Do public sector workers really make more than private sector workers?

From Politifact

Count Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels among skeptics of government workers having collective-bargaining rights, the issue that cleaved Wisconsin this year.

Daniels, a Republican presidential prospect, told PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley March 28 that government workers are better off than others: “There may have once been a time, Tavis, in the old days of patronage and so forth, where government workers were put upon and vulnerable, but that’s a long time ago. Now, in 41 states out of 50, they are better paid than the taxpayers who support them. In the federal government they’re almost twice as well paid. This doesn’t even count the benefits and the almost complete job security they have.”

Never mind that government workers are taxpayers too. We note also that in November, PolitiFact Ohio rated False a claim that average federal workers make double the pay of average private-sector workers. The fact check cited a statement placed online by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis noting the private-sector workforce includes a broader range of jobs than the federal government, from minimum-wage positions to CEOs, while federal civilian jobs focus on professional areas like law, accounting and economics that require higher education.

We’re focusing here on whether state and local government workers are better compensated than private-sector counterparts.

To our inquiry, Daniels’ office pointed us to a March 2 news article in USA TODAY. The story, citing figures obtained from the bureau, says state and local government employees in 41 states earned higher average pay and benefits than private workers in those states in 2009. The national average for the government workers was $57,775, $2,511 greater than private-sector counterparts.

But not in Texas, which ranked last among states in benefits for public employees. Its average compensation to state and local government workers, $51,310, placed the state 30th nationally, according to the article, but its government workers trailed private-sector Texans by $3,580.

For more Texas-centric information, we turned to the latest comparison of state government and private-sector positions by the Texas State Auditor’s Office. The August report says that in fall 2009, nearly three quarters of 150,000-plus state workers were paid 10 to 20 percent less than private sector employees and another 19 percent fared worse.

“Some states that limit the right of public employees to unionize — such as Texas, Georgia and Virginia — pay less in compensation than the private sector,” the article says. “Massachusetts and New Hampshire generally permit unions but pay less than the private sector in those high-income states.”

The story says the newspaper’s analysis included full and part-time workers and did not adjust for specific jobs, age, education or experience. It says that in an earlier job-to-job comparison, USA TODAY found that state and local government workers make about the same salary as those in the private sector but get more generous benefits.

The article also quotes economist Jeffrey Keefe of the liberal Economic Policy Institute saying the analysis is misleading because it doesn’t reflect factors such as education that result in higher pay for public employees.

For our part, we consulted Austin economist Stuart Greenfield, a retired state worker who has long advocated on state employee issues. Greenfield guided us to a Texas Watchdog article playing off the USA TODAY story and a 2010 study commissioned by two Washington-based groups.

The March 3 Watchdog article says the $10,760 average benefits package for the average public worker in Texas compares to the $9,190 average benefits that average private employees receives, according to the federal bureau’s figures.

The 2010 study, comparing worker earnings and benefits across and between private, state and local sectors, was written by Keith Bender and John Heywood, economists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The study was undertaken by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, whose mission is to “help state and local governments become knowledgeable and competitive employers so they can attract and retain talented, committed, and well-prepared individuals to public service,” and the National Institute on Retirement Security, which says it was established to foster understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers, and the economy.

“Public and private workforces differ in important ways,” the authors write. “For instance, jobs in the public sector require much more education on average than those in the private sector. Employees in state and local sectors are twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to have a college or advanced degree.

“Wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than those for private sector workers with comparable earnings determinants (e.g., education). State employees typically earn 11 percent less; local workers earn 12 percent less,” they write. In Texas, the gap was even greater for local government workers, who made nearly 18 percent less between 2000 and 2008.

“Over the last 20 years, the earnings for state and local employees have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees,” they say.

In the study, the economists air what they refer to as Simpson’s Paradox: “The average state worker appears to earn more only because the state hires more of those in the highly educated categories that tend to earn more, not because workers with the same education earn more in the public sector.” They say too that compensation specialists “repeatedly show that the typical state and local public sector worker has more education, more tenure, and greater responsibilities… the fact that public sector workers receive greater average compensation than private sector workers should be no more surprising than the fact that those with more skills and education earn more.”

In fact, the study says, “if we limit our data to college-educated workers, those in state government earn 13 percent less than those in the private sector, while those in local government earn 11 percent less than those in the private sector.”

The study also isolated benefits, including pension, insurance and paid leave differences, finding that from 2004 to 2008 benefits comprised a larger portion of compensation in state and local government “although not dramatically different, particularly when compared to larger private sector firms.”

Incorporating “benefits makes state and public workers appear somewhat less poorly compensated, but our estimate suggests they still receive less total compensation than similar private sector workers,” the study says. “Benefits should be expected to be higher if the public sector workers are more highly educated and doing jobs that command higher earnings.”

Big picture: “Although a comparison of unadjusted average earnings will show that wages are higher among jobs in state and local government, this result is largely due to the fact that the workers in those sectors have more education. Holding education and other characteristics the same, typical state and local workers earn an average of 11 percent less and 12 percent less, respectively, than comparable private sector workers,” the study concludes. “Workers in the state and local sector receive a slightly larger share of their compensation in benefits, but it is not dramatically larger.”

Next, we wondered if there was an inherent weakness in the USA TODAY analysis Daniel cites. If most government jobs are of the professional, white-collar variety — with requirements and compensation to match — that would skew comparisons with the private sector, with its larger share of low-wage and service-sector jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6.5 percent of private sector workers in 2010 were paid at or below the minimum wage, compared to 2.8 percent of government workers.

As we closed out this review, we asked the Wisconsin economists if they’d compared government to non-government workers in every state. By e-mail, Bender said the “data for our study were such that we were uncomfortable reporting results for any but the largest 10 (states) or so because of sample sizes,” but he guided us to a Feb. 25 New York Times’ state-by-state comparison breaking out employees with and without college degrees. Based on median salaries, state workers lacking college degrees fared better than their counterparts in the private sector in 30 states. But private-sector workers with such degrees earned more than degreed state workers in all but four states.

Bender also called the method employed by USA TODAY inaccurate. “Both earnings AND benefits vary greatly by educational level (and other personal characteristics) and without explicitly taking this into account, the vast majority of economists would think that these numbers are essentially meaningless,” he said. “If one group of workers has more education or experience than another group, it makes economic sense that that more highly educated and experienced group get paid more on average…

“In sum, do I know whether there are 41 states where earnings plus benefits are greater in the public sector once you compare similar workers? No — the number may be lower or higher. I haven’t seen any research that does this convincingly. What I do know is that the analysis in the USA TODAY doesn’t come close.”

Daniels’ message, that government workers are better paid than those in the private sector, traces to an egregiously simplistic comparison, ignoring meaningful differences in the public and private sector workforces largely due to education. Factoring those in, many state and local government workers lag behind their private-sector counterparts. We rate his statement False.

It’s class warfare in Florida and the poor and middle class are losing

From the Huffington Post

by Shawna Vechner

It’s official. The newly-proposed budget from Florida’s newly-crowned king has been unveiled and the agenda is nothing short of class warfare.

Medical care for seniors is too expensive. The unemployed are not trying hard enough. Money spent on domestic violence and rape victims is a waste. Parents that cannot afford private school are not worth considering. The homeless programs should be completely exterminated… I mean eradicated.

Forget a birth certificate. Floridians who elected this man in the hopes of him representing our best interests apparently should have demanded an eye exam. This plan to “open Florida for business” is the most short-sighted monstrosity we’ve seen in decades.

Pretend for a moment that the strategy of luring big companies with thousands of jobs to Florida is a solid plan (even in a vacuum) and ignore for the time being the fact that EVERY state is working to woo the same companies for the same reasons. Let’s talk only about the future quality of life for those of us here now. You know, the Floridians.

What will crime rates look like when fifty thousand homeless people have nowhere to go and nothing to eat? Would a pan handling ban be any match for the human instinct to survive? How big of a deterrent is prison when it means having shelter and meals on a consistent basis?

Of course, the prison budget is in danger too. Perhaps they could be rehabilitated to not crave food.

How fast will our police officers respond when something does happen? Keep in mind there will less of them and they will be working for less money. Also, they will be busy dealing with the increase in domestic violence fatalities and repeat rape offenders.

I know my job performance would suffer if I just took a pay cut for the pension program.

But, hey, we’ll have these new companies here, right? However, with a failing education system and an end to the state’s scholarship programs (and the double-whammy of the inevitable tuition hikes) our residents won’t be qualified enough for those jobs. People will have to move here to fill the higher-skilled positions. Those are the ones that pay more.

Maybe we will be allowed to wait on them when they arrive to make ends meet.

Speaking of people moving here, how badly are we taking our senior population for granted? Florida doesn’t have the market cornered on a warmer climate. If they cannot receive proper medical care or go to an emergency room without a twelve-hour wait, they just won’t retire here. The last time I checked, seniors have pretty big purchasing power.

And they vote.

I am not a “snobby liberal” just because I do not believe that people who suffer should just be told to fend for themselves. I should not have the label of “Obama Elitist” spat at me simply because I want for every child to have at least a fighting chance at a future that doesn’t involve back-breaking labor. It’s not unpatriotic to take a realistic look at a diverse and fractured population and want to make an earnest attempt to find a way for us to make it work better.

The last time I checked Darwin didn’t build this country. Immigrants and Native Americans and former slaves and inventors and artists and, yes, wealthy business visionaries did.

I am deeply concerned about the callousness that this budget shows our fellow human beings. I am scared about what this could mean for our state’s struggling middle class. I am frightened at how long it might take to reverse the damage this will do to our state and to our spirit if things proceed on this path.

