North Carolina moves up five spots to No. 13 in U.S. News’ latest rankings of the best states.

Topping the list this year:

  1. Washington
  2. Minnesota
  3. Utah
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Idaho

The Tar Heel State performs best in education (No. 7) and fiscal stability (No. 7). In other categories, North Carolina ranks:

  • Health care (No. 30)
  • Economy (No. 17)
  • Infrastructure (No. 22)
  • Opportunity (N0. 28)
  • Crime and corrections (No. 20)
  • Natural environment (No. 27)

The publication offers this synopsis of current economic conditions:

North Carolina’s economy is now focused on industries such as food processing, banking, pharmaceuticals, technology and vehicle parts. Charlotte has grown to become the second-largest banking center in the nation, and Research Triangle Park is home to more than 200 companies.

One suspects that the state’s legislative leaders will be happy to see top-10 rankings for areas of special focus: education and fiscal stability.

The state’s fiscal picture looks particularly good given the COVID-19 pandemic. My colleague Joe Coletti has urged continued caution for those drafting the next state budget.

General Fund revenue from state taxes should reach $27.6 billion by the end of June, which would be 16% higher than in FY2019-20, according to the consensus revenue forecast from the governor’s Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division. That could give budget writers an unreserved fund balance of $5 billion on top of revenue projections of $27.3 billion in FY2021-22 and $28.5 billion in FY2022-23.

I have urged a cautious approach on both spending and taxes given economic uncertainty. Forecasters state, “A major assumption of the forecast is that the coronavirus will no longer be disrupting the economy” by July 2022. That still leaves plenty of room for disruption until then in retail, restaurants, education, and other sectors of the economy. Taking the news for what it is, here are key points for budget writers to consider.

Joe recently discussed the state’s revenue picture with