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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