Jerry Kopel

Feb 26th.

Colorado has a lot to be proud of (besides the Broncos) and a lot to be disappointed about (besides the Nuggets). Coloradans LIKE competition, whether it's in sports or government. We like to think we are BETTER than our sister states.

A credible national magazine, Governing, covers local and state government, and has put together a supplement called "State and Local Sourcebook, 1999". It compares all fifty states on a number of issues ranking from economic momentum (we do well) to public school pupil-teacher ratio (we do badly).

"Most of our data" writes the editor "comes from federal government agencies", some just released as 1995 U.S. Census Bureau figures, and other numbers as recent as September of 1998 by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Of special interest is a category labeled "State Economic Momentum". The publisher writes, "The national average is set at zero, so roughly half the states appear with minus numbers. Each state's index value reflects its performance relative to the average.

"The index is constructed by averaging the most recent one-year growth rates in three areas: Employment, personal income and population."

Colorado, in September of 1998, ranked THIRD in the nation. Nevada was first and Arizona was second. Colorado jumped from eighth in 1995 to third in 1998. The worst state for economic momentum in September of 1998? It's one that depends on tourists who haven't come: Hawaii.

Our state ranked FIRST in the nation in employment, claims the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1998. We had a total labor force of 2,281,000 or 58.6 percent of the total population. Tied for second were Wisconsin and Minnesota with 58.5 percent each.

On personal income, we averaged $27,051 in 1997, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That placed us ninth in the nation. (We would have been much lower except for Douglas County). Connecticut was first with $36,263 and Mississippi was last with $18,272.

Colorado has 709 state and local employees per 10,000 population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1998. That means seven out of every 100 Coloradans (including babies and senior citizens) is a public employee.

Actually, we are BELOW the average on state employees. We went from 64,000 in 1993 to 69,000 in 1998, but that still placed us 30th in the nation on employees with 184 per 10,000 population. Since our state population went up considerably in that five year period, a 5,000 gain in state employees is not out of line.

But the story is different as to local public employees in Colorado. There was a 25,000 increase in that same time period, 197,000 in 1998 vs. 172,000 in 1993. That placed Colorado 13th in the nation, with 525 local public employees per 10,000 population.

Guess which REPUBLICAN state had the MOST state and local public employees per 10,000 population in the nation?

It was Wyoming, with 1,054 state and public local employees per 10,000. One out of every 10 Wyoming citizens including babies and the elderly, is a government employee. And this study by Governing doesn't include federal employees.

Actually Wyoming's total government employees DROPPED between 1993 to 1998 from 51,000 to 50,000. So Wyoming has had the dubious honor of the most government employees for a number of years.

Recently released U.S. Census Bureau numbers of 1995 shows the average salary for Colorado state employees was sixth in the nation. That's probably due to the strong government union, CAPE. The average salary of local public employees was 22nd.

Some of the information from Governing displaced fallacies about Colorado. While we certainly had a dramatic increase in prison population over the last 14 years, (as I wrote about recently in the Statesman) we still have only 342 prisoners per 10,000 population according to 1997 Justice Department numbers. That puts us smack dab in the middle of the states, at 25th.

If you want larger numbers of prisoners, you have to go to Texas, which has 717 prisoners per 10,000 population, followed by Louisiana and Oklahoma.

And we are NOT loaded down with Medicaid enrollees. We had 369,000 according to the 1997 U.S. Census Bureau numbers, which as a percentage of population, tied us with New Hampshire for 49th in the nation, just above Nevada.

However, on non-Medicaid health insurance coverage, Colorado had 592,000 persons uninsured, which is 15.1 percent of the population. That placed us 23rd in the nation.

One area Colorado can be proud of is the low percentage of children in poverty. According to Urban Institute numbers for 1995, Colorado was 47th in the nation with 12.4 percent. First is Louisiana with nearly three times a higher percentage of children in poverty.

However, by National Education Association figures for 1997, Colorado's pupil per teacher ratio was 18.5 students per teacher, the NINTH worst in the nation. Best state was Rhode Island with 13.3 students per teacher. The worst state was Utah with 23.1 students per teacher.

And Coloradans are NOT over-taxed. On total tax revenues, both state and local, Colorado is right in the middle, 25th in the average amount of tax per person. As to how those taxes reflect a percentage of personal income of Coloradans, we are 40th in the nation.

There is one statistic that is probably misleading. On higher education enrollment as a percent of population (210,312 students according to the U.S. Dept. of Education for 1995) we are tied for seventh best in the nation. But the numbers don't tell us how many of those students are from out-of-state.

There are a number of other statistics we won't discuss in detail, but you can get your own copy of the Source Book. We're 16th in the nation in spending on police protection. On environmental spending as a percentage of personal income, we are 46th. And Colorado's welfare caseload dropped 49 percent between 1994 and 1997, the sixth best percentage change in the nation.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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