There are three or four of us who every Sunday morning break out into a round robin email dissection of the latest op-ed column by LSU-Shreveport political science associate professor Jeff Sadow. While we invariably disagree with Sadow’s philosophical position, we have finally arrived at a consensus that The Advocate is striving for balance on its opinion pages.
On Tuesday (March 1) I received a copy of the following blog post by Michael Kurt Corbello, Ph.d. and a former classmate of Sadow. I immediately contacted Dr. Corbello, a political science associate professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, to inquire if he would be willing to post his comments on as a guest columnist on LouisianaVoice. To our delight, he consented. Following is his column:
By Michael Kurt Corbello
Numbers can be pesky things, a great source for truth, or a weapon to mislead. Scientists like numbers because they are transparent, until human beings interpret them or insinuate that they have done so. I am a political scientist who teaches my students “math is the language of objectivity!” Yet, three-plus decades of research and teaching have taught me the pitfalls of data collection and interpretation for someone trying to conduct scientifically valid research, even if it proved me wrong. In partisan politics, many divest themselves of scientific validity, some accidentally, others purposefully, and still others because they fail to admit their biases. We all have biases, but numbers have a way of cutting through those most cherished.
Recently, Jeff Sadow for The Advocate (See “Lawmakers should call Edwards’ bluff on TOPS, Medicaid,” The Advocate, February 27, 2016) criticized Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget plan during the special session of the Louisiana State Legislature, arguing that the governor “refuses to meaningfully pare a state government that ranks well above the national average in per capita spending” [emphasis added]. Sadow didn’t indicate sources supporting these value statements, so I collected the most recent data and examined it. In fact, the only way to arrive at the columnist’s conclusion that Louisiana ranks “well above the national average in per capita spending” is to make it all up!
I looked at the most recent U. S. Census data estimates of state populations for 2015. I combined this with data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, State Expenditure Report (Fiscal 2013-2015) (Table A-1 in the downloadable report). In 2015, total state general fund and federal fund expenditures per capita ranged from a low of $3,724 (Florida) to a high $18,644 (Alaska), with a national average per state of $6,717. Louisiana ranked 22nd out of fifty states, in the middle of the pack, at $6,365 per capita. That’s right! Louisiana was $352 per capita below the state averages nationwide! Among 16 southern states, Louisiana ranked 7th in total state general fund and federal fund expenditures per capita, about $134 per capita above the state averages in the south.
Notice that while Louisiana spent a total of $29.7 billion in 2015, $10.15 billion of this was federal funds, $2,173 per capita (ranked 14th), or about $200 per capita above the state averages nationwide. The Louisiana state portion of total state spending was $19.58 billion. Nationwide, state general fund expenditures averaged $4,744 per capita. Louisiana averaged $4,192 in per capita state general fund spending, placing it 23rd, or $552 per capita below the state averages nationwide!
Now, I don’t mind voters, politicians, and citizens calling into question the spending and priorities of state government. All of us should be vigilant in our efforts to take care of our community of needs, while reigning in the natural and selfish human inclinations to abuse the system! However, looking at this data, it is difficult to make the argument that, compared to other states, Louisiana has a spending problem. Whether we look at per capita spending or gross dollar amounts, Louisiana was in the middle of the pack of fifty states, with one exception: We ranked 14th in State Federal Fund Expenditures! For that matter, Louisiana was one of eight southern states (including Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) in which state federal fund expenditures per capita were above the average per state nationwide ($1,973 per capita). In other words, we are dependent upon everyone else for a huge amount of resources in our state budget. Why? Because of our history of poverty, low levels of education, and lack of economic development (regardless of the deadbeat mantra always coming from Bobby Jindal and his apologists)! Imagine if we in Louisiana really did have to pay for our own spending!
The fact remains that we do not live in the 18th century, with the luxury to implement a minimalist government, not if we want to have a competitive position in a world driven more and more by competitive people of high intellect, hard work, creativity, technological knowledge and skill! Anyway, those pesky numbers, they must be liberals!
For a closer look at the data used to draw my conclusions (and to refute The Advocate’s columnist), please click on the following link to my blog: http://corbellopolitics.blogspot.com/2016/02/an-advocate-writer-does-it-again-why.html