I think I’ll have that cake now.

Follow Shawna Vercher on Twitter:

Hundreds of school clerks to lose their jobs in south Florida, thanks jobs govenor Rick Scott

By Marc Freeman, Sun Sentinel

Palm Beach County school principals are recommending the elimination of 289 clerk jobs in media centers and offices to help the school district save nearly $10 million and reduce a budget shortfall, officials said on Monday.

But a proposed merger between the School District Police Department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is a dead issue and will not be considered among ideas to reduce school system expenses next year.

The School Board’s budget advisory committee discussed both developments during a meeting at district headquarters. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw notified the committee that he “respectfully declines” to make a formal bid to handle school security.

In a letter dated April 20, Bradshaw said the committee’s perception of a possible merger had become “tainted by unsubstantiated, erroneous and self-serving statements” by District Police Chief Jim Kelly.

Last week, Kelly told the committee that a merger would add $3 million to the cost of patrolling campuses. Bradshaw, in his letter, responded that there would be “cost savings and enhanced service.”

Ken Cohen, vice chairman of the seven-member volunteer citizens committee, said Monday he was “troubled by the inconsistencies” between Kelly and Bradshaw and still wants to explore a merger.

“I just want to find out what the truth is,” Cohen said.

None of the other four other members in attendance on Monday expressed an interest in continuing the merger discussion, putting the focus on the potential school cuts for the 2011-12 school year.

The committee reviewed the principals’ recommendation to eliminate: 109 attendance clerks and 50 media center clerks in the elementary schools; 33 attendance clerks and 33 media clerks in middle schools; and 23 secretary clerks and 41 media clerks in high schools.

In schools, media center is the term used for the library. Clerks assist media specialists in managing the centers.

Also, all schools would cut funding by 10 percent for supplements awarded to department chairpersons and teachers who work with after-school clubs. Schools also would drop from the annual district calendar four extra working days for elementary school assistant principals and two extra working days for secondary school guidance counselors.

All of these proposed changes would result in $9.8 million in savings — reducing a significant portion of the school district’s projected $30 million to $50 million operating budget shortfall, Chief Financial Officer Michael Burke said.

The shortfall is based on cuts in the pending state education budget and rising local school district costs, such as health insurance and diesel fuel. The administration also has set aside $8.4 million in raises for about half of the district’s 12,000 teachers.

Charged with the task of reducing spending, principals made their recommendations over several other less-desirable options. They rejected closing schools with small enrollments; eliminating bus transportation for students in magnet/choice school programs; unpaid furloughs for teachers; and other actions.

The clerks aren’t the only employees in jeopardy. Superintendent Bill Malone previously announced the elimination of 244 school hallway and cafeteria monitor positions, to save $6.4 million. There also will be a drop of 10 workers in the alternative education division, due to shrinking enrollments, saving $510,000.

All of these school-based reductions total $17 million, representing 1.6 percent of an estimated $1.1 billion operating budget.

Still more district-level job cuts are to be revealed next week as part of $21 million in department budget reductions.

Principals were to notify all affected clerks by the end of school on Monday.

Still, hope remains that most of them will be able to continue employment with the district through different positions. Similar efforts will be made to reassign the monitors, but officials have said layoffs are likely to result from all of the job cuts.

“We’re going to see if we can find a home for the people in these jobs,” Burke said. “At this point I don’t know how many people we’ll be able to successfully place in the district.”

The proposed school and department cuts total about $38 million, putting the district in range of a balanced budget.

Other big savings — if the shortfall winds up being closer to $50 million — involve the transfer of $5 million in copier leasing to the capital projects budget, and $4 million from an untapped reserve for class-size reduction, Burke told the committee.

The School Board, which will review these proposals during the next two months, is scheduled to tentatively approve the district’s new budget on July 27. or 561-243-6642,0,3044651.story

Rick Scott’s education plan, fire teachers, stop programs, close schools

From the St. Augustine Record

by Lilly Rockwell

TALLAHASSEE — Completely virtual 7th period classes. Teacher furloughs. Layoffs of hundreds of school employees. Four-day school weeks. Fewer school buses.

Those are just a few of the options schools districts across the state are mulling to close budget gaps that range from $6 million to $144 million. The budget holes are blamed in part on falling property tax revenue, the disappearance of federal stimulus dollars and proposed reductions in state funding for schools of nearly 7 percent per student.

Florida lawmakers want to cut funding to K-12 schools statewide by about $1 billion, one of the largest cuts in recent memory. Though school districts won’t know their final numbers until the governor and Legislature agree on a budget, districts across the state are beginning to craft budgets based on legislative estimates.

For districts, these budget cuts come on top of five years of strict belt-tightening. Already districts have closed schools, eliminated thousands of jobs and in some cases, charged for popular after-school programs like sports.

