Every state has an obligation to help its towns, cities and counties fund local police department, fire department and department of corrections budgets. But the more states spend on public safety — which also includes protective inspection and regulation services — the less they have to spend on everything else.
GOBankingRates used data from the U.S. Census Bureau on state and local government finances, added up public safety expenditures and divided that by overall direct expenditures at the state level to find the total percentage each state spends on public safety.
States that spend the most and least on public safety
States that spend the most and least on public safety
50. North Dakota
Spending on public safety: 4.25 percent
North Dakota is one of just three states that spends less than 5 percent of its budget on public safety. And at just $429.34 million, it boasts the lowest total expenditures in the country. Fire protection takes up half a percent, while protective inspection and regulation services take up just 0.32 percent.
At $785.67 million, Kentucky spends more on corrections than it does on both police and fire protection. At 1.8 percent of the budget, corrections also represents the biggest percentage of the state's public safety expenditures. In 2011, the state passed the Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act to stem Kentucky's rapidly rising prison population, which grew by 45 percent between 2000 and 2009.
(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 4.52 percent
Police protection, which costs Iowans nearly $752 million, represents the largest chunk of the state's $1.54 billion total public safety spending. In fact, police spending represents 2.21 percent of the state's budget. The state spends $439 million on corrections and $255 million on fire protection.
Spending on public safety: 5.34 percent
Mississippi is the first state on the list with public safety expenditures that consume more than 5 percent of the state's total budget. Inspection and regulation accounts for a minuscule .19 percent, while police services account for 2.52 percent — or $731.89 million — which is the most of any component in the state's $1.55 billion total public safety expenditures. Recently, major cities like Natchez have raised taxes to pay for police and fire services.
46. West Virginia
Spending on public safety: 5.38 percent
Of the $919.78 million West Virginia spends on public safety, nearly $375 million goes to police services, with corrections not far behind at just under $340 million. Even still, the state's jails and prisons are facing a self-perpetuating crisis of low pay and high staff turnover, according to a report from a local ABC news affiliate. Its fire and inspection services are each allocated less than three-quarters of a percent of the state's total budget.
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Spending on public safety: 5.42 percent
Residents of just five states pay less for public safety than Mainers, who spend over $669 million combined. And Maine is one of just five states that has a total public safety bill lower than $700 million. There is currently a battle brewing among Maine's state legislators over public safety spending, the Portland Press Herald reported. Republicans want to cut state jobs and Democrats say such a move could endanger public safety.
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 5.44 percent
In Nebraska, a little less than 2 percent of the total budget goes to police services, and a little more than 2 percent goes to corrections. Fire services get less than a single percent, and inspection services account for just 0.37 percent.
Even with the lopsided tilt toward law enforcement and corrections, a group of judges recently warned that budget cuts could increase prison overcrowding. In total, the state spends a little more than $1.2 billion on public safety.
(Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
43. South Carolina
Spending on public safety: 5.56 percent
With a total cost of more than $2.55 billion, South Carolina has the highest public safety tab in the list of the top 10 lowest-spending states. The lion's share — nearly $1.16 billion — goes to police protection. In 2010, the state passed a sweeping public safety reform bill designed mostly to ease the burden of what has been a bloated corrections system.
Spending on public safety: 5.57 percent
Alaska spends a little less than $936 million on combined public safety services. At less than $17 million, the state spends less on inspection and regulation services than any other state in the country — just a tiny 0.1 percent of the state's total budget. A recent round of budget cuts slashed the state's food safety division, which worries public health and safety advocates. Alaska does not have a personal income tax or sales tax; instead it gets much of its revenue from producing oil.
(Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 5.63 percent
Only North Dakota spends less on public safety than Vermont, which caps its total expenditures at $431.19 million. A large plurality, $206.4 million, goes to police protection — that's 2.69 percent of the state's entire budget. Although the state is a low spender, it has ambitious plans, including a new and modern wireless communications network for first responders.
(REUTERS/Vermont State Police/Handout)
Spending on public safety: 5.68 percent
A full $1.85 billion of Minnesota's $3.47 billion public safety budget goes to police protection, making it the only state in the 20 lowest-spending states to contribute more than 3 percent of the entire state's budget to law enforcement. One problem that continues to plague Minnesota's Department of Public Safety is a new vehicle licensing computer system that is creating massive backlogs of hundreds of thousands of cars and drivers, a local ABC news affiliate reported.
(Photo by Keith Bedford/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The Indiana Department of Corrections was in talks with a company that might provide free tablets to inmates in an effort to prevent recidivism, the Indianapolis Star reported. The problem is that company would charge inmates exorbitant fees for basic services like listening to podcasts or renting movies.
