The Gambling Bait and Switch, Surprising Workforce Stats, and Untracked Spending on Juvenile Justice

Plus: The unpredictable costs of trauma care, and more management news
September 20, 2012 AT 4:30 PM
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is

Maryland's proposal for expanded gambling is being promoted as a big benefit for local schools. But according to the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, "the real winners are the casino owners. There's no guarantee schools will see any new money at all. Any funding that comes in from the new gambling bill could be completely negated by cuts to other fund sources."

We think this is a critical point to make while the proposed expansion in gambling is being debated. All too often, we've been aware that gambling money promised to the schools is a chimera. The money may actually go to the schools, but then other sources of school revenues are cut and used for other purposes. The state may pick up extra cash, which isn't a bad thing. But the benefits for the schools are hardly a sure bet.

We don't know whether Minnesota's public workforce is typical of that in other states. But a handful of facts, which we suspect are not unusual, caught our eye in the annual workforce report from the state. At least a couple are rather jarring, in terms of their meaning for the future:

1. Of the people newly employed in 2011, nearly 58 percent were hired on an emergency, provisional, temporary or limited status.

2. Thirty-five percent of the workforce is between 50 and 60 years old. (Although the median age actually dropped from 51 in 2010 to 48 in 2011 because of the large number of retirements.)

3. Breaking the executive branch up into its component parts, the highest median age was 61 in Worker's Comp (which has 13 employees); the lowest was 29 in the governor's office (which has 52 employees).

4. The average retirement age in executive departments rose from 59.5 in 2002 to 61.7 in 2011.

5. The amount of overtime paid went up 22 percent between 2006 and 2011.

"Policymakers at every level of government ought to limit further cuts in audit and evaluation. Cutting back in those areas to save money is like trying to lose weight by shrinking your brain."

-- Mark Funkhouser in his September Governing column, "What We Need Our Auditors to Do."

In 2007, the California state Legislature decided it would be wise to move nonviolent juvenile offenders out of state prisons and into county facilities, through a process known as realignment. Currently this program costs the state around $90 million and covers about 2,500 young people. That's not a lot of money, nor a lot of people, considering the state's size. But a recent California auditor's report about the program uncovered some big holes in the kinds of information the state is getting about the money it's spending -- issues that we suspect are all too common when states hand off responsibilities to cities or counties.

According to the auditor:

  • "The reports could mislead decision makers and the public because outcomes for juvenile offenders cannot always be directly correlated to the block grant and also because counties use other sources of funds to serve them."
  • "The board does not give sufficient guidance to counties and does not adequately verify the accuracy of the information it collects from them."
  • "We discovered several limitations in using juvenile justice data from the counties and state departments in attempting to assess outcomes of realignment."

Much of the work we've done over the past 20-plus years has been an effort to persuade states, cities and geographic regions to learn from one another. Here's a case in point, which we think could yield some extremely valuable tools for reducing the cost of health care in America. It begins with a finding from Mapping the Cost of Medical Care, a study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, which shows that the costs of trauma care are far higher in some parts of the country than others.

Explained the report: "After controlling for a variety of factors that could bias the results - including injury severity, the presence of chronic illnesses, variations in regional prices for goods - the researchers estimated that the average per-person cost in the Northeast for trauma care for all five injury types combined was $14,022. The cost was 18 percent higher in the South, 22 percent more in the Midwest and 33 percent more in the West."

But here's the big news: The cost of care didn't appear to affect survival rates. So some people are getting equally good treatment as others, at a far lower price, depending on some geographically related variables. This information could help determine what is being done in lower cost areas that may be different and potentially useful elsewhere. "If doctors in the Northeast do things more economically and with good results, why can't doctors out West do the same thing? This study provides a potential road map for cutting unnecessary costs without hurting outcomes," says study leader Dr. Adil H. Haider, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of Hopkins' Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research.

The Global Business Travel Association Foundation conducts an annual study ranking the top 50 markets in the U.S. by the taxes levied on travelers, including general sales taxes and travel taxes. Its conclusion: "Business travel is a key driver of economic growth, but overly burdensome taxes on business travel can do more harm than good," according to Joseph Bates, vice president of research at the foundation.

When we looked at the list of the ten cities with the lowest single day travel taxes, that comment certainly seemed to hold up well. Among them are Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Honolulu, Hi.; and Orlando, Fla -- all successful destination spots.

But wait a minute. We then looked at the list of cities with the highest single day travel taxes. It was topped by Chicago, New York and Boston. Unless we're seriously mistaken, we don't think these cities are at a loss for tourist or business travel dollars.

Our guess? Like many other situations, the direct correlation between tax rates and business activities may be, at most, a tenuous one.

If you like podcasts, there's a new one you may want to start downloading. It's called "Adventures in Evaluation." According to its creators, "We aim to keep it relevant, practical and entertaining and will discuss a number of topics from the perspective of an internal evaluator ... and an external evaluator ... for about 20-30 minutes every 2-3 weeks. We're also planning to interview different innovators in the field of evaluation from around the globe on a variety of topics."

See what you think. "Adventures in Evaluation" is available for free on iTunes.

"The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works."

-- Clifford Stoll, astronomer (1995).

Conflicts are common between speedy service and effective service. Many performance measures focus on timeliness while neglecting the possibility that haste can make waste.

Apparently, Indiana may have fallen into that trap. The state has become a "national model ... for processing individual returns more quickly and efficiently," sources told the Associated Press. But the same sources went on to say that the state "may have been deficient in hiring staff with enough expertise to track a tax check through the entire processing system," and "there also may be problems with internal controls at the tax department caused in part by high turnover." These comments were made in the wake of an audit which reviewed some $526 million in tax errors made by the state's tax collection agency.

Manager's Reading List. Here are two new recommendations, courtesy of Scott Huizenga, city administrator of East Grand Forks, Minnesota.

  • Power: Why Some people Have It and Others Don't, by Jeffrey Pfeffer. "It is an unvarnished, if Machiavellian, view on how powerful leaders really grab power, as opposed to how some view transformational leaders in hindsight. It is not always pleasant reading. One may accuse author Jeffrey Pfeffer of being too cynical. But it is a classic, organized tome of power, for better or worse.
  • You Can't Fire Everyone: And Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager, by Hank Gilman. It's "a lighter read set in the news publishing industry," reports Huizenga. "Gilman offers advice from his own struggles with constant organizational cutbacks, stellar and mediocre employees, and his own power struggles on the industry."