Public Amenities and Vices: Census Bureau State and Local Government Finances Data for FY 2004 and FY 2014

Living in a city once meant that those who could not afford their own private amenities, such as large backyards, country club memberships, second homes, and bookshelves full of books, could enjoy less expensive shared amenities such as public parks, pools, beaches, libraries, and entertainment. The great supporters of these services and facilities were often wealthy people who did not need them, but nonetheless donated money to support them, because they believed the common people would be ennobled by them. Many libraries, for example, were built with money donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and many New York State parks are on land donated by people like Averell Harrmian. With the highest state and local tax burden in the country (those states where most of the taxes are on mineral resources aside), one might expect that New York would have more spending on public amenities, as a percent of its residents’ personal income, than other states. But is that true?

This is the next to last post in a series on my compilation of FY 2014 state and local government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, with a comparison with FY 2004. A spreadsheet with data on public parks, libraries, and selected vices for all 50 states, all the charts in the rest of this post, and leftover data from FY 2012 with more local detail, is here.

Amenities All State

The first post in the series, which explains where the data comes from and how it was compiled, is here.

Despite its high overall tax burden, it would seem that New York state and local government expenditures on public amenities were not that high in FY 2014, when measured per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income.

Chart 0

The State of New York and its local governments spent $2.62 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income on parks, recreation and culture that year, compared with the U.S. average of $3.12. Spending was low in this category all around the Northeast, at $1.55 in New Jersey, $1.11 in Connecticut, $1.09 in Massachusetts, and $1.61 in Pennsylvania. The Northeast U.S. also has relatively little in national park facilities, compared with the west.

With regard to state and local government parks, recreation and culture expenditures per $1,000 of personal income, Illinois, at $4.78, Florida, at $5.32, and Minnesota, at $4.51 were notably high.  Which is unexpected for Florida, the state with the lowest state and local government tax burden as a percent of state residents’ personal income in the country.

New York’s state and local spending on natural resources was also low at $0.49 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income, compared with a U.S. average of $1.87. This function, according to the Census Bureau, includes conservation, improvement, development, and propagation of fish and game resources, state forestry programs, and agriculture programs, along with irrigation; drainage; flood control; soil conservation and reclamation including prevention of soil erosion; surveying, development, and regulation of water resources; regulation of mineral resources and related industries including land reclamation; wetlands and watershed management and protection; geological surveying and mapping; purchase of land for open space and conservation programs; regulation of gas and oil drilling and production; dam and reservoir safety; public education programs related to the above.

New York is not a big natural resources state. And, it would seem, not a big hunting and fishing state. Spending was also below average in this category throughout the Northeast as well.

For state and local government public libraries expenditures, the average for New York State, at $0.86 per $1,000 of state residents personal income, was above the U.S. average of $0.75 – thanks to high spending in the portion of the state outside New York City. New Jersey was also above average at $0.83, Connecticut slightly below at $0.71, and Massachusetts right on the average at $0.75. Illinois was, once again, a big spender at $1.07 per $1,000 of that state’s residents’ personal income.

While the wealthy might have supported parks and libraries to ennoble the masses, however, the masses often had other interests. In some states, as a holdover from Prohibition, state and local governments operate liquor stores. New York is not one of those, although the way things are going the state may end up operating marijuana stores and opium dens someday.

What New York does provide a lot of is gambling through the horse racing industry and the lottery. New York’s net lottery proceeds totaled $3.15 per $1,000 of its residents’ personal income in FY 2014, far above the U.S. average of $1.62. The only states that were higher were Oregon ($3.88), Delaware ($7.15), Rhode Island ($7.64) and West Virginia ($8.21). As the desperate hunt for more revenues to fund public employee pensions intensifies, will official state prostitutes be next?

That’s enough about the vices. The rest of this post is on public amenities.

Chart 1a

Most state and local government park, recreation and culture spending takes place at the local government level. It is at the local government level that New York State and the rest of the Northeast are relatively low, and Illinois and Florida are relatively high. That surprises me in the case of Florida. Perhaps local governments are tasked with maintaining its state parks. Convention center expenditures also fall into this category in Census Bureau data. New York’s big convention center, the Javits Center, is state run rather than locally run, as is McCormick Place in Chicago. Perhaps similar facilities are locally run in Florida.

