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The Most Debt-Ridden States in America

How Much Does Your State Owe?


Everyone knows that our national debt is absolutely huge. It's really just bananas! But what about the states? They borrow a lot too, usually to fund public works projects like roads, bridges and state-run hospitals. Some states tend to borrow more than others, however. Much more.

MainStreet gathered all the state debt numbers, based on the most recent census data, which is for 2008. We also grabbed each state’s population for the same year and figured out what each citizen's share of the state debt. In the intervening year since these numbers were current, it’s likely that debt has increased in many states. What follows is a list of the 10 most debt-ridden states and the 10 least debt-ridden states.

And, if you’re really into torturing yourself, you can add $39,344.77 to each of these numbers. That’s your share of the national debt at the time this article was filed. That’s based on a total national debt of $12,096,533,127,369.44, with the U.S. population estimated to be 307,449,598.

We’ll start with the least debt-ridden states.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

10th Least Debt-Ridden State: Kansas


Finding things to cut from the Kansas state budget is like finding a a needle in a haystack - except maybe even more difficult.

As a local TV station recently reported:

"The state of Kansas is facing economic hardship that resulted in the state government budget being cut five times already this fiscal year. ... Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson said all of the tricks have been played and there's no more low hanging fruit to pick to balance the budget again if need be."

Luckily, Kansas seems to be pretty on top of their debt, coming in as the 10th least debt-ridden state on our list.

Total State Debt: $5,836,651,000

Total Population: 2,802,134

Debt per Resident: $2,082.93

Photo Credit: gregor_y

9th Least Debt-Ridden State: Minnesota


Minnesota's credit rating may have dropped a level according to Moody's, but the state still has a pretty good handle on its debt.

"[An analyst monitoring Minnesota for Moody’s Investor Service] said the economic downturn and financial stress that are undermining Minnesota’s budget and revenue plans are shared by every state, and her team is watching to see how actively and effectively each state responds."

Don't count out this state quite yet.

Total State Debt: $9,538,669,000

Total Population: 5,220,393

Debt per Resident: $1,827.19

Photo Credit: adamsfelt

8th Least Debt-Ridden State: Alabama


Even though Alabama is coming in as the 8th least debt-ridden state on our list, residents might find themselves in a darker scenario in coming years. Alabama schools have been forced to do something that a lot of families have also done this year - dip into its savings to remain in the black.

"Alabama's public schools spent nearly $222 million more than they received in revenues in the last fiscal year, which required raiding their savings accounts and borrowing money to keep doors open and teachers paid during the recession."

Total State Debt: $8,472,097,000

Total Population: 4,661,900

Debt per Resident: $1,817.31

Photo Credit: Southern Pixel

7th Least Debt-Ridden State: Nevada


Nevada seems to be handling the little debt that they have (comparatively) with meetings on the economy.

Apparently, the meetings haven't been incredibly helpful. As a local news site recently reported, "The forum's May projections have proved too optimistic as the state slid deeper into recession, falling millions of dollars short in just the first quarter of fiscal 2010."

This has forced Gov. Jim Gibbons to order a special meeting of the forum to help resolve the budget crisis.

Total State Debt: $4,248,696,000

Total Population: 2,600,167

Debt per Resident: $1,634.01

Photo Credit: matze_off

6th Least Debt-Ridden State: Arizona


Oh what a difference a year makes. Even though Arizona was faring well enough a year ago to claim the 6th least debt-ridden spot on our list, they now are facing major problems. A blog on the Phoenix New Times Web site reports that Artizona may be only weeks away from paying state employees in IOUs:

"If there is no deal by February 1, when state schools are given their monthly $325 million operating funds, the state's cash flow will have maxed out and the schools will be out of luck."

Total State Debt: $10,519,389,000

Total Population: 6,500,180

Debt per Resident: $1,618.32

Photo Credit: Ken Lund

5th Least Debt-Ridden State: Nebraska


To help keep its relatively low debt burden in check, Nebraska just passed a whopping $334 million in budget cuts. There will be statewide cuts of 2.5% this year and 5% next year, which could result in a total of 400 job losses, according to an Associated Press article.

"I don't know if this is the easy way out," Sen. Arnie Stuthman of Platte Center said, according to the AP. "I think it's fair that we do it this way, but I'm concerned there are certain agencies that are in crisis already and this will make it worse."

