Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The state finished 2016-17 with a surplus of $579 million, a better ending balance than what the Legislative Fiscal Bureau had previously projected.

The last LFB estimate of a $467 million ending balance, though, did not include a final look at expenditures over the fiscal year. The Department of Administration wrote in its annual fiscal report expenses came in about $41 million less than had been expected, while revenues were up.

Gov. Scott Walker’s office touted it as the second largest closing balance for a fiscal year since 2000. The guv did not call for any new spending, though a spokesman noted Walker has previously urged lawmakers to use money saved through his budget vetoes to cover a $9.7 million boost in aid for small, rural districts in 2018-19.

“This news makes it easier to do that,” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson.

The co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee said they would like to bank most of the money and took slightly different approaches to Walker’s call to boost sparsity aid.

Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, noted lawmakers boosted the projected ending balance for the 2017-19 budget through their actions and Walker freed up more money with his vetoes. Still, he did not want to commit to new spending with the additional money.

He noted Assembly Republicans had priorities for rural schools that Walker vetoed and differed from him on sparsity aid. Nygren said he’s had additional conversations with the Walker administration about reaching a deal that could address his concerns over the Assembly GOP plan to boost revenue limits on low-spending districts while meeting the guv’s objectives to hold down property taxes.

“I think there is an opportunity for us, but nothing is a given,” he said.

Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, noted colleagues in other states have seen a softening in their revenue collections and there is a lot of uncertainty in health care. She planned to talk with her Senate GOP colleagues about boosting sparsity aid as Walker has suggested, though she’s personally onboard with the plan.

“I think being conservative and banking our resources is a good way to go,” she said.

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