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Numbers tell strange tales
Jack Balshaw 7/3/01

I read a reference about some states being “donor” states and others being “subsidized” states which intrigued me.  From my years with the Federal Highway Administration, I knew that some states paid more into the federal gas tax funds than they got back.  We called these “donor” states.  This latest reference was to states that were “donors” in total federal taxes and didn’t get back as much money as they contributed to the Federal Government.  This was the first time I knew someone was keeping the books on ALL federal receipts and expenditures by state.

 Fortunately, the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. had it all printed out in a single table (Table 545 in the 2000 edition).  For a “numbers” person like myself this publication is like a good mystery novel. What a surprise when I began to look at the states that were donors and those which were subsidized.   The relationship between the way the states voted in the presidential election and the donor/subsidized status was strange.

 For what follows, keep in mind the supposed common wisdom that conservatives (Republicans) want to distance themselves from the Federal (and other) Government and the liberals (Democrats) want to spend other peoples money.

There are 31 subsidized states that receive back more dollars per capita from the Federal Government than they send to it. Of the 20 states receiving the most dollars per capita from the federal government, 17 voted for Bush.  Of the 12 states which receive the least dollars per capita from the Federal Government, none voted for Bush.  The middle group of 18 states split 11 for Bush and 7 for Gore. 

 Note: California doesn’t do too bad. There are eleven states that contribute more money per capita to the federal government than California. California’s loss of funds is only $587 per capita. Of course we have a lot of capita so the actual dollar amount is among the highest.

 I found it strange that those states whose residents seem to be the most in opposition to the government and its programs are the biggest feeders at the federal trough.  I can understand that those favoring states rights would be more likely to vote Republican. But, what causes these same people to be at the front of the line when it comes to receiving federal funds?

 It is possible that those opposed to federal government are also opposed to any kind of government and resist contributing to even their own local and state governments.  This could bring about the reliance on federal funds to make up any shortfall in these citizen’s contributions to local self sufficiency.  I find it ironic that those most anti-government are also those most subsidized by it. 

On the other hand, why are citizens of those donor states receiving back less federal funds per capita then they contribute more likely to support Democrats and greater Federal Government?  You would think it would be just the reverse.  Perhaps people in donor states might think they would benefit if more federal money was spread around.  On the other hand, perhaps people who contribute more to the greater good are just more generous to start with. 

Looking over tables like this provides a better perspective when other subjects are discussed.  I’ll no longer be mislead by the image of the Independent Westerner or the Poor Southerner when government subsidies are discussed. 

There’s something for everyone is the Statistical Abstract of the United States.  The numbers in its thirty sections paint a picture of everything from population through health, education, banking, crime and agriculture to environment. It’s at the library if you’re interested.     

  To close on a local note, of the 150 largest counties in the country, only 21 spend more per capita than Sonoma County. In California, only four counties spend more per capita then Sonoma County. (Table 531)


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