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Fact-check: Taking Stock of Small Businesses’ Impact on the W.Va. Economy

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Patrons sit outside the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Photo: AP

How big a deal are small businesses in West Virginia? Pretty big, according to a recent article in WVNews.

The article, published March 30, 2019, quoted Nikki Bowmar, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, saying that “there are approximately 114,391 small businesses in West Virginia. Cumulatively, these businesses make up 99 percent of the total number of businesses in the state and employ 280,213 people — nearly 50 percent of the state’s workforce.”

Last year, a prominent West Virginia lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, garbled a related talking point, saying that small businesses “make up about 96% of our state’s economy.” PolitiFact rated that statement Mostly False.

Manchin was wrong because he used the term “the economy,” which refers to all economic output in the state. While small businesses account for nearly 99 percent of businesses in the state, small businesses only account for about half of employees in West Virginia. The other half of workers, who work for a small number of big companies, produce a disproportionate share of economic output due to their large workforces, economists told us.

So did Bowmar get it more accurately? Yes, though the data is a bit old.

When we contacted Bowmar, she sent us the same data release that we used when we researched Manchin’s statement — the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy’s 2018 Small Business Profile.

Bowmar’s remark in the newspaper lined up with the data in the agency’s profile.

The only caveat is that the data was collected in 2015. Small businesses are created and fail all the time, making the numbers somewhat volatile. Still, the data she cited is the most recent available.

Our ruling

Bowmar said that small businesses in West Virginia make up “99 percent of the total number of businesses in the state” and employ “nearly 50 percent of the state’s workforce.”

That’s correct according to the most recent data from the federal Small Business Administration, though the data is a bit old. We rate it Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Have 20 Million Americans Gained Health Insurance from the ACA?

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Chan Lai Ly has his feet examined as part of a regular check-up related to his diabetes in Seattle. Photo: AP

With the battle over the Affordable Care Act continuing in the courts, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., took to Twitter to argue that millions of Americans have benefited from the law.

Manchin wrote, “Let’s be clear: throwing out the #AffordableCareAct without a plan in place would be horrific for West Virginians and Americans with preexisting conditions, and the nearly 20 million Americans who have gained health insurance since the law passed in 2010.”

Have nearly 20 million Americans gained health insurance since the law’s passing? We took a closer look.

What does the data show?

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-rofit that focuses on health care policy, has published data through 2017 that sheds light on Manchin’s statement.

The foundation’s data shows that since 2010, the number of Americans with health insurance has increased by about 35 million, an even higher number than Manchin cited. However, while the law passed in 2010, it didn’t fully take effect until 2014, so the more accurate year to use as the baseline is 2013.

However, the data still supports Manchin’s claim. In fact, he undershot the actual number. Since 2013, about 26.6 million people have gained health insurance.

It’s worth noting that the Affordable Care Act, while a major factor in this increase, is not the only one.

As the Baby Boom generation ages, more and more Americans transition into guaranteed health care under Medicare — about 10,000 a day. Because of this, some previously uninsured people would suddenly be counted as being insured upon turning 65. For this, they have Medicare to thank, rather than the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, the continuing economic recovery played a role in expanding the pool of insured people, by increasing the number of Americans who were employed and who, as a result, were able to secure health insurance through their employment.

That said, there’s little question that the Affordable Care Act played a role.

Between 2008 and 2012 — an equivalent five-year period before the ACA took effect — just under 10 million people gained health insurance, a much smaller number than the 26 million between 2013 and 2017.

Our ruling

Manchin tweeted, “Nearly 20 million Americans … have gained health insurance since (the Affordable Care Act) passed in 2010.”

From 2013, the year before the law took effect, to 2017, the number of Americans with health insurance rose by 26.6 million, meaning that Manchin actually understated the gains. It’s worth noting, however, that gains in Medicare and from employer-sponsored health care account for a portion of that increase, so the increase can’t be credited entirely to the Affordable Care Act.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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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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