Getting the Numbers Wrong in Augusta
Does anybody in the State House press corps know how to add? Because the figures in the budget stories that small-but-math-challenged group of journalists turned out on March 3 and 4 contained wide variations from the amounts released by the administration of Gov. John Baldacci – and from each other.
And none of the numbers – not even Baldacci’s – seemed to jibe with reality.
Let’s start with the governor’s own figures. In a press release dated March 3, Baldacci claimed to be restoring $78.7 million in cuts.
But the amounts in his release actually total $88.65 million in restored funds, partially offset by $13 million in “alternatives (sic) reductions” and $5.3 million in new spending. That comes to either $80.95 million (if the new spending isn’t included in the original $78.7 million) or $75.65 million (if it is).
Seems as if somebody should have been curious enough to inquire about that discrepancy. But what’s a couple million taxpayer dollars either way?
MaineToday Media’s Susan Cover’s story in the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel is a mishmash of dollars and nonsense. At one point, Cover lists the restored funding for the Department of Health and Human Services as $37 million (the figure from the governor’s release, which doesn’t include the new cuts and the additional spending), but earlier in her article, she seems to be saying the amount chopped from human services spending had been $32.5 million, but was now $6.4 million.
Cover makes no effort to reconcile those conflicting figures.
Adding up all the reductions Cover lists in her piece (something she obviously didn’t bother to do) totals $86.85 million, which doesn’t even match any of Baldacci’s apparently inaccurate numbers.
Maine Public Radio’s A.J. Higgins rounded off the total amount restored to the budget to “nearly $80 million,” but repeats the misleading $37 million figure for additional human services funding without mentioning the qualifiers.
Kevin Miller at the Bangor Daily News makes the same mistake, although he does mention that, “In some cases money is being shifted to one area from another,” giving a single example (covering $800,000 of the $13 million in mysterious shifts).
The Lewiston Sun Journal’s Rebekah Metzler regurgitates the governor’s numbers, including the $37 million for DHHS, but does partially redeem her piece by providing information on the local impact of the restored money for schools.
And how did TV news do in sorting out this confusing story?
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com