PROJECTRhode Island

State Fiscal Briefs

May 2022

Looking for Rhode Island data related to the pandemic? We have health, economic, and fiscal data on our new tool, How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Transforming State Budgets.

Rhode Island’s budget basics

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Rhode Island’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2021 were $15.1 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2021 were $2.7 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $512.8 billion in California.

Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.

Per the US Census Bureau, Rhode Island’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $11.7 billion in FY 2019 (the most recent year census data were available), or $11,081 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,161.

Rhode Island’s largest spending areas per capita were public welfare ($3,104) and elementary and secondary education ($2,504). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.

Rhode Island’s combined state and local general revenues were $12.2 billion in FY 2019, or $11,511 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,563. Rhode Island uses all major state and local taxes. After federal transfers, Rhode Island’s largest sources of per capita revenue were property taxes ($2,529) and charges ($1,496), such as state university tuition and highway tolls.

Rhode Island’s politics

Governor Daniel McKee, a Democrat, assumed the office in March 2021, following the departure of former Governor Gina Raimondo, who left office after being confirmed as commerce secretary. Former Governor Gina Raimondo was elected in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.

Democrats control both the House of Representatives (65 Democrats to 10 Republicans) and Senate (33 Democrats to 5 Republicans), with veto-proof majorities in both houses. Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Democrats a trifecta in Rhode Island. The entire legislature is up for election in 2022 because both representatives and senators serve two-year terms.

Rhode Island’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints

Rhode Island uses an annual budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget, but it can carry a deficit over into the following year. Rhode Island further limits spending with a budget rule that diverts a percentage of revenue to the state’s rainy day fund, but the limit may be overridden by a simple legislative majority. Rhode Island also limits total authorized debt and debt service incurred by the state.

(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)

Rhode Island’s current budget

Governor McKee released her budget proposal and gave her state of the state address in January 2022.

Rhode Island enacted its FY 2022 budget in July 2021. The enacted budget included $4.6 billion in general fund spending and $13.1 billion in total spending.

Under the American Rescue Plan, Rhode Island will receive $1.1 billion in direct state fiscal aid and $479 million in local government aid from the federal government. As of January 2022, Rhode Island had spent part of its ARP funds on economic development and broadband expansion.

According to NASBO, Rhode Island’s recent expenditure totals (general fund spending/total spending, including federal transfers) were:

  • FY 2021: $4.0 billion/$15.1 billion

  • FY 2020: $3.9 billion/$11.4 billion

  • FY 2019: $3.9 billion/$9.7 billion

For more on Rhode Island’s budget, see