FACT CHECK: Latest GOP hopeful goes light on hype
WASHINGTON (AP) — Was Utah really judged to have the best managed government in the nation, as former Gov. Jon Huntsman claimed?
Close, but not quite.
Did Huntsman really cut taxes and flatten tax rates, as he said?
Huntsman's debut as a presidential candidate Tuesday marked a departure from the norm in the Republican race, if not in politics overall. He made only a few measured claims about his record and based them largely on the facts — with a bit of wiggle room here and there.
By taking Obama-bashing off the table, the former governor and ambassador to China avoided an entire category of rhetorical excesses that has characterized the announcement speeches of his rivals for the Republican nomination. And he tooted his own horn with restraint.
By today's chest-beating standards, that was radical. Whether it excites Republicans is an open question.
A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts:
THE CLAIM: "We also were named the best managed state in America."
THE FACTS: Not exactly. The Pew Center on the States, the source for his claim, gave top grades to Utah, Virginia and Washington, all A-minus, in its 2008 study of state governments' handling of money, employees, infrastructure and information technology.
The three states were graded equally, not ranked in order. "The likely reason Utah is so often cited by others as 'the best' or 'the top' is because the states were listed alphabetically, which means Utah is 'first' in alphabetical order" ahead of Virginia and Washington, Margie M. Newman, speaking for the Pew center, told The Associated Press.
THE CLAIM: "We cut taxes. We flattened rates."
THE FACTS: Huntsman, who was elected in 2004 and served until President Barack Obama appointed the Republican as an ambassador in 2009, led a largely successful effort to overhaul Utah's tax code. Among the achievements: a new flat state income tax of about 5 percent, a reduction of the sales tax on unprocessed food from 4.75 percent to 1.75 percent, and nearly $30 million in tax credits for industries such as renewable energy development and mining. He failed to push through elimination of the 5 percent corporate income tax.
THE CLAIM: "We must make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster. If we don't, in less than a decade, every dollar of federal revenue will go to covering the costs of Medicare, Social Security and interest payments on our debt."
THE FACTS: Not according to estimates by the government's nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The office estimates the government will take in $4.9 trillion in revenue and pay $3 trillion for entitlements and debt interest in 2021. But Huntsman might not be far off. The CBO's revenue forecast is inflated because the office is forced to assume that Bush-era tax cuts will expire as under current law — even though Obama agrees with House Republicans that most of them should be extended.
THE CLAIM: "We worked very hard to maintain our AAA bond-rating status, something few states can claim."
THE FACTS: Utah is indeed among fewer than a dozen states that are assigned top marks across the board from the leading credit-rating agencies.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.