Budget and Spending

How do states develop and manage their budgets, and how does this process vary across states? The latest edition of NASBO’s Budget Processes in the States report provides self-reported data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia on many aspects of state budget practices, such as: the budget calendar, revenue forecasting, gubernatorial budget authority, balanced budget requirements, tax and expenditure limitations, debt restrictions, approaches to budget development, rainy day funds, tools to monitor and control expenditures, and the use of performance measures.

Overall, state fiscal conditions weakened in fiscal year 2016 compared to the prior year. Both revenue growth and total state spending experienced a slowdown due to numerous factors. In addition, the number of states making mid-year budget cuts was historically high outside of a recessionary period. In fiscal 2017, it is projected that both state general fund spending and revenue will grow moderately. However, since the start of the fiscal year, over half the states have had to revise their revenue projections downward due to weaker-than-anticipated tax collections. Looking forward, states are not only contending with slow revenue growth and constrained spending, but also federal uncertainty in a number of areas.

The president's federal budget was released May 23 and the analysis of winners and losers began practically before the ink was dry, although almost all of Washington seemed to agree the budget was dead on arrival. Cuts to the Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, alone total $616 billion over the next ten years. The budget also envisions saving $250 billion from partly repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law. Taken together, these Medicaid cuts are nearly half the nondefense discretionary funding cuts. To further understand just how important federal Medicaid funds are to states, CSG looked at 2017 federal funding flowing to the states. According to Federal Funds Information for the States, or FFIS, data, the federal Medicaid funding for 2017 is more than 50 percent of all federal grant funds flowing to states in all but four states.

State and local governments have been reshaping their finances since the Great Recession. They have been struggling with three major sources of fiscal stress: slow tax revenue growth, growth in pension contributions that has been heavily concentrated in a few states, and Medicaid spending growth driven by recession-related enrollment. In 37 states, pension contributions plus state-funded Medicaid grew by more than state and local government tax revenue between 2007 and 2014, in real per-capita terms. In response to these strains, state and local governments have cut infrastructure investment, slashed support for higher education, cut spending on K–12 education, cut spending on social benefits other than Medicaid, reduced administrative staff and reduced most other areas of the budget.

Overall, state fiscal conditions showed modest improvements in fiscal year 2015. Revenue growth accelerated, mostly due to strong income tax collections, while total state spending from all fund sources increased at its fastest rate since 1992 due to additional federal funds from the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the number of states making mid-year budget cuts remained low, and states’ total balances reached an all-time high in actual dollar terms. In fiscal 2016, states expect both revenue and spending to grow slowly. However, some states are facing significant budgetary challenges associated with the decline in oil prices. It is likely that budget proposals for fiscal 2017 and beyond will remain mostly cautious with limited spending growth.

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, most states (46) will start their fiscal year on January 1, 2016. Most states (39) have enacted their budgets for the new fiscal year, including 16 states that operate on a biennial budget and who passed their fiscal year 2017 budgets last year. That leaves 11 states that have yet to enact a budget for 2017: Alaska, California, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

For state budgets, every dollar counts. But this is perhaps even more so the case at a time when state economies are still recovering from the Great Recession. That’s why New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller decided to take a closer look at state accounts when he was elected in 2014. In February, the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor released the second annual Fund Balance Report, which focuses on unspent funds in state government accounts that don’t automatically revert to the state’s general fund. In New Mexico, Keller took a look at unspent funds across all state agencies that didn’t automatically revert back to the general fund. And the results, he said, were somewhat surprising. “The dollars were much higher than anyone expected.”

CSG Midwest
Governors in two Midwestern states are asking legislators to consider using a new source for funding transportation projects — state budget reserves.
In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts has proposed creation of a transportation infrastructure bank to accelerate the completion of highway repairs, fix county bridges, and fund projects that help new or expanding businesses. Under LB 960, up to $150 million in cash reserves would be transferred to the infrastructure bank. According to theAmerican Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Nebraska is one of four Midwestern states (along with Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota) that relies entirely on a “pay as you go” model for transportation funding (no bonding).
CSG Midwest
As the new year began in Illinois, there was still seemingly no resolution in sight to a months-old problem: The state had no budget. But even without one in place, many parts of Illinois government continued to operate, as the result of a mix of judicial, legislative and executive actions.
“Government ‘shutdown’ is always in quotes because no government really shuts down,” notes Chris Mooney, director of the University of Illinois Institute on Government and Public Affairs. “It’s always a matter of to what degree — how much government activity is not being done.”
Illinois has been without a budget since July 1 because of a stalemate between the Democrat-led legislature and Republican governor.
Still, according to the Illinois comptroller’s office, 90 percent of state operations are being funded. For example, state employees get paid because of a court order; services for the disabled continue as the result of a consent decree; and other obligations, such as pension payments, are covered under “continuing appropriations” language in state statute. Illinois legislators also have passed emergency spending bills to fund K-12 schools and local governments.
“All states feel disruption without a budget,” says Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies at the National Association of State Budget Officers, “but the level of disruption varies from state to state.”

CSG Director of Fiscal and Economic Development Policy Jennifer Burnett outlines the top five issues for 2016, including strategic decisions following modest revenue growth, workforce development, public pensions, federal instability, and health care costs. 

Pages