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Fact-check: Does Joe Manchin have a $700,000 Luxury Yacht?

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A screenshot from a National Republican Senatorial Committee ad against Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Credit: NRSC

The National Republican Senatorial Committee — the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm — didn’t hold back in a campaign ad aimed at Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The ad, released in early August, charged that “West Virginia Joe” had transformed himself into “Washington Joe.” And a key exhibit for this argument was a pricey boat he owned.

Manchin owns a “$700,000 D.C. luxury yacht,” the ad said, illustrating the claim with a photograph showing a docked vessel.

 

Is this accurate? We took a closer look.

Does Manchin own a boat?

Manchin’s campaign does not dispute that he owns a boat, “Almost Heaven,” saying it is where Manchin has typically lived when in Washington and not back home in West Virginia.

In fact, the boat is hardly a secret. It has been written about periodically before; articles often mention sessions he’s held on the boat with other lawmakers to negotiate legislation and strategy.

In 2014, for instance, Time magazine wrote that both “Almost Heaven” and Manchin’s previous vessel, the “Black Tie,” serve as “a kind of floating incubator of that tenderest of Washington flowers in the first decades of the 21st century: bipartisanship.”

Is the vessel worth $700,000?

To back up its assertion, the NRSC provided PolitiFact with a document labeled “general index or abstract of title continuation sheet No. 1,” the cost of the vessel was listed $700,000.

Manchin’s campaign instead offered a different document with a lower dollar figure.

That document, a memorandum of sale from 2014, said the purchase price for the vessel was $220,000. The document says that Manchin purchased the boat from M&T Bank, with National Liquidators as the broker of the sale.

Independent experts we contacted were unable to explain the difference in the two dollar figures, beyond speculating that the vessel was purchased from a seller eager to get rid of it and later insured at the boat’s market value.

Is it a “luxury yacht”?

According to Boats.com, any vessel “over 40 feet long almost always qualifies” as a yacht. By the length standard alone, that would qualify “Almost Heaven” as a yacht: The vessel, built in 2001, is 65 feet long, according to Coast Guard documents provided to PolitiFact by the NRSC.

Whether it’s a “luxury” vessel, however, is in the eye of the beholder.

According to the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, the word “yacht … connotes elegance and expense.” Boats.com adds, “Just as a cocky walk would never be mistaken for a limping shuffle, yacht attitude is the net result of a combination of factors that are easy to spot as a group but hard to quantify individually.”

The vessel is listed as “recreational” on documents. However, a less confrontational — but similarly accurate — description could be “houseboat,” since it is Manchin’s residence in Washington.

Our ruling

The NRSC said that Manchin has a “$700,000 D.C. luxury yacht.”

There’s no dispute that Manchin has a boat docked in Washington, D.C. Its 40-foot length would generally qualify it as a yacht, but since Manchin lives there when he is in town, it could be just as easily described as a houseboat. The vessel was purchased for much less, but it appears to be insured for $700,000. Whether it qualifies as a “luxury” vessel is a matter of opinion.

The information we’ve found backs up elements of both the NRSC’s original assertion and Manchin’s counterargument, so we rate it Half True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: How Low Does West Virginia Rank in Teacher Pay?

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Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol Monday, March. 5, 2018 in Charleston, W.V. Hundreds of teachers from 55 counties are on strike for pay raises and better health benefits. Photo: Tyler Evert/AP Photo

Less than a year after West Virginia experienced a major teachers’ strike, Republican state Del. Paul Espinosa touted GOP efforts to raise teacher salaries — and attacked Democrats for causing the problem of low pay in the first place.

On Oct. 9, Espinosa, who chairs the House Committee on Education, tweeted, “From 1990 to 2015 under democrat control, W. Va. teacher pay rank plummeted from 30th in the nation to 48th. Our GOP led legislature is committed to reversing that decline through passage of the largest aggregate pay raises in our state’s history. #ResultsNotResistance #wvgop18”

Espinosa said he was citing numbers originally provided by the governor’s office, but we decided to take a look at the original data.

Where West Virginia ranks nationally

The numbers vary a bit from measurement to measurement, but there’s no question that West Virginia currently ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in teacher pay.

A CNN article published around the time of the teacher strike, on March 5, 2018, pegged the state at 48th in the nation — consistent with Espinosa’s second figure. The article cited data collected by National Education Association, a prominent teachers union.

We were able to find a more recent figure from the NEA, covering 2017, and by then, West Virginia’s ranking had grown even worse. It fell for the second year in a row, to 49th.

Meanwhile, we located data from earlier NEA surveys and found that West Virginia hasn’t ranked higher than 44th since 2004.

 

However, we weren’t able to find NEA data online prior to 2003, so we turned instead to data collected by the federal Education Department. This data set goes back to the late 1960s.

Here’s a chart comparing West Virginia and national teacher salaries at various intervals since the 1969-70 school year. It shows that West Virginia pay has trailed national pay by a fairly consistent margin since at least 2000. It also shows that teacher pay hasn’t kept up with inflation during the last decade.

 

As for West Virginia’s ranking nationally, it fell precipitously between about 1970 and 1990, then spiked upward before starting to decline again around 2000.

