Truth-O-Meter travels back in time
By Willoughby Mariano
Published on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 at 6:00 a.m.
AJC PolitiFact Georgia went back in history last week on its search for the truth. Way back.
Like a century ago -- the dawn of our nation's dependence on fossil fuel. That's when wooden pipelines were used to transport natural gas. We found out whether they're still in use today.
And two decades ago, when Georgians debated whether to institute the lottery that now funds the popular HOPE Scholarship for college-bound high schoolers. Did former Gov. Roy Barnes, who's trying to reclaim his seat, oppose the scholarship?
The Truth-O-Meter's other jaunts into the past had to do with more recent history. Think five years ago, when the state argued over whether to toughen its voter ID laws. Or the turn of the millennium, when Barnes, a Democrat, was governor. Republicans claimed he was weak on education and jobs back then.
It's also when a DeKalb County school board member said she started handing over to the county what totaled $30,000 in unused travel money. Did she?
This is how we ruled:
Republican Party of Georgia: "[Roy] Barnes opposed the creation of the HOPE Scholarship and campaigned against Zell Miller on the issue."
There are some things you just don"t do.
You know, pull on Superman"s cape, spit into the wind. And if you are a politician in Georgia, you don't dis the HOPE Scholarship.
But state Republicans said former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes did just that. Barnes is running for his old seat against Republican Nathan Deal and Libertarian John Monds in the Nov. 2 general election.
HOPE provides full college tuition to high school students whose grade-point averages are 3.0 and higher. The Georgia Lottery funds it.
Barnes opposed the lottery and campaigned against it during his failed bid for governor in 1990. But after a bruising battle, state legislators approved the program in 1991.
But while Barnes opposed the lottery, he never specifically opposed HOPE. At the time, it wasn't clear exactly what education projects the lottery would fund. And later as governor, Barnes backed expanding the scholarship program on his watch. We rate the GOP claim Barely True.
Republican Governors Association: Roy Barnes "made Georgia dead last in education" and Georgia "led the nation in job losses."
In a recent RGA ad, two gray-haired men sit around a table with a red and white checkerboard tablecloth, saying Georgia suffered when Roy Barnes was governor.
On the education claim, an RGA spokesman pointed to average SAT scores and a Manhattan Institute report published in 2001 that found Georgia had the lowest high school graduation rate of any state. The report, however, was about students who graduated the year before Barnes took office. Other graduation rate data placed Georgia near the bottom or tied for last.
In 2002 Georgia ranked last in the SATs, but experts said making state-to-state comparisons is a bad idea.
On the job-loss front, a front-page 2001 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Georgia lost nearly 80,000 jobs during a 12-month stretch, more than any other state.
DeKalb County school board member Sarah Copelin-Wood: "I have given $30,000 of my unused travel expenses over the years to supplement the school system's general budget."
While most DeKalb school board members trimmed their salaries by 10 percent, Copelin-Wood didn't. That's because she did her part by giving her unused travel budget back to the schools, she told the AJC in a July 3 article.
Every dollar counts to DeKalb schools, which cut its budget by $104 million. We decided to check this claim out.
DeKalb budgets about $4,000 a year for each board member for travel. During the past 10 annual budget cycles, Copelin-Wood could have spent $45,957. Instead, she spent $12,722 -- $33,000 less. The unused money remained in the general fund.
So while Copelin-Wood did save the district $33,000, she didn't hand the cash to the school system. The county reimburses board members after the money is spent, which means the money never left government coffers.
We rate her statement Half True.
Comedian and social commentator Bill Maher: "Do you know that we have pipes carrying natural gas in this country that are made of wood? I'm not joking."
When a natural gas pipeline exploded Sept. 9 in San Bruno, Calif., killing four and destroying almost 40 houses, Maher brought up President Barack Obama's stimulus package.
"Now, why couldn't he [the president] have said, 'Look, there's a lot of people out of work in this country, and our infrastructure is crumbling and needs repair.' ... Why didn't they fix that?" he said during CNN's "Larry King Live" on Sept. 14. "An entire town blew up. Do you know that we have pipes carrying natural gas in this country that are made of wood? I'm not joking."
Wood pipelines for natural gas? In use today?
A state regulatory agency and several national industry officials told us they were unaware of any functioning wooden pipe anywhere. They were used a century ago, but it's almost inconceivable that a wooden pipe still working today would remain unnoticed.
We rate Maher's claim False.
Republican Governors Association: Roy Barnes has been "fighting hard" to let illegal immigrants vote.
This election season, illegal immigrants are some of the Republicans' favorite bad guys.
Now a Republican Governors Association attack on Roy Barnes says he fought to give them the right to vote.
"In other words, no ID, no problemo!" reads www.1888kingroy.com.
The RGA's proof is that Barnes, an attorney, unsuccessfully filed suit against Georgia's 2006 voter ID law. If the challenge won, state law would have let voters use bank statements as ID. Since Barnes served on the board of Georgia Appleseed, a nonprofit the RGA said helped illegal immigrants get bank accounts without Social Security numbers, he'd be helping illegal immigrants vote, the RGA claimed.
But experts called the RGA's characterization of Barnes' suit "outrageous" and a "misrepresentation."
And Georgia Appleseed doesn't aid illegal immigrants. It fixes systemic legal problems. It did run a financial literacy initiative for Latino immigrants. But a noncitizen is a far cry from a person who crossed the border illegally.
Pantalones en fuego. (Pants on Fire).
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