Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Gov. Kim Reynolds' Condition of the State

Education, economy, health care and justice reform among topics

Billy Fox, security and emergency preparedness manager at Vermeer, is recognized Tuesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds for his actions during a July 19 tornado at the Pella plant. “Even though an 'all clear' was issued by a paid weather service, Billy and his team kept everyone sheltered,” the governor said in her Condition of the State address. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Billy Fox, security and emergency preparedness manager at Vermeer, is recognized Tuesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds for his actions during a July 19 tornado at the Pella plant. “Even though an 'all clear' was issued by a paid weather service, Billy and his team kept everyone sheltered,” the governor said in her Condition of the State address. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The Fact Checker team scrutinized several statements Tuesday from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State:

Education and taxes

Claim: “Together, we passed the largest income tax cut ever as part of a groundbreaking tax reform package, (and made) a record investment in K-12 schools.”

Analysis: Reynolds signed the largest state income tax cut in Iowa history in May.

The Legislature last session also committed more than $3.1 billion to public K-12 schools, more than ever before, according to a review of Iowa’s budget history done in November by the Des Moines Register.

Funding increases for public schools, however, have not kept pace with inflation, and in seven of the past eight years have been at or below 2 percent growth.

Conclusion: The governor is right that she signed a huge income tax cut, and her claim of a record investment in K-12 rings true when we consider the raw numbers. Her statement overlooks that the state’s level of school funding has left many districts unable to keep up with rising operation costs. It gets a B.

Claim: “Through a pilot program, the Department of Corrections is currently working with Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge to offer Pell Grants to prison inmates. This program is one of the most successful in the country, with more than 420 students participating, earning an average GPA of 3.5.”

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Analysis: This program, in its third year, allows inmates to apply for financial aid from Pell Grants under the “same requirements as a traditional student on the outside,” said Neale Adams, the college’s dean of business and industrial technology.

About 420 students have participated in the program since fall 2016, Adams said, though only about 130 are currently participating. The average GPA in the 2017-2018 school year was 3.5.

Conclusion: A

Economy

Claim: “Wages are going up while unemployment is at an all-time low”

Analysis: The second half of this claim is easy to check. According to Iowa Workforce Development, the state unemployment rate has been declining since early 2010 — following a spike in the nationwide jobless rate caused by the downturn in 2008 and 2009.

As of November, the state’s unemployment rate was sitting at 1.9 percent, the lowest the rate has been since 2000, according to data.

The first half of Reynolds’ claim, that Iowa wages are going up, requires explanation.

Data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show Iowa’s median hourly wage for all occupations increased from $16.18 in May 2015 to $17.27 in May 2017.

So the median hourly rate in Iowa has been on the rise. However, a 2018 Iowa Wage Survey completed by nonprofit Iowa Policy Project and shared on the Iowa Workforce Development website argues working class families see the fewest rewards from economic growth.

The report notes Iowa’s median wage tracks below national and regional trends and, when accounting for inflation, wage growth between 1979 and 2017 is “essentially flat for all but the highest-wage workers.”

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Conclusion: While the first part of this claim is accurate, stating simply that Iowans are seeing increased wages leaves out some pretty big facts, We give this claim a B.

Claim: “Since 2012, over 100 Greene County residents volunteered over 29,000 hours to raise funds, write grants and work on committees. They’ve transformed downtown Jefferson, attracting 14 businesses and rehabbing dozens of buildings.”

Analysis: Jefferson Matters: Main Street provides monthly reports to the state updating progress, which support Reynolds’ information, said Peg Raney, the Jefferson Main Street director. The most recent report shows 30,667 hours since 2012.

The report also shows 14 business starts, relocations or expansions since 2012. One business has been lost since July 2014, so the net gain is a bit less than stated.

The report shows 79 building projects and $4.2 million in private investment since 2012.

Conclusion: The information checks out, but the business attraction data is slightly misleading. This claim gets a B.

 

Health care

Claim: “We passed legislation that gave Iowans affordable health care options.”

Analysis: Reynolds in April signed into law Senate File 2349, which allows alternative health benefit plans for Iowans who can’t afford independent insurance coverage. While these stripped-down plans are cheaper, not everyone thinks they’re a good option.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based research center considered left leaning with a focus on how budget choices affect low-income Americans, said these health plans still are too expensive for the bulk of farmers and farmworkers who don’t have insurance, and the plans don’t provide what most families need.

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Conclusion: Reynolds’s claim would be more accurate if she said “more” affordable. We give her a B.

Claim: “We unanimously passed mental health reform.”

Analysis: House File 2456 passed unanimously in the Iowa House and Senate, with Reynolds signing March 29. The legislation aims to improve Iowa’s mental health system on several fronts.

The law created six new access centers for short-term care for Iowans in mental health crises as a lower-cost option to hospital psychiatric units, The Gazette reported. It also removed the cap on subacute beds, expanded the use of treatment teams that monitor and assist Iowans with chronic mental illness and attempted to improve communications between providers and law enforcement.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “I created a children’s mental health board last year.”

Analysis: Gov. Reynolds created this board in April with an executive order. According to previous Gazette reporting, the board released its strategic plan Nov. 15, and it’s now up to lawmakers to write legislation to enact a comprehensive children’s mental health system.

Conclusion: A

Justice reform

Claim: “Three years ago, we began to offer apprenticeship programs in our state prisons.”

Analysis: Iowa’s prison apprenticeship program began in 2015, when it was registered with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Cord Overton, communications director with the Iowa Department of Corrections, said Tuesday 162 Iowa offenders or ex-offenders had completed apprenticeship programs.

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“We currently have 305 active apprenticeships across all our institutions,” Overton said, adding that the state offers 22 different programs.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “This year, let’s start the process of enshrining victim’s rights into the Iowa Constitution. Like 36 other states have done, let’s send victims a loud and clear message: We will protect you.”

Analysis: Lawmakers last year attempted to write victims’ rights into the constitution, but the move failed to move out of subcommittees.

The proposals were dubbed Marsy’s Law for Marsy Nicholas, a California college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. They would have put in the constitution a broad set of victims’ rights requiring victim notification of steps in the legal process, the opportunity to be present at those proceedings and the right to be heard by the court.

According to Ballotpedia, as of February, 30 state constitutions included Marsy’s Law. Another six were approved by voters in November.

Conclusion: A

Miscellaneous

Claim: “Even though an ‘all clear’ was issued by a paid weather service, Billy and his team kept everyone sheltered.”

Analysis: Billy Fox, Vermeer’s security manager, Tuesday told the Fact Checker about warnings that came before and during a July 19 tornado that hit the Vermeer manufacturing plant near Pella.

The “all clear” message mentioned by Reynolds came from a third-party vendor Vermeer hires to provide pinpointed weather warnings in addition to county emergency management and the National Weather Service, Fox said. The private company’s notification was not in sync with public emergency systems, he said.

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Since Fox could see the tornado still was bearing down on the plant, he kept the building alarms sounding.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “Over a century ago, a town’s proximity to the railroad was key; over the last 100 years, our focus has been on highways and interstates. And, by the way, it’s that focus that finally gave us a completed four-lane Highway 20.”

Analysis: Sixty years in the making, Highway 20 was expanded to a four-lane expressway from Sioux City to Dubuque. The final phase was completed Oct. 17, 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. Final erosion control projects are scheduled for 2019, but should have little to no impact to traffic, according to the Iowa DOT.

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 Mitchell Schmidt of The Gazette.

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