Subscribers to Connecticut Economy are rejoicing as that quarterly publication from UCONN economists hits mailboxes this week to stimulate a whole summer of thinking (get your subscriptions here).
Among other pieces, the magazine includes a very interesting article by Dennis Heffley and MaryJane Lenon entitled “Sizing Up Connecticut’s Public Sector” (PDF), which compares Connecticut’s state and local government size to that of other states around the country – with some surprising results.
It turns out that Connecticut compares favorably to other states in terms of size of government measured two ways – by the percentage of non-federal spending share to state GDP and by the non-federal full time equivalent employment per 10,000 persons. The Constitution State ranks 47th out of 50 states in terms of size per GDP and 33rd in employees per 10,000 persons.
In terms of state spending compared to state GDP, the presence of Fairfield County would seem logically to distort the state GDP figure – generating significant revenue while requiring relatively fewer social services than would be expected from an average population.
The second measurement, non-federal FTE employment per 10,000 persons – is fascinating because it raises as many questions about how OTHER states do business as much as it does answer questions about Connecticut.
Our governing architecture features the absence of an entire level of governing structure present in other places – county government. One might suspect that individual towns duplicating services that a single county government might provide – like snowplow drivers, for example – would actually push Connecticut higher per 10,000 residents. That the reverse seems to be true would appear to be a counter-argument to regionalization.
In terms of the dynamics of the ongoing political debate between larger and smaller government, though, the conclusions drawn in the piece should be considered most instructive:
“First, non-federal government in Connecticut, based on relative spending or relative employment measures, is not disproportionately large. At the same time, by either measure non-federal government in Connecticut has grown in relative size over the last ten years.”
But the size of government question is a normative rather than a positive one. The judgment about whether Connecticut’s government is too big or too small isn’t made on the basis of our size relative to other states, it should be based on our size relative to our needs – a far more difficult measurement to calculate.
It should be also be noted that our government size, whether it be compared to state GDP or per 10,000 persons, isn’t the happy result of careful planning by our elected officials. Democratic legislative leaders, and the Governor for that matter, have tried at one time or another to spend more money – in some cases, dramatically more money. Only doughty efforts by mainstream Democrats and Legislative Republicans have held those spending hikes at bay.
Those old stumbling blocks – the moderate Democrat and the Republican in general – are gradually disappearing from the Legislature, leaving a far more radical element in charge with a very different agenda for our state.
Source: Heffley, Dennis J. and MaryJane Lenon. “Sizing Up Connecticut’s Public Sector” (PDF). The Connecticut Economy, Summer 2009.