Workaday Media Bias and State Budget Crises, Example #1

Here's how a New York Times article today lays out the states' budget crisis:

In Hawaii, state employees are bracing for furloughs of three days a month over the next two years, the equivalent of a 14 percent pay cut. In Idaho, lawmakers reduced aid to public schools for the first time in recent memory, forcing pay cuts for teachers.

And in California, where a $24 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year is the nation’s worst, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed releasing thousands of prisoners early and closing more than 200 state parks.

Meanwhile, Maine is adding taxes on candy and ski tickets, Wisconsin on oil companies, and Kentucky on alcohol and cellphone ring tones.

With state revenues in a free fall and the economy choked by the worst recession in 60 years, governors and legislatures are approving program cuts, layoffs and, to a smaller degree, tax increases that were previously unthinkable.

"These are some of the worst numbers we have ever seen," said Scott D. Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers[.]

The only bit in the entire 1,283-word article that even references the widespread and routine state spending increases before the crisis hit is this brief attributed paragraph, presented as if the natural order of things is government growth above and beyond that of inflation and populuation:

While state general fund spending typically increases by about 6 percent a year, it is expected to decline by 2.2 percent for this fiscal year, Mr. Pattison said. The last year-to-year decline was in 1983, he said, on the heels of a national banking crisis.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where it takes producers of opinion journalism, in this case Reason, to point such basic context as:

In 2002 total combined state revenue was $1.097 trillion.... In 2007 this figure had risen to almost $2 trillion. That's an 81 percent increase, at a time when prices plus population increased 19 percent.

Note that this wasn't just attributed off-hand to a participant in the debate; this was counted. It's all in the public record, waiting for truth-seeking news organizations to do their jobs.

I understand partisans and rent-seekers not wanting to deal with the uncomfortable fact that states right now would have had enough money for increased recession-triggered services plus a combined half-trillion dollar tax cut if only they had kept spending growth at the rate of population plus inflation for just five recession-free years. But newspapers?

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  • ||

    You got to give this to the pod people--they know how to express absolute horror.

  • I love Big Bro||

    "the natural order of things is government growth above and beyond that of inflation and populuation"

    That is what they teach us in the government shcools.

    What they fail to mention - eventually the symbiotic relationship turns parasitic.

  • ||

    "I understand partisans and rent-seekers not wanting to deal with the uncomfortable fact that states right now would have had enough money for increased recession-triggered services plus a combined half-trillion dollar tax cut if only they had kept spending growth at the rate of population plus inflation for just five recession-free years. But newspapers? "

    The New York Times is a newspaper? I was under the assumption it was simply statist propaganda.

  • Mike||

    Don't you get it? There are people in need! How can you talk about numbers when there are people in need!!!

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Nah, propaganda actually succeeds at something sometimes. The New York Times fails on every level of existence.

  • ||

    populuation

    Population + Ululation = Populuation

    Which, appropriately, sounds just like the noise Sutherland is making.

  • Steve Smith||

    I think the other point you obsessively make, that the spending that state governments have done hasn't been particularly efficient, is more telling. The notion that state governments were spending just the right amount five years ago, only to go off their hinges recently, would be fatuous even if true. No one would care about whether spending is matching the inflation rate if the spending actually produced results.

  • Tricky Prickears||

    ...waiting for truth-seeking news organizations to do their jobs.

    Truth seeking? You mean "circulation seeking" or "ratings seeking", don't you?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Reporters don't even think about this, just as fish don't think about water.

    At my paper, it took a lot of bellyaching to finally get an assistant city editor to start routinely adding year-over-year spending comparisons to city budget stories, instead of just parroting budget (wish list) figures.

    Of course, he is no longer an editor, and I'm no longer on the news desk...

  • Invisible Finger||

    But newspapers?

    Why the surprise? Wasn't the NYT the recipient of some large corporate welfare?

  • ||

    "Of course, he is no longer an editor, and I'm no longer on the news desk..."

    That'll teach him to think critically.

    "The New York Times fails on every level of existence."

    I was assumed that they had some limited success in duping their readers; but it would delight me if I was proved otherwise.

  • ||

    Not only did the states spend all the money they collected during the boom, but also they didn't seem to spend it very effectively. I ask, are the roads any better now than they were 10 years ago? Are the schools any better? Are poor people any better off because of this spending? Are sick people better off? Is there any state service anywhere that is measurably better now than ten years ago? Just what the hell did the states do with all that money?

  • ||

    Reason needs to assign some of their interns the task of making a nice chart of this information.

  • Rhywun||

    Just what the hell did the states do with all that money?

    I'm guessing it went into labor, both additional bodies and rising salaries.

