Category Archives: census bureau government finances data

Comparative Public School Spending from FY 1997 to FY 2019: In New York The More They Get, the More They Feel Entitled To, and The Less They Provide in Return

Let’s start this post the way the prior one ended, with the quote from the ACLU, referring to the level of public school funding in New York in FY 2019.

https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/ny-cheating-its-schools-out-billions-dollars

Every year, the government of New York shirks its legal responsibility to adequately fund our public schools.

In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled New York was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by not putting enough money into its schools. The court ordered that schools were entitled to $5.5 billion more in unrestricted state funding, known as Foundation Aid….

But year after year, state lawmakers substituted politics for the Foundation Aid Formula, shortchanging schools and hurting students who need the money most.

That is, simply put, not true.  In the 1990s New York City school spending was low, in part because a state school aid formula discriminated against the city’s children.  Judge Leland DeGrasse ordered the city’s school aid to be increased by $1.9 billion, based on the low funding levels of the time.

https://trellis.law/judge/leland.g.degrasse

As a trial judge, he ruled against New York’s system for financing public schools in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State. Ultimately, the decision, which sought to overhaul the state aid-to-education formulas, was appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which resulted in an additional $1.9 billion in state aid awarded to New York City schools.

I know this history because I provided data to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the same kind of data that will be discussed below.  Much to my disappointment, however, CFE turned out not to be interested in either fiscal equity or better schools – just a richer deal for those working in the public school system.  So despite another $1.9 billion (and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion) they kept suing. In exchange for political support for his election for Governor, Eliot Spitzer then settled the suit for even more money.  No judge ever ordered it, or found that was what was required. It was a political deal, with a massive increase in pension benefits for teachers as part of the same deal, not better education.

That deal, which multiplied by a bunch of prior retroactive pension increase deals (now starting up yet again), was for me a kind of last straw. So what was the level of school spending in NYC, by category and compared with other places and the past, in FY 2019 when the ACLU claimed that the people of New York were cheating those who worked in education out of $billions?  Read on and find out.

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Census Bureau Public School Finances Data for FY 2019: New York’s Sky High Spending Per Student Is Soaring Further As Enrollment Falls

The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual elementary and secondary school finances data for FY 2019 on May 18th2021, and as usual I have downloaded and compiled it.

https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances/newsroom/updates/fy-2019.html

Anyone else could do the same – any media source, any government agency, any public policy analysis organization, any politician, any candidate for Mayor of New York City or City Council – if they were willing to see what it shows.  And any could send postcards to everyone in New York City with the following information.

In FY 2019, the New York City school district spent $31,578 per student.  That was more than double the U.S. average of $15,569, and higher than the averages of $29,451 for the Downstate NY Suburbs, $22,782 for New Jersey, $19,707 for Massachusetts, and $23,686 for Connecticut.  These are high-wage high-cost of living areas on the Northeast Corridor, but adjusted downward for this factor New York still spent $24,764 per student, still 59.1% higher than the U.S. average and higher than the $23,906 for the Downstate Suburbs, similarly adjusted, and $23,622 for the Upstate Urban Counties.  The average for the Upstate Rural Counties, at $25,058, was slightly higher.  On instructional (ie. teachers) wages, salaries, and benefits alone, the New York City school district spent $18,229 per student.  That is $364,577 per 20 students, and $218,746 per 12 students.

In FY 2019, the people of New York City and State were being sued for underfunding their schools, and cheating their teachers, out of $billions of additional dollars.

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Taxes & Generational Equity: New York State and New York City in 2020

With a deteriorating mass transit system, despite high and rising taxes and fares, and soaring rents (and property tax revenues from renters), young workers have been leaving New York City since 2015, a trend that has accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic.  And there is talk that the wealthy will move away since they will now have to pay taxes, after not having to pay taxes in the past, according to various headlines over the past two years.  From “not taxing the rich,” according to those headlines, New York is suddenly taxing the rich more than any other state.  Even California.

In reality, of course, New York already taxed the rich, and everyone else, far more than any other state.  And it isn’t close.  As I showed here…

In FY 2017 New York State’s average state and local government tax burden was 13.8% of state residents’ personal income, compared with the U.S. average of 9.8% and 10.3% for California.  If New York City were a separate state, its burden would have been 15.1% of income, and rising, compared with 12.9% on average for the rest of the state.  And at that level, according to any elected officials who didn’t want to face a primary, and most of the local media, city residents deserved deteriorating public services, because they weren’t paying enough.

