Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
With legislative sessions resuming, State of the State speeches being delivered and the need to seal leaking state budgets lingering, newspaper editorial boards are offering suggestions to their governors and state legislatures on the best way to resolve their financial problems.
In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed overhauling how decisions about state spending are made. Under current state law, eight out of every ten dollars that the state receives are specifically diverted to two different "pies" of the state budget, according to the Birmingham News: one of public schools and higher education; the other for everyone else. Bentley wants a constitutional amendment that would place all the money into one pot, the News noted in its Jan. 15 editorial, and allow the state legislature to decide where it should be spent. Forty-seven states have unified budget, the governor has argued, and Alabama should join them.
But, the News asserted, the timing is wrong. During the recession, funding for public school fell by more than $1 billion. The focus for now, the editorial board said, should be on revenues that would increase the size of both funding pools. Then a conversation can be held about reforming the state budget.
"It's not that Bentley's idea is bad," the News stressed. "It actually makes sense to have one operating budget for all of state government and more flexibility for the governor and Legislature to make spending decisions based on the greatest needs."
Anticipating Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address on Tuesday night, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided a wish list that it expects will not be satisfied. The newspaper observed in its Jan. 17 editorial that the Democratic governor is wrangling with a Republican-controlled legislature that "refuses to budge on taxes" despite reports that the state has the 47th lowest tax burden in the United States. Funding for education has remained behind the national averages while the state's median household income has plummeted.
The Post-Dispatch advised Nixon to take one bold course of action: refuse to honor corporate tax credits, which the newspaper alleged are sold "on an insider's market, usually at a discount." Revoking those credits would potentially close the state's $500 million budget hole, leaving money for other priorities.
"Missouri's race to the bottom can end," the newspaper concluded. "All it takes is one act of courage."
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder had a largely successful first year, the Detroit Free Press declared, redistributing the tax burden, cutting spending and simplifying an overly complex tax incentive system. But there is more room for improvement, the newspaper stated in its Jan. 15 editorial. Reforms to teacher evaluation and tenure practices will require "sophisticated instruments for measuring performance," according to the Free Press. Establishing a health insurance exchange as the January 2013 deadline draws near should be a priority despite political grandstanding, the newspaper argued, and Snyder should deliver on his promises to improve the state's infrastructure by developing a regional transportation plan.
"In a series of interviews last month, Snyder forecast that his sophomore year in office would be 'a year of implementation' in which his administration focused more on executing the policy changes adopted last year than on passing new ones," the Free Press reported. "That's a refreshing departure from paper-thin policy initiatives designed to do little more than capture the next news cycle."
The Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) praised Gov. Bob McDonnell for his stated focus on job creation, education, infrastructure and a more efficient government in its Jan. 16 editorial. But the newspaper suggested that the governor "is missing an important opportunity by failing to support a gasoline tax increase." Virginia's gas tax has been stagnant since 1986, the Daily Press reported, and ranks 37th among U.S. states. With improvements to infrastructure being a priority of McDonnell's agenda, the added revenue from a gas tax increase would allow the state to do more to repair local roads and bridges.
Political will is massed against a tax increase of any kind, the newspaper acknowledged, but the governor's proposal to shift sales tax revenue would inevitably draw funding from other state sectors. An increase of a few cents should be easy, the Daily Press argued, and concerns of fairness could be addressed "by distributing revenue based on a region's contribution."