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PoliGraph: Horner's budget accounting off

False image.GIFBy Catharine Richert

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and members of the state Legislature balanced the budget for this biennium, but left a problem in the next fiscal cycle.

Tom Horner says the problem will be enormous.

"Instead of facing up to the hard choices, legislators have created a budget deficit that will be as much as $9 billion in the first year of the new governor's term," said the Independence Party gubernatorial candidate during a May 21, 2010, speech.

In fact, the budget deficit is far less than that. Horner has double-counted payments to schools that the legislature has deferred until the next budget cycle, and exaggerated the size of deficit.

The Evidence

The most recent projected budget deficit for the next biennium is about $5.8 billion, a big problem to be sure, but far less than Horner claimed.

Horner is also counting $1.2 billion in inflation, a factor not included in the official deficit estimate, according to Marti Jones, Horner's spokeswoman. That brings Horner's calculation to about $7 billion.

The additional $2 billion reflects money the government owes schools, which the state has postponed paying until the next budget cycle, Jones wrote in an e-mail.

That would bring the budget deficit to $9 billion. But here's the catch: Minnesota Management and Budget has already included the deferral, which totals about $1.2 billion, in its deficit projection.

The Verdict

Horner is double-counting what the state owes schools. Minnesota is facing a big budget problem in the next biennium, but Horner's estimate is off by at least $1.2 billion.

As a result, Horner fails his first PoliGraph test.


Minnesota Public Radio News, Horner speech, May 21, 2010

Minnesota State Legislature, 2010 Legislative Session, First Special Session: Summary of General Fund Budget Conditions, accessed May 26, 2010

Minnesota Management and Budget, February 2010 Forecast, accessed May 26, 2010

The Grand Forks Herald, Payback time arrives for some Minnesota schools, Associated Press, May 26, 2010

The Minnesota Budget Project, Governor's budget spares K-12, but cost shifts remain, accessed May 26, 2010

E-mail interview, Marti Jones, spokeswoman, Tom Horner, May 25, 2010

E-mail interview, Christina Wessel, deputy director, Minnesota Budget Project, May 26, 2010

E-mail interview, Mark Haveman, executive director, Minnesota Taxpayers Association, May 27, 2010

E-mail interview, Dane Smith, president, Growth & Justice, May 27, 2010

Phone interview, Curt Yoakum, spokesman, Minnesota Management and Budget, May 26, 2010

Phone interview, Lonnie Hartley, spokesman, Education Minnesota, May 26, 2010

Phone interview, Jeff Van Wychen, tax policy fellow, Minnesota 2020, May 26, 2010

PoliGraph is a regular series of reports that checks the veracity of politicians' claims. It is a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio News and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

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