This is one that has been simmering since the middle of March. We finally take a stab at it with today's Fact Check in the 13th congressional district Republican primary.
Claim: Paul Coble as a Wake County commissioner says he has balanced the county’s budgets, but those budgets have included $192 million in unfunded liabilities, and Coble has approved millions of dollars in new debt.
Speaker: George Holding in TV ads, letters to Coble and in public appearances.
Context: The unfunded liability represents the amount the county is estimated to owe in future costs for retired employees’ health care. The county doesn’t set aside that money to cover the future debt, which Holding claims is “Washington-style bookkeeping” that would amount to fraud if a business with a retirement plan took that approach.
Wake County Manger David Cooke says it would be “crazy” to set aside taxpayer money for such a long-range, estimated debt. Wake County has a pay-as-you-go system, and this year’s actual payout to retirees was $3 million or $4 million, he said Friday. Rating agencies, in awarding the county a AAA grade, looked at that issue, he said.
Cooke added that the board of commissioners has since stopped paying retirement health insurance for newer employees.
Coble has voted to approve issuing a number of bonds since he’s been in office for schools, open space, libraries and other issues, and so the debt has increased. But those bonds were all approved by voters. Cooke again pointed to the Triple-A rating, which took into consideration bond debt.
Holding’s campaign says Coble has called them “perfunctory votes,” which it contends is “political spin.” The campaign also criticizes Coble for opposing using tax funds for arenas and baseball stadiums when running for Raleigh mayor in 2001, but voting to do just that once he became a commissioner.
Ruling: It’s true Wake County has $192 million in estimated future costs for retiree health insurance, but that does not mean the budget hasn’t been balanced. By law, it must be. It’s also true that Coble approved issuing bonds that voters had already approved. He didn’t have to vote that way. The accusations are factual, but using those issues to question Coble’s fiscal conservatism is misleading.
UPDATE: Here is the Holding campaign's response to the Fact Check: