PoliGraph: MisleadingIn their fourth head-to-head debate, Republican candidate Jeff Johnson criticized Gov. Mark Dayton for needlessly ramping up state spending during the last four years of his tenure.

“We have increased spending in this state in the last four years from $30 billion to almost $40 billion dollars. In four years. That is not sustainable and it certainly suggests to me that we are not short of money,” Johnson said.

This is a tricky claim to sort out because there are different ways to look at state spending.

The Evidence

If Johnson is elected governor, he says he wants to reform Minnesota’s tax code because other nearby states have lower taxes.

Johnson argues that the state doesn’t need the extra money because spending has increased by billions over the last four years.

By one measure he’s right about the amount of the spending increase, but if you look deeper you’ll find that the increase isn’t quite as much as Johnson claims.

According to Minnesota Management and Budget, state general fund spending increased from $29 billion in the 2010-2011 biennium to roughly $35 billion in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The most recent budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 increased state spending to $39.5 billion.

But Johnson’s claim masks spending that was essentially hidden in the final budget of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration – right around the time Pawlenty launched his bid for president.

In fact, spending for fiscal year 2010-2011 was more like $33 billion for the biennium if you count a one-time $2.3 billion windfall in federal stimulus money and a delay of   $1.9 billion in payments to schools – an accounting trick used to balance the budget.

That said, Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature used similar accounting tools to balance the 2012-2013 budget, delaying more money for schools into the next biennium and issuing bonds against future tobacco settlement payments.

That’s the budget that ultimately ended the state’s government shutdown. At the time, Republicans and Democrats argued over how much the state was spending; Republicans picked the lower number of $34 billion, while Democrats said it was more like $35 billion, which reflected the costs of shifting school payments and the tobacco bonds.

The Verdict

If you ignore two accounting tricks that made spending look lower than it was three budget cycles ago, Johnson is correct that state spending increased by $10 billion in four years.

But $2.3 billion in federal dollars and a $1.9 billion spending shift is hard to ignore, and including them in Pawlenty’s last budget bumps state spending up to $33 billion.

And that means state spending has increased by about $7 billion in the last four years. That’s a big number, but not as big as the one Johnson used.

For picking the higher number – and leaving out some key details about budget gimmicks used by the previous administration – Johnson’s claim leans toward misleading.

Good morning!

In Minnesota

Federal law enforcement officials are taking an ISIL threat against Michele Bachmann so seriously that Capitol Police have given the 6th District GOP congresswoman her own security detail. (MPR News)

Will the Minnesota GOP field a ground operation to turn out voters that’s comparable to the DFL’s? (Star Tribune)

Former U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton will headline a free rally in St. Paul with U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday afternoon. (Star Tribune)

The U.S. Senate race is tightening…to a 15 point lead for Sen. Al Franken, according to a new poll. (KSTP)

Sparks flew on the subject of voter ID at a forum for Secretary of State candidates. (MPR News)

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords visited Minneapolis for a roundtable discussion centered on possible new laws to protect women and families from gun violence. (WCCO)

Ad Watch

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota is out with a major ad campaign against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden (MPR News)

McFadden’s daughter stars in an ad to tell voters why her father would be a good senator. (YouTube)

DFL State Auditor Rebecca Otto (YouTube)

Fuels America, a biofuels trade group, is up with radio ads backing DFL Sen. Al Franken and DFL Rep. Collin Peterson (SoundCloud)

National Politics

President Barack Obama sees the midterm elections as a “nail-biter,” with control of the Senate hinging on just a few races. (Politico)

Parts of Iowa are becoming more liberal while other parts are becoming more conservative as one of the bellwether states of American politics undergoes a major demographic shift. (New York Times)

Will Latinos sit out the midterms to punish Democrats for not making more headway on immigration reform? (LA Times)

Tom Steyer, a Democratic billionaire concerned about climate change, has passed Republican casino owner Sheldon Adelson as the biggest donor to super PACs. (New York Times)

Four candidates for secretary of state (from L to R: Dan Severson, Bob Helland, Steve Simon and Bob Odden) appear at a University of Minnesota forum. Tim Pugmire / MPR News

The voter ID debate is getting renewed attention in this year’s race for Minnesota secretary of state, which is an open seat due to Democrat Mark Ritchie’s retirement.

All four candidates in the statewide contest addressed the issue today during a University of Minnesota Humphrey School forum. They also discussed early voting, ranked-choice voting, military voting and the role of the secretary of state.

Republican Dan Severson, who ran for the office four years ago, highlighted his proposal to create an “express lane” voting option for Minnesotans who voluntarily show a photo ID at the polls. Severson said  he came up with the idea after voters rejected a photo ID constitutional amendment in 2012.

“Obviously, Minnesotans were uncomfortable with a constitutional amendment. I get that,” Severson said. “This is another way in which we can secure our system and actually accommodate our system more effectively.”

State Rep. Steve Simon, the DFL candidate for secretary of state, slammed Severson’s proposal. Simon said that kind of system would wrongly segregate voters in separate lines and leave some out in the cold.

“It’s a way to marginalize and to ostracize and exclude people who don’t have the kind of ID that he and others like him think they should have,” Simon said. “I think this is a warmed-over version of the voter ID proposal that Minnesotans have rejected.”

Simon took several jabs at his GOP opponent. He called Severson a “partisan warrior” on an “ideological crusade.”

Independence Party candidate Bob Helland said he wants to eliminate what he sees as the “express lane” advantage that major party candidates have over the minor parties in ballot access.

“Why aren’t we talking about everyone going through the same hoops, rather than having those kind of express lanes,” Helland asked.

Bob Odden of the Libertarian Party said he too thinks a voter ID requirement could help speed up voting. Odden also said Minnesota voters need more ballot options.

“If you want to get more people voting, the best way to do that is provide more candidates,” Odden said. “Provide diversity on the ballot.”

The four candidates are scheduled to share a stage again Oct. 28, at a League of Women Voters forum at Augsburg College.


Bob Odden later clarified his voter ID comments.

“I don’t want to require ID,” Odden said in an email. “If a voter wanted to volunteer a photo ID, government or non-government, it would help reduce transcription errors and might speed up lines.”

The vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota stressed that the party does not support new restrictions on voting.