Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Cuyahoga County budget claim leads to confusion for Ed FitzGerald's gubernatorial campaign

Cuyahoga County is not in all ways like the rest of Ohio.

 

One of the differences caused some confusion for the gubernatorial campaign of County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democrat looking to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich next year.

 

PolitiFact Ohio discovered the problem when we were asked to check a statement on the "Issues" section of the campaign website. "Under Ed’s leadership," it said, "Cuyahoga County became the only county in Ohio to pass a balanced budget two years in a row."

 

 

The claim surprised us. State law requires all of Ohio's 88 counties to pass a balanced budget every year.

 

 

We asked FitzGerald's campaign how the claim of exclusivity was backed up.

 

 

It wasn't, a campaign spokeswoman replied -- and the campaign didn't make it.

 

 

We noted that the claim was on the website.

 

 

No, the campaign responded, it was not -- it had been posted incorrectly on a private, test version of the website. The wording was the result of a misunderstanding about Cuyahoga County's budget process by a techie who was building the website. And a chain of emails showed that the campaign flagged the error and had it corrected before the site went public.

 

 

So why could we still see it?

 

 

The answer, it developed, was "Oops." The explanation involves the website's software as well as the county budget.

 

 

The FitzGerald campaign had, in fact, fixed the statement in the text of the "Issues" section of the website. They changed it to: "Under Ed’s leadership, Cuyahoga County has passed and implemented balanced budgets without raising taxes while investing in the things that matter to all of us like education and job creation."

 

 

But changing the body of the text on the website did not automatically change the brief "excerpt" text that is seen first by someone looking at the website. The excerpt text is the preview sentence that ends with "Read more," and then links to the main text.

 

 

The campaign corrected the sentence  before we finished talking.

 

 

PolitiFact doesn’t play "gotcha." We accept that it was an unintentional error.

 

 

We also understand the confusion -- largely because a reader mistakenly thought FitzGerald made the same erroneous claim about Cuyahoga County’s budget in his "State of the County" speech in February, and asked us to check it.

 

 

But FitzGerald did not say Cuyahoga County was the only county in the state to pass a balanced budget two years in a row. He said: "We are the only county in Ohio that has passed a two-year, balanced budget."

 

 

That is correct.

 

 

Cuyahoga County Councilman Dale Miller, chairman of the finance and budgeting committee, told us that Councilman Jack Schron suggested a two-year budget early in the county's transition to a new government in 2011.

 

 

The first two-year budget was adopted in December 2011. In November 2012, county voters approved a charter amendment introduced by Schron that formalized the two-year budget process.

 

 

The action  made Cuyahoga County the only county in Ohio with a two-year budget, according to the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

 

 

It’s a point that needed clarification for readers. Their confusion was understandable, considering that it was shared and worsened by a vendor working for the FitzGerald campaign itself.