Bill Gates accuses states of 'extreme' accounting tricks with budget
Microsoft founder Bill Gates talks state budgets Thursday at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California.
March 3rd, 2011
06:09 PM ET

Bill Gates accuses states of 'extreme' accounting tricks with budget

Bill Gates took on state officials across the country Thursday, accusing them of playing accounting tricks with budgets that even Enron’s executives wouldn’t have tried.

“The guys at Enron would never have done this, this is so blatant, so extreme,” said Gates, speaking at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California. “Is anyone paying attention to what these guys do?”

The Microsoft founder and philanthropist said the stakes in the growing deficits in states are huge because obligations to pay for health care and pensions for an aging population threaten to force huge cuts in education.

Gates used California’s budget as an example, pointing to the $25 billion shortfall faced by Gov. Jerry Brown when he took office this year. As health care takes up a larger and larger proportion of the budget, education spending would have to be cut in half to make up the difference. Gates cast that as a choice between paying the older generation versus investing in education for the young.

On paper, 49 states have to have balanced budgets. But Gates said that’s a “pretense” and that rather than balancing budgets, many states are playing tricks by borrowing, securitizing the proceeds from tobacco company settlements, and using one-shot tactics such as selling off state property to balance budgets.

While California spends more than $100 billion a year, far less brainpower goes into studying the accounting and the wisdom of spending decisions than at two much smaller enterprises - Microsoft and Google, Gates said. States should be held to the same accounting principles as those which apply to private companies, he said.

He said he will use his foundation’s website to publicize the facts about state budgets and suggested people read Marguerite Roza’s book “Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go?”to learn more.

“We need to care about state budgets because they are critical for our kids and our future,” said Gates, who has used the TED conference as a platform in recent years for his views on global health, education and energy. Gates also curated a session Wednesday at the conference, which is run by TED, a nonprofit dedicated to “Ideas worth spreading.”

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Filed under: Budget • Economy • Microsoft • Technology
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. BobinLA

    This is a problem of generations. The young need to take charge of this sinking ship before it's too late. Not one penny of education money should be diverted to the bloated retirement of the greedy selfish boomers.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Davis

      @BobinLA. Take Charge ?? You have no right to "Take" anything that does not belong to you. Furthermore, your failure to recognize this fact demonstrates you are still too immature to lead. Perhaps after you make a personal contribution to our Society, you will earn a chance to govern.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      @BobinLA. , YOU WILL NEED TO EXPLAIN What do you mean by "...bloated retirement of the greedy selfish boomers"

      "bloated retirement" (WHAT ARE YOU REFERRING TO ?)

      What did "baby boomers" do to earn the names "greedy" & "selfish" ? ( NOTHING ! )

      Do you even know what caused the baby boom?

      You can not "take charge" until you gain some intelligence and study. NOBODY IS GOING TO GIVE YOU THE JOB. You need to first "take charge" of your education about the baby boom.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      "What did "baby boomers" do to earn the names "greedy" & "selfish" ?" THEY REFUSE TO PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE IN TAXES. They are in charge of the government, they spend spend spend, yet refuse to adjust tax rates to compensate, passing on their bills to future generations.

      "You have no right to "Take" anything that does not belong to you." Good. Then pay back the government for all the free health and education and welfare you received as a benefit from previous generations. And don't tax future generations for your health care, take care of it yourself.

      March 4, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      What the hell ? After working all these years you call me selfish ? Seriously.. Should we work till we die ? Grow up moron !

      March 4, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      So those of us over 50 relax to the above idiotic comments.. Remember, we carry the votes, I worked hard, now it's their turn to get off their computers and work and pay the same bills we did for the past 50 years.. Sorry fellas, the computer games won't pay for my health care... better get crackin !

      March 4, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Ancient Texan

      The school children that helped elect this present administration has neither the knowledge, experience, or common sense to "take over" anything other than a sno-cone stand. Their utopian views were installed by radical liberal teachers that want to change America to something we wouldn't be able to recognize.

      March 4, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • infonomics

      Be careful mighty mouth, we have the votes, you don't. Besides, why fret education, you already have American Idiot, I mean Idol, and Twitter. Oh, yea, don't forget Facebook. Don't ridicule these tools since without them, you would have never gained your international ranking of 17 out of 35 countries and the movie Idiocracy, yea, it would have never been released. If you get a chance, go to, where you will find about dozen books illustrating the failure of the post-baby boomer generations. You may wish to begin with "The Age of American Unreason." Or you may wish to skip the burden of reading and go here: / AmericaInDecline / AmericaInDecline.html. Good luck with the future, you will need luck.

      March 4, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • bmerbob

      That's about the most absurd thing I've ever heard. I worked for over 40 years and recently retired with a very modest retirement. I have earned every cent I stand to get back in retirement. Greed is hardly a baby boomer issue. Just the stupidity of this statement is as others have noted an obvious sign you have no clue and no place in any form of leadership, excet maybe on the leader board for some computer game.

      March 6, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DuhhGeeRocky

    Isn't there a bit of irony here when a corporate giant talks about someone else cooking their books and presenting false prophets I mean profits... Haha oops.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • AR

      yes, except for half the world is now wealthier than they once were because of this man's creative genius. Say what you will about him being greedy (I actually think he's a panderer and a danger to the virtue of selfishness), but if you deny that his inventions have created thousands if not millions of jobs, revolutionized the world and made a fortune for his stockholders (not that any of that is necessary, it's just gravy for ingrates who rag on the rich out of jealousy and spite), you're really just being plain dishonest.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. L64

    Finally! It's time someone with name recognition stood up in defiance of fiscal mismanagement.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scottish Mama

    Bill Gates gives million and millions of dollars away and is giving us advice and teaching us something here.
    Mr. Buffet iis one of those gentleman that said he was willing to give more because he could,

    March 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Trillionaire

    Only in america where u can donate millions and billions and still dont see a dime of it so whats the point?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Billgates reno international

    Why just talk bill.. Pay the states..bailout.. Support the country that made you...with a sweet kiss from janet reno and paper international receipts..remember bill?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Bill Gate's world famous wealth, at around 60 billion, will only fill California's budget holes for two years.

