Amid calls for increased state spending and fears of 2014 program cuts, some are calling for extending 2010’s sales tax increase indefinitely. However, Arizonans should understand how much their state and local governments cost before we let them charge us even more.
The graph below shows state and local governments’ direct expenditures as a percentage of private GDP for four states and the 50-state U.S. average from 1985 through 2009. This cost-of-government measure reflects government’s affordability to taxpayers.
Some states with high incomes and GDPs can conceivably “afford” more government. One of the most affordable state and local governments in the country in 2009 was Connecticut’s, partly because incomes (and GDP) in Connecticut is high. Currently, as can be seen in the graph, liberal New Jersey’s governments were more affordable than ours.
The percentage can go up because government spending rises or because GDP has fallen. GDP in Arizona has fallen lately (as it has in virtually every state) and this graph demonstrates that Arizona’s state and local governments have failed, worse than most, to shrink with Arizonans’ ability to afford them. Even before the recession, though, since 1999 the general trend has been less affordable government in Arizona.
In 1990, Arizona’s government burden as a percentage of private state GDP was the highest of all 50 states. The following decade saw tax cuts that shrank Arizona’s government burden until we were below the U.S. average. As a result, our economy boomed.
Now Arizona’s state and local governments are again above average in cost. Our government burden is closer to that of California than Texas, and the difference between the two states is striking. California’s unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent; Texas’ is above 7 percent, but only because so many people are moving there.
The numbers show that Arizona has failed to keep government small and economic growth high. We seem more focused on being a tired, flaccid has-been like California instead of an energetic economic leader like Texas.
Our state legislative leadership has it right: Resist increasing spending. Reduce the risk of raising taxes later. And lower the burden of government.
American Legislative Exchange Council: Rich States, Poor States (PDF)
Joint Legislative Budget Board: (Legislative) Budget as Introduced (PDF)
Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting: The Executive Budget Recommendation (PDF)