PolitiFact Week in Review
Flashing back to the week that was at PolitiFact Texas …
Gov. Rick Perry was twice before the Texas Truth-O-Meter, earning a Mostly True for his March 9 statement that "a rather extraordinary amount of non-classroom employees" were added by Texas school districts over the past decade and a Barely True after saying March 14 that the state’s rainy day fund "is our insurance policy against a major natural disaster."
Looking into Perry’s education-related statement, we found that the increase in non-classroom employees, especially in support and administrative staff, had outpaced growth in student enrollment and teachers. From 1998-99 to 2009-10, student enrollment rose 22 percent, the number of teachers rose 28 percent, and non-classroom employees increased 33 percent. But whether this addition of non-classroom staff qualifies as "extraordinary" is open to debate.
Perry made his rainy day fund comment a day before agreeing that the Legislature could take $3.1 billion from the fund, formally called the Economic Stabilization Fund, to help cover a deficit in the current state budget cycle, which runs through August. In our look-back at the creation and use of the fund, we found that the purpose of the savings account was to buffer the state against economic shocks. To date, a small portion of the money has been spent in connection with a natural disaster.
Also last week, we found that two legislators were mostly on the mark with firearms-related statements they made during a joint interview with CNN on Feb. 22.
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, received a True for his statement that "we have over 25 million people who live in Texas and less than 2 percent of them have (concealed handgun) licenses." His colleague, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, earned a Mostly True for his statement that "colleges and universities can have guns on campus (now), allow it to happen." After examining state laws, we found that higher-education institutions can permit weapons, though concealed handguns are prohibited from sporting and interscholastic events.
A fact-check of Waco activist and former mayor Charles Reed prompted us to peek into the Texas Constitution after he wrote in a March 11 op-ed article in the Austin American-Statesman that the document still contains "Jim Crow provisions about the poll tax and restrictions on women having the right to vote." We didn’t find any such language, and Reed received a False.
Finally, the Truth-O-Meter gave New York Times columnist Gail Collins a Barely True for her statement that in 2009, "Perry used $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars for schools to plug other holes in his budget." She was referring to Texas' use of federal stimulus money while writing the 2010-11 state budget. We found that Collins gave Perry too much credit for apportioning funds; the Legislature did that when it wrote the budget that Perry signed it into law. She also incorrectly implied that the $3.25 billion in education stimulus funds did not go to schools — it did. But there is an element of truth to Collins' larger point. Federal stimulus dollars for education made it possible for Texas budget writers to put some of the state's general revenue funds elsewhere.