- Associated Press - Friday, June 15, 2018

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Friday approved a $9.6 billion budget proposal that includes a plan to implement sports betting at two casinos in the state.

The House voted 66-7 for the budget, which also asks voters to authorize $250 million in bonds for school construction and includes ab increase in tax credits for movie production companies.

The Senate must still approve the budget.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said the budget, a $300 million increase over last year’s spending plan, maintains services without broad tax increases.

The House budget kept many of the themes laid out by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo in January. Both budgets included provisions to tap the lucrative sports betting market and to seek bonds for the first phase of an ambitious $1 billion school reconstruction plan.



House leaders said the state finalized the terms of the sports betting deal shortly before deliberations began. Under the deal, gaming company IGT will operate sports betting at two Twin River casinos in the state. Rhode Island would get more than half the revenue.

House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi said Rhode Island’s deal is more favorable than recent ones approved in New Jersey and Delaware.

Here’s a look at some of the budget’s key items:

SPORTS BETTING

Rhode Island moved one step closer to entering the sports betting market opened up by the nation’s Supreme Court earlier this year.

The House approved a five-year plan Friday to allow IGT to operate sports betting at casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton. The state would get 51 percent of the revenues from the program, IGT would get 32 percent and Twin River, which owns the casinos, 17 percent. The towns of Lincoln and Tiverton would each receive $100,000 from the state for hosting the betting facilities.

The deal would be effective upon passage.

Lawmakers estimate sports betting could add $23.5 million to the state’s coffers.

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION

The House budget asks voters to authorize $367.3 million in bonds in November, the bulk of which would go toward rebuilding the state’s schools.

Gov. Raimondo has called for a “once-in-a-generation” investment in the state’s crumbling school system.

About $250 million of the bonds would finance the first phase of a $1 billion school construction plan. Mattiello has said he expects voters to pass the ballot question overwhelmingly.

The remainder of the bonds would be devoted to higher education initiatives at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, as well as climate and clean water projects.

The heavily Democratic chamber resoundingly rejected an amendment from Republican Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who also is running for governor, to exempt the school construction projects from prevailing wage requirements. Morgan argued it would save the state money on the projects.

MOVIE TAX CREDIT

Lawmakers unexpectedly voted to increase the tax credits given to motion picture production companies.

The amendment increases the amount of the credit from 25 percent to 30 percent of production costs for projects in the state. It also raises the cap on the credit: It used to be $5 million. It would now be $7 million.

Just two months ago, WPRI-TV reported the state has lost an average of $1.8 million per year to the program, which began in 2005.

The state Office of Revenue Analysis found that Rhode Island has awarded at least $84 million to the program, which has generated 27 cents of economic activity for every $1 spent in tax revenue.

Mattiello said after the vote that the report had no bearing on the decision to increase the credits.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

The governor hoped to open up a new revenue stream and expand access to medical marijuana in the state by increasing the number of licenses from 3 to 15.

The House quashed that plan, but dramatically raised the fee that shops must pay for their licenses, from $5,000 to $250,000. That is at least three times higher than what any other New England state charges.

The budget approved Friday also would allow medical marijuana cardholders in Connecticut and Massachusetts to use the state’s dispensaries.

MEDICAID

State lawmakers were able to reach a deal with 59 nursing homes in the state on their Medicaid payments. The budget will include a 2.5 percent increase this year in exchange for the nursing homes dropping a lawsuit against the state. Lawmakers estimated the increase costs about $9 million, with half of that money coming from the federal government.

A Superior Court judgment in favor of the nursing homes could have cost the state $24 million. Before they reached a deal, the budget included an 8.5 percent cut for the nursing homes to make up the money.

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