Truth Squad gives warning in Snyder 'Numbers' ad

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Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Who: Rick Snyder For Governor
What: TV ad “Numbers”
The call: Warning

Relevant text:

“I’m an accountant — and your governor. I’ve found I can help more people when the numbers add up, when Michigan's foundation is solid. Michigan was once the engine that drove America. But we took it for granted. We didn't change with the times and we let politics get in the way. Not anymore. We're on the road to recovery for every Michigander. You may not feel it yet but you will soon. We've eliminated a billion-and-a-half-dollar budget deficit. Since I took office we put a billion more dollars into education. Our unemployment rate is the lowest in six years with nearly 300,000 new private-sector jobs. The credit never goes to the person who built a strong foundation, but that’s what you have to do first. And that’s why we have accountants.”

In this low-key, positive, 60-second TV ad incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Snyder states his case for bringing Michigan back from a difficult decade. Snyder – who is indeed a certified public accountant – is opposed by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer. Polls show the race to be close. Snyder talks directly to the camera with the uplifting sound of a choir in the background.

As Snyder notes “Michigan was once the engine that drove America,” the ad flashes to what looks like old footage of Detroit's skyline and an auto plant. It shows an empty downtown street. As he talks about economic growth, it switches to scenes of a bustling downtown, a busy factory, the Grand Rapids skyline, workers for a roofing firm and a building under construction. As a sidenote, participants in the Lansing TV show on politics “Off the Record” speculated that Snyder's voice might have been altered to sound lower, but host Tim Skubick said he was told (presumably by Snyder’s people) it hadn't. Contrast the low, modulated tone in this ad with the slightly higher, more nasal voice familiar from Snyder’s other appearances Snyder campaign spokesperson Emily Benavides said, “His voice was not altered.”

Statements under review:

“We've eliminated a billion-and-a-half-dollar budget deficit.”

While it is true state government is prohibited by the Michigan Constitution from carrying a deficit from one year to the next, Snyder did face a deficit projected at $1.4 billion for fiscal 2011-2012 by the Senate Fiscal Agency as he took office in January 2011. That was due in large part to the end of federal stimulus funds that helped prop up state finances in the previous three budgets. The fiscal agency memo also noted that the state income tax was scheduled to drop from 4.35 percent to 4.25 percent on Oct. 1, 2011.

“The combination of the assumed elimination of the temporary Federal aid and these revenue changes will lead to a significant challenge in ensuring a balance between...revenue and appropriations,” it stated.

Snyder's answer: He cut business taxes by $1.6 billion while adding $1.4 billion in added personal income taxes on homeowners, low-income earners, those on pensions and froze a scheduled drop in the income tax rate. Schauer spokesman Zack Pohl added that Snyder's business tax cut “only made the deficit larger.” Under Snyder, overall spending on K-12 education fell from $13.1 billion in 2010-2011 to $12.2 billion in fiscal 2011-2012. That $930 million drop was partly offset by $455 million in appropriations for “best practices” districts and for the cost of teacher pensions.

“Since I took office, we put a billion more dollars into education.”

This can get complicated, depending on how the numbers are weighted. According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, Michigan spent $10.8 billion on K-12 schools in 2010-2011, when Snyder took office. The 2014-2015 budget calls for $12 billion in state expenditures. The amounts to a $1.2 billion increase.

Of course the ad misleadingly glosses over the fact that Snyder's first budget included significant cuts to K-12 education, including a $470 cut in the per-pupil foundation allowance for schools. Much of the spending increase over Snyder's tenure has come in the form of funds – calculated at $973 million by former House Fiscal Agency Director Mitch Bean – to pay teacher retirement costs. It can be argued those funds do not result in classroom improvements. But these are obligations districts have to fund, and had they not been funded arguably would have taken away money from classroom operations. Direct funds for school operations have remained relatively static, with the foundation allowance standing at $7,146 in 2010-2011 and $7,187 for 2014-2015.

“Our unemployment rate is the lowest in six years with nearly 300,000 new private-sector jobs.”

Michigan's unemployment rate hit a low in April 2008 of 6.9 percent. It stood at 10.7 percent in January 2011, when Snyder took office. It dropped to 7.4 percent in April 2014, its lowest in six years. It has ticked up since then to 7.7 percent. That is third-highest in the nation, behind only Mississippi and Georgia. The U.S. unemployment rate in July was 6.2 percent.

Critics will say that changes in the unemployment rate had more to do with national and auto industry trends than with any policy Michigan’s governor enacted, but Snyder stays clear of trouble by simply sticking to the numbers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-farm payroll employment in Michigan was 3,907,000 in January 2011 when Snyder took office. It stood at 4,161,500 in July – an increase of 254,500.

The call: Warning

As the ad states, Snyder did face a significant projected budget deficit when he took office. It is also accurate to say Snyder put $1 billion more into K-12 education since he took office, but that is misleading because it fails to note the significant K-12 cuts in Snyder’s first budget. Hence, the warning. Leaving aside the question of whether the governor deserves credit for the improvement in jobs, it is also true the unemployment rate has dropped since Snyder took office and that private sector employment has increased. For context, it is worth noting Michigan still has among the nation’s worst unemployment rates.

