RI budget surplus comes in $14M above forecast

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s state government closed out the 2016-17 budget year with a nearly $64 million surplus, an amount that’s $14.2 million higher than lawmakers had expected when they crafted this year’s tax-and-spending plan.

The total size of the state’s budget surplus for the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, was $63.9 million, according to a report released Friday by State Controller Peter Keenan. That was down by more than half from last year, when the surplus totaled $167.2 million.

Keenan said general revenue came in $8.5 million above estimates during 2016-17, and spending from general revenue came in $16.2 million below budget.

Almost the entire surplus – $58 million – was due to higher-than-expected receipts for inheritance and gift taxes. Income and sales tax revenue were both below forecast. On the spending side, the R.I. Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals stood out for spending $4.4 million more than lawmakers had authorized.

Rhode Islanders shouldn’t expect a flurry of rebate checks, however – most of the surplus money is already spoken for. Lawmakers allotted $49.7 million of the $63.9 million surplus to plug a hole in the new 2017-18 state budget that’s now in effect.

And even the $14.2 million in unexpected surplus funds is likely to go fast: the current year’s budget was balanced in part by relying on $25 million in unidentified savings that Gov. Gina Raimondo has said will be hard to achieve, and a deficit of $140 million is already projected for 2018-19.

Rhode Island’s annual state budget now totals $9.2 billion. Keenan also said the state’s so-called rainy-day fund is currently fully funded, with a balance of $193 million.

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