January 23, 2014

State’s bottom rankings shows need to improve

At least Georgia didn’t rank at the very bottom.

A new working paper from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, an economic think tank, ranks the fiscal solvency of all 50 states. Georgia placed in the bottom half, coming in at No. 28.

Most of our neighboring states ranked better, sometimes considerably better. South Carolina came in at 21, Alabama at 10, Tennessee at 8 and Florida at 7. Among states that border Georgia, only North Carolina ranked worse. The Tarheel State came in at 33.

The rankings are based on four measures:

• Cash solvency, or a government’s ability to manage its cash and to pay its bills on time. Here Georgia ranked 30th in the nation.

• Budget solvency, or the ability of a government to pay its budgeted expenses without running a deficit. Georgia ranked 36th in the nation by this scale, its worst score on any of the measures. By contrast, Alabama placed at 32 on this measure, North Carolina at 24, Tennessee at 17, South Carolina at 14 and Florida at 13.

• Long-run solvency, or how well a government has prepared to manage long-term obligations such as debt and pensions. Georgia ranked 32nd in the nation on this score.

• Service-level solvency, or the ability of a government to pay for quality health and social services. Georgia got its best score in any of the measures on this one, coming in at No. 8 in the nation, well above most of its neighbors.

All of these scores came from each state’s fiscal year 2012. So Georgia’s rankings, both overall and on each individual measure, may have changed since then. But the state obviously wasn’t doing well.

Lawmakers should look at the scores, and look closely at what the top-ranked states — Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming — have been doing. Clearly, some of those states have benefited from an energy boom that has lifted state revenues. Georgia can’t count on an economic expansion fueled by natural resources. But lawmakers may still find some good ideas for improving the state’s fiscal health among the 27 states that are doing better than we are.

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