- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts took in more than $1.9 billion in tax collections in May - about $30 million or 1.6 percent above expectations, revenue officials said Monday.

The tax collections for May also were $57 million or 3.1 percent more than the collections in May 2016.

Despite the bump up, total revenue collections for the state are still $439 million below projections for the 2017 fiscal year, with just a month left.

Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan said Monday that the state is continuing to see steady year-to-date growth in revenues from income withholding taxes, which he described as a sign of a healthy economy.

But he said the longer-term trend of revenues coming in below projections for the 2017 fiscal year hasn’t changed.

Earlier Monday, before the numbers were released, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration has been working to ensure the budget stays balanced, despite the sluggish revenues.

“Generally speaking we’ve been somewhere between $400 and $500 million under benchmark now for a while and we’ve been making adjustments all the way through to deal with that,” he said.

Baker said the shortfall isn’t “that big a number in the grand scheme of things” compared to the more than $40 billion state budget.

The latest revenue tally came as legislative negotiators began the final stage of state budget negotiations for the 2018 fiscal year.

A six-member conference committee convened to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of what is now a roughly $40.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Complicating the talks are projections that the state will fall short of the tax revenue it would need to support that level of spending.

“We know these are uncertain fiscal times and we will be learning more about what the situation is as this week progresses,” said Sen. Karen Spilka, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, in brief opening remarks to the conferees before the release of the May revenue numbers.

“We will (send) a balanced budget to the governor and I believe one that we can all be proud of,” the Ashland Democrat added.

Rep. Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers would “drill down” for answers to the state’s revenue shortfall.

The first vote by the conferees was to hold their meetings in private, forcing reporters to leave the meeting room.

By rule, conference committee meetings are open to the public, but legislators can vote to close them and it has been long-standing practice on Beacon Hill for budget negotiators to meet behind closed doors.

In a recent financial information statement sent to the state’s bondholders, the Baker administration said it anticipated that a projection of 3.9 percent tax revenue growth for fiscal 2018 would need to be reduced by a yet to be determined amount during final budget negotiations.

The same document estimated that tax collections for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, would miss targets by $375 million to $575 million.

The administration said it would employ various measures to meet its requirements for a year-end balanced budget, including “reducing allotments, maintaining payroll caps and other hiring limitations and otherwise imposing spending controls.”

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