The crisis in the states has led to some testy confrontations and creative thinking. Perhaps the most famous showdown came in Wisconsin, when Gov. Scott Walker sought to end collective bargaining rights in a bid to combat a budget shortfall. While some questioned the logic of his argument, no one had any doubt that he was at least onto something with regards to the shortfall.
Three years into the financial crisis, 42 states and the District of Columbia have closed, or are working to close, $103 billion in budget gaps for fiscal year 2012. And as of the first quarter of 2011, revenues remained roughly 9 percent below pre-recession levels, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
In its cover story last summer, "Broken States of America," Time magazine surveyed a country falling apart from the statehouse on down. The capitols are pulling out all the stops: "raising levies on tobacco, alcohol, gambling, soda pop and candy -- even bottled water in Washington State. Nearly half the states have hiked fees for higher education, court services, park access, business licenses -- or all of the above," wrote David von Drehle.
To some extent, the measures seem to be working; the CBPP reports that revenue projections are slightly up for the next fiscal year as compared to earlier in the financial crisis. But the plug has been pulled on one creative measure launched in Utah in 2010.
Then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, now a presidential candidate, set in motion, the so-called "4/10" workweek. The idea, according to an AP report, was for state workers to clock in 10 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, to improve efficiency, reduce overhead costs and conserve energy. Failing to note any savings in its latest legislative audit, lawmakers have voted to end the program.
While the model has been embraced in the Texas city of El Paso as a successful way of cutting costs, its mixed record is in keeping with the measures taken to confront the statehouse crises. As Von Drehle reported, many states are responding with across-the-board budget cuts, and at his count some 28 had gone down that route.
And the state of Utah provides as good a case study as any in the dangers of such a sweeping measure. When Salt Lake City called on all state agencies to install cuts starting in 2009, among the targets was the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control. That year, the state closed two of its 44 state-operated liquor stores, which in total bring in about $100 million worth of profits a year. Many of those funds are sent to programs like school lunches.
When nine more closures were being lined up for this year, there was a strong reaction against the move.
"People were asking, 'Why are you closing a profitable liquor store?' " says Vickie Ashby, the department's public information officer, according to the website governing.com, which covers states and other localities.
The additional liquor store closures were put on hold.
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