My new excuse

Whatever Colgan does, it's not his fault
By AL DIAMON  |  September 8, 2010

Charlie Colgan isn't to blame for all the mistakes made by . . . uh . . . Charlie Colgan.

Colgan is a former state economist (a job for which there appears to be no penalty for compiling a record of being thoroughly wrong) and is now an economics professor at the University of Southern Maine (an institution facing a severe financial crisis that nobody saw coming) and chairman of the Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (the august body that periodically provides state officials with erroneous reports on economic trends, which are used to craft faulty forecasts of future state revenues, which become the basis for overly optimistic state budgets that have to be constantly revised downward).

But none of that turns out to be Colgan's fault.

He and his fellow forecasting commissioners can't be expected to get things right when they're being fed questionable statistics about Maine's employment levels by the federal government.

"We've never been in this situation in the 18 years I've been doing this, where the most basic numbers are so unreliable," Colgan is quoted as saying in the August 29 Maine Sunday Telegram.

Added state economist Michael LeVert, a member of Colgan's commission, in the same article, "We've lost faith in the numbers."

As someone who lost faith in the numbers a long time ago, I know just how distressed LeVert must feel. For instance, I recall how upset I was when the predictions Colgan made in late 2008 about the length and severity of what was then a newly arrived recession proved to be about as accurate as the North Korean wheat-harvest forecast.

In December '08, he told the Bangor Daily News that the economic downturn wouldn't be nearly as bad as the one the state experienced in 1990-91, when Maine lost 23,000 jobs.

To date, the state is down 30,000 jobs. Or maybe 35,000, depending on what figure Colgan is using on any given day.

In the Portland Press Herald that same month, Colgan predicted an uptick in consumer confidence in the spring of 2009, with the credit market righting itself by early 2010.

Still waiting.

In January 2009, Mainebiz quoted him as saying, "I don't see much of a turnaround in 2009, but the worst will be over by the end of 2009."

Pay your mortgage with that.

In June 2009, he told the Press Herald, that it was now "the best time in years" to start a retail business.

No annoying customers, so you'd save the time and effort that would otherwise have to be devoted to waiting on them.

In November 2009, Colgan admitted to a legislative committee that he'd been a bit too bullish in his earlier estimates of the recession's severity. But he said he wouldn't be making that mistake again.

"The good news is," he said, "the worst of it is over."

The bad news is it was Colgan saying that.

As the economic malaise lingered into 2010, many experts, such as University of Maine vice chancellor Jim Breece (a member of Colgan's commission), revised their guesses and began predicting it could take four or five years for the state's economy to return to pre-recession levels.

Here's Colgan's opinion, as told to the Capitol News Service in January: "We don't think that the economy fell as much in 2009 as we previously thought, and we think the economy may grow a tad faster in 2010 than we previously thought."

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Portland Press Herald, University of Southern Maine, Bangor Daily News,  More more >
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