PoliGraph: Pawlenty claims right and wrong on spending

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently appeared on Minnesota Public Radio News’ Midday program, where he highlighted his efforts to reduce government spending.

He told host Gary Eichten that, “From 1960 until 2002, the average two-year spending increase for the state in the general fund was 21 percent. We brought that down during my time to about 2 percent a year.”

But more can be done, he said.

“The state is paying half or more of the budgets of prosperous large cities all over the state,” he said during the May 18 interview. “In aids and credits, the state pays over half of the budget of the city of St. Paul. It makes very little sense.”

This PoliGraph result is mixed. Pawlenty is correct that he’s reduced government spending compared to his predecessors. But city documents contradict Pawlenty’s second claim; St. Paul receives far less cash from the state than Pawlenty stated.

Claim One: The Evidence

Pawlenty took office in 2003. Between 1960 and 2003, the average two-year spending increase from the general fund – the state’s primary account- was about 21 percent, according to a document prepared by Minnesota Management and Budget.

Pawlenty is correct that, under his administration, annual spending has increased at an average 2 percent a year. His average is low due to significant spending cuts in the 2010-2011 budget. But it’s important to note that Pawlenty is comparing a two-year average with one-year averages.

For instance, the annual average spending increase under past administrations was about 10 percent – much lower than the two-year average. And Pawlenty’s two-year average spending increase over his 7 and a half years in office is 3.9 percent, not the 2 percent he touted in the interview.

Claim One: The Verdict

Pawlenty inflated the difference between his spending record and that of his predecessors’ by contrasting his very low one-year average with a very high two-year average. Nevertheless, he got his numbers right and his underlying point, that he’s made big cuts in the growth of government spending, is correct.

As a result, Pawlenty’s claim is accurate.

Note: One thing to note is that a large part of Gov. Pawlenty’s budget balancing plan in 2010 relied on an accounting shift and did not technicall cut spending. Pawlenty and the Legislature delayed $1.9 billion in payments to schools to help balance the state’s budget. It looks like a cut on the balance sheet but the law requires the payments to schools to be made after the two year budget is over. In other words, Pawlenty balanced the budget but the next governor and Legislature have to either come up with the funds to fix the payment shift or agree to continued delays. – Tom Scheck

Claim Two: The Evidence

Pawlenty missed the mark on his second claim about St. Paul’s budget.

The city’s most significant source of state funding is Local Government Aid, money given based on tax base and estimated spending. It’s been on the decline since Pawlenty took office.

St. Paul’s 2010 budget of $642 million includes about $52 million from LGA. All of the city’s intergovernmental revenue totals only 19.3 percent of its current budget – far less than half as Pawlenty claimed. Previous budgets are similar. For instance, the city’s 2009 budget of $600 million includes about $57 million in LGA funding.

Pawlenty misspoke, said Brian McClung, Pawlenty’s deputy chief of staff. He said Pawlenty meant to refer to the year he took office, when LGA funding nearly matched St. Paul’s tax levy of $64 million.

Claim Two: The Verdict

Pawlenty said that the state is funding more than half of St. Paul’s budget. But the numbers show he’s wrong: St. Paul receives far less than that from the state. Even if Pawlenty meant to compare LGA funds with city taxes rather than overall budget, he was referencing old figures.

Pawlenty’s second claim does not pass the PoliGraph test.

SOURCES:

Minnesota Public Radio News, Midday, May 18, 2010

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s website, Minnesota Historical Expenditures: General Fund, accessed May 20, 2010

City of St. Paul, 2010 Adopted Budget, accessed May 20, 2010

City of St. Paul, 2009 Adopted Budget, accessed May 21, 2010

City of St. Paul, 2008 Adopted Budget, accessed May 21, 2010

City of St. Paul, 2007 Adopted Budget, accessed May 21, 2010

City of St. Paul, 2006 Adopted Budget, accessed May 21, 2010

MinnPost.com, Ten Things You May Not Know About St. Paul’s City Budget, by Matt Smith, Dec. 11, 2007

E-mail correspondence, Brian McClung, Deputy Chief of Staff for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, May 21, 2010

E-mail correspondence with Bob Hume, Deputy Chief of Staff for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, May 20, 2010

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  • Rep. Al Juhnke

    These are simply ‘raw’ figures. If you include population increase over these years as well as subtract out state ‘spending’ increases due to the buy down of school and transit property taxes 10 years ago, you quickly come to about a 2% increase in state spending per year. Republican Senator Steve Dille talks about this frequently at area meetings he attends in WC Minnesota.

  • bsimon

    You could strengthen this piece as follows:

    Verdict for claim one should be: “As a result, Pawlenty’s claim is accurate, though misleading.”

    Verdict for claim one should be: “Pawlenty’s second claim is inaccurate.”

    In the alternative, the verdict for claim one should use the same wishy washy language as the second, along the lines of:

    “Pawlenty’s claim passes the PolyGraph test.”

    Perhaps adding that the test only explores technical accuracy, without measuring whether the statements are misleading.

  • Bill Prendergast

    I don’t understand. If Poligraph is going to have any credibility as a fact checking entity–it can’t give TP a “pass” for a misleading statement comparing apples to oranges.

