Oct 26, 2009

Another GOP false talking point bites the dust

Republicans have their favorite whipping boys and boogyman, and in Michigan, state employees are a bigger target than even ACORN.

However, their claim that state employees are overpaid and state government continues grow has already been debunked. In August, respected Michigan State University professor of economics Charles Ballard issued a report that said state employees earn less than their private-sector counterparts with comparable educational attainment. The report also confirmed what we already know: state government is smaller now than it was in 1973. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans, like the rightwing think tank Mackinac Center, from continuing to make the claim that state government is bloated and workers are overpaid.

Republicans have fudged a bit in the face of actual facts, and the new lie is that state workers aren’t making the same kinds of sacrifices the private sector is. An article in the Detroit News last week debunks that lie, and it found that state employees have been hit as hard or harder than private sector workers.

The report said, in fact, that state government is only about 80 percent of what it was at the beginning of this decade, and it’s going to get smaller.

“Michigan's eight-year recession has slashed one in six state workers and one in five state government dollars. Since 2000, the state has shed the equivalent of three auto assembly plants worth of workers -- a busload of employees taking their personal belongings and their last paychecks home every two weeks.”

Tourism has been one of the few bright spots in the Michigan economy as people come here to take advantage of the state’s beautiful and unique natural resources, yet the people who look after those valuable assets, the Department of Natural Resources, has 38 percent fewer employees than in 2000. Agriculture is another bright spot in Michigan, yet one in four Department of Agriculture employees is gone just since the beginning of the decade.

The caseload for Department of Human Services’ workers has risen more than 20 percent since 2000, but the department has lost more than 3,600 employees over that same period.

Demand for government services goes up during a recession because more people need help, yet those services are cut; a fact noted by Professor Ballard.

The Mackinac Center, of course, disagrees, and it claims - even in the face of those facts - that state government has grown during the recession. It says total spending from state resources is up 7 percent in the 2008-09 budget year than in 2001.

But the News debunked that, noting that:

“But those figures don't take into account inflation. While the state's total spending over the eight years increased 7 percent (reaching $27.5 billion in '08-'09), inflation during the same period was triple that (21.7 percent).

“When adjusted for inflation, total spending has decreased 14 percent. Spending from the general fund, the Legislature's main source of discretionary money, is down 21 percent. By comparison, Ohio's general fund was down less than 2 percent, and Indiana's increased 5 percent.”

Another GOP false talking point bites the dust.


gary wolfram said...

Your comment regarding the Mackinac Center's comments regarding the Ballard paper is incorrect. The Mackinac study did not mention state spending from state sources. It was the Detroit News article that discussed this. The Mackinac study showed that total state spending had risen from $37.28 billion in FY 2001 to $43.563 billion in FY 2008. (One might note that during this time, real state GDP fell.) This is a better measure of the size of state government than state spending from state sources. For example, suppose the federal government gave Michigan state government $1 trillion, which the state government then spent on goods and services. Would we say that Michigan government had not gotten any bigger?
It was also not the point of the Mackinac study to show that state government had grown, or that it was of improper size. The Mackinac study merely showed that claims made by Professor Ballard did not follow from the data provided in the Ballard study. For example, the claim that reductions in the number of classified employees in the Department of Agriculture raises serious questions about the health of the state's tourism industry simply cannot be substantiated by the Ballard presentation. The data on state spending was not introduced to show that state government had grown, but only to raise the question as to why civil service employment had fallen while state spending had risen. The Mackinac Center study was not in any way "debunked" by the Detroit News. Those who are interested in this should carefully read the Ballard study and the Mackinac Center study and make their judgment whether Professor Ballard's claims are substantiated by the information provided in the Ballard study.

Communications guru said...

It I have not seen nor did I mention the Mackinac Center's “study.” Why would I want to? Your rightwing think tank obviously has an agenda. Less government employees and less real government spending is a better measure of the size of government, and both are shrinking.

Clearly, the Detroit News and Professor Ballard debunked the Republican talking points that state government is growing, state workers are overpaid and state workers are not making sacrifices like the private sector.