Eric Greitens misfires on ‘bloated’ state workforce but hits target on tax credits

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens does cool stuff like physical training with Missouri's National Guard troops.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens does cool stuff like physical training with Missouri’s National Guard troops. (via Twitter)

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens gave a subdued and tepidly received State of the State address this week.

The rookie governor’s speech, though, was full of a longtime politician’s buzzwords and promises. He will have time to keep — or break — his pledges. Today, let’s look at two major issues Greitens discussed.

— He properly thanked Missouri’s “hard-working employees” but then added:

“And our best state employees are being hurt by a big bloated bureaucracy. In Indiana, they have 46 state employees per 10,000 people in their state. In Illinois, they have 47 state employees for every 10,000 people. In Ohio, they have 55. And in Missouri? We have 92 employees for every 10,000 people in our state. Because of this, we are 50th out of 50 in state employee pay.”

Greitens’ numbers on state employees are factually correct but highly misleading.

His conclusion on why Missouri workers are lowly paid is simplistic and wrong.

The governor appeared to get his data from a credible source, a Governing magazine story titled, “States With Most Government Employees: Totals and Per Capita Rates.”

It indeed shows Indiana with the fewest state government workers per 10,000 residents at 46, and has Missouri at 92. But the Show Me State’s mark is just the 26th highest one in the chart.

Now keep going up. Here’s Kansas at 94 and — choosing just a few more — New Jersey at 100, Connecticut at 115, West Virginia at 135, Delaware at 190 and, on top, Alaska at 245.

Missouri is nowhere near to having the kind of “bloated bureaucracy” that Greitens claimed.

As for his statement that the number of workers in Missouri forced the state to pay low wages, check this out.

A group called Illinois Policy, using 2014 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers, found that Missouri state workers indeed were near the bottom of the barrel in pay. Missouri was 42nd on the list of 50 states when adjusted for the cost of the living in the state.

Illinois — with the second lowest number of state workers per 10,000 residents — had the highest pay. That’s what Greitens would have you expect with his argument.

But Indiana — the No. 1 “best” state for low figures of state employees — clocked in with the 46th lowest pay when adjusted for inflation, even below Missouri. That’s not what Greitens is aiming for.

And New Jersey, which had a higher ratio of state workers than Missouri, was still the third best paying state in the nation. Again, that’s counter to Greitens’ argument. Other examples existed on the two lists.

The governor said he is “committed to civil service reform,” ostensibly to cut workers and improve pay. If that means making employees more efficient, great. But if it means wholesale slashing, that’s not good for Missourians expecting top-notch services.

— Greitens said he was going to support a “thorough, end-to-end audit of our tax credit system — and create a tax code that works not to benefit privileged insiders, but instead is fair to all.”

“Since 2010, almost $2 billion has been promised to special interests. The people taking the money swore that it was going to create jobs, but their performance hasn’t lived up to their promises. If special interest tax credits made for a prosperous economy, Missouri would be thriving.”

These credits certainly have been used for many good projects, including historical renovation in Kansas City and low-income housing in our city as well as St. Louis and elsewhere.

Still, I applaud Greitens for taking on the tax-credit crowd. Problems have popped up with almost all of the spending over the years. The amount of tax revenues diverted from the Missouri treasury has gone up, without sufficient proof that Missouri as a whole is always benefiting from the spending.

Tax credits have powerful supporters in the economic development crowd, as well as in the General Assembly.

Greitens faces a tough road finding out which tax credits should be reduced or jettisoned. He then faces an even bigger task in getting lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, to go along with him in making needed changes in 2017.

But more power to him.