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State budgets heading back into the black

State government deficits are shrinking for the first time in three years, potentially staving off cuts to road construction and maintenance projectsÑwhich is good news for truckers.

According to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, states have closed a cumulative $200 billion budget gap since fiscal year 2001, including an $80 billion shortfall from fiscal year 2003 alone.

Revenues are rising, too. Just months into fiscal year 2004, 21 states are saying income from taxes is exceeding forecasts, compared with just three states at the same point in fiscal 2003. Only 16 states say revenue is falling below targets, as opposed to 37 at the same point in fiscal 2003. To date, the states face a cumulative budget gap of just $2.8 billion, compared with $17.5 billion in the same period of the past fiscal year.

Those improving numbers are good news for truckers and others that use roads built and maintained by the states, as funds for such projects were targeted for major cuts during fiscal 2003. A poll conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Pew Center earlier this year found that 61% of state legislators were eyeing transportation cuts as a way to balance their budgets. Only social service cuts (85%), health care cuts (71%), and prisons/correction department cuts (62%) ranked higher, the poll found.

"Fewer states are reporting budget gaps, and revenue performance is improving," said Marty Stephens, the group's president and speaker of Utah's House of Representatives. "It's too early to pull out the sunglasses, but the fiscal storm we've endured may be breaking up."

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