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Monday, July 11, 2011

Debunk early and often: Albert Lea Republican shoots down bogus MNGOP budget numbers

Dan Dorman's current guest column in the Albert Lea Tribune isn't the first time that Republicans currently serving in the legislature have been called out on bogus accounting.
It's only one of the most recent examples.
Update 7/10: For an example published just after this post went up, check out the comparison at the Pioneer Press in Bill Salisbury's The numbers at the heart of the state budget standoff. [end update]
How did these budget figures get here?
Dorman, who caucused with the Republican Party during his eight years as House District 27A representative, writes in How did Minnesota get to this point?:
Since the start of the legislative session, there has been an array of numbers coming from St. Paul that don’t seem to add. There have been ads ran in our area, for example, that claim the budget bills passed by the Republicans increase spending by 6 percent. Wow, that sounds like a lot! If this were true, why would there have to be so many cuts to programs like local government aid? The reality is that the 6 percent increase claim ignores the federal stimulus dollars and borrows dollars from K-12 education used to balance the last budget.
What are the real numbers? The last state budget signed by Gov. Pawlenty totaled $34.4 billion. The budget passed by the Legislature for 2012-2013 totaled $34 billion – hardly a 6 percent increase. In his original budget Gov. Mark Dayton called for spending $37.1 billion. Gov. Dayton has since revised his budget number to $35.8 billion. . . .
Go read the rest. Dorman isn't suggesting any easy answers. But he's lookin for policy  based on real numbers.
Back to May: Carla Nelson's "actual budget numbers"
Dorman's not the first to call attention to this eccentric accounting, and he's far more kind than others. Perhaps the most scathing review of Republican bookkeeping came at the end of May when the Rochester Post Bulletin editorial board nailed freshman Carla Nelsonfor using the same set of figures as the ad Dorman mentions.
In May. It's July now, and the MNGOP still trots out the same bank of Monopoly money.
The Post Bulletin editorial is now archived behind the paper's subscription firewall, but the full editorial has been reposted here by the Invest in Minnesota Coalition. Here's what the PB wrote:
Sen. Carla Nelson, a Republican from Rochester, handed out an interesting and enlightening document during Thursday's Eggs and Issues event sponsored by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.
Under the headline "Here are the actual budget numbers for your consideration," she provided the following figures:
• $30.2 billion — current budget for this biennium (fiscal year 2010-11)
• $34.5 billion spent — includes onetime federal stimulus money and shifts (fiscal year 2010-11)
• $34 billion of revenue projected for next biennium (fiscal year 2012-13)
• $34 billion — Legislature's budget sent to Gov. Dayton for the next biennium
• $37 billion —  Dayton's budget for next biennnium.
• $39 billion in projected spending for next biennium.
Let's, as the saying goes, "unpack" some of those numbers.
Start with the last figure. That $39 billion is a pipe dream, the "government-growth-on-autopilot" budget that everyone knows won't happen. Minnesota needs to become more efficient, and spending can't expand at this rate when the economy is struggling.
Working our way down, consider the $37 billion Dayton budget. That figure was accurate for much of the session, but during the last week the governor adjusted his proposal. It now stands at about $35.8 billion in spending over the next two-year cycle.
Keep that in mind as we jump to the top two figures on Nelson's list. Minnesota used $30.2 billion of its own money in the current two-year cycle, but we actually spent $34.5 billion. To make the books balance, we didn't pay schools $1.9 billion that they're owed, and we used $2.3 billion in federal stimulus funds.
As far as we know, Minnesota didn't spend those federal dollars on a statewide pizza party. We spent them on education, transportation and health care, and without that money, we would have been in a world of hurt.
Yet, when some Republicans talk about the size of Dayton's proposed budget increase, they use $30.2 billion as the baseline of "current state spending," and compare it to Dayton's outdated $37 billion proposal.
By doing so, the GOP can claim that Dayton seeks a 22 percent spending increase. That's the figure that was cited by Rep. Mike Benson during Thursday's Eggs and Issues meeting. Nelson reported the same figure on her handout.
But if we compare what Minnesota actually spent in the past two years to the latest offer that Dayton has put on the table, spending would increase by 3.7 percent. Or, put another way, the annual increase would be less than 2 percent
If we can’t agree on how to do the math, we’re going to have a hard time reaching a deal. . . .
No kidding.
Go read the rest. The editors concluded:
Could those needs [of Minnesotas] be met with the GOP's budget, which would spend $500 million less in the next two years than we spent in the previous two? On paper, it's almost certainly possible — almost anything is when you're just crunching numbers, trying to hit a certain figure.
But we're deeply afraid that when such a "solution" trickles down to our classrooms, our grandparents, our college students and our unemployed or disabled neighbor, Minnesota will cease to be recognizable as the state which once was known for innovation, education and compassion.
Poligraph's April fact check
For a graphic illustration of the math, check out How much we spent last budget. Ask MN GOP to stop lying. at the Minnesota Progressive Project:
Whenever someone brings up that Republicans increased spending by 6%, please point out they are lying. Either reference this chart, or PoliGraph.
Maybe the old bon mot by the late Duchess of Windsor can be revised for today's Republican Party of Minnesota: It can't be too rich or too debunked ---and certainly not often enough. The Republicans will continue to use these figures to avoid fair taxation, and the figures will continue to be exposed for what they are.

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