(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 5.84 percent
In Massachusetts, 1.43 percent of the state budget goes to fire services. A little less than twice that amount goes to police protection. Just one other state in the 20 lowest-spending states — Pennsylvania — spends more than $5 billion on public safety. Massachusetts spends $5.06 billion.
The Boston Globe recently reported that steep budget cuts have led to a dramatic decline in enforcement of regulations pertaining to water and air quality rules.
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 5.87 percent
Exotic and expensive, Hawaii spends $941.14 million on combined public safety, with inspection and regulation services taking just $45.12 million of that total. Fire protection and corrections receive a similar amount: $221.5 million and $217.3 million, respectively. The state has faced criticism from some residents who don't want the government to build a massive new $525 million correctional facility, Hawaii News Now reported.
Spending on public safety: 5.89 percent
Rounding out the top 15 lowest-spending states is Alabama, which spends nearly $2.61 billion on combined public safety. Police protection costs $1.26 billion — that's enough to make up 2.86 percent of the state's entire budget. The budget for corrections, however, is apparently not sufficient to deal with a mental health crisis that's plaguing the state's prisons and jails, Decatur Daily reported. When it comes to collecting revenue, Alabama has one of the lowest property tax rates in the nation.
Spending on public safety: 5.89 percent
In Connecticut, a little more than one-quarter of 1 percent of the state's budget funds inspection and regulation efforts. In total, the state spends nearly $2.6 billion on public safety, nearly $700 million of which goes to corrections.
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 5.96 percent
Just three states spend less on cumulative public safety efforts than Wyoming, which caps its total expenditure at less than $571 million. At $228.74 million, police protection costs the most, with the tally for corrections spending not far behind at $214 million.
Recently, the Wyoming Department of Corrections announced massive budget cuts that would eliminate vacant positions and reduce drug treatment programs in jails and prisons.
Spending on public safety: 6.05 percent
Utah is the first state on this list that leaves less than 94 percent of the state's budget for spending beyond public safety. Total expenditures are more than $1.57 billion, and just $85.14 million of that is spent on regulations and inspection efforts. The Utah Department of Public Safety recently launched a new website so residents can quickly and easily access critical information in real time.
Spending on public safety: 6.09 percent
Of the $1.7 billion that Kansans pay for public safety, nearly $793 million is earmarked for police protection. That's a full 2.84 percent of the state's entire budget. Fire, corrections and inspection and regulations, on the other hand, take up 1.16 percent, 1.84 percent and 0.25 percent, respectively.
With a total expenditure of $8.28 billion, Pennsylvania spends more on public safety by far than every other state on the list of the 20 lowest-spending states. Police protection alone costs $3.72 billion, with corrections a close second at $3.39 billion.
Pennsylvania recently joined FirstNet, the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, which will increase access to remote, rural areas for first responders and other public safety workers and officials.
30. South Dakota
Spending on public safety: 6.22 percent
Compared to Pennsylvania, South Dakota's $463.87 million public safety fund is puny — in fact, just two states spend less. By percentage, however, the state spends enough to make the list of the 30 highest-spending states per capita. The state recently passed SB 70: the Public Safety Improvement Act in an effort to reduce repeat offenders in the prison system.
29. New Jersey
Spending on public safety: 6.3 percent
New Jersey is one of only two states in the 25 lowest percentage spenders that allocates more than 3 percent for police protection — 3.11 percent, to be exact. Another big chunk of the state's $6.74 billion public safety expenditure goes to corrections, which accounts for 1.92 percent of the state's total spending. In 2016, violent crime in New Jersey declined for the fifth straight year in a row.
When it comes to the dollar amount, only California spends more on public safety than New York, which spends a whopping $20.5 billion in total. It's one of just five states that spends 11 figures. The bill for police protection is just shy of $10 billion. New York City alone employs 36,000 uniformed officers. New York is also one of the states that spend the most on public welfare.
Spending on public safety: 6.37 percent
Arkansas spends exactly as much on public safety as New York — when it comes to the percentage, that is. At $1.67 billion, however, the dollar amount is nearly $19 billion less. A recent report from the Southwest Times Record revealed that Arkansas went from having one of the lowest juvenile incarceration rates in the country 20 years ago to having one of the highest in 2017.
Spending on public safety: 6.48 percent
In the middle of the pack is Ohio, which spends $7.56 billion on public safety. Although $3.4 billion goes to police, and fire and corrections get about $1.9 billion each, just six states spend a smaller portion of their budgets on regulations and inspections. The state recently announced a partnership with AT&T to enhance Ohio's first responder communication network with wireless broadband technology.
