Being Strategic with Surpluses

For the first time in years, many states are experiencing fiscal budget surpluses. While the United States has been in economic recovery since 2009, the recovery has been so slow that income, property and sales taxes have not surged to the point that states have funds beyond their projections. Until now.

The question is what to do with this opportunity. It might be a difficult call if the nation didn’t have a $4.6 trillion (yes, Trillion) infrastructure deficit. But with the nation ignoring its obligation to cover the needed costs for surface transportation, water/wastewater, power, airports, rail, etc., the states really have no choice: invest in infrastructure or wait for the eventual decline of the nation as other nations make the required investments to become competitive.

What could be better than investing in infrastructure? Maybe investing in infrastructure as a part of an overall strategy–a direction that the cities, counties, states and nation are leading themselves to.

And how to do that? Economic development strategic planning.

Here in Oregon, the new debate is beginning. What to do with the projected budget surplus? The surplus isn’t a luxury. It is an obligation.

Perhaps the best example of what to do was created 31 years ago when the state had a statewide economic strategy: Oregon Shines. The plan was based upon creating an economic comeback from the weakness of the ever-important timber industry. The methodology to engage localities was both simple and brilliant.

The $25 million program, funded by the recently established Oregon Lottery, required counties to develop economic strategies based upon a locally-determined industrial focus, and then team with neighboring counties with similar priorities to target resources into projects, strategies and initiatives that would create jobs. So often, localities chose to invest in strategic infrastructure investments in order to create better economic outcomes.

Now is not the time to basically drop dollar bills from helicopters on the people in the form of per capita payments. Now is the time to finally be strategic about our collective futures. It is time to invest our budget surpluses into our economic futures. One strategy at a time.