Total State Debt: $2,719,139,000

Total Population: 1,783,432

Debt per Resident: $1,524.67

Photo Credit: Kables

4th Least Debt-Ridden State: Arkansas


A recent report released by Arkansas’ Finance Department predicts a rise in individual income and sales tax collection in the coming year, which is good news for the state economy in general, and the debt load in particular.

Arkansas officials recently said "state revenues would increase by $89.5 million next fiscal year, but predicted a tight budget as lawmakers prepare for next year's session. The Department of Finance and Administration released the state's revenue forecast for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and said that the state's revenues will total $4.49 billion in revenue,” according to an article by the Associated Press.

“The report predicted an $111.2 million increase in individual income tax collections and a $90.8 million increase in sales tax collections. Officials said they expected a $15.1 million drop in corporate income tax collections and a $10.3 million drop in tobacco tax collections.”

Total State Debt: $4,283,024,000

Total Population: 2,855,390

Debt per Resident: $1,499.98

Photo Credit: StuSeeger

3rd Least Debt-Ridden State: Texas


The Lonestar State’s debt load may be low, but so are its coffers, and Texas cities and towns are feeling the pinch.

According to the office of Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts,  “[Texas Comptroller Susan] Combs sent Texas cities $342.6 million in sales tax allocations, down 8.3 percent compared to November 2008. So far this calendar year, city sales tax allocations are down 4.2 percent compared to the same time period last year. Texas counties received November sales tax allocations of $28.2 million, down 14.5 percent compared to one year ago. For the calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are running 3.7 percent below 2008 revenues.”

Total State Debt: $33,299,313,000

Total Population: 24,326,974

Debt per Resident: $1,368.82

Photo Credit: cjc4454

2nd Least Debt-Ridden State: Georgia


Based on the 2008 numbers, Georgia’s debt per capita is among the lowest in the country. But recent development could mean that things are shifting. Bloomberg.com reports:

“Georgia, the most populous U.S. state with top grades from the three major credit-rating firms, sought to take advantage of lower borrowing costs, boosting its bond sale by 11 percent in the week’s largest tax-exempt offering. The state sold $603.5 million of general obligation bonds, with yields ranging from 2.12 percent on debt due in 2016 to 3.15 percent on bonds with a 2022 maturity. “

Total State Debt: $13,072,416,000

Total Population: 9,685,744

Debt per Resident: $1,349.66

Photo Credit: Total Aldo

The Least Debt-Ridden State: Tennessee


Tennessee has the lowest debt per capita in the country, and residents can feel good about that. Nevertheless, the state is facing its share of economic challenges, particularly in the area of tax revenue.

“October is the 17th consecutive month in which sales tax collections have experienced negative growth,” said Finance & Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz. “We are extremely concerned with the year-to-date negative growth in our tax collections, but we are committed to keeping the state’s budget in balance in a responsible manner during this extraordinary national economic downturn.”

Total State Debt: $4,366,410,000

Total Population: 6,214,888

Debt per Resident: $702.57

Photo Credit: Exothermic

10th Most Debt-Ridden State: Montana


Turns out that the state isn’t alone when it comes to being burdened with too much debt. As reported by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

“Montana college graduates rank in the top 10 nationally in a category that they would probably rather avoid -- students saddled with loan debt. The nonprofit Project on Student Debt reports that 70 percent of Montana's 2008 college graduates left school with student loan debt. That put Montana at No. 6 in the nation, above the national average of around 66 percent.”

Total State Debt: $4,924,359,000

Total Population: 967,440

Debt per Resident: $5,090.09

Photo Credit: gene1138

9th Most Debt-Ridden State: Vermont


Something is rotten in the state of Vermont. Even the governor is proclaiming an epic budget problem:

“Gov. Jim Douglas sketched out priorities for the upcoming legislative session Thursday, warning that the state budget will be tougher than ever...”

Hopefully Vermont will find a way to keep their deficit low in 2010 so their debt per resident doesn't top $6,000.

Total State Debt: $3,371,915,000

Total Population: 621,270

Debt per Resident: $5,427.46

Photo Credit: Bruce Tuten

8th Most Debt-Ridden State: New York


Remember: these are 2008 numbers and in the past year many states have seen their debt increase even more, and much of that is driven by deficits. New York is no exception.

