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Fact Checker: Branstad gets mostly A's for accuracy in speech

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Gov. Terry Branstad’s Condition of the State address Tuesday scored mostly A’s for truthfulness, according to a review by The Gazette’s Fact Checker team.

Economy

Claim: “We’ve seen unemployment in our state drop from 6.2 percent to 3.8 percent.”

Iowa Workforce Development and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics track Iowa’s unemployment rate. When Branstad took office in 2011, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, according to both sources. The most recent unemployment rate is 3.8 percent, which is from November.

So, Branstad is accurate in saying the unemployment rate has declined, but not quite to the extent he stated. This claim gets a B.

Claim: “More Iowans have been employed these past few years than at any other period in our state’s history.”

As of November, Iowa had 1,654,967 people employed, according to Iowa Workforce Development and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number has fluctuated to a small extent in the 1.65 and 1.64 million range since September 2015, when the employment base topped the 1.64 million threshold for the first time in Iowa’s history.

Branstad is accurate in stating there are more workers in Iowa the past few years than at any point in state history since records were kept, but it also should be noted that the state’s population has increased. We score this an A.

Claim: “We have provided significant tax relief for Iowans the past five years, especially for commercial property taxpayers.”

Residential property owners have benefited from a property tax “rollback,” which changes annually based on economic factors, but has been between 40 and 56 percent of the tax bill in recent years. Commercial property owners traditionally paid full freight until the passage of 2013 property tax reform. The bill was rolled back to 95 percent in 2014 and was down to 90 percent in 2016, but is scheduled to get more generous over time. We score this an A.

Energy

Claim: “We just set an all-time record for ethanol production, set a new record for biodiesel production by an additional 55 million gallons and lead the nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind.”

A December Iowa Renewable Fuels Association report declares 2016 a record-breaking year for Iowa biodiesel production. According to the report, state production increased from 242 million gallons in 2015 to 297 million gallons last year — a 55-million-gallon increase.

Claim: “We now generate over 35 percent of our electricity from wind and expect this number to exceed 40 percent by 2020.”

According to a 2016 report from the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa generates 35.8 percent of its electricity from wind power, ranking first in the nation. Iowa also ranks second in the country for installed wind energy capacity.

Branstad’s claims on Iowa ethanol and wind production both are spot on. We give these claims an A.

Public employees

Claim: “We have made government smaller.”

Iowa has 17,296 full-time central employees today, about 2,100 fewer than in January 2011, Iowa Department of Management Director Dave Roederer confirmed. This excludes judicial and legislative branch employees as well as the state’s public universities. The state salary database that includes the universities has hovered around 60,000 for each of the past six years.

Branstad doesn’t control the judicial branch, the Legislature or the state universities, so looking at just the central employees he’s correct about shrinking rosters. We give him an A.

Claim: “The cost of these benefits has grown dramatically because of our antiquated collective bargaining system that has led to over 500 health care plans, many of which are inefficient and way too costly for public employees and Iowa taxpayers.”

The only part of this claim we’re checking is whether there are more than 500 health care plans for public employees. The answer is yes.

This number includes health plans for Iowa’s more than 300 school districts as well as cities and counties across the state, according to Jean Hessburg, spokeswoman for the Iowa State Education Association. Branstad gets an A for his “500” claim, but we’re not able to verify the reasons for the number of plans or the plans’ efficiency.

Education

Claim: “The state has significantly increased funding for education since 2011, amounting to over 654 million additional dollars.”

Supplemental state aid for public education in Iowa has increased since 2011, but by about $645 million — not $654 million — according to data from the state.

While more dollars are being funneled into Iowa K-12 schools than in 2011, it’s worth noting educators across the state say the increases — which have hovered near 2 percent or less for seven of the past eight years — have not been enough to keep up with inflation.

Still, this claim is mostly accurate and earns an A.

Claim: “Today, less than half of our workforce does ... have education or training beyond high school.”

About 47 percent of Iowa’s working-age population — ages 25 to 64 — has a “quality postsecondary credential,” according to a 2016 Lumina Foundation report. The independent foundation included associate degrees or higher as well as certificates and certifications in data collected in 2014. Branstad earns an A for this claim.

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.

l This Fact Checker was researched and written by Mitchell Schmidt, Molly Duffy, Erin Jordan and B.A. Morelli.

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