In race for Senate seat, budget votes inspire inflated, inaccurate claims

Staff writerAugust 4, 2013 

Campaign ads in a special election for state Senate in the moderate, suburban 26th District of Pierce and Kitsap counties are competing to portray both candidates as extremists.

The claims sometimes get skewed when the ads target Sen. Nathan Schlicher and Rep. Jan Angel on the budget.

THE CLAIMS

Mail attacks targeting Schlicher have repeatedly criticized the Gig Harbor Democrat’s budget votes, including a supposed vote for $900 million in taxes.

The $900 million tax figure is cited in mail pieces from the state Republican Party, the Good Government Leadership Council funded by Senate Republicans, and pro-business Enterprise Washington.

An ad with a picture of a stethoscope is typical of the attacks on the emergency room doctor.

“What’s Senator Nathan Schlicher’s prescription for Washington?” the Good Government Leadership Council asks. “Taxes and spending we can’t afford.”

“When Democrat Schlicher had a chance to vote for a no-new-taxes budget that included $1 billion in extra education funding, he voted ‘no’ in favor of a budget that would require a $900 million tax increase.”

The same mailer says he voted for “$160 million in new death taxes on married couples” and “$325 million in increased spending.”

Several other ads, including a TV spot, make the $325 million claim, although one mailer actually raises the figure by a thousand times, to “$325 billion.”

Schlicher counter-attacks in an ad saying Angel’s accusations are misleading because he and Angel “voted for the exact same budget.”

The ad quotes a Kitsap Sun article that seems on its face to back up that claim: “Some of the advertising criticizes Schlicher for his votes on the budget, which he said was odd, because Angel voted the same way he did. Angel said that was true on the overall budget.”

While Schlicher seeks to blur the lines between the opponents on the budget, his allies aren’t hesitating to attack Angel on the same topic.

Democrats, unions and environmentalists are funding She’s Changed PAC, which sent a mailer targeting the Port Orchard Republican and saying: “When the state Supreme Court mandated action to fund our schools, we had an opportunity to add billions to help struggling school districts without a general tax increase. … Jan Angel voted no.”

It says she also “voted no” on proposals to reduce “the 4th largest class sizes in the nation,” to “prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions,” and to “close corporate tax loopholes to fund all-day kindergarten in Pierce and Kitsap county school districts.”

THE FACTS

It took months of debate in which there were several votes on different versions of the budget, but state lawmakers finally approved a compromise two-year spending plan in June.

It provides a roughly $1 billion increase in basic education spending to try to comply with a court mandate. The plan avoids general tax increases but raises some revenue by ending two tax breaks related to court cases.

Both Schlicher and Angel voted for the final budget.

They did differ on whether to end the two exemptions, on telecommunications companies and wealthy estates. Angel opposed the changes, and she may have had those tax bills in mind when she spoke to the Kitsap Sun about whether their voting records matched up. “Angel said that was true on the overall budget, but not on individual bills that were part of the budget process,” the paper wrote.

Schlicher’s ad omits the second half of the sentence.

Did Angel refuse to add “billions” to schools, as the PAC’s mailer claims? She did vote against a proposal by House Democrats that would have added $1.3 billion by extending expiring taxes on businesses and beer and reducing tax breaks. But then she voted for the final $1 billion plan.

Did she oppose reducing class sizes? Again, she opposed one plan with $225 million for class size, but supported another with a smaller $104 million that targets high-poverty schools.

She did oppose a proposal in 2011 to fund all-day kindergarten by ending a tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers. And she did co-sponsor a bill to keep the state from implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, although it’s unclear that it could have stopped the Obamacare provision that requires insurance to cover children’s pre-existing conditions.

On the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate, a mostly Republican majority started this year with a two-year, $33.2 billion plan that largely avoided tax increases – using cuts and transfers, some vague, to find the $1 billion for schools. Schlicher did vote for at least $320 million in additions to that proposal, seeking to add more school funding and avoid cuts to housing and disability programs.

That would have brought the total to $33.5 billion — which, coincidentally, is the spending level in the final budget. The GOP-backed ads, of course, omit the fact that Angel and many other Republicans ultimately supported the same higher level of spending.

And, of course, the accusation that Schlicher voted for $325 billion in extra spending – about 10 times the size of the whole budget – is flat wrong. It was a typo, said the Republican political consultant running the Good Government committee.

The attacks are roughly correct on the amount of “death taxes,” usually called estate taxes, approved with Schlicher’s support. One quibble: Those weren’t exactly “new.” They restored the tax after the state Supreme Court ruled that certain married couples should never have been subjected to it.

In another vote, Schlicher supported a House compromise plan that would have targeted the estate tax, telecommunications and out-of-state-shoppers exemptions. Total tax increase: a bit more than $300 million.

Yet the mailers tar him with a $900 million figure.

Republicans said that’s the amount taxes would have reached in six years. They defended the six-year figure by saying Republicans have called for balancing the budget over six years.

But the ads don’t make any mention of that six-year horizon.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Some of the PAC criticism of Angel’s votes omits crucial facts, such as that she voted in favor of alternative plans to the proposals it identifies her as opposing.

And Schlicher’s ad against Angel takes her statement out of context.

Some claims about Schlicher’s votes are inflated, and not just in the apparent typo that wildly increases the spending he supported.

By repeatedly tripling the amount of taxes he supported, using a six-year figure without noting it’s over an unusual time period, the Republicans and attacking groups mislead on Schlicher’s record.

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