Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Readers tell us what they really think

Some criticism, with a little praise, in the latest mailbag.
Some criticism, with a little praise, in the latest mailbag.

From death to taxes, from immigration to welfare, we’ve covered a lot of issues in recent months in our never-ending effort to separate fact from fiction in Rhode Island politics.

Those who predicted we’d run out of fuel for the Truth-O-Meter after last November’s election have been proven wrong. In Rhode Island, there’s never a shortage of provocative, disturbing, outrageous, ridiculous, and occasionally, true, claims to fact-check.

Because we believe if you dish it out, you have to be able to take it, we thought we’d share some of the comments we received on our recent Truth-O-Meter rulings.

An item we did dealing with Rhode Island’s estate tax drew the most reaction. We examined a claim by the Ocean State Policy Research Institute that the most significant reason people leave Rhode Island is the state’s estate tax.

We agreed with one of OSPRI’s findings, that there are more people leaving the state than coming in. But we found no evidence that the estate tax is the main reason and ruled the claim False.

Said OSPRI: "As expected, the progressive establishment summoned one of its media allies, this time PolitiFact, to conduct a hit job on our study." The group characterized our findings as  "blatant in their ignorance and politicization of the facts." Ouch.

Said Ray Cieslak, of Warwick, in a letter to the editor: "It may be true that the OSPRI claim couldn’t be proven, but just because it couldn’t be proven doesn’t make it false." He invented a new rating for us: "Conclusion Flawed."

Richard Petrucci, a Cranston estate planning attorney, wrote:  "I can assure you that in my experience working with clients, avoiding the Rhode Island estate tax is a significant reason, if not the most significant reason, why they plan to leave to Rhode Island and move to a state with no state estate tax (like Florida or New Hampshire) before they die."

Ron Salavon, of Wakefield, had a different view: "Thank you for the article debunking the OSPRI "study,"  he wrote.

Noting that OSPRI cited the number of Rhode Islanders moving to Florida -- which has no estate tax -- he said: "I, too, know many people who are Florida residents. They started out because of the weather... But the point is, they didn’t initially leave because of the differential tax structures."

Many readers took issue with the Pants on Fire ruling we gave to a statement made by Terry Gorman, president of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement: "Illegal aliens cost the state of Rhode Island $400 million a year."

We looked closely at his estimates of the cost of educating, incarcerating and providing health care to the estimated 30,000 to 35,0000 illegal immigrants in Rhode Island and found them outdated, grossly inflated, or not documented.

"You give a rating of  ‘Pants on Fire,’ even when your calculations arrive at a total of $76.8 million ... to Rhode Island taxpayers," said Paul Castaldi, of Bristol. "Though that is a significant difference from $400 million, it certainly does not justify your rating, and, I will add, your calculations are subject to interpretation."

Other readers were critical of our Barely True rating of this statement by state Rep. Peter Palumbo: "There are nearly 500,000 registered sex offenders across the country and at any one time, about 100,000 are unaccounted for."

We traced the numbers to their source -- the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- and found that the 100,000 figure was an estimate that a team of academics concluded was substantially overstated. Our own checks with Rhode Island and nearby states also found a much smaller percentage of missing sex offenders.

"First off, I’d give more credence to the NCMEC, an organization which specializes in researching sex-offenders, over university professors who probably don’t dedicate their full time to a single area of research," wrote Mark Poirier, of Pawtucket. His rating of our ruling: "Half Baked."

Our item on a statement Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse made at one of his community dinners drew lots of response, mostly positive. Whitehouse said the 400 richest taxpayers in the United States paid an average of 16.6 percent in taxes -- a lower rate, he said, than "a hospital orderly making $29,000 a year."

We found that if you look only at income taxes, the orderly would actually be paying a substantially lower rate. But if you include Social Security and Medicare taxes, which take a chunk out of lower-income taxpayers, he was right, by a minuscule amount. We ruled his statement Mostly True.

"This type of analytical reporting -- which is in such contrast to the thoughtless ranting that goes on today -- really serves Rhode Island readers well," wrote Miles Parker, of Pawtucket. "I’m proud of my state newspaper again and look forward to opening the pages each morning."

We got similar feedback on our analysis of a widely-circulated chain-email that compared Detroit and Hiroshima. The anonymous author concluded that Detrot has faltered and Hiroshima has prospered, despite the atomic bombing, for one reason: there’s no welfare in Japan.

It didn’t take us long to find out that Japan has an extensive welfare system. And Detroit’s problems have a lot more to do with changes in the economy than welfare. We ruled the claim Pants on Fire.

"Great piece of research, thanks," wrote Charles Ahlgren, of Cranston.

We’d love to hear your comments, pro and con. Send them to politifact@projo.com. And follow us on Facebook at PolitiFact Rhode Island and on Twitter: @politifactri.