By JASON TOLBERT
Arkansas News Bureau
This summer I have been trying to catch up on some of the classic books. I just finished reading George Orwell’s novel about a futuristic totalitarian government called “1984.” There was one particular passage that struck me. The protagonist Winston Smith is rebelling against the Party’s control of all information including the rewriting of history and current events to suit its own agenda.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows,” wrote Smith in his forbidden journal.
Eventually, Smith’s secret is discovered and he is imprisoned by the Party, which finds this passage written in his journal. He is tortured until he not only admits but comes to believe that if the Party says two and two make five that it is truth.
As odd as it may sound, this stood out to me largely from reading the numerous press releases and statements for various politicians that I see almost daily. Of course, none of these come close to the totalitarian mind control described by Orwell but they often spin numbers in such a way as to tell only the part of the story.
A press release on Tuesday from the office of Secretary of State Mark Martin is perfect example. The release proudly announced that six months after being sworn in, Martin’s office was $3.2 million under budget for a saving of 17.8 percent of the amount allocated by the state Legislature. Martin stated that the savings was brought about his staff embracing a “new way of doing business.” He also suggested that the savings could be used to save some proposed cuts in the state’s foster care system or provide a tax cut.
As great as this may sound, there is more to the story behind those numbers. Former House Joint Budget co-chairman Bruce Maloch, who is likely to run for the state Senate next year in southern Arkansas as a Democrat, explained that the budget for constitutional officers is funded out of something called the constitutional officers fund and state central services fund. The Legislature approves the appropriations, but they are not subject to a funding mechanism as like Revenue Stabilization Act. Typically, it is expected that the constitutional officers will spend around 85 percent of the amount appropriated, according to Maloch.
A review of the other constitutional officers’ budget proves Maloch correct. In fact, all seven offices will finish up the fiscal year well under budget limits. Governor Beebe’s office actually came out the best on a percentage basis, finishing the year 22.9 percent, or $1.3 million, under budget.
Coming in under budget is also nothing new for the Secretary of State’s office. In the previous fiscal year, the office finished $2 million, or 11.5 percent, under budget under the leadership of Secretary Charlie Daniels. Now this does bring up something for which Martin does deserve at least a small pat of the back. His office did spend around $730,000 less in this fiscal year than in the previous one. According to Martin’s office, this is in part due to the lower salary expenses and in part due to the additional expenses incurred last year preparing for the election cycle.
But overall, the braggadocios press release claiming a savings of $3.2 million was unnecessary oversell by Martin. This was no doubt prompted by across-the-board criticism of his management of office expenses, which are too numerous to list in this space. But perhaps he could take a tip from Gov. Beebe, who, according to numbers provided upon my request, spent less every year for the last three fiscal years and never put out a press release touting it.
When you run your office efficiently, the numbers speak for themselves.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.