Category Archives: State & Local Finance

The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration

Source: Christian Henrichson, Joshua Rinaldi, Ruth Delaney VERA Institute of Justice, May 2015

From the abstract:
Jails are far more expensive than previously understood, as significant jail expenditures—such as employee salaries and benefits, health care and education programs for incarcerated people, and general administration—are paid for by county or municipal general funds, and are not reflected in jail budgets. Drawing on surveys from 35 jail jurisdictions from 18 states, this report determined that even the jurisdictions themselves had difficulty pinning down the total cost of their local jail or jail system. It also highlights how the surest way to safely cut costs is to reduce the number of people who enter and stay in jails. In doing so, jurisdictions will be able to save resources and make the investments necessary to address the health and social service needs of their communities, which have for too long landed at the doorstep of their jails.
Survey Data

The Party of Red Ink

Source: Joseph P. Williams, U.S. News & World Report, May 29, 2015

The GOP is the party of tax cuts but that strategy could be leading to deficits in some red states.

For most of modern U.S. political history, Republicans in general have cast themselves as the party of fiscally responsible governance, adhering to a simple equation: low government spending plus tax cuts – the bigger, and broader, the better – equals all-but-guaranteed economic growth and full government coffers.

Look at states governed by Republicans, however, and it seems that the GOP might need a collective refresher course in economics, if not general math.

Five years after the economic recession wreaked havoc on their budgets, at least a dozen red states are awash in red ink, facing nine- and ten-figure deficits heading into the new fiscal year. That’s led GOP governors who won office by pledging fiscal responsibility, and bans on new taxes, to slash spending on everything from education to the environment while simultaneously increasing the financial burdens for the poor, along with the use of accounting sleight-of-hand to make the books look better. ….

To Collect Revenue, Some States Put Tax Scofflaws in Virtual ‘Stocks’

Source: Elaine S. Povich, Stateline, May 28, 2015

Almost two-thirds of the states are punishing tax delinquents with a digital version of the Colonial practice of locking lawbreakers in stocks set up in the village square. It turns out publishing the names of tax scofflaws and the amounts they owe on the Internet works spectacularly well, bringing in millions to states eager for the revenue. In many cases, just the threat of being on the list is enough to get delinquent taxpayers to pay…..

New Models of Worker Representation

Source: Robert Bruno, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 40 no. 1, March 2015
(subscription required)

….Yet despite repeated predictions of labor’s ultimate demise, unions have proven to be remarkably durable institutions. Fight remains. The cause is no less right. But how does labor respond to falling rates of unionization, the passage of right to work laws, the election of antilabor political officials, and the inactivity of too many rank-and-file members this time? Additionally, maybe unionization, in its conventional and legally crafted form, needs to make room for and support other worker organizations and advocacy approaches. Are the remarkable benefits of collective bargaining only possible within the confines of labor law? And is a labor agreement the only virtuous product of worker organizing? In this special issue of LSJ, we present four case studies of alternative approaches to representing the collective interests of workers. Two of them involve unions, while the others engage other means. The articles are drawn from a series of papers on the theme “New Models of Worker Representation,” presented at the 2014 United Association for Labor Education Conference. ….

Articles include:
Worker Engagement in the Health and Safety Regulatory Arena under Changing Models of Worker Representation
Source: Linda Delp and Kevin Riley, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 40 no. 1, March 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper examines the efforts of a labor-community-university partnership in Southern California to confront violations of workplace health and safety standards by employers of nonunion workers in low-wage jobs. A worker engagement model has opened avenues for workers and worker advocates to participate in the regulatory arena absent union representation. This approach has achieved notable successes to date, including groundbreaking Cal/OSHA citations and nascent collaboration with agency officials to target enforcement of health and safety standards. We argue this model constitutes the foundation needed to support a potentially viable form of tripartism that allows nonunion workers a voice, albeit limited, in the health and safety regulatory process.

A Novel Way to Represent and Reframe the Interests of Workers: The People’s Budget Review in St. Petersburg, Florida
Source: Bruce Nissen and Rick Smith, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 40 no. 1, March 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article relates the three-year history of the People’s Budget Review, a highly unusual coalition of progressive forces in St. Petersburg, Florida, spearheaded by the Florida Public Services Union (FPSU). The People’s Budget Review has completely reoriented the public terms of discussion around city budgetary and social priorities and has won impressive victories. The issues faced by the FPSU as it transitioned from a more “normal” union to one focused centrally on “public goods” rather than simply collective bargaining gains for its own members are examined. The authors draw out the lessons that might be drawn for other unions out of this effort.

