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Maryland governor's debate fact check: Hogan, Jealous each find ways to stretch the truth

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous flung charges at each other during Monday’s first and only gubernatorial debate on issues ranging from opioid deaths to student test scores to job growth. Here are a few of the assertions in the debate and the facts.

Jobs: Jealous asserted Maryland has the lowest job growth in the region under the Hogan administration. He said that if Maryland had matched Virginia’s rate of job creation the last four years, it would have 40,000 more jobs. Hogan insisted he’s taken the state from last place to first place in the region.

Facts: Both campaigns seem to agree on the validity of one set of statistics. It’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing jobs by state in the mid-Atlantic since January 2015.

The Hogan people sent out their debate talking points with the headline “Maryland Is Not Last In The Region When It Comes To Job Creation.” True. It’s No. 4 among five states and the District of Columbia, according to the governor’s numbers.

The stats show Virginia leading the region, with the District and Delaware also ahead of Maryland. Pennsylvania and West Virginia lag behind Maryland. Jealous’ statement about Virginia’s job growth rate is roughly accurate.

The governor hinges his claim to have taken Maryland to first place on the numbers from the month of August 2018, when Maryland led the broader region. But single-month numbers are notoriously volatile and subject to revision.

Opioids: Jealous charged that fatal opioid overdoses increased 160 percent under Hogan — an important issue because Hogan made a spike in opioid deaths under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley a major campaign theme in 2014.

Facts: To get to 160 percent, Jealous is projecting a final total for 2018 of 2,316 based on first-quarter statistics. That projection may not be borne out. If you stick with 2017 statistics, there was a 126 percent increase to 2,009 from 888 deaths in 2014.

Education: Jealous charged that on Hogan’s watch, Maryland has slipped in national rankings of public schools from first place to sixth. Hogan countered that Maryland never was truly No. 1 because test scores had been inflated under the previous administration of Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Facts: Jealous could have more credibly said the state dropped from No. 3 to No. 6.

Maryland won first place in the Education Week rankings of public schools in 2009 and didn’t let go until 2013. In 2014, Education Week didn’t rank states. In 2015, when Education Week changed the way it calculated the scores, Maryland slid to third. It dropped one place each year in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Maryland’s decline is largely related to a drop in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card. The test in reading and math has been given to a sampling of children from every state for decades and is considered the most reliable data on the achievement of fifth- and eighth-graders in math and science.

Maryland excluded large numbers of special education students until 2015. After that change, scores declined dramatically.

Crime: Jealous charged that violent crime has increased since Hogan’s election, and not just in Baltimore. He pointed to a more than 50 percent increase in homicides statewide and a 34 percent increase in the 23 counties outside Baltimore.

Facts: Jealous’ statistics are accurate. However, numbers provided by his campaign show most of that increase came between 2014, the last year of O’Malley’s term, and 2015, the first year of the Hogan administration. There was a spike in 2015 from 363 to 553. Since then, the number of homicides has fluctuated in a narrow range. A governor’s policies tend to have a limited effect on first-year statistics, so it’s debatable whether Hogan is responsible. On the other hand, violent crime and homicides haven’t come down significantly since then.

Prisons: Hogan, responding to Jealous’ promises to end “mass incarceration,” said Maryland is already moving in that direction and has reduced its prison population by 9 percent.

Facts: The governor was referring to a study by the Vera Institute of Justice showing Maryland led the nation in 2017 with a 9.6 percent drop in prison inmates — 2 points more than the drop in any other state.

Taxes: The governor repeated a standard claim that he has cut $1.2 billion in taxes, tolls and fees during his four years.

Facts: Hogan reaches that amount by including $282 million in savings for Maryland businesses and individuals that he had nothing to do with, including $240 million driven by a U.S. Supreme Court decision and a formula-driven $42 million reduction in unemployment taxes paid by employers. Still, that leaves him with more than $900 million in cuts, although some are the result of Democratic-sponsored bills he signed.

Sun reporters Doug Donovan and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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