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Majority of state finances worsened during beginning of pandemic

SEPTEMBER 28, 2021

Contact: Courtney Houtz

Majority of state finances worsened during beginning of pandemic

CHICAGO — Truth in Accounting (TIA), a think tank that analyzes government financial reports, found that 39 state governments did not have enough money to pay all of their bills last year. These findings are released today in the twelfth annual Financial State of the States report, which ranks all 50 states by their financial health. TIA analysts draw their data from the fiscal year 2020 audited Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports, which is the latest available data.

Despite receiving federal assistance from the CARES Act and other COVID-19 related grants, the majority of states’ finances worsened. Total debt among the 50 states amounted to $1.5 trillion at the end of the fiscal year 2020, which was just the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every state, except Vermont, has a balanced budget requirement. This means that to balance the budget—as is required by law in 49 states—elected officials should include the true costs of the government in their budget calculations.  However, these financial reports show that they did not do this, and have pushed costs onto future taxpayers.

There is some good news as the report found that 11 states had at least some money set aside to pay their bills. Yet these states still received federal aid. These states deserve recognition for truly balancing their budgets but the uncertainty surrounding this current crisis makes it impossible to determine how much will be needed to maintain government services and benefits.

Most states could not pay all of their bills. When states do not have enough money to pay their bills, TIA takes the money needed to pay bills and divides it by the estimated number of state taxpayers. The resulting number is a Taxpayer Burden™. Conversely, a Taxpayer Surplus™ is the amount of money left over after all of a state’s bills are paid, divided by the estimated number of taxpayers in the state. The average Taxpayer Burden across the 50 states was $9,300 for fiscal year 2020, which is $2,000 worse than the prior year. 

The majority of state debt comes from retirement plans, such as pension and retiree health care benefits. On average, the 50 states had only set aside 64 cents to fund pension promises and 8 cents to fund retiree health care promises. The downturn in the market at the beginning of 2020 caused many state retirement plans to make far less money than is necessary to cover ever-growing liabilities. When states cannot make up investment shortfalls, then taxpayers have to make up the difference. 

“The majority of states were financially unprepared for any crisis.” says Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of Truth in Accounting, “When states can’t pay their bills, taxpayers are on the hook.” 

View this year’s full Financial State of the States report here. The full 50 state ranking is included below. 

Alaska | Taxpayer Surplus: $55,100

North Dakota | Taxpayer Surplus: $39,200

Wyoming | Taxpayer Surplus: $19,500

Utah | Taxpayer Surplus: $6,500

South Dakota | Taxpayer Surplus: $5,200

Tennessee | Taxpayer Surplus: $4,400

Nebraska | Taxpayer Surplus: $3,800

Idaho | Taxpayer Surplus: $3,000

Iowa* | Taxpayer Surplus: $2,000

Oregon | Taxpayer Surplus: $1,000

Minnesota | Taxpayer Surplus: $200

Virginia | Taxpayer Burden: -$300

Indiana | Taxpayer Burden: -$900

North Carolina | Taxpayer Burden: -$1,400

Colorado | Taxpayer Burden: -$1,800

Florida | Taxpayer Burden: -$1,900

Wisconsin | Taxpayer Burden: -$2,000

Arizona | Taxpayer Burden: -$2,200

Oklahoma | Taxpayer Burden: -$2,300

Arkansas | Taxpayer Burden: -$2,300

Nevada | Taxpayer Burden: -$2,600

Montana | Taxpayer Burden: -$3,200

Georgia | Taxpayer Burden: -$3,500

Missouri | Taxpayer Burden: -$4,400

New Hampshire | Taxpayer Burden: -$4,800

Ohio | Taxpayer Burden: -$5,400

Kansas | Taxpayer Burden: -$7,500

Washington | Taxpayer Burden: -$7,800

West Virginia | Taxpayer Burden: -$8,100

Maine | Taxpayer Burden: -$8,200

Alabama | Taxpayer Burden: -$9,800

Mississippi | Taxpayer Burden: -$11,500

Texas | Taxpayer Burden: -$13,100

Rhode Island | Taxpayer Burden: -$16,100

Michigan | Taxpayer Burden: -$16,800

New Mexico | Taxpayer Burden: -$17,000

Maryland | Taxpayer Burden: -$18,200

Pennsylvania | Taxpayer Burden: -$18,300

South Carolina | Taxpayer Burden: -$18,700

Louisiana | Taxpayer Burden: -$18,700

New York | Taxpayer Burden: -$20,100

California** | Taxpayer Burden: -$21,100

Vermont | Taxpayer Burden: -$24,700

Kentucky | Taxpayer Burden: -$26,000

Delaware | Taxpayer Burden: -$31,300

Hawaii | Taxpayer Burden: -$37,000

Massachusetts | Taxpayer Burden: -$38,100

Illinois | Taxpayer Burden: -$57,000

New Jersey | Taxpayer Burden: -$58,300

Connecticut | Taxpayer Burden: -$62,500

The Financial State of the States report is an in-depth study of the financial condition of the 50 states. The data for this report was derived from states’ 2020 annual comprehensive financial reports and retirement plans’ reports.

Founded in 2002, Truth in Accounting is dedicated to educating and empowering citizens with understandable, reliable, and transparent government financial information. Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO, is a Certified Public Accountant with more than 40 years of experience in the field.

*As of September 15, 2021, Iowa had not released its FY 2020 audited financial report. The state instead released a preliminary, unaudited report which was used for this report. 

**As of September 15, 2021, California had not released its FY 2020 annual comprehensive financial report. As a result, FY 2019 data was used for the state of California in this report.