Pa. (again) falls in national ranking

The annual ranking of states by the online financial news service 24/7 Wall St. shows Pennsylvania once again falling towards the bottom.

The state is ranked 42nd (but at least has bragging rights over 43rd-ranked New Jersey), according to data released this week under the title "The Best and Worst Run States in America."

It's the fifth straight year the state's standing has dropped: it was 15th among states in 2011; 20th in 2012; 27th in 2013; 36th in 2014; and 41st last year.

Democrats, no doubt, will tie the decline to the no-new-taxes, cut-government policies of former GOP Gov. Corbett. Republicans, no doubt, will say it's Democratic Gov. Wolf's state and he's clearly making things worse.

Rankings are based on multiple factors related to social and economic indicators, financial health and fiscal responsibility.

Pennsylvania was hit for having virtually no fiscal backup, the smallest reserve fund of any state except Arkansas, only enough to run the state for about three days.

It also was tagged for its ongoing pension crisis, low bond rating, a "negative outlook" from Standard & Poor's and an unemployment rate higher than last year's. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics currently lists the state's unemployment rate at 5.8 percent, 45th among states.

Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says Wolf, who took office in January 2015, "inherited a mess." He says the administration is working to dig out of a "deep hole, financially...we've made progress, but still have lots of work to do."

The governor presents a new state budget to the Legislature in February. Projections indicate the state again faces a significant deficit, approaching, by some estimates, $2 billion.

So which states are well run?

The top three are North Dakota (oil boom), with an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent; Minnesota, with a low poverty rate and high household income; and Nebraska, with very low overall debt.

States worse than Pennsylvania?

Well, southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. And the bottom three: Rhode Island, low growth and debt that exceeds its revenue; Illinois, nation's worst credit rating; and #50 New Mexico, a repeat last-place "winner" where, I gather, just about everything's wrong.

The survey is wonky but instructive. You can read it for yourself right here.