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Governor signs $8.2 billion Rhode Island budget

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Wednesday signed into law an $8.2 billion state budget containing no significant tax or fee changes and more money for education.

The Democratic governor also signed a bill related to the budget that will impose a 10-cent toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge beginning in August.

Chafee said the budget includes "several encouraging priorities and initiatives," noting the $40 million in additional funds for public schools and higher education.

"This is by no means a perfect budget," Chafee said in a statement. "It was an exercise in compromise, collaboration, and cooperation."

The budget covers the fiscal year which began Monday.

The spending plan, which passed the General Assembly last week, also sets aside $2.5 million for a debt payment related to the state's failed investment in former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company, 38 Studios. The payment had been the focus of great debate in the legislature after several lawmakers called on the state to default on the debt.

Chafee had warned that defaulting on the money would lower the state's bond rating and increase the cost of borrowing for roads and bridges, public universities, hospitals and local governments. He said Wednesday he was glad the legislature ultimately agreed with him.

"We have sent a clear message to the investment community that Rhode Island honors commitments," he said.

The budget proposal Chafee submitted in January had called for additional assistance for cities and towns, and a plan to cut business income taxes from 9 percent to 7 percent. Those provisions were removed by lawmakers after state revenue projections created a $30 million deficit.

The state had planned to impose tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge next month, starting at 75 cents for instate motorists with an E-ZPass transponder. Lawmakers had originally voted to delay the toll until February with the hope of identifying an alternative, but in a dramatic reversal, lawmakers voted Tuesday to impose a 10-cent toll.

Wednesday was the final day Chafee had to sign or veto the budget before the legislation became law without his signature.

Lawmakers hope to adjourn their 2013 session Wednesday.