By: Mark Glennon*
An Associated Press “Fact Check” story, widely reprinted around Illinois today, says Governor Rauner’s arguments for reform contained in a slide presentation he gave last week “don’t add up.” Doug Finke, a reporter for the State Journal-Register, also re-skinned part of that article under his own name.
Here’s why those stories are hatchet jobs:
The first of four points the A.P. makes is about a single Rauner slide on Medicaid (slide 20), which simply reproduces data from the Federal government showing Illinois Medicaid costs dramatically increasing compared to Illinois population. That’s misleading, the A.P. tells us, because it omits that per-person Medicaid spending in Illinois is less than the national average, and that the Federal government is picking up the cost of new enrollees.
So what? Those additional facts hardly disprove that Medicaid costs are a huge and growing issue in Illinois’ budget. Medicaid outlays already consume roughly a fifth of the the state’s general fund and, yes, they are growing. Illinois will pay at least $907 million from 2017 through 2020 because of new members, who have signed up in larger numbers than anticipated, according to data just reported by the Chicago Tribune. Also, Illinois officials based spending projections on an estimated monthly, per person cost of $454, and revised that number up recently to $882 , also as just reported. Growth of Medicaid costs is a bipartisan, widely held concern in Springfield that nobody has a good handle on, and it’s irresponsible to suggest the issue is being fabricated.
Update 2/14/15: Other credible sources say the Tribune’s numbers on increased Medicaid costs are wrong, including a rebuttal linked here from Julie Hamos, former Director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Still, Rauner’s slide only showed how Medicaid costs have increased compared to flat population, and it has not been challenged.
Second, the A.P. questions a slide in which Rauner claims state employees earn more than comparable ones in the private sector, but they cite only a 2013 University of Illinois study for claiming otherwise. Rauner’s spokesman pointed out that the U of I study is not limited to state employees, and includes other levels of government, the story notes.
The spokesman is in fact correct, but the A.P. didn’t bother to say so. Also, while I don’t know if Rauner is right or wrong on this one, I can say for sure that nobody should trust the U of I study because one of its authors was Robert Bruno, a known union advocate we’ve criticized before for a blatantly made-up “study.” At a minimum the A.P. should have disclosed his allegiance.
Third, the A.P. questions Rauner’s basis that workers compensation costs must be lowered. But the only material they cite affirms that it’s indeed too high! Yes, some recent reductions were passed, which they say, but that doesn’t mean the reductions were sufficient, and the A.P. cites nothing indicating they were.
Four, both the A.P. and Finke jump on a Rauner slide claiming the average state worker pays just $40,539 out of his salary to his pension benefits but stands to collect $821,588 in retirement benefits. What’s wrong with that? Nothing they point out except that “Rauner leaves out a critical point, despite being a former private equity investor who boasts of success in investing pension funds,” which is that pensions also get money from taxpayers and returns on investments. Don’t readers now that? What’s misleading about omitting it? The point of the slide obviously was just to show the imbalance between worker contributions and worker receipts.
Finke seems especially unaware of that purpose for the slide. He adds that “the state has individual accounts for each person, so proving Rauner’s premise is impossible.” No, Mr. Finke, each pensioner’s contribution is co-mingled and you could either validate or invalidate Rauner’s numbers if you’d bother to try.
A long-time reporter in Chicago told me, off the record, that the local media is “out to get Rauner.” Expect plenty more stories like today’s “fact checking.”
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints