Tag Archives: New Jersey Government Finance

State Government Higher Education Expenditures: Census of Governments Data

The news media has reported that more and more students are priced out of college or going deep in debt to pay for it, diminishing their prospects for the rest of their lives. Higher education debts have been blamed for constricted career choices and deferred homeownership, marriage and parenting. Based on that reporting, the story I had prepared to tell was that soaring tuition at private colleges may be explained by an arms race for extraneous amenities, extra administrators and increasingly cosseted faculty. But in public higher education, which accounted for 73.1% of higher education enrollment in 2012, cutbacks in taxpayer subsidies are the greater factor.

This is the story told by the public colleges and universities themselves. According to a recent report from Demos cited here,


“Cuts to higher education funding by state governments accounted for 79% of tuition increases at public research universities between 2001 and 2011 and 78% of the growth in college costs at public bachelor’s and master’s universities.” “Some have argued that universities’ penchant for hiring more administrators and constructing more buildings are the primary culprits behind skyrocketing tuition” according to this source. “While this so-called administrative bloat is an issue worth some attention, the report argues that it hasn’t played as large a role in tuition hikes as state funding cuts or the rising cost of health care for university employees.”

The data is a bit more complicated.

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Background and Databases: 2012 Census of Governments State and Local Finance Data

Every five years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a Census of Governments to record the organization, employment, and finances of every state and local government in the country. For the past few months the Bureau has been releasing finance data from the 2012 Census of Governments, and I’ve been tabulating it. Attached to the end of this post are spreadsheets that provide a comparison between New York City, all local governments in the U.S. combined, all local governments in different regions of New York State, all local governments in each county in both New York State and New Jersey, and selected counties across the country. And all local governments, by state, in each state in the U.S.

Note:  this post has been superseded by an analysis of the 2017 Census of Governments.


Continuing with the post as originally written…

There is column for each area and, moving across the same row, one can find, for example, what share of New York City residents’ personal income the city collects in local government taxes, compared with the U.S. average and local governments elsewhere. The same comparison could be made for property taxes or sales taxes alone. Or one can also find what share of the income of all NYC residents the city spends, in total or in specific categories such as parks and libraries. And I’ve provided additional spreadsheets with data for state government revenues and expenditures, by category as a percent of the personal income of each state’s residents. Similar data is provided for 1992 and 2002, for a comparison over time.

Over the next month or two I intend to write a series of posts, complete with charts, with my analysis of this data. What I would really like, however, is for people to first download these spreadsheets, look at the tables on their own, and make up their own minds about what the data says, before getting my take on it. There is far more information here and coming, for far more areas, than I could ever find time to write about. When you see this data, and you see how different places compare, you realize that much of what you hear in the media about state and local government is misleading. The public discussion is dominated by those with a financial stake in state and local policy, and it is slanted to their views – at best by providing only a partial picture, at worse by simply making stuff up. The staff of the Census Bureau has worked diligently to provide objective information for open minded, curious people, and I’ve spent 96 hours of my own time, so far, to put it in a form that makes fair comparisons from place to place and time to time possible. Please use it and think about it. Continue reading