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Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

An ad in Tennessee quotes FactCheck.org, but we find it to be one-sided and misleading.

August 1, 2006

Modified: August 1, 2006

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Summary

Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker aired a TV ad using FactCheck.org's logo and saying we called an opponent's ad "false." That's true. We also said a Corker ad was "grossly misleading," and we find that his current ad misleads by falsely implying that he lowered taxes in Chattanooga when he was mayor. Actually, real-estate tax levies rose by nearly one third during his four-year tenure.

Analysis

We suppose we should be flattered. A new TV ad in Tennessee's bitter Aug. 3 GOP Senate primary quotes us – but tells only half the story, and goes on to repeat a misleading boast about taxes.

Corker Ad "Choice"

Corker: I'm Bob Corker and I approve this message.
Announcer: Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary are making personal attacks. The non partisan FactCheck.org called Bryant's attack ads "false." The Tennessean called their previous attack "ridiculous." The truth is Bryant and Hilleary sat by while spending skyrocketed, then became registered lobbyists. Bob Corker controlled spending, now property tax rates are the lowest since the 1950s. The choice? A successful businessman and mayor or ineffective Congressmen.

Half the Story

Corker's ad complains that he's being attacked personally by two rivals, ex-Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary, and goes on to state that "The nonpartisan FactCheck.org called Bryant's attack ads 'false.'"

That's true as far as it goes. We did label as false Bryant's claim that Corker "avoided paying his taxes," because in fact Corker paid millions in taxes and there's no evidence he paid any less than he owed.

What Corker's latest ad leaves out is that in the same article we also called one of his own attacks "grossly misleading" for accusing Bryant and Hilleary of voting to raise their own House pay. In fact both of them voted repeatedly against raises. We were charitable. One Tennessee commentator called the pay-raise claim a "lie."

Taxes up or down?

Corker's latest ad also repeats a claim that he has made throughout the campaign which – while it is true – is also misleading. It says that as mayor of Chattanooga "Bob Corker controlled spending, now property tax rates are the lowest since the 1950s."

It is true that city spending was in check during Corker's time as mayor, from April 2001 through April 2005. The city trimmed its payroll by 250 employees and the city's operating budget grew at close to the rate of inflation. It is also true that Chattanooga's property tax rate was recently lowered to $2.202 for every $100 of assessed valuation, which is the lowest since 1958, according to the city's finance office.

However, that does not mean that taxes went down. They did not. They rose at more than triple the rate of inflation, pushed up by rising property values and a big tax-rate increase in Corker's first year. Far from being the "lowest since the 1950's," as one might easily assume from Corker's ad, Chattanooga's property tax bills rose nearly 32.5 per cent during Corker's tenure, according to a table on page 108 of the city's 2005 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.In the fiscal year that was nearing an end as Corker took office in April 2001, the city levied $63 million in real-estate taxes, but four years later as he was leaving office it levied $83.5 million.  During that same same period the Consumer Price Index was rising only 9.1 per cent.

Furthermore, the tax rate didn't drop to its current level until after Corker left office. During his tenure it was $2.516 per $100 of assessed valuation, higher than in any of the previous four years. The reason that the tax rate dropped to its present level after Corker left is that appraised property values were adjusted upward and the rate proportionately downward, as required by state law. Property owners can expect to see no benefit from this, however, as the two adjustments are supposed to offset each other according to city and county officials.

-by Brooks Jackson

Sources

City of Chattanooga, "Comprehensive Annual Financial  Report for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2005,"  21 Nov. 2005: p108

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