Three States Act as Guinea Pigs for Other States in Fiscal Turmoil

As the federal deficit has grown to unsustainable levels, it has received an increasingly more media attention.   Less attention has been paid to similar large problems the states face.  However, almost every state (46 to be exact) struggled to close budget shortfalls for the current fiscal year (which begins July 1, 2010 in most states).   A policy analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says that states will have to undertake a number of measures to bring their budgets out of the red.

States are facing a very significant fiscal problem.  The problem states are facing is really too big for any single solution.”

Those “solutions” usually include some combination of remedies like raising taxes, cutting spending, and drawing on reserves, all of which are risky and affect the competitiveness of the state vs. other locations.  An obvious risk includes lower investment ratings.  Illinois and California are rated A1 by Moody’s, the fifth highest investment grade and the lowest level for any state’s general-obligation debt. (The table below quickly solidifies why both California and Illinois have such low ratings.)  Standard & Poor’s rates Illinois at A+, its fifth highest grade; California is rated less with an A-, four steps above junk status. In September 2010, Moody’s forecast possible “further financial deterioration” in Illinois, citing budget issues.

Some of this is caused by state employee pensions, which we previously analyzed.

The table below quickly shows why California and Illinois have such low ratings.   The following table lists the 10 states that are projecting the largest 2012 shortfalls.

State Projected FY 2012 shortfall
  (in millions)
California $21,300
Illinois 17,000
New Jersey 10,500
Texas 10,000
New York 8,200
Connecticut 3,800
Minnesota 3,800
North Carolina 3,000
Ohio 3,000
Florida (tie) 2,500
Oregon (tie) 2,500

When viewed as a percentage of the full state budget, the challenge of closing these budget gaps appears even more overpowering.  Illinois’ $17 billion 2012 shortfall is more than half the size of the 2011 state budget.  In total, 40 states project significant shortfalls for their 2012 budgets.  The following table lists the 10 states with the largest 2012 projected shortfalls relative to their most recent budgets.

State Projected FY 2012 shortfall Shortfall as Percentage
  (in millions of dollars) of FY 2011 Budget
Illinois $17,000 52.3
New Jersey 10,500 37.5
Nevada 1,300 36.7
Mississippi 1,200 27.6
South Carolina 1,300 26.1
California 21,300 25.7
Minnesota 3,800 25
Texas 10,000 22.3
Connecticut 3,800 21.6
Louisiana 1,700 21.2

To tackle their projected 2012 state budget deficit, California, Illinois, and New York provide other deficit states three distinctively different models for what works and what doesn’t work. 


Newly elected Governor, Jerry Brown, proposed a budget last week that utilized approximately equal amounts of of spending cuts and increased taxes.  A prerequisite for Mr. Brown’s proposed increased taxes, a special election would be held in June where voters will be asked to extend for five years (through 2016) the tax hikes enacted in 2009.  The additional taxes are income taxes, sales taxes, and vehicle registration taxes.  California’s dire situation probably explains Governor Brown’s amnesia regarding  what happened the last time voters received this proposal.  In the May 2009 special election, 65 percent of California voters rejected Proposition 1A, which (like Governor Brown’s current proposal) temporarily would have extended these tax increases.

Brown’s proposed spending cuts include:

  • $1.5 billion from welfare • $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal
  • $500 million each from the University of California and California State University   systems
  • $750 million from services for the developmentally disabled
  • $200 million from the state bureaucracy.


Last week, lawmakers in the last hours of their term, passed a 67 percent income-tax increase, the largest in the state’s history, to help close its budget deficit.  No spending cuts were passed. The income tax increase from 3 percent to 5 percent is intended to last through 2014.  However, if it is anything like California, Illinois residents best get used to the possibility that the “temporary” tax increase will become permanent.   The increase is aimed at fixing Illinois’s worst fiscal crisis, including a backlog of more than $6 billion in unpaid bills and almost $4 billion in missed payments to underfunded state pensions.

New York

Newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo plans spending freezes and no tax increases.  Cuomo is expected to announce a one-year pay freeze for state workers during his first State of the State.  A spokesman for NY state budget division said that Cuomo does not plan to raise taxes to try and fill the gap because right now we are the tax capital of America, if you combine state and federal taxes.

Assuming these three distinct state budget deficit experimental “solutions” go forward, the results will provide other deficit-plagued states with a real life experiment in possible solutions.   

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1 comment

    • Eye Floaters Cure on September 4, 2011 at 10:00 PM
    • Reply

    This might not be the largest Country in the World, but I think it is the most impressive. One way you can measure the growth of somewhere is the measure it’s arts. There is little doubt that this place exceeds other countries away. I wouldn’t want to die there, but a year or two would be pretty sweet.

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