By Bob Williams and Amber GunnStates are in trouble -- big time. Their trouble is our trouble, since taxpayers are the ones left to clean up the remnants of the ruin they'll leave behind. A recent report by the National Governors Association estimates that states will face budget deficits totaling $134 billion over the next three years. Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas believes the worst is probably yet to come. Most governors and state legislators are using accounting gimmicks and federal stimulus funds to temporarily balance their budgets. When federal funds run out in a year or two, these states will face a spending cliff, necessitating a significant downsizing of their state budgets. Yet while politicians de-emphasize their long-term financial problems, they hype up their short-term deficit estimates in hopes of shoring up more public support for tax hikes to patch the gaps left behind by disappearing federal stimulus dollars. Legislators of both parties allow bureaucrats to report a budget shortfall as the difference between the preferred level of spending vs. the revenue forecast. A real shortfall is the difference between the current level of spending and the revenue forecast. Thus, most shortfalls are highly inflated, while long-term unfunded liabilities are highly ignored. The day of fiscal reckoning is coming. Legislators need an urgent wake-up call before it's too late. Various state economies can't afford such inflated levels of spending. State revenue isn't expected to return to 2007 levels for several years or more. Most legislators are truly unaware of the severity of the structural budget problem and those who are refuse to address it. A close examination of state finances reveals that nearly all states have enacted budgets that are unsustainable. Rather than fundamentally reforming the size and scope of state government by reducing spending to reflect declining state revenue, most states are relying on accounting gimmicks, one-time funds and federal stimulus money to "balance" their budgets, thus artificially propping up a higher level of spending than can be supported by their state's economy. The problem is excessive state spending, not a lack of revenue. It is true that states have faced declining revenue in the past two years, but the recent decreases pale in comparison with the steep revenue increases most states have experienced since 1993. According to the U.S Census, state revenue data since 1993 show a total taxation increase of 120.8%, or 2.5 times inflation.