- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island House of Representatives has passed an $8.9 billion state budget.

The House approved the budget proposal by a 59-13 vote late Wednesday, just before midnight.

The Democratic-controlled chamber defeated more than a dozen Republican-backed amendments during about seven hours of debate over education funding, tax relief, controversial grants that lawmakers award to community groups and a last-minute amendment to expand Providence’s seaport.

The budget now moves to the finance committee of the Democratic-controlled Senate. If it passes in the Senate, it goes to Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo for her signature and would take effect for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The House approved a complicated new education aid formula that changes the way charter schools are funded. Republicans opposed the measure, saying it would cripple charter schools. Democrats argued it would help most charters.

The House also approved adding $20 million for the Port of Providence to a proposed November referendum seeking voter approval of borrowing that was originally designed to expand another deep-water port: Quonset Point in North Kingstown.

Democrats endorsed and Republicans opposed the bond proposal that would allow the state to buy waterfront land in Providence to expand the city-owned port.

“If it’s a good deal for the city, the city should be the one floating the debt,” said state Rep. Daniel Reilly, a Portsmouth Republican.

With the legislative campaign season looming ahead of fall elections, the House easily passed several politically popular measures such as a cut to beach fees and tax relief for retirees.

“This is the year we’re reducing fees,” said Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

The budget drafted by the House’s Democratic leadership meets some but not all of the objectives proposed earlier this year by Raimondo. It increases education aid and expands the state’s contribution to the earned income tax credit for low-income families, which Raimondo requested, but drops her proposal to increase the $9.60 minimum wage to $10.10.

Republicans who mostly acquiesced to Democratic leaders during budget deliberations a year ago were far more vocal in their opposition this year.

House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, a North Smithfield Republican, criticized a budget that he said would help the poor and the “rich and well-connected” but not the state’s middle-class majority. Republicans repeatedly derided as “corporate welfare” measures to expand several Raimondo-backed economic development tools, such as a tax credit to spur real estate development.

After lengthy debate, the House voted to defeat about 14 Republican-backed amendments, including one to phase out the car tax, another expanding tax relief to military veterans and a long-shot bid to take away money from the state’s convention center authority to hire a special prosecutor to investigate the disastrous deal with video game company 38 Studios, founded by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

The latter amendment prompted groans in the chamber.

“This is a sound bite to say 38 Studios, 38 Studios, 38 Studios,” complained Rep. Stephen Ucci, a Johnston Democrat, before lawmakers defeated the amendment.

A statement from the governor early Thursday morning said she was pleased with what the House passed.

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