The Texas showdown at the GOP debate
Rep. Ron Paul: “I'm a taxpayer there [Texas]. My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he's been in office. Our spending has gone up double. Our debt has gone up nearly triple. So, no, and 170,000 of the jobs were government jobs. So I would put a little damper on this, but I don't want to offend the governor, because he might raise my taxes or something.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry : “While I've been governor, we have cut taxes by $14 billion, 65 different pieces of legislation. You may have not seen them, Representative Paul.”
— Exchange during the CNN-Tea Party Express debate, Sept. 12
This story has been updated.
A Texas showdown erupted briefly during Monday night’s Republican debate in Tampa when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Texas Rep. Ron Paul whether Lone Star Gov. Rick Perry deserves credit for job creation in their state.
Paul laughed off the suggestion and made four claims about Perry’s tenure: rising taxes, increased spending, growing debt and more government jobs.
Perry shot back that he signed 65 tax-saving measures to cut $14 billion in taxes.
All politicians slice and dice statistics to put their record in the best possible light. Who had the better argument in the debate?
We asked both campaigns to justify their claims. The Paul campaign answered with a detailed fact sheet, but the Perry campaign did not respond to calls or e-mails. Still, we found a document on the Perry Web site that helped explain where he got the $14 billion figure for his tax cut claim.
Paul said he’s paid more taxes with Perry as governor. His campaign did not answer a request to quantify this claim, so it’s impossible to tell whether that’s true. One note: Texas does not have a state income tax, so any increases for Paul came from property, sales or federal taxes — some of which Perry had nothing to do with.
The Paul campaign’s fact sheet made a further claim: “Bottom line: Rick Perry raised taxes by $1.6 billion since 2003.” But the campaign failed to provide documentation for that figure, and it didn’t respond to follow-up requests for an explanation.
Paul misled voters with his claim that Perry doubled state expenditures. Spending increased 91 percent under Perry, but only if you don’t take into account inflation and population growth. For instance, the population of Texas grew 4.5 million, or 21 percent, while Perry was governor. State spending rises and falls almost automatically with those numbers, so we have to factor them into the equation. State spending also can be affected by federal programs such as Medicaid, and Medicaid enrollment has almost doubled during Perry’s tenure.
Spending under Perry rose on average just 4.2 percent every two years -- or 22.8 percent over the governor’s tenure -- after adjusting for inflation and population, according to an analysis by Fort Worth Star-Telegram in July.
That’s a far cry from double, but it doesn’t mean Perry’s off the hook. Spending still outpaced inflation and population growth, the Star-Telegram said. The newspaper also concluded that Perry increased spending on average more than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Expenditures under Perry rose an average of 4.2 percent every two years, while increasing only 2.3 percent on average under Bush — with both figures adjusted for inflation and population growth.
But Paul appears be correct with his figures on the growth of Texas’s state debt. The Fort Worth-Telegram in July also calculated that the state debt rose from $13.4 billion in 2001 to $37.8 billion in 2010, or almost triple, as Paul said. That’s actually a faster pace than the growth of the federal debt.
But here’s what Paul didn’t say: Debt is fine if prudently managed, and Texas — with its rapid growth in population — appears able to handle the debt load.
“In a May report, Standard & Poor's gave the state an AA+ rating, citing its outperforming economy, strong cash management and constitutional limits on debt,” the newspaper said, noting that per capita, only Tennessee has a smaller state tax burden.
Paul was inaccurate or misleading on three accounts so far, and he doesn’t redeem himself with his claims about the Texas payroll. He said Perry added 170,000 government jobs, but his campaign today e-mailed numbers showing the actual increase to be 30,583 between the years 2000 to 2007 — no word on why the campaign selected those years while omitting the last four.
We also checked Texas state data listed on the Web site of the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. That showed state government jobs grew 50,000, or 13 percent, through July 2011, during Perry’s tenure. That’s less than the growth in the state’s population.
So how did Perry do with his claim of cutting taxes?
Perry said he lowered taxes by $14 billion during his tenure as Texas governor. We found a document from his campaign Web site listing 67 bills amounting to tax relief he claims.
One obvious mistake for the governor is that he sold himself short, saying he signed 65 tax-saving measures when his campaign document lists 67.
Regardless, both those numbers appear to exaggerate the amount of legislation Texas lawmakers directed toward tax cuts. Perry’s campaign lists the savings on 43 of the bills from that sheet as negligible, or “N/A.”
The remaining 24 bills amount to $14 billion in tax savings, but the lion’s share of that relief comes from $12.6 billion in savings on school property taxes, specifically those that go toward maintenance and operations.
Beyond that, the governor actually raised taxes in certain areas, although it didn’t amount to a net increase.
To Perry’s credit, his tax-cut list includes — and accounts for — nearly $18 billion in hikes related to franchise taxes, cigarette taxes and changes in the way used cars are valued for taxation, which was used to offset some of the reduction in property taxes.
The Pinocchio Test
Perry’s inflated figure for significant tax-cut legislation is a relatively minor violation, worth about a Pinocchio. But Paul appears to have fallen short on every claim he made, so he gets three.
(Please welcome Josh Hicks to The Fact Checker team. This is his first column.)