Larger state budget surplus looming

‘Reversions’ tracking to be higher than anticipated, state budget analyst says
2009-09-17T23:10:00Z Larger state budget surplus loomingGazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
September 17, 2009 11:10 pm  • 

HELENA - The state ended the budget year in mid-2009 with a preliminary general fund surplus of $392 million, nearly $23 million more than the Legislature had projected, a legislative fiscal analyst told a committee Thursday.

Lawmakers adjourned in April and left a projected ending fund budget balance of $369.1 million as of June 30.

The final and official numbers won't be available until after a legislative audit later this fall.

The increased budget balance is due primarily to higher than anticipated "reversions," which are funds appropriated to state agencies but aren't spent in that budget year.

Terry Johnson said the general fund reversions totaled nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2009, which were the most he had ever seen, although nearly $48 million of them were budgeted for. That left nearly $52 million in unanticipated reversions.

Agencies must return these reversions to the state treasury. However, in some cases, agencies are able to spend 30 percent of the reverted amounts on certain programs if they have what's known as "unanticipated continuing authority."

Johnson said the reversions with "unanticipated continuing authority" that can be spent in part in the upcoming years total $17.9 million. If this is deducted, the state general fund balance could be only $4.9 million higher, or $374 million instead of $392 million, he said.

The reversions helped make up for tax collections for the year that came in at $36.6 million less than the Legislature had anticipated.

These lower tax collections were on top of the $290 million that legislators reduced the official revenue estimates by from their November 2008 estimates. These in-session adjustments came as income and corporate revenue collections tailed off.

Johnson said the final numbers showed $23.9 million in some revenue collections greater than anticipated. The top one was the corporate income tax, which was $9.1 million more than projected.

However, some other revenue sources came in $60.5 million less than expected. The biggest one was individual income taxes, which was $37.5 below estimates.

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