Inside the Dire Financial State of the States

Publication: Time

Author: David Von Drehle


06/17/2010 - In New Jersey, taxes are high, the budget's a mess, government is inefficiently organized, and the public pension fund is blown to kingdom come. Which makes New Jersey a lot like most other states in 2010. What makes the state unusual is its rookie governor, a human bulldozer named Chris Christie, who vowed to lead like a one-termer and is keeping his promise with brio. He has proposed chopping $11 billion from the state's budget — more than a quarter of the total — for fiscal year 2011 (which starts July 1). He's backing a constitutional cap on property taxes in hopes of pushing the state's myriad villages and townships to merge into more efficient units. He's locked in an ultimate cage match with the New Jersey teachers' union. It may be the bitterest political fight in the country — and that's saying something this year. A union official recently circulated a humorous prayer with a punch line asking God to kill Christie. You know, New Jersey humor. And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Christie didn't talk about the possibility that his fiscal initiatives might be compromised or defeated; he pictured himself "lying dead on State Street in Trenton," the state capital. Presumably that was a figure of speech.

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The Pew Center on the States, a nonpartisan research group, estimates that states are at least $1 trillion short of what it will take to keep their retirement promises to public workers. Two Chicago-area professors recently calculated the shortfall at $3 trillion. According to Pew, half the states ran fully funded pension plans in 2000, but by 2008 that number had dwindled to four.

Read the entire article Inside the Dire Financial State of the States on the Time Web site.

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