Budgeting for a Sequester
Numbers between $17M and $25M are being reported as the cost of the sequester to Rhode Island state government spending. However, if a few state departments did nothing more than stay within their original FY2013 budgets, and the funding tentatively intended for their overruns could be intelligently redirected, the impact would only be about half of that amount.
Let’s begin by noting that, for the most part, the various departments of RI government are exhibiting a reasonable degree of budgetary discipline. In other words, according to the Governor’s proposed budget document for FY2014, most departments won’t spend more than they were appropriated for FY2013 (in Rhode Island, we take our fiscal successes wherever we can find them).
However, at least one government department is an exception to this: the General Assembly. The Rhode Island General Assembly was appropriated $37.2M from the state’s general revenues for fiscal year FY2013, a 10.5% increase over the previous year. In the Governor’s revised budget for FY2013, the GA is appropriated $40.4M from general revenues, an overrun of $3.2M (8.6% more than their appropriated amount). If the state legislature does nothing more than stay within its original FY2013 appropriation (this is not a cut; they still get their 10.5% increase over the previous year), it would free up $3.2M to be spent on areas impacted by the sequester. Since the money saved would all come from general revenues, the legislature could pretty much spend it wherever it wanted to (just like it could choose to spend on itself, while other programs are being impacted).
The Information Technology section within the state’s Department of Administration also spends more, according to the Governor’s revised FY2013 budget, than it was allocated in the original. The revised budget allocates an extra $930K from general revenues to finish the year. However, it should be noted that DoA Information Technology (unlike the General Assembly) was budgeted very conservatively at the start, with FY2013 costs for personnel and operating expenses initially budgeted for about $1.8M less than the previous year. Maintaining their general revenue at its original FY2013 level still leaves 3% more for personnel and operations than originally appropriated.
The last area of noticeable budget increase is one of the largest, though it is not under state government control alone. This area also reveals something about priorities in government budgeting. As you may have heard, the executive branch of Rhode Island government is planning to set up an Obamacare “Health Benefits Exchange”. In the original FY2013 Rhode Island budget, $22.2M was allocated for initial set-up expenses, all paid for with Federal dollars. In the Governor’s revised budget, the cost of setting up a Healthcare Benefits Exchange jumps by 30% to $28.8M, still all from Federal funding. If costs were limited to their original FY2013 budget amount (and, once again, being asked to stay within an approved budget is not a cut), it could free up about $6.6M to be applied to other human service programs. 98% of Health Benefits Exchange spending in FY2013 is on “personnel”, so no assistance program would be adversely affected, and the salary-spending plans from the Governor’s “revised” budget could be resumed just 3 months from now, on June 1, at the start of the new fiscal year.
Asking these 3 programs to stay within their budgets for this year could free up about $10.8M to replace sequestered monies. That leaves a gap of somewhere in the vicinity of $6.2M to $14.2M to be closed (down from the original $17M to $25M).
Federal dollars allocated to Rhode Island state government, minus two programs 1) the Health Benefits Exchange, already accounted for above and 2) support for the Department Labor and Training, which was temporary and is in the process of being phased out, was $2.39B in FY2012. In the Governor’s revised budget for FY2013 (which we’ll assume doesn’t include the sequester), that amount increases by $140M, to $2.53B. If we pick the larger of the sequester estimates and don’t include DLT or Health Benefit Exchange programs, in conjunction with the three proposals suggested above, the rest of Rhode Island government would have to adjust to the sequester by spending “only” $125M more in Federal dollars than they did last year
Or, if it is decided that General Assembly spending on itself and that spending on healthcare bureaucratic cost overruns is more important than everything else, the sequester would mean that Rhode Island only gets to spend about $115M more in non-Health Benefits Exchange, non-DLT Federal dollars than it did last year. Hmmmm. Maybe I buried the lede on this one.
Anyway, with competent fiscal management, managing the “austerity” of a $115M budget increase should be feasible. We’ll see how how well Rhode Island is able to handle it.