State budgets

Almost every state is facing severe budget deficits.  California's hole is particularly gruesome, equal to more than half of its total budget, but there are a bunch of states that have deficits equal to 20-30 percent of their budgets.

In the 80s and 90s, conservatives had this notion that by limiting taxes, or making it necessary to win a popular vote to raise them, you could control the size of government.  (Hence Norquist's line about making government small enough to drown in a bathtub.)  But it's turned out that while people hate taxes, they generally like government services, and what they really like is government services AND low taxes.  With property values rising, governments could cut property tax rates, still bring in more money than before, expand services, and make everyone happy.  With property values falling, and every dollar already squeezed out of gimmicks like selling off future toll revenues, there's not a lot of options other than raising taxes, cutting services, or both.

Here in Virginia, we don't seem to be doing too bad (other than the legislature's boneheaded refusal to take up the Unemployment Insurance money from the stimulus bill). Our deficit is ONLY about 11 percent of the budget.  There are certainly cuts on the table, but thanks to the stimulus dollars coming down, the really ugly education cuts we were expecting were avoided.  In the scheme of things, I can live with having to exit the highway and go to McDonald's to use the bathroom instead of using a public rest stop.  The roads are getting bumpier, and the library hours have been cut.

In a possibly related note, I got my first ticket ever yesterday, for failure to stop before making a right on red.  There were about six officers there, and they were just pulling people over one after another.  Given that it was a T-intersection, with no oncoming traffic, it's hard to see this as other than a revenue measure.  It's a $50 ticket — with a $62 processing fee.

8 Responses to “State budgets”

  1. Jody Says:

    We do a lot of driving, and we saw a lot of people eating their own food this summer at the picnic shelters provided. I agree, in the scheme of things, it’s no biggie — but I do think it’s yet one more way that service cuts disproportionately hit those with lower incomes. It’s not easy to find alternative spaces to eat your food, if you’re on the road and not wanting to pay for food from gas stations or fast-food joints. (Although, to repeat: in the scheme of things, I too can live with it.)
    NC looks likely to cut $1.3 billion from education, out of a $4 billion budget. The entire debate, particularly the “we couldn’t possibly raise taxes” piece, gives me a headache, so I’m not going to write about it. Suffice to say: ugh.

  2. K Says:

    Here is Wisconsin, we are looking at 10% cuts to our already bare-bones school district budgets. The state aid to the local school districts is dropping significantly. I think we are up there with California with the 20% of total budget, but I haven’t seen the exact figure, so I may be wrong about that.
    ugh is right.
    But sorry about the traffic ticket – that’s a bummer!

  3. urbanartiste Says:

    Where I live there are a lot of contradictions and some bad decisions that are being under-reported by the news media. We have a budget deficit (not sure how much) and the state senate is at a standstill, but we escaped some education cuts due to the stimulus bill. On the flip side, state college tuition is going up 300-400 dollars and the state is taking most of it in an attempt to balance the budget. Most people are unaware of this and I dread disgruntled students who think they should be getting better services for their money.
    There has been some state park and beach closings to cut costs; that could impact people looking for low-cost recreation. There are large areas that have been discussed as development over private, open-space use. But in this economy, I think most of our local politicians are still legislating and conducting business in an antiquated, corrupt manner. They give so many tax breaks for business development, local taxes are not going down and the business are not doing well due to the economy, ergo state sales taxes are down.
    The most recent local cost cutting approach is reduce the area of cutting the expressway lawns. Supposedly it is good for wildlife. If you can guess I am from NY state and I can’t wait to see Patterson out of office. He was supposed to be great for education, but now is just floundering.

  4. TC Says:

    You are definitely not just being paranoid about the traffic ticket. There’s research to back you up! http://lohdown.caltech.edu/script_archive?date_to_view=2009-05-14

  5. Jackie Says:

    Maryland is not doing too badly, but our constitution requires the state to balance the budget each year, which is proving trickier and trickier in this economic climate, resulting in major cuts to services like Medicaid. Plus we’re looking at another round of furloughs, which is certainly preferable to layoffs, but is detrimental to a lot of necessary state services.

  6. Jennifer Says:

    I live in Oregon, which is getting hammered in this recession. I haven’t been following the cuts because, I don’t know, I feel powerless to change anything. Also my husband and I are both in fair danger of losing our jobs, so we’ve got our heads down, focussing on our particular situation rather than that of the state as a whole. I do know that our neighboring school distric went to a 4-day week.
    Anecdotally I see cops all. the. time. handing out traffic tickets. It is very clearly a fundraiser.

  7. merseydotes Says:

    About six months ago, I started noticing police officers everywhere in Alexandria, pulling people over left and right. It was at the same time that they pulled the cops off the traffic duty they used to have at key intersections during rush hour. They did such a great job of preventing gridlock and keeping things flowing in an orderly manner; it was a double blow to lose them there AND have them giving tickets. Of course, as far as the city is concerned, it trims an expense and increases revenue in one swoop. I guess that’s the price of living through this recession.

  8. Mieke Says:

    I have been stopped for myriad things in the last few months. There is a huge increase in police activity to get revenue. There was an article in the paper about the increase in parking ticket writers too. I have been able to talk my way out of all of them, except the last. Photo enforced in a state park. $125. OUCH!
    I don’t know what is going to happen in CA. I am keeping a close eye on the boys’ school. Fretting about a lot. I was finally hit personally by the economic downturn and it hurts. Not to mention how shocking it is.
    I just keep breathing, hoping it will pass.

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