/Fact checking Jim Hood and Tate Reeves in the 2019 gubernatorial debates

Fact checking Jim Hood and Tate Reeves in the 2019 gubernatorial debates

These debates could be the last before the Nov. 5, election. The televised debates saw the candidates for governor arguing about topics such as teacher pay, Medicaid expansion and healthcare. Mississippi Today fact-checked each candidate’s statements, and provided context for many of their claims. “As a consequence of these tax giveaways, the lieutenant Governor (gave), to his campaign contributors, we have cut 624 from the Department of Mental Health — Attorney General Jim Hood at WCBI debate, Columbus, Oct. 14, 2019, Fact check: Hood seems to be referring to the elimination of the franchise, which was the centerpiece of the 2016 tax cut package that Reeves fought for as lieutenant governor. According to a Mississippi Today analysis, the majority of the dollars saved by eliminating this tax went to corporations outside of Mississippi. Hood tried to tie job cuts at the mental health department to budgets Reeves managed, but the truth is more complex. The Department of Mental Health announced in 2017 plans to reduce about 650 jobs in its state hospitals, residential centers and other facilities by the end of the fiscal year to close a $20-million budget gap. The agency’s struggle to meet federal standards of care meant that state hospitals were being closed. However, this was part of a change in priorities. The Department of Justice sued Mississippi for violating the Americans with Disabilities act in 2016. It argued that the state had violated Mississippians’ rights by keeping people with severe mental illness and intellectual disabilities in old state hospitals. A community-based system is an alternative. However, Diana Mikula, the executive director, testified at the federal trial that the Legislature and a dearth of state funding were partially to blame for the agency’s inability to provide adequate community-based services for its residents. We know what services we need. We don’t have any plan. We are trying to manage our appropriation and we know what services we need. Mikula stated in U.S. District Court that the plan was to use the money when it is available. Mikula stated in U.S. District Court that the federal government offered $1 billion per year over five years to expand Medicaid. However, we have lost $5 billion by declining it. It wouldn’t cost us a penny, the hospitals would match that.” — Attorney General Jim Hood. Fact check: Since late 2013, 37 states have opted for Medicaid expansion to all adults who earn less than 138 per cent of the federal poverty line. Mississippi’s “coverage gap” is where 350,000 people are found. This means that they have too little income to be eligible for Medicaid, but too much to receive a subsidy. Mississippi is not expanding Medicaid, despite being eligible for a federal match rate of 90 percent, which is the highest in the nation. Although estimates vary, $1 billion represents the amount of federal funds the state would receive to expand Medicaid. Hood seems to be referring back to a specific Medicaid expansion plan that was proposed by the Mississippi Hospital Association in May. States usually bear the cost of Medicaid costs that are not covered by federal matching dollars. However, this plan would see hospitals pay the remaining 10%. Claim: “It costs someone $220 million per year because there is a state match… And if hospitals will pay it, that means that your hospital costs are going up. Your insurance rates will rise. The idea that the federal government has no money is absurd to Mississippians.” — Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves, WCBI Debate Fact Check: Reeves estimates of the state share as well as his claim that hospitals should be able to pay it are both baseless. Reeves put the cost of the state share at $220million, almost double the $117 million that the Hospital Association had estimated in May. Reeves referred to the Hospital Association plan and stated that hospitals would be able to pay the match, although there is no reason to believe that this is true. The $117 million state match would be partially funded by hospitals charging patients a small premium for non-emergency visits in the emergency room. The hospitals would pay the rest. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 350,000 Mississippians don’t currently have health insurance. Mississippi hospitals are liable for $600 million annually in uncompensated care. They are federally mandated to treat all patients who come to their emergency department, regardless of ability to pay. Although there are unknowns, the hospital association repeatedly denied the notion that their plan would increase their costs. According to the Mississippi Hospital Association, Tim Moore stated that in May, “We’re not going to push any plan we thought would increase our costs.” Claim: “The truth is that we’ve increased teacher salaries over the past five years. (Payment increased) in 2014. In 2015, we increased the teacher’s pay. It was increased again in 2019. That was approximately $4,000 per teacher.” — Lieutenant Governor. Tate Reeves, WJTV debate, Hattiesburg, Oct. 10, 2019 