Elizabeth C. McNichol and Iris Lav
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
August 7, 2008
At least 29 states plus the District of Columbia, including several of the nation’s largest states, faced an estimated $48 billion in combined shortfalls in their budgets for fiscal year 2009 (which began July 1, 2008 in most states.) At least three other states expect budget problems in fiscal year 2010.
In general, states closed these budget gaps through some combination of spending cuts, use of reserves or revenue increases when they adopted a fiscal year 2009 budget. At this point in the year, most states have already adopted those budgets; only two states — California and Michigan — continue to deliberate. In order to present a complete picture of the impact of the current economic downturn on state finances, we report both the gaps that have been closed and those that will be closed in the future.
The bursting of the housing bubble has reduced state sales tax revenue collections from sales of furniture, appliances, construction materials, and the like. Weakening consumption of other products has also cut into sales tax revenues. Property tax revenues have also been affected, and local governments will be looking to states to help address the squeeze on local and education budgets. And if the employment situation continues to deteriorate, income tax revenues will weaken and there will be further downward pressure on sales tax revenues as consumers become reluctant or unable to spend.
The vast majority of states cannot run a deficit or borrow to cover their operating expenditures. As a result, states have three primary actions they can take during a fiscal crisis: they can draw down available reserves, they can cut expenditures, or they can raise taxes. States already have begun drawing down reserves; the remaining reserves are not sufficient to allow states to weather a significant downturn or recession. The other alternatives — spending cuts and tax increases — can further slow a state’s economy during a downturn and contribute to the further slowing of the national economy, as well.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities currently is monitoring state fiscal reports and is in touch with state officials and/or relevant state nonprofit organizations in the 50 states and DC. The fiscal situation appears to be as follows.
* Over half of the states have faced problems with their FY2009 budgets.
* The 29 states in which revenues were expected to fall short of the amount needed to support current services in fiscal year 2009 are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In addition, the District of Columbia closed a shortfall in fiscal year 2009. The budget gaps totaled $47.6 to $49.2 billion, averaging 9.3 percent to 9.7 percent of these states’ general fund budgets. (See Table 1.) California — the nation’s largest state — faced the largest budget gap. The shortfalls that states other than California faced averaged 6.2 percent to 6.7 percent of these states’ general fund budgets.
* Analysts in three other states — Missouri, Texas, and Washington — are projecting budget gaps a little further down the road, in FY2010 and beyond. 
This brings the total number of states identified as facing budget gaps to 32 — close to two-thirds of all states. Most states have addressed the FY2009 budget gaps identified here. However, new budget gaps in these and other states are likely to develop as state revenue forecasts are updated during the year.