By BOB LEWIS
AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) In a troubled fiscal year of persistent shortfalls, Virginia could wind up posting a small surplus by the time the current budget expires at the end of June, state government's top money officer said Monday.
Finance Secretary Ric Brown said Monday that with a small monthly boost in April tax collections, the state has made consecutive monthly gains for the first time in two years.
"To put this thing in perspective, if we collect in the next two months what we collected in the last two months last year, we would run a $140 million surplus," Brown told the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.
Brown's guarded forecast contrasts with months of bad news and dire predictions the committee had absorbed as it wrestled with nearly $4 billion in combined projected shortfalls for the budget that ends June 30 and the new $77.7 billion budget covering the two years after that.
And it is also a surplus that is measured against drastically lowered expectations over the past year from an economy that has struggled to recover from the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.
The revenue forecast on which the current budget is based has been reduced three times since July and raised once, and it is far lower than the initial estimate for 6.6 percent growth made by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.
"Let me put it in perspective. We will meet the forecast, but the forecast is a minus 2 percent," Brown said.
The pared-down spending blueprint for state operations resets the budget through 2012 to its 2006 levels. It portends thousands of state employee layoffs, cuts in state-supported health care services, and it pressures local governments to boost their taxes to preserve some services.
And that doesn't contemplate the prospect of increasing long term costs for the state's share of Medicaid, the federal-state program that helps pay for health care for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, and for low-income families with children.
April's general fund tax collections increased by 0.4 percent. That followed an 18.2 percent increase for March. The last time Virginia had back-to-back increases in revenues was March and April of 2008.
Brown acknowledged the frailty of an economy that continues to struggle with job losses and rising unemployment rates.
Some committee members who had struggled to assemble the austere state budget during the winter General Assembly session were wary of Brown's recent upbeat assessments.
Del. Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach was skeptical not only because of weak withholding income tax collections that reflect income taxes levied on salaried wage earners but lingering distress on banks from the recent mortgage industry meltdown.
"I don't know that it's such a rosy picture that you're painting," Tata told Brown.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)