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?