ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesotans watching their state government's financial meltdown can take consolation in the fact that they have a lot of company. Namely, the residents of nearly every other state.
Looming budget deficits like Minnesota's $4.56 billion are a fact of life nationwide with officials of most states scrambling to fix budget woes -- trying everything from tapping tobacco settlements to delaying capital spending.
A few examples: In South Dakota, the legislature is being asked to triple the cigarette tax to $1 a pack. Nebraska officials are considering doubling car registration fees to $90 a year. Massachusetts has instituted a hiring freeze and banned out-of-state travel by state employees. As recently as Friday, California Gov. Gray Davis proposed $10.2 billion in budget cuts, which will only cover about half of the state's projected deficit.
"What's going on here is sort of a perfect storm that's hitting almost everyone," said Raymond Scheppach, executive director of the National Governor's Association. "It's across the board and it's going to get worse."
The governors' organization is one of several that have issued reports in recent weeks that have detailed how unremittingly bleak the states' fiscal prospects have become.
Corina Eckl, who wrote a report for the National Conference of State Legislatures, put it this way: "No state is going to escape unscathed. There's consternation even in the states that didn't have budget gaps this year because they see them coming in the out years."
Until last week, Minnesota legislators were bracing for a budget deficit of as much as $3 billion during the next two years, only to be stunned when it was projected to be $4.56 billion.
Nationwide, the legislatures group found that all but eight states started this fiscal year with a deficit. The cumulative deficit totaled more than $49 billion.
For all the budget cutting nationwide in the first few months of fiscal 2003, 31 states still had a cumulative budget gap of about $17.5 billion.
Nationwide, tax collections have been anemic, with 33 states reporting revenue below forecasts through October. Twenty-six states have taken the step of paring back their tax revenue forecasts, while 28 say spending has exceeded budgeted levels.
"Most state budget officers say it's too early to know exactly how big the deficits will be," Eckl said. "The Minnesotas of the world are going to have a lot of company because there are some pretty big numbers out there."
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