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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske September 24, 2019

Contrary to Bynum-Coleman's ad , Cox has steadily backed teacher raises

Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman is trying to label Speaker Kirk Cox as opponent of teacher raises in a contentious race for the 66th District House seat.

Her first try ran into trouble. "Cox joined with special interests to deny teachers a raise," she said in a TV ad that aired Sept. 4. But a small-print citation Bynum-Coleman used in the ad to back the claim was inaccurate. She cited Cox for a 2013 vote against the state budget with a teacher raise when, actually, he supported it. It was another delegate - John Cox - who opposed the budget.

Bynum-Coleman stopped the ad, and put up a new version the next day with the same claim and video, but amended sources. Cox’s campaign says the commercial is still inaccurate. So we fact-checked the second ad to see if Cox, a former teacher, "joined with special interests to deny teachers a raise."

Cox’s Voting Record

Cox joined the General Assembly in 1990. We tracked his voting record on teacher raises from 2005, which is the earliest year Bynum-Coleman cites in her contention that Cox has opposed pay hikes. 

Cox, a retired teacher, has been in a strong position to influence teacher pay. From, 2005-2017, he sat on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, a subcommittee of it that oversaw money going to public schools, and was on a small team of House negotiators who worked out final spending deals with the Senate. He became speaker in 2018.

Teacher raises are not singled out for a vote in the General Assembly. They appear as line items in thick state budgets hundreds of pages long. Since 2005, the legislature has approved seven budgets with lasting teacher pay raises, a Cox voted for each one. Here are the raises:

*2005, 3%;

*2006, 3%;

*2007. 3%;

*2013, 2%;

*2015, 1.5%;

*2018, 3%; and

*2019, 2%.

The state paid half the amount of each raise and localities were responsible for the rest,

There were also two times when Cox voted with the General Assembly to pass teacher pay raises and later supported rescinding them before they went into effect because of low state revenues.

In 2008, Cox backed a 2% raise to start on July 1, 2009. In early 2009, as the state slid into the Great Recession, Cox voted with the General Assembly to cancel rescind the pay hike.

In 2016, he supported a 2% to begin July 1, 2017 if projected state revenues didn’t fall more than 1% below projections. Revenues missed that target and in early 2017 Cox voted with the General Assembly to cancel the raise.

Overall, Cox unfailingly voted each year for incremental  versions of the state budget that were passed by the Appropriations Committee, the House, and the full General Assembly. Don’t forget that he had an influential role at each step.

Bynum-Coleman’s sources

In her amended second ad, Bynum Coleman offers three citations to back her claim that Cox "joined special interests to deny teachers a raise." All of them are at least eight years old. Parker Slaybaugh, Cox’s spokesman, said the speaker doesn’t recall any of the incidents.

One citation is a 2005 bill that would have established a policy goal to raise Virginia teacher salaries to the national average. The bill, which didn’t set a target date to reach the goal or seek money, passed the Senate. It died in House Appropriations Committee that Cox sat on without being brought up for a vote.

There’s no record of any action by Cox on the bill. Rob Silverstein, campaign manager for Bynum-Coleman, said that’s tantamount to Cox opposing raising teacher salaries to the national average. "He could have moved the bill forward, but he let it die," Silverstein said.

Slaybaugh said Cox, in 2005, was a junior member of the 22-person committee and wouldn’t have had the sway to advance the bill. He noted that this summer, Cox called for hitting the national pay average in four years. Silverstein dismissed the action as an election-year stunt.

Bynum-Coleman also cites a failed 2011 bill as evidence of Cox’s opposition to teacher raises.  It would have allowed local school boards to use unspent funds for a one-time bonus teachers bonus up to 3% of their salaries. The legislation died on an unrecorded voice vote in Cox’s seven-member subcommittee.

Bynum-Coleman’s third citation is a confusing editorial that ran in The Virginian-Pilot on Aug. 31, 2008.  It said Cox and two other delegates backed a change in the state school-funding formula "that would have ended the state’s obligation to pick up a share of supplemental raises awarded by cities and counties." 

What’s baffling is that the state doesn’t have an obligation - now or then - to pay a portion of teacher raises originating in localities. The opposite is true. We found nothing to corroborate the editorial in a search of state newspapers.

We asked Silverstein if he knew details about the editorial’s statement. "The story speaks for itself," he said.

Special Interests

Key to Bynum-Coleman’s ad is her claim that Cox "joined special interests" in "denying" teacher pay raises. Our legislative memory, dating to 1986, doesn’t recall any organized lobby against teacher raises. The economy has been the driving force: In good times, teachers usually get raises; in tight times, they don’t.

We asked Silverstein to identify the special interests. He said he was driving and would get back with an answer. We’re still waiting.

Our ruling

Bynum-Coleman’s TV ad says "Cox joined special interests to deny teachers raises."  She had to temporarily pull the ad because it claimed Cox voted against a 2013 state budget with a teacher raise when, actually he supported it.

Bynum-Coleman’s corrected ad offers three citations to back her claim, all of them at least seven years old. Two concern the death of bills in the House Appropriations Committee where Cox was a member, One in 2005, would have set an open-ended  goal to raise teacher salaries to the national average; the other would have let school boards spend surpluses in 2013 for a one-time bonus. The third source is two confusing sentences in a 2008 editorial. 

Cox says he doesn’t remember any of these occasions and it would be nice if he did. None of Bynum’s evidence of leads to a recorded vote although Cox, if he followed form, was likely to have gone along with the committee’s Republican majority. And none of her evidence centers on Cox’s actions when there was money on the table for salary increases.

There have been seven budgets since 2005 that raised teacher salaries and Cox voted for each one. Two other times, he supported budgets with pay raises, and a year later voted with the General Assembly to rescind them before they took effect because of flagging state revenues.

All told, Cox’s record matches the legislature’s since 2005. He voted for nine teacher pay hikes and twice to later cancel them.   

Bynum-Coleman offers no proof for her charge Cox joined special interests to stop teacher raises. When you combine this with the erroneous sourcing on her first ad - still posted on her Twitter page - Bynum-Coleman’s full claim is unsubstantiated. 

We rate it Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Sheila Bynum-Coleman, TV ad, Sept. 4, 2019.

Bynum-Coleman, Corrected TV ad, Sept. 5, 2019.

Intrview and email from Rob Silverstein, campaign manager for Bynum-Coleman, Sept. 19-20, 2019.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Bynum-Coleman releases first ad, includes error about speaker’s education record," Sept. 4, 2019.

Interview with Matt Moran, chief of staff for Speaker Kirk Cox, Sept. 18, 2009.

Interview and emails from Parker Slaybaugh, communications director for Cox, Sept. 4 and Sept. 20, 2019.

VPM, "Cox challenger Sheila Bynum-Coleman misrepresents record,

Speaker Kirk Cox, news release, July 18, 2019.

Virginia House Appropriations Committee, Budget summaries, 2005-2019.

Legislative Information Service, HB1285, Feb. 21, 2005.

LIS, HB2204, Feb. 1, 2011.

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