What everyone should know about their state’s budget

Source: Urban Institute, 2017
[tool was funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation]

State and local governments educate schoolchildren, train the future workforce, care for the sick and elderly, build roads, patrol neighborhoods, extinguish fires, and maintain parks. In short, they’re pretty important. But few Americans understand where their state and local tax dollars go and to what effect. It’s not just the amount of money spent that matters, it’s why that money is spent the way it is.

Through this web tool, we aim to fill that knowledge gap. The tool allows users to get under the hood of their government and understand not only how much a state spends but also what drives that spending.

To do this, we apply a basic framework to all major areas of government spending. The framework says that state spending per capita is both a function of how many people receive a service and how much that service costs the state for each recipient. ….

…In this tool, you’ll see the spending per capita breakdown for all states and the District of Columbia across all major functional categories. It allows you to see how each state ranks, and you can sort by any factor you choose. (One frequent outlier is DC; though included in the rankings, it often functions more like a city than a state) We’ve included some annotations to guide you along the way. By exploring the tool, you’ll gain a sense of how much each state spends on any given area and why states spend what they do. ….