PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s state budget has grown enormously since the start of the pandemic, but a new report suggests the flush times are coming to an end.
The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a business-backed think tank, released its annual overview of the state budget on Wednesday as Gov. Dan McKee and state lawmakers engage in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the final spending plan. A vote is expected soon.
The report found the budget is on pace to balloon by 48% over the last four years, from $9.6 billion back in 2018-19 to over $14 billion this year, primarily due to the massive influx of federal cash provided by Congress in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Yet even the main portion of the budget funded by state taxpayers — general revenue — has been growing rapidly. It’s on pace to rise by about 36%, from $3.9 billion in 2018-19 to $5.3 billion under McKee’s budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year that begins July 1.
But McKee’s 2023-24 budget plan “appears to be the last of a series of flush state budgets fueled by enormous allocations of federal pandemic funding and very large general revenue surpluses,” RIPEC CEO Michael DiBiase said in a statement.
RIPEC’s analysis found Rhode Island’s general revenue is only forecast to grow by about 2.5% annually over the next four years. That is not only down from the torrid 6.6% annual growth rate since the pandemic, but even lower than the 3.5% growth rate during the mid-2010s.
“Policymakers have had a relatively easy time managing expenditures, but the state is now entering a period in which pandemic-related federal funding will be running out and state general revenue growth will be considerably more constrained,” DiBiase said.
He added, “Policymakers will need to avoid unsustainable spending commitments and be prepared to curtail the level of spending growth.”
RIPEC’s report included a host of recommendations for lawmakers as they finish budget talks, urging them to support McKee’s proposed increase in the size of the state’s “rainy-day fund” and provide more funding for the financially challenged South Quay terminal project in East Providence.
The group also expressed concern about current policy on state aid for K-12 education, suggesting that various changes made in recent years have created a system that isn’t directing funding to the schools that are most in need of support.
The full RIPEC report is available here.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.