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With Wallets Bulging, States Must Decide How To Spend Their Cash

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With Wallets Bulging, States Must Decide How To Spend Their Cash


With Wallets Bulging, States Must Decide How To Spend Their Cash

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There's extra cash in the coffers of some state governments these days. After a deep recession and years of cutting budgets to the bone, now there are budget surpluses and that means political battles about what to do with the money. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: After a long bitterly cold economic winter, state budgets all across the country are starting to thaw. In their State of the State addresses, governors in both parties are quick to take credit. Here's Illinois Democrat Pat Quinn.

GOVERNOR PAT QUINN: We stopped the bleeding. We turned the corner and Illinois is making a comeback.

SCHAPER: And then there's Michigan Republican Rick Snyder.

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: We are reinventing Michigan. Michigan is the comeback state.

SCHAPER: And let's not forget about Democrat Jerry Brown in California.

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: And what a comeback it is.

SCHAPER: Are you catching that theme? These aren't the only governors touting comebacks. Republican Jan Brewer highlights the Arizona comeback and Republican John Kasich talks up the Ohio comeback. This comeback theme resonates as states swing from deficit to surplus.

SCOTT PATTERSON: Virtually every state this year should end the year with not only a balanced budget, but at least a modest surplus.

SCHAPER: Scott Patterson heads up the nonpartisan National Association of State Budget Officers. He said the slow economic recovery is picking up steam. That, plus last year's roaring stock market is producing much more tax revenue than the modest uptick that forecasters predicted and that's lead to a $2 billion surplus in New York, a more than $3 billion surplus in California, and big surpluses in Florida, Minnesota, Connecticut, Iowa and other states, including Wisconsin where Republican Governor Scott Walker has close to a billion dollar surplus.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: What do you do with a surplus? You give it back to the people who earned it. It's your money.

SCHAPER: Walker isn't the only governor calling for tax cuts. Other governors want to shore up rainy day funds and still others want to restore funding to programs that were slashed during lean times. But will this fiscal booster shot heal partisan rancor in state capitals? Unlikely. This is an election year for three dozen governors and thousands of state lawmakers and there are some sharp differences over how to spend the extra revenue.

In Missouri, Democratic Governor Jay Nixon wants to significantly boost spending on education.

GOVERNOR JAY NIXON: Let's resolve to give our children and grandchildren more opportunities, better opportunities than we had and build the future they deserve.

SCHAPER: The response from Republican House Speaker Tim Jones?

REPRESENTATIVE TIM JONES: Our governor mistakenly believes that more, bigger government is the answer.

SCHAPER: Similar partisan battles and even intra-party clashes are looming in other state capitals. But before anyone spends their surpluses, experts in state budgeting offer a bit of caution.

PATTERSON: I probably sound like the person throwing cold water on the party, but...

SCHAPER: Again, Scott Patterson of the National Association of State Budget Officers.

PATTERSON: is one of those situations where things look better than they are.

SCHAPER: Patterson says in most states, revenues still have not come back up to pre-recession levels. And other experts agree. Don Boyd of the Rockefeller Institute at the state University of New York gauges states' fiscal health this way.

DON BOYD: Yeah, moderately improving with some pretty big risks ahead and some very unfulfilled promises that need to be funded.

SCHAPER: So if you're picking a song, it would not be "Happy Days Are Here Again?"

BOYD: It would not be "Happy Days Are Here Again." That's right. It wouldn't be singing the blues, necessarily, but it would be more steady as she goes, if they're lucky.

SCHAPER: In this election year, we'll have to see if any governors adopt that as a campaign slogan. David Schaper, NPR News.

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