I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More Fact-Checking Checking

Compare and contrast the excellent work of Bruce Baker with this "fact check" by John Reitmeyer in the Bergen Record. It tells you all you need to know about the pathetic level of discourse our state's media has delivered to us.

Reitmeyer purports to "fact check" three issues:

1) State Aid: The NJEA says Christie has cut $1.5 billion since taking office. Christie says last year's budget had a one-time stimulus injection of $1 billion, and his budget will actually increase state aid.

Now, this seems like a fairly easy issue to subject to fact-checking: either his budget cuts, or it doesn't. Here's what Reitmeyer writes:
What are the facts: Christie had to rebalance the state budget he inherited from former Gov. Jon S. Corzine after revenue collections fell short of Corzine’s budget projections. A total of $475 million in state aid payments to school districts were cut as part of that effort.
OK, so he did cut.
Christie has also proposed cutting state aid payments by a total of $820 million in the new budget he put forward on March 16.
$820 mil plus $475 mil - pretty close to $1.5 bil.
Some of the wealthier districts — and many in North Jersey — stand to lose all of their state aid, but none would see aid cut by more than 5 percent of their last budget.
And here we fall off the rails. What does this have to do with anything? Either he's cutting or he isn't.
And despite the reduced cash payments to districts, the state will still spend more than $1.5 billion on the medical and Social Security benefits of retired teachers.
Uh wha huh? What does THAT have to do with state aid? And the state of NJ pays Social Security? A federal program? What does that mean?

My central point: the NJEA and Christie are saying fundamentally different things. Someone has to be wrong. Does Reitmeyer say who that is? Read it again and tell me, because I'm so slow I actually read that paragraph and think he hasn't said one way or the other. Must be me...

BTW: wouldn't a reporter be the slightest bit interested in  asking the Christie administration how they can say they are cutting $820 million in state aid, yet still claim the budget will give MORE state said? Or are we just all through the looking glass at this point?

2) Teacher Salaries: I'm going to reprint this entire section here as a public service for any young writers out there who want to know how to drive sentient readers insane:
What Christie says: Annual pay raises of 4 percent on average are no longer affordable for property taxpayers who are reeling from the effects of the recession. Teachers should freeze their salaries this year to help out the beleaguered property taxpayers. 
What the union says: Teacher salaries aren’t the problem; it’s the $820 million in direct state aid to school districts that Christie has proposed cutting from the state budget on top of the earlier $475 million reduction. 
What are the facts: Christie is right when he points out the high cost of teacher salaries. Local government spending is up nearly 70 percent since 2001 and school spending — which includes teacher salaries and benefits — is a big part of that increase. Despite the recession, property taxpayers have seen their bills go up by 56 percent since 2001, to a record-high statewide average of $7,281. But freezing teacher salaries alone won’t fully solve the burden property taxpayers are facing. Benefits contributions the governor wants from teachers would also help, but focusing only on teachers ignores municipal and county governments — which are also contributing to rising property tax bills.
First, the claims from either side aren't incompatible. Christie says raises aren't affordable. NJEA says they would be if the state aid was reinstated. They aren't mutually exclusive positions. Duh.

A real "fact-check" would have looked at whether teachers really do get 4% raises, and whether those are so out of line with what happens in the private sector (they aren't), or the rest of the region (they aren't), or even the rest of the public sector.

Next, Reitmeyer says teacher pay is a big part of local spending increase. Really? How much of it is due to teacher salaries? He didn't say. And if it is a big part, how much of it is due to costs that couldn't be controlled - health insurance premiums, for example? He didn't say.


But he did make the observation that there are other public employees than teachers. Wow, really? Never thought of that... (sigh)

3) The income tax rate for the rich. Yes, the rich are getting a tax break this year. Does it really matter of Corzine could have implemented it? Does that change the dynamics of the debate between the NJEA and Christie one little bit?

Again: lazy, pointless, trivial. This does nothing to move forward the understanding of anyone about the issue.

Reitmeyer is probably a smart guy. Technically, he writes well enough. Why aren't his editors demanding better from him? Is he getting the resources he needs to do his job?

Because this piece does nothing to make any reader a better informed member of our democracy.

2 comments:

Bruce said...

Regarding the share of state and local expenditure that is driven by teacher and administrator (all cert staff) salaries:

http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/new-jersey-cert-staffing-costs-state-local-spending/

Actually, that share has declined over time!

Duke said...

Once again, excellent work!

And, once again - why aren't you on TV/radio/op-ed pages all the time?!?!