ECON 5100 - "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics" taught by Dr. Parker at UNR
and Dr. Smastresk at UNLV
Dr. Elliot Parker, the chair of the economics department at UNR, penned a column in the Las Vegas Sun this weekend that contained a few errors. I'm not surprised - I've noticed that he's less than honest when it comes to advocating for his own job (he makes $143,282 a year in salary and benefits).
As the chair of the economics department and member of the faculty senate, it is his job to advocate for more spending for his university - a school that is mostly white, educates very few low-income children and spends more than $35,000 per pupil, but still can't graduate 50 percent of the students after 6 years. Dr. Parker calls that success, I call that robbing the poor to pay the Ph.D.
Back to the topic at hand; Dr. Parker's nonsense:
1) "The budget was cut from $6.9 billion to $6.2 billion"
A) Not exactly; the general fund budget was cut from $6.9 billion to $6.5 billion in 2010 then to nearly $6.3 billion in $2011 - it wasn't overnight as Parker alludes. Btw, the $6.9 billion is a record setting budget that occurred during our economic boom and the legislature tried to sustain the housing boom spending with tax hikes in 2009.
2) "For comparison, our gross state product fell by 6.5 percent from peak to trough in this recession, and our personal income fell by 7.3 percent."
A). Again, Dr. Parker is appears dishonest by deliberately "hiding the ball." He's comparing the overall economy to 1/3rd of the state budget. The General Fund budget is money the state legislature can play with from year to year but it does not represent the totality of all state spending. In fact, most of the revenues are dedicated automatically to pressing and essential services of education and health and human services.When looking at the OVERALL state budget, not just the general fund, the difference between the legislatively approved and Governor Sandoval's original proposal (which Parker finds appalling) was a 6.9 percent decline from the peak- right in line with the metrics Parker cited. We probably wouldn't see much of a difference if we tossed in local government spending either, especially once you toss back in the $620 million in unexpired taxes. I'd wager we'd probably be under a 4 percent decline at that point.
Contrary to popular opinion, it appears general fund spending will be
in line with the last 20 years of growth.
We should also note that the economic peak occurred about 2 years earlier than the government spending peak. In other words, Nevada's state legislature tried to keep the good times rolling - for state employees. - longer than was economically possible...
3) "Nevada spends just 0.65 percent of its GSP on higher education"
A). Who cares! This is monumental nonsense. A state can spend more per pupil than others yet less as a percentage of GSP on account of having a higher GSP, or fewer students, or both. This is the case with Nevada. There are also a number of other reasons why looking at this figure is complete nonsense. I already covered that in my blog post "Debunking Meaningless Statistics About Higher Education" here.
4) "Nevada ranks 49th for higher education spending"
A). Only when looking at spending as a percentage of GSP - which, as I mentioned above, is nonsense. When looking at what matters - HOW MUCH IS SPENT PER PUPIL ON INSTRUCTION AND RESEARCH - Nevada's higher education spending ranked 15th highest! Don't believe me, examine the Delta Cost Project report "Trends in College Spending" yourself. See, Table 13 on page 33.
Lots of people tell me Dr. Parker is an excellent teacher, and maybe he is. But as a researcher he's terrible; or at least misleading when it comes to Nevada politics and higher education. I may sound like I'm being mean, but this isn't the first time Dr. Parker used bogus data or just made up facts in order to drum up more tax dollars for his employer: (Check out my article from 2009 "Government, a different animal." A very simple regression analysis completely whipped out Dr. Parker's thesis).
Once again, Dr. Parker is flat out wrong about higher education spending and statistics. He is correct, however, that Nevada could use a new tax code - not for more money, but for a more stable tax base.