STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, but very little was coming up roses this week for state budgeteers who saw their hopes of avoiding another scramble to balance state finances washed away in a torrent of economic floodwaters.
Tax collections in April, when millions of Bay Staters file their returns, were, if all went according to plan, supposed to put the budget back on track.
The $220 million shortfall in revenue through March - again, if all went according to plan - would become much more manageable when the cash came pouring in during the largest month for tax collections in the year.
Not only did that not happen, but the exact opposite occurred.
New reports showed an economy contracting in the first quarter, business confidence is on the decline and the revenue gap more than doubled to $462 million when April revenues not only failed to live up to expectations, but dropped off $83 million from last year.
"It's hard for us to really figure out what's happening because our unemployment rate is low, the economy is very well in Massachusetts, the jobs are there. We're sitting back saying what is stymieing our benchmark figures?" Rep. Paul Donato, second assistant House majority leader, said.
Gov. Charlie Baker does not seem to have hit the panic button yet, and suggested he and his budget team have been preparing for the possibility of a shortfall for some time. The governor said he was working on a solution to preserve local aid and critical services for taxpayers, and House and Senate lawmakers were in agreement on one thing - hands off the "rainy day" fund.
But Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan said the numbers should give state leaders pause.
Heffernan said that not only will revenue this fiscal year fall short of projections, but he recommended rethinking the 3.9 percent growth lawmakers are counting on for fiscal 2018.