This week’s Seattle Stranger compares Washington state counties in terms of per capita tax revenue generated vs. per capita state expenditures. Not surprisingly perhaps, this exercise reveals significant disparities between the huge and relatively wealthy counties west of the cascades and the struggling counties east of the mountains. As the article argues, “Indeed, if Washington is a welfare state, it is residents in these mostly rural, mostly Eastern, mostly Republican counties who are the biggest beneficiaries, while taxpayers here in the blue parts of the state are left footing the bill. And while your typical liberal Seattleite might be neither surprised nor disturbed at this revelation, the degree of the gap between who benefits from state government and who pays for it may come as a bit of a shock.”
How big is this disparity? According to 2008 budget figures compiled by the state’s Office of Financial Management at the request of Representatives Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) and Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City), King County, with roughly 29 percent of the state population, produced 42 percent of state tax revenues, yet it received back less than 26 percent of state benefits. That’s a return of only 62 cents on the dollar for our state’s Democratic stronghold.
Compare that to the generous $3.16 return on each dollar enjoyed by taxpayers in hard Republican Ferry County in deep northeastern Washington. All in all, only six counties qualified as “net donors” to the rest of the state—San Juan, King, Skagit, Kittitas, Whatcom, and Snohomish—while the remaining 33 counties enjoyed an average return on investment of over $1.40 on every tax dollar sent to Olympia.
The article goes on to discuss specific kinds of funding, such as welfare and education, and concludes that the red (Republican-leaning) counties have more to lose from looming state budget cuts than the blue (Democratic-leaning) counties.