In the opinion column "'Stimulus' and the States" (Wall Street Journal, April 24), Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano blames Congress for state budget deficits: "Even if the federal government paid up on only a few of its debts mentioned here, Arizona would not be in deficit this year."
Without question, unfunded federal mandates have plagued the states for years, but overall they constitute less than two percent of state budgets. Most state spending rests squarely in the hands of our state capitols.
Like most of the southwest, Arizona has been rolling in cash thanks to historic economic expansion. Three of the past five years saw double-digit percentage budget growth. But instead of reducing the tax burden or saving for a rainy day, state government ballooned 40 percent in real terms. Arizona now finds its per capita state spending on a par with Massachusetts.
Only 21 states went into the red this year, and Arizona led the way with the largest budget deficit of any state on a per-capita basis.
States can unilaterally opt out of some federal programs, like No Child Left Behind. Most governors can also reduce agency spending through executive action. Arizona did none of these things. When it comes to eliminating state deficits, we don't need to look any further than our state capitols.
Darcy Olsen is president & CEO of the Goldwater Institute. This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
Goldwater Institute: A Comparison of State Spending Growth under Arizona Governors
Stateline.org: 23 states face budget gaps in '09
Wall Street Journal: "'Stimulus' and States"