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:
- Illinois State Official: "We Are In Massive Crisis Mode, This Is Not A False Alarm"
- "From Horrific To Catastrophic": Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss
- Connecticut Capital Hartford Downgraded To Junk By S&P
- Connecticut Gov. Signs Exec. Order Taking Over Spending After State Fails To Pass Budget
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?