Low Gas Prices = Bad Budgets
Interesting that while we all love low gas prices and the low cost of energy is fueling an expansion of our economy, including the first gains in middle income salaries since 2008, the states reliant on oil and gas may be facing real problems financially. A year ago I read an article that noted the reluctance of North Dakota residents and politicians to invest in roads and other infrastructure despite the influx of oil money. Keep taxes low was the mantra. SO they did. A recent Governing magazine article notes that a dollar drop in oil means $7.5 million decrease in revenues for the State of New Mexico. Since oil has lost about $30 a barrel in the past year – that is $200 million loss. Louisiana sees a $12 million cost/dollar drop so they have $171 billion less to work with. Alaska, perhaps the most oil dependent budget (90 percent) has a $3.4 billion shortfall, but $14.7 billion in revenues. Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Kansas are other states facing losses. Fast growing states like North Dakota and Wyoming now have hard decisions to make. Growth in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas may be cut by 2/3 of prior estimates as a result. A double hit on anticipated revenues.
The comparison is interesting financial straights experienced by the “property value” states like Florida, Nevada and Arizona before and after the economic collapse in 2008. Florida politicians couldn’t wait to cut taxes and slow spending during boom years, then got caught badly after the 2008 recession when property values dropped in half and state sales tax revenues (tourism) dropped steeply. They ran out of reserves and refused to raise taxes (after cutting them), so cut things like education and health care to balance the budget. Not sure how either helped low and middle class Floridians get back on track since Florida has primarily create low wage jobs since that time, not high paying jobs. We are paying the price still. I am guessing Nevada and Arizona are similar.
We clearly have not learned the lessons of the many mill towns in the south or the rust belt cities of the Midwest that encountered difficulties when those economies collapsed. Everyone refused to believe the good times would end. Now Detroit is half of its former self and Akron has the same population as it did on 1910.
The moral of the story is that booms great, but short term. Diversity in the economy is a key. Florida will continue to be subject to economic downturns more severe than other states when it relies primarily on tourism and retirees to fuel the economy. Detroit relied on automobiles, Akron rubber and chemicals, Cleveland steel, etc. Some day the Silicon Valley will suffer when the next generation of technology occurs that makes the current works obsolete. It is what happens when you are a “one economy” town. It is also what happens when you believe the booms are “normal” and fail to financially plan by putting money aside during the boom to soften the subsequent period.
An argument could be made that if the federal government had not enacted tax cuts in 2000 when the budget was finally balanced and surpluses were presumed to loom ahead, we could have banked that money (or bought down our debts), and the amount of borrowing would have been less in 2008. Buying down debt when times are good is good business. So is putting money in reserve. The question is why the politicians do not understand it. We can run government like a business financially, but takes leadership to do it. It takes leadership to explain why reserves are good and tax cuts are a future problem. It takes leadership to make hard decisions like raising taxes, spending more on infrastructure, requiring people to move out of flood plains, not rebuilding in vulnerable areas, and curtaining water use policies when they damage society. Leadership is making decisions that help the needs of the many, versus the needs of the few. Oh wait, I see the issue now. We need Spock to lead us…
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