NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

State Spending Lessens When Government Divided

May 21, 2003

Republicans, who pride themselves on being frugal with taxpayers' money, were bigger spenders than Democrats in state legislatures over the past five years, a USA Today analysis shows.

At a time when states are facing severe budget problems, many Republicans are blaming shortfalls on runaway spending by Democrats during the economic boom of the late 1990s. The analysis suggests otherwise.

  • State legislatures controlled by Republicans increased spending an average of 6.54 percent per year from 1997 to 2002, compared with 6.17 percent for legislatures run by Democrats.
  • State spending rose slowest -- 6 percent annually -- when legislatures were split, and each party controlled one chamber.

These were real spending increases, since inflation averaged only 2.55 percent annually from 1997 to 2002.

Spending was higher when one party -- Republican or Democratic -- controlled the legislature and the governor's office. States spent 14 percent less when Republicans and Democrats had to fight each other to pass a budget. The most frugal combination is a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor.

Political control also affects tax cuts, which are smaller under divided government:

  • Republicans cut taxes an average of 1.08 percent annually from 1997 to 2002 when they controlled both the legislature and governor's office.
  • Democrats cut taxes 0.59 percent annually when they were in charge of state government.

When power was split, taxes were cut 0.37 percent.

Source: Dennis Cauchon, "GOP outspends Democrats in states," USA TODAY, May 19, 2003.


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