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?”