Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 16, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Pols looking to pump image find plenty of stats

Selective use of data is old hat in Indiana.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — It’s no secret politicians love to pump up their home state at the expense of neighboring competitors, but rarely have they had so many groups, studies and reports at hand ready to back up whatever they need.

Want a top ranking in economic development? There’s a study for that. Need a report showing Indiana’s jobs situation is stellar and Illinois’ is one step away from being declared an international disaster zone? There’s a business publication for that.

Gov. Mike Pence has continued that well-worn tradition among Indiana governors, but it was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who delivered the starkest example in Indiana last week. Speaking before Republican donors at an Indianapolis fundraiser, Walker laid out one of his reasons for running for governor: Wisconsin’s poor standing with Chief Executive magazine.

“Our state, Wisconsin, we were ranked 43 in the chief executive rankings. In fact, Illinois was the same, and sadly today with Democrat leadership they’re at number 48, so they haven’t changed much in the last four years. Last month in that ranking, we moved from 43 four years ago up to number 17,” he said to loud applause.

Hecklers on Twitter, meanwhile, posted their own numbers and rankings showing the state taking a U-turn for the worse under Walker’s direction.

“Will Walker include this in his keynote to @indgop tonight?” asked one Wisconsin union supporter, @SpudLovr, who tweeted a graph showing Wisconsin’s private-sector job creation dropping to the worst in the nation.

Selective use of data and statistics is old hat in Indiana politics, as much as Wisconsin or any other state.

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels was fond of saying Hoosiers enjoyed some of the lowest state debt per person, citing a report from the conservative State Budget Solutions. But another conservative-leaning group, Tax Foundation, determined earlier this year that Indiana falls in the middle of the pack, with its residents carrying $3,405 in debt per person. Michigan and Ohio residents carried a couple hundred less, and Illinois and Wisconsin residents were on the hook for more.

As it turns out, Indiana falls just about in the middle of most objective national rankings, much like its geographical placement among states. Graduation rates are in the middle of the pack, as are average earnings, despite a slight decline in median annual income over the last decade.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates unemployment rates, lists Indiana as one of the worst in the nation, tied with Georgia and Tennessee at 8.3 percent. It’s not as bad as Illinois, which is hobbled with a 9.1 percent rate, but a far cry from North Dakota, which has 3.2 percent unemployment thanks to an ongoing gas and oil boom.

But Money-Rates.com still ranked Indiana the 15th-best state “to make a living” in an April report, based on a mix of factors including unemployment, cost of living and tax rates. Wisconsin came in at No. 25.

And that Chief Executive ranking Walker mentioned last week? Indiana topped Wisconsin; which might explain some of the hearty applause for the Wisconsinite’s choice of sources.

Tom LoBianco covers Indiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @tomlobianco.