Good news for state's budget

PROVIDENCE, RI – A larger than expected surplus means that Rhode Island's deficit for the next fiscal year is about half of what it was expected to be. A presentation at a House Finance Committee meeting Wednesday shows the state to be on track for a 47 million dollar surplus in the current fiscal year.

Thanks to that surplus, the budget hole for the fiscal year starting July first is now put at 70 million dollars. That's roughly half of what was previously expected.

Finance Committee chairman Helio Melo expressed concern about larger structural deficits in future budgets and spending beyond budgets in some state departments. Melo says the departments need to live within their budgets to curb state spending.

But some department directors say the overspending is largely beyond their control. State Corrections head A.T. Wall says the state prison is dealing with an unexpected increase in its population over recent months. "That's part of the mission. It also means that there's really no flexibility in controlling the number of commitments or admissions, and limited flexibility about length of stay."

The chief of an agency dealing with mental health said it's difficult to curb the cost of a department faced with a high rate of staff turnover.

Rhode Island faces much larger structural deficits down the road. If overspending in some state departments goes unchecked, the state's budget gap could balloon to an estimated 400 million in about five years.

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