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Democratic candidate for governor Mark Schauer spent an hour taking shots at incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder Sunday night. Nothing unusual about that – it’s a campaign. But Sunday night, he was doing it with Snyder just feet away on a stage at Wayne State University. The town hall is likely to be the last time the candidates will share a stage before the election.
Schauer’s claims, similar to those made throughout the campaign, received mixed reviews from the Michigan Truth Squad.
“His first budget cut $930 million from our public schools. He even told the Kalamazoo Gazette ...that those cuts would be difficult. The per-pupil foundation grant, he cut $300 per pupil. ...Today, it is a fact that schools still have less per-pupil dollars in the classroom, than when he started four years ago.”
The supporting documentation for Schauer’s claim is the 2011-2012 school aid budget for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. 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.
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 added to the budget 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, had Snyder not done so. 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 with $12.98 billion the year before he took office. That’s a drop, but one of $230 million – not $930 million.
Schauer said per pupil funding is lower today than when Snyder took office. Depends how you view it. The minimum effective foundation allowance was $7,146 in fiscal 2010-2011 and $7,251 for 2014-2015, which is a higher amount but a decrease when inflation is taken into account.
Schauer’s attack on Snyder fails to give credit to Snyder for pumping more than $970 million into districts’ teacher retirement obligations. That money isn’t buying supplies for classrooms, but it’s money that would otherwise have been spent by districts.
“Reversing school budget cuts”
Several times during the town hall, Schauer said that, if elected governor, one of his acts would be to reverse school budget cuts. This line and similar remarks during the town hall may give some the impression that overall spending on K-12 education decreased during Snyder’s first term in office, as opposed to during his first year (see above). Schauer can make an argument that Gov. Snyder cut school funding in his first budget, and that money flowing into the classroom is down when inflation is taken into account. But there’s no way to look at the data to say overall state K-12 spending has decreased.
The references to budget cuts over the past four years go right to the edge of a foul call.
“Charter schools were allowed to expand with no oversight. That was a big mistake by this governor. Eighty percent of these charter schools are run by for-profit companies. ...These are unregulated schools with sweetheart real-estate deals, lack of accountability; it is hurting our kids.”
Snyder signed legislation in 2011 lifting the cap on charter schools. A Detroit Free Press investigation published this summer found numerous examples of poor accountability, as well as instances in which individuals profited from the sale or rental of property for charter schools. As far as Schauer’s claims that charters are “hurting our kids,” a Bridge analysis of school test scores adjusted for the income of students found some high-achieving charters, as well as low-achieving ones.
Schauer’s reliance on a devastating newspaper investigation of charter school accountability provides grounds to defend this broadside by the candidate. While it is not true that there is no oversight of charter schools, it is true, as has been noted, that almost anyone can open a charter school in Michigan, regardless of whether they have prior educational experience, and regardless of whether the company behind a new school has a history of low performance.
“We are 50 out of 50 [states] in per capita spending on our roads.”
Schauer is referencing a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data that Bridge reported on in April. Michigan spends $174 per person annually on transportation. Illinois and Ohio each spend $235. Minnesota spends $315.
|The call:||No Foul|
“Revenue sharing has been cut significantly by this governor and the impact is fewer police officers and firefighters on the job.”
It’s true that revenue sharing – tax money collected by the state and sent back to communities – has dropped under Snyder. Schauer failed to mention that it also dropped under former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. Revenue sharing is used to pay for local services, which include police and firefighters.
|The call:||No Foul|
"To claim success or comeback or 'road to recovery' when we’ve got the fifth-worst unemployment rate in the country... The last national jobs report showed Michigan losing the most jobs of any state in the country, 9,500 jobs. We are one of the few states in the country that hasn't recovered all the jobs lost in the Great Recession. According to his own Michigan Economic Development Corp., the leading segment of job growth [and] the fastest growing sector of jobs in Michigan is fast food jobs.”
