Sifting pokes at Rick Perry plus a toxic warning

Brad Watson, a reporter with the Dallas television station WFAA, interviewed President Barack Obama on April 18 at the White House.

Our fact checks ran from Austin to Washington and the White House last week, even detouring to Indiana.

To the Flashback...

An Austin resident’s letter to The Austin Chronicle spurred us to ponder his warning that the fluoride compound added to Austin’s water supply is "toxic waste." Interviews and email exchanges with representatives of the Austin Water Utility and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led us to rate the statement False — though that isn’t to say that over-consumption of fluoride is good for you.

In Texas House debate about that body’s version of the 2012-13 state budget, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, objected to objected to a proposal that would have reduced the money the state puts toward a cancer research and prevention initiative approved by Texas voters.

Keffer told colleagues that "the costs of cancer and all affiliated issues are over $20 billion a year to this state." Video of his point is at the 2:14 mark of the April 3 floor debate, posted here.

Right he was — maybe even low.

The Texas Department of State Health Services guided us to a 2009 analysis by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston putting the 2007 cost at about $22 billion: $10 billion in direct costs and $12 billion in indirect costs. In this case, indirect costs were defined as the value of the economic activity lost because someone was sick with or died from cancer.

From 1998 to 2007, the UTMB report says, the cost of cancer in Texas rose for several reasons, including an increase in the number of older Texans, rising health care costs and more expensive treatments.

In an interview with PBS’s Tavis Smiley, Indiana’s governor made a potentially provocative claim to government workers and taxpayers everywhere. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican presidential prospect, said government workers are better off than others: "There may have once been a time, Tavis, in the old days of patronage and so forth, where government workers were put upon and vulnerable, but that's a long time ago. Now, in 41 states out of 50, they are better paid than the taxpayers who support them."

Our settle-out: False. Daniels accurately recapped a newspaper’s comparison of average salaries of state and local government employees to workers in the private sector. However, we were persuaded such analyses are misleading and simplistic — partly for not taking into account meaningful differences in required education and experience levels for different jobs.

Poking at Texas Gov. Rick Perry, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow recently suggested secession could hurt the Lone Star state’s bottom line.
"Many of these states flexing their 10th Amendment muscle, flexing their state sovereignty, even flirting with secession, states like Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Utah, one of these things about the states is that they all routinely get a lot more federal spending than they pay in taxes," she said on the April 12 edition of her show.

Our review of her claim was our readers' favorite of the week.

We dug into taxes paid by Texans compared with federal money coming to the state from Uncle Sam, concluding that between 1981 and 2003, Texas almost always paid more in federal taxes than it got back from the federal government. But since 2003 the reverse has been true, with Texas receiving more than it paid in five out of seven years, which seemed darn close to routine. We rated the statement Mostly True.

President Barack Obama similarly chipped at Perry in an interview with Brad Watson of WFAA-TV in Dallas. Asked whether he agreed with Texas leaders that the federal government should take governing cues from the Lone Star State, Obama said he saw "a little inconsistency" in that position.

"Keep in mind, Gov. Perry helped balance his budget with about $6 billion worth of federal help, which he happily took, and then started blaming the members of Congress who had offered that help," Obama said in the April 18 interview.

Mostly True, Mr. President. Perry went along with applying federal stimulus money toward balancing the 2010-11 state budget and he also vented criticism of such expenditures by Congress.

But the governor wasn’t publicly happy about accepting the help. Also, he hardly started ‘moaning Congress just then; he was firing darts Washington’s way well before Obama became president.

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