View: State Debt, Pensions, and Retiree Health Costs Create Unnecessary Alarm
January 21, 2011 Leave a comment
Thanks to this reference by Paul Krugman (New York Times), a fairly long, technical analysis, in which it is argued that the state and local financial problems are greatly exaggerated.
What I don’t see is that if it is recognized that there is a major problem in the localities piling on more taxes now just when people can’t afford them.
A spate of recent articles regarding the fiscal situation of states and localities have lumped together their current fiscal problems, stemming largely from the recession, with longer-term issues relating to debt, pension obligations, and retiree health costs, to create the mistaken impression that drastic and immediate measures are needed to avoid an imminent fiscal meltdown. The large operating deficits that most states are projecting for the 2012 fiscal year, which they have to close before the fiscal year begins on July 1 in most states, are caused largely by the weak economy. State revenues have stabilized after record losses but remain 12 percent below pre-recession levels, and localities also are experiencing diminished revenues. At the same time that revenues have declined, the need for public services has increased due to the rise in poverty and unemployment. Over the past three years, states and localities have used a combination of reserve funds and federal stimulus funds, along with budget cuts and tax increases, to close these recession-induced deficits. While these deficits have caused severe problems and states and localities are struggling to maintain needed services, this is a cyclical problem that ultimately will ease as the economy recovers.Unlike the projected operating deficits for fiscal year 2012, which require near-term solutions to meet states’ and localities’ balanced-budget requirements, longer-term issues related to bond indebtedness, pension obligations, and retiree health insurance — discussed more fully below — can be addressed over the next several decades. It is not appropriate to add these longer-term costs to projected operating deficits. Nor should the size and implications of these longer-term costs be exaggerated, as some recent discussions have done. Such mistakes can lead to inappropriate policy prescriptions.