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In Rhode Island, lawmakers face money woes

Governor Gina M. Raimondo of Rhode Island will have to work with legislators to tackle a $60 million budget deficit.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo of Rhode Island will have to work with legislators to tackle a $60 million budget deficit.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2017)

PROVIDENCE — The leaders of Rhode Island’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly will begin the year with a laser-like focus on addressing the state’s budget deficit.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio open the legislative session on Jan. 2 facing a budget deficit of about $60 million in the current fiscal year due to overspending and a structural deficit of more than $200 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

While the budget is always the priority, Mattiello said, it’s going to take a lot of time and attention, this year especially, to produce a budget that addresses the structural deficit and promotes greater economic activity while growing revenues. He believes the state needs to become more efficient in delivering services to needy populations to save money.

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‘‘There is not enough of a sense of urgency within the departments to curtail their spending,’’ he said.

Ruggerio said he’s concerned about potential cuts to federal funding, which would exacerbate Rhode Island’s fiscal woes.

Within the budget, Mattiello’s top priority is to continue phasing out the state’s car tax. Mattiello proposed eliminating Rhode Island’s unpopular car taxes over six years during the last legislative session, and budget negotiators found $26 million to pay for the first year.

Both leaders said they’ll be looking into what the state can afford to help repair schools. A school infrastructure task force is recommending Rhode Island borrow $500 million to repair the state’s schools by 2022.

The state is also considering whether to help pay for a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox, to keep the team in Pawtucket.