WASHINGTON — Arizona bounced back in just one year from one of the worst budget shortfalls in the nation to build a budget surplus comparable to most other states, according to a recently released national report.
The report by the National Conference of State Legislatures said Arizona’s economic outlook is “stable,” with the state having $850 million in the bank from rainy day funds and money left over from fiscal 2012. It joined 32 other states with a “stable” ranking.
The excess money is a stark difference to the estimated $3.2 billion deficit the state faced in fiscal 2011, said Matt Benson, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer.
“It’s great that other states have turned over finances as well, but I doubt that any state turned its situation around as fast and as well as Arizona,” Benson said.
He blamed the state’s fiscal woes on an expansion of Medicaid and the 2008 housing market collapse. Cuts to state programs, Medicaid in particular, and a temporary 1-cent increase in the sales tax corrected the deficit and left the state with the extra funds, said Benson.
“Arizona is the textbook example of how a balanced approach and tough decisions can turn around a state budget,” Benson said. “The governor and legislature made a lot of difficult cuts to state spending.”
But one Democrat accused the administration of cutting its way to fiscal health and hurting working families in the process.
“We do have the surplus, but it is at the cost of middle-class families and children,” said Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson. “Republicans don’t have priorities of protecting families.”
The report said Arizona had a bank balance equal to 4.4 percent of its general-fund spending at the end of fiscal 2012 and is on track to have a balance of 8.2 percent by the end of fiscal 2013.
But Arizona, like most states, will need that fiscal cushion as unexpected expenses and challenges loom in coming years, according to the report, which looked at year-end balances of all 50 states and compared them to future projections. It said most states are in a good position to face coming budget challenges.
Those challenges include potential post-recession economic shocks and a possible expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the report said.
The extra revenue in Arizona now is “an insurance hedge on future expenses that are difficult to calculate and predict,” said Rey Torres, spokesman for the Arizona House Republicans.
“We have recently seen a higher-than-anticipated level of revenues that help shore up any pitfalls that have been created from the recession,” Torres said.