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"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Apples to apples

In the rush to condemn, in the wake of the Auditor General's final (really!) report on the House of Assembly scandal, a great deal of hay has been made of naming the MHAs who spent the most on booze, "donations", or double-billing.

What hasn't happened is any attempt to put the raw figures into context. After all, not all MHAs had, or have had, the same length of time in the House of Assembly. Nor did all MHAs have access to the same pile of constituency-allowance cash.

It would be very hard, for example, for Clayton Forsey, who has been in office for only one full fiscal year, to have blown as much money as Ed Byrne, who was there for 13, or Wally Andersen, for 11. Similarly, MHAs from rural and remote districts had different allowance allocations than those from Sin City.

But no one — this means you, St. John's Telegram — bothered to account for such differences.

So, as a public service, here is an apples-to-apples comparison which will adjust for length of service and the amount of allowance that the MHAs were entitled to draw on.


Category One: Double Billing.

This is a problematic category, as much, if not most, of the "double billing" problem may end up being revealed to be a problem with House administration, not with the MHAs filing the claims.

In any event, on an annualized basis, the top-ten largest amounts double-billed per fiscal year were:

N  Collins, Randy  3457$
L Andersen, Wally 1589
C Byrne, Ed 1497
C Goudie, Kathy 1273
C Hickey, John 1257

L Aylward, Kevin 1115
L Jones, Yvonne 1106
L Vey, Gary 931
L Tulk, Beaton 724
C Shelley, Paul 701
As a percentage of their overall allowances, the top-ten double-billing MHAs were:

L  Vey, Gary       5.27%
L Matthews, Lloyd 4.03
N Collins, Randy 3.59
L Aylward, Kevin 3.51
C Goudie, Kathy 3.30
C Hickey, John 3.12
C Byrne, Ed 3.02

L Tulk, Beaton 2.91
C French, Terry 2.55
C Ridgley, Bob 2.25
Overall winner? In one assessment a Dipper took top spot; in the other, a Liberal. All three parties are represented on both lists; five Liberals dominate the first list, while five Tories dominate the second. A draw.


Category Two: Vote-buying.

Nothing says "I love you, now vote for me" quite like a donation. The overall champions for "donating", according to Noseworthy's list, are or were all long-serving MHAs, ranging from Wally Anderson, who "donated" almost $90,000 over 11 years, to Roger Grimes's 37K over 17 years. Of the top ten, only Liberal Sandra Kelly served less than 10 full fiscal years in the House, and the top ten averaged nearly 13 years in office. On a partisan basis, there are six Liberals in the top ten, and four Tories.

However, when you adjust for time served — perhaps not the best choice of phrase — and the amounts available for an MHA to "donate", a different picture emerges.

On an annualized basis, the top-ten largest amounts "donated" per fiscal year were:

C  Hickey, John    8277$
L Andersen, Wally 8087
C Whalen, Dianne 7325
C Williams, Danny 7126
L Foote, Judy 6285
C Skinner, Shawn 6207
L Butler, Roland 5847
C Marshall, Tom 5831
C Ridgley, Bob 5214
C Byrne, Ed 4868
Not just Tories, but Little Ms. Fiscal Propriety herself, and the Premier, figure prominently on this list. Curiously, other than John Hickey and the Premier, who at least notionally is not a St. John's MHA, the Townie Tory caucus dominate the category.

The same thing happens, only more so, when you adjust for allowance amount. As a percentage of their overall allowances, the top-ten "donating" MHAs were:

C  Whalen, Dianne          49.05%
C Skinner, Shawn 46.96
C Dunderdale, Kathy 46.90
C Ridgley, Bob 38.21
C Marshall, Elizabeth 34.23
C Osborne, Tom 30.16
L Kitchen, Hubert 30.10
C Osborne, Sheila 26.30
C Denine, David 25.96
C Ottenheimer, John 25.49
Number 11, by the way, is Danny Williams himself, at 24.26%. Little Ms. Fiscal Propriety shows up again, as do eight other Tories, all Townie Tories. All but the Osbornes, Sr. and Jr., and Ottenheimer Jr., are recent additions to the House of Assembly; six were elected in the Blue Wave of 2003 that was elected, we are told, to clean the mess up. And all but Ottenheimer are incumbents who are running again, if you are looking for anyone to punish.

