Entries in State Budgets (3)


State Budgets vs. Social Security: What's the Real Third Rail?

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While Social Security long has been seen as the deadly third rail of American politics, an ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that state budgets may in fact pose the greater hazard to axe-wielding lawmakers.

Beyond freezing pay and trimming pensions for new hires, state governments have little leeway in terms of public support for cost-cutting measures.  Sizable majorities of Americans -- six in 10 or more -- reject 10 out of 12 state deficit-cutting approaches tested in this poll.  The choices are so poor that raising or enacting taxes, while far from popular, are among the less unpopular options.

Reducing union bargaining rights -- the Wisconsin approach -- doesn't look like a popular solution either.  Sixty-seven percent of respondents in the poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, say workers employed by state governments should have a right to form unions to negotiate their working conditions, pay, benefits and pensions.  More, 81 percent, say all workers in general should have that right.

Perhaps surprisingly, there may be a little more wiggle room for lawmakers in Washington eyeing Social Security.  Despite the system's "touch it and die" reputation, one option gets narrow majority support -- lifting the cap on the amount of income that's taxed to fund benefits.  And two others -- reducing early retirement benefits and slowing the rate of growth in benefits -- approach a split decision.

One impetus could be the sense of risk: eighty-one percent of Americans see a crisis ahead for Social Security if changes aren't made, up 10 points from six years ago.  And more than half now favor "major" changes to keep the system secure.  Given those shifts, support for proposed changes to Social Security has gained in several cases, even when it still falls short of a majority. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Education Secretary Duncan Encourages Productivity and Flexibility

U.S. Department of Education(WASHINGTON) -- In a conference call Thursday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stressed the need for governors to enhance productivity and flexibility in education despite facing a severe budget crisis.

“In these difficult financial times, meeting the challenge of improving education is even tougher, and many school districts are facing layoffs, reductions in state funding and massive budget deficits,” Duncan said.  “There is a right way and wrong way to cut spending, and the most important guiding principle I can offer is to minimize the negative impact on students.”

At the request of the states’ governors, the Department of Education released two documents Thursday to assist governors in making the best decisions about education while confronting demanding budget cuts.  The documents provide guidance for states to flexibly invest federal funds and ensure those funds are implemented in a way that fosters productivity for students.

“America’s governors are facing tougher financial challenges than any time in recent history, and we call this a ‘new normal’, but we can never allow the new normal to take us backwards.  We have to do more with less.  We have to have to put needs of children above everyone else,” said Duncan.

Duncan addressed pending teacher layoffs across the country and urged states and school districts to not simply rely on seniority when determining layoff decisions.

“We’re challenging states and districts to use teacher effectiveness in the classroom as a factor in teacher layoffs.  Districts should not let go of effective young teachers because it’s the easiest path and they should not let go of effective higher paid veterans just to save money,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cash-Strapped States Facing Budget Crises, Tough Cuts

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo Courtesy - Mario Tama/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama is set to release his budget plan for next year Monday, setting up a showdown with Republicans calling for drastic spending cuts to bring down the deficit.

Out in the states, though, the rhetoric is less heated and Democrats and Republicans are sounding strikingly similar, with governors from both parties calling for dramatic budget cuts to tackle massive deficits while pledging to not raise taxes.

Twenty-nine new governors were elected last fall and many are facing tough decisions on how to balance their budgets while retaining public services.  All told, states face a combined $125 billion deficit, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Almost all the states are required by law to balance their budgets; the federal government is not required to do so.

"The four big things that [governors] spend their money on is education, health care, transportation and public safety.  We're seeing pretty big cuts in all of those," said Nicholas Johnson, Director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Those cuts are not being well received by Americans.  A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that while Americans are not calling for increased government spending, they have strong opinions when it comes to cutting those services in order to bring down deficits.

Seventy-nine percent said they would not support cuts for funding for K-12 education, 76 percent are opposed to cuts to health care services and 66 percent said no to cuts to public colleges and universities.

California is facing a $25 billion budget deficit and newly-elected Gov. Jerry Brown has his critics howling in protest over his call for large cuts in Medicaid and higher education.  Brown also ordered government agencies to stop purchasing new cars and to get rid of ones that are not "essential" to state business.  He has asked state workers to give 48,000 cell phones, a move that could save the state $20 million.

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called his state "functionally bankrupt" and called for cuts to education and Medicaid in order to close a $10 billion budget deficit.

In Florida, Republican Rick Scott rode the support of the Tea Party movement to victory in last November's gubernatorial race.  He's now under pressure to make good on his pledges to close the budget gap and cut taxes.

In the budget outline he released earlier this month, Scott proposed cutting state spending by $5 billion, with more than $3 billion cut from education spending.  Scott also called for a rollback of corporate income taxes and a reduction in property taxes, adding up to more than $4 billion in tax cuts over two years.

Meanwhile, over in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer has taken the unusual step of asking the federal government for a waiver so the state can remove nearly 300,000 adults from its Medicaid rolls in order to cut costs.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio