If you’re like me, you probably feel more confused about the House Finance Committee budget the more you read about it.
It cuts more than Chafee but spends more than him, too? It eliminates most of his revenue programs but winds up with more money anyway? It slices, dices and chops?
I’m not going to claim to have mastered it all, but I thought I’d set out a few facts that I’ve gleaned from all the documents being released. This list isn’t complete or comprehensive, but here we go.
The House’s budget spends more than Chafee. You wouldn’t know it from the soundbites, but the House Finance Committee calls for the state to spend more money in 2011-12 than the governor did. The House budget totals $7.702 billion; Chafee’s totaled $7.661 billion. Small difference – $41 million – but there it is.
The House starts off with $108 million more than Chafee. That’s because the House expects to finish this budget year with a $58 million surplus, while Chafee expected only $16 million, and also expects next year’s tax revenue to come in $67 million above the amount Chafee did. That extra money alone would cover one-third of the highest deficit projection we’d heard, which was $331 million.
The House raises a lot less new *state* revenue than Chafee. Taxes and fees in Rhode Island will rise $30 million under the House budget, much less than Chafee’s $178 million, mostly by sharply scaling back his high-profile changes to the sales tax system.
The House doesn’t cut social services much more than Chafee. The Finance Committee budget would cut human-service programs like Medicaid by $78 million from this year’s level; Chafee wanted to cut them by $71 million. So the House only made $7 million more in cuts than Chafee did in that area.
The House cuts local aid less than Chafee. The FinCom budget would reduce aid to cities and towns by $26 million; Chafee would reduce it by $30 million. Again, small difference – $4 million.
The House cut everything else much more than Chafee. FinCom Chairman Helio Melo’s explanation of how he balanced the budget includes a line labeled “Departments, Agencies, transfer/surplus change.” Chafee cut that line’s expenses by about $8 million; the House cuts it by $44 million, more than five times as much.
It’s important to note that none of this deals with the many, many changes the Finance Committee made in the structure of all that spending – there’s a lot of ways to dole out $7.7 billion, and they made all sorts of choices that differed from the governor’s. But these top-line numbers can be helpful to have in mind.
Here’s a chart contrasting the two deficit-closing plans, based on information from House Finance:
The striking blue bar in the middle shows how much extra revenue Chafee wanted to raise, mostly through his sales tax plan. But it shouldn’t be looked at in isolation; all three categories on the left side of the chart represent increases in state revenue. The difference is, Chafee’s new revenue came from taking a specific action – mostly raising more from the sales tax – while the House’s new revenue came passively – an improving economy is bringing in more money under the current system, without making any changes.
Got questions? Leave them in comments, send me a tweet or drop me in an email.