FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:57:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Rand Paul Exaggerates Tax Credit Fraud http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/rand-paul-exaggerates-tax-credit-fraud/ Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:34:07 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92227 Sen. Rand Paul falsely claimed that a tax credit program for low-income workers has a “fraud rate” of 25 percent and costs taxpayers “$20 billion to $30 billion.” Paul cited a report by the Government Accountability Office, but that’s not what the report said.

The earned income tax credit program had an “improper payment error rate” of 24 percent in fiscal year 2013, according to the latest GAO report. The error rate includes fraud, but also represents mistakes made by taxpayers when filing tax forms and the IRS when processing payments. The GAO blamed the mistakes on the “complexity of the tax law.” The errors cost taxpayers $14.5 billion — which is less than half of the high-end estimate provided by Paul.

Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is considering running for president, joined two other potential GOP presidential candidates at a Jan. 25 forum sponsored by the conservative Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas also attended.

The moderator, Jon Karl of ABC News, asked the senators if they agreed with Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to expand the earned income tax credit and pay for the expansion by eliminating other tax breaks. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means that low-income taxpayers who have no tax liability can receive a refund. Otherwise, the tax credit is used to reduce a taxpayer’s liability.

Paul said he opposes Ryan’s plan and criticized the EITC program for being rife with fraud.

Paul, Jan. 25: When you look at the earned income tax credit, it has about a 25 percent fraud rate. We’re looking at $20 billion to $30 billion. And this is from estimates from the GAO [Government Accountability Office], from the government themselves.

That’s not what the GAO said.

The GAO issued a report Dec. 9, 2014, on improper payments made by various government agencies, including the IRS. The GAO said the EITC program had what it labeled an “improper payment error rate” of 24 percent at a cost of $14.5 billion in fiscal year 2013.

The GAO figures represent the midpoint between the estimates provided by the IRS itself, as required under a 2002 law, and contained in a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that was released March 31, 2014. The TIGTA report says the “improper payment rate” was between 22 percent and 26 percent in fiscal year 2013, costing taxpayers between $13.3 billion and $15.6 billion — roughly half of what Paul claimed when he placed the range between $20 billion and $30 billion.

The GAO and TIGTA do not mention fraud in their reports or use the term “fraud rate.” TIGTA defines an improper payment as “a payment that should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount or to an ineligible recipient.” GAO says that includes “duplicate or erroneous payments, payments to ineligible recipients, or payments for ineligible services.”

Improper payments include fraud, but the GAO and TIGTA reports do not say how much of the improper payments may be the result of fraud.

Why is there such a high error rate for the EITC program? GAO says that “the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) OIG reported that the complexity of the tax law was a barrier to reducing the improper payment error rate for the Internal Revenue Service’s Earned Income Tax Credit program.”

A second inspector general’s report, which was released in April, said the IRS is looking at ways to simplify the tax law. “Management noted that IRS is exploring new approaches such as the simplification of EITC eligibility criteria and the identification of more efficient means to distinguish valid claims from over claims,” the report said.

Improper payment rates have been a problem for years in many government programs. The GAO report listed the five federal programs that reported the largest improper payments in fiscal 2013: Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program ($36 billion), EITC ($14.5 billion), Medicaid ($14.4 billion), Medicare Advantage ($11.8 billion), unemployment insurance ($6.2 billion). Those five programs accounted for 78 percent of the total improper payments made by the federal government in fiscal 2013, GAO says.

In an attempt to reduce improper payments, Congress passed the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002, which requires agencies to annually estimate the cost of improper payments and publish a corrective plan to reduce them.

Despite the law, the IRS continues to report high rates of improper payments in the tax credit program. In the first year of reporting improper payments, the IRS said the rate was between 25 percent and 30 percent in fiscal 2003. It dropped the next year to 22 percent to 27 percent. But it hasn’t changed much since then. (See Figure 2 in TIGTA’s latest annual report.)

We’re not minimizing the problem of improper payments in the earned income tax credit program. But Paul is wrong to claim that all recipients of EITC’s improper payments — whether overpayments or ineligible payments — obtained the money by committing fraud. He is also far off on how much the errors cost taxpayers.

– Eugene Kiely

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Romney’s Poverty Points http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/romneys-poverty-points/ Mon, 26 Jan 2015 22:52:39 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92148 Mitt Romney said that under President Obama “there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.” That’s true, but the poverty rate — which accounts for population changes — was higher under several former presidents than it is currently.

Romney, who is considering a third presidential run, made the statement while discussing income inequality at an event sponsored by the Republican National Committee.

Romney, Jan. 16: Under Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse, and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.

It’s true that “income inequality has gotten worse.” According to research by Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, post-recession incomes of the top 1 percent of earners grew by 34.7 percent from 2009 to 2012, while incomes of the bottom 99 percent of earners grew by just 0.8 percent. The top 1 percent saw 91 percent of the income gains in the first three years of the economic recovery, according to Saez.

It’s also true, as Romney said, that the 45.3 million people living in poverty in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is more than under any other president. However, the 2013 figure, the most recent available, was lower than the 46.5 million people living in poverty in 2012. The 2013 count is also the lowest since 2009, Obama’s first year in office.

Romney’s focus on the raw numbers also ignores the fact that the poverty rate declined in 2013. That year, the official rate was 14.5 percent, down from 15 percent in 2012, and the lowest rate since Obama’s first year as president.

More importantly, when comparing Obama to past presidents, a better measurement would be the poverty rate, since it takes population into account. And the most recent rate under Obama is not the highest that it has ever been. The rate was 15.1 percent in 1993 under President Clinton. It was 15.2 percent in 1983 under President Reagan. And it was between 17.3 percent and 22.4 percent in the seven years between 1959 and 1965 under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Even using a different measure of poverty — the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure — the rate under Obama isn’t the highest on record.

The SPM was developed in 2011 to account for many of the government programs assisting low-income families and individuals that are not included in the current official poverty measure. It “creates a more complex statistical picture incorporating additional items, such as tax payments, work expenses and in-kind benefits in its family resource estimates.” It generally factors in the cost of food, clothing, shelter, and utilities used by families. It also takes into account such things as geographical differences in the cost of living.

In 2013, 15.5 percent of the population was living in poverty, based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure. That was down from 16 percent in 2012. Like the official poverty rate, the SPM, in 2013, was the lowest since 2009, the earliest year for comparable estimates.

