- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo on Tuesday introduced her budget plan for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The plan calls for a total spending amount of $8.96 billion and closing an estimated $49.5 million shortfall, down from the $190.4 million deficit projected when Raimondo took office last year.

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NEW SPENDING

New spending in the governor’s plan includes:

-$39.1 million in additional K-12 school funding, with some of the money set aside for English learners and to bolster mostly urban school districts that have lost money because of the proliferation of charter schools.

-$5 million to expand research and development tax credits for businesses.

-$4 million to combat the opioid abuse crisis, including $2.6 million for medication-assisted treatment at the Department of Corrections.

-$1.2 million in additional early childhood development programs.

-$500,000 to allow sophomores and juniors at public high schools to take the SAT and PSAT for free.

-The expansion of earned income tax credit for low-income families to match 15 percent of the federal contribution, up from 12.5 percent.

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CUTS

The governor wants to pare back health department costs and shift more care to homes and out of institutions; cut $2 million from child welfare services through staff reductions and leaving positions vacant; and eliminate the Rhode Island Film & Television Office, for a savings of $332,000.

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TAXES AND REVENUE

Raimondo proposes a fee on marijuana plants in the state’s medical marijuana program, which she estimates would raise $9.8 million for the state; an increase in the cigarette tax to $4 per pack from $3.75 for an estimated $7.1 million in additional revenue; and cuts to unemployment insurance taxes to save businesses about $30 million. Rhode Island had been named second-worst state for unemployment taxes.

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OTHER INITIATIVES

The governor’s plan also includes raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 from $9.60 and placing general obligation bonds on the November ballot to pay for construction of schools, university centers, piers and other projects.

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