By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Any effort to reinstate environmental programs and funds removed from the fiscal 2018 budget didn’t happen — publicly, at least — during an unusually short session June 22 to pass the spending bill in the House of Representatives.
A late campaign by environmental groups to return “scooped” funds failed to motivate any member of the House to try to restore the money through a floor amendment. Protracted debates are common during the budget vote as lawmakers attempt to restore funds taken from favored programs. The amendments typically lead to an all-night debate that can extend the session for days. However, this year only one amendment was introduced and the hearing ended before 9 p.m.
Two days before the budget vote, Save The Bay asked supporters to call and e-mail their representatives and House leaders to urge them to return $5 million moved from the Narragansett Bay Commission to the General Fund. Save The Bay said that money will have to be recovered by charging ratepayers who are serviced by the state’s largest waste and stormwater treatment facility. Save The Bay was also disappointed that for the second consecutive year the budget didn't include two jobs proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Office of Water Resources, the office that regulates water pollution in the state.
Advocates for renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs were also asked to urge lawmakers to return $12.5 million in money earmarked for energy-efficiency programs and incentives, including funds managed by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. The funds help finance renewable energy and energy-savings programs.
Public transportation advocates are satisfied that the budget did include $5 million to reinstate a free bus pass program for low-income disabled and elderly riders. The funds eliminate a fare program, started in February, that charged 50 cents per ride and 25 cents per transfer for low-income passengers.
Supporters of progressive transportation policies were disappointed that the budget included the phase out of the car tax, a plan proposed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston. Progressives see the plan as a pro-car subsidy that discourages alternative transpiration.
Before it can pass, the $9.2 billion fiscal 2018 budget (H5175) moves to the Senate for review. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear the bill June 27.