“We’ve had economic downturns in the past, but they lasted a year, maybe two. They didn’t have such a negative impact that we’re seeing now because schools had reserves and were able to buffer themselves against a state budget cut,” said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow.

While most districts have avoided any cuts that impact classrooms so far, such as laying off large numbers of teachers, Pudlow said next budget year schools are examining teacher layoffs and furloughs.

Republican lawmakers in charge of the state education budgets defend these cuts as the product of a tough economic climate and the consequence of losing $1.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

“We’ve had to make some tough choices on the state level,” said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who is in charge of the House budget committee on education. “I completely understand that the local school board members along with the superintendents will make equally tough choices, but that will be up to them.”

The size of each district’s budget hole varies widely. Some districts chose to levy local tax increases, others didn’t. Some districts used all or most of their federal stimulus dollars, others socked it away.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, argued that schools can’t blame the state for their budget problems. He takes into consideration unused federal stimulus dollars and savings from pension reform into his budget calculations.

“Based on the fact that most of the school districts kept their (stimulus dollars), in general there is an almost even funding from last year,” said Simmons, the head of the Senate’s education budget committee.

Preparing for worst

Still, school boards are preparing for worst-case scenarios. The populous Miami-Dade County Schools are bracing for a $144 million budget cut, on top of $400 million trimmed from the district’s budget in the last four years.

The district has turned to its maintenance and construction departments to close the gap, with a proposal to cut maintenance worker salaries by 20 percent and lay off hundreds of district employees.

In Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, the school board is pondering turning its high school seventh-period classes all virtual. This would save the school district $1 million out of a possible $10 million cut.

District spokesman Chris Petley said 7th period is optional and only about 10 percent of students take classes that period anyway.

In Southwest Florida, the Lee County schools may have to cut the budget by more than $30 million, on top of cuts of $86 million over the last four years. Spokesman Joe Donzelli the district has already cut 700 positions over the last three years. For next year, the school board may choose to eliminate more than 50 “support staff” jobs.

“Our philosophy has been we don’t want to start meddling with the classroom,” said Donzelli said. “But there’s no guarantee we won’t lay off teachers. That is sacrosanct — the last place the board wants to go.”

Duval weighs furloughs

Meanwhile in Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, the school system is looking at a budget shortfall of $82 million. The district is considering several controversial measures to close the shortfall, including four-day school weeks, furloughs, increasing class sizes and reducing bus transportation to magnet schools.

Most school districts are reluctant to dip too extensively into their reserves for fear of damaging their credit ratings.

In Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach, school board members had to cut deeply into their budget earlier in the recession.

In the last three years, Volusia County Schools have cut $75 million from the budget. Their budget troubles were compounded by the loss of students. State funds are tied to the number of students a district enrolls.

“We’ve been struggling,” said Volusia County schools spokeswoman Nancy Wait. The school board has already tried the obvious cuts: cutting 1,000 jobs, eliminating some bus routes and closing schools.

Charging for sports

But the district also tried more unusual budget-whacking methods. It began charging for high school sports. It now costs $75 a sport and $100 for multiple sports at Volusia County high schools.

Now the district once again has to find a way to plug a $13 million budget shortfall.

“We have done just about everything you can think of,” Wait said.

This year, the district hopes to maintain the roughly 500 jobs funded through federal stimulus dollars.

“The superintendent has gone on the record saying we will do everything we can to, number one, protect the classroom and number two, protect jobs as much as we can,” Wait said.

In Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is located, the school board is estimating a $60 million shortfall.

The district wants to eliminate roughly 400 jobs, though many of those could be cut through attrition.

“We have taken a real hard look at big ticket items, such as transportation, energy, health insurance and staffing,” said Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. The district has already cut $118 million over five years. “When you cut that much in five years and are targeting $60 million in one year it is drastic.”

Where’s the beef, make that rigor in U.S. schools

I have been writing about this years. Upping graduation requirements has produced less rigorous classes. -cpg

From the New York Times

by Sam Dillon

More students are taking ambitious courses. According to a recent Department of Education study, the percentage of high school graduates who signed up for rigorous-sounding classes nearly tripled over the past two decades.

Linda Self teaches a pre-Advanced Placement chemistry class at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Ark. Students at the school took eight times as many A.P. exams last year as in 2004.

But other studies point to a disconnect: Even though students are getting more credits in more advanced courses, they are not scoring any higher on standardized tests.

The reason, according to a growing body of research, is that the content of these courses is not as high-achieving as their names — the course-title equivalent of grade inflation. Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Lynn T. Mellor, a researcher in Austin, Tex., who has studied the phenomenon in the state, compares it to a food marketer labeling an orange soda as healthier orange juice.

“Like the misleading drink labels, course titles may bear little relationship to what students have actually learned,” said Dr. Mellor, who has analyzed course completion, test records and other student data in Texas. “We see students taking more and more advanced courses, but still not performing well on end-of-course exams.”

