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California’s population is nearly exactly twice as large as New York’s population.
California passed a budget that was $308 billion, while New York’s latest budget calls for spending of $220 billion, though a direct comparison of each budget can be misleading. The ways budget sizes are measured are also varied.
Other sources that track state spending show that California spends about twice as much as New York, consistent with its larger population.
In New York, Democratic politicians often claim their policies are more progressive than anywhere else. In turn, their Republican rivals criticize them as too expensive.
But does New York really spend almost as much public money than California, a state with about twice as many residents?
New York State Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay said California’s budget is about 20 percent larger than New York’s, despite the larger population. He made the remark during a recent appearance on "The Capitol Connection," a radio show and podcast from WAMC, an NPR affiliate headquartered in Albany.
"Capitol Connection" host Alan Chartock asked Barclay where the state budget should be cut.
"You can say right through the whole budget, $220 billion," Barclay said. "How come New York — you have a state like California, spends $260 billion, they have twice the population of New York. So, why is New York such an outlier on our spending?"
The most straightforward part of Barclay’s statement is that California has twice the population of New York. Census data easily confirms this.
Population estimates from July 1, 2021, show California is home to 39.2 million people, compared with 19.8 million people in New York, nearly twice as much.
Comparisons between each state’s spending require more explanation.
Barclay’s right about the size of New York’s budget. All-funds spending in the 2022-23 budget, passed last April, is $220.5 billion, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller.
California’s budget calls for $308 billion in spending, though by another measure, total state spending is $452 billion.
We asked experts whether the two state spending plans can be compared. They warned about the lack of uniformity between state budgets. What revenues or expenditures are included, and what is kept in other budgets or falls to cities to fund, for example, vary from state to state.
The experts looked at data from several sources and found California’s spending is closer to twice as much as New York’s.
William Glasgall, a budget expert from the Volcker Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes sound budgeting at all levels of government, called Barclay’s comparison "apples to oranges." Glasgall, the nonprofit’s senior director of public finance, looked at data from the National Organization of State Budget Officers, state budget reports and census data.
"In all cases, when you compare like-funds across states, New York budget spending is about half of California’s, which roughly mirrors the difference in population," Glasgall said.
He looked at several data points from fiscal year 2023 spending in each state.
In New York, general fund spending is $96.1 billion, while it’s $234.4 billion in California. All- funds spending in New York is $222.2 billion, according to the state Division of Budget, which is slightly higher than the comptroller’s figure. It is $451.5 billion in California.
Census data of state finances also shows California spends just less than twice as much as New York. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances, from 2020, shows New York’s total expenditures reached $227.4 billion, compared with $423.2 billion in California.
Another analysis also found Barclay’s comparison between New York and California missed important context. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, total state-funded expenditures excluding bonded capital projects were $121 billion in New York and $309 billion in California, said E.J. McMahon, a veteran observer of New York state finances and founding senior fellow of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank.
Barclay’s spokesperson sent an Associated Press article to back up Barclay’s claim, which reported that California had approved a $262.6 billion operating budget. The article was published on June 28, 2021.
"State budgets are always fluid and it's not uncommon to see numbers that vary," said Michael Fraser, director of communications for Barclay. "The point being made is that New York's level of spending is unacceptably high, and aligns far too closely with California's given the huge discrepancy in population."
Barclay claimed California, with nearly twice New York's population, spends $260 billion to New York’s $220 billion. The Golden State does have nearly twice New York’s population. New York’s latest budget came in at $220 billion, but California’s current budget is $308 billion.
Even if the budget numbers completely aligned with Barclay’s claim, they don’t tell the whole story of state spending, because states account for different categories of spending in different ways.
Other analyses of state spending, from a national organization of budget officials and from the U.S. Census, show that California’s spending is roughly twice as much as New York, not inconsistent with its populations.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
WAMC, "The Capitol Connection" #2248: Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, Dec. 1, 2022.
Email interview, Scott Graves, director of research, California Budget & Policy Center, Dec. 15, 2022.
Email interview, William Glasgall, senior director, public finance, The Volcker Alliance, Dec. 14, 2022.
Email interview, Lucy Dadayan, Ph.D., senior research associate, Urban Institute/Tax Policy Center, Dec. 14, 2022.
Email interview, E.J. McMahon, founding senior fellow, Empire Center for Public Policy, Dec. 14, 2022.
Email interview, Michael Fraser, director of communications, NYS Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, Dec. 20, 2022.
Census.gov, QuickFacts, Population Estimates, July 1, 2021, California and New York state.
Census.gov State and Local Finance Datasets 2020, California and New York.
National Association of State Budget Officers, 2022 State Expenditure Report.
National Association of State Budget Officers, Summary of Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted Budgets.
Office of the New York State Comptroller, "State Fiscal Year 2022-23 Enacted Budget Analysis," May 2022.
CalMatters, "California budget approved: What to know about record spending plan," June 30, 2022.
Associated Press, via Los Angeles Times, "California lawmakers approve $262.6-billion operating budget. What’s in it?," June 28, 2021.
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