WASHINGTON — The fiscal crisis for states will persist long after the economy rebounds as governments confront problems that include rising health care costs, underfunded pensions, ignored infrastructure needs, eroding revenues, and expected federal budget cuts, according to a report issued Tuesday by a task force of respected budget analysts.
The severity of the long-term problems facing states is often masked by state budget laws and opaque accounting practices, according to the report, an independent analysis of six states released by a group calling itself the State Budget Crisis Task Force. The report said the financial collapse of 2008 exposed a number of deep-set financial challenges that will worsen if no action is taken by national policy makers.
“The ability of the states to meet their obligations to public employees, to creditors, and most critically to the education and well-being of their citizens is threatened,’’ warned the two chairmen of the task force, Richard Ravitch, the former lieutenant governor of New York, and Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve. The report added a strong dose of pessimism just as many states have seen their immediate budget pressures ease for the first time in years. It also called into question how states will be able to restore the services and jobs they cut during the downturn, saying the loss of jobs in prisons, hospitals, courts, and agencies had been more severe than in any of the past nine recessions.
“This is a fundamental shift in the way governments have responded to recessions and appears to signal a willingness to ‘unbuild’ state government in a way that has not been done before,’’ the report said, noting that many states had cut their court system’s hours.
The report arrived at a delicate political moment. States are deciding whether or not to expand their Medicaid programs to cover the uninsured poor as part of the new health care law — an added expense some are balking at even though the federal government has pledged to pay the full cost for the first few years and 90 percent after that.