhode Island:


A budget plan that would reduce the corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 7 percent and increase the estate tax threshold to $1.5 million passed the House Finance Committee and is expected to be taken up Thursday by the full House. But several lawmakers expressed concerns about some of its provisions, including the repayment of bonds that financed 38 Studios’ disastrous $75 million state-backed loan. It needs 50 votes to pass in the 75-member chamber. It would then go to the Senate.


A plan to end the toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge would increase the gas tax by a penny starting in July 2015. The money would be used to set up a statewide transportation infrastructure fund that would pay to maintain roads and bridges across the state. It was passed as part of the budget bill but must still be approved by the full House and Senate. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority has spent $4.6 million to $5 million installing toll collection equipment on the bridge and so far has only collected $677,500 on the 10-cent toll.


The owner of Rhode Island’s tallest building went before the Senate Finance Committee to ask for $39 million in state aid to redevelop it into apartments. Supporters of the plan say the success of the city’s downtown is closely tied to the success of the 26-story building, which has been vacant for over a year. While Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed didn’t take a public position on the plan, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been skeptical, citing lean budget times.


Navy bases like the one in Newport could ban the sale of tobacco products under a plan being considered by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Mabus said this week that officials want to encourage sailors to quit smoking as part of an initiative to help make them more fit and resilient. The plan would also affect Navy ships and the Marines. Some members of Congress are pushing back, saying adults who serve our country should be able to buy a legal product at Navy stores if they want to. They’re considering an amendment to stop the plan.


First lady Michelle Obama loaned her star power to a keel-laying ceremony at Electric Boat at Quonset in North Kingstown for the future submarine the USS Illinois, named for her home state. Mrs. Obama is the ship’s sponsor, and her initials will be welded into a metal plate and installed on the sub. She called the honor one of the most extraordinary experiences of her life.

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