However, in January 2014, prior to the release of the 2013 figure, the White House Council of Economic Advisers calculated an “anchored” version of the supplementary measure, which sets poverty thresholds based on expenditures for necessary items and then adjusts for inflation in each year. Using those assumptions, the White House found that “the percent of the population in poverty when measured to include tax credits and other benefits has declined from 25.8 percent in 1967 to 16.0 percent in 2012.”

– D’Angelo Gore

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The State of the Union http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/the-state-of-the-union/ Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:07:53 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92141 WCBS radio’s Wayne Cabot interviews FactCheck.org Deputy Managing Editor Rob Farley about President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

Farley discussed these statements made by the president in his annual speech to Congress:

  • “[O]ver the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.”
  • The United States is “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave.”
  • The U.S. is the “only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee … paid maternity leave to our workers.”
  • “[M]ore than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China.”

For our full article on this topic see “FactChecking Obama’s State of the Union.”

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FactChecking the GOP Responses http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/factchecking-the-gop-responses/ Wed, 21 Jan 2015 23:02:41 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92107 There were multiple official and unofficial Republican responses to President Obama’s State of the Union address, but only a few instances of the president’s critics stretching the facts:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz falsely claimed that “not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism.” In fact, Obama vowed to combat “violent extremism” and asked for congressional authority to use force against the Islamic State.
  • Cruz also said Obama “could not bring himself even to bring” up the president’s executive action on immigration. But he did. Obama said he would veto legislation that attempts to undo it.
  • Sen. Rand Paul said “liberal elites” wanted to regulate “what light bulbs we can use.” Actually, GOP President George W. Bush signed a bill that phased out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones.

Cruz: ‘What I Saw’

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst gave the official GOP response. But “rather than respond to a speech,” as she put it, the freshman senator focused much of her short speech on her personal background and general statements of support for “your priorities.”

Two likely presidential candidates — Cruz and Paul — gave more forceful speeches attacking the president’s leadership.

Cruz gave what his aides called an “impromptu video response” to the State of the Union address that was posted on the senator’s Facebook page. It was one of five videotaped GOP responses (six if you count the first aborted attempt by Cruz).

In his video, Cruz criticized Obama’s speech for failing to address terrorism and immigration — except that the president did discuss both.

Cruz claimed “not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism.” That’s false.

Cruz, Jan. 20: Tonight not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism. Those words did not come out of the president’s mouth. We cannot win a war on radical Islamic terrorism with a president unwilling to even say the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

While it is true that Obama did not utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” the president did use the phrase “violent extremism” and asked for congressional authority to use force against the Islamic State, a radical Islamic terrorist group that the president referred to in his speech as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant).

Obama, Jan. 20: In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. (Applause.) We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.

Now, this effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority.

Obama’s critics, including Cruz, have frequently chided the president for not using certain phrases, such as “war against terror” and “radical Islamic terrorism.” The president broadly addressed that in an interview early in his administration with Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya, a news agency that covers the Middle East.

Melhem, Jan. 26, 2009: President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, “war on terror,” and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of –

Obama: I think that you’re making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.

Regardless of what language he did or didn’t use, the president directly addressed what Cruz calls “radical Islamic terrorism.”

On immigration, Cruz said the president “could not bring himself even to bring” up the executive action that he took on immigration. The president’s actions, as we have written, provide a three-year reprieve from deportation for parents who are in the country illegally but who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Cruz, Jan. 20: Tonight it was also striking the president did not mention his illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty. He issued that in defiance of the voters, in defiance of the constitution and in defiance of the law, and yet when he stood in the state of the union he could not bring himself even to bring it up. It underscores the obligation of Republicans in Congress to honor the promises we made.

But Obama did bring it up. It’s just that Obama didn’t say what Cruz would have liked. Obama said he would veto any legislation that attempts to undo his actions on immigration, health care and financial regulations.

Obama, Jan. 20: We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.

At the end of his video response, Cruz said: “That’s what I saw tonight.” We don’t know what Cruz saw, but we can say what Obama said in his speech.

Paul: ‘Liberal’ Light Bulbs

In his YouTube video response to Obama’s State of the Union, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said “liberal elites” wanted to regulate “what light bulbs we can use.” Actually, it was a 2007 energy bill, signed by President George W. Bush, that phased out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones.

Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act on Dec. 18, 2007, and Bush signed it the following day. It passed with widespread support — the final vote in the Senate was 86 to 8, and 314 to 100 in the House — but Republicans have fought implementation of the law as its requirements were taking effect in recent years. Obama first signed a spending bill in December 2011 that delayed enforcement of the new efficiency standards.

We explained in May 2011 that instead of traditional incandescent bulbs, consumers would have to buy LEDS, halogen incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs. Products that manufacturers, who support the 2007 standards, have been producing. Incandescent light bulbs aren’t banned but now must be between 25 percent and 30 percent more efficient.

While spending bills have continued to include riders blocking the Department of Energy from using funding to enforce the 2007 regulations on light bulbs, those provisions haven’t repealed the efficiency standards themselves. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association said in a 2011 press release that manufacturers had “invested millions of dollars in transitioning to energy efficient lighting” because of the 2007 law, and the group opposes the spending bill provisions to prohibit enforcement. “Delay in enforcement undermines those investments and creates regulatory uncertainty,” NEMA said.

The Obama administration certainly supports the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. Way back in 2007, when he was on the campaign trail, Obama said he wanted to “phase out all incandescent light bulbs,” a promise our colleagues at Politifact have rated a “compromise” due to the 2007 legislation before he took office and Obama’s efforts to make florescent tube lamps and incandescent reflector lamps more efficient. But Paul, and other Republicans, have continued to blame Obama for regulating light bulbs, when the legislation affecting the common incandescent bulb was signed by Bush.

In his 2012 response to the State of the Union, then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels made a similar misleading remark about Obama and light bulbs, and the same year then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrongly claimed “Obama’s regulators” had “banned” the incandescent bulb. He earned three Pinocchios for that one from the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker.

– Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson

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FactChecking Obama’s State of the Union http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/factchecking-obamas-state-of-the-union/ Wed, 21 Jan 2015 08:27:58 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92002 Summary

President Barack Obama largely stuck to the facts in his State of the Union address, although he did cherry-pick data and exaggerate at times to put the best spin on his accomplishments.

