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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A new analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) finds that 35 states – including Washington State – face new budget shortfalls in the current 2010 fiscal year as a result of the national recession.* Each of these 35 states had already acted to close significant budget shortfalls, but have seen new gaps open up as the economic outlook worsened over the summer and fall.

Even after the economy begins to recover, state fiscal problems are likely to linger for several years as a result of persistent unemployment. According to the report, “High unemployment and economic uncertainty, combined with household’s diminished wealth due to fallen property tax values, will continue to depress consumption, thus sales tax receipts also will remain low. These factors suggest that state budget gaps will continue to be significantly larger than in the last recession, and last longer.”

The graph below shows the total size of state budget gaps closed during the recession of the early 2000s and current recession. In aggregate, states are projected to face sizeable shortfalls at least through 2012.

It is important to note that the measures taken to fill state budget gaps earlier this year – that is, cuts in services and tax increases – would have been much more severe were it not for state fiscal relief provided as part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the federal stimulus act.

However, the state fiscal relief provisions of ARRA are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2010. Another recent CBPP analysis calls for extending these provisions into 2011. “By taking action now to extend ARRA assistance to states into 2011, lawmakers can reduce the drag that very large state budget cuts and tax increases would otherwise impose on economic activity and jobs and thereby give the recovery a better chance of gathering strength.”

* The size of Washington State’s deficit has grown significantly since this report went to press. It will be updated in the next edition.

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