June 12, 2007

Why Can’t (or Won’t) Ohio’s Old Media See Through Ted Strickland’s Fiscal Posturing? (State Is 600+ $350 Mil Ahead of Budget)

June 14: Ohio State Finances Update: Strickland’s Tight Budget Claims Still Ring Hollow; Ohio’s Press Is Still Asleep

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NOTE: The June 14 follow-up post above corrects for a $284 million error in understating expenses made by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management in April that caused an offsetting error in May. Because of that $284 million error, the State, as of April 30, was $347 million better off than it anticipated it would be in its original budget, not the $631 million noted in the post.

Other than the correction to the headline, this post has not been, and will not be, changed to reflect OBM’s error.

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QUICK TAKE (added at 1 PM): Ohio Governor Ted Strickland claims that the state is in a tight budget situation with falling revenues due to the previous administration’s tax cuts. The facts are that tax receipts have come in ahead of budget, thanks to higher income and franchise tax collections; that spending has been way below below budget; and that the state was over $600 million better off at the end of April than it expected to be when the General Assembly passed the current fiscal year’s budget. Yet Ohio’s Old Media takes what the governor says on faith, and appears to have questioned nothing.

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The Associated Press’s unbylined report carried at the Toledo Blade didn’t question “it” in their Sunday report:

Gov. Ted Strickland said he will deny pay raises for about 3,400 state workers because of declining budget revenues.

Mark Niquette of the Columbus Dispatch (also home of Joe “I Love Ted’s Accounting Sleight of Hand” Hallett) displayed no curiosity over “it” on Saturday when he wrote that:

The governor has been saying for months how tight the state budget is as a result of the struggling economy and loss of revenue from tax cuts enacted two years ago.

The Cincinnati Enquirer had a story on Friday afternoon which didn’t mention “it” at all. The report contained mostly dry facts, but did include this quote found in most of the other stories:

“I greatly value the work of Ohio’s public servants, but we are facing tough financial times,” Strickland said in a statement.

Cincinnati TV station WLW’s four-paragraph story didn’t mention “it” either, but fairly gushed about what the governor is doing:

Gov. Ted Strickland is continuing to pare down the state’s finances.

Strickland announced today that he will deny pay increases, cost-of-living increases and merit raises for his agency directors. The governor says the state is looking for ways to be more efficient.

A Cleveland Plain Dealer search on “Strickland” at 7PM on Monday yielded nothing relevant, let alone any mention of “it” (but see the UPDATE below).

So what is “it”? “It” is what Ted Strickland has been saying about the state of the state’s finances, and why they are where they are (from the AP report):

….. Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, has been saying for months that the state budget is tight because of a struggling economy and the loss of revenue from tax cuts enacted two years ago under former Gov. Bob Taft.

As of the end of April, that was (and probably still is) first-class, Grade A baloney.

The state’s finances may possibly have deteriorated a bit since then, but I doubt that the overall situation has changed much. (I will update below when the Ohio Office of Budget and Management issues its May Monthly Financial Report; it should have come out yesterday, but it didn’t.)

The detail, which consists of portions of Pages 13 and 21 of the April Report (PDF) issued on May 10, has been converted to graphics that can be seen at this backup post.

Here’s the fiscal picture through the first 10 months of the state’s fiscal year:

  • Tax receipts are $153 million more (that’s right, folks, MORE) than was anticipated. Some of the components: Personal income taxes are $167 million ahead of what was expected and only $32 million (0.5%) lower than the previous year at this time, even though tax rates were reduced 8.4%; franchise tax collections are $158 million ahead of what was expected; the big shortfall, at $161 million below what was expected, is in sale tax collections. I don’t suppose it would be out of order to ask if the new Commercial Activities Tax is holding back retail expansion plans, would it?
  • State itemized spending is (catch your breath here) $800 million less (that’s right, folks, LESS) than anticipated, mostly because Medicaid spending is $689 million lower. That 8% Medicaid reduction below expectations is an impressive result — Is it really possible that the legislature and Bob Taft deserve some credit for Medicaid reforms that slipped past everyone?
  • After minor transfers to various funds, total disbursements for the year are $794 million LESS than anticipated.
  • Non-tax receipts, net of $15 million in transfers from other funds, are way down by $316 million; that is more than entirely due to $364 million lower reimbursements from Uncle Sam because of the lower Medicaid spending just mentioned, and has nothing whatsoever to do with “tax cuts enacted two years ago.”