Some highlights:

  • Obama made the inflated claim that “more than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China.” A survey showed most “expressed interest” in it, but are not “actively looking” at doing it.
  • Obama exaggerated when he said the U.S. is “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave.” Canada and Japan also don’t mandate paid short-term sick leave, which is what Obama is seeking for the U.S.
  • The president boasted that the U.S. has gained 11 million private sector jobs in five years. Yes, but that ignores his first 13 months in office and a net loss of public sector jobs. Total employment growth during his time in office is about 6.4 million.
  • Obama also boasted that “more of our people are insured than ever before.” But that’s based on an administration analysis that compares the second quarter of 2014 to years past. We don’t have the full 2014 federal numbers yet.

Analysis

The president delivered his sixth State of the Union address at a joint session of Congress on Jan. 20. But it was his first under a Congress controlled by Republicans. Much of his speech was devoted to the improving economy.

2015SOTU

Manufacturing Jobs

Obama made the inflated claim that “more than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China.”

The president was referring to an August 2014 survey of 252 senior manufacturing executives in the U.S. conducted by the Boston Consulting Group. But the survey’s findings don’t exactly back up the president’s claim.

While 54 percent of those surveyed “expressed interest in reshoring,” only 16 percent said they are “already bringing production back from China to the United States,” a 20 percent increase from the 2013 survey. And 20 percent of those polled said that “they would consider returning production in the near future,” up 24 percent from 2013.

Obama also said that since 2010 “[o]ur manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs.” That’s true enough, but there has been a net loss of manufacturing jobs during the president’s time in office.

Since January 2010, the time frame used by the president, the U.S. has seen an increase of 777,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But since January 2009, when Obama took office, the U.S. has seen a net decline of 321,000 manufacturing jobs, the same BLS data show.

In a recent study, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation rejected talk of a “manufacturing renaissance,” calling it a “myth,” and noting there still is a long way to go. Even with the recent increase in manufacturing jobs, there are still nearly 1.8 million fewer manufacturing jobs than there were in January 2007, BLS figures show.

“Much of the growth since 2010 appears to be caused by a cyclical recovery as demand, particularly for motor vehicles and other durable goods, returns,” the ITIF report said.

Economic Growth

The president fudged a bit when he said economic growth and job gains are the best in 16 years.

Obama: Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.

Not quite.

As for how fast “our economy is growing,” official figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis put the gain in real gross domestic product at an annual rate of 5.0 percent in the third quarter of last year. Those are the most recent figures available, and they represent the best quarterly gain in some time. But not since 1999.

The BEA’s figures show real GDP grew at a rate of 6.9 percent in the third quarter of 2003, and at 7.8 percent in the second quarter of 2000.

And as for “creating jobs,” the White House has pointed to a preliminary figure of 2.95 million jobs gained in 2014, which is the best since 1999 if it holds up when the BLS completes its normal revisions of job figures, which could go up or down.

But the president spoke in present tense — saying the economy “is … creating jobs” at the fastest clip since 1999. And by more immediate measures the pace is not quite the most rapid since 1999. BLS puts the gain in total nonfarm employment during the most recent three-month period (ending in December) at 866,000 jobs. That’s a respectable number, but not the best three-month gain since 1999.

The BLS figures show other three-month stretches in 2010, 2006, 2004 and 2000 when even more jobs were added.

Three month job change

3-Month Net Change (in thousands)
Total Nonfarm Employment, Seasonally Adjusted
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sick Pay

Obama exaggerated when he said the United States was “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave.”

While Canada and Japan have social insurance programs that would cover an extended leave for cancer treatment, they don’t have guaranteed paid leave for an illness that lasts a few days. And Obama made the claim in calling for “a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.”

A 2009 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a group funded by various labor groups and foundations, examined policies in 22 countries “ranked highly in terms of economic and human development.” It says in the first paragraph that the U.S. is “the only country that does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick days or paid sick leave,” but it goes on to say that neither Canada nor Japan has a policy for financial support for short-term leave, for an illness such as a five-day flu. Those countries do have social insurance that would cover some of the pay for an employee needing 50 days off for cancer treatment. Those are the two scenarios examined in the study.

The report says that 11 countries guaranteed full pay for an illness requiring five sick days. Others paid for some missed time, but not all five days (and in a few cases not even one full day), because of waiting periods before the financial support would kick in.

Obama also said that the U.S. was the “only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee … paid maternity leave to our workers.” A 2014 report from the United Nation’s International Labour Organization found: “Only two out of 185 countries and territories currently provide no statutory cash benefits during maternity leave.” The two countries were Papua New Guinea and the United States, both of which provide some kind of maternity leave but no requirement for paid leave.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new mothers who have worked for one year for employers with more than 50 workers. Employers may require a substitution of paid sick or vacation days for the FMLA leave.

However, the International Labour Organization report went on to say that the benefits in more than half of those 185 countries “were neither generous nor sufficiently long-lasting.” It calls for 14 weeks of pay equal to two-thirds of previous earnings, a standard met by 85 percent of developed countries.

And not all women are eligible for benefits. “Only 28.4 per cent of employed women worldwide would receive cash benefits in case of maternity,” the report said.

Private Sector Job Growth

The president was correct when he said the U.S. has gained 11 million private sector jobs in the past five years.

Obama: And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.

That’s true as far as it goes. The economy gained 11,215,000 private sector jobs between February 2010 and the preliminary figures for December of last year.

Of course, the president said nothing of the 4,210,000 private sector jobs that were lost during the first 13 months of his tenure as president, due to the savage recession that was raging at the time he took office.

Overall, since Obama took office, the net gain in private sector employment is just over 7 million. And the gain in total employment during his time in office is lower than that — just under 6.4 million. That’s because of a net loss in government jobs, particularly in local school systems.

 Abortion and Teen Pregnancies in Decline

Obama was right when he said “teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows.”

Obama: We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.

The rate of teen pregnancies in the U.S. has been on the decline for decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vital Statistics. In 2013, there were 274,641 babies born to females aged 15 to 19, a rate of 26.6 births for every 1,000 teen mothers. That was a 10 percent decline from 2012 and “the lowest number of teen births ever reported for the United States.” According to CDC, it was also 57 percent lower than in 1970, the peak year for teen births.

However, despite this progress, teen pregnancies in the U.S. still outpace many other developed countries including Canada and the United Kingdom, according to United Nations statistics.

As for abortions, the Guttmacher Institute reported in July 2014 that the rate of abortions in 2011 was the lowest since 1973. In 2011, “1.06 million abortions were performed, down 13 percent from 1.21 million in 2008.”

 China’s ‘Commitment’ on Emissions

In a section of his speech dealing with efforts to address climate change, Obama touted a recent agreement with China.

Obama: In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.

Committed? Not exactly.

