Target 8 fact checks Webber political ad attacking Rowden

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COLUMBIA - Until recently, the race to the 19th District state Senate, which includes Boone and Cooper counties, had been a quiet one. The political ad battle between Democratic Rep. Stephen Webber and Republican Rep. Caleb Rowden heated up after Webber released an ad claiming Rowden voted to pass a tax cut bill that would decrease funding for the University of Missouri, among other things.

The Target 8 Investigative team reached out to both candidates and talked to a political expert to look into the claims the ad makes and determine if they are true, false or incomplete. 

The ad, called "Remember," begins by making a claim in regards to HB 253, which was a 2013 tax cutting bill that was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. 

'Rowden voted to cut over $800 million from local schools and universities like Mizzou': INCOMPLETE

The ad cites a 2013 article by Mizzou News for this claim. The bill the claim is referencing resulted in a campus-wide reaction when lawmakers voted to override Nixon's veto. Rowden told KOMU 8 News he voted for the bill because it would have cut taxes for all Missourians and 220,000 small businesses. 

"That's a good thing to do," Rowden said. "In addition to that, in my four years in the House, we've increased K-12 funding by $550 million and higher education by $100 million."

Rowden said the bill would not have caused a $800 million funding cut for MU. 

When asked why the bill caused such an uproar among students, Rowden said editorials done by the MU campus newspaper, The Maneater, helped increase the fear of tax cuts among students, which is why Webber is using them in his ads. 

"The difference between our ads is that we cite specific votes, and he cites editorials and newspapers," Rowden said. 

Columbia College Professor of Political Science Terry Smith said the Webber/Rowden race for state Senate is one of the most expensive races in the country and the two campaign teams can afford to produce multiple attack ads. 

"That's because it's about the only competitive one in Missouri and the laws in Missouri that basically have no limits on spending," Smith said. 

Smith said it is important to understand that these negative attack ads are effective because they appeal to emotions rather than intellect. 

"They really provide information in an environment where that information might not be there," Smith said. 

Regarding HB 253, Smith said there are so many things people can make of it, which makes it difficult to predict what its exact outcome would have been. He said using MU as a target in a political attack ad is a great way for candidates to make it memorable. 

"Webber is attempting to attach Rowden to this vote, which might, not would, if certain other decisions took place, reduce the appropriation to the university and therefore probably increase university tuition," Smith said. "But none of this would be set in stone because the governor has a lot of discretion, and there are a lot of ways to move that money around."

'Raise tuition at Mizzou 16%': INCOMPLETE

This claim is stated as an effect of the first claim regarding HB 253. The ad cites this claim with an article by The Maneater.

Rowden said the 8 to 16 percent increase in tuition that many students feared would not have happened with the passing of the bill. 

"The assertion that one leads to the other is really dangerous and sets a bad precedent," Rowden said. 

He said a similar bill, SB 509, was passed the next year and did not cause an increase in MU tuition. 

"I worked as a member of the budget committee last year to get the Mizzou funding cuts restored," Rowden said. "The reality is tuition hasn't increased, and it certainly hasn't increased as a result of any sort of tax cut or funding issue at the state level."

Smith said Webber likely used this claim as a tactic to sway voters because many people have an opinion about MU.

"Negative ads don't work if they are not believable or if they are irrelevant. They get information into the political environment that otherwise wouldn't exist," Smith said. 

Smith said whether MU tuition would have increased is not clear-cut. 

'Caleb Rowden is hurting middle class families all to pay for tax breaks for millionaire donors': INCOMPLETE

The ad cites this claim with Senate bill 509. Rowden said this tax cut, passed in 2014 and similar to HB 253, benefited all Missourians. 

"We did it responsibly, and when you can pass a tax cut that allows every single Missourian to keep more of their money, not just millionaires and billionaires, the only entities that didn't get a tax cut were large corporations," Rowden said. 

The ad does not mention the plan laid out by the bill to decrease the maximum tax rate on personal income from 6 to 5.5 percent while generating revenue. The bill stated:

"A reduction in the rate of tax shall only occur if the amount of net general revenue collected in the previous fiscal year exceeds the highest amount of net general revenue collected in any of the three fiscal years prior to such fiscal year by at least one hundred million dollars."

Rowden said this claim made is a scare tactic used by Webber. 

Smith said this claim is similar to the other two in that it can be interpreted in a negative way but is difficult to prove. 

KOMU 8 News reached out to Webber multiple times for an interview and ultimately received this statement:

"While it is inconvenient for Mr. Rowden, the President of the University of Missouri System, the Mizzou Student Body, our local Superintendent, and educators around the state were all clearly on record what this reckless tax plan would force tuition increases and hurt our local schools. Unfortunately, Mr. Rowden consciously chose to ignore them, siding with special interests over students and educators. As a senator, I will always put our schools first."