Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mackinac Center misleading the public

Way back on January 11th of this year, I wrote a post about Mike Bishop constantly using the phrase "single state recession" to describe Michigan's economy. A financial analyst from an investment firm in Bloomfield Hills had said that, technically, we were not in a recession, so of course I jumped all over that. Not really the point of this diary, but some set-up was required here. I went on to say this-

It also begs the question: What ELSE are the Republicans exaggerating when they make economic claims such as this? The list is long, and perhaps every single one of them should be scrutinized for authenticity.

You can start with the Mackinac Center. It would be a field day.

Field day was last Friday. Turns out that someone should have been scrutinizing the Mackinac Center's claims all year long, because lo and behold, last Friday night in MIRS, we read this-

The head of the House Fiscal Agency believes that the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy was a disservice to the public during the budget process this year.

"The press they get tends to mislead the public, in my opinion," said Mitch BEAN, director of the House Fiscal Agency. "They act as if all these easy decisions can be made to cut $2 billion out of the budget when it's simply not true."

The House Fiscal Agency is non-partisan, and they "provide confidential, nonpartisan expertise to the House Appropriations Committee and all other members of the House on all legislative fiscal matters." In other words, they are pros at this sort of stuff.

Mitch Bean goes on to tear apart the Mackinac Center's claims on some of the cuts they proposed during the budget crisis- and as you know, the Mac Center is frequently cited in the press as the go-to guys for "proof" of validity on conservative fiscal philosophy.

Bad idea. Using the examples that Bean provided, that needs to come to an end, or at least the press should take a closer look at these claims of savings before printing them as gospel. For starters, the Mac Center said this-

- Saving $192 million by putting 5 percent of prisoners in privately managed prisons, generating 14 percent savings.

Flawed math, it turns out.

So [cut] $192 million by putting five percent of prisoners in privately run prisons," said Bean. "We actually have experience with a privately run prison - the Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin that was instituted under the previous administration. The contract was cancelled because the Auditor General and both Fiscal Agencies found it wasn't saving money. In fact … it was probably costing more money."

Bean also questioned the reasoning behind the math that would lead one to discern a 14 percent savings from a transfer of five percent of prisoners.

"If you just let five percent of the prisoners out of prison, the most you could save is 5 percent. If you could shrink your staff five percent, shrink your facilities by five percent - the most you could save is five percent," he said. "The idea that you could save 14 percent by sticking five percent of your prisoners in a private facility is quite frankly pretty ridiculous."

Bean did this with four other examples in the article, pointing out that each time, the "cuts" that the Mac Center claimed were "savings" weren't saving anything at all- and in fact some were probably going to cost us more, either financially, like the example above on private prisons, or in reduced public safety, such as cutting the State Police Road Patrol and turning that money over to the county sherriffs.

One example concerning the Hay Report on school insurance reform was $230 million off the mark, and not only that, they were using old data - most schools had probably already implemented the recommendations in an attempt to cut costs.

The Hay Report itself notes that in the first year the recommended changes would cost the state $1.5 million to implement and that the maximum savings would be $192 million in the second year - not the $422 million the Mackinac Center claims.

And on prevailing wage, it is obvious the Center was grasping at absurd figures to push their anti-worker agenda.

On prevailing wage, the Mackinac Center slaps on a $150 million savings on school construction projects by state repeal of the law. Bean, an economist by training, notes that to reach $150 million in savings you'd have to assume a public school construction labor cost load of $1.5 billion. As wages are only 1/3 of the cost of construction, that means there would have to be $4.5 billion in construction going on each year to realize the savings.

Bean went on to say that this funding is done at the local level and the savings would be realized there- not for the state.

I waited over the weekend to see if this might pop up anywhere in the traditional media; of course it did not.

Question now is: will the press continue to use the Mackinac Center as a source of valid information without doing the homework behind the claims? My guess is yes. But just so you know, whenever you see them refered to as experts on fiscal policy in the papers, take the things they say with a huge grain of salt from here on out. They are distorting facts to push their agenda.

It's the Republican way.