Just the Fax, Ma’am: Dubious “Rankings” Press Release Emphasizes Importance of Transparency (part 2)
In part one of this post, I discussed a document posted to Governor Mike Parson’s webpage containing some claims that I suspected were too good to be true. The document lacked citations, and I struggled to find sources corroborating its claims, so I was compelled to submit a Sunshine request asking for the information. Using the archaic method of faxing, I sent a letter to the governor’s office and awaited a response.
Several days later I received a reply by, of all things, email! Thankfully, the Governor’s office sent just what I wanted: the statistics and sources behind its claims. I must note that the original graphic was updated after I sent the Sunshine request (e.g., the word “low” was removed from “Low Cost of Doing Business”). Also, while each of the office’s claims does correspond to a study, index, or ranking in the real world, your mileage may vary regarding their persuasiveness.
Some citations used by the governor are very subjective. Several of the statistics, such as “On-the-Job Training” and “Apprenticeships” were from Missouri Government agencies, which doesn’t strike me as the most unbiased source of information. The document I received also—somewhat—answers my question from the last post and clarifies the statistic as “New Apprenticeships,” but the website’s graphic remains unchanged in that regard.
In some cases, the claim is ambiguous; the second-place ranking for state-level veteran benefits is based on the number of distinct benefits offered but does not consider that one benefit may be much more or less valuable than another. Again, a very subjective ranking.
And even when the statistics could be represented more favorably for the governor, they remain misleading. The “Fourth for Personal Income Tax” is certainly not measuring the lowest or highest personal income tax rates. There are eight states with no income tax (nine if you include New Hampshire), and Missouri isn’t one of them. It turns out that the governor’s office was relying on a report that ranks governors, not states. The “personal income tax” metric is derived not only by the level of income tax, but how much it has changed over each governor’s term—the governor can thank his special session last October for getting him so highly ranked on this metric.
I do appreciate that the governor’s office didn’t drag its feet with my request and provided sources for each of the claims, but I shouldn’t have had to submit a Sunshine request in the first place. It should be standard practice for the government to include sources for the claims in the documents they produce and, more to the point, practice transparency without hiding behind a fax machine. Thankfully, there are organizations like the Show-Me Institute that employ summer interns who can hold our government accountable.
*pats self on back*
If you are interested in checking out the sources yourself, click here to see the .pdf file I received from the governor’s office.