If anyone thought the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Gov. Paul LePage were joined at the hip, there was definitive proof Wednesday that they are not.
In its latest report, "Right-sizing Maine's State Government Workforce," the conservative think tank chided the governor for not eliminating enough state workers to put Maine on the "path to prosperity."
Indeed, the governor's proposed budget only seeks to eliminate 81 positions and, as the MHPC points out, "only 12 will involve layoffs." That's out of a total state workforce in 2009 of 27,656.
To be fair, LePage has been in office only two months and has yet to fully embark on his promise to restructure state government.
The Policy Center's report argues that if Maine "right-sized" its state workforce, it could eliminate 3,880 employees, saving $185,635,011.
Now that's some serious savings. But how did the MHPC arrive at this number?
It was calculated by dividing the number of state government employees by private employees in the state. In 2009, state government employed 5.51 people for every 100 people employed in the private sector.
Compared to other states, Maine has the 21st highest ratio of state to private workers. Maine could save the $185.6 million by reducing its workforce ratio to the national average.
At first blush, this seems a curious calculation. Wouldn't it be better to divide the total number of residents by the total number of state employees?
After all, state government cannot simply choose to not serve old folks and children.
Be that as it may, there is an even more interesting curiosity buried in the MHPC numbers, the apparent correlation between the size of a state and its ratio of state-to-private employees.
A glance at the Sun Journal chart accompanying this editorial shows the problem.
The largest states seem to have the most favorable ratios of state employees. The average ratio for the five largest states in the U.S. is 3.59 per 100, while the average for the five smallest states is 7.38.
Why? We're guessing it has something to do with economies of scale. For instance, The Ohio State University has 56,064 students at its one campus in Columbus. The University of Maine System has about 32,000 students spread over eight campuses, including the law school.
One campus serving 56,000 students or eight serving 32,000. Which do you suppose would be more cost-effective?
The economies of scale apply to just about every governmental function, from purchasing to information technology.
When compared to states with similarly sized populations, Maine appears about average (if you throw out Hawaii), 5.51 per 100 here compared to an average of 5.70.
We are 100 percent in favor of having the most efficient, productive state workforce in the country, and we hope our new governor can achieve that over time.
But the recent MHPC report uses an apples-to-oranges comparison and may set unrealistic expectations.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.