Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Keith B. Richburg of the Washington Post badly needs to find another, very different line of work.
Outsourced to Dean Baker:
Beat the Press Archive | The American Prospect: The Post ran another of its classic non-informative budget pieces this morning. It told readers that California faces a $4.6 billion shortfall that "could grow to $14 billion deficit by the 2009 fiscal year," that New York faces a $4 billion shortfall and New Jersey faces a $3.5 billion shortfall.
That sounds bad, but is it? Well, without knowing how large these state budgets are, how can any reader know. For the record, a 4.6 billion shortfall in California would be approximately 3.3 percent of its budget, while the ominous $14 billion shortfall would be almost 10 percent. The $4 billion shortfall for New York is just over 5 percent of its budget and the $3.5 billion shortfall for New Jersey is more than 10 percent of its budget. Why couldn't the article give readers this information? It took me about 5 minutes on the web to find it.
The non-information gets worse. The article tells us that New Jersey's governor Jon Corzine is threatening his legislature that if they don't buy his plan for dealing with toll roads, the alternative is to "increase the sales tax by 30 percent, the income tax by 20 percent or the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon." Okay, we all know what a 12 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax means, but how many people out their know New Jersey's current sales tax or income tax rate? I have no idea, and without knowing the current tax rate, there is no way of assessing the impact of a 30 percent increase in the income tax or a 20 percent increase in the sales tax. (Undoubtedly many readers will also be misled into reading these numbers as percentage point increases, hugely over-estimating their impact.)
But the worst item in this piece is a discussion of the ambitious agenda of Massachusetts governor, Deval L. Patrick. The article notes that he wants to increase spending on health care, education and housing and then adds that he is "exploring whether to offer in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants who attend public schools."
Okay, that last line has no place in a budget article. The amount of state money potentially at stake in subsidizing the tuition of the children over illegal immigrants is so trivial that whether the state does it or not will have no noticeable impact on the budget. There are reasons to argue as to whether this is good policy, but Massachusetts will not be facing budget problems because it allows the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, and it is outrageous for the Post to publish an article implying that this is the case.