Iowa gets good marks in report on state budget problems

Iowa has relatively good money-management practices and is among the states “least like California” in terms of budget problems, according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Center on the States.

In the report, Pew’s researchers identified factors that have contributed significantly to California’s difficulties, then determined the degree to which other states are experiencing the same challenges. These factors are: (1) loss of state revenues; (2) the relative size of budget gaps; (3) increasing joblessness; (4) high foreclosure rates; (5) legal obstacles to balanced budgets-specifically, a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget bills and (6) poor money-management practices.

Pew scored all 50 states using the best available data as of July 31, 2009. The snapshot captures an important juncture: the first and second quarters of 2009, the pressure point for governors and legislatures in the throes of crafting their budgets for fiscal year 2010 (which began on July 1 in all but four states).

Click here to view a map showing which states are most and least like California. On that page you’ll also find links to download the full report, its methodology, and a 50-state scorecard (pdf file).

Scanning the scorecard, I noticed that only one state has a better score overall than Iowa. The size of Iowa’s budget gap (as a percentage of total spending) ranks 15th. Only three states had a smaller change in the unemployment rate than Iowa. Only seven states had a lower foreclosure rate. We were among eight states that received a B+ grade for money-management practices (only five states received an A or A- in that category).

Republicans can complain about so-called fiscal mismanagement by Governor Chet Culver and the Democratic-controlled legislature, but compared to many other states, Iowa is weathering this challenging economy well.

Commenting on the Pew report yesterday, Mark Zandi of Moodys.com called for additional federal stimulus funding to support state budgets in fiscal year 2011: “In the past six decades, state and local governments have never seen the kind of tax-revenue collapse they are now experiencing, Mr. Zandi said.”

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