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Fact Checker: Attack ad on Monica Vernon's spending

National Republican Congressional Committee released the ad, 'Surprised'

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Introduction

“Iowans have been stunned to hear (Monica) Vernon voted to increase property taxes and utility fees. Bewildered, that she wanted to raise the gas tax. And amazed that Vernon raised her own salary four times.”

Source of claim: The television ad “Surprised” from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Analysis

The new ad is set in a movie theater as if a script for a horror movie. It’s an attack on Democratic 1st District U.S. House seat challenger Monica Vernon, who previously served on the Cedar Rapids City Council. Vernon faces incumbent Rep. Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, in November.

The congressional committee provided Fact Checker with a list of sources it used for each of the four claims, largely from news articles. Most of the claims tie into votes on the Cedar Rapids city budget, which are typically unanimous since the council works out details in work sessions. Those don’t require recorded up or down votes.

In Vernon’s first year on the council, in 2008, the city raised the property tax rate from $15.07 per $1,000 taxable value to $15.22 per $1,000. Vernon voted for the increase as part of the city’s fiscal year 2009 budget. It has held steady at that rate since.

In 2015, Vernon’s last year on the council, she again voted in favor of the budget, which had a 2.2 percent increase in the package of city utility fees, including water, wastewater treatment, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, solid waste, recycling and yard waste. That actually was the smallest increase in her time on the City Council.

From 2011 to 2014, Vernon voted for the city budget, each which included a pay raise for council members. In that span, council salaries went from $15,968 to $17,729, according to City Council minutes.

But the City Council’s salary is set by city code, created when the city changed to a council-manager form of government in 2005. That ordinance set the initial salary at $15,000 and stated it “shall annually be adjusted up or down by the same percentage as the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index.” Reviewing the historical change in the index, it lines up with the annual increases in council salaries.

Finally, Vernon has never voted for or against an increase in the fuel tax. However, when she was running for lieutenant governor in 2014 alongside Jack Hatch, she told the Sioux City Journal her team supported Hatch’s proposal of “raising the state gas tax by 2 cents per year for five years, in order to have funding to handle the backlog of road and bridge improvements needed.”

CONCLUSION

Opinions often differ on the reasonableness of an increase in property taxes or fees, but nonetheless it’s accurate that Vernon voted in favor of those increases while on the City Council.

She also publicly supported the gas tax hike, a different version of which is now in effect.

It is also true her city budget votes included pay increases for herself and other council members. However, that salary increase was mandated by an earlier city code and approving it in the budget was procedural. The ad’s implication on that front is misleading.

In totality, this ad is factually accurate on all four claims, but lacks context behind the facts, particularly on Vernon’s vote on her pay increases. Fact Checker scores the measured claims in this ad as a B.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by B.A. Morelli of The Gazette and Adam Carros of KCRG-TV9.

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