Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Politicians (and Glenn Beck) had money on their minds

Last week's AJC PolitiFact Georgia looked into federal money woes, tax breaks and casinos
Last week's AJC PolitiFact Georgia looked into federal money woes, tax breaks and casinos

Politicos had money and a mosque on their minds last week.

We covered statements on the federal government's money woes, casinos, a tax break for low-income families, and the mosque near ground zero. A diverse crew including conservative TV host Glenn Beck and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michael Thurmond graced our pages.  

Some did better than others on the Truth-O-Meter and its cousin, the Flip-O-Meter, which measures flip-flops, but all escaped our worst rating: Pants On Fire. Maybe next week.

Here's a roundup of our rulings.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal: On the mosque near ground zero

In an Aug. 19 article in The Marietta Daily Journal, candidates lined up to denounce a mosque's construction two blocks away from the scene of the Sept. 11 attack. Deal, however, said this:

"As governor, I don't want New Yorkers telling Georgians what to do with our land. I'll return the favor by staying out of their business."

That afternoon, The Associated Press posted an article where Deal called the mosque "an insult."

Did he switch positions?

Deal's campaign spokesman said that he issued a statement to the Daily Journal as a potential governor who has no control over land issues in another state. Personally, he said, Deal opposes the mosque.

A review of prior media coverage of Deal found no evidence that he supported or was indifferent to the mosque. The candidate's statements after the Daily Journal article ran were consistent with Deal's opinion as portrayed by his spokesman.

We ruled No Flip.

Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate Michael Thurmond: He "authored major legislation that has provided more than $250 million in tax relief to Georgia"s senior citizens and working families."

Thurmond, Georgia's outgoing labor commissioner, calls it the most important legislation he has written: a tax credit to Georgians with annual incomes of less than $20,000.

Thurmond, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, boasted about the 1991 bill's impact on his campaign website, saying it provided more than $250 million in tax relief to senior citizens and working families.

But is that true?

Thurmond is running against incumbent Johnny Isakson, a Republican, and Libertarian Party candidate Chuck Donovan.

Thurmond admitted an error in his statement the first time we talked to him. The legislation provided about $300.3 million in tax relief over the span of 13 years, according to the most recent Georgia Department of Revenue data available. Thurmond sold himself short by about $50 million.

But Thurmond's website gives him some serious wiggle room by saying "more than" $250 million in tax relief. We gave him a True.

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers: "Congress and President Obama have accumulated more debt since he took office than the total amount of debt accumulated during the first 200 years of the United States existence."

Although Rogers (R-Woodstock) doesn't politic on the federal level, he's joined a nationwide chorus of Republicans blaming the president for the national debt's growth.

The AJC's PolitiFact Georgia discussed Rogers' contention with federal budget experts from the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Heritage Foundation, which has conservative roots.

Rogers' numbers were correct, but his conclusion made little sense. He compared debt totals in 1989 to 2010 without accounting for inflation. He also blamed President Barack Obama for budgets passed well before he took office.

When our experts performed what they consider a more fair and accurate comparison, neither arrived at the same conclusion Rogers did. Both came up with much lower figures.

Rogers earned a Barely True.

TV host Glenn Beck: "The federal government is now on track" for the second-largest budget deficit "in 65 years."

Vice President Joe Biden talks a lot about the success of the government's economic policies, but Beck isn't buying it.

"The federal government is now on track for the second-largest budget shortfall in 65 years,” Beck said Aug. 25 in response to one of Biden's recent statements.

We looked at recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the official scorekeeper for Congress, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a government agency that helps prepare the president's annual budget.

The OMB projected in July that the 2010 deficit will be 10.6 percent of GDP. That's the biggest in 65 years -- not the second biggest. Using the CBO's estimate, as Beck did, the deficit was higher as a percentage of GDP only in 2009, when it stood at 9.9 percent.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Beck's right. And by the OMB's estimate, the situation is worse. We ruled Beck's statement True.

Republican candidate for governor Nathan Deal: On bringing casino gambling and other gaming to Georgia

Deal's recent statements on gambling made some conservatives cringe.

During an Aug. 18 forum on tourism in Savannah, Deal said the state should keep an "open mind" about gambling.

Days later, Deal told a television reporter that he didn't "favor it on a personal basis. I just don"t think you can gamble yourself out of a bad economy."

Did Deal flip-flop?

We reviewed his statements and voting record and talked to his campaign spokesman. During the forum, Deal stopped short of endorsing casinos, but did say there are benefits to them and he supports looking into them in detail.

Since the controversy, Deal has shifted what he says on gambling. He's no longer using the phrase "open mind." He has not mentioned studying the pros and cons of gambling, either. Plus, a Deal spokesman told AJC PolitiFact Georgia that he would support gubernatorial appointments who do not favor gambling expansion.

We gave Deal a Half Flip.