Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Fact-checking Rick Perry's chat with Jay Leno

Presidential candidate Rick Perry was on "The Tonight Show" on Thursday. His interview starts at the 26-minute mark.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose debate "oops" made him fodder for late-night comedians, braved questions about some of his recent verbal flubs on NBC's "Tonight Show" on Thursday — and made some statements previously rated by the Truth-O-Meter.

Host Jay Leno, thanking Perry for appearing on his show, said: "You're a good sport to come because we've been nailing you." Perhaps Perry's most widely ridiculed moment came during a GOP presidential debate last month when Perry initially proved unable to name the third federal department he would do away with. His 47 seconds of forgetfulness became an immediate YouTube hit.

Unfazed, Perry was happy to poke fun at himself, telling Leno: "Every now and then, I call my dog by the wrong name."

But the two also talked policy.

Touting his flat-tax plan, Perry argued for its simplicity by pointing out the large sums of money that Americans spend on tax preparation. "We spend almost $500 billion (on) tax accountants and lawyers just to get your taxes done today," Perry told Leno.

Perry made the same claim during an Oct. 28, 2011, New Hampshire speech — the one that went viral because of Perry’s animated banter — telling the Manchester crowd that "we spend half a trillion dollars a year in tax preparation."

Our colleagues at PolitiFact National dug into Perry's statement, consulting a 2005 paper from the Tax Foundation, a business-backed group that studies tax issues, and other studies on the tax compliance burden in the United States.

They rated Perry's statement Most False after finding that Perry's estimate of $500 billion was high. For example, according to the Tax Foundation's paper, the 2011 burden would be closer to $400 billion — a figure that takes into account time spent on internal bookkeeping and education about tax laws, as well as money spent on postage and the like. If the definition of the tax preparation burden is limited to money spent on tax preparers and tax lawyers, Perry's estimate is even further off base. Also, Perry not only took the highest estimate, he also used a number projected into the future and made it sound like that's what is being spent today.

With Leno, Perry returned to one of his favorite themes: the employment gains Texas has made during the more than 10 years he has been the governor. Arguing that cutting taxes and reducing regulations will spur U.S. job creation, Perry suggested that Texas should serve as a model. "We created 1 million jobs over the last 10 years while this country lost 2.5 million," Perry said.

PolitiFact Texas tested that statement in October after Perry cited the same figures in a television ad. We rated it Half True. Although Perry's figures basically hold up, we found a methodological weakness in comparing the job performance of a single state with net job gains to all the others combined. Also, the Texas economy was rocking before Perry became governor. And, as we've noted in numerous fact-checks, most of each state's economic circumstances aren't controlled by the governor.

Leno touched on another oft-repeated Perry statement, that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Perry defended his characterization, saying that unless changes are made to the program, younger workers who are paying into the system now can't expect to receive benefits when they get older.

PolitiFact Texas originally examined that claim last year when Perry made it during a tour to promote his 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington. We rated the statement False, noting that Social Security is accountable to Congress and the American people while a Ponzi scheme is a criminal enterprise.