In one of the latest attack ads in the gubernatorial race, former Gov. Paul LePage tries to tap into voter economic anxiety and blame incumbent Gov. Janet Mills for rising consumer prices by claiming her first two-year budget increased state spending at a rate 580 percent greater than inflation.

“Driving up inflation as a recession looms,” the narrator in “Maine Choices” warns as ominous music plays, gas pump prices rise and a grainy version of Mills at a podium appears to shrug. “Mills Budget: 580% higher than inflation” appears like a large headline in the top of the screen.

It’s a three-second snippet of a 30-second ad that paints Mills as a liberal elite who backpacked through Europe and lived in San Francisco. The Europe and California claims are true, but is that head-turning 580 percent higher-than-inflation budget claim true, too?

Not exactly, but they weren’t far off. In fact, depending on the time period, the percentage could have been bigger.

And like so much in politics, it’s about more than just creative math. It’s all about context.

The Mills campaign claims the ad is a desperate, concocted comparison to try to mislead Maine voters.


“Here’s Governor Mills’ real record,” said Mills’ spokesman Scott Ogden. “Balanced budgets, record surpluses, low unemployment, record high rainy day fund, strong economic growth, serious tax relief, and bipartisan, nation-leading inflation relief.”

So let’s break it down.

To justify the ad claim, LePage compares Mills’ first $8 billion two-year budget to his final two-year state budget of $7.2 billion. LePage contrasts that 11.4 percent budget hike to the 1.9 percent inflation rate over two years leading up to February 2019, when Mills unveiled her first budget.

The spending increase is 5.8 times that two-year average rate of inflation. In the ad, he says that also means 580 percent higher than the inflation rate, which is not quite right.

To calculate percent increase between two percentages, you find the difference first – 9.5 percentage points in this case – then divide that by the base percentage – 1.9 – and multiply by 100. Using the proper math, the budget increase is 500 percent higher than the inflation rate. And that’s still a lot.

However, the ad could have used an even higher number.


If the LePage campaign had used the inflation rate from the start of LePage’s biennium budget to the start of Mills’ biennium – 1.5 percent – the budget hike of 11.4 percent was 7.6 times the rate of inflation, or 660 percent higher than inflation.

But it’s important to remember that the inflation rate that Mills’ 2019 budget increase is being compared to was so much lower than the current 8 percent that has sent prices on everything from gas to food to utilities soaring and has left U.S. consumers feeling so scared.

It doesn’t take much to be a lot bigger than a very small number. And does it matter if the number you are comparing it to is a national one, one that the governor of a single state has no control over? That’s up to voters to decide.

LePage says there is plenty to tie Mills to Mainers’ inflation woes. He has called the $850 inflation relief checks mailed to Mainers this summer an election-year gimmick that will drive up inflation, not combat it. However, a majority of Republican state lawmakers supported Mills’ budget, and the checks.

Mills took some heat for the 11.4 percent budget increase back in 2019, but it was within the $8.3 billion that the nonpartisan Revenue Forecasting Committee projected Maine would take in over the next two fiscal years. And she has added to the state’s rainy day fund despite the economic impact of a pandemic.

And, when presenting her first budget, Mills portrayed it as an attempt to repair damage LePage had done to Maine’s government, infrastructure and its public health. “This budget rebuilds Maine state government,” she said, “and uses existing resources to address crises that threaten our potential for growth.”

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