Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Rick Perry assails Bill White with three ads salted with familiar charges

Gov. Rick Perry addresses delegates at GOP state convention this summer (Associated Press photo).
Gov. Rick Perry addresses delegates at GOP state convention this summer (Associated Press photo).

Two of Gov. RIck Perry's fresh anti-Bill White ads correctly quote White"s successor as mayor, Annise Parker, saying March 10: "For years now (in Houston), we have spent more money than we have taken in," a comment reported by The Houston Chronicle. And one further correctly quotes Parker saying that spending more than you earn is "unbusinesslike.”

Earlier this  year, we found Parker"s "years now” statement a stretch, rating it Half True.

Houston took in more money than it spent for most of White's six-year tenure as mayor, and socked some of it away. Since fiscal 2009, however, the city has been drawing on those reserve funds, ending each year with less than it started.

And Parker was too sweeping. Her time reference made sense only because the city's fiscal year always includes portions of two calendar years — in this case, 2008 and 2009. At the time of our review, the city had taken in less than it had spent for about a year and a half, which includes one complete fiscal year and part of the current one. One could conclude from Mayor Parker"s comment that under White, the city had a habit of spending more than it had. In reality, that"s only been so since 2008 — when the economy was mid-slump.

One new Perry ad focuses on White"s activities in the wake of a hurricane. It says White "profited off Hurricane Rita.” That"s a change in wording from what Perry said on one of his campaign sites this summer when he said White "profiteered in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.”

We rated the "profiteered” statement False after recapping White"s decision while mayor to connect a company he"d earlier had a hand in running to a government body that needed emergency generating power. We confirmed that White later made what proved a profitable investment in the company but didn"t find evidence he"d profiteered in the hurricane"s aftermath.

Finally, one new Perry ad includes the charge that as mayor, White left Houston taxpayers with nearly the per person debt of Californians — which appears to be a step back from Perry"s statement in a Web ad that we spotted May 3 saying that Houston "now has more debt per capita than California.”

We confirmed Houston"s outstanding debt in fiscal 2009 was $5,720 per person, while California's debt per person was $2,808 — less than half of Houston's. Yet we rated Perry"s May statement Half True after finance experts told us that it"s not sensible to compare the debt levels of cities to states, which use debt in different ways.

Also, we compared Houston"s 2009 debt level to those of other big cities. Other cities' debt per capita: the nation's largest city New York ($7,760), third-largest Chicago ($5,274), fifth-largest Phoenix ($3,757), sixth-largest Philadelphia ($4,684) and seventh-largest San Antonio ($1,808). Punch line: Houston's per-capita debt of $5,720 doesn't stand out in this sampling, though only New York among the three bigger cities had more debt per resident.

There"s more to Perry"s latest ads; we are not rating them here. Still, we"re reminded that candidates sometimes repeat — and tweak — what they"ve said before.

Less than eight weeks til Election Day...