“As governor, I cut $5 billion in spending, balanced the budget and cut my own pay. George Allen increased spending 45 percent as governor, helped turn a record surplus into a massive deficit as senator, voted four times to raise the debt ceiling and voted four times to raise his own pay.”
-- Ad from the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine
This column has been updated
Timothy Kaine and George Allen are in a tight race to replace Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who will step down in January after just one term in office. The contest has national significance because it could help Democrats hold their majority in the Senate and it gives Republicans a shot at shifting the balance.
Both candidates are veteran Virginia politicians who have attacked each other’s records and claimed multiple accomplishments relating to responsible governance. We decided to examine one ad from each of the two Senate hopefuls, with the idea that the chosen videos combined should provide a fairly comprehensive look at their respective backgrounds.
We’ll start with this ad from Kaine and move to Allen in a follow-up column. We won’t deal with the claim that Kaine balanced Virginia’s budget, because he and the legislature were required to do that by law.
Let’s begin with a bit of background on the political careers of Kaine and Allen.
Kaine served as mayor of Richmond, Va. from 1998 until 2001, as Virginia’s lieutenant governor from 2002 until 2006 and as governor from 2006 until 2010 -- Virginia restricts its governors to one term. He was also chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 until 2011.
Allen started his political career with the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served from 1983 until 1991. He then represented the Old Dominion State in Congress from 1991 until 1993 before becoming governor from 1994 until 1998. He later represented his state in the U.S. Senate from 2001 until 2007, serving one term before losing to Democrat Jim Webb in 2006.
“I cut $5 billion in spending …”
As governor, Kaine worked with the Virginia legislature to close more than $7 million in budget gaps, but they didn’t accomplish that through spending cuts alone. The state also borrowed money, transferred funds, raised new revenue, used federal stimulus grants and tapped into its rainy day fund.
The actual spending cuts during Kaine’s tenure amounted to about $3.4 billion, plus another $2.3 billion in reductions he proposed just before leaving office. We cannot count the cuts he merely proposed because they were not enacted on his watch. Budgeting requires painstaking negotiations, and it wouldn’t be fair to credit a governor with reductions simply because he asked for them -- especially when his claims suggest he actually implemented all those reductions.
Virginia’s spending cuts during Kaine’s term came out to about $500 million for the 2006-2008 biennial budget and $2.9 billion for 2008-2010. The reductions are detailed in a series of state reports: two for 2006-2008 and two for 2008-2010.
It’s worth noting that the state planned to grow spending by $5 billion during the early years of Kaine’s term, according to a legislative summary of Virginia’s 2008 adopted budget.
UPDATE: Kaine campaign spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine pointed out that Kaine's opponents have suggested multiple times that the Democratic candidate's final-budget proposals were more than mere recommendations. That's true.
One ad from the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS , for instance, said “Kaine's last budget cut millions from public schools,” as though the Democratic candidate had actually implemented his final proposals. That Crossroads claim deserves Three Pinocchios, but it doesn't get the Kaine campaign off the hook, because two wrongs don't make a right.
Still, we had struggled with the decision of how many Pinocchios to award this claim, and we initially rated it with three because it contains a factual error. But we have decided to reduce it to two (our scale says “some factual error may be involved”) because both sides have tried using the same type of factual inaccuracy to their advantage. The Kaine and Allen campaigns are on notice that future attempts to blur lines between “proposed cuts” and “implemented cuts” could earn them at least Three Pinocchios.
“I … cut my own pay.”
In 2007, Kaine cut $667,000 in spending for the executive’s office and executive mansion, including a 5 percent reduction in his $175,000 salary, according to several news accounts at the time. An October 2008 report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch shows that he followed that up by trimming $1.4 million from the same areas the next year.
“George Allen increased spending 45 percent as governor …”
This claim is true, but it lacks context: The economy was much healthier during Allen’s term than it was when Kaine was in office, and government spending almost always increases over time because of inflation and population growth, which requires greater expenditures on services.
Allen proposed a general fund of $9.9 billion in his last budget, which, if implemented, would have represented a 45.6 percent increase over the $6.8 billion general fund he inherited in 1994. But that last budget was just a proposal, so it’s not quite fair to say that increased spending by that full amount.
It’s worth pointing out that the rate of growth during Allen’s term was slower than it was on average during the previous three decades. The state’s general fund has increased 16 percent annually on average over the past 30 years, while it grew by a slower 11.5 percent per year on average under Allen.
“[Allen] helped turn a record surplus into a massive deficit as senator, voted four times to raise the debt ceiling …”
Allen served in the Senate during the presidency of George W. Bush, and there’s no doubt that the government turned to deficit-spending during that period. So what did the Republican Senate candidate have to do with this?
The federal government had a surplus of $127.3 billion when Allen started his term. By the time he left office six years later, the nation was running a $248 billion deficit.
Allen never served with the budget-setting appropriations committee, but he voted in favor of all the appropriations bills that went to the Senate floor during his term, as our colleagues at PolitiFact pointed out. That means he supported the spending policies that contributed to the deficit.
Still, Kaine’s ad oversimplifies the issue. The surplus-to-deficit turnaround involved more than just greater spending and raising the debt ceiling, but also tax cuts and a struggling economy that brought in far less revenue than during the surplus years.
Overall, Allen’s voting record indicates that he deserves a share of the blame for the rising deficits during the George W. Bush presidency, but he had limited control over the budget-making process beyond his one vote.
“[Allen] voted four times to raise his own pay.”
Allen never voted specifically to increase his pay while serving in the Senate. What he did was vote against amendments to block the automatic pay raises that go into effect each year unless Congress decides to block them -- federal lawmakers set this policy back in 1989.
For what it’s worth, congressional salaries jumped from $145,000 to $165,000 during Allen’s term. But pay actually remained about even after adjusting those numbers for inflation.
Allen voted against amendments that would have blocked the automatic pay hikes in 2001, 2002 and twice in 2003. However, he voted in favor of an amendment to stop the pay increase in 2006, and he cut his own salary by 10 percent while serving as governor of Virginia in 1994, according to a Washington Post article that year.
The Kaine ad is misleading because it suggests Allen greedily voted for measures designed specifically to increase his salary. He actually voted against blocking automatic pay raises that have been around since 1989. And if there’s any doubt he’s willing to sacrifice pay for the good of the government, he did so in 1994 and 2006.
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