The 2009 results — the most recent available — of the federal test that measures change in achievement levels over decades showed that the nation’s 17-year-olds were scoring no higher in reading and math than in 1973. SAT scores have dropped or flat-lined, too, since 2000.

But a federal study released this month of nearly 38,000 high school transcripts showed that the proportion of graduates completing a rigorous curriculum rose to 13 percent in 2009 from 5 percent in 1990.

Arnold A. Goldstein, a director at the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which administered both the federal test and the transcripts study, suggested possible causes for this apparent contradiction.

“There may be a ‘watering down’ of courses,” he said. Also, high school seniors may not try hard when they take the federal tests, because there are no consequences based on how they perform, he said.

Schools apply vaunted names to courses in part, researchers said, because administrators want to help students satisfy tougher requirements for high school graduation in many states. They point to parents’ interest in rigorous-sounding coursework for their children, and to administrators’ vanity in offering ambitious classes.

Some educators also argue that students benefit from being exposed to more difficult coursework, even if they do not perform well.

Mark S. Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research who headed the Education Department’s research wing under President George W. Bush, said the disconnect became apparent a decade ago, after two nationwide surveys showed that the proportion of high school seniors taking trigonometry, precalculus or calculus more than doubled from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

“Students were taking more rigorous-sounding courses, but there was no evidence they had mastered the content,” Dr. Schneider said. Researchers at Michigan State University began studying the issue for a 2001 paper that drew on the test scores of 13,000 American eighth-grade students who participated in an international math and science exam known as Timss.

They compared the schools’ math courses — ranging from remedial through “enriched” to Algebra I — with the content of the textbooks used in them. In about 15 percent of the cases, the textbook covered less advanced areas of math than the course name suggested, said William H. Schmidt, who led the Michigan research.

In 2008, Dr. Schmidt surveyed 30 high schools in Ohio and Michigan, finding 270 distinctly labeled math courses. In science, one district offered Basic Biology, BioScience, General Biology A and B — 10 biology courses in all.

“The titles didn’t reveal much at all about how advanced the course was,” he said.

Course-title inflation is easier to document in math and science, researchers said, but they suspect it is happening in English and other subjects, too.

Growing skepticism among parents and policy makers about the rigor of high school coursework has been a factor, experts say, in the rapid growth of Advanced Placement, the College Board’s program of college-level courses.

Over a decade, the number of A.P. exams taken by American high school students has more than doubled, to 3.1 million in 2010 from 1.2 million in 2000.

Politicians and educators in many states have promoted the program, hoping to provide more rigor beyond the traditional curriculum. But the failure rate is also higher on A.P. exams, which are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The proportion of exams earning low scores of 1 or 2 rose to 42.5 percent in 2010, up from 36.4 percent in 2000.

Trevor Packer, a College Board vice president, said his organization was wrestling with whether access to A.P. should be expanded even if that meant more students failed. For now, the proportion of low scorers is “tolerable,” he said.

Mr. Packer spent a recent week visiting A.P. classes in low-income schools in California, where, he said, he found the level of instruction surprisingly high and students well motivated.

“It was also clear that many students were being placed in A.P. who didn’t have the preparation,” he said. But the California principals argued that even students who score poorly in A.P. were better off than if they had taken only standard coursework, Mr. Packer said.

Bruce Orr, the principal of Lakeside High School, in Hot Springs, Ark., agreed. Mr. Orr’s students took 297 A.P. exams last year — eight times as many as in 2004.

“It’s about adding rigor,” Mr. Orr said about his campaign to increase A.P. enrollments.

Across Arkansas, the number of A.P. exams has nearly sextupled since 2000. The proportion of Arkansas students who score a 1 or 2 has surged, too, and is now the nation’s highest: 70 percent in 2010.

Mr. Orr said he was not concerned about how many Lakeside students each year earned high A.P. scores.

“Just being in that rigorous course environment does these kids a world of good,” he said.

Down a hallway, Corey Boby, a math teacher, was drilling his A.P. calculus students in derivatives, preparing for their exam next month.

“They’ll do fine,” Mr. Boby said. But he worried whether some students were fully prepared to take A.P. courses, which he likened to running a marathon.

“My concern is that we may push kids into marathons when maybe they are only ready to run a mile,” he said.

Brandi Davis, a student in Mr. Boby’s third-period class, Transitions to College Math, struggled to catch up, she said, after taking a chaotic eighth-grade math course in a neighboring district.

The course had a catchy name, she recalled: “Jungle Gym Math.”

“It had some geometry, some algebra,” Brandi said. “It jumped around.”

Care about Florida schools? Take time to contact the legislature and let them know

Hrom the Florida Times Union

By Topher Sanders

Making funding cuts to public education is “just plain stupid.”

