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Fact checking LePage and Democratic speeches

Posted Feb. 05, 2013, at 9:06 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 06, 2013, at 7:14 p.m.

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivers his State of the State address in in the house chambers in Augusta Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivers his State of the State address in in the house chambers in Augusta Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. Buy Photo

Gov. Paul LePage cited many facts and figures in his State of the State address Tuesday night. The staff of the BDN analyzed much of this information, as well as claims made by Democratic leaders in their response to the governor. Here is what we found.

Claim: Maine passed the largest tax cut in history in a bipartisan effort. The average Maine family will receive a $300 tax decrease, a 28 percent decrease in their state income tax.

Fact check: A Maine Revenue Services analysis of the income tax cuts found a family making between $39,809 and $50,538 — a range that includes Maine’s median household income of $47,898 — would see an average tax decrease of $191, or a 16.1 percent reduction. Some 53,986 families would experience that decrease. About 64,011 families with an income between $64,618 and $84,095 will see their taxes go down an average of $317, or 13.8 percent. To realize a 28 percent decrease, a family would have to make between $17,358 and $23,936. Families in that income range will see an average tax decrease of $87.

Claim: Maine families are struggling. With a median household income of just under $48,000, Maine families survive on far less money than other Americans.

Fact check: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine’s median household income over a five-year period, from 2007 through 2011, was $47,898, compared with the national figure of $52,762. That’s about 90.8 percent of the national median income. Maine’s per-capita income over the same period was $26,195, or 93.8 percent of the national figure of $27,915. Maine’s northern New England peers, New Hampshire and Vermont, had median household incomes of $64,664 and $53,422, respectively.

Claim: Together, we eliminated $1.7 billion, 41 percent of the existing shortfall in Maine’s pension system, without cutting retiree benefits.

Fact check: A 2011 pension reform package decreased Maine’s unfunded liability to the state pension system to $2.4 billion from $4.1 billion, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, primarily by cutting cost-of-living increases for retired state workers and public school teachers.

Claim: Maine families now have more choices when purchasing health insurance. More than 17 percent of Maine’s small businesses received a decrease in their health insurance rates last year.

Fact check: The 2011, GOP-supported health insurance reform law, known as PL 90, was aimed at the small group and individual health insurance markets. Recent data from the Maine Bureau of Insurance show that 17.5 percent of small groups (50 or fewer people) renewing their health insurance coverage during the last quarter of 2012 saw their premiums fall, compared with 2.9 percent that saw their premiums fall two years earlier. Some 53.5 percent of small groups renewing their policies saw their rates rise between zero and 20 percent. The number of small groups renewing their coverage fell by 13.4 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Claim: Unemployment is down in Maine, lower than the national average.

Fact check: Maine’s seasonably adjusted unemployment rate has been consistently lower than the national rate. Maine’s seasonably adjusted unemployment rate for January 2011, when LePage took office, was 8 percent. In December 2012, it was 7.3 percent, according to the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. The national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December 2012 and 9.1 percent in January 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recent data from the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information showed, through tax filings, that Maine’s private sector added 6,800 jobs between June 2011 and June 2012. That job growth was partially offset by declines in state and local government employment. Experts, including Maine state economist Amanda Rector and Maine Department of Labor economist Glenn Mills, have warned against attributing the job growth to a single factor or policy.

Claim: The policies of Washington, D.C., will result in smaller paychecks for Maine families. In fact, the average Maine family is handing Washington an additional $1,000 this year.

Fact check: The end of the payroll tax holiday returned the Social Security payroll tax deduction to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent of income. Michael Allen, the state’s associate commissioner for tax policy, estimates that change will cost a Maine family of four making the state’s median household income $1,000 in 2013.

Claim: Maine’s energy costs are too high — and it’s killing economic opportunity. Maine families are paying 24 percent above the national average for electricity. Our businesses pay 14 percent above the national average for electricity.

Fact check: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Maine’s average retail electricity price for all sectors (residential, commercial and industrial) was 12.58 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2011. That was above the national average of 9.90 cents but below the New England average of 14.49 cents. Maine’s average retail price for electricity was the lowest in New England. It was 27 percent above the national average. In the industrial sector, Maine’s average retail price of 8.88 cents per kilowatt-hour was 30 percent above the national average of 6.82 cents. In the commercial sector, Maine’s average retail price of 12.29 cents per kilowatt-hour was 20 percent above the national average of 10.23 cents.

Claim: A recent decision by the Public Utilities Commission in favor of Statoil’s offshore wind proposal asks Maine families and businesses to subsidize a global entity to the tune of nearly $200 million.

