Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Candidates use and abuse numbers to make a point

"Bill White Record" television ad

Many PolitiFact Texas reviews turn on checking someone's ballyhooed numbers. Our challenge? Trying to gauge what the numbers truly mean — and how meaningful they are.

We've explored several hot numbers in the 2010 Texas elections, including $18 billion (one estimate of the revenue shortfall Texas will face next year) and 850,000 (the number of jobs created in Texas as talked up by GOP Gov. Rick Perry).

And now we've run a new number through the Truth-O-Meter — $1.7 billion. That's what Perry calls the City of Houston's total "operating losses" while Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White served as Houston's mayor. We found Perry's reference to that figure in a recent TV ad to be Half True because while the number is based on a corresponding measure — the change in the city's net assets over time — experts told us that it alone may not be conclusive evidence of the city's financial health.

The proliferation of numerical claims have given PolitiFact Texas plenty of opportunities to use the calculator function on our Truth-O-Meter. Some highlights:

— On March 1, we rated True a statement by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that Perry lives in a rental home costing the state $10,000 a month, though we learned that the rent was lowered to $9,000 a month in November 2008. And in April, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White said that the accumulated rent on Perry's temporary digs will exceed $360,000 by the end of Perry's current term. We rated that True. Perry is living in the suburban Austin house while the Governor's Mansion, significantly damaged in an arson fire, undergoes repairs.

— More recently, we rated True a statement by Perry that "we've created more than 850,000 jobs, more than all the other states combined" from January 2001 to June 2010, approximately the length of Perry's tenure in the governor's office. Perry isn't the only candidate talking jobs. In November, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Farouk Shami said that he'd brought 1,200 jobs to Texas from China. We rated that Half True — the jobs came from South Korea. A month later, we rated False White's statement that the Houston area led the nation in job growth while he was the Bayou City's mayor; numbers showed that Dallas, which gained 265,800 nonfarm jobs, topped the jobs added in the Houston area, 244,100, for the period.

— Perry raised some eyebrows in February when he said that someone "just reached up in the air and grabbed" the $18 billion budget shortfall estimate. We rated that statement False: One month earlier, a state budget official had termed $18 billion a "reasonable" projection while detailing factors expected to push that figure even higher, including increased spending to meet the rising demand for programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Summing up? Twenty days 'til Election Day, and numbers claims abound. We just double checked.