When Simple Math Is Not So Simple

Wondering how an increase can legitimately be described as a cut? Government critics often refer to “Olympia cuts,” which means an increase in spending is actually described as a decrease. Joe Turner at the (Tacoma) News Tribune describes how in some cases it is actually true.

In the fall election Republican Dino Rossi accused Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire of increasing spending by 33 percent since taking office. Let’s assume that’s true. I don’t know if they provided any inflation or population context to that number, but I’m going to assume for a moment that they did not.

Using an online inflation calculator and population statistics from the state’s Office of Financial Management, we get some answers. To get the same value in 2008 that you got with $100 in 2004, you needed $113.09, because of inflation. So the budget could have gone up 13 percent and it would have maintained service. However, population went up by 6.8 percent, so you have to add that as well. That gives you $120.78. So to maintain services, the state would have to spend almost 21 percent more. If, in fact, the government spent $133, then the increase above maintaining current levels of service was 10.1 percent.

So under this scenario the government did, in fact, increase spending, but not by 33 percent. It was 10.1 percent.

Some Democrats also argue that the increase between the time Gregoire took office and 2008 was largely to restore things that had been cut when state revenues dipped below expectations for the 2003-2005 biennium.

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