What’s It Really Cost?

What does government cost?

Glad you’d actually ask. In so much of our political debate, we debate “big spending” as though it means the same thing at different levels of government. We act like $10 billion in Washington is the same thing as $10 billion in Harrisburg or Trenton.

Just for a second, let’s take a look at what the federal government spends, usually:

    2020 Proposed Budget- $4.746 trillion. $2.841 trillion in mandatory spending, $1.426 trillion in discretionary spending, $479 billion in interest on the national debt. This includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (60% of spending). They plan to collect $3.645 trillion in taxes next year.
    2019 Proposed Budget- $4.529 trillion. $2.777 trillion in mandatory spending, $1.305 trillion in discretionary spending, $393 billion in interest on the national debt.
    2013 Actual Spending- $3.455 trillion. $2.086 trillion in mandatory spending, $1.147 trillion in discretionary spending, $221 billion in interest on the national debt. (Note: this was during sequestration)
    2010 Actual Spending- $3.456 trillion. $2 trillion in mandatory spending, $1.306 trillion in discretionary spending, $150 billion in interest on the national debt. (Obama’s first Budget)
    2009 Actual Spending- $3.518 trillion. $2.112 trillion in mandatory spending, $1.219 trillion in discretionary spending, $187 billion in interest on the national debt. (Bush’s final budget, but it wasn’t actually signed into law until Obama was President)
    2004 Spending- $2.292 trillion.
    2000 Spending- $1.789 trillion.

Two things should jump out at you- 1. The government is significantly bigger. 2. How little actually gets spent on discretionary spending. While some on the right would blame the government’s growth on a “nanny state” that is being flooded by people who “don’t want to work,” it’s largely being driven by a growing economy that increases the costs of everything, mandatory spending programs that you pay into your whole life, increasing interest on the national debt, and if you dig into discretionary spending a bit, huge increases in national defense spending. We spend peanuts on education, welfare, the environment, protecting natural lands, foreign aid, or anything else they call “waste.”

What about in the states? What does it cost to run a state? Here’s a few current examples:

  • Pennsylvania 2019-2020- $34 billion
  • New Jersey 2020- $38.7 billion
  • South Carolina 2019-2020- $29.8 billion
  • Utah 2020- $19 billion
  • California 2019-2020- $215 billion

Hopefully this mix gives you an idea of the difference between big states and small, liberal and conservative, and what a pretty large swing-state with divided government pays out.

Of course, there is local government as well, so I decided to look that up as well. My home county of Northampton (PA) budgeted $483,219,200 for 2019. Because they budget for full employment at all times, they rarely pay out what they budget, but that’s the number. Lehigh County proposed $506.1 million for 2019, though it was approved for roughly $4.4 million less. My home school district of Easton passed a $162.7 million budget.

The thing to understand about all of this is that the less the federal and state governments pay, the more locals do. If the state doesn’t fund as much education spending as last year, your school board has to pay out more. If you’re rich? Fine! Wealthy communities don’t mind paying their own costs and leaving everyone else high and dry. It’s cheaper for them. It also leaves a lot of other people in position to fail.

Anyway, that’s what government costs. Enjoy!

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