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Is state fiscal policy asymmetric over the business cycle?

Bent Sorensen and Oved Yosha

Economic Review, 2001, issue Q III, No v. 86, no.3, 43-64

Abstract: A number of stabilizers are thought to mute the business cycle. One key stabilizer is federal fiscal policy. The federal budget surplus tends to rise during economic booms and fall in downturns, helping to stabilize consumers’ disposable income and thereby mitigate economic fluctuations. During booms, for example, the budget surplus typically rises because tax revenues rise more than expenditures.> Another stabilizer that has traditionally received less attention is state fiscal policy. Like the federal budget surplus, state government surpluses tend to rise during economic expansions and decline during downturns. Moreover, like the federal budget, state budgets represent large shares of the economy. The stabilizing influence of state fiscal policy, however, may differ across business cycle expansions and downturns – making state fiscal policy asymmetric. For example, state budgets could be more effective at mitigating economic slumps than at muting booms if taxes fall more sharply during a slump than they rise in an expansion of equal magnitude. Asymmetry in fiscal policy could be caused by a number of factors, such as balanced budget rules, which are constitutionally imposed restrictions on a state government’s ability to incur debt.> Sorensen and Yosha examine the business cycle behavior of state fiscal policy to determine whether policy is asymmetric and, if so, to identify the causes. They conclude that state revenue and expenditure display significant asymmetry over the business cycle, with nearly offsetting effects on the budget surplus. As a result, state fiscal policy tends to mute economic booms to roughly the same degree it mitigates slowdowns. The asymmetries in revenue and expenditure appear to be associated with balanced budget rules, although their fundamental causes cannot be clearly identified.

Keywords: Fiscal policy; Business cycles (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2001
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