News - Bill's Blog

Some updates to watch in 2020

December 19, 2019

Here’s a brief review of some of the interesting state-level data that we will be updating and reporting about as the new year progresses. Future blog posts will also highlight city and federal government data updates. 

United Van Lines Outbound Shipments Percentage: United Van Lines is one of the largest interstate moving companies in the US. Each year since 1978, it has published a study of the share of outbound moves in total moves for all 48 contiguous states. In recent years, we’ve seen higher outbound moves in states with relatively high Taxpayer Burdens, as calculated by Truth in Accounting. This study normally comes out in early January. Here’s a look at Indiana compared to Illinois since 2002 on this measure.

Fertility Rates: The data is developed in a program called the “National Vital Statistics Reports,” conducted within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One challenge facing social insurance programs at the federal level, and state and local governments as well, has been declining fertility (birth) rates. In recent years, we’ve seen that fertility rates are running lower in fiscally challenged states.

Lawyers per 10,000 Residents: Each year, the American Bar Association compiles statistics on the number of attorneys “active” and “resident” in the 50 states. As a general rule, state governments in states with more attorneys per capita tend to be in worse financial condition. And states with more attorneys also tend to have higher costs of living.

Regional Price Parities: This state-by-state measure of buying power is produced each year in May, by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) in the U.S. Department of the Census. States with governments in poor financial condition also tend to be states with relatively high costs of living.

Building Permits/Home Prices: We include these housing-related measures in State Data Lab. States with governments in relatively poor financial condition have had less of a recovery in housing markets since 2009 than other states, consistent with migration and economic growth trends. The building permits data come from a statistical program in the Department of the Census, and the home price data we include comes from a data program at the Federal Housing Finance Authority.

Taxpayer Burden: This is Truth in Accounting’s bottom-line measure of overall government financial condition. We release it for all 50 states in September in our annual flagship report, “The Financial State of the States.”

Net Revenue - Change in Net Position: Forty-nine of the 50 states have some form of balanced budget requirement, either in state constitutions or state laws. If states balance their budget every year, how have so many states run up massive debts? One answer lies in cash-based budget accounting practices, including for example a practice of counting anticipated borrowing proceeds as revenue. The “Change in Net Position” provides a check on the validity of these claims, because it is derived from more reliable accrual-based accounting principles. As a general rule, states that “walk the talk” on truly balanced budgets are in much better financial shape, and score better on measures like Gallup’s polling results for trust in state government.

Net Revenue - Change in TIA Money Needed to Pay Bills: State and local government financial reporting practices have improved in recent years, as they now include large debts for pension and other retirement benefits long left off the balance sheet. But state balance sheets have been clouded with the introduction of suspect “deferred outflows” line items. The change in Truth in Accounting’s “Money Needed to Pay Bills” measure provides another check on where state (and local) governments are walking the talk on balanced budget requirements. We don’t include the “deferred outflows of resources” line item GASB has stipulated be added to the assets, to arrive at the “Net Position.” 

Transparency Score: Once we have all the results compiled for the 50 states in our “State of the States” report, we compile a broader measure of government reporting that we call our “Transparency Score.” States that score higher on our Transparency Score also tend to have retained higher trust from their citizens, as reflected in Gallup poll results. They also tend to be in better financial condition. The practices that are assessed in our Transparency Score provide examples of good things to do, and good things to avoid doing.

Presidential Election Popular Vote Percentage: At the end of the year next year, we also have an election. The election-based data in State Data Lab includes party share of vote totals and voter turnout rates. States that tend to vote Democratic tend to be in worse financial shape, and another trend we have noticed is a relatively rapid increase, from low levels, in the share of Libertarian party votes. We’ve also noticed that states with relatively high voter turnout also tend to be in better financial condition, holding other factors constant.

Note: As 2019 comes to a close, we have decided to rebrand our “State Data Lab” website. The decision reflects the growing, broader range of information we compile and deliver, including city as well as federal government information. 

The new name for the website will be Data-Z.


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