Utah has nation’s 4th strongest financial position

New study says Beehive State is among few that actually has enough money to pay its long-term bills.<br>

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State government has the nation's fourth strongest financial situation, according to a new study.

Utah enjoys the fourth strongest financial position among the 50 states — and is among a few that actually have enough money and assets to pay all their long-term bills.

That’s according to a study released Tuesday by Truth in Accounting, a Chicago-based think tank that analyzes government financial reporting.

It figures Utah has $10.5 billion in available assets to pay $6.6 billion worth of bills.

That results in what it calls a “taxpayer surplus” of $3.8 billion, or $4,600 per taxpayer.

The only states with bigger taxpayer surpluses are Alaska, ($38,200 per taxpayer), North Dakota ($24,000) and Wyoming ($20,500). The study called them, plus Utah and Nebraska, the nation’s five “sunshine states” for having the largest surpluses.

The study found that 41 states do not have enough money to pay all their bills — and a typical state has a deficit (not a surplus) of $9,900 per taxpayer.

The worst such deficits are in what the study calls the nation’s five “sinkhole states,” New Jersey ($67,200 per taxpayer), Illinois ($50,400), Connecticut ($49,500), Kentucky ($39,000) and Massachusetts ($32,900).

The study complained that many states use gimmicks to falsely claim they have balanced budgets, such as moving off balance sheets such things as pension and retiree health care debt resulting from promises to state employees.

The study said Utah has room to improve despite its No. 4 ranking.

“It is still not completely transparent with taxpayers,” it said. “Utah is still hiding 3 percent of its debt. When it come to retiree and health care benefits, Utah is hiding $183.4 million from taxpayers.”

“Utah’s government is in good financial shape, with $3.8 billion in money on hand,” said Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of Truth in Accounting. “This would be a good time for the state government to let their taxpayers know that the state hasn’t set enough money aside to pay retirement benefits promised to state workers.”

The study is the eighth time that Truth in Accounting has ranked the states. For the first time, it also assigned a letter grade to each of them to give better context to each state’s taxpayer surplus or burden.

Utah was one of six states that received a B.

It gave As to three states; Cs to to 13 states; Ds to 19; and Fs to nine.