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Issues to watch in 2012 RI session

January 2, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The Rhode Island General Assembly kicks off its 2012 session on Tuesday. Here are the big issues to watch:

BUDGET DEFICIT: Next fiscal year's state budget has a $120 million deficit. The budget year begins July 1. Lawmakers say they want to trim spending to eliminate the gap. Last year, they closed a $331 million deficit in the current state budget of $7.7 billion.

TAXES: Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he is considering a proposal to raise taxes to help eliminate the deficit without deep cuts to government programs. But lawmakers facing re-election this fall may be wary of even a small tax hike.

MUNICIPAL PENSIONS: Lawmakers made big changes to the state pension plan last year, cutting benefits to many public workers to save billions of dollars in the future. Now they're turning their attention to the runaway costs of municipal pension plans covering city and town employees. Look for unions to fight back.

ECONOMY: With the state's unemployment rate at 10.5 percent, lawmakers say they'll look at reducing business regulations and boosting incentives for companies to expand in Rhode Island.

EDUCATION: Lawmakers say they'll look for cost-effective ways of improving K-12 education, bolster work force training and expand access to higher education.

CIVIL UNIONS: Advocates of gay marriage say they'll work to remove language in the civil union law passed last year that allows religious organizations to refuse to recognize the legal relationships.

NURSING SCHOOL: Supporters of a proposal to build a nursing school in downtown Providence say a school would boost the state's life sciences while addressing a nursing shortage. But details regarding funding, operations and location for the school need to be worked out.

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