  • proud libitard||

    Ok, so is that 2 trillion in California? I'm going to assume so...

    If that's the case then a 24 billion cut accounts to 1.2% of their budget? Is my math right? Because if so how hard is it really to cut 1.2% of the budget?

  • ed||

    Media bias? I'm shocked. Shocked!

  • ||

    "..presented as if the natural order of things is government growth above and beyond that of inflation and populuation"

    "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
    --Thomas Jefferson, 1788

    NYT writers obviously know their Jefferson. Unilke TJ, they see it as a feature not a bug.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed releasing thousands of prisoners early and closing more than 200 state parks.

    He's only doing that because those are the only places that one could possibly trim the California budget. It's not like he's trying to care the voters into approving future tax hikes. Only a scumbag politician would do something like that.

  • 24AheadDotCom||

    What's odd here is that Reason just can't admit that the policies they promote played a role in the current problems. (OK, it's not odd since being intellectually honest isn't their forte).

    Reason has consistently promoted all forms of MassiveImmigration without making ending the welfare state a pre-condition. Smart third graders could predict what would happen: an increase in spending. Not only that, but the MassiveImmigration that Reason supports builds up a power base for the far-left, and they use that to push for even more spending.

    In fact, Schwarzenegger recently promoted illegal activity and when that wasn't enough he even played the Nazi card against those who support our laws. Reason would not only not speak out against that, they're probably cheering him on.

    P.S. In case anyone replies to this, their responses will almost assuredly be ad homs delivered through sockpuppets, thereby conceding my points and showing the cowardly, childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians.

  • Rhywun||

    The other day I found out why all the PascalCasing--he must have a wiki because that's how you create links in a wiki.

  • ||

    Am I reading the ranter correctly?

    "Insults and name-calling automatically disqualify your arguments, which is why all you stupid, childish cowards will never win!"

  • Anon||

    Also the entire University of California system is cutting pay 8% for those making 47K or more, and 4% for those making less. I was surprised to find it even applies to senior management, who voluntarily took 5% pay cuts last year - or earlier this year, not sure which.

  • ||

    You're a moron, Lonewacko. Even worse, you're a boring moron.

  • JB||

    That's why nearly every newspaper sucks.

    I look forward to them going out of business or getting truck-bombed. I'll cheer either one.

  • Spartacus||

    C'mon, Matt. You of all people should know that newpapers long ago stopped doing anything beyond reprinting press releases.

  • sigh||

    The California revenue quoted cannot possibly be the state budget but is more likely the state GDP--all the private and public goods and services produced within the state. It's not the right statistic to compare against the deficit and is off by a factor of 10. Ironic, that Reason Magazine didn't catch that.

  • ||

    Responding to "sighs" comment, the budget is rarely derived from fixed cost bills to taxpayers but percentages of well just about everything. There certainly is a 1 to 1 relationship between GDP and state budget.

    The point remains while Arnold the RINO spent like a drunken sailor which isn't any more wise then all the idiots that bought millions dollar homes on interest only payments with the expectation that home prices would rise forever.

  • tim||

    There are many fails with how California does things but this is an intellectual dishonest article. I expect better.

  • CA9||

    No, the $2T figure is for all 50 states combined. The article says that the CA budget was $104B in 2003 and $145B currently, so a $24B deficit is a pretty large chunk of that.

    Also, looking merely at "inflation" completely ignores the fact that some costs -- especially health care costs -- have risen much faster than inflation, which is a large part of the whole problem.

  • Mike Laursen||

    ...Arnold the RINO spent like a drunken sailor...

    Most of California's spending is locked in by constitutional amendments and court decisions. Arnold probably didn't have a clue about any of that while he was running and bragging that he would blow up all the little boxes. Once he realized he couldn't change anything, he gave up like a girly-man.

    Don't blame me, by the way. I voted for Georgy. Mrrow, what a babe!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3168177.stm

  • ||

    This would be great ... if it wasn't a gross oversimplification.

    Revenues have nothing to do with expenditures. Why would you compare revenues from one year to another and then complain about spending.

    If you look at California (which is usually pointed to as the poster child of out-of-control spending), the change in General Fund expenditures is much less dramatic. In 2007, California spent $104 billion out of the general fund. In 2002, it was $80 billion. That's only a 29% increase. Much less than the overall 81% increase in revenues.

    So, to say that the states (in general) are out of control and spend well beyond their means is untrue.

    Perhaps a state by state analysis is in order.

  • Jon Williams||

    Kevin Smith.....

    My thoughts exactly, I commend your clear thinking!

