Vermont Revenues Improve

Montpelier — The latest revenue projections from the state’s Joint Fiscal Office show a $16 million surplus by the end of the fiscal year, which could impact imminent budget negotiations between the House and the Senate.

“Income tax has been strong this year,” said Stephen Klein, the group’s chief fiscal officer. Overall revenues for April were $26.8 million higher than expected, he said.

The disclosure by Klein came during his appearance yesterday before the House Ways and Means and House though figures haven’t been formally released by the administration.

The takeaway of Klein’s remarks for lawmakers is that there could be more money available for reserves

“It’s more likely now that there will be money for the federal sequestration and for the rainy day fund from the surplus, so it may affect the negotiations on the budget,” Klein said in an interview.

But House Speaker Shap Smith also cautioned yesterday during a news conference that rosy revenue forecasts don’t necessarily address the state’s revenue and spending needs in 2014.

“I don’t think we’re going to be in a situation where we would up the forecast at this point and time in the session,” Smith said. “So a rosier outlook on revenues doesn’t necessarily mean additional spending in 2014, but I do think it might give us some comfort on the issue of reserves.”

House Appropriations chair Martha Heath, D-Westford, signaled her willingness to stow away lesser reserves in light of the new information to her Senate counterpart, Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia. Heath’s remarks came as a budget conference committee met for the first time, to schedule meetings every day next week.

A surplus “could obviate our need for reserves,” said Heath at that initial meeting yesterday afternoon. Three members from the two Appropriations committees will bargain over differences in their budget language all of next week.

State senators set aside no reserves in their budget vote earlier this week.

Under current law, a quarter of any fiscal surplus in June goes toward the state’s ‘rainy day’ fund, with another quarter poured into a fund which compensates for cuts in federal funding. Half of any surplus goes to the education fund, and a special property tax relief fund.

The three members from House and Senate Appropriations on the six member committee are: Reps. Heath, Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, and Anne O’Brien, D-Richmond, alongside Sens. Kitchel, Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden.