Spending or Revenue – What’s the Problem with California’s Government

I have long wanted to see some benchmarking about state spending and taxes.  Does California spend more or less than other states?  What do we spend our money on and how does it compare to other states?  In business you benchmark, in government you obfuscate.

The reason I had to look this up was because the LA Times is too busy talking up the idea that California has a revenue problem to actually do any real analysis about what the nature of the problem is.

Well I found part of the answer tonight.  In 2005, California ranked number 4 in spending per capita when compared to other states.  The top five in order were:

  1. Alaska $15,118 per capita
  2. New York $11,803
  3. Wyoming $11,089 per capita
  4. California $9,501 per capita
  5. Massachusetts $9,117 per capita

Other big states were much less

  • Texas $6,628
  • Florida $7,337
  • Illinois $7,678
  • Ohio $8,015
  • Penn. $8,096

If California spent like Penn. which ranks number 15 compared to other states our state and local spending would be $48 billion lower and we wouldn’t have a budget crises on our hands.

Now I just have to find something that documents where the money goes and where California spends a disproportionate amount.

PS.  Share of total government spending from 1970 to 2006 was just about the same for every category except two: health and defense.  Health is up from 8% to 20% and defense is down from27% to 13%.

Sources:  Tax Foundation State and Local Spend and Tax Foundation Share of total Gov Spending

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeffrey Goodrich February 21, 2009 at 11:14 am


    I’ve been looking for the same info. You’re absolutely right, neither the government nor the media appear interested in providing the basic information. For example, wouldn’t it be great if there was a government website that broke down spending by category (k-12, higher ed, agriculture, prisons, etc), expressed the spending as a percentage of state gdp, and then provided that information historically? That way, I could see for each category whether we are now spending a greater or lesser percentage of our wealth on prisons, schools, agriculture, etc. As it is, I have no idea whether we are spending too much or taxing too little, and I think the politicians want us to remain that way, i.e., prisoners of our emotional biases.

  • Tom July 2, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I’ve been looking for the same information. Considering that the largest state is facing bankruptcy over the issue of spending cuts vs. tax increases, it’s amazing that there isn’t more information out there.