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By W. Gardner Selby March 6, 2011

In a letter, Scott McCown says Texas would have to increase spending by 28 percent just to reach the national average for spending per resident

Opposing massive cuts in state spending, a former Texas lieutenant governor and a former state district judge recently told business leaders that past Texas Legislatures budgeted so conservatively that state government lags other states in per-person spending.

The Feb. 1 letter from Democrats Bill Hobby and Scott McCown to leaders of local chambers of commerce around the state says: "To put in perspective how tight Texas is with a dollar, Texas would have to increase current state spending by 28 percent just to reach average state spending per resident" across the country.

Asked the basis for the percentage, McCown, a former state district judge who is now director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for programs serving low-income Texans, deferred to Eva DeLuna Castro, the center’s senior budget analyst.

In an e-mail, DeLuna said she drew on U.S. Census Bureau data to reach the percentage.

Nationally in 2009, state governments reported nearly $1.6 trillion in general expenditures. For Texas, the comparable figure was $98 billion, according to information posted online by the bureau.

DeLuna told us general expenditures include all money spent by a government in a fiscal year -- net of recoveries and other correcting transactions -- other than for retirement of debt, purchase of investment securities, extension of loans and agency or private trust transactions. She also said the bureau’s total closely tracked what the Legislative Budget Board, which advises lawmakers on budgetary matters, and state comptroller’s office would typically say that the state spent in 2009.

The same year, the U.S. population was estimated at more than 306 million, including nearly 25 million Texans. DeLuna said she reached per-capita spending estimates by dividing the general expenditures by the population estimates. The result: $5,072 for the nation, compared with $3,959 for Texas. Finally, DeLuna said, she calculated what percentage increase would raise the Texas figure to the national average--28 percent.

When we checked with the Census Bureau, Cheryl Lee, chief of the state finance and tax statistics branch in its governments division, had no comment on the center’s calculation. She said the bureau doesn’t pair its finance findings with population data to reach per-capita numbers.

Separately, Austin economist Stuart Greenfield pointed out two other runs at calculating per-capita state spending comparisons, both of them citing information from the bureau and other sources.

A chart posted online by the Washington-based Tax Foundation says that in 2007, Texas state government spent $3,830 per person in state funds, ranking 50th among the states. That year, the foundation says, the national average was $5,446. Based on those figures,Texas would have needed to boost state spending by 42 percent at the time to draw even. But when we ran this past Mark Robyn, the foundation’s staff economist, he cautioned that the 2007 chart is outdated.

More recently, a 2009 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Texas with state spending of $3,630 per person compared to the national average of $5,038--an indication that Texas would have had to increase its spending 39 percent that year to reach the national average.

A footnote to the foundation’s research posted online says the spending figures were obtained from the National Association of State Budget Officers. DeLuna of the Austin center said the NASBO total doesn’t take into account some Texas spending that the census bureau counted, such as extra money for state universities and Food Stamp benefits.

We rate McCown’s statement True.

Our Sources

Center for Public Policy Priorities, open letter to Texas business leaders from F. Scott McCown, executive director, and former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, Feb. 1, 2011

E-mails, responses to PolitiFact Texas, Eva DeLuna Castro, senior budget analyst, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Austin, Feb. 7, 14, 23 and 24, 2011

Interview, Stuart Greenfield, economist, Austin, Feb. 22, 2011

Interview and e-mails, Cheryl Lee, chief, State Finance and Tax Statistics Branch,
Governments Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Feb. 22, 2011

Interview, Mark Robyn, staff economist, the Tax Foundation, Washington, Feb. 22, 2011

Interview, Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers, Washington, Feb. 22, 2011

Kaiser Family Foundation, chart, State Health Facts, "Total State Expenditures per Capita, SFY2009," undated (accessed Feb. 22, 2011)

The Tax Foundation, chart, "State Spending Per Capita, Fiscal Year 2007," (accessed Feb. 22, 2011)

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In a letter, Scott McCown says Texas would have to increase spending by 28 percent just to reach the national average for spending per resident

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