In a joint announcement on Nov. 12, 2014, both the U.S. and China said they “intend to achieve” emissions targets. For its part, the U.S. said it “intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.” China, meanwhile, said it “intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.”

The agreement was hailed by the Natural Resources Defense Council as “a turning point in the fight against global warming.” But the deal was derided by many Republican leaders, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma and new chair of the Senate Environment Committee, who released a statement condemning the deal as a “non-binding charade.”

As we wrote in a story about the climate deal with China, it’s true, as Inhofe said, that the deal is not a legally binding treaty, which would need Senate ratification. As the language in the announcement makes clear, the countries said they “intend to achieve” specific targets, but that’s not quite a binding commitment.

Health Insurance

Obama’s boast about the decline in the uninsured is supported by early estimates from inside and outside his administration.

Obama: And in the past year alone, about 10 million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.

That figure is echoed by a quarterly survey conducted by the Urban Institute and a report by researchers with the Department of Health and Human Services and Harvard School of Public Health.

But we don’t yet know if Obama can claim that “more of our people are insured than ever before,” as he said earlier in his speech. An analysis of the percentage of uninsured by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers shows that, but compares the second quarter of 2014 to years past. We don’t have the full 2014 federal numbers yet.

The Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey says the number of the uninsured dropped by 10.6 million nonelderly adults between September 2013 and September 2014. (The Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period for policies purchased by individuals was from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014.)

An earlier estimate from researchers with the Department of Health and Human Services and Harvard School of Public Health put the decline of the uninsured at 10.3 million adults from January 2012 through June 2014. Their report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, noted that “depending on the model and confidence intervals, our sensitivity analyses imply a wide range from 7.3 to 17.2 million adults.”

Estimates from the most recent National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics show a drop of 6.8 million people (of all ages) who were without health insurance at the time they were interviewed in the first six months of 2014, compared with 2013 (see Table 2). Those numbers were just released in December, so we won’t have a fuller look at the changes between 2013 and 2014 overall for some months.

Obama cited a statistic from his own Council of Economic Advisers in saying that “more of our people are insured than ever before.” The CEA used National Center for Health Statistics data and estimated that “the nation’s uninsured rate is now at or near the lowest level recorded across five decades of data.”

The data go back to 1963, and CEA had to make some adjustments due to changes in survey construction over the years. As we said, figures for all of 2014 aren’t yet available, so CEA compares the percentage of uninsured for the second quarter of 2014 (11.3 percent) to figures from past years. That’s the lowest rate in CEA’s chart, but only 0.1 percentage points below the rate in 1974, 1978 and 1980 (see the table on page 11).

The figure for the first six months of 2014, not just the second quarter, is higher, however, at 12.2 percent (see Table 1). It remains to be seen how 2014 as a whole will compare to the past.

The National Center for Health Statistics’ trend numbers for those without health insurance under age 65 (see Table 3) show that the first six months of 2014 had a lower percentage of uninsured than most of the past years — but not all. The percentage of the uninsured under age 65 was lower in 1974, 1978, 1980 and 1982.

Deficits

In ticking off his accomplishments, Obama listed this one: “our deficits cut by two-thirds.” That’s accurate, but as we have written before, the deficits have fallen from high levels and are on pace to return to high levels.

When Obama took office in January 2009, the federal deficit for fiscal year 2009 was already on pace to be $1.2 trillion and topped $1.4 trillion by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2009. Annual deficits remained above $1 trillion for three more years before dropping to $680 billion in fiscal 2013.

The U.S. finished the most recent fiscal year with a deficit of $483 billion — roughly down two-thirds from what it was in fiscal 2009, as the president said.

But, as we noted in our quarterly report on Obama’s presidency, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that annual deficits will soon rise again if Congress doesn’t act. In a report it issued in August, CBO projected that under current law the deficit will rise above $500 billion in fiscal 2016 and hit nearly $950 billion by 2022.

Drones

Obama said his administration has “worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.” Whether the use of drones has been “properly constrained” is a subjective matter. The Stimson Center, a global security think tank, for one, warned in 2014 that heavy reliance on drones “risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts.”

But as a matter of independent analysis, Obama has ordered many more drone strikes than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama: As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.

No official figures are available, and for a time the Obama administration would not even publicly admit that such CIA-controlled attacks were taking place. But independent reports have found a dramatic increase in the use of covert, remote-controlled drones and missiles to attack targets in Pakistan and Yemen.

An independent estimate by the nonpartisan New America Foundation, based on what it deems to be “credible news reports,” puts the number of attacks at more than 450 since Obama took office, more than nine times as many as took place while Bush was in office. In Pakistan, the group concludes, somewhere between 1,838 and 3,041 people were killed by drones approved by Obama. Most of them were militants, the report states, but about 150 of them were civilians. As we noted in a story in April 2013, estimates by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain, while slightly different, give a similar picture.

– by Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore, Carolyn Fante and Eden Everwine

Sources

Boston Consulting Group. “U.S. Executives Remain Bullish on American Manufacturing, Study Finds.” Press Release. 24 Oct 2014.

White House. “Year in Review: Creating Economic Opportunity for All Americans in 2014.” Press Release. 18 Dec 2014.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Table 1.1.1. Percent Change From Preceding Period in Real Gross Domestic Product” 1999-2014. 23 Dec 2014. Data extracted 21 Jan 2015.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Nonfarm Employment, Seasonally Adjusted” 3-month net change 1999-2014. Data extracted 21 Jan 2015.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Private Nonfarm Employment, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 21 Jan 2015.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Nonfarm Employment, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 21 Jan 2015.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Nonfarm Government Employment, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 21 Jan 2015.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Nonfarm Local Government Education Employment, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 21 Jan 2015.

Furman, Jason. “The Employment Situation in December” White House Council of Economic Advisers. 9 Jan 2015

Stimson Center. “Recommendations And Report of the Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy.” June 2014.

New America Foundation. “Drone Wars Pakistan: Analysis.” Accessed 21 Jan 2015.

Jackson, Brooks. “Obama’s Numbers (Quarterly Update).” FactCheck.org. 16 Apr 2013.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “Covert Drone War.

Martinez, Michael E. and Robin A. Cohen. “Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January–June 2014.” Dec 2014.

Long, Sharon K. et. al. “Taking Stock: Health Insurance Coverage under the ACA as of September 2014.” Health Reform Monitoring Survey. Urban Institute. 3 Dec 2014.

