Does Size Matter?

Our arch-nemesis, Carter Bundy of AFSCME dismisses our work on New Mexico’s government over-employment problem by saying that large, sparsely populated states naturally have bigger government bureaucracies (as does New Mexico). Our study can be found here and the relevant chart is on page 3. I heard Carter say this on the radio today, so he’s not letting it drop.

First and foremost, Bundy, in his article above, uses incorrect data. His top ten list is from 1970, the left hand column (again, on page 3), not the right hand column which is 2008 data. Utah is not in the top 10 in government employment, nor is Idaho, South Dakota, or Montana. In fact, Carter’s argument that big (in square miles) and small in population states — aside from Alaska which is totally unique because of its massive oil revenues — doesn’t hold water. It may have in 1970, but that is a long time ago. For a full list of states by population density, check this page out.

Now among the top ten in state and local employment are West Virginia, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Sure, these are decent-sized states, but not the largest, nor the least densely populated. Anyway, New Mexico has a problem — the second-largest government workforce by population size in the entire nation.

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5 Replies to “Does Size Matter?”

  1. I saw all of there things on your web site, all of which are not true, Please look into them and let your readers know what you find. A lot of good people count on you for the their info on this.

    1. While exact impacts are not yet known because no comprehensive economic impact study has been performed,

    2, Their undemocratic nature is problematic enough, but being appointed by the Governor, they serve as nothing more than a gig (undoubtedly a cushy, paid one) for Friends of Bill.

    3. Come to Comment at March 1 Environmental Improvement Board Meeting
    The schedule is set. March 1 is the one and only public comment session being held by the Environmental Improvement Board

    4. New Mexico’s economy is the lawsuit recently filed to strip the EIB of its authority in this matter

  2. Paul Gessing was kind enough to privately email me that I was using the 1970 data in my column, and re-linked to the Rio Grande Foundation study including the 2008 data. I sincerely thank Paul for pointing out that I was using the wrong column from the table.

    However, I think the 2008 data makes the point even more strongly that using the ratio of public to private employees as metric for “big” government is meaningless. The implication of the table is that somehow political decisions and philosophy about government influence the ratio that the RGF has chosen to use as a valid metric (public to private ratio).

    I just broke out the 2008 list of states by political party (from 2008 election–one of the few times when there were roughly the same number of states voting for each party, and where there was a clear ideological choice.

    I did so because at the state level, conservatives can sometimes be Dems, and moderates (though rarely liberals) are sometimes Republicans). But even if one used measures like governor or legislative control, the point would still hold, even if not quite as strongly.

    Of the 15 “worst” states with the highest public:private employee ratio, 2 voted Democratic (NM and WA) and 13 GOP. Of the 15 “best” states with the lowest public:private employee ratio, 3 voted Republican (FL, TN, and MO) and 12 voted Dem–including such liberal basions in the top six like Massachusettes, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Illinois.

    Further, the 15 “worst” are overwhelmingly rural, and contain an oversize share of conservative inter-mountain, plains, and southern states. In order, they are: Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas, North Dakota, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Arkansas.

    So is the RGF’s thesis now that Republicans, southerners, rural people, and mountain west folks are for big government, while New Englanders, Democrats, and city folks favor small government?

    Is the Rio Grande Foundation really saying that Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Illinois are great small government states, and that Wyoming, Kansas, and North Dakota are bloated big government states?

    The statistic was meaningless in 1970, and is just as meaningless, maybe more so, using 2008 data (remember, over the last 40 years there has been a clearer alignment between geography, ideology, and party, so the fact that the current data shows such a strong correlation between southern, mountain west, rural, and Republican states and “big” government is even more meaningful).

    But I do honestly appreciate Paul’s pointing out that I was using the 1970 data (and apologize for my mistake), provding more links to the correct data, and engaging in an interesting debate over how to gauge the size (and appropriateness) of government.

  3. While each state does have unique situations there is no doubt NM has too many state and local government employees. In my opinion its due to a combination of a “spoils” system and failure to automate its collection and information systems, instead relying on labor intensive data entry/batch mode systems.

    An example: About a year and half ago my brother was working for the state, overseeing the state unemployment tax for several counties. This position required frequent account adjustments to include simple things like address changes yet for him to make any changes he had to fill out a form and mail it to Albuquerque where it went into a cue until a data entry person could enter the data and the computer could update changes based on what batch was being run. This is a function that should be accomplished at the account manager level yet the state having failed to automate this function continued to rely on an outdated and inefficient data entry clerk/batch processing system.

  4. The two charts indicate that NM is # 45 in population density, followed by #46 SD, #47 ND, #48 MT, #49 WY and #50 AK. The percentage rank of state and local employees per workforce in each of those states is: NM (2); SD (18); ND (8); MT (12); WY (3) and AK (1).

    However, because the first chart lumps state AND local government employees together, I think the # of state employees as a percentage of the NM workforce is really UNDERSTATED. Remember the study that former Governor Carruthers and others presented to Governor Richardson in December on how the state could save money. The first page of that report noted that, based on employment per 1000 of population, NM has 72% MORE state employees than the national average. Ouch!

  5. Unfortunately Charles is using another meaningless statistic, but it may simply be due to a lack of understanding of the services provided by states and cities/counties. For example, nearly all public health services in Los Angeles County are provided by county employees. Same is true throughout much of California. In NM, those services are, by and large, state services.

    A combined state/local statistic makes much more sense, because there are all kinds of variations on the above theme across the 50 states.

    No one has disputed the silliness of the metric that I pointed out above, though, so I hope that there are more serious and meaningful statistics used in future discussions on public servants and the size of government.

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