It’s very difficult for the average citizen to understand what’s going on in the world. Misleading statements from governments, trade groups, labor, and others trying to sway the public’s perception (usually with professional help) don’t make things any easier. A classic of this genre appeared recently as a letter to the editor of the Times Union. The letter, from a representative of the School Boards’ Association, suggests local school boards have held the line on staff salaries. While certain (low) increases are detailed to the 100th of one per cent, the letter casually dismisses the “step increases,” which appear to be another type of negotiated salary increase, without mentioning the amount of such increases, either in dollars or as a per cent of base salary. Without this information, how is one supposed to know how much total salaries have gone up and, therefore, how much the line has been held compared to prior years?
Groups criticizing proposed budget “cuts” often employ a similar tactic when decrying cuts of a given per cent from the prior year’s budget when they actually are talking about a per cent reduction in the rate of growth of a certain budget item. While a reduction in the expected rate of growth in a budget line item may affect the services paid for by that item, the average person, I suspect, would assume that a “cut,” say, of 5% means that the item is being funded at an amount 5% less than it was the prior year, not that the rate of growth of the expense has been reduced.
I’m not saying the underlying premise of the letter was false; I’m only saying that the letter did not demonstrate the validity of that premise due to the Orwellian double-talk it employed. I would have liked to have had a better explanation, if not quantification, of those step increases, which would have allowed me to determine for myself the truth of the writer’s assertion.