Chart 1b

State government parks, recreation and culture expenditures fell in most states, and in the U.S. as a whole, from FY 2004 to FY 2014, when measured per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income. The decrease was 27.2% for the U.S. as a whole, to $0.33 per $1,000 of personal income, and 7.6% for New York State, to an above average $0.55 per $1,000 of personal income. There were huge drops of 63.3% in New Jersey, 85.4% in Connecticut, 71.8% in Illinois, and 32.6% in Oklahoma, all states facing huge pension funding crises. (Oklahoma’s was exacerbated by tax cuts). There were also big drops of 46.0% in Florida, 33.7% in Washington, and 33.6% in North Carolina. Spending on many services has been dropping due to rising pension costs and, in some places, falling taxes, but compared with most other public services these cuts are particularly severe.


While most parks, recreation and culture spending takes place at the local level, most natural resources spending takes place at the state level. Spending on this function is low at both the state government and local government levels in the urbanized Northeast.


State government natural resources expenditures fell from FY 2004 to FY 2014 when measured per $1,000 of personal income, nationwide and in many states. And once again in some places the decreases were severe. U.S. state government expenditures fell from $1.71 per $1,000 of U.S. residents’ total personal income in FY 2004 to just $1.28 in FY 2014, a decrease of 25.2%. New York State’s spending fell from just $0.47 to just $0.33, a decrease of 29.7%. State spending in this category, on the other hand, increased as a share of state residents’ income by 29.1% in New Jersey and 19.9% in Connecticut, albeit to a relatively low $0.82 and $0.63 per $1,000. There was a big drop of 42.9% in right wing Texas, a big drop of 43.9% in left wing California, and a big drop of 53.0% in bankrupt Illinois.

Chart 1g

With state spending on natural resources falling relative to state residents’ personal income, the share of that spending covered by fees charged for services increased. The big increase was in New York State, although I don’t recall any particular decision or issue associated with what the data show. Census Bureau data on natural resources charges shows that they equaled just 8.5% of New York’s state natural resources expenditures in FY 2004, but equaled 51.0% of such expenditures in FY 2014. The national increase was from 13.3% of expenditures to 14.7%. Charges cover very little of the state natural resources expenditures in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Chart 1h

In FY 2014 New York’s state parks covered a higher share of their expenditures with charges for services, at 45.1%, than the U.S. average of 30.5%. These percentages were up slightly from FY 2004 to FY 2014, as expenditures fell as a share of state residents’ personal incomes.

In New Jersey, the large decrease in state parks, recreation and culture expenditures was accompanied by a large decrease in the share of those expenditures covered by charges and fees. Perhaps both some of the parks, recreation and culture facilities and their fees were privatized and disappeared off the state governments’ books. In Connecticut, where state parks spending also fell, the share covered by fees soared from 3.2% in FY 2004 to 63.0% in FY 2014.

In 1997, my family drove to visit a relative who lived in Connecticut at the time, and he suggested that we head to a state park on the Long Island Sound for a picnic. Park entrance was free for him, with his Connecticut license plates, but there was a whopping fee for us, with our New York license plates. I said to the guy at the tollhouse, I thought your tourism promotion slogan was “Connecticut, We’re Full of Surprises!” “We’ll surprise you New Yorkers if you show up at our parks” he said. “We’ll surprise you to death.” Apparently Connecticut residents were subsequently in for a surprise at their state parks, as the state’s fiscal condition got worse.

Chart 2a

Most New York City residents don’t have big backyards to play in, and rely on its parks for recreation and entertainment. Even so New York City’s parks, recreation, culture and natural resources expenditures equaled just $2.09 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income in FY 2014, about the same as the $2.07 for the Rest of New York State but below the U.S. average of $2.79.

Many of New York City’s facilities in this category are operated by non-profit organizations, including its botanic gardens, zoos, and museums. Some parks are partially managed by non-profit organizations, particularly those developed in the past 20 years. Therefore, one could argue that the City of New York’s parks, recreation and culture public employment seems lower than the number of people working in them actually is, because the employees don’t show up on the city’s books. The local government expenditure data, however, captures all the money the city provides to those parks, recreation and culture non-profits, and is thus a fair comparison with the higher U.S. average.

