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Fact-checking the US Senate candidates as they debate in Lewiston

Posted Sept. 17, 2012, at 8:38 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 18, 2012, at 1:45 a.m.

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Independent Angus King and Republican Charlie Summers shake hands following the debate at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Independent Angus King and Republican Charlie Summers shake hands following the debate at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012.
Moderator Michael Malloy (right) asks three candidates for Olympia Snowe's U.S. Senate seat a question during a debate at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. Seated from left are: Independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Moderator Michael Malloy (right) asks three candidates for Olympia Snowe's U.S. Senate seat a question during a debate at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. Seated from left are: Independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill.
These 2012 photos show Maine candidates for U.S. Senate in the November 2012 general election, Democrat Cynthia Dill (from left), Independent Angus King and Republican Charlie Summers.
These 2012 photos show Maine candidates for U.S. Senate in the November 2012 general election, Democrat Cynthia Dill (from left), Independent Angus King and Republican Charlie Summers.

During Monday’s U.S. Senate debate in Lewiston, BDN staffers looked into some of the statements and claims made by the candidates — state Sen. Cynthia Dill, a Democrat; Angus King, a two-term independent governor; and Charlie Summers, the Republican candidate and Maine’s secretary of state. Here is what we found.

Cynthia Dill

In her opening remarks, Dill said Maine has the highest level of seniors with food insecurity. AARP says Maine ranks 17th for seniors risk of hunger. Meals on Wheels puts Maine at 17th as well, but its data is a bit dated.

Dill said DHHS has been dysfunctional since Paul LePage took over as governor, but most of the problems the LePage administration has encountered are a result of problems with computers systems, which were implemented or decided on years before LePage took office.

Dill said 97 percent of businesses in Maine are small businesses. According to the U.S. Small Business Association, in 2008, small businesses do in fact make up 97.2 percent of the state’s employers and account for 59.7 percent of the state’s private-sector jobs. Of the 147,484 businesses in Maine, only 33,962 are employers. The SBA considers any company with fewer than 500 employees to be a small business.

Angus King

King said Maine has the second-highest gun ownership rate in the country and one of the lowest gun crime rates. It’s hard to find hard statistics on gun ownership rates, but the numbers we found puts Maine in the middle — about 40 percent of Mainers own guns, according to a 2001 survey, as opposed to nearly 60 percent of people in Wyoming and about 12 percent in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Hawaii has the lowest gun ownership rate, at 8.7 percent.

Regarding King’s statement that Maine has one of the lowest gun crime rates, it’s hard to get reliable statistics on that because of the relatively low number of homicides in Maine. The statistics we have show that about half of Maine’s homicides are gun-related and that Maine does indeed have one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the country.

King mentioned students graduating college with more than $100,000 in loan debt. The national average student debt is $25,250. In Maine, students graduate with an average of $29,983 in debt. That’s the second-highest debt load in the country, but far below $100,000, which King seemed to imply was normal.

King said that Bath Iron Works was the largest employer in Lewiston. Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Health Systems are the largest nongovernmental employers in Lewiston-Auburn, according to the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. What is unclear is how many Lewiston residents commute to BIW for work.

King attributed this quote to Mark Twain: “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” While this quote is commonly attributed to Twain, scholars have been unable to find a record attributing this quote to him.

Charlie Summers

In responding to a question about job creation and unemployment, Summers said the nation’s regulatory burden amounted to a $1.7 trillion tax. He was citing a Small Business Administration study released in Sept. 2010. The study found the annual cost of regulations had grown to $1.75 trillion annually by 2008. Small businesses, the study found, shouldered the largest portion of this burden.

Summers twice asserted that the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, would cost the nation $2 trillion. That number is at best inflated — the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated in March, “the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of just under $1.1 trillion over the 2012-2021 period” but stated that those numbers do not take into account money-saving provisions in the law. “CBO and [Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation] have previously estimated that the ACA will, on net, reduce budget deficits over the 2012-2021 period,” according to the same release.

Summers, on capital gains, said people have already paid taxes on that money when they invested it. This is not true. Capital gains is the money earned on an investment — the money that is taxed is the money that is earned, not the money that is invested.

Summers said there are “literally tens of thousands of gun laws” on the books. A Brookings report says that number is inflated. The number is 300 major state and federal laws as of 2002. More than 9,700 would have had to pass in the last decade in order to make that true.

In his closing statement, Summers said King, as governor, took a $300 million surplus and turned it into a $1 billion deficit. The MaineToday papers have rated these numbers true. The term deficit, however, is inaccurate. Maine’s constitution requires a balanced budget. The $1 billion figure refers to a structural gap: Had the Legislature that took over as King left office in 2003 funded all services at the same level, the state would have spent about $1 billion more than it was projected to take in in revenue.

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