Winners, and still champion vote-buyers: The Progressive Conservatives, in a cakewalk. Or a raffle. Or a turkey supper. Or something like that.


Category Three: Hooch

The expense-account boozing is the one category where total amounts and apples-to-apples adjusted amounts match up the best. From Paul Dicks to Tom - erm - Lush, the top-ten total hooch hounds on Noseworthy's list are all Liberals, with the sole exception of retired Tory Paul Shelley. In fairness to MHAs past and present, taxpayer hooch was indulged in by the fewest MHAs of any of the Big Three categories, and it was also the smallest dollar value of the Big Three sub-scandals. Not that it matters.

Adjusted on an apples-to-apples basis, Paul Shelley's name disappears. The Tories aren't entirely off the hook, though. On an annualized basis, the top-ten largest amounts of alcohol-only claims per fiscal year were made by:

L  Dicks, Paul            2627$
L Andersen, Wally 1407
L Sweeney, George 1291
L Parsons, Kelvin 1095
L Hodder, Mary 730
L Noel, Walter 596
L Joyce, Ed 466
C Goudie, Kathy 303
L Tulk, Beaton 264
C Marshall, Elizabeth 227
There's Little Ms Fiscal Propriety again.

As a percentage of their overall allowances, the top-ten tipplers were:

L  Dicks, Paul             9.22%
L Noel, Walter 4.63
L Sweeney, George 3.87
L Hodder, Mary 2.08
L Parsons, Kelvin 2.01
C Marshall, Elizabeth 1.75
L Andersen, Wally 1.33
L Aylward, Joan Marie 1.17
L Joyce, Ed 1.07
L Tulk, Beaton 1.06
Paul Dicks' figures, rightfully so, have been denounced as staggering. (Ha!) The Liberal sweep is spoiled only by the pesky presence, yet again, of a former Auditor-General.

Winners of the publicly-subsidized pub crawl? Liberals, hands (and knees) down.


Overall Triathlon Winner

To recap, there were three categories in the Triathlon of Bad, Bad Spending that the Auditor-General singled out for special condemnation: double-billing, "donations", and alcohol-only expense claims.

"Donations", by far and away, represented the largest amount of improper spending, at nearly $1.5-million since 1989. The $212,000 in double-billing, and $119,000 in booze, as outrageous as they are in relative terms, are much smaller in absolute ones.

It's because of the heavy skewing of the "donations" line item that, on an apples-to-apples comparison, the Tories do not come out smelling as much like roses, or the Liberals like manure, as the Premier (or others; hi, others!) would like.

On an annualized basis, the total amount of "improper spending", per MHA, per fiscal year, the top ten are:

L  Andersen, Wally    11083.45$
C Hickey, John 9534.00
C Whalen, Dianne 7422.33
C Williams, Danny 7256.20
L Foote, Judy 6423.36
C Byrne, Ed 6394.69
C Skinner, Shawn 6305.33
L Butler, Roland 6169.60
C Marshall, Tom 6025.33
L Sweeney, George 5957.75
The gold medallist is former Liberal MHA Wally Andersen... but it's a little like being the one Romanian who manages to snatch the Olympic championship in a field otherwise dominated by the Chinese.

As a percentage of their overall allowances, the top-ten "money-wasting" MHAs were or are:
C  Whalen, Dianne       49.7%
C Skinner, Shawn 47.7
C Dunderdale, Kathy 47.3
C Ridgley, Bob 40.5
C Marshall, Elizabeth 36.9
C Osborne, Tom 31.9
L Kitchen, Hubert 30.1
C Osborne, Sheila 27.2
C Denine, David 26.0
C Ottenheimer, John 25.5
Every one, except Hubert Kitchen, a Tory; every one, except Kitchen and Ottenheimer, a re-offering Tory incumbent; and of those, only the Osbornes were not first elected on the coat-tails of the guy who was going to clean it all up.