Sommers, Benjamin D. et. al. “Health Reform and Changes in Health Insurance Coverage in 2014.” New England Journal of Medicine. 28 Aug 2014.

International Labour Organization. “Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and practice across the world.” 2014.

Heymann, Jody et. al. “Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries.” Center for Economic and Policy Research. May 2009.

Furman, Jason and Fiedler, Matt. “2014 Has Seen Largest Coverage Gains in Four Decades, Putting the Uninsured Rate at or Near Historic Lows.” Council of Economic Advisers. 18 Dec 2014.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Trends in Health Care Coverage and Insurance for 1968-2011.” page updated 15 Nov 2012.

Stimson Center. “Recommendations And Report of the Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy.” June 2014.

New America Foundation. “Drone Wars Pakistan: Analysis.” Accessed 21 Jan 2015.

Jackson, Brooks. “Obama’s Numbers (Quarterly Update).” FactCheck.org. 16 Apr 2013.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “Covert Drone War.

National Vital Statistics Reports. Births: Preliminary Data for 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 29 May 2014.

United Nations Statistics. “Live births by age of mother and sex of child, general and age-specific fertility rates: latest available year, 2003 – 2012.

Guttmacher Institute. “Fact Sheet: Induced Abortion in the United States.” July 2014.

White House Website. “U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change.” 11 Nov 2014.

Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog. Frances Beinecke’s Blog:  “Historic Announcement Shows US and China Are Serious about Fighting Climate Change.” 12 Nov 2014.

Sen. James Inhofe Website. “Press release: Inhofe: U.S.-China Climate Deal a Non-Binding Charade.” 12 Nov 2014.

Farley, Robert. “Checking Inhofe’s Energy Statistics on China.” FactCheck.org. 14 Nov 2014.

Farley, Robert. “Deficits Falling (From Way Up).” FactCheck.org. 1 Aug 2013.

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A Tale of Two Jobs Numbers http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/a-tale-of-two-jobs-numbers/ Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:18:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=91975 Rick Perry, in his last official speech as Texas governor, mixed and matched jobs data to embellish the state’s job gains.

Perry claimed Texas had created 1.4 million jobs since December 2007 while the rest of the United States lost 400,000 jobs. Actually, according to the job-growth measure used by most economists, the rest of the country gained more than 500,000 jobs.

In the same speech, Perry used the standard job-growth measure to claim that Texas had “created almost one-third of all the nation’s new jobs” since he took office. And he claimed that his state had created 441,000 jobs in the past year — again, using the standard job-growth measure. But if he had stuck with the jobs data he used to compare Texas’ growth since 2007 to the rest of the nation’s, he would have had to cite a number that’s more than 100,000 jobs lower than the one he used.

Perry, who officially left office Jan. 20, gave his final speech to state lawmakers on Jan. 15. During his speech, he used two different jobs data sets maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, in doing so, overstated the state’s job growth and understated the job gains in the rest of the country.

Let’s first look at his statement comparing Texas to the rest of the nation (see the 11:40 mark).

Perry, Jan. 15: In fact, if you look at the last seven years, starting in December of 2007, you’ll see that 1.4 million jobs were created in Texas. In that same period, the rest of the country lost 400,000 jobs.

In this case, Perry used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey data — called the Current Population Survey, which is a monthly survey of 60,000 households that’s used to calculate the unemployment rate. But for job growth figures, most economists prefer BLS’ nonfarm payroll data — called the Current Employment Statistics survey, a monthly survey of about 550,000 business establishments that include millions of employees. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco describes the nonfarm payroll data as “the more accurate employment indicator,” saying that “[m]ost analysts believe that payroll jobs more closely reflects labor market conditions.”

In fact, BLS itself uses nonfarm payroll data to calculate job growth figures it releases monthly.

The household survey is a much smaller sample size, and it also counts as “employed” people who aren’t on a payroll, such as unpaid family workers, the self-employed including day laborers, and private household workers. It also includes agricultural workers and those who are absent from work and not receiving pay.

It takes some digging on the BLS website to pull up the household survey employment data used by Perry for Texas and the country as a whole. Those numbers show a loss of 352,440 employed people for the rest of the nation, not quite the 400,000 Perry cited, while the number of people employed in Texas rose by 1.4 million.

But if Perry had used economists’ preferred measure, he would have found that Texas created 1.2 million jobs since December 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession. The rest of the country, meanwhile, created 532,000 jobs.

Even using the preferred job-growth measure, Texas does better than the rest of the country. (As we have noted in the past, Texas’ positive job growth has been a long-term trend that predates Perry.) In fact, Perry’s claim that Texas had gained jobs while the rest of the country had lost jobs was accurate through the summer and up until the fall of last year. In July, Texas’ total job creation since December 2007 stood at 1.1 million; the rest of the country had lost more than 400,000 jobs during the same time period. It wasn’t until October that the U.S.-without-Texas began showing positive job numbers since the beginning of the recession.

Interestingly, Perry used the standard measure of job creation – the nonfarm payroll data (seasonally adjusted) — when he claimed Texas had created 441,000 jobs in the past year. It’s not hard to see why he used a different data set in this case. If he had used the household survey, as he did when comparing Texas with the rest of the country, then he would have had to cite a number that’s more than 100,000 lower than the one he used.

Perry also accurately claimed, again using the nonfarm payroll data for both Texas and the nation, that “since I became governor, with your help, we have created almost one-third of all the nation’s new jobs.” Texas had created 30 percent of the nation’s job growth from December 2000, when Perry took office, through November 2014, the most recent month for which state figures are available.

We’ve seen other politicians over the years use the household survey to make puffed-up claims about job growth, including former governors and presidential candidates Bill Richardson and Jon Huntsman. By using the household survey, they were claiming greater job growth than what the BLS payroll survey showed.

Perry’s claim can be linked to posts on this topic by Mark J. Perry, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and an economics professor, who makes clear that he is using the household survey data, also called “civilian employment.” He says it is “a more comprehensive measure of all US workers.”

That’s his opinion. As we explained, the BLS, and the Federal Reserve, use the nonfarm payroll data for job growth figures. But in his farewell address, Perry isn’t clear at all on which measurement he’s using.

We’d note that in all three claims, Texas’ job growth looked better using the yardstick Perry chose.

– Lori Robertson

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Scott Walker’s Education Boast http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/scott-walkers-education-boast/ Fri, 16 Jan 2015 22:55:09 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=91955 In his State of the State, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker claimed his education policies are working, boasting that “ACT scores are up and Wisconsin now ranks second in the country.” But ACT scores are not up, and the state’s national ranking is a bit misleading.

