Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Rudy's Florida pitch

SUMMARY: In a TV ad aimed at voters in Florida, Rudy Giuliani makes claims about cutting taxes, welfare reform and a national insurance fund. We find he's mostly right on two, but wrong on the other.

With the Florida primary as a make-or-break contest for Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor is making an appeal to Floridians with a TV advertisement that makes a variety of claims about his record in office and touts his position on a critical issue in the state — the high cost of homeowners insurance.

From the first line — "Taxes. Insurance. Housing. All a mess. But Rudy Giuliani knows how to fix those" — the 30-second spot paints Giuliani as the candidate who can solve the ills plaguing the average voter. It features a soothing male voice talking as appropriate stock footage rolls in the background.

Dubbed "Jumpstart," the ad is the first of this political season to specifically highlight a Florida-centric issue by mentioning Giuliani's advocacy for the national catastrophe fund. It makes bold claims across the board, but we focused on these three claims:

* "He reformed welfare before others tried." Giuliani can certainly lay claim to being out front on welfare reform, and his overhaul of the New York City welfare system is nothing short of astounding considering he did it "in the teeth of the most intense opposition" from nearly all of the most significant political forces in the city, said Lawrence Mead, professor of politics at New York University.

But Giuliani can't claim New York was the first in the country.

One of the first effective welfare-to-work programs was initiated in San Diego in the early 1980s, Mead said. And Wisconsin instituted an ambitious welfare-to-work program prior to New York City (which is why some people have called former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a onetime presidential candidate, the father of welfare reform). In fact, Giuliani hired one of the architects of the Wisconsin plan to help create changes in New York City.

So if the ad was comparing Giuliani just to his Republican opponents, it's right. Giuliani began making changes shortly after being elected mayor, so 1994. That predates the governorships of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. As for Sens. John McCain and Fred Thompson, the federal welfare reform laws passed in August 1996.

But the ad doesn't narrow the field at all, so we can only deduce it means he reformed welfare before everyone else. And that is False.

* "He's the only candidate who will fight for a national catastrophe fund to reduce insurance rates." It's true, Giuliani is a strong supporter — the strongest in the GOP field. But other candidates have also expressed support, or at least an open mind.

On a spectrum — from supportive to skeptical — this is how they appear to fall: Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson. Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter go unranked because they haven't spoken about it.

So when an announcer says Giuliani is "the only candidate who will fight for" a national fund, he has a case. He pledges to be a strong advocate, unlike the other candidates. But some others in the field are open to a federal role in securing homeowner insurance in high-risk areas, so we rate his claim Mostly True.

* He "delivered more tax relief than the other Republicans combined." As any economist or tax expert will tell you, comparing the candidates on tax issues is a bit like trying to hug a greased pig.

Background material provided by the campaign for the ad claims that by the end of Giuliani's term as mayor, New Yorkers' "tax burden" was reduced nearly 20 percent. Under Mike Huckabee, it states, Arkansas residents' state tax burden increased nearly 19 percent; and under Mitt Romney, Massachusetts residents' state tax burden increased about 8 percent.

The Giuliani campaign said those numbers were based on the Tax Foundation's method of calculating the percentage of the state income being taken in state tax.

The Tax Foundation, which was kind enough to analyze tax burden figures for PolitiFact, came up with slightly lower figures for the increases under Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney: 14 and 7 percent, respectively.

But here are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the Tax Foundation doesn't do those calculations for cities, so the Giuliani campaign's 20 percent figure is one they arrived at themselves. Also, as Bill Ahern of the Tax Foundation points out, the statewide tax burden his group calculates includes local taxes that a governor doesn't control.

Ahern also warned that tax burden numbers don't tell the whole story. Each person led in different situations. For example, he said, Huckabee was under court order to increase education spending in Arkansas. "Is that him raising taxes?" Ahern asked. "Well, he signed it."

Consider as well, Ahern said, that Romney fought hard to decrease the income tax rate in Massachusetts from 5.3 to 5 percent, but he couldn't persuade the Democrat-controlled legislature to go along with him. "Any honest reading of the record would show he's a tax cutter," Ahern said.

As for federal legislators like John McCain and Fred Thompson, Giuliani's team discounted them altogether. Neither were executives in a state, city, municipality, county or other government, "and thus could not deliver tax cuts."

Given the many confirming sources, it's clear Giuliani has a strong record on tax cutting. However, his claim of delivering "more tax relief than the other Republicans combined" is next to impossible to accurately judge, so we rate the statement in Giuliani's ad Mostly True.