That’s according to 14-year-old Zachary Morris, a ninth-grader at Stanton College Preparatory School who participated in a news conference Monday to launch the Reach 10 for Education campaign.

The campaign asks the public to use the next 10 days to call 10 lawmakers to ask them to make funding public education a priority. There are 10 days left in the legislative session.

Duval County Public Schools, facing a possible $82 million shortfall, are discussing reductions in magnet school transportation, employee furloughs and holding back on buying some science textbooks.

Colleen Wood, executive director of Save Duval Schools, said Florida’s future is riding on the decisions being made now by lawmakers.

“And if we want our children to be a priority, we must be heard now,” she said. “One thing is certain, if we do nothing our children will get nothing.”

The initiative is a joint venture between Wood’s organization, Duval County Council of PTAs, Fund Education Now, The Gifted Network of Florida, and 50th No More.

For more information, go to the initiative’s website at, (904) 359-4169

– Gov. Rick Scott: (850) 488-7146,

– Sen. Mike Haridopolos: (850) 487-5229,

– Rep. Dean Cannon: (850) 488-2742,

– Sen. Stephen Wise: (850) 487-5027,

– Sen. David Simmons: Appropriations (850) 487-5050,

– Sen. J.D. Alexander: (850) 487-5044,

– Rep. Denise Grimsley: (850) 488-3457,

– Rep. Marti Coley: (850) 488-2873,

– Rep Bill Proctor: (850) 488-2977,

– Rep Erik Fresen: (850) 488-4092,



The people have spoken, leave medicare alone and those at the top should pay their fare share

From Politifact

Paul Krugman said large majorities favor higher taxes for the rich and no cuts to Medicare

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The debate to balance the federal budget and reduce the nation’s debt has raged in recent weeks, with Democrats and Republicans arguing about spending, taxes and entitlements such as Medicare.

Paul Krugman wrote recently in his New York Times column that a knock-down, drag-out fight may be inevitable, given that the two parties have such different visions for the country.

“So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about? Where’s the common ground?” Krugman wrote.

Krugman, who sides with the Democrats over Republicans on budget issues, said the Democrats have a winning case to present to the public.

“For what it’s worth, polls suggest that the public’s priorities are nothing like those embodied in the Republican budget,” Krugman said. “Large majorities support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy. Large majorities — including a majority of Republicans — also oppose major changes to Medicare. Of course, the poll that matters is the one on Election Day. But that’s all the more reason to make the 2012 election a clear choice between visions.”

We decided to check Krugman’s numbers on the polls after a reader asked us to look into it. Let’s take the issues one at a time.

“Large majorities support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy.”

Different polls phrase the question differently, but the bottom line is the same. We found three recent polls that back up Krugman’s point.

“In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose raising taxes on Americans with incomes over 250 thousand dollars a year?” Support: 72 percent. Oppose: 27 percent. Unsure: 1 percent. (ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 14-17, 2011)

“Do you support or oppose doing each of the following to deal with the federal budget deficit? … Increase taxes on income over $250,000.” Support: 64 percent. Oppose: 33 percent. Unsure: 3 percent. (McClatchy-Marist Poll. April 10-14, 2011.)

“Now looking ahead to next year’s federal budget, do you think it should or should not include higher taxes for families with household incomes of $250,000 and above?” Should: 59 percent. Should not: 37 percent. Unsure: 4 percent. (USA Today/Gallup Poll. April 11, 2011.)

Krugman seems on firm ground here.

Large majorities “also oppose major changes to Medicare.”

Again, we found several recent poll questions addressing this point.

“In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Medicare, which is the government health insurance program for the elderly?” Oppose: 78 percent. Support: 21 percent. Unsure: 1 percent. (ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 14-17, 2011.)

“I’m going to read you two statements about the future of the Medicare program. After I read both statements, please tell me which one comes closer to your own view. Medicare should remain as it is today, with a defined set of benefits for people over 65. OR, Medicare should be changed so that people over 65 would receive a check or voucher from the government each year for a fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private health insurance policy.” Should remain as is: 65 percent. Should be changed: 34 percent. Unsure: 2 percent. (Also from the ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 14-17, 2011.)

“Do you think the government should completely overhaul Medicare to control the cost of the program, make major changes to Medicare but not completely overhaul it, make minor changes to Medicare, or should the government not try to control the costs of Medicare?” Not try to control costs: 27 percent. Minor changes: 34 percent. Major changes: 18 percent. Completely overhaul: 13 percent. Unsure: 8 percent. (USA Today/Gallup Poll. April 11, 2011.)

“In order to reduce the federal budget deficit, would you be willing or not willing to reduce spending on Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors?” Not willing: 76 percent. Willing: 22 percent. Don’t know/No answer: 2 percent. (CBS News Poll. March 18-21, 2011.)

