I’ve been looking at polls on the deficit in recent weeks. One thing I’ve noticed is that pollsters have asked people what they think about the deficit (and also stimulus) periodically for years. This makes me wonder how much the current “crisis” is blown out of proportion, if it has come up periodically and we’re still here.
So with that caveat aside, two articles in the New York Times this week on the states’ fiscal troubles caught my eye. Regardless of how much of a problem there is, these events are interesting in the sort of distributional questions they raise. That is, once we all agree there is a problem, who will pay for it?
That seems to depend heavily on who gets blamed for the problem. This article in the June 23 edition talks about a new panel being set up to determine the causes:
Americans who have wondered whether Illinois, California and other troubled states are slouching toward the fate of Greece may get their answer in the coming months.
Richard Ravitch, who won an emergency appointment as New York’s lieutenant governor during the 2009 budget impasse, announced a high-level new project Thursday to untangle the finances of the states and shine a light on their hidden debts.
“Whereas there is enormous public attention to the federal deficit, the problems of the states are very serious and nowhere near very well understood,” he said in an interview. “People have to understand this, and address it with the same degree of gravitas as the federal deficit problem.”
It will be interesting to see what they find. But I wonder whether any social scientists, especially economists, have already looked at this?
The second article is from the same day, but on the Times’ City Room blog and deals specifically with the situation in New Jersey and how no one seems to know how much money will actually be saved by a recently adopted plan to cut the deficit.
The remarkably imprecise estimates of cost savings from these health proposals, and the last-minute maneuvering, are nearly as baffling as the politics. Pressed to put a number this week on likely savings, Gov. Chris Christie’s treasury officials retreated into bureaucratic mumbles.
A union official is quoted as saying the numbers aren’t so important as the imagery.
“It doesn’t really seem be about a number of dollars — it’s more ‘we’re forcing employees to pay 22 percent on average’ for coverage,” says Robert Master, C.W.A.’s political director. “They are looking for optics.”