By Randall G. Holcombe, Ph.D.
Living in Tallahassee, I often hear people complain about Florida’s frugal state government. It is true that Florida is among the most frugal states. According to this article Florida is second from the bottom among states in per capita state government expenditures, and this article says Florida is also second from the bottom in government employees per capita. Nevada is the only state lower than Florida in both categories.
The message of those who complain about Florida’s low ranking is almost always that the state government should spend more, using as evidence how far Florida is below the national average. But there is no virtue in being average. If state government spending is a good thing, we’d want to be at the top of the list; if it is a bad thing, we deserve credit for being at the bottom.
Sometimes I’ll see people claim that if our government spent more, we could accomplish various things with the money, but that’s hypothetical. Would we really accomplish anything more if we spent more?
People who claim we spend too little should compare the government goods and services people in high-expenditure states get that Floridians don’t. State governments spend more than twice as much per person in Arkansas, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as we do in Florida. Do they have better roads than we do, or better parks? What are they getting for their money?
Normally, we think that if we spend less for something, that’s a good thing, so I take any evidence that Florida ranks low in state government spending or government employment as something positive. People who want to complain about Florida’s frugal state government shouldn’t be telling us how little it costs. That should be a positive thing. They should be telling us what people in other states, where state governments are bigger, are getting that we Floridians are not. As a longtime Florida resident, I don’t see the evidence that we are being shortchanged.