10 states face financial peril

Dropping tax revenue, rising unemployment and yawning budget gaps are wreaking havoc in states from Arizona to Wisconsin, a new report shows.

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By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The same economic pressures that pushed California to the brink of insolvency are wreaking havoc on other states, a new report has found.

And how state officials deal with their fiscal problems could reverberate across the United States, according to the Pew Center on the States' analysis released Wednesday.

The 10 most troubled states are: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

Other states -- including Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, New York and Hawaii -- were not far behind.

The list is based on several factors, including the loss of state revenue, size of budget gaps, unemployment and foreclosure rates, poor money management practices, and state laws governing the passage of budgets.

These troubles have forced these states -- as well as many others -- to raise taxes, lay off or furlough state workers and slash services. These actions can slow down the nation's recovery, especially since these 10 states account for one-third of the country's population and economic output.

"Decisions these states make as they try to navigate the recession will play a role in how quickly the entire nation recovers," said Susan Urahn, managing director of Pew Center on the States.

In a separate study released Wednesday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that states will likely have to make steep cuts in their fiscal 2011 budgets, which start next July 1 in most states. That's because the critical federal stimulus dollars will run out by the end of 2010.

These cuts could take nearly a percentage point off the national gross domestic product and cost the nation 900,000 jobs, the study found.

10 troubled states

Here's a summary of what Pew found is plaguing each of the states:

California: The Golden State's housing collapse -- and resulting unemployment surge -- has plagued the state's economy. The weakening economy prompted revenue to fall by nearly a sixth between the first quarters of 2008 and 2009. State lawmakers have limited ability to deal with California's massive budget gap due to several voter-imposed restrictions, including requirements that all budgets and tax increases pass the legislature by a two-thirds majority.

Arizona: The state depends heavily on a growing economy to bring in tax revenue, and lawmakers don't have a lot of leeway to address budget deficits thanks to voter-imposed spending constraints. Lawmakers relied on one-time fixes to balance its budget instead of making long-term changes.

Rhode Island: The Ocean State has among the highest unemployment rates in the nation and among the highest foreclosure rates in New England. High tax rates, big budget deficits and a lack of high tech jobs are hurting its chances to pull out of the doldrums. State government has a poor record of managing its finances

Michigan: The state never climbed out of the recession that started in 2001, and matters only became worse during the Great Recession. Two of the Big Three Detroit-based automakers went bankrupt in 2009, sending shockwaves through a state on track to lose a quarter of its jobs this decade. The recession accelerated drops in state revenue, and has left Michigan's government trying to deal with today's problems on a 1960s-sized budget.

Nevada: Nevada is one of the recession's big losers as its gaming-based economy suffered. Year-over-year revenue has fallen for two consecutive years, a record. But changing tax laws is tough because some are written into the state constitution.

Oregon: Oregon's leading industries, such as timber and computer-chip manufacturing, have been hit hard in the recession. Lawmakers have approved more than $1 billion in new taxes to keep it afloat. But voters in January will have the final say on another $733 million in new income taxes.

Florida: For the first time since World War II, Florida's population is shrinking -- bad news for an budget built on new residents flocking to the Sunshine State. Lawmakers raised $2 billion in new revenue this year, but could face a similar shortfall next year.

New Jersey: The Garden State, which has been plagued by years of fiscal mismanagement, spends more than it collects in revenue. The collapse of Wall Street, which supports about one-third of New Jersey's economy, has only made matters worse.

Illinois: Since the last recession earlier this decade, the state piled up huge backlogs of Medicaid bills and borrowed money to pay its pension obligations. The state's current budget still relies heavily on borrowing and paying bills late.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin has a long history of budget shortfalls. It also borrows frequently to cover operating expenses, among other measures. Unemployment is climbing as manufacturing, the state's largest sector, sputters.

More stimulus needed

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, says the states need additional federal fiscal relief to avoid budget cuts that will hurt both the economy and people. State and local spending accounts for about one-eighth of the GDP.

Already, less than five months into fiscal 2010, several states are looking at additional budget cuts. Rhode Island announced Tuesday it is facing a revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year of $130.5 million. Gov. Donald Carcieri said the state must examine its aid to local governments, since it has already cut personnel and social service programs.

And in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that his state is facing a budget gap of up to $7 billion. The state will likely announce across-the-board spending cuts in January.

"So we just have to hang in there, tighten our belts and live within our means," he said.

The center would like to see the federal government allocate another $50 billion, while economist Mark Zandi said about half of that would be needed. Congress should pass the additional aid now since states are currently crafting their fiscal 2011 budgets.

States received billions of dollars in funding from the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package, including $87 billion for Medicaid and $48.3 billion for maintaining education and other key services.

The stimulus funds plugged about 30% to 40% of the budget gaps states were facing, and created or saved more than 300,000 jobs, said Iris Lav, the center's senior adviser.

But the economic downturn is greater than administration officials expected when the Recovery Act was passed in February, Lav said. That's why more assistance is needed now.

Budget projections show that states could face deficits as large as $260 billion in 2011 and 2012 after stimulus funding is exhausted. State economies usually take up to two years longer to recover after the nation's fiscal health begins to improve.

New budget cuts and tax increases "will be a serious drag on the economy at just the wrong time," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

Without assistance, the economy could slide back into a recession, he said. To top of page

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