There is one group of people, however, who face a very different tax burden in New York, compared with other places.

https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/new-york-state-affordable-retirement-social-security

Retiree David Fisher, 69, has lived in New York state since age 27.  He has found that while living there was expensive while he was working, New York is much more affordable in retirement.  This is primarily for three reasons: New York State doesn’t tax Social Security or retirement account distributions, the state has a program to reduce property taxes after age 65, and there’s a low cost of living in the Rochester, New York, area where he lives. 

Retired public employees, like the Senior Voters in our tax analysis of three prototypical Brooklyn couples, have it even better – none of their retirement income, paid for by poorer working serfs, is taxable.

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Long Term Census Bureau Public Employee Pension Data for NY and NJ Through 2019: The Public Service Killers are Hiding the Fiscal Mass Graves

Three years have passed since I last appended data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau to my spreadsheet of individual public employee pension plans in New York and New Jersey.  The latest data for 2019 may be found here.

https://www.census.gov/topics/public-sector/public-pensions.html

There were some big changes for 2019.  Both the pension plan identification codes, and the data item codes, have been changed from the prior few decades, and some data items previously available have been eliminated.   But an entirely new set of data items has been added as part of a separate “actuarial” file, with data on how well funded each state and local government pension plan is, its covered payroll, its total unfunded liability, and its discount rate.  

The new data shows something very important and perplexing that I have written about before – the New York State pension funds that also cover local government workers in the rest of New York State are far better funded than the New York City pension funds for employees of the City of New York and New York City Transit.  Even though the same New York state legislature has set the rules for both for decades.  And even though the people of New York City have paid far more into the city pension funds over those decades, with higher taxes for worse services as a consequence, than have people in the rest of the state.  How?  Why?  And why has the media failed to ask that question of the City and State Comptrollers, and pursue the answers?

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How Did New York City Government Recover from the 1970s Fiscal Crisis?

The legend has it that New York City avoided bankruptcy, and recovered to become the thriving city it was until recently, because all of its interest groups got together and agreed to “shared sacrifice.”  The public employee unions agreed to contract givebacks, and having their pension funds invested in the city’s bonds.  The banks agreed to roll over the city’s debts.  The rest of New York State, under the leadership of Governor Hugh Carey, agreed to shift resources to NYC.  And the federal government, after initially telling New York City to “Go to Hell,” finally decided it had sacrificed enough and agreed to a bailout.  These powerful players made the sacrifices, and ordinary New Yorkers reaped the benefits.

I’m here to tell you that the legend is a lie, a politically convenient lie.  The people negotiating in the room deferred and lent a little, but gave back nothing.  The ordinary New Yorkers outside the room then made all the sacrifices required to pay back every dime, and then some, in higher taxes and collapsing public services.  The poor were left to suffer and die unaided, with the Bag Ladies dying in the street, the schools collapsed, the infrastructure deteriorated, the police allowed city residents to be victimized by crime on a large scale, and the streets and parks filled with garbage. Property in large areas of the city was abandoned, and life expectancy fell.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470515/

Decades later, some city services hadn’t fully recovered. The beneficiaries, relocating to the suburbs, a few enclaves within the city, or retired to Florida, and the better off, were mostly unaffected.

In reality New York City recovered because things happened that those negotiating over its corpse could not have expected.  This post will explain, and use data to show, that high inflation was real reason New York City recovered from the 1970s fiscal crisis.

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Census Bureau Education Finances Data: The FY 2018 Data for New York City is Wrong

In the past few years I’ve come across multiple instances when federal data on City of New York expenditures, and only City of New York expenditures, has been incorrect.   Always in a way that make it seem as if those expenditures are lower, public employment per 100,000 people lower, and NYC public workers less well paid than they actually are.  The data affected has been the public employee pension data aggregated by the Census Bureau, population data at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and state and local government earnings data aggregated by the BEA.  At the local level some key information has been eliminated altogether, notably the “full agency cost” table.   I’ve been following the data for decades, and haven’t seen much like it.

Given that I’ve just completed a comprehensive analysis of state and local government finances based largely on the 2017 Census of Governments, I hadn’t planned to re-doing an analysis of education finances for FY 2018. But I decided to check to see if something funky happened to those numbers as well.  It has.  According to data reported to the Census Bureau, the wages and salaries of NYC elementary and secondary school workers were $373 million lower in FY 2018 than they had been in FY 2017, with a reduction of $205.6 million for instructional workers.  I checked around to see if there was something that could explain this. Here is what I found.

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Graphic Summary: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the past six weeks, I’ve posted a series of analyses of state and local government finances using data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, starting with the 2017 Census of Governments and including similar data for prior years.  The posts include well over 200 pages of text, 296-plus charts, 25 tables, 34 spreadsheets with that data, those tables and those charts, plus additional spreadsheets. It is the fifth time I have done this, based on the Census of Governments, which comes out every five years.