So let’s remove the eye glaze. Here are the three takeaways:

  1. The state has taken in $163 million less than expected (+$153 mil minus $316 mil), and the shortfall has nothing to do with “tax cuts.”
  2. The state has spent $794 million less than expected.
  3. The state, as of the end of April, was $631 million BETTER OFF than expected ($794 mil less spending minus $163 mil less revenue).

“Tough times,” schmuff times, Ted.

Of course, there’s not a thing wrong with the spending cuts Governor Strickland has chosen to make on his own. But spare me the idea that these “pare downs” are grand gestures. The possible lunch cuts ($4 million spread over 2 years, according to the link) and the wage freezes referred to above (perhaps $5.3 million if they stay in place for a full year, according to the various linked articles) together amount to only $7.3 million ($2 mil + $5.3 mil) even if they take place in full.

I’ll leave it to the reader as to why Ted Strickland is doing what he is doing, and to Ohio’s Old media as to why he’s getting so much ink for cutting the pro rata equivalent of about 2-1/2 hours of state spending on a 24-7-365 basis in a roughly $25 billion budget. But one thing is crystal clear: He’s not doing it because the state’s coffers are contracting, because in reality they are expanding.

The real questions people should be asking are these:

  • Why is Governor Strickland pleading state poverty when the fiscal year’s first 10 months have, on the whole, turned out so much better than expected?
  • Why is Ohio’s media totally failing to follow up on the governor’s incomplete claim of “declining budget revenues,” and not challenging the unsupported “tax cuts” blame game he is playing?
  • Instead of wondering whether, when, and how the governor is going to drop the tax-increase bomb, why aren’t Ohio’s legislators and taxpayers asking for the second 8.4% installment of the planned income tax cut, plus repeal, before it does serious damage to the state’s economy, of the execrable Commercial Activities Tax?

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UPDATE, 1 PM: The Plain Dealer came out with an editorial this morning that made valid points, but naively bit on the tax-revenue bait:

Tax dollars are tight in Ohio, so tight that Gov. Ted Strickland just announced he’s freezing salaries for all state workers whose pay he controls.

Like the governor’s widely publicized limits on state employees’ meal expenses last month, this move is certain to score points with voters. But let there be no doubt that Strickland is putting style over substance.

….. All of that pales in comparison to the $118 million the state government would keep if Strickland would means-test his proposed property tax break for senior citizens.

….. As the Senate ponders final changes to the state’s two-year budget, Strickland should do what’s right for Ohio and amend his property tax reduction plan.

Read this post, PeeDee. You’ve been snookered.

Currently the property-tax homestead exemption is means-tested. The governor has proposed changing that to give an exemption to every senior-citizen homeowner. That exemption has passed the House. It’s not my favorite form of tax reduction, but it IS a tax reduction, and should get through the Senate too.

That still leaves hundreds of million in tax reductions that need to come from somewhere. :–>

Support for Strickland-Ohio Budget Post (061207)

June 14: Ohio State Finances Update: Strickland’s Tight Budget Claims Still Ring Hollow; Ohio’s Press Is Still Asleep

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NOTE: The June 14 follow-up post above corrects for a $284 million error in understating expenses made by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management in April that caused an offsetting error in May. Because of that $284 million error, the State, as of April 30, was $347 million better off than it anticipated it would be in its original budget, not the $631 million noted in the post based on the numbers below.

This post has not been, and will not be, otherwise changed to reflect OBM’s error.

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The following, discussed at this post, are the relevant portions of the Ohio Office of Budget and Management’s Monthly Report issued on May 10 covering the first ten months of the state’s fiscal year.

Click on “more” if you are on the home page to see the detail.

(more…)

Couldn’t Help But Notice (061207)

Apple Keynote Report — from Steve Jobs’ address yesterday at the company’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference:

  • The biggest news is Apple’s Safari browser (NY Times link may require registration) is now available for Windows Vista and XP. The stock market was not impressed with the idea; Apple fell over $4 on Monday, supposedly because of this news. Jobs demonstrated that Safari twice as fast as IE at running HTML pages and Javascript, and used iBench testing before his live audience to prove it.
  • Electronic Arts is coming back to Apple with its games. It will do simultaneous releases of four biggies with the PC versions in June, July, and August.
  • Apple will release OSX 10.5 in October with 300 new features (if you don’t use a Mac, you won’t care about ‘em for another two or three years – haha).
  • The .Mac service will have the equivalent of a Go-To-My-PC that works between both Mac and PCs.
  • Unlike Vista, which has (banging head against wall) separate 32- and 64-bit versions, there is one version of Leopard that handles all applications.
  • Unlike Vista, which has a ridiculous number of versions ranging in cost from $99 to God knows what, OSX 10.5 will be $129 for everyone.
  • The iPhone is being positioned as a platform for software development with a Safari underpinning that appears to have blowaway potential. The key question, of course, is whether people are going to buy the iPhone in the first place.

