5 Charts That Explain Just How Screwed Your State Is

We've spent a lot of time of late discussing the precarious financial positions of states like Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey which each suffer from their own myriad of financial threats including massive budget deficits, monstrous unfunded pension liabilities, pending debt downgrades, etc.  In case you've missed those notes, here is a recap for your amusement:

Of course, while Illinois gets all the bad press for being the undisputed champion of the "worst state in the union" honor, there are many other "up and comers" (yes, we're looking at you California with your massive unfunded pension obligation) aggressively vying for the title.

In fact, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University (GMU) has recently compiled a fairly comprehensive study, based on a number of objective financial metrics, ranking the 50 U.S. states according to their overall fiscal condition.  Among other things, GMU analyzed the following metrics:

  • Cash solvency.  Does a state have enough cash on hand to cover its short-term bills?
  • Budget solvency. Can a state cover its fiscal year spending with current revenues, or does it have a budget shortfall?
  • Long-run solvency. Can a state meet its long-term spending commitments? Will there be enough money to cushion it from economic shocks or other long-term fiscal risks?
  • Service-level solvency. How much “fiscal slack” does a state have to increase spending if citizens demand more services?
  • Trust fund solvency. How large are each state’s unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities?

All of which resulted in the following ranking map. 

Ironically (which, in case it weren't brutally obvious, we mean in the most sarcastic way possible), the resulting map looks eerily similar to the 2016 electoral college map with the Democrat-leaning states on the bottom end of the "fiscal condition" ranking and Republican-leaning states making out a bit better, on a relative basis.


Maybe it's just coincidence...then again, maybe promising every entitlement under the sun to your residents without a clue as to how to finance those entitlements is a really bad idea over the long term...just a thought.

But it's not just the overall ranking where the conservative states seemed to fare better. 

In terms of "cash solvency" (ability to meet short-term funding requirements), 8 of the 10 worst states were all blue states.


Of course, the lack of near-term solvency plaguing America's liberal states isn't for a lack of trying to aggressively over tax their residents...


Meanwhile, on net unfunded pension obligations (with liabilities discounted at the risk-free rate), the mix between red and blue states was more equal on the bottom end of the spectrum even though California's massive $900 billion obligation is roughly 3x that of the next worst state of Illinois.  Even more staggering is the fact that the aggregate unfunded state pension liabilities total over $5 trillion...and that doesn't count local and federal pension obligations.


And the coup de grâce, when it comes to the ability of the states to meet their long-term spending obligations, literally 12 of the 13 worst states in the union are controlled by Democrats and voted Democrat in the 2016 presidential election...which is even more amazing when you realize that only 19 states voted Democrat in the 2016 election in aggregate.


Perhaps it's time to admit that liberal economic policies, which can be summarized as higher taxes and higher entitlement spending, may not be working all that well?


Hal n back Juggernaut x2 Wed, 07/12/2017 - 00:16 Permalink

If IL goes BK, and vendor debt is discharged as well as a severe reduction in Pensions (which were negotiated under duress as union workers regularly went on strike) Il can get fiscally healthy in a hurry.BTW-IL teachers were the highest base paid in the nation. And IL costs are nowhere near the cost of living in California aor in the NY city area.Teachers and other union pensioneers still will cry if their  pensions are taxes in Illinois as they feel thats aninapprproate diminuation of their pensionsThey said all th etime the students come first--these retirees have raped the system so bad that the schools ar ecurrently out of cash an dht eretired teachers do not care, and of course they used hte students as bargaining chips when they went on strike--I guess thats ok but do not be hypocritical about they care abut studesnts first and foremost-they care about themselves first and foremost. if we see a severe market selloff-all the funds run out of assets in 2-4 years. And tax revenues decline badly. Accompanied by a depression. People will be S.O.L. 

In reply to by Juggernaut x2

Bigly Delving Eye Tue, 07/11/2017 - 23:51 Permalink

I am screwed right there with you.But i have to have something to proactively move to, not escape from.I suspect other states will follow in the next 2 years. Not all, but many. And the feds will make sure pain is applied to 'good states'. Because we all know our feds LOVE MORAL HAZARD!So what if we moved and our new state was just as screwed even if they look better right now?Waste of effort.

In reply to by Delving Eye

exi1ed0ne carlnpa Wed, 07/12/2017 - 09:50 Permalink

I hear you.  You have to go where the work is, and a mobile society isn't a stable one.  It actively punishes home owners, so nobody has skin in the game to build a functional community.  The Tiny House movement might be overpriced hippy bullshit, but RVs were the largest Q1 purchase for a reason.

In reply to by carlnpa