While Rep. Marty Seifert's (R-Marshall) recent remarks about scary government encroachment were made at a relatively obscure event, this kind of framing in some version has been heard for years at the state capitol. And it appears to be in the wings for a re-run nationally.
Rep. Seifert's "pulling the wagon" imagery (a favorite of conservative firebrand Sen. Phil Gramm in his short-lived 1996 presidential campaign) occurred just four days after it was presented in one of the "Big Three" messages advocated for 2008 by the conservative Heritage Foundation. He said:
Today three of the top five employers in the state are State of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota and federal government. I don't know about you, but that is getting to be a little bit scary in terms of fewer and fewer job providers because of more and more regulations and taxes.
You folks are pulling the wagon. And everyone else is riding on the wagon.
In a previous post, I explained why we should not be scared about who Minnesota's largest employers are now. Total public-sector employment as a percent of the total workforce Minnesota has actually dropped since the early 1990s.
Yes, the state is a large employer, but private sector jobs growth — while not as good as anyone would like — is growing at a much higher rate than in the government sector. The number of job creators is also growing, not "fewer and fewer."
But even so, it might be a legitimate concern if government employment in Minnesota were growing out of proportion with other states. So I looked at some other numbers to provide that context.
I'll use Census Bureau and Minnesota Taxpayers Association (MTA) data here, because they allow easy state-by-state comparisons. (These will not align exactly with numbers I cited in the last post, because MTA rankings use FY 2005 and the Census Bureau data uses March 2006 employment. I've chosen full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions rather than number of jobs for better state-to-state comparisons.)
I looked at government employment in Minnesota and five other states similar in population.
According to the Census Bureau in 2006, Minnesota state government employed 76,795 FTE — half of which were in higher education (35,605) and police (3,300) work. I calculated a ratio between government employees and the state population so we could compare the relative proportion of state residents working in state jobs — since that seemed to be the main beef.
Here's how they compared:
- Wisconsin .0124
- Colorado .0149
- Minnesota .0153
- Missouri .0157
- Maryland .0166
- Alabama .0185
In other words, Minnesota's proportion of state and local employment is about in the middle for similarly sized states.
According to the MTA [Minnesota Compared.pdf], Minnesota ranked 31st among states and very slightly below average in state and local expenditures per $1,000 of personal income. This is the measure of our capacity to pay for services based on the wealth generated by the state's economy. On expenditures per capita, we ranked 12th. This is a measure of cost, but also services delivered per person.
We reject the Heritage Foundation talking point that public employees are "riders" and private-sector employees are "pullers." Both sectors do work of great value for our communities. Both groups pay taxes.
And the story — that more and more people are working for government and fewer and fewer for the business sector — is based on an attitude toward government, not on the facts.
— Charlie Quimby