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You Had It Right the First Time, Hugh — On Saturday, he pointed approvingly to this National Review editorial, which wrapped as follows:

….. we would be willing to debate these (guest worker and amnesty) policies in a few years’ time. They are not even worth debating, however, until we know that we are not merely legalizing millions of illegal immigrants while inviting millions more to be legalized in some future round of “reform.”

Last September, the Secure Fence Act, designed “to establish operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States,” passed the Senate on an 80-19 vote. It was supported by every Democratic candidate running for president and by Republican senators McCain, Martinez, and Graham. Mr. President, build on that overwhelming bipartisan support. Build that fence.

Unfortunately, yesterday Hewitt decided that the existing bill can be rewritten and “make an immigration reform package much more acceptable to centrists on the issue.”

One word, from a center-righter who would like to expand legal immigration once I’m confident that the flow of illegals has been slowed to a trickle — Nope.

Yesterday was last-straw day at BizzyBlog on this issue. This garbage and this intimidation, and the economically bankrupting rubbish in last year’s bill that is surely still in this one (such as this and this), all conclusively show that we have people in the executive and legislative branches who will not bargain in good faith, and who will not enforce the law unless they are either forced to, or are replaced by people who will. This means THEY have to prove that they’ll secure the borders, and actually achieve it, before anything else gets discussed.

Update: Earth to Hugh — “Nope” means “Nope.”

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Harry Reid – Rapidly turning into the Bob Taft of the US Senate:

HarryReidBobTaft0607

OK, Taft’s unfavorables at the time (late 2005) were 77%. Give ol’ Harry more national exposure, and he can get there.

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Press Paranoia Watch — The instant someone with right-leaning credentials gains control of a government, you can count on something like the following to gain play in the world press. And it has:

Czar Nicolas? Opponents say president has too much power

PARIS, June 10, 2007 (AFP) – Opponents of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sunday that his latest election triumph risks giving him a concentration of power even though he is one of the most popular leaders in decades.

Sarkozy’s rightwing UMP was poised to take a whopping majority of up to 501 seats in the 577-member National Assembly following a first round of voting in parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The main opposition Socialists, still reeling from the defeat of their candidate Segolene Royal in last month’s presidential vote, could lose more than half of their 149 seats, according to some polls.

A big victory in the runoff vote next Sunday would give Sarkozy free rein to push through the programme of bold reforms that was the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

This second AFP story makes it clear that it’s not just the opposition politicians airing these fears.

Imagine that: The guy might actually do what he was elected to do.

Update: You have to remember this from 2005 to appreciate just how sweet Sarkozy’s victory is, and how bitter the far-left-dominated French press and elites have to be these days –

(from News[very]weak, 11/14/2005) The first and most obvious casualty was the reputation of French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. He’s been angling for the presidency in 2007, posturing as France’s most confident can-do politician. During the first days of violence, Sarkozy denounced the gangs burning cars as “scum” and told them in effect to bring it on. They did with a vengeance, and didn’t stop.

At the time, Mark Steyn wrote (link no longer available), “As is the way with the political class, they seem to see the riots as an excellent opportunity to scuttle Sarkozy’s presidential ambitions rather than as a call to save the Republic.”

Last Laugh Dept. — Too bad it didn’t work. In fact, as is the case so many times when the leftist press misreads the obvious, this “damaging” episode probably helped Sarko more than it hurt him.

What is CNN?

THIS is CNN in 1998; the link is to a story debunking the network’s Peter Arnett and April Oliver, who accused Vietnam soldiers of war crimes in Operation Tailwind.

This is from 2003. The network’s Eason Jordan confessed that the network twisted the news out of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, thereby giving false impressions of the regime to the world so that it could maintain its access to the country (the article is posted at the author’s web host for fair use and discussion purposes).

Then there’s this from 2005. Eason Jordan accused the US military in Iraq of targeting journalists, and ultimately resigned in the wake of the outcry. “Somehow” the actual video footage of Jordan’s accusations, made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, never surfaced.

Next, there’s this incredible episode from 2006, where the network showed videos of enemy snipers killing American soldiers in Iraq. Even more incredibly, the videos were marketed on corporate affiliate Time Warner Cable as an On Demand offering.

Now there’s this — paying to have a story staged (bolds are mine):

June 8, 2007 — The steamy e-mails that landed a CNN reporter in the news and out of a job detailed more than his adulterous affair – they revealed that the Africa correspondent apparently admitted paying militiamen to help him stage a story, according to several sources.

