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Sunday, March 15, 2015

What’s in Raimondo’s budget for environment?

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has unveiled a new online tool for parsing her $8.6 billion budget. It prominently features a clunky search tool that allows you to “search for a specific thing.” But don’t expect to find anything about climate change, agriculture, or any other word relating to the environment.

To be fair, the search tool doesn’t get specific on much, but there are a few items in the actual budget worth noting.

Green bank. The idea Raimondo touted during her campaign has been replaced with a conservative-friendly moniker: the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. Raimondo allocates $7 million dollars to the fund for renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects. The infrastructure bank also will support financing for municipal transportation and water-works projects. About $5 million of the fund will come from federal economic stimulus money and the state’s participation in the regional cap-and-trade program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Tipping fees. The governor supports an increase in the cost of delivering a ton of trash to the Central Landfill in Johnston. The rate hasn’t been increased since 1990, and the artificially low fee is considered an impediment to new waste-reduction initiatives.

Streetscape fund. The new Main Street RI Fund will get $2 million for municipal village-type sidewalk and street improvement projects.

Tax breaks. A “package” of real-estate tax incentives include incentives for construction near transit hubs. A new tax cut would eliminate the sales tax businesses pay on their energy bills.

Taxes. The governor proposes a 25-cent increase on the cigarette tax. Raimondo also wants to close the loophole that allows real-estate holding companies to avoid estate transfer fees.

Also, $99 million, or 1.1 percent of the $8.6 billion budget, goes to fund the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). By comparison, the state spends $202 million to fund its annual debt.

The Bays, Rivers and Watersheds Coordination Team will transfer to the DEM in order to address water quality, water pollution and climate change.

Controversial items include $25 million for infrastructure improvements within the I-195 development district. It specifically excludes support for a baseball stadium.