Saturday, July 17, 2010

State Budgets, On Time and Late

It will be a sign that the U.S. economy is almost back on an even keel if state governments are able to pass budgets almost on time. Based on that, the Pennsylvania budget, which was mostly worked out before the June 30 deadline, is a hopeful sign. Significant details remain to be worked out, chiefly the size and timing of a new tax on natural gas extraction, but the budget bill itself is passed and signed.

Pennsylvania may be a special case, though, as its budget impasse a year ago turned into a worldwide embarrassment that politicians were especially eager not to repeat this year. In California, by contrast, the embarrassment continues, with the governor ordering state employees’ pay cut to the federal minimum wage, but the controller unable to comply because of a payroll system that dates from the 1970s. Budget talks in California, where the budget was also due June 30, are described as “preliminary.”

Local budgets depend to a significant degree on the details of the state budgets, and in most of the country, more local service cuts can be expected. An example of this, reported in Wall Street Journal: asphalt pavement, too expense to patch, is being ground up and turned to gravel on rural roads (via Calculated Risk).

In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as “poor man’s pavement.” Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.