Reporters doing the right thing by correcting Norton when she says she cut health dept. budget

In a debate with Ken Buck on Sunday’s YourShow, Adam Schrager’s thoughtful public affairs TV show on Channel 20 that solicits questions and show-topic ideas from viewers like you, Jane Norton cited Schrager’s own Truth Test reporting to support her contentions that 1) under Ken Buck, the Weld County DA budget increased by 40 percent and 2) as director of the Colorado Health Department, Norton cut the department’s general fund budget by 28 percent.

Schrager immediately corrected Norton on the 40 percent figure, reminding her that 9News’ Truth Test determined that Buck’s budget had risen by 31 percent, not 40 percent. (Truth Test is an excellent 9News series that evaluates the veracity of political advertisements aired on 9News.) 

After correcting Norton on her 40 percent figure, Schrager turned the mic over to Buck, who told Norton that 9News’Truth Test also showed that she did not cut her budget when she presided over the health department.

Schrager didn’t intervene and render a verdict on whether his Truth Test supported Norton’s claim that she cut the health department budget or Buck’s claim that she didn’t. 

So I asked Schrager via email today about it. He replied:

There’s a little more to this right off the bat, but fundamentally, I let it slip.

First of all, she approached the CDPHE point differently than I had her mention it before. Had she said she cut the budget, it would have been a no-brainer, but I heard something different and it was live TV and frankly, I didn’t process exactly what she said until I went back to the tape.

The ad says she cut budgets and for the reasons I articulated, that is incorrect. It’s a power given to lawmakers and the governor. But in the debate, she specifically phrases it differently saying the general fund, “what I had responsibility for, I cut 28%.” I got caught up on the general fund and the what I had responsibility for lines and I missed the “I cut” because that obviously brings up the same point as before. Department heads play roles in the process but they are not the end arbiters of their fate. She’s also incorrect when she says he’s grown his budget as he’s also not in control of his budget, but the Weld County Commission is.

I’ve also made clear to Buck’s folks, if they accuse her of raising her budget, I’ll disagree with that for the same reasons as above.

As I wrote before, different news outlets have come up with different ways to come to the same conclusion that Norton did not cut the budget at the Colorado health department (CDPHE).

While at least three major news outlets (9News, Denver Post, Fox31) have suggested that Norton did not cut her CDPHE budget, not a single reporter has sided with Norton on the matter–and reporters haven’t even quoted budget experts supporting Norton’s position. (The Post piece did not assert that Norton’s claim was wrong but quoted a GOP budget maven saying her claim to cut the CDPHE general fund was bogus.)

In ongoing reporting on this topic, F0x31 is taking the right approach in pointing out to viewers that Norton did not cut her CDHPE budget. As Eli Stokols reported yesterday:

On the campaign trail, Norton has continued to tell voters that she cut spending at CDPHE, even though, as FOX31 was first to report in March , the budgets she oversaw have shown that spending actually increased slightly during her tenure.

That’s the most fair and accurate way to describe what happened to the CDPHE budget under Norton.

Here’s a transcript of the exchange in question between Buck and Norton on YourShow July 22.

Norton: Both Ken and I have had budgets that have been entrusted to us by the taxpayers of Colorado. I have had two, one when I was head of the state health department. And the general fund appropriation, according to your fact check, what I had responsibility for, I cut 28 percent, in the four years I was in office. I was also lieutenant governor, and in the four years I cut what I has responsibility for, according to your fact check, by 10 percent.  Ken on the other hand talks about being for limited government but he has grown his budget at Weld County District Attorney’s office by 40 percent over the time he’s been in office. So you can say you’re a fiscal conservative, and you can say you believe in limited government, but does your record match your rhetoric.

Schrager: Our truth test actually showed it was 31 percent that the Weld County District Attorney’s office went up, but I assume you want to speak to that anyhow.

Buck:  You know, don’t let truth get in the way of a good political message. The fact check on Jane’s most recent commercial shows that she was false when she says that she cut her budget and false when she says my budget went up 40 percent.  She continues to repeat those lines as if repeating them will make them true.  It won’t make them true.

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