Attention Deficits

From Budget Deficits to Official State Desserts


Ever since the red clover became Vermont's state flower in 1894, U.S. states have been conferring official status on everything from winged mammals to sugary confections. The practice may be harmless enough, yet the question arises: As states grapple with budget deficits of up to $112 billion in the coming fiscal year, couldn't lawmakers find more important things to debate?

Arizona state priority: The deficit is approaching $1 billion. Lawmakers agreed to tie spending increases to population growth and inflation, and boosted the state's ability to borrow for school construction.

Official distractions: The Colt single-action army revolver became the state's official firearm in April. The gun from Connecticut-based Colt's Manufacturing beat out the Taser (TASR) stun gun and the Ruger (RGR) SR9, both made by companies in Arizona.

Maine state priority: The legislature is debating tax cuts and pension reform. It approved an overhaul of health insurance laws and banned texting while driving.

Official distractions: The whoopie pie became the state treat in April. The original legislation said state "dessert," but it was changed so that lawmakers could give wild Maine blueberry pie that honor.

New York state priority: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo wants lawmakers to approve a property tax cap, tighter ethics rules, and a bill allowing same-sex marriage before the legislative session ends in June.

Official distractions: One senator has spent five years pushing sweet corn as the official state vegetable. He faces competition from fans of the onion. Lawmakers are also considering making the rescue dog the official state canine.

North Carolina state priority: Legislators are weighing measures that would reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for 38,000 people and ban gay marriage in the state constitution. A curb on school snacks is also on the agenda.

Official distractions: The Senate voted in April to make stock car racing the official state sport. It also voted to declare gold the official state mineral in May.

Oklahoma state priority: Facing a $500 million budget shortfall, lawmakers eliminated the state pension system's automatic 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment and collective bargaining rights for some city workers.

Official distractions: A bill designating Swing Low, Sweet Chariot the state's official gospel song was signed by the governor and will become law in November.

Texas state priority: In the legislature, a conference committee agreed in late May to an $80.6 billion budget that cuts $15 billion in spending. About $4 billion in school spending was chopped.

Official distractions: Western swing was declared the state music in May. The Mexican free-tailed bat is the state's official flying mammal, and the Dutch oven the state's official cooking implement.

Utah state priority: Lawmakers overturned a veto by Governor Gary R. Herbert in May to restore a five-day workweek for state workers. Herbert said that the legislature had failed to provide the necessary $790,000 funding.

Official distractions: The governor signed a bill in March making the Browning model M1911 automatic pistol the official state firearm. The ever-popular Dutch oven is the state's official cooking pot.

Virginia state priority: After closing a $4.5 billion deficit last year, lawmakers reconvened to allocate $1.2 billion in additional revenue and savings. Higher ed got $98 million, and $508 million went to health and human services.

Official distractions: Senator John Miller sponsored a bill making the brook trout the state freshwater fish. It had previously been the state fish, but the designation was changed so that the striped bass could be named the state saltwater fish.

Wisconsin state priority: Senate Democrats decamped to Illinois to protest a bill curbing collective bargaining for most public workers. Republican Governor Scott Walker later signed it into law. A budget has not yet been passed.

Official distractions: Senator Mary Lazich introduced a bill to make cream puffs the official state dessert. According to a fourth-grade class pushing puffs, some 300,000 are sold at the 11-day state fair. That's 52 a minute.

Deprez is a reporter for Bloomberg News in New York. Follow her on Twitter @esmedeprez.

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