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Wed, 09/10/2014 - 12:34pm
yes you did good Gov. snyder , yes you cut the budegt ..BUT us senor had our foodstamps/Snap cut by 80% our Home HEATING Credits cut by 99%... our rentrefund .....FOODSTAMPS/SNAP and Home Heating Credits are from the FEDREAL Govementso, no money taken from the State of Michigan ..only cost of disemburstment ...which is the reason minar amounts to citizen , but ...cost of Paper , printing, mailing and the ever changing dates ,per DHS hiring more poeple. please give Us senior over 65 a break more cuts ,no more rent increases FREZZES the Sytem on Senoir over 65.
Mike R
Wed, 09/10/2014 - 3:05pm
It is amusing to hear Snyder modulating his voice away from its usual quacking (so low only dogs can hear it). But style aside, it's embarrassin for him to suggest he should receive the credit for an improved economy and better employment numbers when, in fact, all studies and statistics show that it's the national economy recovering from the Recession, not the efforts of any governor, that controls unemployment in any given state. To my knowledge, there are no figures showing that any of Snyder's tax machinations has directly resulted in the creation or retention of a single job. "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" does not warrant congratulations.
Wed, 09/10/2014 - 5:02pm
Snyder's voice was absolutely modulated.
Wed, 09/17/2014 - 11:57am
That Snyder ad is just creepy. Is he trying to portray a "God-like" image with the choir of angels behind him? Weird man!
Ken K
Wed, 09/10/2014 - 3:57pm
Gee, Snyder and the Radical Republicans of Michigan are taking credit for the economic recovery this country has experienced since the Obama Administration took over the national government from the Glorious George W Bush Administration and Republican Congress that turned a revenue surplus it inherited from the Clinton Administration into the worst economic crash since the Great Depression (also resulting from Republican deregulation of Wall Street). Snyder and the Radical Republican Legislature have just been along for the ride, they didn't do anything to help the recovery along. They even let the state loose money for 3 months this year because they wouldn't expend Medicare that was to be paid for by the Federal Government! If they were so great why won't the Republicans debate their opponents and defend what they have done? Without the debates, the electorate will be voting blind again, just like the first time Snyder ran.
Sun, 09/14/2014 - 3:26pm
The changes that unleashed Wall Street happened during the Clinton administration. Get your facts straight.
Wed, 09/10/2014 - 9:14pm
Snyder is a typical republican/conservative. If his mouth is moving, you know he is lying.
Thu, 09/11/2014 - 10:45pm
Trying thinking about issues instead of labels. How foolish to think only lies come from one side of the political spectrum. Open your mind and deal with substance. Till then you are the one at risk of believing and spreading lies
Thu, 09/11/2014 - 10:02am
Has anyone noticed that the sound in this ad seems to be slowed down, making his voice sound a bit lower? He normally has a higher pitched voice.
Thu, 09/11/2014 - 10:50pm
How is it misleading to represent fixing a deficit as a win just because cause? He successfully solved a problem. That's the point
Wed, 09/17/2014 - 12:01pm
It's great he did that, it's just how he did it that is troubling, by freezing a tax decrease for individuals and giving a tax break to business, by cutting unemployment benefits, taxing senor pensions. I no way love Schauer but there must be a better alternative to Snyder and if he is the only choice, well.....
Sun, 09/14/2014 - 8:43am
Figures can be massaged a number of ways to suit your purpose. The fact is that many of our schools are hurting. The governor is probably taking more credit than deserved,but at least he isn't taking credit for having a handle on global warming. Just keep pushing for more charter schools. That will really improve education in Mi. Proposal A was supposed to provide equity in funding it did not. Thank God for the lottery,what would do without. Maybe raise State income tax another 2%. The song goes like this . Those were the good old days we thought they would never end. Well they did. R.L.
Daniel Chapman
Tue, 09/16/2014 - 1:51pm
I'm not sure that charter schools are the answer to our education problems. My own daughter went to a charter school and had a wonderful experience, so keep in mind that I'm not some critical opponent. But, using my daughter's own charter school as an example, the administrator left not long after she graduated due to embezzlement allegations, as well as evidence of nepotism and other non-merit based practices. Lots of unusual finances are involved. That's not unique to this particular charter school, either, lots of them turn up in things like this. Then there's the method by which they work, in the first place. The charter schools get to pick what children are enrolled, so of course they pick the ones that they can help the best. So, of course their results are going to look better. Not only that, but the public schools are unable to just ignore the plight of the students that are difficult to teach, so their results are going to actually look even worse than they did before. They also have no obligation to provide a lot of the services that the public schools are required to provide, such as bussing or a "real" lunch program. (I strongly remember the daily drive of my daughter to her charter school, there and back, driving past the public school she would have attended and had a bus to and from. I also remember her middle school, where she had what sounded like a pathetic lunch break, sitting at her homeroom desk eating in a classroom. If you wanted the school to pay for lunch, you had to pay for a semester in one chunk ahead of time... and the price did not seem worth what they received. Compare this to the situation going on right now with Aramark, and I'm definitely seeing a case where the private sector fails to live up to the competitive advantage that we were told that they would have.