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Larry B. Martin
NASHVILLE — Christmas sales in November and corporate taxes helped propel Tennessee revenue collections to some $93 million above estimates, adding to a general fund surplus which now stands at $343.4 million as a result, state officials said Friday.

Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin said in a news release that state overall revenue collections for December were $1.1 billion, representing 8.95 percent growth over last year.

The collections reflect November activity.

"Total revenues in December were higher than expected due to collections in the sales and corporate tax categories," Martin said. "We believe the December sales tax growth rate, which includes Black Friday and after-Thanksgiving sales, may have been influenced by lower gasoline prices and renewed consumer confidence."

Martin said January's report will provide a clearer picture with Christmas retail activity included.

And he tried to dampen state lawmakers' enthusiasm over the surplus, saying, "We are pleased with strong revenues but are concerned about the economic impact of the stock market and international issues as we begin to work with the Legislature on a responsible spending plan for the next fiscal year."

Officials say year-to-date collections for five months were $373.5 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded $343.4 in collections above estimates and the four other funds $30.1 million.

On an accrual basis, December is the fifth month in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Total collections in December were $99.3 million more than the budgeted estimate. That includes all categories including fuel taxes, which are not part of the state's general fund.

The general fund recorded collections above the budgeted estimates in the amount of $93.0 million, and the four other funds that share in state tax revenues were $6.3 million more than the estimates.

Sales tax collections were $23.9 million more than the estimate for December. The December growth rate was 6.21 percent. Over the first five months of the fiscal year, sales tax revenues are running $159.4 million higher than estimated, and the year-to-date growth rate is 7.14 percent, well below the State Funding Board's projections.

Business franchise and excise taxes, meanwhile, combined to bring in $69.7 million more than the budgeted $200.8 million. Over the last five months, the business taxes exceeded estimates by $157.9 million.

Gasoline and motor fuel collections for December increased by 0.64 percent, which is $2.8 million more than the budgeted estimate of $71.8 million. For five months revenues are $18.2 million more than estimates.

Tobacco tax collections were $1.6 million less than the budgeted estimate of $20.3 million, but for five months they have recorded $4.2 million more than estimated.

And Tennessee's inheritance and estate taxes gave out one final gasp before expiring on New Year's Day.

December collections exceeded projections by $1 million for the month. For five months collections were $8.5 million above budgeted estimates and that despite a $5 million exemption on estates.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com, 615-255-0550 or follow via twitter at AndySher1.

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