State revenues grow steadily

It's not happening fast enough to suit most people, but Georgia's overall economy is showing consistent signs that it is waking up.

The state's economic engines aren't all fired up yet, but they are pulling Georgia in the right direction -- up.

In the fiscal year that closed June 30, tax collections in Georgia were up $1.1 billion from Fiscal Year 2010. That 8 percent improvement is double what budget writers predicted.

Still, it would be more heartening if corporate income taxes, which declined 2 percent for the year, had increased like individual income taxes -- up 9 percent -- and net sales tax collections -- up 7 percent -- did. And it's still concerning that our state's unemployment, 9.8 percent, is so high -- higher even than the national average of 9.1 percent.

Good news, however, is good news. In June, state revenues were 6.2 percent higher than they were in June 2010, an improvement of $87.5 million. June marked a full year in which monthly state revenues beat the same month of the previous year.

What we have to keep in mind, however, is that the starting point was low. The state of Georgia is still not pulling in the dollars that it did before the Great Recession. The state spending plan is $18 billion this year, down about 14 percent from the pre-recession $21 billion Georgia state government budgeted.

But we can hope that this 12-month trend is an indicator that we're heading in the right direction, albeit at a much slower speed than most of us would like. But slower, steady growth tends to be more solid in the long run than flashy leaps that might end up being unsustainable.

One thing we have learned from the recession is that the idea that property will always appreciate in value, that salaries will always go up, that spending will always get bigger is a flawed one that leads to reckless behavior -- reckless behavior that wrecked the U.S. economy. Folks got too greedy, too insistent on immediate gratification and profit.

When you look at it, that inclination has dropped some deep roots into the American culture. For instance, how many youths these days expect -- not hope, work for, try for, but flat out expect -- a car waiting for them in the driveway when they get their driver's license?

The recession has knocked out some of that mentality -- not nearly all of it, but some. Some families have had to accept it because, frankly, they had no choice. We can only hope the attitude that a little frugality is a good thing will catch on with our elected officials at all levels of government, especially in Washington, D.C, where the financial well-being of the United States has become an afterthought in the political posturing for the 2012 elections.

One aspect of the better-than-expected Georgia revenues that is encouraging is word that the unexpected extra revenues that came in during FY 2011 will allow the state to place $250 million to $310 million back into Georgia's reserve fund. That money is for "rainy days," and during the recession it rained month after month, financially at least. Georgia has been left with enough reserves to keep state government open about a week.

Let's hope the numbers continue to move in the right direction.