 

This tracks with contemporary news coverage of the 1990 West Virginia teachers’ strike, which came when teacher pay was almost at the bottom of the rankings, according to Education Week.

In the 1989-90 school year, the period of the previous strike, West Virginia ranked 48th. To find the state rating roughly 30th in the nation, you have to go back all the way to the late 1960s.

So Espinosa has a point that West Virginia teacher pay had sunk to a couple places from the bottom by 2015 — but he’s exaggerated the heights from which it fell.

Are the Democrats to blame?

This is more of a mixed picture than Espinosa lets on.

First off, the time period is cherry-picked. The legislature had been controlled by the Democrats for decades until the GOP won control in the 2014 elections. By ending his time frame at 2015, Espinosa  overlooks the period when the GOP controlled the Legislature — a period in which the state’s teacher pay ranking has fallen, according to the annual NEA data.

In addition, the 1990-to-2015 time frame cuts out the governorship of Republican Arch Moore (who served three non-consecutive terms, from 1969 to 1977 and from 1985 to 1989). It also cuts out the current governorship of Jim Justice, who was elected as a Democrat but later switched to the GOP. Currently, Republicans control the governorship as well as both chambers of the legislature.

As it happens, the greatest increase in the teacher pay rankings during the period Espinosa cited came between about 1990 and 2000. During most of that period, the state had a Democratic governor, Gaston Caperton. A couple years of that time span were under a Republican governor, Cecil Underwood.

Ultimately, then, the partisan blame does not accrue exclusively to the Democrats.

Our ruling

Espinosa said, “From 1990 to 2015 under (Democratic) control, W. Va. teacher pay rank plummeted from 30th in the nation to 48th.”

There’s no question that West Virginia teacher pay currently ranks near the bottom of the 50 states, but he exaggerated how far those rankings had fallen since 1990. In addition, the biggest rise in pay during that period came during the tenure of a Democratic governor, which undercuts the argument that the Democrats are entirely to blame.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Was West Virginia the Eighth Fastest Growing State Economy Last Year?

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Along U.S. Route 19 in southern West Virginia, row after row of pipe is stockpiled in preparation for construction of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, one of several major natural gas pipelines that will crisscross the state as the industry booms. Photo: F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail

In a West Virginia MetroNews debate before he won another term in Congress, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., defended President Donald Trump’s handling of the economy, saying the state had benefited disproportionately.

“Last year we had the eighth fastest-growing economy in the country in West Virginia,” he said, responding to Kendra Fershee, his Democratic opponent.

Is McKinley’s statement accurate?

Earlier this year, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis — the federal office that calculates economic growth in the states — showed that West Virginia ranked 11th in inflation-adjusted growth in gross domestic product between 2016 and 2017, with a 2.6 percent increase. That’s not the same as eighth, but it’s close.

That data, however, was subsequently updated, and the newer data is less favorable to West Virginia.

In the most recent calculations, West Virginia actually ranked 19th out of the 50 states in year-over-year change in GDP, with a 2.2 percent increase. So West Virginia was in the top half of the ratings table, but well below the eighth-place finish that McKinley cited.

A more impressive measurement for the state was one that McKinley didn’t mention — the increase in GDP per capita, a statistic that adjusts the size of growth to account for a state’s population.

Using that statistic, West Virginia actually ranked in a tie for first with Washington state. Both notched a 2.9 percent increase between 2016 and 2017.

 

Analysts say the expansion of West Virginia’s mining sector accounted for the lion’s share of the state’s GDP growth.

It’s also worth noting that a reason for West Virginia’s high rates of per-capita GDP growth is population loss — not a positive sign for the state.

McKinley’s office did not respond to an inquiry.

Our ruling

McKinley said, “Last year we had the eighth fastest-growing economy in the country in West Virginia.”

The final data actually shows that West Virginia ranked quite a bit lower, at 19th. The state fared better using a different statistic that McKinley didn’t mention — per-capita GDP growth, where it was tied for first.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact. 

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Have More Overdoses Than Any State?

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Photo: AP Photo

Does West Virginia have the nation’s leading rate of overdoses?

On Oct. 3, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., tweeted, “#WV has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation. That’s why I made sure the SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act included a set aside for states like WV. This language more than tripled the amount of funding coming to our state for this coming year.”

 

Here, we’ll focus on whether West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

We turned to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was collected and analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The data is from 2016.

Manchin’s tweet wasn’t specific about whether he was referring to opioid overdoses specifically or overdoses generally. The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis includes data for both, so we looked at both categories.

On both lists, West Virginia has the unhappy distinction of ranking No. 1.

Here’s a chart showing the data for opioid overdoses specifically. The data looks at the number of overdoses per 100,000 population, which is an equivalent measure to per capita. The opioid overdose rate in West Virginia easily outpaces the second-ranking state, New Hampshire.

 

As for overdoses overall, West Virginia finishes first, with Ohio ranking second.

 

Our ruling

Manchin said that West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

Official government data shows that West Virginia ranks first per capita in both opioid overdoses specifically and in overdoses more generally. We rate the statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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