For months, Jeff Koinange had been dogged by allegations that in February, he paid off gunmen to put on a show for a story about Nigerian resistance.

The accusations from Nigerian government officials were so strong that CNN gave a denial during a February broadcast.

“CNN did not pay for or stage any part of the report,” anchor John Roberts said. “CNN does not pay for interviews.”

But a Swiss author – in an e-mail to Koinange’s boss, CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton – details a months-long romance with Koinange, and quotes the correspondent as saying he traded cash for the story.

“Of course I had to pay certain people to get the story,” Koinange says, according to the e-mail.

“But everything was done in agreement with CNN and in accordance with their usual standards. But you do not get such a story without bribing . . . You have to have financial resources. But at the end, it was worth it. CNN has its story and I have my ‘fame.’”

The nearly 10-year track record above explains why CNN’s ratings dive continues. Yes, Fox declined 15% last year, but CNN got zero benefit from it, as its audience losses persisted.

More current info on the network’s tanking ratings was published yesterday (HT Ed Driscoll via Instapundit):

CNN’s ratings have been on a steady decline since 2003, when it regularly got 689,000 households to tune in each day, to a low of 383,000 last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. For the first six months of this year, it’s up to 431,000. Fox News, its younger, more conservative competitor, routinely trounces it in the ratings, often garnering twice the household ratings and recently besting CNN in prime time for key coverage of the presidential debates.

The Ad Age article goes on to note that CNN.com’s web traffic is up substantially, as it appears to be a strong force in breaking news.

But that doesn’t change the fact that CNN’s TV side continues to falter on a relative basis, and will continue to do so as long as the grievous journalistic lapses continue. Though it’s relatively difficult to spin news as it immediately happens, the network’s web group would be well-advised to keep the traditional TV folks as far away as possible.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Remembering the prep team that beat LeBron

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:57 am

These guys are local Cincinnati legends, and deservedly so (2002 post-game article is here):

CINCINNATI — LeBron James has everything, doesn’t he?

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-star has a 35,000-square-foot house under construction. He has awe-inspiring, wide-ranging basketball skills that elicit comparisons to Jordan, Robertson and Magic.

The 22-year-old also has finally stepped into the NBA Finals spotlight.

Yet there is a group that proudly knows firsthand that LeBron — who also goes by “King James” — doesn’t really have it all.

Even if he leads the Cavaliers to their first NBA title, LeBron will never get back the Ohio state title the boys — now men — of Roger Bacon High School took from him in 2002. The loss meant that James left high school with only three championships instead of a perfect four.

“It’s incredible thinking about it, watching him now,” said Josh Hausfeld, a senior on that Spartans team. “Down here at my job, whenever we have to introduce ourselves and say something interesting, I always think of that first. It’s awesome to see people’s reactions. At first, they don’t believe you. Then I say, ‘Well, that’s why they film the games.’ ”

Hausfeld remembers clearly the first time he and his Roger Bacon teammates played LeBron’s prep team, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, during the 2001-02 season.

LeBron was a junior and on his way to stardom before skipping college and going straight to the NBA. The game was in December at Kent State University, two months before LeBron would appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time, at age 17.

Surprisingly to everyone but the Spartans players, Roger Bacon played rough and tough with LeBron and friends. Hausfeld even swatted away one of LeBron’s layup attempts. The Irish, whom LeBron previously led to state championships in 2000 and 2001, won that game, but keen basketball observers left the gym with unexpected respect for head coach Bill Brewer’s Roger Bacon team.

Frank Jessie, who now lives in Montgomery, Ohio, was the St. Vincent-St. Mary athletics director. He approached Brewer after the game.

“I said ‘Bill, I hope I don’t see you in Columbus,’ ” Jessie recalls.

But what would the story be without a rematch? Of course they met again — in the Division II state title game March 23, 2002.

LeBron, newly christened “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated, and St. Vincent-St. Mary were going for a threepeat. A record 18,375 came out to Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center to witness.

What they saw was spectacular.

Roger Bacon’s Beckham Wyrick sent a forearm into LeBron’s chest to open the game, signaling the Spartans’ spunk for all to see. This was the best team clashing with the best player, and the best team won, 71-63.

LeBron scored 32, but it wasn’t nearly enough to match Roger Bacon’s balanced scoring from Hausfeld, Wyrick, Monty St. Clair and Frank Phillips.

LeBron was supposed to win four state titles. He got three, winning his final crown the following season.

Go here for the rest of the story.