AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal run states high on "taxpayer burden" list

A new report ranking states on how much long-term debt they owe presents a mixed  bag for four Republican governors hoping to be the country's next president.

At the top of the debt list is New Jersey, home to Gov. Chris Christie. The report by Chicago-based Truth in Accounting estimates each New Jersey taxpayer would have to chip in $52,300 to pay off what the state owes for things like construction borrowing, pension systems and state retiree health care.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's Louisiana ranked 12th, at $15,200 per taxpayer to pay off debt.

That figure is $4,500 in Georgia, which ranked 27th.

Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin and Gov. John Kasich's Ohio ranked 28th ($4,100) and 29th ($3,500 per taxpayer).

According to the report, 11 states  had enough assets to pay off any debt, so they were listed as having "taxpayer surpluses."

Christie's New Jersey is hampered by massive pension problems. He put together a pension commission tasked with proposing sweeping changes to tackle the issue. The state went into 2015 with an estimated $90 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities that threatened to drain future state budgets.

Much of the debt, particularly retirement and health system liabilities, were largely  accumulated before the current governors took office. And it will be hard for most of their presidential opponents - Republican or Democrat - to make an issue of the state debt.  Most of them are former governors or current or former members of the U.S. Senate. The federal debt is more than $18 trillion, or about $154,000 per taxpayer.




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About the Author

James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.