The annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association this past weekend in D.C. began -- as all state and local meetings must nowadays -- with some dire fiscal news.
In a fiscal update presented jointly with the National Association of State Budget Officers, NGA laid out the hard truth:
State revenues are continuing to deteriorate, as most states are witnessing actual monthly totals lower than their recent forecasts, which have been revised downward. States also face combined remaining budget gaps of $134.0 billion for FY 2010-2012. This means that states have not bottomed yet because not only has there been no leveling of revenues, but Medicaid has continued to grow rapidly. In January 2010, states eliminated 18,000 jobs, and according to the survey, states will continue to shed jobs this year. Not only will this be a direct drag on the economy, but due to states' balanced budget requirements, they will continue to cut spending and increase taxes, which will also weaken the economy and, thus, its ability to generate private sector jobs. States foresee fiscal year 2011, which starts for most states July 1, 2010, to be the most difficult to date, and few see fiscal year 2012 much better.
Despite the grim news, though there was still some good humor on display at the governors' opening session. Governing heavy-hitters Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas seemed to be in particularly spirits. Beebe, who arrived to the press conference a little late, noted Schweitzer's blue jeans and bolo tie and said he was feeling "a little overdressed."
To which Schweitzer replied, "Oh did you find that suit at Wal-Mart?" (The mega-retailer is headquartered in Arkansas.)
Brian Schweitzer, keepin' it casual.
Mike Beebe in a suit that didn't come from Wal-Mart. Maybe.
In fact, only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn't seem to be having fun. Indeed, Christie, a Republican, looked downright uncomfortable, thanks in part to all the positive talk about how helpful the federal stimulus has been for states.
One reporter tried to put Christie on the spot, asking if the stimulus had helped New Jersey. Christie edged, saying: "It certainly helped states like New Jersey and others not have to confront the difficult choices we're now having to confront, but it really just postponed them. I would say my view on it, at least from a personal perspective, was to push the problem from the Corzine administration to the Christie administration."
Chris Christie, not in the mood for laughs.
Maybe Christie would have been more jovial if he'd been wearing a bolo tie?
Thanks to Governing's David Kidd for taking these photos!