State Leaders Say “No Thanks” to Federal Bailout

To: The Federal Government and Leaders in Washington DC

From: American Legislative Exchange Council and Partners

2900 Crystal Drive, 6th Floor, Arlington, VA 22202

The undersigned organizations, policy leaders and elected officials believe the idea of the federal government “bailing out” the states would be harmful to taxpayers, federalism, and ultimately the states themselves. Share your voice, sign the ALEC letter.

While economic conditions were dire during much of the first half of 2020, a rebound in economic growth in the last half of the year led to an incredible turnaround for state and local revenue. Nationwide, annual total tax revenue actually increased in calendar year 2020. Additionally, state and local units of government have already received hundreds of billions in aid from the CARES Act and other federal support in 2020. We feel a federal bailout of state budgets would be counterproductive – rewarding states that have made poor financial decisions at the expense of those that have been fiscally responsible.

For instance, in recent years North Carolina lawmakers have done the difficult, but essential work to balance their budget while keeping spending in check. By doing so, they dramatically reduced the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates, built up an empty rainy-day fund to $1.2 billion and accumulated a balance of $2.7 billion in the Unemployment Trust Fund, after repaying more than $3 billion in debt. On the other end of the spectrum, Illinois’ rainy day fund would only keep the state running for about 15 minutes. Illinois state debt and unfunded liabilities surpassed $486 billion ($38,000 per resident) — equal to 56 percent of the state’s GDP.

History teaches us that federal bailouts are harmful to the states. During the 2009 debate on the Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), many ALEC legislators warned that the strings attached to federal dollars, like maintenance of effort requirements, would be far costlier than the “shovel ready projects.” That explains why federal aid to states has been shown to drive state spending and taxes higher in the long run.

In 2009 the national debt was roughly $10 trillion. With the debt now approaching $28 trillion – enough is enough. Like the federal government, many states lack spending restraint after many good years of economic growth. Even after fully accounting for population growth and inflation, state and local government direct general expenditures ballooned by nearly 90% over the past 40 years. In many states, true spending growth was even higher, due to the growth of spending in special funds.

While the economy has produced record revenues in recent years, sadly, states have also continued to accumulate massive amounts of debt and unfunded financial liabilities. A federal bailout would only encourage this cycle of debt and spending to continue. It would also send the wrong message to states that have made difficult spending choices and practiced fiscal discipline.

For the reasons outlined above, we believe a bailout of the states would be harmful. Doing so would not only increase the federal debt, but it would also lead to higher taxes and spending at the state level and cause an additional erosion of federalism. Instead, states should work to craft a priority-based budget. The American people are being forced to make difficult but fiscally responsible decisions during the pandemic, and states need to do the same.

There’s still time to  commit to fiscal responsibility in the states, sign today: