PolitiFact roundup

PolitiFact recently checked out claims including boasts by Atlanta’s new mayor about the city’s financial condition and by New York’s mayor about that city’s high school graduation rate; and a criticism by Democrats regarding the effect of the new tax cut. Here are summaries of our findings. Full versions can be found at www.politifact.com.

“Atlanta is on its strongest financial footing in 40 years.”

— Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 in her inaugural speech

Bottoms’ boast holds up, though there are some caveats about the exact numbers that support it. Plus, measures of financial strength are always somewhat subjective.

Bond rating firms bumped up Atlanta in 2016 to levels that, as far as anyone can tell, those are the best ratings the city has ever enjoyed.

Fiscal analysts also look at pension fund exposure. One of the mavens of municipal finance data, Richard Ciccarone at Merritt Research Services, gave Atlanta a mediocre grade on its pension position. “Their funding ratio is only 65.9 percent, which is not that good,” Ciccarone said. “It’s been worse. It has been low as 55.4 percent in 2006.”

The pension fund issue was not a significant factor in the late 1970s.

Perhaps the biggest feather in the city’s cap is the hefty balance of the general fund at the end of 2017.

The city’s main yardstick for comparisons across 40 years is the general fund’s ending balance as a share of the total budget at the start of the year. In those terms, 2017 was much stronger than 1978, 35 percent compared to 25 percent.

Our ruling

Several support Bottoms’ comment on the city’s solid finances, though the weakest factor centers on pensions. There are factors that detract from the claim’s accuracy but the facts support the general thrust. We rate this claim Mostly True.

The Republicans and President Donald Trump “passed a tax bill that gave 80 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.”

— Democratic National Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 16th, 2018 in a Medium post

The source footnoted in the post is an analysis of the final version of the tax bill by the nonpartisan Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Its analysis found that by 2027, the tax bill would deliver 82.8 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of the income spectrum.

However, in earlier years, the distribution of benefits would look very different.

For instance, in 2018, according to the center’s analysis, the bill would deliver 20.5 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent — vastly less than the 83 percent figure the DNC touted. And as late as 2025, the center projected, 25.3 percent of the benefits would flow to the top 1 percent.

The main reason: By 2027, a number of key tax provisions that benefit middle-income taxpayers will have expired unless Congress extends them. In addition, the new tax law changed how inflation was calculated, in a way that will be less generous to taxpayers as time goes on.

Our ruling

Through 2025, the share of benefits going to the top 1 percent is much smaller than the Democrats’ post indicates, at roughly 20 percent to 25 percent. The DNC is cherry-picking by focusing on the tax bill’s impact by 2027, rather than the impact for the nearly a decade leading up to then.

We rate the statement Half True.

“The graduation rate in New York City has increased by 50 percent in 13 years”

— Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 in a press conference

Schools in New York City, unlike the rest of the state’s schools, are under the exclusive control of the mayor. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wants that power permanently extended, claimed graduation rates have soared by 50 percent since it was granted.

About 17,000 more students graduated from New York City schools in 2016 than 2005, according to the New York City Department of Education.

The graduation rate was 46.5 percent in 2005. The state changed the way the graduation rate is calculated that year, so numbers prior to 2005 are not comparable.

The graduation rate increased each year until 2011, when it dropped from 61 percent to 60.9 percent. The rate also decreased in 2012, but has increased each year since.

Our ruling

De Blasio said “the graduation rate in New York City has increased by 50 percent in 13 years.” The increase between 2005 and 2016 is about 50 percent.

We rate de Blasio’s claim True.

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