Easy math

Patrick Gibbons

Apparently State Sen. Bob Beers (R-Las Vegas) has been engaged in a hot debate over state spending that has spread from the Nevada Legislature into the newspapers and beyond.  The Left now contends that per-capita state spending has dropped anywhere from 6.9 percent, according to Assemblyman Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas), to 29 percent, according to a mysterious big-government Utahan.

The debate is confusing, to say the least, but here's a breakdown of the data along with a fair analysis of whether or not state spending has kept pace with inflation and the state's booming population growth.

To present the strongest case against us limited-government types, I'll assume Mo Denis' figures are correct (he uses a higher 1996 general fund and a lower 2007 general fund level than Sen. Beers, which helps lower the gap between 1996 and 2007).

1996: General fund = $1.291 billion, with a state population estimate of 1.696 million residents.

2007: General fund = $3.145 billion, with a state population estimate of 2.718 million residents.

Now, directly comparing 1996 to 2007 wouldn't be fair – inflation devalues money and will make growth appear much larger than it actually is.  To be fair, we must adjust for inflation to make the 1996 dollar amount equivalent to its value in 2007.

Using the Bureau of Labor's own inflation calculator, we see that $1.291 billion in 1996 is worth $1.71 billion in 2007.  Using that new number, the general fund has increased 83.9 percent, yet the Left contends that revenue and spending aren't keeping pace with the state's explosive population growth.

That is why we must divide the inflation-adjusted general fund by the population size to calculate the general fund per-capita figure.

$1.71 billion divided by 1.696 million people is $1,008 per person in 2007 dollars.

$3.145 billion divided by 2.718 million people is $1,156 per person in 2007 dollars.

That is an increase in per-capita general fund spending of 14.8 percent.

What does this mean? After creating a fair comparison between two separate years, we find that the government spends 14.8 percent more per person in 2007 than it did in 1996.

If we used Sen. Beers' figures, which also happen to be official state figures, general fund per-capita revenue increased by 24.3 percent.

So yes, Nevada's general fund has increased faster than inflation and population growth combined.