Deval Patrick slammed Mitt Romney last night. But do his facts check out?

September 5, 2012

Deval Patrick / Josh Reynolds-AP

The original version of this article misidentified Massachusetts' education expenditures. It has been corrected. We apologize for the error.

Deval Patrick succeeded Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts. So it made sense that the Obama campaign dispatched him to attack Romney's record in the state. The speech was direct and forceful, and the crowd loved it. But do the facts check out? Let's go through them, one by one.

TRUE - By the time [Mitt Romney] left office, Massachusetts was 47th in the nation in job creation

As Politifact has found, this stat checks out. But rankings are a terrible way of comparing job growth between states. Looking at the raw Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Massachusetts' nonfarm payrolls grew by 0.97 percent between December 2002 and December 2006, whereas the median state, Arkansas, saw payrolls grow by 4.77 percent. So the substance of Patrick's critique is correct. Mitt Romney did oversee decidedly lackluster job growth. Whether that's his fault is a different question -- governors have limited control over state economies.

MISLEADING - … and household income in our state was declining.

This is a stretch. Here's what median household income in Massachusetts looked like under Romney, according to the Census Bureau:

Household incomes were stagnating, and in 2006 they were a tad ($589) below their 2002 level, but in 2007 they were $1,055 above 2002 levels. If you're going to attribute any economic outcomes to a governor — which, generally, you shouldn't — it seems fair to include data for the year after they left office, over which they presumably have a greater impact than their successor. Patrick was right that Romney oversaw household income stagnation. But to say it was "declining" is misleading.

FALSE - [Romney] cut education deeper than anywhere else in America.

Huh? I couldn't find evidence that Romney cut education, period. In the 2003-04 school year, Massachusetts spent $4.24 billion on education. In the 2006-07 school year, it spent $4.67 billion, according to the Census' data. How much of this is attributable to Romney is debatable. Massachusetts' state legislature had Democratic supermajorities in both houses, so Romney's say over spending was limited. But this attack is difficult to substantiate.

DEBATABLE - Roads and bridges were crumbling.

This is obviously a subjective area, but many transportation experts, including Transportation Nation's Matt Dellinger, have praised Mitt Romney's infrastructure record as governor, due to its emphasis on "smart growth" and reducing fossil fuel consumption. The New Republic's Alec MacGillis has reported the same.

TRUE - Business taxes were up…

According to the Tax Foundation, the Massachusetts corporate income tax rate stayed at 9.5 percent throughout Romney's term. But Romney enacted a 14 percent surtax in 2004, in keeping with a broader trend of raising taxes on businesses. So Patrick is right on here.

FALSE - … and business confidence was down.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) surveys business leaders to measure business confidence. Here's what they found:


Source: Associated Industries of Massachusetts

To me that looks like confidence improving, not declining, between the start of 2003 and the start of 2007. So Patrick's claim here doesn't check out.

DEBATABLE - Our clean energy potential was stalled.

Again, this is subjective, but to be fair to Romney's record, even though he withdrew from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of northeast states and Canadian provinces that established a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, he did implement new carbon regulations. Romney did oppose the Cape Wind offshore wind farm off Nantucket sound, a position he was joined in by Sen. Ted Kennedy, though Patrick himself has supported the project.

TRUE - [Massachusetts] had a structural budget deficit.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center concluded that the budget for fiscal year 2008, shortly after Romney left and Patrick took over, had a structural deficit even before the economic crisis hit. "While the immediate cause of Massachusetts' fiscal crisis is the national recession," the report concluded. "policy choices made over the past decade created a structural deficit that have reduced the state's ability to address the economic downturn." It is accurate for Patrick to hit Romney on this point.

TRUE WITH A BUT - Today Massachusetts leads the nation instudent achievement…

Totally correct. NAEP tests, the national gold standard for educational assessment, showed Massachusetts to lead the nation in achievement in 2011, in most grades and subjects. But it also led in student achievement under Romney.

TRUE WITH A BUT - … health care coverage…

Massachusetts is the only state with a universal health care plan, so correct. As Sarah has reported, the uninsured rate is an astonishingly low 5.6 percent at last measuring -- but that's largely because of the health-care reforms Romney signed into law.

TRUE - … [and] energy efficiency

Right. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy last year ranked Massachusetts first in the nation among states for energy efficiency initiatives, besting California.

FALSE - Today we're out of the deficit hole Mr. Romney left.

The Massachusets Budget and Policy Center indicted Romney for his budget record, but it doesn't leave Patrick off the hook either. He has failed, the Center judged, to produce meaningful sources of new revenue to correct the structural budget problems that his predecessors' tax cuts created. If Patrick is going to indict Romney for his structural deficits, he should acknowledge that those structural deficits and the longer-run problems they create persist to this day.

TRUE - We've achieved the highest bond rating in our history.

True. Last September, S&P upgraded Massachusetts to AA+, noting that its, Moody's, and Fitch's ratings together gave the state "its highest credit standing in history."

TRUE - We've made the reforms in our pension and benefits systems, our schools, our transportation system and more that Mr. Romney only talked about.

Patrick has indeed signed education, pension, and transportation reforms into law, though your mileage may vary as to how good their content is.

===

The general pattern in Patrick's speech is that he overreached in trying to indict Romney's record but generally told the truth when bragging about his own. He also conveniently left out decisions Romney made that contributed to Patrick's impressive numbers, like the health-care reforms. The bottom line is that long-run revenue issues aside, Massachusetts is an extraordinarily well-run state with outstanding schools, a low uninsured rate, and well-rated debt. Both Patrick and Romney can take credit for that.

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