July 27, 2012

Truth Test: In chamber's ads, numbers check out

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

In ads that began running in the Portland television market Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dubs independent Angus King, the former Maine governor running for U.S. Senate, the “king of spending” and the “king of mismanagement” with graphics that make him look like a court jester.

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ABOUT TRUTH TEST

TRUTH TEST is a regular feature of MaineToday Media's campaign coverage in which we cast a critical eye on the truthfulness of advertising and public comments by political candidates.

Claim: “While King was governor, state spending skyrocketed to $2.6 billion.”

For these claims, we’re going to examine King’s term in office as defined by the ad. King served from early 1995 through early 2003.

The ad is also aiming at general-fund expenditures. If it examined total state spending over that period, it would be billions more.

From fiscal year 1995 through fiscal year 2003, general fund spending tracked from $1.69 billion to $2.53 billion, according to numbers from the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review. In the two previous years, it was even higher but never quite reached $2.6 billion. The closest it came in the King years was in fiscal year 2002, at $2.58 billion.

The chamber’s numbers are rounded to the nearest increment of $100 million, but they’re good.

Claim: “When King left office, he left Maine with a billion-dollar budget shortfall.”

We explored this in a June Truth Test, after a National Republican Senatorial Committee release that we deemed true but lacking the context necessary to understand Maine’s budgetary situation at the time.

The billion-dollar shortfall happened in the 2004-2005 biennium, for which projections were being made during the King administration.

For the 2004-05 biennium, the state projected a $958 million budget shortfall, according to a state budget document provided by the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review. The office’s director, Grant Pennoyer, said about $50 million was added to the gap after a bad revenue forecast, putting the state over that $1 billion threshold.

Making this situation apparently worse is that Pennoyer said the state had a more than $300 million surplus going into fiscal year 2000, due to a booming economy that left the state constantly under-projecting market gains.

But the Legislature spent all but $1.2 million of the $362.8 million surplus, mostly in the 2001 fiscal year, according to the documents we reviewed.

“The Republicans were proposing some fairly sizable tax reductions; the (Democrats) were proposing some additional spending,” Pennoyer said in June. “So it was all sides involved.”

But the shortfall happened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 hurt world markets, tanking more modest budget gap projections in Maine, Pennoyer said last month.

We rate these statements true.

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