States Turning to Last Resorts in Budget Crisis

Publication: New York Times

Author: Abby Goodnough


06/22/2009 - In Hawaii, state employees are bracing for furloughs of three days a month over the next two years, the equivalent of a 14 percent pay cut. In Idaho, lawmakers reduced aid to public schools for the first time in recent memory, forcing pay cuts for teachers.

And in California, where a $24 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year is the nation’s worst, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed releasing thousands of prisoners early and closing more than 200 state parks.

Meanwhile, Maine is adding taxes on candy and ski tickets, Wisconsin on oil companies, and Kentucky on alcohol and cellphone ring tones.

With state revenues in a free fall and the economy choked by the worst recession in 60 years, governors and legislatures are approving program cuts, layoffs and, to a smaller degree, tax increases that were previously unthinkable.

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.

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“Legislators have never dealt with a recession as precipitous and rapid as this one,” said Susan K. Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “They’re faced with some of the toughest decisions legislators ever have to make, for both political and economic reasons, so it’s not surprising that the environment has become very tense.”

In all, states will face a $121 billion budget gap in the coming fiscal year, according to a recent report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, compared with $102.4 billion for this fiscal year.

To read the full article, please visit nytimes.com.

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