Towering deficits and looming debt woes have been a recurring theme at home and overseas as policymakers of all walks have struggled to keep a balanced budget amid the sluggish economic recovery. Political gridlock on Capitol Hill has further exacerbated our nation’s debt burden, as playing the blame game on the federal level has only distracted taxpayers’ attention away from their states’ wasteful spending habits.
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According to data compiled by State Budget Solutions, a non-partisan proactive project dedicated to transparency, aggregate debt across the 50 states totaled $4.17 trillion in 2012. This mind-boggling figure is based on each state’s regular debt, the fiscal year 2013 budget gap, outstanding unemployment trust fund loans, as well as unfunded pension liabilities, showcasing the worrisome systemic issues at hand. Surprisingly, the total state debt fell from $4.24 trillion in 2011, but a closer look under the hood reveals that this decrease was largely attributed to reductions in unemployment trust funds. The harsh reality is that budgeting tricks can only go so far and the situation at hand calls for real reform.
Consider the maps below for a visual representation of each state’s budget woes and note that the figures are in thousands and the darker shade of red indicates a higher level of debt.
You can click on each state to learn more about their municipal bond market:
U.S. State Debt 2012
Another way to visualize our nation’s spending habits is to look at state debt per capita; note that these figures are based on the 2010 census.
State Debt Per Capita
Looking at the debt figures is only half the story, as each state has a laundry list of its own budget woes. Below we profile the most wasteful spending habits of each state from 2012, highlighting some truly outrageous expenses that are sure to infuriate any loyal taxpayer.
In 2012, Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard’s office spent $562,511 on salaries. That is a 54.5% increase over a man who Hubbard portrayed in 2010 as a tax-and-spend liberal.
After a partial veto, the state will be spending only $500,000 annually to rescue orphaned moose calf and nurse them back to health.
Due to problems arising from outdated computer systems, schools in Arizona spent $125 million a year on students that had already transferred out of the state.
LM Wind Power received nearly $15 million in taxpayer cash, and the company is now cutting jobs.
General contractors have been charging the state, and ultimately the taxpayers, $45 per hour for janitors on public works projects, but only pay their subcontractors $10 to $15 per hour for the actual work.
The state gave out a $51 million cash grant to Alexion Pharmaceuticals, an S&P 500 company with a market-cap of over $18 billion.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife reported a $32 million overrun due to sloppy accounting and miscalculations in 2012.
Two roofing companies sued the Delaware Department of Labor claiming an office run by Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca was not properly enforcing labor laws and preventing contractors from appealing prevailing-wage decisions; DeLuca’s office has reportedly forced companies to pay sheet-metal workers a rate of $61 an hour versus the average rate for the job of $21 an hour.
Miami-Dade County officials “discovered” a fleet of 300 brand new Toyota vehicles, mostly Prius hybrids, that the office had purchased between 2006 and 2007.
The state spent $14 million to finance the construction of the new Go Fish Georgia Education Center, a fishing museum.
The University of Hawaii spent $622 million in local construction contracts to shady architects that have proven incompetent in the past.
Idaho Public Television (IPTV) received more than a whopping $1.4 million from the state’s general fund in 2012.
The state paid $2 million in unemployment benefits to inmates last year; in fact, one Cook County inmate collected almost $43,000.
The state is allocating more than $100 million to build a tunnel spanning roughly 2,000 feet just over the border to neighboring Kentucky.
$189 million in taxpayer money and tax breaks were given out by a board to give new businesses incentives to move to Iowa, but the majority of these companies had a deep connection to board members and were already in state.
St. Francis, a rural public school funded by the state, racked up an annual Internet bill totalling $23,000.
An investigation of the Mason Country School District revealed nearly $200,000 worth of expenditures by the superintendent, six district employees and five board members that appeared excessive, lacked supporting documentation, had no clear business purpose or did not go through the district’s own approval process.
Officials of the State Department of Transportation and Development have failed to properly oversee a controversial new computer system being tested in the agency. The system failed to bill the federal government $26 million for the $100 million project, because of conversion and coding errors in the new system, and inadequate reports.
State officials spent $17,400 in 2011 for art in the Augusta capital government offices and Maine Housing offices.
