Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Stakes high for AJC PolitiFact Georgia

The Truth-O-Meter tested a claim that horse gambling could make Georgia $1 billion annually
The Truth-O-Meter tested a claim that horse gambling could make Georgia $1 billion annually

The stakes were high for AJC PolitiFact Georgia last week.

Two U.S. senators and a Clayton County official made claims on one of this state's hottest topics: jobs.

The White House sparred with U.S. House Republican leader John Boehner over tax cuts that could have a major impact on the struggling economy. Republican governors tried to thwart the efforts of Democrat Roy Barnes to reclaim the governor's seat.

And a candidate for agriculture commissioner bet about $1 billion in economic benefit would rain down if we let Georgians gamble on ponies.

Here's a roundup of this week's rulings:

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: Federal stimulus money went to a Georgia Tech project that will "apparently involve the professor jamming with 'world-renowned musicians' to 'hopefully also create satisfying works of art.' "

A Georgia Tech project funded with stimulus dollars gave two U.S. senators a case of the government spending blues.

"Summertime Blues," a report by U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and McCain, criticizes 100 stimulus projects that accomplish "questionable goals." It said that the federal government gave more than $760,000 to a Georgia Tech professor so he can play tunes with top musicians.

AJC PolitiFact Georgia found the three-year effort studies how the brain improvises music. The larger goal is to create computers that can think for themselves. Scientists vetted it in a months-long process on whether it would break new ground.

Established musicians do play, but they're doing so while hooked up to machines that record their brain activity.

Much of the grant pays for research jobs and graduate school tuition. The project helped launch a five-person business.

We rate the report's claim Barely True.

Clayton Neighborhood Stabilization Program manager Mickie Williams: Clayton County has employed 1,300 people over the past seven months through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

With help from a $9.7 million federal grant to help neighborhoods struggling because of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, Clayton County created about 1,300 jobs, a county official said.

For the past seven months, these workers have benefited from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which buys foreclosed homes, fixes them up and resells them to new buyers.

That sounds like good news. But is it true?

None of the experts we consulted doubted Williams' number, but the quality and length of the employment isn't clear. Williams couldn't really say because each project is different.

Plus, there's little research on the impact of the program on job creation and retention. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not keep track of how many people are employed through each grant recipient.

Clayton County's initial statement appears accurate. But it's based on estimates that can't be confirmed, and it needs a lot more context. We rate the estimate Half True.

Republican Governors Association: Roy Barnes is like Barack Obama because they're both doing a lot of apologizing.

Republicans criticize President Barack Obama for what they call "apologizing" for the United States' actions to countries across the globe.

Now the Republican Governors Association is saying in a TV commercial that former Gov. Roy Barnes, who is running to reclaim his old seat, is like Obama because he's apologizing for his first term in office.

"Our president has traveled the globe apologizing for America," the announcer says. "Our former governor Roy Barnes is traveling the state apologizing for his first term in office."


PolitiFact National published an item on similar accusations against Obama in a book by former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. They found Romney's claims False.


But what about Barnes? Is he apologizing for his first term in office? Yes, a campaign spokesman said. And it's the right thing to do.

We give the RGA's statement a Half True.


White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: U.S. House Republican leader John Boehner changed his position on extending Bush tax cuts.

Boehner made headlines on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sept. 12 with his comments about a limited extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this year.

President Barack Obama wants to renew them for all but the highest earners. Republican leaders, including Boehner, have called for renewing all of them.

But when host Bob Schieffer pressed him on whether he would be willing to vote for the more limited Democratic approach, Boehner said: "If the only option I have is to vote for those at [$250,000] and below, of course, I"m going to do that"

Gibbs released a statement that called Boehner's statement a "change in position and support for the middle class tax cuts."

It's correct that Boehner hadn't mentioned the possibility of voting for a limited extension; suddenly, he did.

But Boehner has consistently supported current rates, including those for the middle class. We find Gibbs' claim Barely True.

Democratic candidate for Georgia agriculture commissioner J.B. Powell: Horse racing could boost Georgia's economy by $1 billion a year and create 10,000 to 20,000 jobs.

Georgia agriculture commissioner candidate J.B. Powell is willing to make a bet on the ponies. He wants the state to allow horse racing.

Powell said it could boost the state's struggling economy by $1 billion a year and create at least 10,000 jobs, a Sept. 9 news release said.

The candidate's evidence is a 2006 study done for a horse industry group. Florida, which has 18.5 million residents, sees an annual total economic impact of $2.2 billion from horse racing, it said. Georgia's population is about 9.8 million, so over time, Georgia could see about $1 billion in impact.

But a closer look shows this comparison has serious problems. Spectators and bettors from Georgia could take away revenue from other in-state leisure activities, and it's not clear whether races would attract tourists.

Powell's estimate may be correct, but more information is needed. We rate the statement Barely True.