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The City Café

For those interested in sharing ideas and perspectives regarding local government.

 

Utah adds a city larger than Logan in new growth each year to the state (since 1999).

Utah adds a city larger than Logan in new growth each year to the state (since 1999).

Mark Twain used to say, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  There is no question that numbers can be used to manipulate the truth and Lee Davidson‘s article  on October 23 “State and Local Governments are Flourishing” fits into this category, using numbers that only tell part of the story. Here are a couple of examples:

  • In 2007 Utah reported 131,802 full-time public employees (state, counties, cities, school districts, water districts, and special districts) — an increase of 8,328 from 2002.
    • This number is really only relevant if we look at the overall state growth — since 2002 Utah has increased in population by over 340,000 new residents (a city larger than Logan a year).
    • So what does this mean…according to Mr. Davidson’s numbers public employees have increased by 8,328 – but as a percent of the population these local government employees have actually decreased from 2002 (5.2% of the population) to 2007 (4.8% of the population).
    • This would imply that state and local governments are not necessarily flourishing…but increasing appropriately with the overall state growth.
  • Utah governments added 50 percent more workers than the national average
    • In 2006 Utah was the 3rd fastest growing state in the nation…with a growth rate 1.6 times the national average. I don’t think it takes much analysis to explain why Utah would add 50 percent more workers than the national average.
  • Utah added 2,493 new elementary and secondary teachers in five years
    • According to the Economic Report to the Governor (2008) Utah’s school age population will grow by 113,000 between 2000 and 2010 – and grow by another 160,000 before 2020. According to that math Utah is going to need to hire even more school teachers quite soon.

The real story is that growth creates pressures for all local government entities (schools, cities, water districts, etc). When Utah adds more than 50,000 new residents to the state year (a growth rate Utah has sustained since 1999) this puts pressure on local government – and requires more employees. Should we put a cap on the number of teachers or professors the state can hire? Or maybe a city should be capped on their number of employees? I have a feeling this won’t sit well when suddenly a city is not allowed to increase the police force when the population of the city or county increases. Or when universities or high schools are not permitted to add new faculty to account for the increased number of students.

It is pretty simple math…more residents in Utah means more need for cops, teachers, etc. I don’t think this is scandalous in the sense that “the size of government here is growing.” A story about what are the real costs of growth by Mr. Davidson would be far more informative.

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