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RI gov to release budget plan, address lawmakers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee was set to address the state's General Assembly on Wednesday night and unveil his state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.

In the annual state-of-the-state speech, the governor is expected lay out his priorities for the year. The budget proposal will contain many of the details, including any recommended tax increases, spending cuts or changes to government programs.

Lawmakers typically make big changes to the spending plan before approving it later in the session.

Legislative leaders say they hope to avoid any tax increases or deep spending cuts this year because of the state's slowly improving financial health. The state faces an estimated $69 million deficit projected for the next state budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning July 1. While the deficit represents a sizeable gap, lawmakers have resolved much larger shortfalls in recent years as the economic downturn hammered state finances.

"I do not think that we should have any changes in our tax structure," Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said Tuesday.

When lawmakers began their work last year they faced a $117 million projected deficit. The $8.1 billion state budget they passed in June imposed new sales taxes on pet boarding and grooming, taxi fares and clothing costing more than $250. Chafee had recommended raising the state's restaurant meals tax but lawmakers balked.

Expect Chafee's budget plan to contain proposals that reflect what he has said are his priorities for the year: boosting the state's economy, protecting investments in education, making the government more customer friendly and offering help to struggling cities and towns. He's also likely to restate his support for gay marriage, which House lawmakers are expected to vote on before the end of the month.

Chafee's speech to lawmakers is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the House chambers.

The General Assembly began its 2013 session on Jan. 1. The session is expected to last through the spring.