Spending on public safety: 6.62 percent
The state of Washington spends at least $1.3 billion each on police, fire and corrections, but just $567.74 million goes to inspection and regulation services. In total, the state spends $5.45 billion. When a group of Western governors, including Washington's, recently gathered to discuss public safety, massive wildfires and other natural disasters were the most important topic of discussion.
In Michigan, about the same portion of the state's budget goes to police and corrections — 2.61 percent and 2.66 percent, respectively. Just 1 percent goes to fire services, and regulation and inspection services get 0.45 percent. Hundreds of police officers, firefighters and other public safety union members recently rallied against proposed cuts in retirement benefits.
Spending on public safety: 6.77 percent
In Tennessee, the cost of public safety is $3.85 billion, with police protection commanding $1.85 billion of that amount for 3.26 percent of the state's entire budget. Public safety officials in Tennessee are currently working on solutions to fix the state's juvenile justice system, which a local Memphis news station recently called "broken."
Spending on public safety: 6.89 percent
Missouri is the last of 29 states that managed to keep its public safety spending under 7 percent of all state expenditures. The largest portion by far, 3.34 percent, goes to police protection. The number of people incarcerated in local Missouri jails has increased by 50 percent over the last seven years, Missourinet reported.
Spending on public safety: 7 percent
Known as the First State, Delaware is the first state on the list to dedicate a full 7 percent of its entire expenditures to public safety. It's also the only state that spends more on regulation and inspection services ($76.41 million) than it does on fire protection ($35.53 million).
Delaware is also poised to legalize recreational marijuana through legislation. It would likely include public safety regulations paid for by taxing legalized pot, according to a local news report. Delaware currently does not have a state sales tax.
Spending on public safety: 7.01 percent
At nearly $17 billion, only California and New York spend more on public safety than Texas. Police protection costs $7.4 billion, or 3.05 percent of the state's entire expenditures. On the other side of the coin is inspection and regulation services, which cost just shy of $800 million, or 0.33 percent. The Texas Department of Public Safety has recently launched a campaign designed to attract more women to careers in law enforcement.
In Wisconsin, less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the state's total expenditures goes to inspections and regulations, but it spends 3.09 percent of its budget on police protection. Overcrowding has forced the state to spend millions on payments to state prisons and privately run jails to house its overflowing inmate population, the Shepherd Express reported.
Spending on public safety: 7.15 percent
In Colorado, the price of public safety is $4.1 billion, $1.84 billion of which goes to police protection alone. The next most costly expenditure is corrections, which costs the state $1.28 billion. Crime is rising in Colorado, according to the Daily Caller, which recently reported a 50 percent increase in felonies over the last five years.
Spending on public safety: 7.16 percent
In Illinois, more than 3.5 percent of the state's total spending goes to police protection. Beyond that, 1.81 percent goes to fire services, 1.59 percent goes to corrections and the remaining 0.24 percent is reserved for inspection and regulation services. One strange source of Illinois revenue is from candy, which gets taxed at 6.25 percent.
16. New Hampshire
Spending on public safety: 7.19 percent
Although New Hampshire spends less than $853.15 million on combined public safety expenditures, that represents a relatively high portion of its total budget. A full 3.4 percent of that goes only to police protection. There is currently a battle underway in the state between public safety advocates who want to increase tolls to pay for road safety projects and fiscal hawks who want to reduce spending and taxation, the Connecticut Post reported.
Spending on public safety: 7.22 percent
Rounding out the top 15 is Oregon, which spends a fairly high 0.55 percent of its total budget on inspection and regulation services. Nearly 2.5 percent goes to corrections and 2.7 percent goes to police protection.
Spending on public safety: 7.25 percent
No state among the top 15 highest spenders allocates fewer dollars to public safety than Montana. In fact, just five states in the entire country spend less. Less than 1 percent of the state's budget goes to fire protection, and half that goes to inspection and regulation services.
13. North Carolina
Spending on public safety: 7.3 percent
More than half of North Carolina's $6.31 billion public safety spending goes to police protection — that's nearly 3.7 percent of the state's entire expenditures. Only four states contribute a larger portion of their budgets to law enforcement. The state recently announced a major investment in the FirstNet first responders communications network.
(Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Spending on public safety: 7.34 percent
Although the state is among the top dozen highest spenders according to percentages, the cost of police protection in Oklahoma is the only category with a $1 billion-plus budget. Other public safety expenditures are covered with nine figures. Oklahoma leads the nation in female prisoners and locks up women at twice the rate of the country as a whole, according to the Bureau for Justice Statistics.
11. New Mexico
Spending on public safety: 7.38 percent
The two biggest segments of New Mexico's relatively modest $1.77 billion public safety budget are police and fire protection. Both services are comparable in cost, with $688.45 million going to police and $663.41 million going to fire. Both the judiciary and public safety officials in New Mexico are requesting more money as the state faces an increase in crime rates.
Spending on public safety: 7.56 percent
The chunk of Louisiana's $3.54 billion public safety spending dedicated to police protection represents nearly 3.4 percent of the state's entire expenditures. Just 0.31 percent, on the other hand, covers regulation and inspections. The Department of Corrections is just one Louisiana institution that's bracing for huge budget cuts, which have been proposed in response to a massive fiscal crisis in the state.
Georgia dedicates just $185.36 million to inspection and regulation services, but $2.56 billion to police protection, the latter of which consumes $3.16 out of every $100 the state spends. Georgia's governor recently accepted a deal to join first responders network FirstNet.
Spending on public safety: 7.99 percent
The only state among the 10 highest spenders to dedicate less than 3 percent of its total budget to police protection, Virginia spends more than $6.21 billion in total on public safety. It also holds the distinction of being the last state on the list to keep public safety spending under 8 percent of total expenditures. Thanks to a recent vote by the Virginia Crime Commission, mandatory DNA testing will be expanded to include people convicted of misdemeanors.
7. Rhode Island
Spending on public safety: 8.17 percent
When it comes to public safety, tiny Rhode Island is a big spender. The New England state is the first to dedicate more than 8 percent of its total expenditures to public safety. A massive $60 million budget deficit is expected to affect several departments, including public safety, corrections and the state police.
(REUTERS/Jim Bourg JRB)
Spending on public safety: 8.42 percent
California's whopping $43.14 billion public safety tab is the highest in the country by far. Police protection alone commands $16.62 billion, and it takes $15.29 billion to pay for corrections. With nearly 120,000 people housed in California's state prisons alone, the state has one of the most expensive prison systems in the world, the Mercury News reported. When it comes to collecting tax revenue for these expenditures, California is one of the states that takes the most money out of paychecks.
Spending on public safety: 8.53 percent
Even though its total public safety spending is just over $1 billion — more than 40 times less than California — Idaho actually spends a larger portion of its total funds. By comparison, Idaho pays just shy of $427 million for police protection.
(Photo by Jeff T. Green/Getty Images)
Spending on public safety: 8.66 percent
Maryland isn't just No. 4 on the list of states that contribute the biggest percentage of total expenditures to public safety, but the Mid-Atlantic state also is No. 4 on the list of states that spend the most on policing — a full 3.75 percent of the state's total budget.
Spending on public safety: 9.27 percent
One of just three states that spends more than 8 percent of its total state expenditures on public safety, Arizona allocates a total of $5.13 billion on fire, police, corrections, and regulation and inspection services. A lingering problem with rising pension costs for police and firefighters has made it hard for the city of Phoenix to hire new police officers and pay for new fire vehicles, The Arizona Republic reported.
Spending on public safety: 9.76 percent
Florida is one of the states that spend the most on education, and it's one of just two states that dedicates more than 4 percent of its total state expenditures to police protection. Its $16.09 billion spending on public safety represents a larger portion of its total budget than every state but one. Nearly $4.1 billion goes to corrections. In Florida's massive prison system, 21,500 employees are responsible for nearly 98,000 inmates in more than 150 correctional institutions, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Spending on public safety: 10.51 percent
The $2.51 billion Nevada spends on public safety represents a full 10.51 percent of the state's total spending. It is the only state to spend double-digit percentage points on public safety, and no state spends more of its total budget on police protection. The city of Las Vegas recently announced a major reduction in school police officers as part of cuts designed to balance the city's Board of Education budget.
A trio of western states is in the top five for public safety spending. Even though these states aren't spending as much as larger states in terms of raw dollars, they are on a percentage basis of overall state spending. Only Florida is in the top five both on a percentage and total dollar spending basis. On the other hand, North Dakota spends the least on public safety whether you're measuring the percent of total state dollars spent or the actual amount.
Methodology: GOBankingRates sourced U.S. Census Bureau data on state and local government finances, added up yearly expenditures for police protection, fire protection, correction and protective inspection and regulation, and divided it by overall direct expenditure for each state to find the percentage spent on public safety.