The coronavirus has accelerated a reckoning for U.S. state and local governments that had been building up for 25 years, and the consequences, which would have gradually become terrible anyway, will be severe. Those public officials who made, and benefitted from, the past decisions that will lead to a future of higher taxes, diminished services, and deteriorating infrastructure will eventually leave the scene, perhaps soon. Their replacements, faced with a crisis and the need to inflict pain on their constituents, might wonder how their community ended up in this situation? How does their state or locality’s tax burden, in total and by type of tax, and spending, by government function, compare with other places, and how has that changed over time? Who, compared with other places and compared with the past, has been taking out too much, and/or putting in too little? And to what extent would, should, and could later-born and future residents, who got no related benefits, be sacrificed to pay for the self-dealing of the past?
I have been using data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, and other data sources, to answer questions like these for the past 30+ years. Including the Census of Governments, which takes place every five years, with the latest data for FY 2017 released late in 2019. While revised data will be released at some point in 2020, given the coronavirus crisis I have decided to compile and analyze that which is now available. This, the first of a series of posts, will describe where the data comes from and how I tabulated it. It includes downloadable spreadsheets with data on state and local government revenues and expenditures, by category, per $1,000 of the personal income of everyone in each area, for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And data for all local governments combined in each county in New York and New Jersey, and many other selected counties around the country chosen for comparison. Not only for FY 2017, but also – identically – for FY 2007 and FY 1997, for a 20-year trend.
Subsequent posts will include tables, charts and specific analyses of taxes, other revenues, local government education, state government colleges and universities, public safety, health and social services, infrastructure and amenities, and general government. But as is my custom I’m making the data available up front, so anyone can download it, look at it, and make up their own mind before getting my take on it. My focus is New York and New Jersey, but there is far more in the spreadsheets linked from this post than I intend analyze on an avocational basis. And anyone could have this data to think about themselves, and have it right now.