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Before calling for state agencies to spend less, Gov. Greg Abbott delivered a barbed comparison.
"Now many of us in this room including myself have ridiculed states like California and Illinois as bastions of failed big government," Abbott said in his Feb. 17, 2015, State of the State address in the Texas House chamber. "You’ll be as surprised as I was to learn that Texas has more full-time state employees per capita than California and Illinois."
"That was shocking – and I think it must be changed," Abbott continued.
Abbott’s office didn’t respond to our request for factual backup for his Texas-to-Californ’ois comparison, but R.J. DeSilva, staff spokesman for the Legislative Budget Board, pointed out a chart in the agency’s latest Fiscal Size-up report, published in 2014. The chart indicates that in 2011, Texas state government had 124 full-time equivalent positions for every 10,000 residents, the same ratio as Wisconsin, and also lower than the ratios for 42 states. Still, as Abbott declared, California, with 108 such positions per 10,000 residents, and Illinois, with 102, were among a few states with fewer full-time positions in state government for every 10,000 residents.
Here's the whole list:
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau as cited in Figure 75, "Fiscal Size-up, 2014-15 Biennium," Legislative Budget Board, February 2014.
More recent figures
Seeking more up-to-date data, we emailed a U.S. Census Bureau spokesman, Robert Bernstein, who guided us to the bureau’s March 2013 survey of state government employment, its latest tally. To reach per-capita counts, Bernstein recommended we compare the figures to the agency’s July 2013 state-by-state population estimates, which he sent us.
We focused on the bureau’s "full-time employment" counts for each state government, which reflected all agencies including institutions of higher education--though not part-time workers, who fill many roles in public colleges and universities, a bureau expert, Jesse Willhide, advised.
Upshot: The figures suggest Texas in 2013 had 105 full-time state government workers per 10,000 residents; California had 85; Illinois 79. We also checked full-time equivalent comparisons for the states, which would fold in part-time employees. By this filter, Texas had 119 full-time equivalent workers per 10,000 residents; California 103; Illinois 99.
We ran these figures by Kate Johanns of the Texas Public Employees Association, which lobbies on behalf of Texas state employees and retirees, and Eva DeLuna Castro, a fiscal affairs expert for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for programs serving low-income residents. Both pointed out the bureau’s state government employee counts might seem inflated because they roll in workers at public colleges and universities, which draw on income streams besides the state budget Abbott was talking about.
Moreover, Castro suggested, comparisons of employee ratios between states don’t account for different ways different states deliver services. Knowing "what’s a local responsibility in one state versus another is important, because it’s the combined effort that matters," Castro emailed. "That’s why many analysts doing state-level comparisons use the State + Local FTE (full-time equivalent) count." Her nudge led us to tap census bureau data for 2013 covering state and local full-time government employees; Texas had 5 for every 100 residents; Illinois 4.4; California 3.8.
Hoping for out-of-state insight, we reached Scott Moody, a New Hampshire-based senior fellow with the Illinois Policy Institute, a research group that says it generates policy ideas promoting personal freedom and prosperity in the Land of Lincoln.
By phone and email, Moody agreed it makes more comparative sense to focus on state plus local government workers state by state, which he does in his research presenting ratios of government workers to every 100 workers in the private sector drawing on employee counts from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. The private-sector comparison is helpful, Moody said, because government agencies and the private sector "both draw from the pool of labor. In the very short-term, hiring more government workers reduces the pool of labor for the private and vice-versa. This is an important dynamic that is lost in per-capita comparisons," he said.
With Moody’s help, we downloaded a chart indicating that in 2013, Texas had more state/local full- and part-time government workers for every 100 workers in the private sector than California or Illinois:
Source: Website, "Govt Workforce," Key Policy Data (accessed Feb. 19, 2015)
Broadly, Moody told us, he sees value in comparing a state’s ratio to the national average. "If you’ve above the national average," Moody said, "that’s a good sign you’re out of whack." In 2013, when Texas had 105 full-time state government workers per 10,000 residents, the national average was 117, according to the census bureau.
Per Moody, six states in 2013 had fewer state employees per 100 private-sector workers than Texas: Pennsylvania, California, Nevada, New York, Florida and Illinois. And Texas, which had nearly 4 state employees per 100 private workers, ranked among 30 states with a lower ratio than the national average of nearly 6 state workers per 100 private employees, Moody found. Most recently, according to his research, the ratio of Texas state workers to private-sector workers declined from 2010 through 2013, the last year shown. Also, that year’s ratio of nearly 3.8 was down about 17 percent from the 4.6 state workers for every 100 private-sector counterparts--the highest mark since 1979--in 1994.
Source: Website, "Govt Workforce," Key Policy Data (accessed Feb. 19, 2015)
Abbott said that to his shock, Texas has more full-time state employees per capita than California and Illinois.
That's so. However, this claim lacked substantial context; Abbott cherry-picked two of a few states with lower per-capita state-employee rates than Texas, failing to note Texas ranks among states with the lowest proportion of state government workers. Notably too, its ratio in 2013 trailed the national average.
On balance, we rate this claim Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Report, "Fiscal Size-up, 2014-15 Biennium," Legislative Budget Board, February 2014 (noted in an email from R.J. DeSilva, communications officer, LBB, Feb. 17, 2015)
Charts, "State Government Employment and Payroll Data: March 2013 more information 2013 Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll," U.S Census Bureau (accessed Feb. 18, 2015)
Emails (excerpted) including 2013 population estimates for the states, Robert Bernstein, public affairs specialist, and Jesse Willhide, section chief, Employment Statistics Branch, Economy-Wide Statistics Division, U.S Census Bureau, Feb. 18, 2015
Emails (excerpted), Kate Johanns, director of Marketing and Communications, Texas Public Employees Association, Feb. 18, 2015
Email (excerpted), Eva DeLuna Castro, Investing in Texas program director, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Feb. 18, 2015
Telephone interview and emails, Scott Moody, senior fellow, Illinois Policy Institute, CEO, State Budget Solutions, Town of Haverhill, N.H., Feb. 19, 2015
Website, "Govt Workforce," Key Policy Data (accessed Feb. 19, 2015)
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