Thursday, February 16, 2006

Conservative Expert Provides Less-Than-Expert Testimony

Conservative Republicans brought out economist Barry Poulson as their expert on the revenue restrictions amendment at yesterday's invitation-only legislative hearing (UW-Madison economist Andrew Reschovsky was not invited).

According to a press release by the pro-amendment conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), Poulson is one of the group's scholars. At the hearing he expressed the view that "the Taxpayer Protection Amendment would effectively protect taxpayers while placing the state budget back on the road to fiscal health."

Unfortunately, no actual statistical analysis was presented by Poulson, let alone any data that's at all specific to the Wisconsin situation (at least from what was noted in the AFP press release). In fact, Poulson lives and does his work in Colorado, where he serves as a professor of economics at the University of Colorado in addition to serving as an adjunct scholar with the conservative Heritage Foundation. Interestingly, Colorado is also the state that adopted a TABOR amendment over a decade ago and is now largely reeling from its harmful effects.

What Poulson did present at the hearing was the view that by "evening out" public revenue streams it would allow for a more steady impact on personal income. What Poulson doesn't mention is that the revenue restrictions amendment has nothing to do with personal income--the revenues are restricted by increases in inflation along with population growth. If this is about keeping revenue in line with personal income, why not tie increases in revenue to increases in personal income?

In fact, according to economist Andrew Reschovsky's actual statistical analysis of the revenue restrictions amendment as it relates to the Wisconsin situation, "state and local taxes in Wisconsin relative to state personal income are considerably lower today than they were 10 years ago. ... According to the Census Bureau, in terms of state and local general revenue relative to state personal income, Wisconsin ranks 23rd from the top, only a few tenths of a percentage point above the national average."

So the generalized point Poulson was making in his expert testimony, in reality, does not even apply to the revenue restrictions amendment proposed by Republican leaders or the actual fiscal situation in Wisconsin.

The rest of Poulson's testimony, at least the parts we're able to see through the AFP press release, basically summarizes the amendment in such a way that simply parrots back the rhetorical talking points made by pro-amendment state legislators and groups over the course of the past week.

So while Poulson's credentials may make him an expert, there was really nothing "expert" about the testimony he provided yesterday.

NOTE: I tried to find some actual statistical analyses by Poulson on revenue restrictions issues in other states, but all of the links provided on his website are dead. I don't doubt some are out there somewhere, but the burden of locating an actual statistical analysis on or highly related to the Wisconsin situation, however, really does rest with the pro-amendment advocates, not me.

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