Raimondo asks for $60 million more in spending

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration has asked the General Assembly to add about $60 million in spending to the budget she submitted earlier this year, potentially leaving it up to lawmakers to figure out how to balance the tax-and-spending plan amid reduced revenue.

A budget amendment Raimondo’s aides submitted to the Assembly last week seeks a net increase of $61 million in 2016-17 fiscal year spending, and a net decrease of $1 million in 2017-18 spending. Much of that spending involves federal money, but it also includes state-funded increases of $5.5 million in 2016-17 and nearly $16 million in 2017-18.

The increases in state-funded spending are mostly mandatory funding for social services and education based on revised estimates. Other uses include $2.8 million more to serve developmentally disabled residents and $100,000 to fund grants that the R.I. State Council on the Arts would award to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Brenna McCabe, a spokeswoman for the R.I. Department of Administration, described the amendment as mainly an effort to codify the current status of state spending. “It’s less of an ask and more of an update on real numbers,” she said. Tom Mullaney, the state budget officer, said the arts money was mistakenly omitted from the original budget proposal.

When combined with previous budget amendments, the latest changes would increase the size of the current fiscal year’s budget to $9.3 billion, an increase of more than $300 million compared with what lawmakers authorized last June. Total spending in the governor’s 2017-18 budget would be basically unchanged from her original $9.3-billion proposal in January.

The House Fiscal Office projected last month that a shortfall of $134 million had opened up in Raimondo’s January tax-and-spending proposal, due to lower-than-expected tax revenue and greater use of social services. (Some of that increased spending is captured in the governor’s new budget amendment.)

Mullaney said he estimates the shortfall remains in the neighborhood of $134 million after incorporating the changes in the new budget amendment. He said the governor’s staff currently has no plans to propose an additional amendment to reduce that hole, but said they are discussing possible solutions with House and Senate staffers.

Separately, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has indicated he wants the budget to include an additional $26 million in aid to local governments to offset his proposed cut in the car tax. He acknowledged Friday on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers that he has no specific plan to pay for it.

Mattiello said state leaders are reviewing a wide variety of options, including “looking at changing formulas so you can maximize federal dollars and try to put money in different buckets so we get more federal reimbursement.”

The House Finance Committee is aiming to release its draft budget next week, according to Mattiello, which would be a sign legislative leaders have reached a spending deal. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook