I don’t have any particular comments I just wanted to point out two stories that may have slipped under the radar, the first from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal highlights the sharp decline in state and local sales tax revenue in four quarter of 2008:
State and local sales-tax revenue fell more sharply in the fourth quarter of 2008 than at any time in the past half century, and has continued to erode through the beginning of 2009, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York underscores how swiftly the consumer slowdown has eaten into municipal budgets. The drop in tax revenue has forced cities and towns of all sizes to cut everything from police to summer pool hours, and has sent legislatures scrambling for federal economic-stimulus funds to help ease budget gaps.
“The sales tax has been absolutely hammered,” said Don Boyd, senior fellow at the institute.
State and local sales taxes, among the largest sources of revenue for municipalities, fell 6.1% in the fourth quarter of last year, as consumers bought fewer clothes, ate out less and canceled vacations. Revenue from personal income taxes was down 1.1% in the fourth quarter; corporate income taxes dropped 15.5%, reflecting weaker profits.
The declines have continued through the beginning of this year. In the first two months of 2009, the 41 states that have reported tax revenue saw total receipts decline 12.8%, versus the same period a year ago.
The second is an AP story on the larger than expected decline in housing construction in March:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Housing construction plunged to the second lowest level on record in March, reversing a big jump from the previous month. Economists, however, were heartened by indications that the long slide in single-family construction could be coming to an end.
The Commerce Department said Thursday construction of new homes and apartments dropped 10.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 510,000 units. That was the second lowest construction pace in records that go back 50 years.
Suffices to say I’m skeptical of all the “signs of recovery talk” we’re starting to hear from the White House and various commentators. When you combine these reports with the reported 1.1 percent drop in retail sales in March you have to believe any meaningful recovery is still a long ways off.