“Do you think it will be necessary to cut spending on Medicare, the federal government health care program for seniors, in order to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit?” No: 54 percent. No opinion: 27 percent. Yes: 18 percent. Not sure: 1 percent. (NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll. Feb. 24-26, 2011.)

“For each (government program), please tell me if you think significantly cutting the funding is totally acceptable, mostly acceptable, mostly unacceptable, totally unacceptable: Medicare.” Totally unacceptable: 46 percent. Mostly unacceptable: 30 percent. Mostly acceptable: 16 percent. Totally acceptable: 7 percent. Unsure: 1 percent. (Also from NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll. Feb. 24-26, 2011.)

Those numbers express widespread opposition to cutting Medicare. And indeed, when the Wall Street Journal reported its results in February, Republican pollster Bill McInturff said the results were “a huge flashing yellow sign for Republicans on how much preparation will be needed if they propose to change Social Security and Medicare.”

As we were working on this report, a new poll was released suggesting that the public might not be so opposed to changes in Medicare. We should note that these results were released publicly after Krugman’s column appeared. As explained in the Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter, our rulings are based on the information known at the time the person made the remarks.

“In order to reduce the budget deficit, it has been proposed that Medicare should be changed from a program in which the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating seniors to a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance. Would you approve or disapprove of changing Medicare in this way?” Approve: 47 percent. Disapprove: 41 percent. Don’t Know/No answer: 12 percent. (New York Times/CBS News Poll. April 15-20, 2011.)

The New York Times noted in its story that the response was at odds with other recent polls, and concluded that results may vary depending on how the question was asked.

When we contacted Krugman for a comment, he noted that the poll came out after his column was published and that it’s at odds with the other previous polls. “I strongly suspect that the Times result is an outlier — it looks so different from everything else we’re hearing,” Krugman said via e-mail.

We should note that Krugman parenthetically added that a majority of Republicans also opposed major changes to Medicare. We were not able to find party breakdowns for all of these polls, but the ones we did see showed that Republicans opposed changes to Medicare as well. A CBS News Poll from March showed that 67 percent of Republicans were not willing to reduce spending on Medicare. In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 33 percent of Republicans said the government should not try to control the costs of Medicare, with another 28 percent of Republicans said the government should make only minor changes.

Our ruling

Krugman said that “large majorities” support support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy, and recent polls support that point. On Medicare, several polls suggest that large majorities, including a majority of Republicans, oppose major changes to the program. One poll, released after Krugman wrote his column, showed an advantage for the Ryan plan. But the preponderance of evidence at the time Krugman made his statement bears him out. We rate his statement True.

Is Corporate Welfare in Florida working? Nobody seems to know, yet we still keep giving money away

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Aaron Deslatte

TALLAHASSEE — As the 60-day lawmaking session winds to a close next month, Gov. Rick Scott is relentlessly promoting his “jobs” agenda and exuding confidence that he’ll get a massive infusion of tax dollars to reel in new employers.

But behind the scenes, Scott’s office and lawmakers are jockeying over who should control hundreds of millions in tax breaks that Florida has been doling out to biotech companies, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores and Walgreens, and television producers.

Leery of appearing to support “corporate welfare” while cutting nearly $4 billion from education, health-care and social-service spending, Republican budget writers have been pushing the Governor’s Office to prove the effort will produce a bigger bang for the buck.

Scott’s office is pushing back that Florida already moves too slowly in the high-stakes game of enticing corporations shopping for the best state tax deals.

“We ought to be able to make a deal for job creation quickly,” said Gray Swoope, the former Mississippi economic-development director whom Scott hired in February to lead Florida’s job-creation arm, Enterprise Florida. He’s pressing for more money — and less legislative oversight.

“North Carolina, Texas, those are states that can move a lot quicker than we can,” Swoope said.

Although neither chamber has embraced Scott’s call for cutting Florida’s corporate-income-tax rate, they are trying to offer him something. The House has passed a proposal that would create his economic-development superagency and fund it with $427 million, but not until 2012.

“It’s going to give us more money to do the right things,” Scott said recently about the House plan.

But critics say there is mixed evidence that the millions in tax breaks Florida has already doled out actually created jobs.

“It doesn’t seem wise to us to let tens of millions of dollars more a year go uncollected for the benefit of a few select corporations or industries,” said Alan Stonecipher, with the liberal Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy research group.

“There’s little evidence that these so-called economic-development incentives actually produce new jobs.”

Millions doled out

During the past decade, Florida invested billions of dollars in tax breaks to get employers to relocate to Florida or build in blighted neighborhoods.

But when the economy stalled, so did the spending spree.

In 2007, Florida sank $458 million into a host of tax-incentive programs. By last year, the total had shriveled to $220 million.

And this year, Senate and House budget writers are poised to approve $171 million to $210 million — far less than the $300 million Scott requested.

