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PolitiFact Fact-check: West Virginia’s 2019 State of the State

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice addresses at news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice announced that striking teachers would return to work on Thursday, and that he’s offering teachers and school service personnel a 5-percent pay increase in the first year. Photo: John Raby/AP Photo

As Gov. Jim Justice prepares to deliver his State of the State address on Wednesday, PolitiFact West Virginia thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the state of the state as seen through our recent fact-checks.

PolitiFact West Virginia was launched in August 2018 as a partnership between PolitiFact and the Media Innovation Center in West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. Under the editorship of PolitiFact senior correspondent Louis Jacobson and Reed College teaching associate professor Bob Britten, roughly 20 students fact-checked and published more than four dozen claims about West Virginia during the fall 2018 semester. The project is continuing in the spring 2019 semester.

The following includes some of the fact-checks published in PolitiFact West Virginia over the previous six months, when Justice, a Republican, was serving as governor. They include claims about West Virginia’s recent economic growth, poverty rates, and measurements of health and education.The good news

“In 2017, the number of new business registrations in West Virginia grew nearly 11 percent (8,318 new businesses registered for the year). This comes off the heels of a 12 percent increase in new business registrations during 2016.”

Claim by: West Virginia Republican Party

Mostly True

The data comes from the Business Statistics Database maintained by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, and the office confirmed to PolitiFact the accuracy of the numbers in the tweet.

Erin Timony, the office’s assistant communications director, said the numbers focus on limited liability companies and corporate business license registrations by county. Since other types of businesses are not included, the data does not encompass all new businesses in the state.

Another point to note: The tweet cites business registrations, but not business closings.

Data compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 15 out of the last 17 quarters have seen more business deaths than births in West Virginia.

This doesn’t mean that the business registration data is wrong; rather, it just says that the tweet paints an incomplete picture.

“West Virginia added the highest percentage of new construction jobs in 2017 in the United States, at 14.4%. This amounted to 4,300 additional jobs! In fact, #WV was the only state with double-digit growth!”

Claim by: West Virginia Republican Party

True

The source is a report by the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade association in the construction industry. The comparison is drawn from data collected from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The five states with the biggest percentage increases during 2017 were West Virginia, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Idaho. So the party’s tweet was accurate.

Still, the current level of construction employment in West Virginia hasn’t returned to its nearly three-decade peak in the period before the onset of the Great Recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s worth noting that construction jobs, while important for people within the industry and within adjacent industries, only account for about 4.5 percent of non-agricultural employment in the state — about 34,000 construction jobs in August 2018 out of 752,000 nonfarm jobs in all.

Still, as far as the tweet’s limited claim goes, it is accurate.The bad news

“Adjusting for inflation, West Virginia’s median household income has not grown in a decade.”

Claim by: Democratic state Sen. Mike Romano

True

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2007, the inflation-adjusted median household income in West Virginia was $49,885 — the culmination of a decade and a half of consistent gains above the rate of inflation.

But one decade later, the 2007 figure remains the state’s highest median income level since the statistic was first recorded in 1984. Over that decade, the median income fell by 9 percent when factoring in inflation.

The nation as a whole has seen some income stagnation since 1999, but nothing as severe as West Virginia experienced. Nationally, median incomes have risen every year since 2014 and hit an all-time high in 2017.

The poverty rate in West Virginia “was 19.1 percent, the fourth-highest in the country.”

Claim by: Democratic state Sen. Mike Romano

True

We turned to official U.S. Census Bureau data for poverty by state and looked at 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. While there are two main Census Bureau sources for poverty statistics — the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey — experts we consulted with agreed that the American Community Survey data was better for a statewide statistic because it has a much larger sample size.

It’s correct that West Virginia had the fourth-highest poverty rate of any state in 2017, at 19.1 percent. The states that had higher rates were, in descending order, Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico.

“In 2017, West Virginia’s $43,469 median household income was $16,867 below the national average, ranking 50th.”

Claim by: Democratic state Sen. Mike Romano

True

In September 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that included data for household income in 2017. The figure for the United States was $60,336, while the figure for West Virginia was $43,469. The difference is exactly $16,867, as Romano said.

Meanwhile, we ranked the 50 states by household income and found that West Virginia ranked last, trailing Mississippi by $60.

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

Claim by: U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.

Mostly False

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.

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

Claim by: U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

True

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.

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.

“Black lung cases are at a 25-year high.”

U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

True

Black lung disease, also called coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by dusts that are inhaled and deposited in the lungs, which can create scar tissue that makes it more difficult to breathe. The condition can be prevented with appropriate respiratory protection, but once it develops, there is no cure, according to the American Lung Association.

