Tag: state and local spending

State Spending Machine Keeps on Rolling during Recession

While other matters dominate the headlines, American governments continue to spend more money, despite the presumed effects of the Great Recession. Washington Post reporter Abha Bhattarai lays out the latest details:

State and local governments in Maryland, Virginia and the District spent $7.82 billion more than they collected in revenue between 2007 and 2012, during the throes of the economic downturn, according to data released from the U.S. Census Bureau last month….

State and local governments in Virginia spent $1.03 billion more than they took in between 2007 and 2012, while expenditures in Maryland outpaced earnings by $6.07 billion….

Nationally, state and local governments spent $118.15 billion more than they collected between 2007 and 2012. Total expenditures during that period increased by 18.2 percent, from $2.7 trillion to $3.2 trillion, while total revenue declined 3.2 percent over the same five-year period, from $3.1 trillion to $3.0 trillion.

Over that five-year period, plenty of businesses, families, and nonprofits found their revenue declining by more than three percent, and most responded by spending less.

Of course, it’s often said that governments spend when times are good and the tax revenue is rolling in, then find themselves over-extended and facing painful cuts when growth slows down. But the evidence above suggests that governments just keep spending even as the money stops rolling in. It’s exceedingly difficult to get governments to spend less, especially when every government dollar helps to create pro-spending constituencies who will resist cuts. Spending interests never rest; taxpayer groups have to work twice as hard just to hold the line.

One side note: The online headline for this article is

State, local governments continue to spend more than they earn

Actually, I don’t think governments “earn” money. Merriam-Webster defines “earn” as “to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.” Governments don’t earn, they take. Just try saying “I don’t find your services worth the money, and I won’t be renewing my contract.”

For more on state government spending, see Cato’s latest “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.”


My Soaring Local Taxes

When I read in my local paper, the Sun Gazette (published in Washington’s Virginia suburbs), that the Arlington County Board was planning to raise property taxes, I prepared the chart below. It shows how my own property taxes have risen since I bought a house in 1997 (with my first tax bill, in 1998, set at 100). I had the following letter published this week in the Sun Gazette

[Arlington] County Board members are discussing raising the real estate tax rate by 5 cents. The Sun Gazette on Feb. 28 published a chart showing that the proposed rate was actually higher in 2000 and 2001. But what you didn’t show was the soaring level of real estate assessments. Property taxes are much higher than they were a decade ago. My first Arlington tax bill was in 1998. My 2012 bill was more than double the 1998 rate–about a 127-percent increase. I think that’s true for most Arlington homeowners. It’s not easy to find past budgets on the county government’s Web site, but I would assume that the county’s revenue has gone up approximately as much. So Arlington isn’t hurting for revenue; it’s just itching to raise spending even faster than tax revenue rises. The Sun Gazette quoted County Board member Libby Garvey saying that a 5-cent tax hike is “a very good compromise.” Not for taxpayers, it isn’t.
This pattern happens in many states and localities, of course: they spend money freely in good times, then run into trouble when the economy or the housing boom slows down. As Chris Edwards told a reporter in 2009, states during the preceding years had “repeated the same mistakes they made in the late ’90s, assuming the good times were going to last forever.” And when the money stops rolling in, they don’t want to cut back–so they decide to raise taxes to keep their revenue and spending at the high levels they reached during the boom.