The state’s average composite score on the 2013-14 ACT college admission exam was 22.2 — exactly what it was in the 2010-11 school year, when Walker first took office.

As for the state’s national ranking, ACT does not rank states. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction determined the state’s ranking by comparing its composite score with 29 other states that had 50 percent or more of their students take the ACT test. While Walker said Wisconsin ranks second “in the country,” it is really only among 30 states. Also, by that measure, little has changed under Walker; the state has ranked first, second or third every year since 1994.

Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 13. In it, he talked about improvements in education since he has been governor.

Walker, Jan. 13: On top of our economic success, we empowered local school boards to hire and fire based on merit and pay based on performance, so they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom. And it’s working. Over the past four years, graduation rates are up. Third grade reading scores are up. ACT scores are up — and Wisconsin now ranks second in the country.

But ACT scores are not up.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick says the governor is correct about ACT scores because “they are up since 2013.” But that’s one year. There’s been no change over the governor’s four years.

We compared the state’s most recent ACT scores of the 2013-14 high school graduating class with the scores for the state’s 2010-11 class. We used 2010-11 as the baseline, because Walker became governor in January 2011 and the class of 2011 started the school year before he took office.

Wisconsin’s average composite score — which the Department of Public Instruction uses to rank states — was unchanged at 22.2 when comparing the 2011 class to the 2014 class. As for individual subjects, the scores for English (21.6) and science (22.3) were the same for both years, and math was 22, a tick lower than the 22.1 score in 2011. Only reading was better at 22.4, the best score in the last five years. (All data come from ACT’s profile of Wisconsin — a report that contains scores for the past five years.)

Students from all 50 states and the District of Columbia took the test, but the participation rate varied greatly — from 9 percent of students in Maine to 100 percent in a dozen states. It was 73 percent in Wisconsin.

When comparing its average composite score to other states, Wisconsin included only states that had a participation rate of 50 percent or more. In doing so, Wisconsin ranked second behind Minnesota, whose students scored 22.9. That’s up from third in 2011, but not because Wisconsin’s composite score improved. As we said, the score remained unchanged from 2011 at 22.2. Rather, Wisconsin moved up because Iowa’s scored dropped from 22.3 in 2011 to 22 in 2014.

There’s a legitimate reason for Wisconsin excluding states with low participation rates. A spokeswoman for the College Board, which administers the SAT, told us in 2011 that “scores tend to decline with a rise in percentage of test-takers.” But why 50 percent and not 40 percent or 30 percent?

We called ACT and asked about Wisconsin’s ranking system, and a spokeswoman for the testing service told us it does not rank states. “We let others do the interpretation and slicing and dicing,” Katie Wacker said.

Like ACT, the College Board also does not rank states. “Media and others often rank states, districts and schools on the basis of SAT scores despite repeated warnings that such rankings are invalid,” said Katherine Levin, the College Board spokeswoman we spoke to in 2011.

Whether the ranking is valid or not, Wisconsin has consistently ranked in the top three every year since 1994, which is as far back as the data go on the ACT website. And its students had slightly higher average composite scores in six of those years, most recently in 2009, than at any point under Walker.

And that’s our point: ACT scores have changed little during Walker’s tenure, despite the governor’s boasting.

– Eugene Kiely, with Eden Everwine

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Jan. 16: Keystone, Jobs, Congressional Benefits http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/jan-16-keystone-jobs-congressional-benefits/ Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:38:18 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92173
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Unspinning Christie’s State of the State http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/unspinning-christies-state-of-the-state/ Thu, 15 Jan 2015 23:59:11 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=91872 In his State of the State address, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie exaggerated some figures and boasted about progress that doesn’t look so impressive when compared with national trends.

  • Christie boasted that New Jersey’s unemployment rate has dropped from 9.7 percent when he took office to 6.4 percent (as of November). But New Jersey was doing slightly better than the national average when he took office, and is now doing slightly worse.
  • The governor touted the creation of 150,000 private sector jobs. But New Jersey’s rate of private sector job growth is less than half the national average; in fact New Jersey ranked 49th out of 50 states in private sector job growth.
  • Christie crowed about New Jersey being “No. 4 in per capita income.” The state is actually third in per capita personal income, exactly where it was the year before Christie took office. It ranked second for more than two decades before that.
  • Christie said that state property taxes “increased more than 70 percent” in the 10 years prior to him becoming governor, and that they’ve increased by “less than 2 percent” in each of the last four. That ignores the impact state rebates have played in lowering the property tax burden before he was governor, and the impact of the rebate cuts he implemented as governor.
  • Christie made the misleading claim that “taxes were raised 115 times in the eight years before 2010,” the year he took office. But that list includes fees, not just taxes, and the governor himself proposed 23 fee hikes in the 2015 budget.

Christie is a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and the New York Times noted that his annual State of the State speech on Jan. 13 sounded like “a defensive move by a politician anticipating the shots that could be leveled against him.” But Christie spun the numbers to make his case that “New Jersey is better off than it was last year at this time, and it is certainly far better off than it was just five years ago.”

Unemployment Rate

In his speech, Christie asked New Jerseyans to consider “where we were and how far we have come,” noting that the state’s unemployment has been cut by a third in the last five years.

Christie, Jan. 13: Five years ago, our unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. Over 440,000 New Jerseyans were out of work. Today, the unemployment rate is 6.4 percent.

It’s true, as Christie said, that when he took office in January 2010, the state’s unemployment rate was 9.7 percent and over 440,000 New Jerseyans were out of work (442,318 to be exact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). And Christie rightly notes that the state’s unemployment rate in November, the latest month available, was 6.4 percent.

But here’s what was left unsaid: When Christie took office, New Jersey’s unemployment rate at 9.7 percent was slightly better than the national unemployment rate of 9.8 percent; but New Jersey’s rate in November was higher than the national rate, which was 5.8 percent. (The national rate dipped again in December to 5.6 percent.) In addition, New Jersey’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate was also worse than its neighbors, Pennsylvania (5.1 percent), New York (5.9 percent) and Delaware (6.0 percent).

Job Growth

Christie also boasted that New Jersey has “created over 150,000 private sector jobs in New Jersey in five short years.” The actual figure, according to BLS, is 142,700. That may sound impressive, but that statistic wilts when viewed in light of national trends.

In fact, the rate of private sector job growth in New Jersey, 4.5 percent, is well below the national average of 10.2 percent. Under Christie, New Jersey ranks 49th out of 50 states in private sector job growth (beating only Maine). In terms of overall job growth, which includes public sector jobs, New Jersey under Christie is dead last.