Did you read them all?

If not, I will now attempt to summarize what the data said about state and local government in New York City compared with the rest of the country, prior to the cornonavirus crisis, with a series of selected charts and a sentence or two each.  Most of the data is for all the governments in a state or county added together, with revenues and expenditures divided by the personal income of everyone in that state or county, to adjust for the relative cost of living and ability to pay. The first post in the series, which includes spreadsheets with revenue and expenditure data on the full scope of state and local government activities, and explains where the data comes from and how it is tabulated, is here.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/background-and-databases-2017-census-of-governments-finance-data/

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Bureaucracy: 2017 Census of Governments Data

This, the final analytical post based on a tabulation of state and local finances data from the 2017 Census of Governments, is about the most governmental of activities. The kind of activities one might expect to find taking place in city and town halls, county seats, county courthouses, and state capitals.  Reviewing applications, keeping records, adjudicating cases and doing inspections, rather than providing services.  The functions included are, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, Judicial and Legal; Financial Administration; Central Staff, General Public Buildings and Other Administration; Protective Inspection & Regulation; and, at the state level, Social Insurance Administration (state Departments of Labor) and “Other Education,” which includes state public school oversight agencies.  I have grouped them under the title “Bureaucracy.”

The budgets of these functions are small individually, but they add up. In FY 2017, also including public Health, state and local governments collectively spent $18.54 per $1,000 of U.S. residents’ personal income, or 1.85% of the income of everyone in the United States, on these functions.  And 1.6% of the personal income of residents of New York State, which ranked 38thin the country in Bureaucracy spending.

The relative level of spending on Bureaucracy in different states, when adjusted for the total personal income of residents of those states, doesn’t come close to matching what people might believe, based on what they read in the media.  Yes California is 11that $23.63 spent per $1,000 of personal income, and Texas is last at $13.31.  But Massachusetts, 45that $15.15, New Jersey 49that $14.00, and Illinois, 44that $15.41 ranked near the bottom.  Whereas Wyoming was first at $43.78 spent per $1,000 of personal income, albeit with a good chunk spent on Health.   And South Carolina made the top ten at $23.73.

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Public Amenities & Vices: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the years I’ve heard so-called conservatives try to make the case that the business sector is the foundation of the economy, while the public sector provides nice-to-have services that we may or may not be able to afford.  As if what the government does is the cherry on top of a sundae, perhaps desirable but not absolutely necessary.  There is a reasonable “conservative” case to be made about the relative value of services produced by the public and private sectors, but that isn’t it. The types of services that can’t fund themselves, and are in the public sector, include education, much of health care, most infrastructure and public safety.  And certainly aid to the needy.  The types of services that can fund themselves with sales in the private sector include alcohol, tobacco, other pleasurable but addictive substances, gambling, pornography, and prostitution.  Do we need less of the former, and more of the latter?

Perhaps the conservatives where thinking about the subject of most of this post:  Parks, Recreation, Culture, Natural Resources, and Libraries.  They have certainly been among the first services to be wiped out in NYC when money gets tight, along with services to keep poor children from being abused, neglected and killed.  But there was no fiscal crisis going on in FY 2017, the year of the latest Census of Governments, or in FY 2007 and FY 1997, prior Census of Governments years.  So how much was spent on these services then, in NYC and elsewhere?  This uses post Census of Governments data to find out.

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Infrastructure Other Than Transportation: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Generally when you hear about infrastructure in the media it is transportation infrastructure, the subject of the previous post, that is being referred to.  That, however, is not the only type of infrastructure there is, and that is not what New York City has invested the most in over the past 40 years.  Under the streets there are water, sewer and gas pipes. There are electric wires and telecommunication wires there, or on poles.  And the distribution infrastructure that brings new goods into an area is matched by a Solid Waste Management infrastructure that moves used up goods out.

As anyone who can’t get Verizon Fios and now has multiple people working at home knows, a substantial share of this infrastructure is privately owned and operated – especially in so-called Blue States and in cities.  Rural areas and so-called Red States have more publicly-owned utilities, just as they have more transportation expenditures, on roads.   In addition to public and private infrastructure, moreover, there are on-site services that people provide for themselves.

https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/histcensushsg.html

In 1990, the last Census that asked these questions, 24.1% of U.S. housing units had an on-site septic tank or cesspool to remove liquid waste, not a connection to a sewer in the street.  That included 20.2% of housing units in New York State, but just 11.6% in New Jersey.   And 14.8% of U.S. housing units got their water from individual wells, including 11.4% of those in New York and 10.2% of those in New Jersey.  The trend for water and sewer has been for more and more households to connect to the infrastructure, but with solar panels and 5G, the trend for wired services may shift in the other direction.

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