And speaking of him, here's the next five in the overall percentage ranking:
C  Williams, Danny     24.7%
C Hickey, John 23.7
L Foote, Judy 21.5
C Marshall, Tom 21.0
L Kelly, Sandra 19.3
Another three Tories, another three re-offering Tory incumbents, including Mr. Clean-Up-The-Liberal-Mess himself.

It's a good thing he cleaned it up.

Just imagine how ugly things would have gotten if the Osbornes, Beth Marshall, or Danny Williams ended up serving as MHAs as long as the long-time Liberals who preceded them.

3 Comments:

At 11:12 PM, September 18, 2007 , Blogger canadian.dry said...

can't agree with the way this is done, although I think it's good to pour over the numbers and try to take into account as much information as possible. But really, if someone double billed 300 bucks one year, they could go the next 10 years without over spending a single cent. That's also to say they could double bill 10,000 a year for the next 10 years. I say just take the numbers as they, black and white, without twisting them in any way. Maybe that's asking for more than they deserve.


Also, for the donations....... I'm not entirely sold yet that this is as inappropriate as the other practices. I mean, the public was aware it was happening. No one was hiding the fact that the donation money was coming from the provincial treasury. Now that justice green has said that the practice is inappropriate, it will stop. However, I don't think the donation spending should be weighted as heavy as in your calculations.

 
At 11:22 PM, September 18, 2007 , Blogger WJM said...

But really, if someone double billed 300 bucks one year, they could go the next 10 years without over spending a single cent.

Exactly. "The way this is done" takes that into account.

I say just take the numbers as they, black and white, without twisting them in any way.

How are they "twisted"?

Also, for the donations....... I'm not entirely sold yet that this is as inappropriate as the other practices.

The AG said they were.

They are also the lion's share of the improper spending he identified.

I mean, the public was aware it was happening. No one was hiding the fact that the donation money was coming from the provincial treasury.

No? You sure of that?

Now that justice green has said that the practice is inappropriate, it will stop.

Yet the new rules don't come in until October 9th...

However, I don't think the donation spending should be weighted as heavy as in your calculations.

That's why there's the separate breakout for the three categories identified.

And there's no exceptional weighting of the donations: a donated dollar counts for the same as a liquor dollar or a double-billed dollar.

 
At 10:55 PM, September 19, 2007 , Blogger canadian.dry said...

With respect to the numbers, I just mean it's better to show all the information. Show the total amounts, and the total years in office. Twisted was the wrong word to use.


"The AG said they were.

They are also the lion's share of the improper spending he identified."

That is the AG's opinion. The former AG said donations were appropriate on CBC radio this morning, and she knew about the pratice while she was the AG.




"No? You sure of that?"

Yes. I knew it. You knew it. The former auditor general knew it. It wasn't being hidden, as constituents were receiving the money, not the MHA.

"Yet the new rules don't come in until October 9th..."

Fair enough.

"That's why there's the separate breakout for the three categories identified.

And there's no exceptional weighting of the donations: a donated dollar counts for the same as a liquor dollar or a double-billed dollar."

Exactly. The donations are weighted equally with everything else. So when you do your total "improper spending" numbers, it puts people who made more donations near the top of the pile, and as I've said, I don't feel the donations are as horrible as the other improper spending.


On a side note, I think what Paul Dicks did was pretty slick. Under the old EIC rules, if an MHA bought a capital asset (over $1,000), it was considered the property of the government. However, after three years it is considered to be fully depreciated with a book value of zero, and title transfers to the MHA. So if you buy a computer for your office, after three years it's considered your computer. Not a big deal considering the computer probably doesn't have much value after three years. But Paul Dicks bought ART and WINE, which INCREASES in value. So not only did he use tax payer money on improper things, he used that money to make even more money. Terrible.

 

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