The bottom line is NYC’s spending in this category is low as a percent of its residents’ personal income despite a high tax burden overall. Despite that high tax burden, many New Yorkers donate to their local parks. And in the desperate search for more money for things other than public services, there was a proposal to “tax” those donations not long ago.

While relatively low, New York City’s parks, recreation, culture and natural resources expenditures increased 7.5% from FY 2004 to FY 2014, when measured per $1,000 of personal income, while the U.S. average for local government spending in the category decreased 12.4%, and the Rest of New York State fell 19.3%. New York’s spending in this category had been low for decades, and had been particularly low during the Dinkins and Giuliani Administrations. Mayors Koch and Bloomberg were notably more favorable to increasing city funding for restoring and expanding the city’s parks, recreation and culture facilities, but not so favorable as to lift city spending to or above the national average.

Local government parks, recreation, culture and natural resources expenditures per $1,000 of personal income fell 13.3% in New Jersey over the decade, to just $1.18 in FY 2014. The decrease was 30.7% in Connecticut, to just $0.98, 14.1% in Massachusetts, to just $0.73, and 14.7% in Pennsylvania, to just $1.21.

Chart 2b

In New York City many of the parks, recreation and culture facilities that carry a fee or charge (or “suggested donation) are operated by non-profit organizations or concessionaires. For that reason, perhaps, many of the charges and fees that are recorded as local government revenues elsewhere are not so recorded in NYC. That depresses the share of New York’s expenditures that are covered by such fees and charges according to Census Bureau data.

Local government charges for services equaled just 10.0% of New York City parks, recreation and culture expenditures in FY 2014, below the U.S. average of 26.1%, the Rest of New York State at 28.4%, New Jersey at 31.8%, Connecticut at 36.6%, Massachusetts at 30.5%, etc. With expenditures falling, the share of expenditures covered by fees and charges increased in most states and in the U.S. as a whole from FY 2004 to FY 2014. There was a small increase in New York City as well. But perhaps if money charged by the non-profit organizations and concessionaires for facilities such as tennis courts, golf courses, etc. were included in the data, the share of spending covered by fees in NYC would be closer to the rest of the state.

On the other hand New York City doesn’t charge for the use of its beaches, as local governments elsewhere in the Northeast often do. New York City’s indoor pools are free for children, with relatively low charges for adults, and outdoor pools are free for all. These facilities tend to be city government operated, and their fees are included as local government revenues.

That is a real difference in the level of charges, here compared with elsewhere.

Chart 3a

Nearly all public library expenditures are at the local government level.   New York State, as mentioned, was above average in state and local government expenditures per $1,000 of personal income, but not because of New York City.

Chart 3b

In New York City local government library employment is quite low, because the libraries are operated by non-profit organizations, but the city’s local government library expenditures were also below average in FY 2014. The U.S. average for local government library expenditures was $0.74 per $1,000 of area residents’ personal income that year, compared with just $0.64 for New York City. New York City’s spending on public libraries was similar to Oklahoma, at $0.66, and Texas, at $0.69, and Florida, at $0.69.

The Rest of New York State was far above average at $1.02 per $1,000 of area residents’ personal income spent on public libraries. Other places with similar spending in this category were Illinois at $1.06 and Washington State at $1.10. New Jersey and Minnesota were also above average at $0.82, with Massachusetts about average at $0.71.

Local government public libraries expenditures fell when measured per $1,000 of personal income from FY 2004 to FY 2014, just about everywhere. The decrease was 17.7% for the U.S. as a whole, 17.9% for New York City, 13.6% for the Rest of New York State, 9.1% for New Jersey, 22.4% for Illinois, 26.2% in Texas, and 24.8% in California.

Because New York City’s public libraries are operated by non-profits, and thus most of New York City’s spending is payments to non-profits, the city’s public library expenditures include everything. And that decrease in expenditures relative to the income of city residents is real.

For many other government functions, New York City’s local government spending only appears to fall per $1,000 of personal income, because pension and other employee benefit costs are not included. They are instead lumped together in a separate category, “Other and Unallocable,” on which expenditures are soaring.

