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More insights from the 2012 NABE Economic Policy Conference

Last week, SouthPoint primary blogger Mike Chriszt and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 2012 National Association of Business Economists' (NABE) Economic Policy Conference (see Mike's previous post). After a few words from Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, a flurry of breakout sessions ensued. One of the more positive ones I attended focused on state government finances.

Highlights of a regional economic update
Steve Cochrane of Moody's Analytics gave a regional economic update in this session, with his talk looking at the most recent regional data available through the lens of state government finances (a job growth forecast, for example, might hint at an increase in income tax collections). I was pleased, for at least two reasons, to see most of the Sixth Federal Reserve District's states in green, as the chart below shows, which indicates that job growth should be at or above the national average by the end of 2012, at least according to Moody's Analytics.

Employment Outlook for 2012

Another Moody's slide that may be of particular interest to SouthPoint readers is the one below, which shows that regional indexes measuring exports of goods and commodities were highest in the South at the end of last year. Of course, the chart reflects the Census Bureau's definition of the "South," which is not precisely the Sixth Federal Reserve District. Still, all Sixth District states are included in this aggregation.

Exports Still Rising in South and West

State government finances
The part of the session that honed in on state government finances was encouraging, but hinted it may not be time just yet to uncork the champagne bottles at governors' mansions just yet. Though state governments have definitely seen their coffers begin to recover in 2010 and 2011, the deep losses seen in 2008 and 2009 still make the four-year period a net loss.

For the most part, layoffs among state and local government positions are likely at their end, if not close, and that revenues are picking up nearly across the board. For example, according to a March 19 Rockefeller Institute report on state taxes, 41 states reported gains during the fourth quarter of 2011, while just 9 reported declines in overall tax collections for the quarter . One of those nine states still reporting declines in state revenues, Louisiana, lies within the Sixth Federal Reserve District.

Percent Change in State Tax Revenues, by Type

We also heard that states may be finding more creative ways to increase revenues. This sentiment is also reflected in a recent article in The Economist, which noted some significant budgetary changes the State of Georgia has made this session. They include:

  • Eliminating taxes on energy used in manufacturing
  • Taxing online sales in the state
  • Setting a goal to lower personal income tax from its current level of 6 percent to 4 percent by 2014 (to be slightly more competitive with neighbors Tennessee and Florida, who levy no personal income tax)

It will be interesting to see what other states are doing in creative ways to spur economic growth over the course of 2012, but that's another blog for another day.

Photo of Mark Carter By Mark Carter, a senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Research Department

April 4, 2012 in Fiscal Policy , Growth , Southeast | Permalink


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