      This is how serious the government over-spending is.

      And you obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

      March 4, 2011 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Centrist

    @AR: I personally don't think Bill Gates "Invented" anything. Many items we use today were originally a military project conceived by groups like DARPA. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs get kudos for getting computers into the mainstream. I also commend Mr. Gates for his humanitarian work in Africa. I just question if Microsoft ever fudged their books for business transaction or their stock profile. It's quite common and I'm sure had a lot to do with the financial collapse.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Actually Microsoft has one of the most transparent accounting practices. You should check out their annual report they file at SEC every year. The rest of the annual reports have more footnotes than you can be bothered to read! Microsoft – straight business! Obviously you are not a finance major so really don't speak if you don't know!

      March 4, 2011 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sees All Evil

    @Bobinla you speak from a total lack of information. But you have every right to express your thoughts. Your remarks are without basis. But i will defend your right to say it.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JoeyD

    This man should run for President, I think he knows more about the problem than Obama does.

    March 4, 2011 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jason

    The baby boomers paid a fortune in taxes which should have covered their retired years but the government wasted the money, president after president, state after state, billions thrown away on stupid ideas, tax breaks, etc.
    The money they got from tobacco was supposed to be for healthcare but they used it for everything other then that...they failed, every one of them, represented number one and not the state they were voted in to do, some are very rich now with sweet jobs and their states are bankrupt, the old not going to get good pensions, good healthcare, the young get lousy education, lousy healthcare, lousy wages, all thanks to these self serving brainless politicians

    March 4, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Jezmundberserker

      Jason, I couldn't agree with you more. Hey, elected officials are like diapers: they both need to be changed regularly... and for the same reason.

      March 4, 2011 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  11. Cesar

    Yea, don't speak if you don't know.

    March 4, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. John S

    Bill is right...just look at this math. Education is now a scapegoat.
    We all know about the national debt and how it will eventually destroy the country. Nobody has yet been able to come up with a plan to eliminate and control the debt. Now check this basic math. Yeah, man….need an advanced degree in mathematics for this.

    The national debt is 14 trillion (14,000,000,000,000)

    US population is 300 million (300,000,000)

    US spends about $7,000 per year per person on healthcare

    (40 million not even covered)

    The rest of industrialized world spends about $3,000 on healthcare

    (everyone covered)

    So, US spends $4,000 per person per year on non-productive work, ie

    Insurance, profit, advertising, legal protection, clerical crap, etc.

    Now multiply $4,000 x 300,000,000 = $1,200,000,000,000 which is
    1.2 trillion

    Divide 14 trillion by 1.2 trillion and you get about 12 years to eliminate the national debt.

    Well, if you don’t want to eliminate the national debt you could give each family of 4 about $16,000 every year and watch the economy skyrocket.

    Rocket science you see. Way beyond the average American’s intelligence.

    March 4, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Anthony Q

      I agree completely. See, the problem in America is that its mainly run on greed and the insane pursuit of some sort of financial nirvana. We have companies in this country that have billions in assets and are continually pushing hard to make even more money. Its ridiculous. Most other countries in the world aren't run on greed and capitalism and that's the difference. Well, except for the muslim world and they just want everyone dead but themselves.

      March 5, 2011 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  13. g.r.r.

    The funny thing is, that MS played as many or more tricks as the states have done. And MS was far more crooked than most states.

    March 4, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramon F Herrera

      "that MS played as many or more tricks"

      Unless you are a Microsoft stockholder, you should S-T-F-U. Since you are stockholder of America, you may opine.

      March 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Don Steele

    The folks at ENRON did do this and were so blatant! Long for the days when our nation held an atmosphere of stability, harmony and trust? it's just around the corner. Access is blocked by a great door whose keys are being held by political campaign contributors.
    Recognizing that our many citizens hold more knowledge and more power than the few in our Courts, the few in government and the few corruptors, we must wrest those keys and reopen that door to an environment superior to that which envelops us today.

    March 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ccam

    No matter the party the real blame has been a lack of leadership with previous elected officials. They have been either unwilling to stand up to limit pay/benefits for government employees (regardless of whether they are union or non-union.). The ability to push back in limiting benefits in earlier state administrations is really been a disservice to the government employees. Now the current elected officials are facing the the difficult problem of having to say no.

    It would be nice to retroactively collect the salaries of prior elected officials for their mismanagement. We need some elected officials who know something about finance as Bill Gates has correctly pointed out. WE need officials with any backbone and courage. We also need to support them.

    Lets not get off tangent with blaming teachers and the poor performance our education. That is a red herring argument for justifying cuts in education. (I would argue its the parents lack of involvement, home environment etc.. that is the root cause for children's sucess in our schools).

    The whole reason we are focused on teachers pay/benefits is because this makes up the majority of the state costs. The cut backs should instead come from all government sectors (e..g police, transportation, fire, etc...) since they all receive more in benefits than can be justified by their economic contribution to society.

    I would point out that 6 months ago my fellow citizens should have seen the consequences of our own mismanagement by witnessing the violent protest in Greece's financial prediction.

    March 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
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