“The more money we trim out of [economic development], the more dollars available for education and health care,” said House economic-development budget ChairmanMike Horner, R-Kissimmee.

One of the biggest differences between the two chambers is how much cash to give the governor in a fund designed to pledge tax breaks to coveted companies willing to relocate, called the Quick Action Closing Fund. The Senate puts $45.8 million in it; the House $14.7 million.

House and Senate leaders are going along with Scott’s request to construct a giant new economic-development agency that would combine space, tourism, sports, minority-business and other job-creation agencies.

But the Senate’s version would require Scott’s office to develop better measurements of the programs’ “performance and competitive value to the state.”

“If we’re going to go forward with economic incentives, we need to know which ones work, why they work and under what conditions they work,” said economic-development budget chief Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican slated to be Senate president in 2012.

“You can’t be a prophet. But what is the general return on investments that we ought to have here? If we’re investing in Florida Inc., that’s what we’re asking the governor to do.”

Gaetz asked Scott’s office in February for a “business plan” to justify therequest for $300 million and says he was given “a fairly uneven report.”

Scott’s inner advisers recommended against agreeing to any “return-on-investment” requirements.

“I think that locking ourselves into statutory ROI measurements or even a business plan at this point would be difficult,” Scott’s chief lobbyist, Jon Costello, wrote in a Feb. 28 email.

Swoope said last week that Enterprise Florida already does a good job.

“There are some good measurements in place. Do they need better aligning? Absolutely,” he said. “We will build that trust with our legislators, that they’ll have confidence in what we’re saying.”

Lawmakers’ skepticism has been building for years, driven in part by the fact that some of the highest-profile projects have been slow to produce results.

Lawmakers doled out $449 million through one “innovation incentive” fund to seven biotechnology-research institutes — including Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studiesin Port St. Lucie and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona — but it may take decades to deliver the technology clusters lawmakers were promised.

The latest update in December said that, although the biotech industry was growing faster in Florida than nationally, the seven projects had created 644 jobs — fewer than half of the 1,488 positions they ultimately will be mandated to add.

Tax breaks for TV

Other tax breaks appear to be suffering from their own success.

Last year’s “Jobs for Florida” bill devoted $242 million during five years to tax credits for film studios and digital-production companies. The bill included other components — tax credits for hiring the unemployed, selling yachts and other activities — that can’t be measured for results yet, according to the Department of Revenue.

But by spring, $227 million of the film breaks already had been committed, 60 percent to “high impact” television shows such as USA’s “Burn Notice,” A&E’s “The Glades” and MTV’s recently announced remake of the British comedy “The Inbetweeners,” to be shot in Central Florida.

But House finance and tax Chairman Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, is miffed that so many of the credits have been committed to television shows that might spread their impact over five seasons, as opposed to one-time movie productions.

“Those are credits that could be used by film productions or digital media to do work today,” Precourt said.

Earlier this month, the House approved $30 million more in tax credits but effectively capped what can go to television shows. Critics said the cap would also have the effect of steering more tax credits to film-production studios owned by Universal Orlando, in Precourt’s home county.

Florida Film Commissioner Lucia Fishburne said Florida’s tax package for television production has been the envy of the country, and other states have tried to duplicate it.

If Precourt’s changes pass, “we would never be able to sell our state. That eliminates all the certainty for productions,” she said.

Tax refunds for jobs

Another popular program is the 17-year-old “Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund,” which gives a $3,000-minimum tax refund to companies for every “high-wage” job they create.

In the past four years, Florida has directed more than $57 million to the likes of Coca-Cola, JetBlue, video-game maker Electronic Arts Inc. and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Although the law specifically excludes “retail,” Wal-Mart Stores got $1.1 million in 2007 for opening distribution centers in DeSoto County and the North Florida town of Macclenny.

Chico’s, the clothing chain headquartered in Lee County, got $600,000.

Enterprise Florida spokesman Stuart Jacob said every company has to demonstrate it has created the jobs promised. The problem is, many of the companies might have created jobs without the incentives.

In 2003, Senate staff surveyed businesses getting the break. Of those that responded, 20 of the 38 said they “probably” or “definitely” would have relocated to or expanded in Florida even without the incentive.

Horner defended the program, saying it had helped land needed jobs in less-affluent communities.

“Those are good jobs. They’re high-paying jobs,” he said, although companies are only required to pay “relatively high wages compared to statewide or area averages.”

Last year, lawmakers tweaked the program to exclude telemarketing call centers and ordered Enterprise Florida to develop better measurements for whether the law was working. This year, the program would get $18 million to $23 million in the competing budget plans.

“In a lot of ways, these dollars are the required ante in order to get into these high-stakes economic-development games,” said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness. But, he acknowledged: “There’s no guarantee that success is going to come quickly.” or 850-222-5564. Follow him on Twitter at @adeslatte.,0,6854914,full.story