Fact-checking the SOTU

Fact-checking the SOTU

President Donald Trump used his State of the Union speech to issue a call for national unity while drawing sharp partisan lines on immigration and the slew of federal investigations into his administration and businesses. The Associated Press fact checked the address:

SNAP benefits
TRUMP, describing progress over the last two years: “Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.”

THE FACTS: The number of people receiving food stamps actually hasn’t declined that much. Government data show there were 44.2 million people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program in 2016, before Trump took office. In 2018, there were 40.3 million people participating in SNAP. That’s a decline of 3.9 million, not the 5 million that Trump talked about. The number of people participating in the SNAP program peaked in 2013 and has been going down since that time. Trump’s last budget proposed cutting SNAP by $213 billion over 10 years. The administration also has been pushing to give states more flexibility in implementing the program, including tightening work requirements for recipients.

Prescription drug prices
TRUMP: “Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.”

THE FACTS: Trump is selectively citing statistics to exaggerate what seems to be a slowdown in prices. A broader look at the data shows that drug prices are still rising, but more moderately. (…) The Consumer Price Index for prescription drugs shows a O.6 percent reduction in prices in December 2018 when compared with December 2017, the biggest drop in nearly 50 years. (…) However, that same index showed a 1.6 percent increase when comparing the full 12 months of 2018 with the entire previous year.

TRUMP: “Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades, and growing for blue collar workers, who I promised to fight for, they’re growing faster than anyone else thought possible.”

THE FACTS: This is an unsupported statement because the data on hourly wages for private workers only go back to 2006, not decades. But data on wages for production workers date back to 1939 — and Trump’s claim appears to be unfounded. Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory workers are up 3.4 percent over the past year, according to the Labor Department. Those wage gains were higher as recently as early 2009. And they were averaging roughly 4 percent before the start of the Great Recession in late 2007.

David Leonhardt’s New York Times column shows the real state of the union in a collection of charts. Amid an often lackluster and somewhat complicated picture of America, Leonhardt offers the following timely insight into this election year in Louisiana:

The economy’s growth isn’t benefiting most families very much. Life expectancy has been falling. The planet is warming. The rest of the world is less enamored of America than it has been in the past. But I can offer you one major piece of good news: Our country’s urgent and growing problems have inspired more Americans to vote and to otherwise get involved in politics. And that sort of engagement is the best hope for restoring our country to its rightful strength.


The Legislature has a massive surplus
The Louisiana Legislature loves to preach about fiscal conservatism — except, apparently, when it comes to its own care and feeding. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports this morning that the Legislature and its affiliated agencies have socked away $85 million in surpluses, a fact that’s rarely discussed in public meetings but was revealed in an audit that became public earlier this week.

The House was sitting on a $32 million fund balance when the last budget year ended June 30, according to its most recent audit, while the Senate had $11 million in the bank. The financial report for the Legislative Budgetary Control Council, which covers expenses shared by the House and Senate, showed that agency with about $42 million in its accounts. “I knew we had money in the accounts, but I didn’t know it was that much,” Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, a Ville Platte Democrat, said when asked about the audits. Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras and House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry didn’t return requests for comment about the financial reports.


Don’t forget about ALICE
The Advocate’s editorial board is the latest outlet to weigh in on the United Way’s latest ALICE report, which found that nearly half of Louisiana households don’t earn enough to provide for basic needs.

These are families where typically both adults work. But add the costs of an infant and a preschooler, and the study shows that just under $5,000 a month is needed for the basics like housing, health care, transport and food. That leaves precious little if anything for savings and the capacity to launch young children into a better life. .. We hope these findings inform the debates ahead among candidates for governor and the Legislature this year. Government alone can’t be the solution for the struggles that ALICE families face, but it can be a key player in improving the lives of the many Louisiana residents who are barely making it. Now is the time for wide public discussion about what can be done to help the working poor get a little farther up the ladder.


Shell gets Geismar green light

While national attention focuses on Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, the Ascension Parish School Board unanimously approved a property tax break for a potential expansion of Shell Chemical’s Geismar plant on Tuesday. Without discussion, the board voted to join the Ascension Parish Council and sheriff in approving the exemption as the company considers 17 sites for a $1.2 billion expansion. The Advocate’s Ellyn Couvillion has the story.

The School Board, which receives the largest portion of property taxes in Ascension Parish, would forgo $62.5 million in property tax revenues over the 10-year life of the exemption for the $1.2 billion expansion. If the project lands in Geismar, the school district would receive $15.6 million in new property tax revenue from the Shell expansion over the 10 years, according to information from the parish Assessor’s Office. The project is expected to have a huge economic impact, bringing in more than 1,000 temporary construction jobs, with a projected $7 million to $10 million in sales tax collections in Ascension Parish during the construction phase. The proposed new unit would bring 23 new permanent jobs to the Geismar site, with an estimated payroll of $2.3 million per year.


Ahead of session, Louisiana Legislature bills are trickling in
In advance of the opening of Louisiana Legislature session in April, legislators have begun to file bills. The rules governing legislative sessions in odd-numbered years mandate a limit of five (5) bills per legislator. Individuals can access filed bills through the legis.la.gov website to monitor legislation.


Number of the Day
50.3 percent – national voter turnout rate in 2018 midterm election – the highest in 40 years. (Source: New York Times)