Religious-affiliated charities in Maryland drew in more than $70 million in funding from the state last year which should come as a surprise given the principle of separation of church and state.
The state spent over $8 million for new office furnishings in 2012 and $17,000 on office chairs alone.
The state spent about $1.3 billion and $1.2 billion on tax credits for Chrysler and GM respectively for the year.
$768,000 in taxpayer-funded grants were spent for more walking school buses, bike rodeos and “Fire Up Your Feet” activities in 92 Minnesota schools.
The University of Southern Mississippi must pay out $2.1 million to fired football coach Ellis Johnson for his remaining three-year contract.
At least 574 government employees on the Missouri payroll made $100,000 or more in 2012 – all funded by taxpayers.
The state Senate voted and passed a bill that sets aside $2 million for each of the state’s eight Native American tribes to develop tribal language programs.
The state steered $505,000 of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to Sergeant s Pet Care Products, Inc., a local business that specializes in pet shampoo and toothpaste.
State Representative Joe Heck made headlines having spent over $300,000 on printing, postage and related costs, while other state offices spent less than half that much.
Derryfield, one of only three municipally-owned golf courses in the state, has operated at a loss since 2007, requiring annual loans from the city that now total $1.1 million.
Forty-five superindendents collect over $4 million in retirement checks each year, on top of their regular salaries.
Thousands of dollars from New Mexico’s EBT (electronic benefit transfer) welfare funds were used at suspicious business locations that fall outside the norm for “needy” individuals, including liquor stores, casinos, smoke shops and strip clubs.
The state’s late bill payments to vendors ended up costing taxpayers close to $2 million in interest.
The state paid out $87.9 million in cash grants and corporate income tax credits to Caterpillar, an S&P 500 company with a market cap of more than $56 billion.
The State Parks and Recreation Department spent $90,000 to build a shower facility in Little Missouri State Park.
The Ohio Emergency Management Agency repaid $2.9 million from Ohio s General Fund to the Federal Department of Homeland Security for misspent homeland security grant money.
After a critical look at spending by the administrator of Oklahoma City s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), auditors found a total of $35,190 spent on floral arrangements, apartment rentals, spa treatments and lifetime subscriptions of Sirius Satellite Radio.
A report by the Oregon Health Care Quality Corporation revealed that the state could have saved upwards of $26 million last year by preventing unnecessary emergency room visits.
The heads of Pennsylvania s four largest taxpayer-funded universities told members of the state Senate that they see no reason for their institutions to abide by Pennsylvania s open records laws after receiving upwards of $500 million in total from taxpayers.
The city of Providence has been using part of its federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to issue millions of dollars in risky loans to businesses within the state. Now the city is actively trying to collect $1.36 million in delinquent loans from 11 businesses.
A study commissioned by the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism revealed that for every $100 spent on incentives for the film and TV industry, a mere $31 came back in the form of taxes, thereby resulting in a net loss for taxpayers.
The state shelled out more than $35 million for the renovation and expansion of the iconic Corn Palace.
The City Codes Director is one of 19 McMinnville employees that earned $750 for doing nothing more than a standard fitness test that included 35 sit-ups in a minute and 38 pushups in a minute, among other fitness challenges.
Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, revealed in a federal disclosure that he was taking both his $150,000 salary and a $92,000 gross annual pension, which is funded by taxpayer dollars.
The state paid out $3.76 million in corporate income tax credits to Family Dollar, Inc., an S&P 500 company with a market-cap of more than $6.7 billion.
The state has committed $255,000 of its federal Community Development Block Grant to support a program for graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS). The CCS provides one- and two-year certificate programs for creating visual narratives for comic and non-comic geeks alike.
Fairfax County Public Schools purchased $7.7 million in online textbooks; however, teachers and students are complaining because the Internet-based system isn’t working well at all.
The State Department of Ecology spent $27,000 to produce a YouTube rap video that tells people to pick up after their dogs.
According to a report from the Legislative Auditor s office, 30 prisoners filed over 700 weeks of claims and received over $150,000 in unemployment benefits, with one inmate receiving benefits for 135 weeks while behind bars.
Publicly funded groups and local governments spent at least $1.5 million in 2012 to pay statehouse lobbyists.
The state awarded $106,048 in cash grants to Teton Gravity Research, an extreme sports film production company.