Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Wall Street 24/7 released its annual index of best-run states Tuesday, with North Dakota taking top honors. Utah placed fourth.

Wall Street 24/7 released its annual index of best- and worst-run states Tuesday, with North Dakota taking top honors based on 2011 data. Utah placed fourth. Neighboring Arizona ranked fourth-worst, closely packed with more expected problem states like California and New Jersey.

"To determine how well the states are run," the study's authors wrote, they "reviewed hundreds of data sets from dozens of sources. We looked at each state’s debt, revenue, expenditure and deficit to determine how well it is managed fiscally. We reviewed taxes, exports and GDP growth, including a breakdown by sector, to identify how each state is managing its resources. We looked at poverty, income, unemployment, high school graduation, violent crime and foreclosure rates to measure if residents are prospering."

The authors did note that "Utah had a budget deficit of $700 million, equal to 14.7 percent of the state’s GDP. This debt-to-GDP ratio is worse than half the states in the U.S. Despite these problems, Utah has committed to reducing expenses in place of raising taxes or increasing debt. The state has also limited its borrowing. Its total debt was just under $6.5 billion in fiscal 2010, or $2,356 per capita — less than most states — and 40.4 percent of 2010 tax revenue. Both Moody’s and S&P gave Utah their highest credit ratings because of the state’s strong fiscal management. Moody’s commented that Utah has a “tradition of conservative fiscal management; rebuilding of budgetary reserves after their use in the recession; (and) a closely managed debt portfolio.”

One key measure was economic growth, where Utah tied for eighth place with four other states at 2 percent GDP growth in 2011. Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Alabama, Mississippi and Wyoming all reported negative economic growth, while the explosive leader was North Dakota, which rode its oil resources to well over 7 percent growth.

A related measure was unemployment. The authors noted that "unemployment rates of most of the poorly ranked states are among the highest in the country. Nine of the 10 best-ranked states had an unemployment rate of less than 7 percent in 2011."

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].