RI budget surplus comes in $44M above forecast


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s state government closed out the 2015-16 budget year with a $167 million surplus, a total that’s $44 million higher than lawmakers 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 $167.2 million, according to state controller Peter Keenan. He said general revenue came in $29 million above estimates and spending from general revenue came in $24 million below budget.

Rhode Islanders shouldn’t expect a flurry of windfall checks, however – most of the extra money is already spoken for. Lawmakers used $123 million of the $167 million surplus to plug a hole in the new state budget for 2016-17 that’s now in effect.

And lawmakers are likely to need any extra money left over after this fiscal year when they start crafting a new budget next spring: the House Fiscal Office recently projected the state already faces a deficit of $184 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year, which starts next July.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said the surplus shows Rhode Island leaders are working to create “a government that is fiscally responsible and a predictable environment that is good for business.”‘

“I thank my cabinet directors and all state employees for their efforts to make state government move faster, better and cheaper,” she said. “By innovating in government, strengthening accountability, and taking a fresh look at how we do business, we can deliver better results for all Rhode Islanders.”

Among the reasons for the revenue boost: inheritance and gift taxes came in at $70 million, more than double the $25 million forecast – an amount that basically matched the $44 million overall higher-than-expected surplus. That sort of unexpected swing in estate taxes is usually caused by the settling of a wealthy individual’s affairs after his or her death.

The annual state budget now totals nearly $9 billion. Keenan also said the state’s so-called rainy-day fund is currently fully funded, with a balance of $192 million.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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