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COVID-19 Wiped Much Of Rhode Island's Savings


This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states' revenue and budgets during the pandemic.

Annual budget deficits are as common in Rhode Island as the quahogs in Narragansett Bay, but the pandemic has made the usual red ink far more prevalent.

In June, lawmakers used federal funds and the state's rainy day account to close a deficit for fiscal 2020 caused primarily by collapsing tax revenue. A voluntary furlough program for state workers is shaving a bit off spending, but if the federal government doesn't deliver more money to eliminate much of the $600 million deficit in the current fiscal year, painful cuts will be necessary. "I don't think anything is going to escape the hatchet," House GOP Leader Blake Filippi said in April.

The legislature is expected to consider a new fiscal plan as soon as this month. Because long-term expenses regularly outpace revenue in the state, Rhode Island hasn't had a budgetary surplus in many years.

A prosperous place during the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island has been trying to reinvent its economy for decades. The state has made some progress since emerging from the Great Recession with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, but job losses are widespread again amid the pandemic.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio.

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Ian Donnis has been the political reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio since 2009. The Washington Post has called him one of Rhode Island’s best political reporters. Besides reporting, Ian tweets at @IanDon, hosts RIPR’s weekly Political Roundtable, and contributes to the station’s On Politics blog.