Of those states suffering at least a 3% drop in revenue since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, two-thirds (eight in 12) are red states. Alaska, Florida, North Dakota and Texas are seeing some of the worst revenue losses of 9% or higher over the comparable period in 2019, according to the latest data from the Urban Institute.
Across the 47 states from which the institute has full data, total state tax revenues were down by $14 billion in the first ten months of the pandemic (between March and December 2020) compared to the same period a year earlier. That’s an average drop of 1.8% and is largely driven by declines in sales tax revenue.
Gov. Tony Evers’ biennial budget proposal fulfills many Democratic priorities with big spending increases, but Republicans have raised concern that the $91 billion proposal would almost entirely drain the state’s coffers — by close to $2 billion — and leave Wisconsin in a more precarious financial position down the road.
The state is projected to have a nearly $2 billion surplus in its general fund by the end of the year, but Evers’ projected budget, which includes $1.6 billion in new tax revenue from marijuana, big manufacturers and the wealthy, still reduces that to around $143 million by mid-2023.
“It’s not necessarily inappropriate to draw down a big chunk of your reserves when you’re facing a once-in-100-years pandemic,” Wisconsin Policy Forum research director Jason Stein said. “You don’t have the reserves just to put them on a wall and admire them, but at the same time … you have to think about what’s going to be sustainable for the state budget because some of these challenges are not just going to evaporate either.”
Author(s): Mitchell Schmidt | Wisconsin State Journal , Riley Vetterkind | Wisconsin State Journal
Lamont’s budget does nothing to address the fact that Connecticut has some of the highest property taxes in the country. This massive tax burden hurts young families looking to settle down and grow; it hurts small businesses that have already been crushed by the pandemic; and it pushes seniors to find greener and cheaper pastures for retirement. The average Connecticut homeowner pays an astounding $5,327 per year — the highest property tax rate in New England. This puts us at a competitive disadvantage when our neighbors in New York and Massachusetts have more affordable property tax rates.
Nor does the governor do anything to address the structural budget deficits looming just over the hill. Instead, he reminds us we have a well-funded rainy-day fund and friends in Washington to bail us out. When your strategy is to drain your reserves and count on a global pandemic, you, in fact, have no strategy.
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board has proposed changes it calls “improvements” to the accounting standards for governments. However, watchdog groups such as Truth in Accounting have criticized the proposed changes and urged the adoption of more stringent standards that would require governments to balance their budgets the way most businesses are required to do. Illinois has grown accustomed to using lax accounting methods to hide its budget deficits, racking up debt year after year. The state’s taxpayers would benefit from tougher standards that impose fiscal discipline.
Between August and mid-December of 2020, at least one-quarter of large bond issuances in the municipal market involved some form of deficit financing, according to an analysis by Municipal Market Analytics (MMA). The firm analyzed 442 municipal bond issuances that totaled at least $100 million.
MMA’s Matt Fabian and Lisa Washburn added that their tally was conservative and that as many as half of those 442 issuances may have involved deficit financing because the ultimate use of the money wasn’t always clear.
“These are not typical uses of the municipal bond market, where an overwhelming majority of financing is for long-term infrastructure projects,” they told the Pew Charitable Trusts. “But last year, with state and local governments seeking as much as possible to avoid cutting spending, raising taxes, or postponing pension payments, they shifted their emphasis to short-term and temporary solutions. As the pandemic continued and federal stimulus money dried up, they increasingly took on debt for budgetary help.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is scheduled to outline his budget plan on Wednesday for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It should include sacrifice from the nearly 40,000 state workers whose jobs have not been at risk like millions in the private sector and who got generous pay raises, funded by taxpayers, during the pandemic when Illinois’ unemployment soared to 16%. It is high time the state’s unionized workforce be part of the “shared sacrifice” our politicians so often expect of the private sector workforce.
While sectors of the state workforce have been extra busy due to COVID-19’s strain on unemployment benefits and health care systems, many state offices and agencies have been closed, services backlogged and workers learning to perform their jobs from home. Taking unpaid furlough days should not be a big “ask” compared with what the private sector has endured under Pritzker’s shutdown orders — restaurants, hotels, convention business, sports and marketing jobs — entire industries sidelined and in some cases, wiped out.
