Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor, has a new TV commercial out that's running statewide. Like his last one, it criticizes Gov. Butch Otter for this year's 7.5 percent cut in funding for public schools. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and here's a look at the claims:
CLAIM: "We have a great country and a great state because we've invested in education. Cost-effective investments in education are an investment in a strong economy with the new and better jobs that go with it."
CONTEXT: Few would dispute this claim; Otter has made similar statements.
CLAIM: "This is a governor who doesn't get it when it comes to the priority that education is. He cut education for the first time in Idaho history, a whopping seven and a half percent, while also trying to raise taxes. It didn't have to happen."
CONTEXT: It's true that Otter and the Legislature cut public school funding by 7.5 percent this year, though Otter notes that other programs took deeper cuts; but the tax increase that Otter championed, a gas tax hike to fund road maintenance, was pushed unsuccessfully in the two previous years, the 2009 and 2008 legislative sessions. Otter made no gas tax proposal this year, instead opting to appoint a transportation funding task force that will make recommendations in December, after the election; that task force is meeting again tomorrow.
Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University, said, "The timing here is off. It's clear he's talking about 2010 here, but then using a 2009 reference. It's not completely accurate."
The claim about cutting education for the first time is something even Otter acknowledges. Idaho actually cut general funds for public schools the previous year by $68 million, a first, but that year, the difference was mostly made up with federal stimulus funds, leaving schools with an overall funding increase of a fraction of a percent. This year's cut is a drop in total funding for schools.
Allred's claim that "it didn't have to happen" refers to his position that the state shouldn't have low-balled tax revenue projections for this year, forcing deeper cuts, and should have funded more tax collectors to collect due but uncollected taxes, a move the Tax Commission says would bring in millions. If estimates held, those two moves would have added up to millions more than this year's $128.5 million cut in school funding.