NYT – Miss. one of many states struggling with budget

All but four states must have new budgets in place less than two weeks from now — by July 1, the start of their fiscal year. But most are already predicting shortfalls as tax collections shrink, unemployment rises and the stock market remains in turmoil.

“These are some of the worst numbers we have ever seen,” said Scott D. Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, adding that the federal stimulus money that began flowing this spring was the only thing preventing widespread paralysis, particularly in the areas of education and health care. “If we didn’t have those funds, I think we’d have an incredible number of states just really unsure of how they were going to get a new budget out.”

Even with the stimulus funds, political leaders in at least 19 states are still struggling to negotiate budgets, which has incited more than the usual drama and spite. Governors and legislators of the same party are finding themselves at bitter odds: in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, sued the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this month after it refused to send her its budget plan in hopes that she would run out of time to veto it.

Over all, personal income tax collections are down by about 6.6 percent compared with last year, according to a survey by Mr. Pattison’s group and the National Governors Association. Sales tax collections are down by 3.2 percent, the survey found, and corporate income tax revenues by 15.2 percent. (Although New Jersey announced last week that a tax amnesty program had brought in an unexpected $400 million — a windfall that caused lawmakers to reconsider some of the deeper cuts in a $28.6 billion budget they were set to approve in advance of the July 1 deadline.)

As a result, governors have recommended increasing taxes and fees by some $24 billion for the coming fiscal year, the survey found. This is on top of more than $726 million they sought in new revenues this year.

Nor will the pain end this year, Ms. Urahn said, even if the recession ends, as some economists have predicted. Unemployment could keep climbing through 2010, she said, continuing to hurt tax collections and increasing the demand for Medicaid, one of states’ most burdensome expenses.

“Stress on the Medicaid system tends to come later in a recession, and we have yet to see the depth of that,” Ms. Urahn said. “So you will see, for the next couple years at least, states really struggling with this.”

NYT
7/21/9