A news release from Manchin and Capito cited a study published by the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers used radiographs collected from 1970 to 2017 to determine the ebb and flow of the disease.

The study found that not only have black lung cases increased but also that their prevalence will likely be reflected in future trends of such conditions as progressive massive fibrosis, which refers to masses in the upper pulmonary lobes of the lungs.

The report shows that around 1970, the prevalence of black lung was far higher than it is today — about 30 percent of miners with the longest tenures. That rate fell steadily, and by the late 1990s it had declined to the single digits.

But that decline has since reversed. Now, the national prevalence in miners with 25 years or more of tenure exceeds 10 percent, and in central Appalachia, 20.6 percent of long-tenured miners have the disease.Some context on education

West Virginia University’s incoming freshman class has the “highest-ever GPA.”

Claim by: WVU President Gordon Gee

Mostly True

On the university’s website, it says that “the average student enrolled in WVU’s Fall 2018 freshman class had a 3.55 high school GPA, an ACT score of 24 and a combined Math and Critical Reading SAT score of 1133.

Stephen Lee, WVU’s associate vice president of enrollment management and executive director of admissions and recruitment, provided PolitiFact with a partial run of older data.

The data Lee provided shows that average GPAs for the previous three years were 3.47 for the freshmen of 2017, 3.46 for the freshmen of 2016, and 3.45 for the freshmen of 2015.

The data shows a steady increase in the freshman GPA, which supports Gee’s point, but the data goes back only to 1995. So we can’t independently confirm that this fall’s freshmen have the highest GPAs “ever.”

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

Claim by: Republican state Del. Paul Espinosa

Mostly False

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 West Virginia 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 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.

This data 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.

Whether the Democrats are to blame, however, 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.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Rank in the Top Quarter of States for Education Spending?

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Striking teachers Michelle Myers, left, Holly O’Neil, center, and Suzanne Varner of McNinch Primary School in Moundville, W.Va., wave to passing cars outside the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va, on Feb. 23, 2018. Photo: AP

Does West Virginia rank among the top quarter of states for public education spending? That’s what the West Virginia Republican Party said in a Twitter thread recently that criticized the school system for subpar performance benchmarks.

In the April 5 thread, the party made the case that “West Virginia’s education system is not successfully serving our students. Comprehensive education reform will ensure students have what they need to succeed, parents have the freedom to decide the best education path for their children, and we invest in good teachers.”

Later in the thread, the party said that “according to the 2016 Annual Survey of School System Finances, U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia spends more tax dollars on public education than all but 13 other states and the District of Columbia.”

Is it accurate to say that West Virginia is in the top one-quarter of states for public school spending? We didn’t hear back from the state party, but we took a look at the original data.

The report in question is published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.

We first looked at raw dollars spent, listed in Table 3 in the report. Rather than ranking towards the top, West Virginia ranked 13th lowest in this category among the 50 states, with $3.1 billion. The states with smaller expenditures were, in alphabetical order, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Of course, there’s something that those 12 states below West Virginia share: They’re all small, and that is a major factor determining their low levels of spending.

So, to eliminate a state’s size as a factor shaping the data, we next turned at expenditures per pupil.

In the report’s Table 4, the report shows that West Virginia was right around the national average in spending per pupil — $11,424 in West Virginia, compared to $11,841 for the United States as a whole. We found 22 states that spent more per pupil than West Virginia, not 13, as the tweet said.

Finally, since the tweet used the wording “tax dollars,” we looked at the tax burden for revenues spent in each state on education. The data in the report’s Table 2, shows the amount of local, state and federal tax dollars that were raised in each state on a per-pupil basis.

By this measure, West Virginia raised $12,375 in tax revenues per pupil. In all, 28 states had higher figures, and the national average was $13,474.

Bottom line: None of these measurements supported the assertion in the tweet.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party said, “West Virginia spends more tax dollars on public education than all but 13 other states and the District of Columbia.”

Using the specific federal data source cited in the tweet, neither the revenue level nor the spending level in West Virginia had that ranking, either in raw dollars or per pupil. In fact, using per-pupil spending, West Virginia is right around the national average, rather than ranking in the top one-quarter of states.

We rate the statement False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Is Joe Manchin the Only Senator to Consistently Vote Against the Nuclear Option?

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In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/File

For decades, majority leaders in the U.S. Senate have threatened to use the “nuclear option” to change senators’ ability to filibuster, a maneuver that blocks bills from coming to a vote unless a supermajority of the chamber votes to proceed.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one member of the body who has fought to protect the status quo.

In a recent tweet, Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate. This move is a betrayal of the people we represent.”

