New Online Tools from the Tax Foundation

February 7, 2011

The Tax Foundation has added a new calculator to its arsenal of online tools – a database of state and local government spending by year going back to 1977. Taxpayers can use the calculator to determine what the effects of various spending limits, such as a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (or TABOR), could have been had they been enacted at some point in the past.

A TABOR is the most well-known type of spending limit. It’s a law that says government revenue (or spending) cannot exceed a certain set amount (typically it’s revenue or spending in some previous year, called the “base year”), with the amount adjusted annually for both inflation and population growth. The calculator uses information on state spending, as well as statistics on population and inflation, to determine how the spending limit would grow over time, given any base year since 1977. It then displays a graph that compares actual state government spending to the spending limit.

For example, suppose we’re interested in California. Selecting California from the list of states brings up a graph of state government spending between 1977 and 2008. It’s clear from the graph that state government spending really took off around 1998. So what would the size of California’s government look like now had a TABOR been enacted in 1998? Selecting a base year of 1998 produces the following graph:

tabor screenshot

The orange line is actual spending by the state government of California, and the blue line represents the maximum allowed spending under the TABOR limit using a base year of 1998. The calculator sums it all up for you at the end: while actual California government spending from 1999 to 2008 comes out to $1.32 trillion (in 2009 dollars), the maximum allowed spending over the same period under the TABOR limit is $973.6 billion.

In addition to the TABOR calculator, we have expanded our property tax database to include information on every county in the United States. This was made possible by the release of new 5-year data from the American Community Survey in December of last year. Property tax statistics for the 5-year period from 2005-2009 are available for every county, and, as before, 3-year data and 1-year data are available for counties with populations above 20,000 and 65,000, respectively.

The new TABOR calculator is available at

The updated property tax database is available at

All online tools that were previously available at are now located at

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