Government

Fact Checker: Kim Reynolds' Condition of the State address

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (center) greets lawmakers as she is led out of the House chamber Tuesday after delivering her Condition of the State address to a joint assembly of the of Iowa Legislature at the Capitol in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (center) greets lawmakers as she is led out of the House chamber Tuesday after delivering her Condition of the State address to a joint assembly of the of Iowa Legislature at the Capitol in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds focused on a handful of primary themes Tuesday n her first Condition of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

The Gazette/KCRG-TV9 Fact Checker team analyzed her measurable statements about Iowa’s workforce, education, mental health care, taxes and opioids and found most were accurate, but with a few misfires.

Workforce

Claim: “Our graduation rate is the highest in the nation, while unemployment is one of the lowest.”

Analysis: The National Center for Education Statistics, in a December report on high school graduation rates, ranked Iowa the top state in the nation for the 2015-2016 school year with 91.3 percent of students graduating within four years.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on statewide unemployment rates, seasonally adjusted, placed Iowa tied with three other states as the fifth-lowest, with a 2.9 percent unemployment rate.

Conclusion: Reynold’s comments on graduation rates and unemployment score her an A.

 

Claim: “Iowa is ranked third-best-managed state in America, and the No. 1 state for middle class families.”

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Analysis: For these claims, the Governor’s Office cited a 2015 list by Delaware-based financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St. entitled “The Best and Worst Run States in America.” Iowa ranks third there, with writers citing the state’s bond rating, high school graduation rate and low unemployment rate.

The office cited personal finance resource GOBankingRates’ list entitled “Best and Worst States for the Middle Class” for the claim about middle class families. Median household income, in-state tuition, college grad rates and monthly mortgage payments were considered.

Both websites note content provided is for information purposes and reflect the opinions of their authors, so we remain skeptical of how much weight can be given to either ranking.

Conclusion: Reynolds is accurate on Iowa’s placement on those lists and gets an A on this claim, yet both rankings are somewhat subjective.

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Education

Claim: “We invested in our kids at a record level, committing $735 million more for education since 2011.”

Analysis: Reynolds’ office pointed Fact Checker to a Gazette guest column by Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, as evidence for this claim.

In his column, Rogers writes that state funding for K-12 schools has increased by “more than $735 million” since fiscal year 2012, which began in July 2011. He breaks down increases for each year and includes state supplemental aid allocated to schools as well as state dollars for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system.

Added together, those increases amount to about $735 million. School aid data from the Legislative Services Agency matches his — and Reynolds’ — claim.

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It’s worth noting school administrators and education advocates say those funding bumps have not prevented budget cuts for school districts. Lobbyist Margaret Buckton said legislators have used the school aid formula to deliver property tax relief, so the state’s growing contributions to K-12 don’t translate dollar-for-dollar to districts’ budgets. “Although the state has contributed $735.5 million in additional state dollars, millions of these dollars offset what would have otherwise been local funds,” she said.

Conclusion: While school finance is a nuanced subject, Reynolds was right that the state’s contribution to K-12 education has increased by about $735 million since 2011. She gets an A.

 

Claim: “A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that over the last 10 years, only three states increased education funding at a higher rate than Iowa.”

Analysis: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute in Washington, published the report “A Punishing Decade for School Funding” in November. The authors found public investment in K-12 schools “has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.” But Iowa bucked that trend.

Between 2008 and 2015, Iowa increased total state funding per student, when adjusted for inflation, by 20.6 percent. Only Alaska, Illinois and North Dakota increased funding at higher rates.

Conclusion: Reynolds was right on the money. We give her an A.

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Income taxes

Claim: “Iowa is one of only three states that allow taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes. While that might sound like a good thing, right now it’s not. It creates complexity, and worse — it means that when your federal taxes go down, your Iowa taxes go up.”

Analysis: A policy brief by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports Iowa, Louisiana and Alabama are the only states to allow a 100 percent deduction for federal taxes. Missouri, Montana and Oregon allow partial deductions or partial deductions for those who itemize.

The Iowa Department of Revenue presented information to the Revenue Estimating Committee stating that when federal taxes decrease, Iowa taxes increase. In other words, if there’s less to deduct, a taxpayer has more to pay.

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Conclusion: While Reynolds was partially right in stating only three states allow taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes, she is on the mark in the larger point that a decrease in federal taxes will cause state taxes to increase. Overall, she gets an A.

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Mental health care

Claim: “150,000 more Iowans have mental health coverage today and have access to more local and modern services.”

Analysis: The Iowa Department of Human Services has said nearly 151,000 people were estimated to be enrolled in fiscal 2017 in the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan — Iowa’s version of the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act. This plan covers mental health care.

But many of the Iowans enrolled in program had already received mental health coverage under Iowa’s previous county-based programs, private pay or charity care. It’s hard to know exactly how far off Reynolds is on this claim because it would entail combining historic numbers from 99 counties and also trying to figure out how many people paid out-of-pocket or received charity care.

Conclusion: We gave Reynolds a B on a similar claim last month, but when you look at the broader context, we think a C is more appropriate this time.

 

Claim: “We’ve invested $2 billion in mental health services.”

Analysis: Human Services released a report in December 2016 saying state and county spending for mental health and disability services was expected to be nearly $2 billion for fiscal 2012 through 2017.

By using the word “invested,” Reynolds leaves the impression that this $2 billion is new money or a substantial increase she and her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad, intentionally put into mental health care.

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Nearly $1 billion in federal, state and county money already was being spent on adult mental health and disability services in fiscal 2010, according to a report by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center. The Affordable Care Act made many more people eligible for Medicaid, which was one reason spending increased since 2010.

Conclusion: Strictly speaking, this claim is accurate and it gets an A.

 

Claim: “In 2016 we invested $4 million in a new psychiatric medical residency program to recruit and retain more psychiatrists.”

Analysis: We checked this claim in December, giving Reynolds an A. The Legislature allocated $4 million in 2016 to create psychiatry residency programs at three Des Moines hospitals. Unfortunately, that funding was nixed last year, said Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Polly Carver-Kimm.

Conclusion: For noting just the one-year investment, Reynolds gets an A.

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Opioids

Claim: “In the past decade, opioid-related deaths have more than doubled …”

Analysis: The number of opioid overdose deaths has grown from 50 in 2007 to 91 in 2017, and the number of opioid-related deaths increased from 107 in 2007 to 183 in 2017, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The 2017 figures still are considered preliminary. Reynolds’ staff cited a Dec. 13 agency report estimating opioid-related deaths in Iowa could reach 201 in 2017.

Opioid-related means the death certificate did not list an opioid as the cause of death, but as a contributing factor — such as a person who died of a heart attack but had heroin in his system.

Conclusion: While opioid and opioid-related deaths have undoubtedly grown rapidly, they have not “more than doubled” in the past decade even if the higher estimate were to become the final tally. We score this a D.

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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.

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

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