- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law the state’s $8.94 billion budget Friday, saying she is proud of the plan that reduces a structural deficit and makes record investments in education and workforce development.

“It is an expression of our priorities,” the Democrat said. “We’re putting Rhode Island on a firmer fiscal footing for decades to come, tackling our biggest issues and investing as much as we can in our future, which is education, job development and growth.”

Raimondo and the legislative leaders who joined her for a signing ceremony acknowledged tense negotiations leading up to the General Assembly’s approval of the budget plan last week. But they also said they were pleased with the final result.

The spending plan that takes effect July 1 will cut business taxes, expand economic development tools, provide tax relief to retirees, combat the opioid overdose crisis and raise the earned income tax credit for low-income families.

Raimondo-backed education proposals funded by the measure include a new computer science initiative, free SAT tests for college-bound high schoolers and expanded programs for students learning English.

It doesn’t include any broad-based tax increases. There will be a new tax on medical marijuana, but scaled back from one originally proposed by Raimondo.

In a feel-good measure in time for the summer season, it also cuts the cost of parking at state beaches.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said his intention from the beginning was “to hold the line on taxes” and reduce the costs of doing business in the state. The plan reduces the corporate minimum tax and cuts about $30 million that businesses now pay in unemployment insurance.

Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said she was pleased by the commitment to combat fatal drug overdoses, provide services for the developmentally disabled, strengthen debt-management policy, save retirees money and expand the state’s contribution to the federal earned income tax credit. The budget “builds on the momentum Rhode Island has gained in recent years,” she said.

Newport Democratic Rep. Marvin Abney, who took over as chairman of the budget-writing House Finance Committee after his predecessor quit in May, said the retiree tax relief was aimed at older Rhode Islanders who’ve considered leaving the state. The provision exempts the first $15,000 of income from state income taxes for retirees earning up to $80,000 as single tax filers, or up to $100,000 for joint filers.

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