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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers October 8, 2012

Obama ad accuses Romney of cutting Mass. K-12 education by $248.7 million

A new Web ad from Barack Obama's campaign portrays Mitt Romney as a promise-breaker who cut Massachusetts education spending in his very first budget.

The ad starts with grainy campaign video of Romney in 2002, saying, "The services delivered to our children in schools … we're not going to cut that."

A reproachful Ronald Pacy, former superintendent in Attleboro, Mass., follows: "Gov. Romney said he was not going to cut education, and then the next thing we knew, those cuts were made."

Then, in type on screen, the claim:

In Romney's first budget, he cut $248.7 million from K-12 education.
— Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, FY2004 Conference Budget, 6/26/03

We wondered, did Romney cut that amount from K-12 education right out of the gate?

Massachusetts’ fiscal crisis

In 2003, the new governor faced a fiscal emergency.

Our colleagues at the Tampa Bay Times have examined Romney’s response to an economy still recovering from the dot-com bubble and the 9/11 recession.

As Romney entered office, the state’s lawmakers — required to pass a balanced budget — faced a budget gap even after tax hikes and emergency spending cuts the year before. Romney got authority to make emergency cuts his first month and asked the Legislature to make more. Then he proposed a budget with savings of close to $3 billion.

Did that include a $248.7 million cut from K-12 education?

Not explicitly. But the budget he signed did.

Budget games

The number cited in the ad isn’t what Romney proposed.

His state budget, in fact, suggested a modest overall increase of $8.9 million in two main categories of state K-12 spending. But he proposed a steep reduction in broader local spending that governments also used for education — a drop of $349.4 million, down nearly 30 percent from the prior year.

The Democratic Legislature spread the cuts around differently, ultimately reducing those two education-specific categories by $248.7 million while restoring nearly half of broader "unrestricted" local aid. That’s the cut that ultimately survived Romney’s vetoes and the Legislature’s veto overrides.

But none of that was clear from the report cited by the Obama team, which examined neither Romney’s proposal for fiscal year 2004 nor the budget that emerged after vetoes and veto overrides, but something in between known as the "conference budget."

All three of those options were available in reports from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, an independent, nonprofit think tank partly funded by unions that’s affiliated with the liberal Washington, D.C., Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The  "conference" budget was the one that made it through the House and Senate and awaited the governor’s signature (and line-item veto). So, it’s a stretch to say any numbers in it were fully Romney’s. It was, in fact, more accurately the budget belonging to Democratic lawmakers who agreed on their own version — then generally blocked the governor’s vetoes.

"The Democrats had veto-proof majorities in both chambers and rewrote Romney’s budget, as they have with all governors’ budgets, to what they wanted," Fred Bayles, director of the Boston University Statehouse Program told PolitiFact in May.

Still, when Romney took his veto pen to that conference budget, he moved to chop millions more from the Legislature’s proposed school funding, including $10 million in kindergarten expansion grants (a cut overridden by lawmakers).

Our ruling

An Obama for America ad uses a big number to attack Romney’s record on school funding in Massachusetts, saying, "In Romney's first budget, he cut $248.7 million from K-12 education."  "Romney’s first budget" sounds like a proposal coming from the governor. Romney actually proposed a modest increase in state K-12 spending categories and larger cuts elsewhere. The $248.7 million in education-specific cuts reflected primarily the work of the Democratic Legislature in a time of serious financial crisis that predated the governor.

Romney, tasked with closing a substantial budget gap, ultimately signed a document that embodied the Legislature’s cuts — and then tried to use his veto to cut further. But he shares responsibility for that $248.7 million with the veto-proof majority of lawmakers. We rate the ad’s claim Half True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Obama for America, "Mitt Romney's Education Record in Massachusetts," published Sept. 25, 2012, via YouTube

Email interview with Kara Carscaden, Obama campaign, Oct. 2, 2012

Email interview with Robert Terra, Romney campaign, Oct. 2, 2012

Interview with Noah Berger, president, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Oct 2, 2012

Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, "Our Funding," accessed Oct. 2, 2012

Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, "Budget Monitor: The FY04 Conference Budget," June 26, 2003

Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, "A Review of the FY 2004 Vetoes and Overrides," July 28, 2003

Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, "Governor Romney's FY04 Budget: Does it Keep the Promise?" March 5, 2003

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, "House 2004 Budget:  Some Reforms, But Structural Gap Remains," May 15, 2003

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, "2004 Budget: Major Strides, But More Pain Ahead," Aug. 11, 2003

Tampa Bay Times, "How Mitt Romney handled Massachusetts' spending problems," July 15, 2012

Boston Globe, "Mitt Romney’s education record was mixed," July 2, 2012

PolitiFact, "Jeb Bush says Romney narrowed achievement gap in Massachusetts," Aug. 30, 2012

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney says achievement gap in Massachusetts improved on his watch," July 18, 2012

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney said he 'actually cut' spending as Massachusetts governor," May 21, 2012

PolitiFact, "Ad accuses Mitt Romney of leaving 'Massachusetts $1 billion dollars in debt,'" March 2, 2012

PolitiFact, "Mass. schools did improve," Oct. 30, 2007

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More by Becky Bowers

Obama ad accuses Romney of cutting Mass. K-12 education by $248.7 million

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