PolitiFact: McDonnell “Balanced Budget” Largely on “transfers…bookkeeping moves and stimulus”

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    According to the Republican Times-Disgrace Richmond Times-Dispatch’s PolitiFact Virginia “truth-o-meter,” Gov. Bob McDonnell says over and over again that he “cut $6 billion from Virginia’s budget,” and that he “closed those deficits by cutting spending, not raising taxes.” Unfortunately for McDonnell, PolitiFact finds that his claims are “barely true,” and even that conclusion seems exceedingly generous. A few points:

    1. Balancing the Virginia budget isn’t some extraordinary achievement; in fact, it’s required constitutionally, which means that every governor balances Virginia’s budget. In other words, what Bob McDonnell’s doing here is nothing that his predecessors – Kaine, Warner, Gilmore, Allen, whoever – didn’t do. Yawn.

    2. Something McDonnell doesn’t mention, but which is absolutely factual and absolutely important, is that he used “$2.91 billion in transfers and bookkeeping maneuver” to “balance” the budget. For instance:

    …Lawmakers helped support general services by diverting $850 million in scheduled contributions to the state pension. They withdrew $783 million from Virginia’s rainy day fund. They also found savings by using debt to finance some construction projects they had planned to pay for in cash, raising a variety of fees, moving up the monthly deadline for businesses to submit sales tax receipts to create an extra collection in 2010, and moving money from self-supporting programs into the state’s general fund to help pay for education, health programs and public safety.

    Basically, that’s all “smoke and mirrors” — $2.91 billion worth of “smoke and mirrors,” to be exact. Nice job, Bob!

    3. Added to the $2.91 billion in “smoke and mirrors,” we also have $1.9 billion in one-time federal stimulus money received by Virginia (thank you, President Obama and the Democratic Congress of 2009!) — money that was used to “[defray] rising Medicaid costs” and to help “[bolster] public schools.” Again, that had absolutely nothing to do with anything Bob McDonnell did. In fact, McDonnell and Company were busy bashing the federal stimulus, the same stimulus that bailed him out and allowed him to run around the state claiming he “balanced the budget without raising taxes.” Yet that stimulus money, combined with the “smoke and mirrors” budgetary gimmicks and pension fund raids, add up to $4.8 billion (80%) out of the $6 billion McDonnell claims to have “cut.” So, we’re down to a maximum of 20% truthfulness to McDonnell’s claims.

    4. Now, finally we get to the actual budget cuts portion (20%) of McDonnell’s “Barely True” claims. On this one, PolitiFact concludes that “McDonnell is accurate in saying spending was cut, but he greatly exaggerates how much.” In fact, PolitiFact concludes – with help from “Robert Vaughn, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, [who] helped us compile the numbers and [who] did not dispute our conclusions” – that there were total cuts of $2.34 billion.” However, PolitiFact also points out, “the financial problems began at least 18 months before McDonnell took office. And McDonnell’s predecessor — Democrat Tim Kaine —  announced budget actions to close a $2.5 billion shortfall in October 2008.” In the end, according to PolitiFact, “It’s impossible to determine exactly how much of the shortfall was solved under McDonnell and how much under Kaine.”

    In other words, even of the 20% part of the budget deficit that McDonnell can somewhat claim credit for, some part of that credit has to be given to Tim Kaine and some to the General Assembly. And that’s not even looking at whether these cuts were wise, good public policy, etc. But let’s put that aside for now and just stick to the fact that McDonnell gets credit for AT MOST 20% of what he’s claiming, and actually much less (how about we just divide that number by three, giving 1/3 credit each to Kaine, the General Assembly, and McDonnell).

    The bottom line is this: Bob McDonnell has been going around the state, and also the country (as part of his continuing audition – not to mention ambition! – to be the Republican presidential nominee’s running mate in 2012) claiming that he closed a $6 billion budget deficit through his own brilliance and perseverance and courage, without (god forbid) raising taxes. Being very generous, that’s “Barely True,” as in fact McDonnell realistically can be given 1/3 of 20% (about 7%) of the “credit” for balancing Virginia’s budget. The remaining 93% is attributable either to “smoke and mirrors” (nearly 50%), to federal stimulus money (about 30%), to Tim Kaine (about 7%), and/or to the General Assembly (about 7%). Let’s hear Bob McDonnell brag about how he’s 7% responsible for closing Virginia’s budget gap; it’s the truth, but you’ll sure as heck never hear those words exit this smarmy, ambitious politicians’ lying lips.