At a time when states are being battered by the nation's financial downturn, how well are they making the grade?
A new study is offering a report card. The Government Performance Project says the fiscal crisis has left states with ailing tax systems, neglected infrastructure and aging work forces. It also says that many states struggle with basic flaws in their tax systems, meaning there's too little money to pay for everything from roads to health care to schools.
There is a silver lining, however. The report says many states have been driven to become more innovative and more efficient. The report's authors hope that as a result, states can learn from each other. The study awarded letter grades to each state.
No state failed. Utah and Virginia scored the highest overall, each with an "A-minus."
Alabama and California scored the worst, each with a "C-minus."
States are assessed on a scale of A-F for their management in the categories: Money, People, Infrasturcture and Information. According to Project Director Susan Tompkins, the quality of management performance by state governments is often critical to the success of a state's programs and policies.
"The last few years have seen the biggest financial crisis for state governments in 50 years," said Tompkins. "The way Alabama has reacted to this crisis managerially has had a big impact on citizens in this state and will for years to come."
In comparing Alabama to the other 49 states, researchers indicate that part of the reason for the below-average state grade is citizens' refusal to pay higher taxes. As a result, state-supported services, such as health care and roads, are under-funded—in relation to other states.
According to GPP, Alabama 's low grade is also attributed to voters' rejection in 2003 of a plan by Republican Governor Bob Riley to raise taxes by $1.2 billion, which could help to erase a projected budget deficit and pay for better education and health care.
The voters' decision also lowered the quality of services for Alabama residents. Considerations such as this greatly affected how Alabama was rated in the GPP report.
The GPP gave Alabama 's infrastructure a D grade, the lowest of any state, and identified weakness in all five sub-categories—Capital Planning, Project Monitoring, Maintenance, Internal Coordination and Intergovernmental Coordination.