Scrap the political math

The Governor is using political math, not real math.

At the Iowa Policy Project, we are pretty careful about the way we count. The way we use numbers reflects on our credibility as an independent, nonpartisan resource for all Iowans, no matter their political stripe. It is important for our state’s political debates to be fought on a foundation of facts, so that our leaders can better debate the issues on their merits, rather than political spin. That is why we’re here at the Iowa Policy Project.

We also have counted since our earliest days on the work of Colin Gordon, a professor of history at the University of Iowa and IPP’s senior research consultant. Colin is author of our annual State of Working Iowa report — he offered an innovative twist on it this year with interactive graphs that you can try out for yourself at www.stateofworkingiowa.org — and like the rest of us at IPP, he was disturbed to see Iowa job data being distorted in recent days by, of all sources, the Governor’s Office. The Governor in his Condition of the State address Tuesday used an inflated number to tout progress on Iowa jobs. He is choosing to count only jobs gained, not those lost. This is political math, not real math.

Gordon wrote about it today in The Des Moines Register. In the piece, Gordon notes that using the Governor’s approach to math, Iowa could have a $6 billion surplus. “Why not just count the revenues?” he asked. Excerpt:

And, of course, the governor’s political opponents could offer up a number of “gross jobs lost” since January 2011 — a measure (about 56,000 lost jobs) that would be just as impressive, and just as silly. …

In the bigger picture, these job numbers are not even shaped much by state policy, by what governors do or do not do. Jobs are won or lost by national economic conditions. States can try to pirate jobs or investment from other states, but the only sustained impact of state policy is on the quality of state jobs. Higher labor standards and better investments in education are places to make that impact.

Iowa’s leaders can move these discussions forward constructively, but that starts with ending the politicization of basic economic data, as the governor’s staff has done with numbers on job growth.

Posted by Mike Owen

Who would take Governor’s deal?

Why are state employees the Governor’s target? Revenues are up, and the Governor is happily giving away millions to companies that don’t pay income tax. Why should state workers take a $1,000 pay cut?

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

There’s a little gamesmanship about public-worker benefits this week that is avoiding a critical question: How will the state compensate workers for giving up negotiated health benefits?

Governor Branstad on Monday repeated his plans to push for a 20 percent premium contribution by state employees in the next contract, putting out a pledge to pay that amount himself right now. For the Governor it’s $224 per month.

IPP’s Andrew Cannon has done a good job of exposing the fact that public worker health benefits in Iowa, while more generous than those offered in the private sector, don’t make up for lower pay in comparable positions or positions requiring comparable qualifications/education. On balance, there is a penalty for working in the public sector.

Governor Branstad doesn’t talk about the wages/salary side. He is ignoring the fact that, unlike his pay and that of state legislators, state employees’ benefits in place are a result of bargaining — a point acknowledged far too little, but thankfully was cited this week by the Muscatine Journal’s Steve Jameson. State employees agreed on the pay levels they receive in the context of other benefitsthey al so receive.

Oddly, when the Governor says state workers should pay $1,000 toward their health insurance, he is peddling it all as savings to the state. Actually, we should expect salaries to go up to compensate for lost benefits.

Also, why are state employees the Governor’s target? Revenues are up, and the Governor is happily giving away millions to companies that don’t pay income tax, and leaving corporate tax loopholes open as well. So explain again, please: Why should state workers take a $1,000 pay cut?

Who would take that deal?

By Mike Owen, Assistant Director