David Axelrod, a strategist for President Obama, criticizes Mitt Romney's… (Steven Senne / Associated…)
As President Obama’s reelection campaign opened a new offensive Thursday against Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, it took key facts out of context, leaving a distorted picture of how Romney handled taxes, spending and debt.
The attack came mainly from David Axelrod, the president’s chief campaign strategist, and Deval Patrick, Romney’s Democratic successor as governor of Massachusetts. Both criticized Romney’s fiscal record in national television appearances.
Axelrod also released a memo challenging Romney’s credentials as a fiscal conservative. In Boston, he shared his findings at a state Capitol news conference disrupted by heckling supporters of Romney.
It is true that taxes, spending and debt rose in Massachusetts on Romney’s watch, as the Obama team claims. And Romney – who casts himself as a champion of lower taxes, spending and debt – has been less than forthcoming about those aspects of his record.
But the Obama campaign omitted key facts.
Patrick, who succeeded Romney in January 2007, told CNN that Romney left office with a $1.1-billion deficit, an allegation repeated by Axelrod.
But Romney actually left Patrick with a balanced budget, thanks to $384 million in spending cuts that Romney made in his final weeks in office, along with a newly replenished $2-billion rainy-day fund.
The deficit alleged by Patrick and Axelrod was actually a warning from the outgoing Romney administration that tax projections for the following year could leave the new governor $1 billion short of what the state would need to maintain the current rate of spending growth. In the end, robust tax collections from a rising stock market meant that Patrick faced no budget shortfall. Patrick also reversed the spending cuts that Romney made on the way out.
Obama’s campaign also accused Romney of allowing state borrowing to rise by 16% during his four-year term, leaving Massachusetts with the nation’s highest per capita debt burden. It cited a Patrick administration report on state debt.
But that report also explains that the state’s debt burden was actually smaller than it appeared. Unlike many other states, Massachusetts issues bonds on behalf of local jurisdictions, which must repay what the state borrowed on their behalf, so the state appears on paper to owe more than it really does, the report said.
The Obama campaign also left the impression that Romney lavished the rich with a tax cut. A new video posted on the campaign’s website features a Democratic lawmaker, state Rep. Carl Sciortino, saying, “The only place I remember Mitt Romney actually cutting taxes was for the 278 wealthiest families in our state.”
But Romney did not single out the wealthy for a tax cut. The 278 taxpayers mentioned in the video were among tens of thousands who got a rebate of a controversial retroactive hike in the capital gains tax.
Prior to Romney’s term, the Democratic Legislature had increased capital gains taxes retroactively to raise quick cash in a fiscal crisis, infuriating many taxpayers. The move forced about 48,000 taxpayers to pay $150 million in retroactive taxes – an average of $4,200 apiece, according to the Boston Globe. Just over half the money was owed by 278 wealthy taxpayers.
After the budget crisis eased, Romney urged the Legislature to return the retroactive taxes to everyone who had paid them, which it eventually did.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said the president’s reelection team had made an accurate presentation of Romney’s record on taxes, spending and debt. “We stand by those numbers,” she said.