For the major public services for which Census Bureau data includes employee benefits and retirement costs, the public schools and mass transit, New York City’s total local government expenditures were about the same in FY 2004 as in FY 2014, measured per $1,000 of personal income. Money for the retired went up, money on workers providing services today went down, and the total stayed the same. But for Parks and Libraries, the total went down.

It’s a contradiction in New York. When you have a public service provided by unionized public employees or contractors, there are generally constant demands for New Yorkers to pay more, accept less in return, or both. That’s what you hear from the schools, the transit system, police and fire, and the construction industry with regard to infrastructure projects. And yet you have other government functions, notably SUNY, CUNY, and New York City parks and libraries, where the demand is always for the service providers to live with less.

So it appears that despite their dependence on shared public amenities, New York City residents are not quite as ennobled by them as those elsewhere in the state and country, on average. And in the case of public libraries and state parks, less so in FY 2014 than in FY 2004. But in the age of Trump, perhaps parks, recreation, culture, and libraries are not what people want anyway.  New York State’s net lottery revenues sucked up 9.6% more of New York State residents’ personal income in FY 2014 than they had in FY 2004. Now about those official state prostitutes…

The next post, the last in the series, will be on state and local government expenditures on basic government bureaucracy.


2 thoughts on “Public Amenities and Vices: Census Bureau State and Local Government Finances Data for FY 2004 and FY 2014

  1. Richard Layman

    1. You’re probably right that Florida’s expenditures are higher because local governments, not the state, run convention centers. Think of Orlando, Miami, Miami Beach. Florida doesn’t have the kind of history where the state would step in and run such facilities, unlike Illinois and NY.

    2. I think you mischaracterize the previous proposal to “tax” donations to park conservancy organizations. The idea wasn’t for the city to grab the money and spend it other things, but to pass it on to the parks that because of their location and user base, aren’t able to fundraise to the same extent as parks such as Bryant, Prospect and Central.

    Theoretically, the idea should be that when the “burden” on the locality is eased by private fundraising for parks like Central, Prospect, Bryant, etc., that the expenditures foregone should be directed towards those areas of lesser means. But obviously that hasn’t been the case.

    3. Also as you point out, because of how the library systems are organized, they may be off books. Same for the parks conservancies. And business improvement districts maybe–although usually since they are funded by an add on property tax, would these expenditures show up? So these numbers are then understated for NYC, and probably for other local governments, at least in the biggest cities (e.g., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago). In DC many of “our” parks are actually run by the federal government, and don’t show up in “state” and local government expenditures, etc.

    1. larrylittlefield Post author

      I think the low level of spending in NY is real. Chicago’s spending on parks and libraries is (was?) high. You can see that in the 2012 Census of Governments data on that tab in the spreadsheet. Park districts are included, just like other special districts. BID? The tax funding for them ought to show up as expenditures (though not employment), even if the work is done by non-profits.

      Philly has extensive parks, but they are in disrepair. Boston doesn’t have many, as may be seen on a map. From 2012, a year for which local government data is available by county. It is all the local governments in each county added together, spending per $1,000 of personal income.

      Parks, Recreation, Culture Natural Resources Libraries

      United States $2.36 $0.73 $0.79

      NEW YORK CITY* $2.27 $- $0.68
      Los Angeles County $3.14 $0.53 $0.83
      San Francisco $3.60 $- $1.25
      Washington DC* $4.23 $0.93 $1.36
      Cook County (Chicago)* $5.44 $0.70 $1.33
      Suffolk County (Boston) $1.45 $0.07 $1.48
      Philadelphia* $1.30 $- $0.66
      King WA (Seattle) $3.46 $0.67 $1.24
      Miami-Dade $6.75 $1.25 $0.65

      As for DC, you’ve got lots of parks and libraries spending in addition to the federal facilities, and expenditures were not high as a share of income because total income is low there.

      Thank Marion Barry. He got caught with a crack pipe just as the era of retroactive public employee pension increases and taxpayer underfunding got rolling. As a result DC was under a control board during those years. And is the only state or equivalent where public employee pension benefit payments were 4.0% of pension assets or less in FY 2012, which is where they need to be. The only one.

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