By Bill Wilson — Speaking to the National Governors Association, Barack Obama implored governors from across the country to stop cutting spending: “Too many states are making cuts that I think are too big. Budgets are by choice, so today I’m calling on all of you: invest more in education, invest more in our children.”
What’s he talking about? According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), spending at the state level has increased every single year in recent memory. It rose from $945.3 billion in 2000 to some $1.69 trillion in 2011.
Even in the recession, spending increases have continued unabated, growing by about $63 billion a year since Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, according to NASBO data.
And in Obama’s pet area of education, spending too has risen. In 2007, $305.79 billion was spent on elementary and secondary education by the states, and $145.93 billion on higher education, a total of more than $452 billion. In 2011, that had risen to $509.42 billion.
There was a slight reduction in elementary and secondary education in 2010 of about $2.15 billion. But much of that included $5.6 billion of such cuts in the bankrupt Democrat-controlled state of California alone, which was offset by spending increases elsewhere.
Talk about a false impression. There were not even any cuts in education in the controversial GOP-controlled state of Wisconsin that is supposed to be bleeding red ink. Education spending there increased in 2011 by $1.063 billion.
In fact, some the largest cuts in 2011 came in Democrat strongholds like Massachusetts and Washington state, which slashed a combined $708 billion in elementary and secondary education spending.
So what is Obama talking about? Likely not California, Massachusetts, nor Washington.
He is most likely referencing Ohio, which did see a cut $1.07 billion in 2011 on education. But even those occurred under former Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, as Ohio works with two-year budgets. More cuts are occurring under Governor John Kasich, too, but were not unexpected.
A simple explanation is that states like Ohio or California with exorbitant public sector employee costs were particularly hard hit by the recession, causing revenues to dry up. With a need to balance the budget, faced with large budget deficits, that makes cuts more likely.
But not always. In Illinois, the government there continues to plunge into the Abyss, increasing education spending despite an $8 billion budget deficit. So, in many cases, there are no cuts when there ought to be. Certain states are not going nearly far enough.
A singular focus on any one state is likely to leave a misleading impression of severe austerity being adopted across the country, just as Obama’s statement to governors nationwide did. Many of them might have been looking around at each other, thinking, “What the heck is he talking about?”
Of course, that’s a question a lot of people ask these days when Obama’s teleprompter takes the stage.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.