    In order to be credible, Poligraph has to identify “what the speaker wishes the public to believe” and compare that to “what actually happened.”

    This statement by Poligraph:

    “it’s important to note that Pawlenty is comparing a two-year average with one-year averages.” (so his claim is deceptive)

    …conflicts with this statement by Poligraph in the very same piece:

    “Nevertheless, he got his numbers right and his underlying point, that he’s made big cuts in the growth of government spending, is correct.” (He didn’t *get his numbers right*; according to Poligraph, he presented the audience with a misleading number.)

    And as for “the truth of his underlying point”–that wasn’t what Poligraph was supposed to be evaluating here. Poligraph was supposed to be evaluating the truth of *this* Pawlenty statement:

    “From 1960 until 2002, the average two-year spending increase for the state in the general fund was 21 percent. We brought that down during my time to about 2 percent a year.”

    Poligraphs seems to be arguing that Pawlenty made a misleading and deceptive argument–but it’s still true. Is that going to be the “bar” for Poligraph evaluations of statements by MN politicians? “If they say something misleading, but Poligraph thinks their basic, underlying, unspoken point is true: then they get a pass from Poligraph.”

    If that’s the standard, then this Poligraph thing is going to be pretty useless compared to Politifact. It’s fine to document that politicians of all political persuasions tell lies, but it’s not fine to give a lie (a statement intended to deceive) a “pass.”

    I hope this isn’t going to be yet another MN journalism exercise in “finding them all relatively equally at fault, when it comes to telling the public the truth.” If the reality is that some politicians and political parties rely on lying more than others–that’s what Politifact and Poligraph should report.

    Indeed, that’s their main value as journalism projects–to present evidence that helps the public to decide which politicians are telling them the truth. If Poligraph comes to the conclusion that “a misleading statement by a politician is not necessarily a lie,”–then what’s the point of having Poligraph?

    I would hate to have to start a project called “Poligraphgraph.”

  • Bill Prendergast

    As for Rep. Juhnke’s comment (“If you include population increase over these years as well as subtract out state ‘spending’ increases due to the buy down of school and transit property taxes 10 years ago, you quickly come to about a 2% increase in state spending per year.)…

    …that’s an after-the-fact rationalization of Pawlenty’s misleading statement. If *that’s* the basis of Pawlenty’s argument, *he* has to explain that to the radio audience. No matter how boring that rationalization sounds on the radio–the criterion of “truth” doesn’t permit Pawlenty to substitute a misleading statistic about “raw figures” for a purportedly accurate rationalization of his argument.

    Please, people: this Poligraph thing is supposed to be about intimidating politicians into telling the truth, by making them fear that their misleading statements will be exposed as lies. If you permit the politicians to “get off the hook” by presenting after-the-fact rationalizations for misleading statements or pretending their misleading statements aren’t “really” lies–then Poligraph is *enabling* lying by politicians.

    Again: if Poligraph does the job that it says it is going to do–it is very *likely* that they are going to find that some politicians, parties, and political figures are more reliant on dissemination of lies and misleading statements than others.

    It is not “objectivity” to hold some politicians to a lower standard for truth so that all parties come out “kinda-sorta” the same when it comes to trustworthiness. That is not “objectivity;” that is “spin” and the Humphrey Institute and the media should not be doing “spin.”

    If Poligraph is doing its job properly, we will know it: because the particular part of the political spectrum that lies the most–will be regularly accusing Poligraph of “bias against them.”

  • http://www.greatdiv.com Charlie Quimby

    I agree with most of the comments here, but Bill missed Rep. Juhnke’s point, I believe. He’s not providing Pawlenty with a rationalization; he’s stating that pre-Pawlenty cost increases are being overstated by the governor, if you make the adjustments for differences in population and state/local finance changes.

    In other words, raw numbers allow him to look better than he is.

  • Donna

    Even if Pawlenty is right on his numbers, are you or your city better off than you were 10 years ago, I don’t think so. This neocon has ruined this state repeatedly. Look at just the roads around your community, horrible. Look at all the fee’s that have been added, look at your property taxes. All Pawlenty did was shift. He’s a good shifter, or shifty.

  • Bill Prendergast

    After reading it again, I think Charlie Quimby and Rep. Juhnke are right, I was wrong. Without commenting on whether the substance of Juhnke’s remark is correct or not: Charlie has convinced me that I misunderstood the point Juhnke was trying to make with his comment.

    My bad. Sorry, boys.

  • Joseph

    I have to commend Bill for pointing out the problems with this whole “Poligraph” experiment. I completely agree.

    Considering the fact that Pawlenty was on Midday when he made these points and not at a press conference, he probably would have been given the time to explain the details. But, I think we all know that he never would have intended to.

  • Reggie

    Bill nailed it. Claim 1 is false. MN’s population grew by over 1.8 million people (54%) between 1960 and now. Also, there was this thing called the Minnesota Miracle, which drastically shifted costs between state and local budgets.

    Pawlenty isn’t comparing apples to oranges; he’s comparing apples to bicycles.

  • Billy

    George Brush made bad decions in his day people call him retarded.