Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Leventhal Report: MoCo vs. Fairfax, Part Two

How do MoCo and Fairfax compare on government spending?

The overall FY 2010 budgets for MoCo and Fairfax are almost identical in size. Fairfax is much more reliant on property taxes than is MoCo because Virginia does not allow its counties to charge income taxes. One important difference between the counties is that Fairfax gets more intergovernmental revenue, most of which is state aid ($966 million), than does MoCo ($855 million). That is because Maryland’s aid is mostly driven by wealth formulas, which sends taxes paid by MoCo residents disproportionately to other areas of the state.

In per capita terms, the MoCo government spends 9% more money than does Fairfax. The two jurisdictions’ school budgets are almost of equal size, but MoCo spends $421 million more from its general fund than does Fairfax. This is despite the fact that Fairfax’s 2008 population (1,015,302) is bigger than MoCo’s (950,680).

MoCo generally pays higher salaries to local government employees than does Fairfax, sometimes by significant amounts. The report does not state whether these salary differentials are due to differences in cost of living.

Fairfax has more public school students than does MoCo and spends 10% less per student. The Leventhal Report does not compare school outcomes, but we found that the two school systems were very closely competitive last summer. Does Fairfax get more bang for the buck in its school spending? Or does MoCo’s higher percentage of students receiving free and reduced price meals (FARMs) account for part of this difference?

MoCo levies higher taxes than Fairfax and its government spends more. Is it worth it? The residents of the two counties must answer that question for themselves, but the Leventhal Report shows conclusive evidence for both facts.

Tomorrow, we will look at economic performance.