Pew: New State Leaders Will Have to Reconcile Campaign Promises, Voters’ Priorities, Budget Realities

Contact: Nicole Dueffert, 202.552.2274, ndueffert@pewtrusts.org


Washington, DC - 11/05/2010 - Significant conflicts over how to tackle major budget shortfalls await the record number of new governors and state legislators elected this week.

“Many faces have changed as a result of Tuesday’s vote—but the fiscal crisis facing statehouses has not,” said Susan K. Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “In January, new lawmakers in most states will be under enormous pressure to close significant budget gaps.  New governors and legislators will have to reconcile their campaign promises and the public’s priorities with what is needed to restore states’ long-term fiscal health.”

Observations about the 2010 elections:

  • There will be at least 28 new governors, more than at any point in nearly a century. 
  • On the same day that Americans chose divided government in Washington, with Republicans controlling the U.S. House and Democrats the Senate, they moved away from it at the state level. In 2011, fewer than half a dozen state legislatures seem likely to have their two chambers controlled by different parties. 
  • Republicans solidified their hold on the South, taking control of all branches of state government in Alabama and Tennessee for the first time since Reconstruction, and in Oklahoma for the first time ever. 
  • Since the start of the recession, states have closed more than $400 billion in cumulative budget gaps. Still, many face difficult years ahead, burdened by large deficits, diminished revenues, rising costs and the end of federal stimulus funding. According to Facing Facts, a recently released public opinion survey by the Pew Center on the States and the Public Policy Institute of California, residents across five fiscally stressed states have similar priorities for state government, but their preferences clash with budget reality. The report can be found at www.pewcenteronthestates.org/budgetrealities

    For example, the survey found that respondents overwhelmingly prefer to balance the budget through spending cuts, rather than tax increases. At least 12 of the nation’s new governors elected on Tuesday appear to agree with that sentiment; they vowed during their campaigns not to raise taxes, leaving cuts as their primary means of closing tens of billions in budget gaps. On the other hand, at least four out of five respondents across the five states surveyed are either somewhat or very concerned about the effects of cuts—and majorities want to protect funding for K-12 education and health and human services, to the point that they say they would pay higher taxes to do so. In reality, the size of budget shortfalls in many states will make fully protecting these areas—the biggest recipients of state dollars—difficult.
The Pew Center on the States will continue to analyze the election results and states’ responses to the fiscal crisis. Find daily news and analysis at Stateline.org and pewcenteronthestates.org.

For more information or to set up an interview with Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, please contact Nicole Dueffert at 202-552-2274 or ndueffert@pewtrusts.org

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