At his 2012 gubernatorial campaign kickoff last night, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna spent a helluva lot of time emphasizing one policy objective I can't disagree with: the need to dramatically increase the state's commitment to fully funding both K-12 and higher education.
McKenna says that K-12 spending has slipped from 51 percent of the state budget when he was in school to only 41 percent today, claiming that a similar commitment would put more than $3 billion back into our schools. He also says that he wants to double state spending on public colleges and universities from 8 percent of the budget to the 16 percent they consumed just a few years ago. (These are all McKenna's numbers, so I can't vouch for them. I would have followed up with some questions at last night's press conference if I wasn't kicked out.)
At the same time, McKenna repeatedly emphasized that as governor he would "lessen the burden" on businesses, promising that his plan to reinvest in education could be achieved without raising taxes. So where does he propose to magically find all this extra education money? In the pockets of those evil state workers of course.
Conveniently ignoring the past two biennial budgets filled with pay cuts, givebacks, layoffs and unpaid furloughs, McKenna caused his audience to literally gasp and groan with horror via his tales of state workers getting five percent annual pay increases year-after-year as the rest of us suffered. It'll take me some time to fact check all his claims, but I'm pretty damn sure they're mostly bullshit and/or out of context. McKenna also went on to paint a picture of a government workforce growing out of control, a bullshit datapoint that I do have at my fingertips:
- Source: Office of Financial Management
- The total number of state workers is down in recent years, but over the long term closely tracks population.
The fact is that by every rational measure, state government has been shrinking over the past few decades, in per-capita spending, per-capita taxes, per-capita state workers, and most importantly, as a percentage of the economy, with state general fund revenues falling from 6.9 percent of personal income in 1995 all the way down to 4.7 percent today. McKenna may sound smart and informed and trustworthy and all that, but he's just not being honest with voters.
There's also an absurdist element to McKenna's campaign rhetoric, what with him railing against overpaid and overabundant government workers in the interest of finding the money to, you know, hire more government workers! Education is mostly about teaching, so that's where most of the money in K-12 and higher education goes—teachers, instructors and professors. Government workers, all. Weird.
McKenna's gonna make a lot of promises in this campaign, some achievable and some not. Billions more for education? Not gonna happen without raising some taxes. Fucking state workers? Well that's something you can count on McKenna to deliver.