  • ||

    If ALL the states combined get by on 2 trillion dollars, why do the feds need ANOTHER 2+ trillion. For what?

  • ||

    If California would stop subsidizing all of those illegal aliens, they probably wouldnt have a deficit at all.

  • ||

    Each prisoner costs $20,000 per year. They just sentenced a 50 year old 3rd-strikes offender to the rest of his life in prison; 2/5 of prison space is filled with drug offenders; 1/5 with illegal immigrants; 3/5 with violent offenders.

    US incarceration rates are double the rest of Europe, and 4 times higher than they were 20 years ago, with only a 5% increase in crime over those years and a _decrease_ in violent crimes per capita in those years.

    Our sentencing system needs help STAT

  • ||

    By the way...that 3rd strikes offender was arrested for stealing videocassettes. not even DVDs.

  • ||

    The state of Virginia has better infrastructure and a more balanced budget than it did ten years ago. We had a Republican governor ten years ago. We've had Democrats for the last seven plus. It's not hard to balance the budget, but you have to raise taxes and cut spending. Even with higher taxes, the Democrats got reelected, and the Governor become a US Senator.

    The politicians elsewhere have to start acting like adults. If you're budget is in the red, you need to raise revenue and cut spending. No one wants to do it, and sometimes it costs you your next election. The next guy won't lower taxes unless he's a complete idiot. I wouldn't ask for a lower salary just because my bills went down; I'd pay down debts, or buy some nice new shoes.

  • John Galt||

    This is what happens when you mess with socialism. Tell people that no matter what they do, how badly they act, or who they hurt, or how lazy they are...

    They are guaranteed to Food (food stamps via welfare) and Shelter (housing assistance via section 8 and welfare)... Of course they won't work! They have no incentive to even TRY.

    After years of giving more and more to those unwilling to work, they always demand more. So who do you take it from? The middle class and upper class. After years of pillaging these funds from the middle class, you turn them into the lower class. The upper class, those with the ability to recognize they are being raped by their own government, will get up and leave, as they have the ability.

    You are now stuck with a very large population of looters and leaches, those that feel entitled to everything they *need* without having to work for it, and no population base left to pillage to pay for it.

    Welcome to California.

  • Mike Laursen||

    They are guaranteed to Food (food stamps via welfare) and Shelter (housing assistance via section 8 and welfare)... Of course they won't work! They have no incentive to even TRY.

    I'm not buying that. Living on food stamps and public housing ain't that great. The causes of poverty, and the details of who is using the government to pillage funds from whom, are more complicated and varied than the simple picture you paint.

  • ||

    "I'm not buying that. Living on food stamps and public housing ain't that great. The causes of poverty, and the details of who is using the government to pillage funds from whom, are more complicated and varied than the simple picture you paint."

    how so?

  • ||

    @ Keith

    You imply that the states have some control over the subsidies to illegal immigrants. The federal government controls the borders and mandates that the states provide education and other services, regardless of immigration status. Californians passed Prop 187 in 1994 which specifically prohibited expenditures on illegal immigrants and it was struck down in federal court.

    Regardless, California spends $9 billion per year on illegal immigrants, but the budget deficit is $21 billion. Even if we kicked out all of the illegal immigrants, we'd still be in a hole. There is not one single solution to the problem. Once people figure that out, perhaps public opinion will support a commonsense increase in revenues as well as a reduction in expenditures.

    @ John Galt and Evil Scotsman

    It sounds like Mike Larsen was trying to say (and please forgive me if I'm wrong) that if free food and housing provide an incentive for people not to work, but 90% of the population does anyway, perhaps it is not their moral opposition to government assistance, but the fact that the food and housing is far worse than even a minimum wage job can provide, that keeps people from using government assistance.

  • Ignant||

    Government growth when republicans were in power? Lies I tell you! LIES!!!

  • Mike Laursen||

    how so?

    What Kevin Smith said. A few factors that contribute to poverty off the top of my head, in no particular order:

    * Self-perpetuating dumbshit cultural attitudes in poor neighborhoods.

    * The war on drugs, locking up poor young men and helping perpetuate a culture of violence.

    * The United States actual war wars, and all the other wasteful government spending that drains wealth from the economy.

    * Shitty public schools in poor neighborhoods. A system of school districting that keeps poor kids separated from other kids.

    * Immigrants escaping from places that are far more impoverished to a better life here, which we consider to be below the poverty line.

    * Onerous immigration restrictions that limit peoples' opportunities.

    * Racism, which limits peoples' opportunities.

    * Statisticians who disregard the fact that "the poor" aren't necessarily the same set of people from year to year, creating perceptions of apparent poverty worse than actual poverty.

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