How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Democratic Governors Association|
|What:||“Teacher,” 30-second TV ad|
|The call:||Regular Foul|
“My name’s Kim Stanley. I’ve been teaching for 25 years. I think education is one of the most important investments we can make. Governor Snyder cut a billion dollars from education, but gave his own administration officials huge pay raises. One of them actually makes $330,000 a year. And Rick Snyder’s administration gave millions in state contracts to his own cousin. I don't understand how Governor Snyder can think those things are more important than our schools.”
The 30-second ad by the Democratic Governors Association marked the seventh ad it has aired on behalf of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, who is running against incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. As of Sept. 1, the DGA had pumped $4.6 million into TV ads in this race. This ad raises a familiar charge – that Snyder has hurt K-12 education while rewarding the privileged and those in business. The ad features Royal Oak elementary teacher Kim Stanley, mixed with scenes of children in a classroom.
“Governor Rick Snyder cut a billion dollars from education.”
Supporting documentation for the ad refers to the 2011-2012 school aid budget for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. It deserves a closer look. The total cut is calculated at $1.16 billion, including $930 million for K-12 schools, $12 million for community colleges and $216 million for higher education.
As we’ve noted before, both sides in the governor’s race are cherry picking numbers from specific windows during Snyder’s first term to make the case that the governor has cut (or boosted) education funding. In his first year in office, Snyder approved a budget that could be interpreted as a $930 million cut from the previous year.
But that tally does not count more than $154 million to allocate $100 per pupil for eligible “best practices” districts and $288 million to support the teacher pension fund – an obligation districts are required to meet. It also does not account for the loss of more than $500 million in federal stimulus funds that had been available in the previous budget. When taken together, the state ended up spending $12.75 billion in school aid funding in Snyder’s first budget, compared to $12.98 billion the year before. That’s a drop of about $230 million – certainly less than $1 billion.
The ad also fails to mention that Snyder and the Republican-dominated Legislature increased school funding in subsequent years. The Snyder camp produced a chart from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget that shows state funding for K-12 education has increased from $10.8 billion in fiscal 2011-2012 – his first school budget – to $11.7 billion for fiscal 2014-2015. In the past three years, Snyder has pumped more than $970 million into districts' teacher retirement obligations. Overall, however, the minimum effective foundation allowance has remained relatively flat since Snyder took office in 2011, standing at $7,146 in fiscal 2010-2011 and $7,187 for 2014-2015.
“But gave his own administration officials huge pay raises. One of them actually makes $330,000 a year.”
In 2013, Jon Braeutigam, Michigan’s chief investment officer, received a 90 percent annual pay bump from $175,000 to $333,000. Other investment officials got pay hikes of 80 percent or more, boosting them to $233,000 a year. Administration officials said the hikes were needed to keep qualified people, while noting they are tasked with managing $70 billion in public funds. “These are rare professionals that manage money, and we were significantly underpaying them and were having a lot of them leave,” Snyder said in February. “We were having turnover issues in terms of keeping these people.”
“And Rick Snyder’s administration gave millions in state contracts to his own cousin. I don't understand how Governor Snyder can think those things are more important than our schools.”
The state Democratic Party obtained emails showing that George Snyder, owner of DBI Office Interiors in Lansing, expressed worries in April 2011 to a top aide to the governor about legislation that could have lowered revenues to his company, which sells new office furniture to government agencies, and had held contracts with the state before Snyder took office.
Those emails were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and released by Democratic party officials on March 25. In one email to Snyder aide Richard Baird, George Snyder wrote that he was “very upset and nervous” about a Senate bill that would have capped new state office furniture purchases at $1 million. Any amount above that would have required purchase of used furniture. Baird sent an email to then-state budget director John Nixon, telling Nixon of George Snyder’s concern and that George Snyder is “Gov. Snyder’s cousin.” “We are on it,” Nixon replied.
Nixon said he already knew that George Snyder was the governor’s cousin when Baird mentioned it in an email, according to the Detroit Free Press. While Democrats said the emails revealed how insiders received special attention from Snyder’s office that was not available to ordinary folks, Nixon said the emails showed the opposite: that Baird was trying to ward off a potential conflict of interest and assure that George Snyder did not get preferential treatment. Snyder called the Democrats’ claims election-year politics. According to MLive, the governor’s office also said state spending on furniture with DBI fell since Snyder took office, from $18.5 million in the three years before he took office to $17 million in the three years since the start of 2011.
|The call:||Regular Foul|
The claim that Snyder cut $1 billion from education has been well-litigated in this campaign. That calculation is technically correct in the most narrow sense, and for the governor’s first year in office, but only if the tally ignores more $440 million he put into teacher retirement costs and per-pupil funds for “best practices” districts. Teacher pensions are obligations that districts would otherwise have to pay, so that contribution cannot be ignored. Overall, the data show Snyder has increased state spending on education since he took office.
This ad goes more seriously awry when it suggests that steep hikes in executive salaries and contracts for Snyder's cousin ate up budget space that would have otherwise gone to adequately funding public schools. It's a false equivalency.
To be sure, $333,000 a year for a state employee is a lot of money and it could not surprise the Snyder campaign that it has become an election issue, with Snyder’s folks countering that the state needs the best possible talent to manage $70 billion in public funds. The ad also correctly notes that Snyder’s cousin received millions of dollars in state furniture contracts, though it’s also worth noting (though the ad doesn’t) that this cousin held state contracts before Gov. Snyder took office.
The larger implication of this ad is that had the governor held off on pay raises for these investment executives and axed his cousin from the list of state vendors there would have been enough money to avoid cuts in public education.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Snyder rescinded $2 million in salary hikes for Treasury Department investment specialists. And let’s say he cut $2 million in spending that went to his cousin’s business for new furniture. That’s a $4 million savings when compared with a nearly $12-billion budget for K-12 schools.
The issue of executive pay and the circumstances surrounding George Snyder’s communications with Gov. Snyder’s office are certainly fair game during an election campaign. The implication that those controversies sunk state investment in public education is ridiculous and misleading.
There are legitimate concerns about the adequacy of K-12 funding for Michigan schools, but it's a dilemma with complex causes that has been in the works for more than a decade. Voters deserve honesty in this debate over school funding. They won't find it here.