None of the 13 States With the Greatest Total Public Debt Per Capita Has a Right to Work Law


State Budget Solutions’ third annual State Debt Report shows total 

In forced-unionism states, Big Labor has had a lot of success in lobbying for higher taxes, but even more success in lobbying for massive increases in government spending. It's not surprising, then, that total per capita state debt is negatively correlated with Right to Work laws.


Just before Labor Day, the nonpartisan taxpayer watchdog group State Budget Solutions (SBS) issued its third annual report on state public debt, which calculates “the total amount of debt each state faces.” (See the link above.)

The new report compiles data on every state’s “regular debt, the fiscal 2013 budget gap, outstanding unemployment trust fund loans, unfunded other post-employment benefit liabilities, and . . . unfunded pension liabilities.”

It is not particularly significant that, according to SBS’s findings, all of the states with the highest absolute total debt are large-population states, and all those with the least absolute debt are low-population states. High-population states have greater absolute resources to cover their debts than do smaller states.

A far more reliable, albeit still imperfect, measure of any state’s fiscal soundness is total debt per capita. That’s why the National Institute for Labor Relations Research decided the other day to divide the total debt for each state as calculated by the SBS by the state’s 2011 U.S.Census Bureau-reported population.

On average, nationwide, the 50 states have a total public debt of roughly $13,400 per capita, using 2011 population data. But debt levels vary sharply from state to state. And there is a strong negative correlation between a state’s per capita indebtedness and its having a Right to Work law on the books barring the extraction of forced union dues and fees from employees as a job condition. The 27 states without such a law have an average total state debt of  of $16,427 per resident. In contrast,the 22 states with Right to Work laws have an average total state debt of just $9568 per capita. (Indiana, a forced-unionism state until it adopted a Right to Work law this February, is not included in either group in these calculations.)

All of the 13 states with the greatest per capita debt (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island) lack Right to Work laws. But all of the 11 states with the lowest per capita state debt (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia) have Right to Work laws.

As the Institute has pointed out elsewhere, the average forced-unionism state has a significantly heavier tax burden than the average Right to Work state, but even this greater burden is apparently insufficient to cover all the government spending union lobbyists are able to ram through the legislatures of states where employees may be fired for refusal to join or pay dues to an unwanted union.