How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Rick Snyder For Governor|
|What:||TV ad “Numbers”|
“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.
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.