- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island House of Representatives will soon vote on an $8.67 billion state budget proposal, but not before considering a variety of changes lawmakers have recommended, including eliminating or at least delaying a proposed new tax on vacation rentals.

The full House plans to vote late Tuesday - or on Wednesday if it’s a lengthy debate - on the spending plan.

Lawmakers filed 20 amendments, though not all will necessarily be offered during the debate, according to the House speaker’s office. During the debate, lawmakers are expected to question a proposal to expand the definition of hotel to small bed and breakfasts, private home rentals and other rentals. The proposed new sales tax is expected to generate $5.4 million in additional revenue in fiscal 2016.

Some lawmakers want to eliminate the tax altogether or at least delay it until after the summer season.

Members of both parties have said they’re worried that vacationers would go to neighboring states instead, and it would be a burden for families who rent out their homes to try to collect a new tax starting July 1.

Rep. Blake Filippi, an independent from Block Island, said he thinks the tax will “tragically” pass, so he’s going to try to change the effective date to Oct. 1. That delay would cost $2.1 million, which could be taken from a fund for technology upgrades at the Department of Administration, he said.

Two other initiatives that sparked controversy this session were not included in the budget. Lawmakers may hold a special session in the fall to vote on whether to use state money to help the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox build a ballpark in downtown Providence, and on whether to approve Gov. Gina Raimondo’s plan for a new toll on large commercial vehicles to pay for a $700 million revenue bond to repair bridges.

Republicans filed budget amendments related to those proposals.

Rep. Daniel Reilly, a Middletown Republican, said he’s concerned that new tax credits and other new economic development initiatives to attract businesses to Rhode Island could be used for the stadium. His amendment would prohibit the incentive programs from being used for a sports or recreation facility.

No one has submitted a proposal to publicly fund a new stadium, said Mattiello’s spokesman, Larry Berman.

The Republican minority caucus said it’s offering an alternative to Raimondo’s toll to avoid the interest costs for the bond, and the members worried the toll would be expanded to smaller vehicles.

They said the House should find about $60 million in the budget annually for the next decade or so to pay for the repairs instead. For 2016, they propose using money from personnel savings and cuts to the Clean Water Finance Agency, tobacco settlement fund and other programs. Their amendment would divert new funding allocated to help market the Newport Grand casino.

Mattiello said that isn’t a realistic solution to the state’s road and bridge needs, and it’s certainly not ready to be introduced into the budget.

Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan said she will also introduce an amendment calling for an independent prosecutor to probe how video game startup 38 Studios got a $75 million state-backed loan. Her push last year for an investigation was unsuccessful.

Amendments from the minority rarely pass.

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