IOWA LEGISLATURE

Fact checking Gov. Kim Reynolds: We grade her claims on taxes, spending, education in Iowa's Condition of the State

Lights from the House of Representatives chamber are reflected Tuesday off a teleprompter as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds deli
Lights from the House of Representatives chamber are reflected Tuesday off a teleprompter as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

In her third Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds claimed victories Tuesday on cutting taxes and investing in workforce training. She promised further tax cuts, spending on natural resources and reforms to Iowa’s professional licensure requirements.

The Gazette's Fact Checker team checked some of these claims.

Taxes

Claim: “Just one year ago, our top tax bracket was almost 9 percent, one of the worst in the country.”

Graded a C

Analysis: Reynolds made this statement as a comparison to a 5.5 percent top tax rate she wants to reach after a proposed income tax cut for fiscal 2021. We can’t predict whether that legislation will pass, but we can check her claim about the 9 percent top tax rate in January 2019.

In fiscal 2019, Iowa had nine marginal tax brackets ranging from .36 percent to 8.98 percent, according to taxbrackets.org. The Gazette also reported these brackets in a 2017 article about how Republicans planned to overhaul the state income tax system.

Although the top tax bracket at the time was high among U.S. states, it factored in Iowans being able to deduct their federal tax liability on their state income tax return. Iowa was one of only a few states that allowed this, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported.

When you factored out federal deductibility, Iowa’s highest rate in fiscal 2019 was closer to 6 percent, more in line with other states.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The tax cut Reynolds signed in May 2018 removed federal deductibility for corporate taxes and started phasing it out for individual income tax, The Gazette reported.

Conclusion: Without mentioning the role of federal tax deductibility, Reynolds’s claim is misleading. We give her a C.

Education

Claim: “Almost two-thirds of school districts teach computer science in middle and high school. And about half teach it in elementary school.”

Graded a B

Analysis: To back up this claim, the governor’s office shared an Iowa Department of Education report that was first published Tuesday.

The report includes results of a computer science survey of school district superintendents in October 2019. About 72 percent of the state’s 327 superintendents, or 235, responded.

When asked if their districts offer computer science instruction in elementary school, 49.4 percent said yes.

On the same question regarding middle school instruction, 61.4 percent answered yes. Two-thirds would be about 67 percent. Fifteen of the surveyed superintendents skipped this question.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The survey did not ask superintendents this question for the high school level. Instead, it included only questions about whether computer science instruction for high-schoolers was aligned to standards — 202 superintendents responded and 57 percent of them said yes — and if computer science was integrated into other subjects — 104 answered and half said yes.

Iowa high schools are not required to offer computer science courses, Education Department spokeswoman Staci Hupp said. In the 2017-2018 school year, 56 percent of high schools offered advanced computer science classes, such as coding and programming, she said.

Code.org, which works with organizations like NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids to provide computer science education, found 58 percent of public high schools in Iowa teach computer science.

Conclusion: Reynolds is right about computer science access in elementary and middle schools. But the report behind her claim doesn’t include information about high school access, and calling 56 or 58 percent “almost two-thirds” is a stretch. We give her a B.

Claim: “Over 6,000 Iowans are already receiving the Last Dollar Scholarship, almost 80 percent of which are adult learners.”

Graded an A

Analysis: In fall 2019, the Last Dollar Scholarship was awarded to 6,032 students with an average value of $1,130, according to Iowa College Aid, an organization that administers grants, scholarship and loans for educational opportunities beyond high school, according to spokeswoman Elizabeth Keest Sedrel.

The scholarship, which intends to bridge the gap between all other financial aid and cost of attendance for an associate degree program leading to a high-demand job, is split between those fresh out of high school and adult learners. Of the total scholarships, adult learners received 4,758 scholarships or 78.9 percent, she said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Conclusion: The governor’s staff verified the data with Iowa College Aid the week before the speech. The numbers match. A.

Professional licensure

Claim: “One quarter of Iowa’s workforce requires some kind of professional license. It’s the second highest in the nation …”

Graded an A

Analysis: This statistic comes from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm in Arlington, Va., that has been working to reduce licensure requirements across the country. Its 2018 “At What Cost?” report says 24.3 percent of Iowa workers are licensed, ranking the state second behind Nevada at 26.6 percent.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “We currently have no uniform standard for considering criminal convictions in licensure.”

Graded an A

Analysis: The Restoration of Rights Project, a collaboration of legal groups including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, did a 50-state comparison of requirements for people with criminal records to get professional licensure.

Iowa has no law regulating how convictions are considered for employment or licensure, according to an August update on the site. There are some across-the-board rules for health-related professions and a lower bar to licensure from some professions, such as electrician, plumber and barber, the group found.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The Iowa Board of Nursing says in its FAQs that criminal history is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. “The severity of the crime, amount of time elapsed since it occurred, and your life since then are all considerations,” the board wrote.

Conclusion: A

Miscellaneous

Claim: “If (former prisoners) reoffend, they land back in prison, at a cost to taxpayers of $32,000 per year.”

Graded an A

Analysis: The governor’s office cited the Iowa Department of Corrections to support this claim.

Corrections states the average cost per offender in Iowa’s prison institutions was $90.11 per day in fiscal 2019. On a yearly basis, that adds up to about $32,890 per individual.

In fiscal 2019, 38.8 percent of Iowa’s former prisoners returned to prison within three years of their initial release, The Gazette reported based to data from the Department of Corrections. The three-year recidivism rate has been increasing in Iowa, jumping 1 percentage point from fiscal 2018 to the past fiscal year.

In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, Iowa’s prison population reached 8,475, according to the state department’s data.

Conclusion: The math adds up, and Fact Checker gives her an A.

Claim: “Empower Rural Iowa Act provided $5 million that is now helping to fund 17 broadband projects in rural Iowa.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Graded an A

Analysis: This past May, Reynolds signed House File 772 into law to create the Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, an incentive program to encourage more broadband and workforce housing projects in rural areas.

The law set aside $5 million in grants for broadband projects, The Gazette reported.

The Office of Chief Information Officer received 20 applications for project pitches that use partnerships between local, state and federal governments and private entities such as telecommunications companies and rural electric cooperatives.

Of those 20 applications, 17 entities were awarded the total $5 million grant funding, according to the state agency’s website.

These broadband projects awarded the grant cost nearly $44 million in total, according to the Office of Chief Information Officer. Once these projects are completed, “approximately 13,000 homes, schools and businesses in 33 counties” will have access to broadband service, the state agency said.

Conclusion: A.

Claim: “We have thousands of open jobs in rewarding careers.”

Graded an A

ADVERTISEMENT

Analysis: Iowa Workforce Development tracks open jobs through job postings on IowaWORKS.gov, which is a job board that pulls data from job sites in real-time, according to the state agency. As of Monday, 54,841 jobs openings were being advertised in the state. The second part of the claim — as to whether the jobs are in rewarding careers — is subjective and cannot be verified.

Conclusion: A.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads 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 Molly Duffy, Erin Jordan, B.A. Morelli and Michaela Ramm of The Gazette.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.