Gov. Phil Bryant’s Neshoba County Fair speech Thursday was chock full of facts and figures designed to illustrate prosperity under Republican leadership.
Mississippi Today reporters, as they have done in the past, researched and provided context for several of the governor’s statements about health care, social services, jobs and the economy.
Referencing a speech from Attorney General Jim Hood on Wednesday, Bryant: “Democrats are saying health care in Mississippi is so terrible, why it’s as bad as it was in 1940. Now he’s not going to be called out for that. Nobody’s gonna fact check that.”
Fact check: Bryant mischaracterized Hood’s comments, which were specifically about emergency departments in rural areas. In his speech Wednesday, Hood criticized Republican leadership for not expanding Medicaid, to which he attributes the closing of emergency rooms across the state, including one in his hometown of Houston.
“We could have expanded (Medicaid) and kept emergency rooms open, like the one in my town Houston, they’ve closed,” Hood said on Wednesday. “We shut down our emergency room. Put that in our perspective. We had better emergency health care in rural Mississippi in 1940 than we do now.”
The veracity of Hood’s comments are more difficult to assess. The Department of Health only began tracking hospital data in the 1980s so there is no reliable way to determine the measure of quality in the 1940s.
(Editor’s note: We fact checked the speeches delivered by Hood and several other officials and candidates that we will publish later in the day).
Jobs and the economy
Bryant: “I’ve cut taxes over 50 times since I’ve been governor, and I’m darn proud of it. I’m leading the SEC in tax cuts. I think I still am.”
Fact check: Republican leaders in the Legislature have passed 52 tax cuts since 2012, when Bryant took office. The economic impact of many of those tax cuts are difficult to impossible to quantify. The largest tax cut in state history, the $418 million franchise tax and individual income tax cut, has already begun its 10-year phase in.
Companies with headquarters outside the Magnolia State stand to benefit most from that tax cut. Of the $278 million in franchise tax collections in fiscal year 2016, out-of-state companies accounted for $215.9 million — 78 percent — of that total, according to Department of Revenue figures. Just 22 percent came from in-state companies.
Tax cut data for states with Southeastern Conference universities is unavailable, but only three governors in SEC states have served longer than Bryant: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. All three took office in 2011.
Bryant: “We talked to our state economist and asked what our GDP looked like. He said our GDP is $114.13 billion. It is trending higher than any time in Mississippi’s history.”
Fact check: The GDP (gross domestic product), which is viewed as an economic indicator, is the value of all goods and services produced in a period of time. The figure Bryant cited is accurate, although the GDP of the nation as a whole is experiencing its longest consecutive period of economic growth.
While the same time the national GDP has risen since the Great Recession, Mississippi’s GDP has increased much more slowly.
Between 2009 and 2016, the state economy grew 1.7 percent compared to 15.9 percent nationally, and the state’s job growth was 5.3 percent compared to 11.8 percent nationally.
At the end of 2017, Mississippi had experienced six consecutive quarters of growth in the GDP for the first time since 2011. That growth has continued in 2018.
Bryant: “Unemployment in the state of Mississippi is 4.7 percent. That’s historically the lowest level in Mississippi history. When I came into office, unemployment was 9.4 percent.”
Fact check: The June 2018 unemployment rate of 4.7 percent is the lowest ever recorded in state history. But 42 states reported lower unemployment rates, making Mississippi’s jobless rate among the nation’s highest. As of June, Mississippi’s nonfarm workforce of 1.16 million represented a 1.5 percent increase over the previous year. Mississippi’s unemployment rate when Bryant came into office, in January 2012, was 9.2 percent; nationally, the jobless rate at the time was 9.3 percent.
Bryant: “We just had an income tax at $1.8 billion. Sales tax went up to $2.1 billion.”
Fact check: Both figures cited by Bryant are the highest in state history, although both figures are within $3 million from the totals in fiscal year 2008, according to information from the Mississippi Department of Revenue. That sum was the state’s peak revenue year before the Great Recession. Additionally, the income tax collection total was $15 million less than expected for the fiscal year, recent revenue department information shows.
Child Protection Services
Bryant: “CPS is doing a remarkable job – we doubled the number of adoptions in MS one year, from 360 to 645 … And we’re down just now to about 5,000 children in custody. We’re working hard with the judges to make sure we have a path forward for those parents.”
Fact check: In the last year, Child Protection Services, which is under a federal consent agreement to improve the monitoring and care of children in foster care, has doubled the number of children being adopted. In fiscal year 2017, CPS had 302 adoptions finalized. In fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30, CPS finalized 645, the department said.
The number of children in state custody has also dropped significantly in the last year. In June 2017, the number reached 6,112. It’s currently down to 5,214, according to a department spokeswoman.
“(The number) began to decline as we increased our efforts on finalizing adoptions, reunification and providing more preventative, in-home services to avoid bringing children into foster system if they could be safely maintained at home with wrap-around services and support for the entire family,” said Lea Anne Brandon, communications director at Child Protection Services.