We wondered whether Manchin was right that he had a uniquely consistent record on such votes. So we reached out to two experts in Senate procedure to see whether Manchin’s statement was accurate. (Manchin’s office did not respond to an inquiry.)

What is the nuclear option?

First, some background on the nuclear option.

As we’ve previously noted, there is a legend of uncertain veracity that says George Washington and Thomas Jefferson came to agree that the Senate should serve as a “saucer” to the House’s “tea cup” — a vessel for cooling the passions emanating from the House.

Whether the specifics of the tale hold up, the idea that the Senate is the slower, more cautious half of Congress has been the chamber’s reputation throughout its history. The Constitution delegates internal rule-setting to the Senate itself, and for much of its history, the chamber — unlike the House — did not implement any mechanism to maneuver around a member who was determined enough to block action through a filibuster.

In 1917, the Senate voted to empower a supermajority of two-thirds to cut off a filibuster and move on to other business by invoking a motion known as “cloture.” (Since the Senate had 96 members then, that meant 64 were needed to invoke cloture if all members were voting.) Then, in 1975, the Senate voted to lower the supermajority to its current number, 60 out of 100 members.

Still, 60 votes is a significant hurdle for a chamber that has not often had one party win that many seats. In recent years, the two parties have become more polarized, and more willing to filibuster, even on matters that had previously been treated as routine. That has put pressure on Senate leaders to get rid of the longstanding supermajority hurdle or else face gridlock — especially for such high-stakes topics as nominations.

Detractors have warned that such important matters were better dealt with using the higher degree of consensus conveyed through a 60-vote supermajority. But there is one tool available to a Senate leader willing to buck the chamber’s long standing tradition: the nuclear option.

The mechanics of the nuclear option (which has nothing to do with anything literally nuclear) are complex even by the standards of parliamentary maneuvers, requiring a precise series of carefully choreographed steps. Readers brave enough to tackle the details can refer to multi-page explanations in these two reports by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The gist, though, is that the majority party would move to change the supermajority rule through a series of votes that require only a simple majority.

Recent nuclear votes

Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, cited four key votes for the nuclear option. One came in 2013, when the Democrats were in control, one came in 2017, when Republicans were in control, and the final one came in 2019, when the Republicans were still in control.

In 2013, the Democratic leadership used the nuclear option to get rid of the filibuster for all nominations except Supreme Court appointments. Manchin voted against his own party, to keep the status quo.

In 2017, Republicans leaders called a vote to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Here, Manchin cast a vote to maintain the status quo, siding with Democrats against the Republican majority seeking to go nuclear.

Then, in 2019, Republican leaders offered two relevant votes. While they weren’t specifically about filibusters, they addressed delaying tactics that can advantage the minority.

One vote would shorten the debate time after cloture from 30 hours to 2 hours for district judges. The second would do the same for non-Cabinet executive appointments.

In both cases, Manchin voted to maintain the status quo.

In 2013, two fellow Democratic senators voted with Manchin and against their party’s leadership — then-Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Neither remains in the chamber.

And two Republicans who voted with Democrats in the 2019 votes had stuck with their own party in the 2017 vote, meaning that their voting record wasn’t “consistent” with the status quo in all cases.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate.”

Experts in Senate procedure tell PolitiFact that Manchin is correct, having voted in favor of the status quo — and against “nuclear option” efforts — in each of the four relevant votes between 2013 and 2019.

We rate this statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Have Exports from West Virginia Risen Faster than the U.S. as a Whole?

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Heavy equipment and trucks move coal in the Sun Coal Co. coal yard along the Kanawha River in Dickenson, W.Va., on Jan. 19, 2018. Photo: AP

Have West Virginia exports been on fire recently? A tweet by the West Virginia Republican Party suggests so.

In an April 2 tweet, the state party said, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

Did West Virginia really outpace the national average of export growth rates?

The tweet linked to a March 17 article in WVNews. In turn, the article cites a March 15 news release by the West Virginia Department of Commerce that reported data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Caitlin Ashley-Lizarraga, an international trade specialist at the West Virginia Department of Commerce, pointed us to detailed Census Bureau data collected by a private-sector subscription database, the Global Trade Atlas.

The table shows that West Virginia did indeed export $8.1 billion to the rest of the world in 2018, and that represented a 14.2% increase over the export total for 2017.

The increase for the nation as a whole was a little over half that — 7.6%.

We were able to replicate this data using the Census Bureau’s own USA Trade Onlinedata portal.

While the export growth in West Virginia was strong between 2017 and 2018, it’s worth noting that this expansion came from a small base.

In fact, West Virginia ranks thirteenth from the bottom in total exports for 2018. The states ranking below West Virginia are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party tweeted, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

The data, which we verified with a U.S. Census Bureau database, supports what the tweet said. We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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