Fact check: Gov. Phil Bryant signed legislation to raise teacher salaries in 2014. This gave teachers a $2,500 pay increase that totaled about $100 million. The increase was implemented over two years, with $1,500 for the 2014-15 school season and $1,000 for the 2015-16 school school year. Reeves considers the 2014 pay increase and its subsequent two-year rollout three separate efforts to raise teachers’ salaries. Legislators passed an additional $1500 raise for teachers and assistants during the 2019 legislative session. Despite this, Mississippi teachers are among the least paid in the country. Claim: “Average Mississippi teacher pay, 2012-to-now, is $900 lower.” It’s not $8,000 less.” — Attorney General Jim Hood. Fact check: It depends on how you view this claim. According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the average classroom teacher’s salary was $41,814 in 2012-13. The average classroom teacher salary was $45,105 in the 2018-19 schoolyear. The 2012-13 average teacher salary was $45,105. However, this average salary was adjusted for inflation by using the consumer price index calculator. This is about $650 less than the average 2018-19 school-year salary. Claim: Teachers now earn $8,000 more than they did eighteen years ago. — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, WCBI Debate Fact Check: The 2012-13 school year saw a $30,900 first-year teacher’s salary without district supplements. According to the 2019-20 salary schedule, the same teacher would earn $38,365 this year with the same level certification and no additional teaching experience. A teacher who taught eight years ago could make $8,000 more today than they did back then, thanks to the $2,500 raise that was passed in 2014, the $1500 increase that was approved this year, and the step-based increases that teachers receive, according to the 2019-20 salary schedule. This statistic has been cited by Reeves before. The Legislature established step increases decades ago to increase the pay of teachers. Teachers receive an additional $495-794 per year, depending on their education level, but only after they have taught for three years. Claim: “There’s no way to afford all of the programs Mr. Hood’s proposal has been made without raising taxes. — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and WBCI debate Fact Check: Hood proposed $941 million for new programs, Reeves stated in both debates. Hood’s proposals would be roughly the same as those cited by Reeves. Hood maintained that he would never try to pay all of the programs within a year. Hood has talked about reducing waste in order to raise new funds. He also stated that a federal infusion of $1 billion annually in federal funds to expand Medicaid and an infrastructure program would stimulate economic development and increase revenue for his programs. Hood, like Reeves has pledged to give teachers a raise in their first year, and Hood has promised to provide $30 million for pre-kindergarten programs in their first year. Claim: “We have one of the lowest rates of unemployment in state history, and there are more people working than ever before in state history.” We are in the most financial and fiscally sound state in history.” — Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves, WCBI Debate Fact check: Reeves makes similar claims routinely. Reeves points to the fact that the state’s emergency fund, which is close to its maximum capacity of $455 millions, and state revenue collection are increasing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles two jobs surveys in the area of employment. One shows that there are more people currently working. A separate survey found that Mississippians worked more in the 2000s, compared to earlier surveys. Regardless, Mississippi was slower to recover the jobs it lost in the 2008 recession than other states, even with a more favorable survey. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi’s number of workers did not exceed the 2008 pre-recession 2008 level until 2018 early. According to data from University Research Center, Mississippi’s job growth was only 1.3 percent since the 2008-09 recession. Nationally, it was 8.3 percent. Despite Mississippi’s low unemployment rate, its participation rate in the workforce of 56 percent is second to none. According to BLS data, Mississippi workers will make about $40 per week less in 2019, after inflation is taken into account. Claim: “The Mississippi Legislature can’t set the state’s minimum wage.” –Attorney general Jim Hood, WJTV debate Fact Check: Hood answered a question and stated that he believes the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour should be increased, but that it was a federal issue, not a state one. It is possible for the Mississippi Legislature to increase the minimum wage. Although bills are filed almost every session in order to accomplish this, they rarely make it out of the committee. Multiple states have set minimum wages that are higher than the national standard. We are open to hearing from you if you have heard of politicians claiming that Mississippi Today should fact-check. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. 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