Other blue state governors confronted their unionized workforces months ago and showed leadership in doing so. Democratic governors in Wisconsin, California and New York cut public sector pay, instituted across-the-board spending cuts throughout state government, froze hiring and scheduled raises, and prepared for what would become a nearly yearslong economic slump due to COVID-19. They did it to protect all taxpayers.
Receive from above, take from below. Such is the essence of one theme of the 2021 state budget plan unveiled last week by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The Democratic governor’s budget plan has a basic premise: Red ink will be washed away only if his request for a bailout from the federal government happens.
Cuomo’s new budget assumes the federal government will give New York at least $6 billion over two years as part of a broader $1.9 trillion Covid-related stimulus package being negotiated by Democratic President Joseph Biden and the Democratic-led Congress.
Governors—especially from Democratic states—have been pleading revenue poverty since the pandemic began. But as we approach the anniversary of Covid-19 in America, that tall tale is becoming more difficult to sell.
Even the left-tilting media are beginning to figure out what we’ve been reporting for some time. One of our sources is Dan Clifton, of Strategas Research Partners, who has been tracking state revenue trends and Covid relief from the beginning. His latest analysis shows that state revenues have been doing far better than advertised, especially states that have kept their economies largely open.
He estimates that a majority of the 50 states are seeing revenues arrive above their pre-Covid levels despite the 2020 economic damage. The big exceptions are states that had the most restrictive business lockdowns (New York), those that rely on sales taxes and have no income tax (Florida and Texas), and those that depend on travel and tourism (Nevada).
Gov. J.B. Pritzker long warned that without his graduated-rate income tax, which voters rejected in November, Illinois would be left with only two options to address its chronic budget problems: raising income taxes or double digit across-the-board spending cuts.
But ahead of his budget address to lawmakers Wednesday, Pritzker outlined a state spending plan that would neither raise the income tax or alter the total budget outlay.
He did call for closing $900 million in unspecified “corporate tax loopholes,” which opponents are already labeling a tax hike on businesses in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
What remains to be seen is whether the governor will look to other avenues to increase revenue, although his options appear limited. He has opposed two of the leading options favored by some budget watchers: instituting a tax on retirement income and applying the sales tax to some services.
For starters, it left Illinois stuck with its long-standing, flat rate income tax. This outcome was something other than desirable, given the central role this flat rate income tax has played in driving Illinois’ incessant, and substantial, General Fund deficits.
How substantial? Current estimates are the General Fund deficit will reach $13 billion by the end of FY 2022 — which means Illinois won’t have the revenue needed to cover almost half of anticipated FY 2022 expenditures on services. That’s a real cause for concern, given over 95 percent of all General Fund spending on services goes to the four, core areas of education, health care, human services, and public safety.
Sure, a portion of this deficit will resolve itself once the revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic end. That said, the crux of Illinois’ fiscal problems have nothing to do with COVID-19, and everything to do with structural flaws in the state’s tax policy — the flat rate income tax being key among them.
Orlando Cruz, senior vice president of ICMA-RC, says the layoffs following the Great Recession took years to recover from. “The layoffs, the furloughs, the early retirements we saw then really put states and localities in a hole through next decade to the point where — even before Covid — they had hard time recruiting in certain skill sets,” he said.
Now, he added, “governments are thinking strategically in terms of hiring.” State and local worker layoffs appear to have peaked in April — that’s different from the slow and steady layoffs that occurred over many months during the last recession. “Governments know they have to compete with other sectors for talent,” Cruz said during a call with reporters. What’s more, he said, budget constraints in the coming years will “make it harder to back fill those positions laid off.”
Urban Democratic lawmakers attacked Gov. Ned Lamont’s new budget proposal Thursday, charging the two-year package does little to nothing to reverse long-standing gaps in education, health care and economic opportunity.
During a two-hour hearing with Lamont’s budget director, the governor’s fellow Democrats on the Appropriations Committee also questioned whether the $46 billion biennial package sets Connecticut up for another budget crisis after the next state election.
“I am so disappointed in this budget when it comes to human services,” said Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden. “Again, here we are, balancing a budget on the backs of our most vulnerable.”