As reported by Epoch Times, “Gov. David Paterson said that the state's budget deficit has turned out to be $21 billion, twice his original estimate. As a result, the state government will delay paying the debt for schools, counties and local governments.”

Gov. Patterson said this is the “largest escalation” of a state budget deficit in the nation’s history.

Total State Debt: $114,240,227,000

Total Population: 19,490,297

Debt per Resident: $5,861.39

Photo Credit: jewseyshowaa

7th Most Debt-Ridden State: New Hampshire


Hate to bring this up again, but the bulk of this debt is going to be paid off by the children of America… and many of them are in college.

According to the Nashua Telegraph, New Hampshire’s recent college grads are saddled with debt: “Students graduating from New Hampshire colleges and universities continue to leave with some of the highest average debt loads in the country. On average, students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a Granite State higher education institution last year walked away with an average debt of $25,785, according to The Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit organization.”

Total State Debt: $7,908,632,000

Total Population: 1,315,809

Debt per Resident: $6,010.47

Photo Credit: Leventhal Map Center

6th Most Debt-Ridden State: New Jersey


More than $6,000 of debt per person — and what is New Jersey’s genius action plan? Borrow more!

According to Bloomberg, the state is borrowing more than $1 billion to cover the cost of transportation projects after consulting with Governor-Elect Chris Christie's office this week.

Total State Debt: $52,785,000,000

Total Population: 8,682,661

Debt per Resident: $6,079.36

Photo Credit: PSFlannery

5th Most Debt-Ridden State: Delaware


Many states hope that by increasing the tax base through job creation, states will eventually be able to pay down their debt.

With this in mind, Delaware does have some positive news, as reported by Delaware Online: “The state economy added jobs for the second month in a row, state figures showed, including 800 seasonally adjusted jobs, largely in education and business services.”

Total State Debt: $5,722,757,000

Total Population: 873,092

Debt per Resident: $6,554.59

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum

4th Most Debt-Ridden State: Connecticut


Reportedly, “income and sales taxes are generating much less money than expected” in Connecticut right now, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell is proposing to cut $337 million from the 2010 budget to improve things — a suggestion that is being met with resistance by Connecticut’s municipalities.

Total State Debt: $27,554,245,000

Total Population: 3,501,252

Debt per Resident: $7,869.83

Photo Credit: cliff1066

3rd Most Debt-Ridden State: Rhode Island


Rhode Island clearly has a good amount of debt. Nevertheless, the state is using some of its money on public welfare. In fact, the state is using more money for welfare programs than most others, as recently reported: “Eleven states spent more than 25 percent of total expenditures on public welfare, with Tennessee (32.8 percent), Maine (30.5 percent) and Rhode Island (29.8 percent) spending the highest percentage of their total expenditures.”

Unfortunately, Rhode Island isn't enjoying the same prosperity as Tennessee, the least debt-ridden state.

Total State Debt: $8,911,977,000

Total Population: 1,050,788

Debt per Resident: $8,481.23

 

Photo Credit: Patricia Drury

2nd Most Debt-Ridden State: Alaska


Looks like public debt isn’t the only kind of debt Alaskans are saddled with. According to credit report bureau TransUnion, “The highest state average credit card debt remains in Alaska at $7,699.”

On the other hand, the state also enjoys one of the lowest credit card delinquency incidence rates (0.73%), so at least that form of personal debt is off of their plate. Now time to fix the state budget.

Total State Debt: $6,491,713,000

Total Population: 686,293

Debt per Resident: $9,459.10

Photo Credit: AlaskaDude

The Most Debt-Ridden State: Massachusetts


Never fear, gas is here. Massachusetts legislators have a scheme to get out of debt by squeezing motorists — with a gasoline tax.

As the Associated Press has reported, “The gas tax, currently 23.5 cents, would increase by 50 cents under one proposal.”

For the most debt-ridden state, Massachusetts seems to be putting all of its eggs in one basket with the gas tax.

Total State Debt: $71,892,262,000

Total Population: 6,497,967

Debt per Resident: $11,063.81

Photo Credit: Paul Keleher

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