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Does avoiding prison-based gerrymandering cost a city revenue?

by Peter Wagner, June 22, 2011  

We’ve had a number of inquiries recently from officials who want to use the Census Bureau’s Advance Group Quarters Summary File to remove the prison populations prior to redrawing county or municipal district lines, but who faced concerns that drawing fairer districts would cost them state or federal revenue. I thought excerpts from our recent responses would be useful to others looking in to the issue.

From Wisconsin:

You asked if the city or county removes the prison population from the city or county districting totals, would there be an effect on shared revenue funding?

The long answer is no. The Wisconsin shared revenue plan is codified in Wis. Stat. §§ 79.005-79.095. The aid is distributed based on formulas that take population into account. Population is defined by §79.005(2) by reference to population determinations made by the Department of Administration pursuant to §16.96. Pursuant to §16.96 the Dep’t of Administration makes population estimates, based on federal census data and any special census conducted under contract with the Census Bureau. Municipal redistricting data is not within the scope of the meaning of “population” as that word is used in formulas for shared revenue aid distributions.

The shorter version is also no, because shared revenue funding is not dependent upon county/city redistricting data.

From Illinois:

You asked about the impact of excluding the prison population on motor fuel tax revenues which are based in part on the Census. I’ve looked at many parts of the Illinois funding formulas, and this morning again looked at 5 ILCS 505 Section 8. I agree with your research that changing the data used for redistricting would not affect the funding distribution. The funding distribution is based on census data, and whatever data you use for local redistricting would not change the underlying Census data.

In a letter to a different official in Illinois, I explained more of the background:

In general, prison populations have very little effect on the most lucrative formulas that support education or anti-poverty programs because those formulas are highly tailored to the need. Prison populations are not included in how the government calculates “household income” or “poverty” and most of the education formulas are based on the number children in the census or the number of children enrolled in the schools, etc., which the prison populations also do not affect.

I know that this may be surprising, particularly given the Census Bureau’s overly simplistic rhetoric about why it is important for people to fill out Census forms. They are correct, of course, that each person on average represents about $1,400 per year in grants. But the overwhelming majority of this is block grants to the state of Illinois and not to individual municipalities. Prison populations play only a very minor part in the remainder, and none of those calculations are changed by how a county or municipality chooses to draw its legislative lines.

One Response

  1. California bill advances with careful messaging | Prisoners of the Census says, 6 days, 23 hours after publication:

    […] This claim is entirely false. For example, the largest pot of federal money in Illinois that is based in part on the Census is the distribution of highway funds, and the controlling statute requires that the federal census be used to determine the funding allocation. Changing the data used for state redistricting would not affect the funding distribution because the underlying Census data would not be changed. (For a more detailed explanation, see our blog post). […]

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  • December 7-9, 2014:
    Peter Wagner will be in Washington D.C. for meetings about prison gerrymandering and other issues. If you’d like to meet while Peter is in town, please contact us.

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  • December 7-9, 2014:
    Peter Wagner will be in Washington D.C. for meetings about prison gerrymandering and other issues. If you’d like to meet while Peter is in town, please contact us.

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.


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