Trotting out the “$6 Billion Shortfall” Again

It was one day before the election, and I was still agonizing over who to vote for. Jerry Kilgore is, for all his failings, more likely to hold the lid on future tax increases. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, has the better grasp of transportation policy, the most important single issue in the year ahead. Who to vote for… who to vote for…

Then, a half hour ago, an e-mail from the Tim Kaine campaign arrived in my in-box. It pushed one of my biggest hot buttons… the wrong way. Boy, am I steamed. I know that campaign communications from both sides play fast and loose with the truth, but this one played fast and loose with the truth on an issue that I really care about. Here’s what the e-mail, putatively from Gov. Mark Warner, said:

When Tim and I were elected to lead Virginia in 2001, our predecessors’ fiscal irresponsibility had left the state with historic shortfalls – that grew to $6 billion. We made some tough choices and cut the budget. Tim even cut his own salary!

Let’s go through this step by step. “… left the state with historic shortfalls — that grew to $6 billion.” The situation was dire when Warner and Kaine entered office during a recession, and Warner had to scramble to close a looming deficit. But the deficit wasn’t anywhere close to $6 billion. The key is understanding what Warner means by a “shortfall.” It’s not the same as a budget deficit. The term represents a cumulative gap between anticipated spending and revenues over three years. That gap consisted of roughly one part revenue shortfall (i.e. revenues coming in less than anticipated) and one part spending increase. That $6 billion “shortfall,” to be precise, included $3.1 billion in “required new spending” on Medicaid, prisons, K-12 education and car-tax relief that the previous governor had never contemplated.

We made some tough choices and cut the budget.” Gov. Warner and the General Assembly — oh, and Tim Kaine, too — enacted approximately $3.3 billion in spending cuts over a three year- period. Factor in the spending increases noted above, and the net cuts amounted to $200 million. Over three years. Not quite $6 billion.

The parsing of words is technically correct, so Kaine/Warner cannot be accused of “lying.” But the words are carefully designed to mislead — and they have succeeded marvelously in doing so. I’ve seen commentators repeat over and over — never once corrected by the Warner administration, much less the lapdog press whose job it is to expose such claims — that Warner & Co. cut spending by $6 billion, or closed a $6 billion budget deficit. (For details, read my column “What’s a ‘Budget Shortfall’?” here.) The Governor deserves credit for a number of very real budgetary accomplishments. But he tarnishes his legacy — and Tim Kaine tarnishes his reputation for integrity — by shamelessly exaggerrating those accomplishments.

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7 responses to “Trotting out the “$6 Billion Shortfall” Again”

  1. Jim, Kaine despite this small email flap is the better candidate in every respect. Look at it this way — Very close to the elections, every campaign ramps up its PR machine, and sometimes exagerate some things, but I don’t see it as a outright 180 fabrication that reaches the high heavens. Politics is not pleasant, but you can choose the better candidate on issue after issue. My vote goes to Tim Kaine.
    Jim, I respectfully ask you to consider Tim Kaine. Vote Tim Kaine and ask your friends and family to do the same. The stakes in this election are high. Thank you.

  2. GOPHokie Avatar

    So Jim, who have you decided to support?

  3. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    I loved the “tough budget choice” that Warner-Kaine made: closing DMV offices. They deliberately chose the “Washington Monument” strategy instead of cutting wasteful spending–they were setting the table for tax increases.

    If I had been in the Kilgore campaign, I would have run an ad showing the “tough choice” of closing DMV offices … while allowing DGIF safaris and golden parachutes for executives.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    But to do that, Will, you would first have to put on the hair shirt of a real fiscal conservative, something Kilgore never did. And voters have noticed the blatant contraditions of (1) “I’m against tax increases” and (2) “I’m going to spend like a Congressional Republican” (Drunken Sailors now look like fiscal conservatives in comparison). Give the Democrats credit — given the tough choices, they raised taxes — and by all indications about 23 hours from now it will be clear they have been REWARDED for it.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Jerry Kilgore is the one who acts like the state budget is a bottomless pot of money to pay for all sorts of new programs. Tim Kaine has stressed that we must continue the fiscal responsibility of Governor Warner. If you want to return us to the fiscal train wreck of the Gilmore years, then you should vote for Kilgore.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Where are the REAL numbers that support his fiscal responsibility?

    It’s amazing to me that the tax increase that supplied the “unexpected” budget surplus just about covers his legacy, his pride, his BIG VITA SELL OUT!

    I remember when he was going on about how every Virginian would “feel the pain” of budget decreases. He “sadly” closed the DMV branches, cut social programs, etc. Many agencies were cut to the quick but still required to get the job done. It all seemed like a necessary challenge until Warner and VITA started shoveling money to the private industry buddies and filling useless high-paid positions with their cronies.

    I will have to give him credit, he is one slick politician! He kept us all in the dark while pulling the rug right out from under our feet!

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    GOPHokie, I fume and fulminate, but I don’t do endorsements.

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