U.S. State Sector 2019 Outlook: Caution – Slower Speeds Ahead

Source: S&P Global Ratings, January 8, 2019
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For the U.S. states, S&P Global Ratings’ baseline economic forecast of slower growth in 2019 holds the potential for renewed fiscal strain. Although now long in duration, the economic expansion that began in mid-2009 has been shallow. One consequence of this was the persistence of narrow fiscal margins for many states and, relatedly, an uncharacteristically high downgrade-to-upgrade ratio lasting through 2017. This changed in 2018 when, along with stronger economic growth, state fiscal health and credit quality stabilized. However, the higher GDP growth rate in 2018—while beneficial—was driven in part by an infusion of late-cycle federal fiscal stimulus (tax cuts and deficit spending). As the effect of this stimulus fades, and in light of the Federal Reserve’s ongoing tightening, we expect the pace of economic growth to decelerate in 2019. A protracted federal government shutdown would only accentuate the drag on growth emanating from Washington (see “A U.S. Federal Government Shutdown Won’t Immediately Threaten State Credit Quality, But It Sets An Ominous Tone For 2019,” published Dec 21, 2018).

Furthermore, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 may have caused some taxpayers to move income into (calendar) 2017. While this contributed to windfall tax collections in 2018, states can expect growth rates to decline in 2019 as revenues revert to trend.