- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

Alaska: New governor Frank Murkowski will not submit a new budget figure until March 6. The Republican is a close friend of the Bush administration while serving in the Senate and has some ambitious goals as governor in terms of developing roads and other infrastructure aimed at boosting the state's economy. He proposed cutting state wildlife experts out of the natural resources permitting process.

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Arizona: A $1.3 billion deficit over the next two years stands in the way of newly elected Gov. Jane Napolitano's hopes to beef up programs for children and a prescription drug plan for low-income seniors. Napolitano, a Democrat, has proposed a raft of targeted spending cut, fee hikes and borrowing in order to balance the budget without new taxes. Republicans who control the Legislature have dubbed the proposal "wishful thinking" and have vowed not to balance the budget through tax increases or education cuts. There is unanimity in badgering Washington to pay more to cover costs of illegal immigration. About half of the budget is devoted to voter-approved or federal mandated programs, which leaves the rest of the state government, including the university system, vulnerable to major cuts.

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California: Estimates of the appalling deficit have been trimmed to $34.5 billion, but the Golden State is still bracing for major cuts in just about every area. Gov. Gray Davis recommended $8.2 billion in tax hikes that will be used to fund program transfers to cities and counties. Republican swing votes in the Legislature are loath to back tax hikes in the wake of the November elections and Democrats are working to cancel a scheduled cut in vehicle licensing fees that that go to city and county governments. Prior to his Jan. 6 inauguration, Davis announced a job stimulus package aimed at revving up the economy.

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Hawaii: The state has a deficit hovering around $500 million for the next two years and its economy is largely at the mercy of tourists from both the Mainland and Japan. Gov. Linda Lingle's economic plan seeks to improve tourism and also reduce certain excise taxes in order to reduce the burden on low-income Hawaiians. The state has ordered all departments to solicit bids for supply contracts on-line in hopes of drawing more competition. The national "No Child Left Behind" education policy presents a daunting challenge to Hawaii schools. The state found that 14 of 116 schools last year met achievement standards, and it is expected that more state spending on education will be called for.

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Idaho: Re-elected Gov. Dirk Kempthorne proposes a 34-cent hike in the cigarette tax and a 1.5-cent increase in the sales tax just two years after he signed off on a $100 million income tax cut. Kempthorne is proposing a $2 billion budget and has been aggressively lobbying Legislature to adopt it. He won't rule out vetoes in the event lawmakers begin straying too far off his proposed budget path. For one thing, Kempthorne is worried that Idaho's bond ratings will suffer if the state loses its revenue cushion.

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Montana: Gov. Judy Martz is among the spearheads of the drive to approve a costly federal program of forest thinning in order to prevent forest fires, but education could turn out to be a key issue as Montana grapples with the outline of its 2005 biennium budget and revenue shortfalls that some estimates peg as high as $323 million. Montana's school enrollment is expected to grow 25-30 percent, however the rate of growth differs widely from area to area. That could make it tougher to reach a consensus on how best to distribute state funds among school districts. The Legislature is figuring out a $160 spending rollback that will hit every state agency and will likely dip into the state's Coal Trust to help balance the books. The state's laws are being reviewed so that outdated and redundant measures can be discarded.

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Nevada: Deficit for the current fiscal year ending July 1 is projected at around $84 million. A blue-ribbon commission appointed by Gov. Kenny Guinn says he needed $704 million in new revenues in the next two years to maintain education and other existing programs in the growing state. Guinn wants to establish a business tax of one-quarter of a percent on a non-gaming company's gross revenues. Current tax code, the panel said, allows 60 percent of the state's small businesses to avoid paying any state taxes at all. Guinn. Business interests don't want new taxes, and organized labor has been vocal in insisting that budget negotiations be open to the public to prevent a backroom deal that would shift the budget burden to social programs.

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Oregon: The state faces a $1.5 billion shortfall, however help could be forthcoming. Voters go to the polls Jan. 28 to vote on a temporary income tax increase that supporters say is vital to preserving education and social services in the 2001-2003. Supporters also believe passage will clear the way for overhaul of Oregon's tax code. Rhe new governor, Ted Kulongoski has said he would probably not try to block threatened layoffs of state troopers and crime lab scientists should the tax measure fail.

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Utah: Gov. Mike Leavitt used his line-item veto in early January to block $7.8 million of $117 in cuts made Dec. 18 by the state legislature in an effort to pare down the 2003 budget that runs through June. The cuts had been aimed at law enforcement, courts and corrections. Leavitt said he was unwilling to lay off law enforcement personnel at a time when as many as 400 prison inmates could be released early in order to cut costs. The 2004 budget discussions begin Jan. 20. Leavitt's $7 billion 2003-2004 budget proposal seeks to protect education while shelving transportation projects and water subsidies until the financial situation improves.

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Washington: Gov. Gary Locke has proposed a "priority-driven" 2-year budget plan that closes a $2.4 billion gap without raising taxes. That's good for Locke because the Republicans control Olympia and are reluctant to consider tax hikes. Locke's plan instead relies on spending cuts that include state staff reductions and cancellation of cost-of-living raises for school personnel, which has stirred up the ire of teachers and labor. Health programs have been pared by $600 million. Washington voters defeated a ballot measure that would have boosted the gasoline tax to pay for various transportation projects. Seattle's earthquake-damaged Alaska Viaduct must be replaced and the voters narrowly approved an expansion of the city's monorail, although the final price tag is not known.

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Wyoming: The state has a $137 million surplus that may or may not hold up when the final numbers are crunched. Wyoming also faces potential problems with its ranching industry in the form of a drought and encroaching West Nile Virus and chronic wasting disease. Some in the state are looking to development of coal-bed methane gas as a new source of exportable energy, however there are disputes over the payment of royalties.

Another proposal to raise revenues is pari-mutuel wagering on professional rodeo.




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