Math is recognized as a tool that ought to yield black-and-white answers to the questions of the day without the smoke and mirrors often used in politics to make specific points. Some math calculations used by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, however, recently came into question because they were being used to make a point that his administration had significantly reduced spending compared to his predecessor.
Brownback’s calculations were wrong — and by a lot.
The governor overstated the spending by former Gov. Mark Parkinson’s administration by $2 billion — yes, that’s “billion,” not “million” — which negated the point Brownback was attempting to make to constituents in his apparently oft-used PowerPoint presentation to organizations across the state. The miscalculation was brought to light by a recent report in the Wichita Eagle, following Brownback’s presentation to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“Numbers showing reduced spending in the last two years came from Brownback’s Budget Division, but they don’t match what’s reported in the state budget book. Last week, Elaine Frisbie, deputy director of the division, confirmed that Brownback’s chart was incorrect,” according to the Wichita Eagle’s report.
“(I) believe the issue is an erroneous number I had previously given Sherriene (Jones-Sontag) in the governor’s office out of a separate spreadsheet,” she said in an email, according to the report.
Flawed numbers can prove devastating when policy decisions at the Legislature are being based on them.
Brownback certainly has made a lot of changes during his tenure, but it will be important to look at the real numbers to see if those changes actually yielded savings and improved services or if they merely served to rearrange the proverbial deck chairs without any measureable gains. Numbers can provide great metrics to gauge a department, organization or even government’s performance, but ensuring the accuracy of the numbers is essential before they can carry any weight.
Fact-checking is essential with every organization and government entity. Thanks to at least one reporter’s vigilance at checking and re-checking the “facts” the real numbers emerged.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher