June 26, 2012

Truth test: Bruce Poliquin's 'Bold Conservative' ad

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

"Working with Gov. LePage, Poliquin helped eliminate $1.7 billion of public pension debt that cut spending $200 million a year."

click image to enlarge

An image from Bruce Poliquin's advertisement.

click image to enlarge

TO SEE THE AD

GO TO tinyurl.com/boldconservativead

State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin hitches his wagon firmly to Gov. Paul LePage in this new 30-second ad. The spot features the Republican U.S. Senate candidate embracing the governor during Poliquin's swearing-in ceremony and takes credit for reducing the state's public pension debt.

The embrace is authentic but the math needs some context: The savings are for future years. 

What did he really do?

The pension reduction was actually ushered in by the Legislature when it adopted the 2012-13 budget, but some in state government corroborate Poliquin's influence on pension debt as an adviser and fervent spokesman.

In March 2011, Poliquin testified in favor of similar but more aggressive pension changes proposed by LePage.

H. Sawin Millett, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said Poliquin was involved in meetings on the pension subject during the transition period from the administration of Gov. John Baldacci. He said the treasurer also helped LePage's team formulate plans to address pension problems.

Republicans on the Appropriations Committee said Poliquin wasn't hands-on during the budget process, but his knowledge and zeal in taking it public helped move reform forward.

"He was active in traversing the state and raising awareness of the issue," said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport.

Verdict: By all accounts, Poliquin had an advisory role on this piece of the budget and can easily claim to have "helped."

Is it really $200 million a year?

Not if you're talking today's budget.

Poliquin's math looks ahead as savings are projected to increase.

If you add all of the projected savings from now through fiscal year 2028, adjust for inflation and divide that for an annual average, you get just under $218 million.

However, the actual current savings are only about $164 million for this year -- not the $200 million in the ad -- according to data provided by Sandra Matheson, executive director of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

Also, the savings expected down the road are rough projections, because the best available data on the subject are iffy. 

Verdict: The $200 million figure is misleading. It is reasonable to believe a viewer of the ad could wrongly assume the $200 million figure is immediate. But the best available data show it's also very possible we will see savings in that ballpark before 2028. 

Was the total reduction really $1.7 billion?

Close, but not quite.

The budget slashed what taxpayers will spend on pension debt in the future by 40 percent, for a total savings of $1,655,331,128, according to the data from Matheson.

Poliquin's ad rounds that number up by about $44 million to reach the figure of $1.7 billion.

Accounting for nearly all the savings was a three-year freeze on cost-of-living increases, followed by a cap on cost-of-living adjustments to 3 percent of the first $20,000 of a retiree's pension.

Other changes included raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 for new hires, adjusting for the cost-of-living impact of a two-year salary freeze and making subtle changes to health care eligibility. 

Verdict: The $1.7 billion figure is slightly inflated but fair to use. 

We rate this ad mostly true.

 

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