Charges

State and Local Backgrounders Homepage

Charges are public payments connected with a specific government service. These include tuition paid to a state university, payments to a public hospital, tolls on highways, sewerage fees, and parking meter payments collected by a city. (Census excludes utility charges from these totals and reports them in their own category).

Although individual charges can be as little as a few dollars, in aggregate charges provide a substantial amount of revenue for state and local governments. This is especially true in states that collect relatively little tax revenue.

How much revenue do state and local governments raise from charges?

State and local governments collected a combined $548 billion in revenue from charges in 2018, or 17 percent of general revenue. As a group, charges accounted for roughly as much revenue as property taxes and provided more revenue than general sales taxes and individual income taxes.

Charges are a large source of revenue for both states and local governments. State governments collected $236 billion (11 percent of general revenue) from charges in 2018 and local governments collected $312 billion (18 percent of general revenue).

Which charges generate the most revenue?

Among the $548 billion in revenue state and local government collected from charges in 2018, the largest contributors were hospital fees (charges collected from patients, private insurance companies, and public insurance programs such as Medicare), higher education payments (mostly tuition plus money spent on dormitories, athletic contests, and books), sewerage fees, and air transportation (hangar rentals and landing fees).

State governments collected the most revenue from charges related to higher education, hospitals, and highways (including both reimbursement for repairs and fees from toll roads). Local governments collected the most revenue from charges related to hospitals, sewerage, air transportation, solid waste management (fees for garbage and recycling collection and disposal), and parks and recreation (fees from swimming pools as well as camping areas). For more information on the different types of charges, see the US Census Bureau’s classification manual page.

Charges that Generated the Most Revenue, 2018

 

Revenue ($ billions)

Percentage of general revenue

State and local government (total)

$548

17%

1. Hospitals

$168

5%

2. Higher education—tuition

$93

3%

3. Sewerage

$61

2%

4. Higher education—receipts from sales
(e.g., dormitories, bookstores, athletics)

$29

1%

5. Air Transportation

$25

1%

States (total)

$266

11%

1. Higher education—tuition

$85

4%

2. Hospitals

$74

4%

3. Higher education—receipts from sales
(e.g., dormitories, bookstores, athletics)

$27

1%

4. Highways

$13

1%

5. Natural resources

$3

<1%

Local governments

$312

18%

1. Hospitals

$95

5%

2. Sewerage

$60

3%

3. Air transportation

$23

1%

4. Solid waste management

$19

1%

5. Packs and recreation

$10

1%

Fines and forfeitures—financial penalties imposed for violations of the law—are not included on these lists because they are considered a separate form of revenue. For more on fines and forfeitures, see our backgrounder page dedicated to this issue.

Which states are most reliant on revenue from charges?

Among the 50 states in 2018, charges as a percentage of state and local general revenue ranged from 8 percent in Connecticut to 28 percent in South Carolina. Charges were 6 percent of general revenue in the District of Columbia. Including South Carolina, charges accounted for more than 20 percent of state and local general revenue in 12 states. Connecticut was the only state where charges accounted for less than 10 percent of state and local revenue. The next lowest totals were in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. In all of these states, charges accounted for less than 12 percent of state and local revenue.

Data: View and download each state's general revenue by source as a percentage of general revenue

Interactive data tools

State and Local Finance Data: Exploring the Census of Governments

State Fiscal Briefs

Further reading

Tuition and State Appropriations
Sandy Baum, Michael McPherson, Breno Braga, and Sarah Minton (2018)

Ferguson city finances: not the new normal
Tracy Gordon and Sarah Gault (2015)

Notes

All revenue data are from the US Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections.  All dates in sections about revenue reference the fiscal year unless stated otherwise.

The Census of Governments’s measure of general charges includes the following categories: air transportation, education (e.g., school lunches, athletic contest tickets, college tuition), highways and toll roads, hospitals, housing and community development, natural resources, parking facilities, parks and recreation, sewerage, solid waste management, water transportation, and all other “not elsewhere classified.”