Tracking Federal Funds: and Other Data Sources

Source: Merete F. Gerli, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R44027, May 13, 2015

Finding data on federal grants and contracts awarded to states and congressional districts, local governments, nonprofit organizations, contractors, and other eligible entities may present challenges. The official website,, at, collects data on grants, loans, insurance, assistance, and contracts, and it presents various rearching and downloading options to Congress and the public. Because of continued data quality problems identified by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), researchers need to be aware that search results may be incomplete or have inaccuracies. was created under P.L. 109-282, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA), and is to be enhanced by requirements of P.L. 113-101, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act).
Other related sources reviewed in this report include the following:
• Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS);
• Census Federal Audit Clearinghouse;
• Census Federal Aid to States (FAS) and Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR);
• U.S. Budget: Aid to State and Local Governments;
• Comparing state data on federal funds received and federal taxes paid; and
• Additional federal grant awards databases, including sources tracking medical, scientific, and technical research, and related sources providing information on federal programs and funding opportunities.

Some States Yell “Cut!” on Film Tax Credits

Source: Elaine S. Povich, Stateline, May 18, 2015

Thirty-nine states offer tax incentives to attract film and television productions, and the economic activity they generate. But many of those states are beginning to wonder whether they are getting their money’s worth.
N.J. remains a Hollywood backlot, despite end to tax credits
Source: Ted Sherman,, August 9, 2015

Film-tax credits: NY paying $38,000 a job
Source: Joseph Spector and John Barry, Poughkeepsie Journal, August 3, 2015

Editorial: Bringing an end to film tax credits
Source: Boston Globe, July 16, 2015

Louisiana scales back film tax credits, roiling the industry
Source: Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2015

A Reminder About Film Tax Credits: All that Glitters is not Gold
Source: Citizens for Tax Justice, Tax Justice blog, June 19, 2013

A Report on Shortfalls in Medicaid Funding for Nursing Center Care

Source: Eljay, LLC & Hansen Hunter & Company, PC For the American Health Care Association, March 2015

Report Highlights:
● The majority of nursing center providers deliver Medicaid-covered services to residents at rates that are inadequate to cover their costs. ….
● Medicare does not mend the Medicaid funding gap. ….
● Providers have been forced to leverage provider taxes heavily in order to mitigate significant Medicaid underpayments. ….
● Trends in the delivery of long term services and supports (LTSS) continue to drive down nursing center utilization while new questions about future demand emerge. ….

Years of Cuts Threaten to Put College Out of Reach for More Students

Source: Michael Mitchell and Michael Leachman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 13, 2015

From the press release:
Higher education funding remains well below pre-recession levels in almost all states, a new CBPP report shows. Although the majority of states have begun restoring funding to their higher education systems, 47 states are spending less per student today than they did before the recession. As a result, public colleges and universities have had to raise tuition and make spending cuts that may diminish the quality of education available to students at a time when a highly educated workforce is more crucial than ever for economic growth and vitality. …. To make up for this declining state investment, public colleges and universities across the country have increased tuition considerably. Annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by $2,068, or 29 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation. In Arizona, published tuition at four-year schools is up more than 80 percent, while in five other states — California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Louisiana — it’s up more than 60 percent. These sharp increases in tuition have accelerated longer-term trends that have made college less affordable and shifted costs from states to students and their families. Federal student aid and tax credits have risen, but on average they have fallen short of covering the tuition increases. As a result, student debt levels have swelled since the start of the recession. Students now hold $1.16 trillion in student debt. ….

10 states with biggest higher education cuts

At What Cost: The Minimum Cost of Criminalizing Homelessness in Seattle and Spokane

Source: Joshua Howard, David Tran, Sara Rankin, Seattle University School of Law, May 6, 2015

From the abstract:
Many studies around the country have demonstrated significant savings on incarceration, adjudication, and medical costs when funds are directed toward the creation of affordable housing. However, with the increasing prevalence of criminalization ordinances — ordinances that disparately impact the homeless — funds that could be used for affordable housing are being diverted toward their enforcement. Although existing studies address general costs and savings associated with housing homeless people, they do not address the costs directly attributable to criminalization ordinances. In an effort to shed light on these direct costs, the Seattle University Homeless Rights Advocacy Project has traced the following total costs directly to the enforcement of less than half of the identified criminalization ordinances in Seattle and Spokane:
– Seattle: An estimated 5-year minimum of $2,300,000 is directly attributed to enforcing just 16% of the city’s criminalization ordinances.
– Spokane: An estimated 5-year minimum of $1,300,000 is directly attributed to enforcing 75% of the city’s criminalization ordinances.

Affordable Housing Alternatives: Investing the $3.7 million spent in criminalization ordinances over the five years covered in this study in housing the homeless could save taxpayers over $2 million annually and over $11 million total over the five years.

Although these figures are substantial, they still underestimate the total overall costs that these two cities spend on criminalizing homelessness. For example, the vast majority of available data exists only for criminal violations, not civil infractions, which may constitute the largest percentage of enforcement costs in any given city. Finally, due to limitations in data, this report focuses only on two cities as Washington case studies. Although these estimates are necessarily a mere fraction of the total costs of criminalizing homelessness in Washington state, at least two things are clear: (1) these ordinances are costly and do not address the underlying problems of homelessness; and (2) the redirection of funds currently being used to criminalize homelessness to support affordable housing would result in substantial cost savings.