Reversing course, the Ducey administration on Tuesday jettisoned plans to cancel upcoming briefings on the state’s jobless situation.
“We believe it’s vital that this information on the unemployment numbers is out, that it’s out in a transparent way,” gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said. He said it’s important not only that the actual jobless rate be published – something required by federal law – but that “the public understand the numbers.”
And that, said Scarpinato, means restoring the monthly briefings that the state has conducted for more than three years. The next one is scheduled for Thursday.
It remains to be seen, however, how detailed the briefings will be.
The numbers and analysis have traditionally been detailed by the economists who actually prepare and review the data.
But Aruna Murthy, the economist who had been doing the report for the past five years remains fired.
Murthy had reported for the past several months on some less-than-spectacular findings she found in the data, including a lackluster growth in April of private sector jobs and that the wages of Arizonans were not keeping pace with the rest of the nation.
Scarpinato said the decision to fire Murthy was made by the Department of Administration, which oversees the division that compiles the monthly data. And he said neither he nor Gov. Doug Ducey gets involved in those decisions.
On Thursday, the briefing will conducted by Paul Shannon, the agency’s assistant director for budget and planning resources.
He is not an economist. But agency spokeswoman Carly Fleege said Shannon, a 24-year state employee, “oversees” the program.
Tuesday’s announcement came less than 24 hours after Capitol Media Services first reported that Kevin Donnellan, the agency director, had cancelled Thursday’s scheduled briefing. Donnellan also said the possibility of future briefings was undecided as he was reevaluating priorities.
Scarpinato sidestepped repeated questions about whether the governor’s office had forced Donnellan to reconsider his decision to scrap the briefings.
“I think the important thing is that it’s going to continue,” he said.
“I think as they have some staffing changes over there that was something they needed to figure out,” he said. “But certainly we want this to continue and think it’s important that it does.”
And Scarpinato said his boss believes it’s important that there be comprehensive and correct information disseminated – and not just because the public needs it.
“We want accurate information,” he said. “In order for the governor to make public policy decisions he needs that.”