Christie also noted that, “Since last January, the total number of people employed in New Jersey has grown by over 90,000, and the number of unemployed has dropped by nearly 30,000.” Those figures are pretty accurate, according to population surveys conducted by the U.S. Census for BLS. The number of employed New Jerseyans grew from 4,157,733 in January to 4,250,823 in November. That’s an increase of 93,090. And the number of unemployed New Jerseyans dropped from 317,118 in January to 291,870 in November.  That’s a decrease of 25,248.

But Christie was wrong to say those were people employed in New Jersey. The survey does not ask where people are employed. As the Asbury Park Press noted, “Economists have said many of them likely are working in New York and Pennsylvania, where the job market has been stronger.”

Also left out of Christie’s narrative, the New York Times noted, New Jersey has only recovered about half the jobs lost in the Great Recession, while the nation as a whole has recovered all those jobs and then some. Nationally, about 8.6 million jobs were shed from February 2008 to February 2010. Since then, the national economy has added about 10.4 million jobs. By comparison, New Jersey lost  253,800 jobs between February 2008 and February 2010; but has only recovered 121,800 of them.

 Per Capita Income

Christie also bragged about the state’s unique assets in helping to lure businesses. He noted, for example, that New Jersey is “No. 4 in per capita income.” Actually, New Jersey’s ranking is better than that. New Jersey placed third in per capita personal income in 2013 (excluding the District of Columbia), according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

But that impressive ranking is not new and has not improved under Christie. New Jersey ranked third in per capita personal income every year between 2009 and 2013, except in 2012 when it ranked fourth. And it ranked second in the country every year for more than two decades prior to 2009.

Property Taxes

Christie said when he came into office, New Jersey’s “property taxes had increased more than 70 percent in 10 years. We averaged a 7 percent growth in property taxes per year.”

It’s true that, on average, property taxes increased about that much statewide between 1999 and 2009, according to figures from the state Department of Community Affairs. Homeowners and tenants paid an average of $4,239 in property taxes in 1999 and $7,281 in 2009.

However, Christie’s claim doesn’t factor in rebates that some received over that time that ultimately lowered their property tax burden.

When factoring in the average tax rebate homeowners and tenants received — $111 in 1999 and $1,037 in 2009 — property taxes increased by closer to 51 percent over that time period.

Christie also said that since he’s been in office, “we have had four years of less than 2 percent annual property tax growth.” That’s not exactly right.

Property taxes increased 1.6 percent in 2012 and 1.3 percent in 2013, after Christie signed a bill capping annual property tax increases at no more than 2 percent. But there was a 2.4 percent increase in 2011. Figures for 2014 have not yet been released.

Christie’s claim of 2 percent annual growth also ignores large cuts in the property tax rebate program that he has made to help balance the state budget while in office.

According to an analysis of previously available state data by the news website NJ Spotlight, average net property taxes (including rebate deductions) increased by 18.6 percent, or 6.2 percent annually, between 2009 and 2012, when taxes, on net, went from $6,244 to $7,405.

Taxes Versus Fees

In his speech, Christie boasted about not raising taxes in his past five budgets and, by contrast, he said “taxes were raised 115 times in the eight years” before he became governor in 2010. That’s misleading.

Christie’s list of 115 “taxes” actually includes both taxes and fees. And the governor himself has raised numerous fees. In fact, Christie proposed 23 fee hikes in his 2015 budget.

Christie made the distinction between taxes and fees in his 2013 State of the State address, when he said there had been “115 increases in taxes and fees” in the eight years before he was inaugurated. But this time he dropped the word “fees.”

We point this out because politicians, including Christie, draw a distinction between taxes and fees.

What’s the difference? Some members of the public may not see a major disparity between extending the sales tax to cover limousine services and adding a fee on new cars with low-fuel efficiency — two of the items in the Republican-compiled list. Whatever you want to call them, both measures amount to additional money paid by state residents. But politicians certainly put taxes and fees in separate categories.

For example, Christie said his 2015 budget “requires no new taxes on the people of New Jersey,” when he presented his latest budget to the Legislature in February 2014. But a few months later, his administration was explaining 23 proposed fee increases.

And, in fact, the budget included a proposed tax on e-cigarettes and “closing tax loopholes,” which the administration estimated would bring in $205 million in revenue.

The nonpartisan state Office of Legislative Services’ analysis of the governor’s proposal showed $240 million worth of “revenue initiatives requiring legislation,” including the e-cigarette tax; penalties for bad electronic payments of income, corporate and sales taxes; and a change in online sales tax collection. Whether those items amount to raising taxes or “closing tax loopholes and leveling the playing field,” as the governor’s budget summary put it, may be a matter of opinion. But the same could be said of the list of 115 taxes and fees instituted before Christie took office.

The Record newspaper in Bergen County, New Jersey, wrote in a May 12, 2014, article on Christie’s proposed fees: “Christie is not the first governor to turn to increasing fees and fines as a way to generate new revenue while also escaping the stigma of hiking taxes,” noting that former Democratic Gov. James McGreevey had raised more than $1 billion in 2004 through fee increases and that Christie had increased New Jersey Transit fees in 2010 to make up a budget shortfall.

During the 2008 presidential election, we fact-checked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s claim that he “did not raise taxes” while governor and found that he had raised fees by hundreds of millions of dollars.

PolitiFact New Jersey first published the list of 115 taxes and fees in 2011, when a state Republican senator made the claim about the “tax” increases that Christie repeated in his speech. That list includes increases in sales taxes, cigarette and alcohol taxes, income taxes on high-income earners, as well as numerous increases in fees, including on divorce, vehicle registration, casino hotel rooms and new tires.

Christie can’t have it both ways. If fees are taxes — as is implied when Christie says “taxes were raised 115 times in the eight years before 2010″ — then Christie is guilty of proposing at least 23 tax increases in his budget last year.

Also, Christie’s proposal to require out-of-state online retailers to charge sales tax to New Jersey customers puts him at odds with conservatives who oppose more sweeping federal legislation, the Marketplace Fairness Act. The conservative Freedom Works calls it “the Internet sales tax.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another potential Republican presidential candidate, calls it a “job-killing tax hike.” Christie’s 2015 budget calls his measure “extending to [online retailers] the same obligation that other New Jersey businesses already have to collect sales tax on sales to New Jersey customers.”

