Small Government, Big Money

As Washington remains gridlocked by partisan disagreement over the size of the federal government — and many states battle budget shortfalls — local government has defied that trend. During the last 30 years, the number of local entities that collect taxes to repair roads, maintain parks and sewers and battle mosquito-borne illnesses has increased by 32 percent. Little oversight over the taxing districts has created duplicative services that cost taxpayers billions and add to states' debt.

Published Oct. 28, 2013

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A Glut of Government

Across the U.S., there are 90,056 local governments, including county and municipal governments, independent school districts and more than 38,000 so-called special purpose districts — local taxing districts focused on specific programs, including maintenance of roads, sewers and cemeteries. Their impact on taxpayers differs by state. North Dakota has 384 local governments per 100,000 people, on average. On the other end of the spectrum, Hawaii averages 1.5 per 100,000 people.

Number of local governments per 100,000 people

Nationally, Local Government Has Grown

Since President Ronald Reagan declared 'government is the problem' in his 1981 inaugural address, the number of local governments has increased 10 percent, and the number of special-purpose districts is up 32 percent. Even in some states that have seen a reduction in the number of local governments, those declines haven't come close to keeping pace with drops in population.

Percentage change in the number of local governments, 1982 to 2012

Source: U.S. Census Bureau