Malloy Is Close But Not Correct On State Payroll

by Categorized: Economy, Politics Date:

Connecticut is at or near the top of the pack when it comes to many measures of state budget costs including debt payments and pension liabilities. That’s why a lot of people were surprised when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told an audience the state has “fewer people working in government per capita than any other state in the nation now.”

I was aware that Malloy had shrunk the state payroll but I figured we still had a hefty head count in the bureaucracy. Where did that fact come from? After his speech at the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Cromwell Tuesday, Malloy corrected himself, partly. He said the figure is really “on a GDP basis,” meaning we have the smallest number of government workers when compared with the size of the entire state economy.

That’s different than what he said, and it’s still not correct. Turns out Malloy’s figures were from a New York Times chart published Sept. 27, which shows how Connecticut ranks in the following measures:

  • Government workers (federal, state and local) as a percentage of all employees: 14.3, No. 43
  • Percent change in number of government workers, 1/09 to 8/13:  minus 5.9, No. 45 (6th largest decline)
  • Total value of government activity as a percentage of total state economic output: 9.2, No. 50
  • Percent change in total value of government activity: minus 2.6, No. 42 (9th largest decline)

There’s no measure of total government payroll as a percent of state population, though the first bullet point above would be close to that, and there’s no measure of payroll as a percent of the state’s economic output.

Malloy’s point is that Connecticut has a small government workforce by many measures, and has shrunk more than most states since the recession. In fact, Connecticut might have an even smaller government presence than the Times chart shows, if these figures include the native American casinos, which count as government jobs in federal statistics because they are run by sovereign nations.

We might even be No. 50, but Malloy has no source for that claim.

As his unannounced 2014 re-election campaign gets underway, Malloy has a strong narrative about the economy and as anyone who knows him will tell you, he’s not apologizing for anything. Jobs and unemployment are not where they need to be but they’re heading in the right direction, and Malloy claims that the massive state spending on business assistance, on borrowed money, has helped.

As for shrinking government, the permanent, full-time state payroll under the executive branch (not including judicial and college employees) fell from 29,148 in Jan. 2011, when Malloy took office, to 27,882 in May of this year, Malloy’s office reported. That’s a decline of more than 1,200 people or 4.3 percent.

That’s a hefty cut considering that state employee unions worked hard to elect Malloy in 2010, and he needs them next year.

But Malloy does himself no favors when he throws out facts and figures that are incorrect, even when his overall point is right.

This is especially true considering the Republicans are dogging him on this very point.  Late Tuesday, GOP activists Chris Healy, the former state party chief, and Suzan Bibisi posted an item on the Make Blue Red blog, slamming Malloy for delivering a string of “contrived factoids.”

“In Malloy-world, there are the facts and his facts,” the GOP bloggers wrote.  They cited job creation claims and state deficit claims, though not with any depth.

The economy will probably muddle along well enough that it’s not a Malloy-killer next November, and his government-shrinking creds will help him with skeptical, unaffiliated voters.  The cuts have been real.

“In areas that we deal with, the state is much leaner,” said Larry McHugh, the UConn board chairman under Malloy and longtime head of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce. Maybe not lean compared with some companies that have pared way back, he added, but leaner than it was.

The main point of the New York Times chart, by master economics and finance writer Floyd Norris, was that the states that voted for Obama in 2012 tended to be the ones with the smallest and fastest-shrinking government work forces, and the Romney states were the opposite.

Malloy can use that irony to his advantage if he resists the urge to lob incorrect statistics, which hand the GOP an easy smash.

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