The measure was signed into law by Christie last summer and applies to online companies that act as a sales platform for retailers with a physical presence in New Jersey (think eBay or Overstock.com). New Jersey tax law stipulates that consumers are obligated to pay sales tax — in this case called a “use tax” — if an online retailer doesn’t collect it. But many residents may not be aware of that. The Office of Legislative Services estimated the change in state law would bring in $25 million in additional revenue.

– Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore, Lori Robertson and Brooks Jackson, with Carolyn Fante

 

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Competing Keystone Claims http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/competing-keystone-claims/ Thu, 15 Jan 2015 23:03:36 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=91862 Two senators on opposite sides of the Keystone XL pipeline debate are selectively spinning the facts to make their case:

  • Democratic Sen. Chris Coons says approval of the Keystone pipeline “means unlocking the Canadian tar sands,” when in fact the oil he refers to is already moving to market in large volume by other means and so can’t be “locked” simply by stopping the pipeline.
  • GOP Sen. John Hoeven says “42,000 jobs are supported by this project,” adding that “construction jobs are good jobs.” But only 3,900 of those jobs would be in construction, and they would last only a couple of years. Once completed, the pipeline would take only 35 employees and a handful of contractors to operate.

‘Unlocking the Canadian Tar Sands’

Congress is now debating legislation that would strip the Obama administration of its power to decide the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline and grant approval of the project. But the president has said he would veto the legislation because it would circumvent the administration’s review and approval process.

The pipeline, which would be built by TransCanada Corp., would run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The U.S. segment would be 875 miles long and could carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

We covered many of the partisan talking points about the project last year in an article we called “Pipeline Primer.”

Sens. Coons and Hoeven debated the merits of the project on “Fox News Sunday.” Chris Wallace, the show’s host, asked Coons what Keystone means for jobs and the environment. Coons first answered the question about the environment, referring to the Canadian oil as “tar sands.” (The industry prefers “oil sands.”)

Coons, Jan. 11: Keystone means unlocking the Canadian tar sands, some of the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet and allowing those tar sands to go across our American Midwest and then reach the international economy and our environment.

Coons’ implication is that if Congress blocks the pipeline then the Canadian oil will remain “locked” underground. But the Canadian oil is increasingly already being transported to the U.S. by rail. Canada exported about 182,000 barrels per day (bpd) by rail in the third quarter of 2014, up from nearly 124,000 bpd in the third quarter of 2013 and about 57,000 bpd in the third quarter of 2012,  according to Canada’s National Energy Board.

The 182,000 bpd being transported by rail is equal to about 22 percent of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline capacity.

The State Department noted in the market analysis section of its final report that there have been “significant investments in increasing rail transport capacity for crude oil out of the WCSB [Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin].” In a March 2014 report, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimated that rail capacity will exceed 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2015 — and perhaps as much as 1.4 million bpd — because of those investments.

In addition, there are three other pipeline projects that do not need U.S. approval and that would bring Western Canadian crude oil to market, as we described in our earlier article on the pipeline in the section labeled “Alternatives.”

For those reasons, the State Department said “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed [Keystone] Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands.”

Ian Koski, a spokesman for Coons, said the senator “might have been better served saying ‘further unlocked’ than simply saying ‘unlocked’” — acknowledging that oil is flowing from Western Canada, but arguing that the State Department report is outdated and its projections flawed.

Koski made the point that the market has changed since the State Department issued its report and oil prices have declined so sharply that “Senator Coons believes it is no longer a foregone conclusion that all of this tar is going to come out of the ground” with or without the Keystone pipeline.

Coons made that point during the show when he said the State Department “reached that conclusion assuming $100 a barrel oil. Oil has now dropped back to its average of the last 20 years, $50 a barrel. Different context, different outcome.”

It is true that it costs more to transport oil by rail than pipeline. It is also true that the State Department report said oil production in Western Canada “is expected to be most sensitive to increased transport costs in a range of prices around $65 to $75 per barrel,” and prices have fallen below those levels since late 2014. “Assuming prices fell in this range, higher transportation costs could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels,” the State report said.

But the price of crude oil is volatile and experts expect it will rise again. The Energy Information Agency issued a short-term energy report on Jan. 14 that projects crude oil prices will average $75 per barrel by 2016.

Coons was correct when he said that oil is now “back to its average of the last 20 years.” Over the last 20 years, from 1995 to 2015, the average annual price of a barrel of oil — as measured by the West Texas Intermediate benchmark price – has been $53.38. However, it has been $81.81 per barrel over the last 10 years and five of those 10 years it has been above $90 per barrel – including in 2014, when it was $96.34 per barrel.

The financial incentive to extract and transport oil from Western Canada to the U.S. will depend on whether the price of crude oil stays at the 20-year average, as Coons says, or returns to the 10-year average. The EIA expects prices will be closer to the 10-year average.

Coons is also correct that the Keystone pipeline would carry “some of the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet.” That’s largely because of the energy required during the extraction process.

The State Department reports says burning a gallon of fuel from the Canadian oil on average results in 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than fuels consumed in the U.S. in 2005. That’s the so-called “well to wheel” figure, which measures GHG emissions through the entire process from well extraction to vehicle combustion.

Creating Jobs

Hoeven, in advocating for the project, emphasized the number of jobs that would be created by the proposed Keystone pipeline — a common talking point for supporters of the project. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refers to the Senate bill that would approve the project over the administration’s objections as a “jobs bill.”

Hoeven, Jan. 13: Well, the environmental impact statement prepared by the Obama administration says 42,000 jobs are supported by this project, $3.4 billion in GDP increase, $8 billion project, and tell the families that would be getting those paychecks that those aren’t good jobs. Construction jobs are good jobs.

The jobs figure is correct, but those jobs are temporary (for one or two years) and most of them are not construction jobs.

As we have written before, the U.S. State Department’s analysis says that during construction there would be approximately 16,100 direct jobs, which would include construction jobs, and 26,000 “indirect and induced jobs,” which would include the purchase of goods and services by the construction contractors and employees.

Of the 16,100 direct jobs, the State Department says “approximately 3,900 (or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years) would comprise a direct, temporary, construction workforce in the proposed Project area.” The reports says the construction jobs would be in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. It does not mention Hoeven’s home state of North Dakota, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.7 percent.

After construction is completed, the pipeline would require 50 jobs to operate: “35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors,” the State report says.

Hoeven is also correct that the State Department estimated that the project would contribute $3.4 billion to the gross domestic product, but to put that in perspective the report also pointed out that it would add 0.02 percent to the GDP.

– Eugene Kiely

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