Osburn: Flawed claimsWritten by Ben Osburn | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Every four years, Ohio plays an integral role in each presidential candidate’s strategy, especially in terms of television ad time. This year will be no different.
To date, voters have seen more than $162 million worth of ads. The bulk of the money has been spent in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, Florida and Ohio. According to The Washington Post, Toledo has seen $1.5 million worth of ads to date from both candidates. While smaller in comparison to other parts of the state, this amount is still enough to leave a lasting impression in a voter’s mind.
One ad that has been recently played from the Barack Obama campaign targets Mitt Romney’s governorship of Massachusetts. Paid for by Obama for America, the ad depicts Mitt Romney as a job killer and a debt creator. The campaign claims that “Romney economics” didn’t work when he was governor and they won’t work if he is president.
The ad states that under Romney, Massachusetts had the highest amount of public debt per person than any other state. This is a true statement. According to Moody’s Investor Services, during Romney’s last year in office, Massachusetts had the highest per capita debt in the country with $4,153 per citizen. Connecticut came in a distant second. Cumulatively during Romney’s four years, the rankings stayed the same. Even though Romney slowed the rate of debt growth from 5.8 to 1.9 percent, this ultimately means that the claim made by team Obama is true.
However, the claim is also somewhat misleading. First, there is a distinct difference between state and national debt. Many states are like Massachusetts, which by law must balance its budget. This means that the operating budget for the state, which covers public employees’ payroll and government services, must be fully paid for by taxes and fees each year. Romney did not increase taxes during his tenure, but did increase fees. Money for capital improvement projects like road and school improvements are typically not covered in the budget and are paid for by borrowing money. In Massachusetts, regional capital projects are often paid for by the state, due to the lack of regional government taxing authority. This increased the debt even more.
State debt is different from the national debt because, unlike state governments, the federal government is not required to have sufficient funds to cover discretionary and mandatory spending. It is able to print money to pay for services it doesn’t have the money for, unlike states. So the idea that based on Romney’s state debt record, he would increase the debt to pay for discretionary and mandatory spending is severely flawed.
Second, Massachusetts had a track record of operating in debt that started before Romney took office. In the two years prior to his governorship, Massachusetts ranked first and second in debt per capita. In fact, it has been in the top five ranking for almost five decades. However, while the state may be notorious for racking up large amounts of debt, it is also well known for paying it off. Under Romney, the state operated with a AA credit rating, recently being upgraded to AA+. Any money borrowed by the state was most likely paid off.
The ad also states that during Romney’s tenure, Massachusetts at one time ranked 47th in job creation. This is true, but ignores the improvements Romney made during his time. When Romney took office in 2003, Massachusetts was at the bottom of the list at 50th, in terms of job creation. When he left office in 2007, the state jumped to 28th on the list. Romney even improved the state’s unemployment rate from the 5.6 percent rate he inherited to 4.7 percent when he left office. Though the jobless rate and unemployment numbers were still above the national average when Romney left the governorship, it is clear that conditions did improve under his leadership.
Instead of doing a year-by-year analysis of Massachusetts’ job creation rankings, the Obama campaign decided to use the much worse average. Additionally, the campaign also used the most misleading measure of state debt to paint the worst picture of candidate Romney. The Obama campaign continues to blame Romney for problems that he inherited when he was governor, while ignoring the successes of his tenure.
Ben Osburn is a graduate student in political science at the University of Toledo. Email him at letters@toledo freepress.com.