DeLeo confident Massachusetts revenues will rebound

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BOSTON — While state tax collections are trailing raised expectations, House Speaker Robert DeLeo expressed confidence Wednesday that they'll rebound and can support a $167.6 million spending bill that's expected to clear the House on Wednesday.

Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this year identified a $320 million midyear budget problem. He made about $50 million in unilateral spending cuts and said the remainder of the gap would be covered through savings and an anticipated influx of state revenues.

Excluding $26.9 million in one-time tax settlements, tax collections eight months into fiscal 2016 totaled $15.551 billion, $382 million or 2.5 percent above last year at this time and $123 million below the benchmark used for budgetary purposes.

Asked about his confidence that the state will have sufficient revenue this year, DeLeo said, "I think where we are right now, I think we feel fairly comfortable. We're still below benchmark, but I think we're close enough that I think that there is a comfort level. In talking to the secretary of administration and finance — I think it was this past Monday or the Monday before — she felt very comfortable in terms of where we were. She had expected that in the remaining months of this fiscal year that we would rebound and end the year on a positive note. Of course, you can't guarantee that, but on the other hand she felt fairly good."

Among its many spending items, the midyear spending bill includes $25 million for public counsel services, $18 million for county sheriffs, $14.9 million for the Department of Children and Families, and $41 million for emergency family shelter and services programs.

"Mostly payment of bills, primarily," DeLeo said after holding a closed caucus with House Democrats. "Two of the major ones are the usual suspects, [Committee for Public Counsel Services] and the attorneys bills, the sheriffs bills. I think those are the two major items, if I remember correctly. So I don't think there's anything there of any great consequence. There's some outside sections that the chairman just told me that are pretty much just technical types of changes, nothing changing any policy or anything or that sort."

"This is simply a bill-paying exercise today," House budget chief Rep. Brian Dempsey said during remarks on the spending bill after it was introduced on the House floor at about 1:45 p.m.

Dempsey said the extra spending authorizations related to "caseloads and other factors that we're all accustomed to."

Noting state revenues were trailing benchmarks at the end of February, Dempsey said "we have to continue to be cautious with our spending." He said he hoped members would "work with us" on amendments with the goal of trying to quickly get the bill signed into law since some accounts are running out of money.


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