It’s true that Michigan is tied for the fifth-worst unemployment rate among the states. One jobs survey of employers estimates a job loss in Michigan in August of 9,500, but it should be noted that another survey of households shows an increase in jobs of about 4,000. Schauer’s critique, of course, fails to acknowledge that Michigan’s unemployment rate has plummeted since Snyder took office, which is the half-full portrait that the governor is touting on the campaign trail.
|The call:||No Foul|
Both men escape foul calls by narrowly focusing only on the numbers that enhance their future employment prospects.
Cousin’s state furniture contract
Schauer called for "cutting all the wasteful programs and sweetheart contracts that this governor’s created, starting with his cousin George’s $41 million furniture contract.”
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 harmed his company, which sells furniture to state government agencies. George Snyder wrote governor’s aide Richard Baird that he was “very upset and nervous” about a 2011 Senate bill that would have capped new state office furniture purchases at $1 million.
Baird sent the email on to then-state budget director John Nixon, and added that George Snyder is “Gov. Snyder’s cousin.”
“We are on this,” Nixon replied.
The legislation was later changed to allow new furniture purchases of more than $1 million, but requires the state to first consider whether its inventory of furniture can be reused or refurbished before making a purchase. At the time, Haworth Inc. had a $19.2 million contract as the state’s sole-source provider of office furniture, a contract boosted to $41 million in 2012, during Snyder’s first term, according to a contract obtained by the Dems. DBI is a preferred dealer of Haworth and through that relationship sold millions of dollars of furniture to the state.
Snyder’s office has steadfastly maintained that the emails do not reflect an effort to help the governor’s cousin or give him special treatment because of his ties to the governor. Nixon later said he already knew George and Rick Snyder were related and that Baird was merely trying to alert him to a potential conflict of interest in flagging their family ties.
In raising questions about the contracts and email exchanges, Schauer and state Democrats fail to highlight that DBI had scored contracts with the state well before Rick Snyder came into office. Further, as the governor noted at the town hall, state spending on furniture with DBI has fallen since Rick Snyder took office, from $18.5 million in the last three years of Gov. Granholm’s administration, to $17 million in the three years since the start of 2011.
So does the record support Schauer’s claim of a sweetheart deal?
Other than the emails, there does not appear to be definitive proof that Snyder’s office swung into action to protect George Snyder’s company, or used its influence with Republican lawmakers to soften the bill’s impact on DBI. On the other hand, as Truth Squad noted in addressing this controversy in May, in politics the perception of impropriety can be as damaging as actual wrongdoing. Bringing these emails to light was well within the bounds of fair play. George Snyder did his cousin no favors by asking Baird to intervene, and the outcome of the bill certainly raises fair questions about what role if any family ties may have played.
|The call:||No Foul|
“Job-killing pension tax.”
Schauer used this term several times during the town hall, a new twist on an issue that has proven potent for the challenger.
In 2011, Snyder signed into law several changes to the Michigan tax code that slashed taxes for businesses by $1.65 billion, and made up for most of that cut by increasing income taxes. A big and controversial part of that income tax increase was the taxing of public and private pension income. That change alone was expected to raise for the state, and cost pension-receiving taxpayers, about $343 million in fiscal year 2012-13.
The changes are phased in, with those reaching the age of 67 in 2020 or after facing more taxes. According to a House Fiscal Agency analysis, a retired couple born after 1952 with $48,000 in pension income would pay $3,130 more in taxes.
The question, though, is how a pension tax is a job killer? Schauer didn’t go into detail. Perhaps the rationale is that when retirees pay more in taxes they have less money left to spend in their communities, hurting businesses that otherwise would have created more jobs. And perhaps that question could have been put to Schauer after the debate, but alas he didn’t show up for a press conference. A request to Schauer’s campaign for documentation of job losses caused by the pension tax was not answered Sunday evening.
|The call:||To be determined|
We will update this call when Truth Squad receives more information.
"This governor, through his own legislature, banned domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian state employees."
In 2011, Snyder signed legislation that banned same sex partner benefits for state employees.
Snyder asked a federal judge to continue the ban earlier this year.
|The call:||No Foul|