Historic Shrink of Government? States May Have No Choice

Smaller government fans may be in for a historic period.  Due to severe budget crises, state governments throughout the U.S. are “cutting budgets” i.e. shrinking in size.  Lack of money is forcing legislators, regardless of party affiliation, to shrink government spending.  In many cases states can not just raise taxes and fees enough to close the gaps.


Georgia, for example, this week, announced its revenue had shrank for the 15th consecutive month.  Revenue for February 2010 is a whopping 41.3% below February 2007.  January was down 27.3% from 2007.  Georgia legislators are faced with figuring out how to run the state on less money.  They will be forced to shrink the size of government.

 

The Tax Foundation recently highlighted Georgia’s budgetary issues in two releases, “Recession Offers Georgia Opportunity for Tax Reform”  and Georgia Cigarette Tax Hike Would Spur Cross-Border, Black Market Sales

Georgia residents pay the 16th-highest state-local tax burden in the country according to the Tax Foundation.

“There’s just no way to put a pretty face on it,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve got to cut this budget and we have to live within our means.”  (Emphasis added)

Georgia Not Alone, All States are Cutting

Georgia is not alone in facing severe cuts.

John Thomasian of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices outlined the environment and cuts facing state governments in his paper, The Big Reset: State Government after the Great Recession

He writes, “So how must state government adjust to meet the new challenges? Already governors are grappling with this issue. Almost every state has an internal process underway to examine how to cut costs, and several states have created formal task forces or commissions to look at cost- savings and streamlining. Most efforts start by exploring the traditional tools of budget cutting: targeted and across-the-board program cuts, reductions to local aid, layoffs, benefit cuts, furloughs, and salary reductions. In today’s environment, however, states quickly find that these options do not shift the cost curve sufficiently, and they must look at actions that change the way government does business.

Additional steps that are being considered or undertaken today include:

Selling state assets (such as surplus equipment and state office buildings);

Consolidating data centers and IT functions;

Coordinating purchases across agencies;

Consolidating state real estate management into one entity and conducting a review of
real estate holdings and leasing arrangement; and

Reorganizing and combining agencies.”

Profound Changes in State Government

Thomasian writes,  “The current fiscal crisis has spawned a new round of state performance reviews, many of which will yield profound changes in the services state government delivers. This period of government downsizing and streamlining may be a protracted one, ending only when state budget health is restored. The delicate balance will be maintaining those services that help the state prosper, while eliminating those that produce the least value.”  (Emphasis added)

The challenge is that most of our legislators are reluctant to cut government programs.  Segments of the voting community also want their favored programs protected.  We may see a historic shrinking of state government if our legislators and voters reset budgets as circumstances dictate.

Those in favor of smaller government will be tested and have an opportunity to influence this process.

This “reset” of state government will affect all areas of lifestyle including education, jobs and safety. The big question yet to be answered is:  “Will people be happier with a smaller state government that taxes less and provides less services?”

Check in Mail States Delay Tax Refunds

Some states may delay paying tax refunds again this year.  Taxpayers should call them the “Check In the Mail” States.

Last year Kansas, North Carolina, California and Missouri delayed tax refunds.  Taxpayers were not happy about it.  Tax refund delays are another sign of government mismanagement.  In response to last years fiasco, Missouri state house legislators this week passed a bill that if enacted will shorten the time period that the state can withhold payment without interest.  Missouri had to use stimulus money to pay its tax refunds.  See: Missouri State House Approves Quicker Refunds .

This year New York, Kansas, Iowa and Hawaii have already announced they may have to delay payments.  Taxpayers, who are entitled to refunds in these states, will unfortunately suffer.

Here are a few of the headlines and links to the state stories.

Hawaii will delay sending out tax refunds to balance budget

Hold It: Unpaid Parking tickets could delay Iowa tax refunds

NY Governor considers delays in paying tax refunds

Forbes recently published its “Special Report: The Global Debt Bomb.”  In one of its pieces,  United States of Debt , it ranks states according to financial health.  The metrics Forbes looked at for each state when building its ranking included unfunded pension liabilities, changes in tax revenue, credit agency ratings, debt as a percentage of Gross State Product, debt per capita, growth expectations for employment and the state economy, net migrations and a moocher ratio that compares government employees, pension burdens and Medicaid enrollees to private-sector employment.

The Worst States for Debt Trouble, according to Forbes, are Illinois, New York, Connecticut, California and New Jersey.

The States with the least Debt Problems are Utah, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.  All states have significantly lower debt per capita than the Worst States.  The Best States also have lower unemployment than the U.S. average of 9.7% and lower than the Worst States with Debt Problems.  The Best States for Jobs will typically have better government management of debt.

Forbes also ran an analysis that shows that the states with the Worst Debt and Financial Problems are blue states i.e. states controlled by Democrats.  The piece attributed political unions and big spending by Democrats as the cause of the deepest fiscal holes.
See Political Litmus Test: Bluest States Spilling The Most Red Ink