Thursday, July 09, 2009

Reporting of EPIC-MRA Poll Misleads Citizens About Severity of Michigan's Budget Problem

You hear it all the time. "Just cut lawmaker's pay!” people will proclaim when asked about cuts to state spending. It's hard to say who is more at fault here; EPIC-MRA, for offering up "cuts to the legislature" as some sort of valid solution to Michigan's budget problem, or the news outlets that report on the poll, as they tend to focus on the very predictable response to that question. Some examples of the headlines, and followed by first sentence in the story...

Detroit News: Lawmakers' actions at odds with voter desires

Michiganians have some advice for lawmakers hammering out next year's budget: Spare schools and police, slash your expenses.

WILX: Michigan Budget Poll

A poll suggests Michigan residents would like the Legislature to slash its own expenses before cutting school and police funding.

WWJ - Poll: Lawmakers Should Cut Own Spending First

A new survey finds that Michiganders want Lansing lawmakers to look in the mirror first when it comes to budget cuts for the state.

WOOD TV - Poll: Fund police, cut legislature pay

A new EPIC-MRA poll show state residents want to save funding for the state police, save education money and cut pay for legislators.
When people read things like this, they are led to believe that "legislator pay" is somehow the equivalent of "education" and "state police" - and nothing could be further from the truth. We went through this back in February of 2007 when we were facing a deficit of $940 million on that year's budget, and the very same false equivalency was offered up. At that time, WOOD TV followed through with the price tag of "the legislature" to try and give people some perspective on the scope of the problem.

This year's deficit: $940,000,000.
Lawmaker's salary: just under $80,000.
Number of lawmakers: 148.
Total budget for their salaries: $11,840,000.
Total budget deficit without lawmakers salaries: just over $928,000,000.
That was just pay. When you throw in benefits...

But what if you just eliminated the Legislature altogether; their staff, their retirement, their salaries, their offices, their health care, everything.

The House Fiscal Agency, which, by the way, wouldn't be funded under this scenario, says that all costs of the legislature run in excess of $116 million dollars. If all of that were eliminated, the state would still be $820 million dollars in the red.
$116 million saved if we eliminate "the legislature". While it's fun to think about doing that, it doesn't come anywhere close to filling the budget hole. This year's deficit? Somewhere around $1.7 billion. The news outlets that fail to explain the size of this discrepancy are doing the citizens of this state a huge disservice when they focus on the non-solution of cutting the legislature.

WXYZ posted the entire poll online, and although they hit on the pay issue, they provide more balance in their summary. Turns out that, once again, people don't want to cut anything at all, and when they are pressed on the issues, they only want to cut "a little" or "somewhat". "Eliminate" or "cut a lot" mostly scored in the single digits.

The poll was conducted from June 23 to June 28. It has a sample of 600 people and an error rate of plus or minus 4%. It found that 76% of people say the state is in crisis. However, when asked what should be cut people are pretty much split on the issues. The biggest result we received was from 37% of people who say cuts could be made in the state legislature. After that the answers place all of the other options in the single percentages.

As for things that should not be cut, 22% of people say local public schools should not be touched. After that, 14% say police and fire funding shouldn’t be cut and 12% say the state police funding should be left alone.

When asked how much the budget in certain areas should be cut, must people say it shouldn’t be cut at all. However, many people say they are willing to cut the budgets a little bit, with funding for substance abuse programs being their top choice. However, only 28% call for a small cut in that budget.
Proof that our citizens want their government services, and if they had their choice, would cut the very same people that are proclaiming we need to "cut government". Ha. Remember that the next time some legislator insists that his or her constituents want "more cuts". About the only thing people want to cut is the legislators themselves. Brings a slight smile to the face when you think of the irony, but of course, that won't solve our problems. If only...