Fact check: The figure of nearly $200 million would be based on a 20-year contract and applies only to electricity generated by the Hywind Maine pilot project. Rates will vary over time. The Conservation Law Foundation estimates the cost to ratepayers to be 65 to 75 cents per month on an average electric bill. LePage’s argument does not account for Statoil’s projected investment in the Hywind Maine project and its commitment to Maine contractors. In its revised term sheet, Statoil states that it will make “commercially reasonable efforts” to direct at least 40 percent of its capital expenditures for the pilot project to Maine companies, employ at least 150 people during its construction phase, place the operations center in Maine and contract with Maine consultants.

Claim: The average Maine family spends more than $3,000 per year to fill their oil tank. With access to natural gas, this same family could save an average of $800 per year.

Fact check: The Governor’s Office of Energy has a home heating calculator. It shows heating with heating oil, at the current price (which it plugs in), in a non-Energy Star boiler would cost $3,281 a year. For a home heated with natural gas, the calculator estimates the cost to be $2,201.

Claim: State government has mandated what types of energy Mainers must buy — regardless of the cost. That is wrong.

Fact check: Maine’s renewable portfolio standard, passed in the 1990s, required that 30 percent of the state’s electricity mix come from renewable resources. At the time, that 30 percent level was lower than the actual percentage of Maine electricity produced using renewable resources. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, half the state’s electricity in 2011 came from renewable resources: 25 percent from hydropower, 21 percent from wood and 4.5 percent from wind.

Claim: We have schools in Maine where only 23 percent of students are at grade level in reading and math upon graduation.

Fact check: The Maine Department of Education calculates a three-year average for math and reading achievement based on student scores on the New England Common Assessment Program and the SAT for high school students. The school with the lowest three-year average for 2010-11, Machias Memorial High School, had 23.01 percent proficiency. The second lowest average was 23.28 percent, at Upper Kennebec Valley Junior-Senior High School in Bingham.

Claim: On average, only 32 percent of Maine fourth-graders are proficient readers. By the eighth grade, that number only climbs to 39 percent.

Fact check: These numbers come from Maine’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered every other year to fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math.

Claim: Almost 20 percent of students drop out before graduation.

Fact check: Using the federally required method for calculating high school graduation rates, the Maine Department of Education reported the state’s high school graduation rate to be 83.79 percent in 2010-11. Maine’s federally calculated graduation rate for 2009-10, 82.8 percent, was the 13th highest nationally among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Claim: Maine has 127 superintendents for 186,000 students. Florida has 57 superintendents for 2.6 million students.

Fact Check: The Maine School Management Association says the state has 94 full-time and 33 part-time school superintendents. About 185,000 students attended Maine’s public schools as of Oct. 1, 2012, according to the Maine Department of Education. Florida had 67 superintendents, according to the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, for 2.69 million public school students in the fall of 2012, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Claim: We spend more than twice the national average on administrative overhead in our schools. Maine has the highest district administration costs in the nation.

Fact check: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine spent $1,220 per student on general and school administration in 2009-10, about 58 percent higher than the national average of $774 per student. Maine’s administration figure was topped by Washington, D.C., ($1,756) and Vermont ($1,463), the Census Bureau data show. Maine’s total per-student spending was $12,259, a figure lower than 13 states and Washington, D.C.

Claim: Fifty percent of Maine high school graduates entering community college require remedial education.

Fact Check: The Maine Community College System released a report in January showing that 50 percent of Maine high school graduates entering community college required remedial education. A separate report indicated that only 12 percent of Maine high school students entering University of Maine system schools required remedial classes in reading in writing. That’s a lower percentage than the New England average.

Democratic response

Claim: We rank dead last in the country for personal income growth. And, while many states in the country are recovering from the national recession, Maine’s economy has slipped backwards.

Fact check: According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Maine ranked 19th for personal income growth in the fourth quarter of 2012, with growth of 0.7 percent over the previous quarter.

Maine did rank last in personal income growth for 2011, but not in 2012.

Claim: Here in Maine, we face a sluggish economy with more than 50,000 people still out of work.

Fact Check: In 2011, the most recent data available, the Maine Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 704,000 people in Maine’s labor force, with 651,000 of them employed. That leaves 53,000 unemployed, at an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.

For December 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed Maine’s unemployment rate as 7.3 percent, below the national rate of 7.8 percent.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that tax changes at the federal level would cost an average Maine family of four $3,000 in 2013. The correct figure is $1,000.

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