Alaska still wealthiest state in nation, new report suggests
Alaska lawmakers may be grappling with a budget crunch and whether to use savings to fill it, but a new nationwide report suggests our state is actually in an enviable position.
Alaska ranked number one in Truth in Accounting's Financial State of the State report released Tuesday — one of just three states to receive an "A" grade.
The Last Frontier has held the top ranking in the nonprofit's annual report since 2010.
According to the nonprofit, 40 out of 50 states did not have enough money to pay all of their bills at the end of the 2018 fiscal year. Alaska however, had a taxpayer surplus of more than $74,200 — that's the amount of money needed to pay bills, including pension and retiree benefit promises, by the number of federal taxpayers in the state.
Truth in Accounting also took into account Alaska's audited financial report for fiscal year 2018, which includes the Permanent Fund's Earnings Reserve as a "spendable" asset.
"The state overall is in good financial shape," said Sheila Weinberg, CEO of Truth in Accounting.
North Dakota ranked second in the nonprofit's tenth annual report, with a taxpayers surplus of $30,700. Wyoming came in third with a taxpayer surplus of $20,800. New Jersey was held in last place, with a taxpayer debt of $65,100.
"We did find that [Alaska] has more than $4.7 billion dollars of unfunded pension liability," Wienberg said. "Since you do have that extra money available, the state could consider paying down that unfunded pension liability."
In previous reports, the nonprofit didn't consider Alaska's government completely transparent in its accounting because it didn't include unfunded pension liability in its reports.
"Alaska is still hiding 30% of its debt," the nonprofit wrote in a 2017 report.
However, Alaska has since joined other states in reporting that information.
"This year is the first year that all state and local governments do have to put their pension and retiree health care liabilities on their balance sheet," Weinberg said.
More than the numbers, Weinberg says the annual reports are about transparency and accessibility — making it easier for state residents to understand their local government's budgeting practices.
"We really believe that citizens don't really have the information they need to be knowledgeable participants in their governments, especially their tax and spending policies," Weinberg said.
According to Weinberg, states had a combined total debt of $1.5 trillion.
"Our nervousness is that when a recession comes, those will even get worse because," Weinberg said. "It's great that Alaska has extra money to, you know, weather those possible storms in the future."
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