How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Republican Governors Association|
|What:||“Rock Star,” 30-second TV ad|
|The call:||Regular Foul|
“Jennifer Granholm signed one of the largest tax increases in Michigan history, thanks to her Senate leader, Mark Schauer. The deciding vote for her painful services tax? Mark Schauer. A newspaper called Schauer her 'go-to guy' in the Senate. Granholm called Schauer 'a rock star.' Rock star? With 300,000 jobs lost and crippling debt? Granholm and Schauer’s tax-and-spend ways left Michigan drowning in debt.”
It’s a time-tested tactic of campaign strategy: Associate a candidate with a popular or unpopular politician of a bygone era. (Ronald Reagan has attracted more conservative hopefuls than a shark has pilot fish.) This is the second ad by the Republican Governors Association to associate Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer with former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was in office during much of Michigan’s so-called “lost decade” and the near-collapse of the auto industry.
As Truth Squad has reported, the assertions about the tax package passed by the legislature in 2007 to help close a projected $1.75 billion deficit are true. In 2007, Schauer was among those who voted to raise the income tax from 3.9 to 4.35 percent and to expand the 6 percent sales tax to include a variety of services, a total tax increase of $1.35 billion – indeed, one of the largest in the state’s history. The fact it was passed to avoid a state government shutdown is not mentioned in this ad, nor is the fact that the Senate was led then, as now, by Republicans.
Calling Schauer the “deciding vote” on the package is inaccurate; the income-tax bill passed the state Senate on a 19-19 tie, with the lieutenant governor, not Schauer, breaking the deadlock. If one of that 19 was the decider, it could have been any of them.
The Citizens Research Council’s white paper on the state’s indebtedness does not mince words: By 2006, its combined general fund and school aid fund cash balances were $1.3 billion in the red. The lost-jobs numbers are also accurate. Again, Truth Squad’s earlier analysis of these figures stands: In January 2003, non-farm private sector employment in Michigan stood at 4,445,700. In December 2008, it stood at 4,054,600 – a drop of more than 390,000.
The problem lies with fixing blame: Was this due to “Granholm and Schauer’s tax-and-spend ways?” Or is it the result of a complex constellation of economic factors that moved so many of Michigan’s manufacturing jobs overseas or to other states? A W.E. Upjohn Institute analysis of the auto-industry job drain had this to say: “One could argue that Michigan’s problems are rooted in its past success. For years, GM, Ford, and Chrysler dominated the auto industry, and Michigan benefited from their ability to set prices and dictate trends for the auto industry. However, factors such as inflexibility in responding to changing consumer preferences, rising oil prices, the accumulation of large legacy costs from generous health care and pension benefits to retired auto workers, and the higher production costs associated with an increasingly older, higher-paid incumbent workforce eroded their competitive position.”
One could argue government might have played a role in mitigating this collapse, but there is no indication these tax packages were a direct or proximate cause. And, as a senator from a party that was not in power, Schauer’s influence on the state’s economy was minimal.
|The call:||Regular Foul|
Schauer may bear scant resemblance to Bruce Springsteen, but his role in the legislature during a turbulent time for Michigan is a matter of record. If the ad lacks a 360-degree view of the conditions in Lansing at the time of the tax-package deal, well, it is an ad, not journalism. It does state outright that Schauer and Granholm’s “tax-and-spend ways” were responsible for Michigan’s troubles in the last decade, but that’s a glib assertion not borne out by serious analysis. In fact, spending under Granholm’s watch took some big hits, mainly because of the recession’s effects on revenue.
The most troubling aspect of this ad, and what cements Truth Squad’s call of a foul, is the silly and easily disproved claim that Schauer cast the deciding vote for the tax package. Why the RGA didn’t simply state, with accuracy, that Schauer “voted for” the package is baffling.