PoliGraph: Fact-checking the debates

It was a debate double feature this week, with the two U.S. Senate candidates facing off for the first time in Duluth and the gubernatorial candidates taking the stage in Rochester.

There was no shortage of political statements for PoliGraph to investigate. Here are four.

GOP Senate candidate, Mike McFadden: “[Sen. Al Franken] has voted against the [Keystone] pipeline multiple times.”

If he’s elected, McFadden says he will make energy a priority. To make his case that Franken is weak on the issue, McFadden points to Franken’s opposition to speeding up the approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a project that will transport oil from Canada through the United States, and is awaiting approval from the U.S. government.

McFadden points to two votes Franken cast against efforts to speed up the approval process, though one vote was largely symbolic. When the Senate energy committee took up Keystone earlier this year, Franken voted against legislation he said would circumvent the approval process.

“The decision to permit the Keystone XL pipeline has to be based on careful evaluation of the risks and benefits of the project. And while I believe the process has taken too long, I don't believe we should simply approve the current plan without having the necessary analysis and information from the agencies reviewing it,” he said.

McFadden’s claim is accurate.

Sen. Al Franken: “I’ve worked across party lines to find common sense solutions to things.”

McFadden’s key criticism of Franken is that he’s too often fallen in line with his party and the president – 97 percent of the time, to be exact.

On average, Franken has voted with his party 97 percent of the time since he was sworn in.

But Franken spent a lot of time during the debate emphasizing that voting scores are only one way to measure his record. He rattled off a list of bipartisan efforts he’s participated in. (Whether they are “common sense solutions” is up to voters.)

Those efforts include a diabetes prevention bill with former Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, a workforce training bill with GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and a pharmaceutical safety bill with Alexander and GOP Sen. Pat Roberts.

PoliGraph found other instances when Franken worked with Republicans, too.

Franken’s claim is accurate.

Gov. Mark Dayton: “The facts don’t support what Commissioner Johnson alleges. The bonding bill last year, 38 percent went to greater Minnesota, 28 percent to the Metro. The rest was statewide projects.”

During the three-way gubernatorial debate between Dayton, GOP candidate Jeff Johnson and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, Johnson repeatedly said that Dayton’s administration hasn’t given enough money and attention to greater Minnesota.

Dayton pushed back, saying he’s supported efforts to boost outstate funding.

Case in point: the latest bonding bill.

Projects exclusively outside the Twin Cities got the most funding – about 38 percent as Dayton states – metro projects got 28 percent of the funding and the rest went to the Capitol restoration projects and statewide projects. Here’s a breakdown of the funding.

Dayton’s claim is accurate.

GOP Governor candidate Jeff Johnson: Dayton and his allies have said “I’ll cut the minimum wage – I’ve never said that. Whether that I cut education funding. I never did. In fact, I voted three times in each of the budgets to increase education funding.”

Johnson may be referring to ads paid for by the DFL party and by the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a political group that backs Dayton.

One ad claims that Johnson said he would “reduce the minimum wage,” which the DFL Legislature and Dayton just increased from $6.15 an hour to $8 initially and ultimately up to $9.50 in 2016. After that, the minimum wage will be automatically adjusted for inflation.

Johnson's stance on the issue is nuanced. He said he will not cut the minimum wage. But he has said that he would repeal those automatic inflation adjustments if he is elected governor.

“My goal would not be to try and roll it back,” he said at a Star Tribune forum at the Minnesota State Fair. “I don’t like the automatic inflators.”

On education spending, the story is more complicated, and a lot depends on how you look at the numbers.

While serving in the Minnesota House from 2001 until 2006, Johnson supported education funding bills that increased annual education appropriations - meaning the amount of money the state actually spends on education every year.

Democrats point to a report from the Minnesota House fiscal analysis department that shows total state aid entitlements - meaning the amount of money schools actually count on - dropped by about $76 million between 2003 and 2005. And they say the funding bills Johnson supported didn't keep up with the cost of running the state's public school system, which they argue amounts to a cut in spending.

Education finance experts say those statements are fair to make based on the data. It's just a matter of how you look at the numbers.

So, in one sense, Johnson is correct. But there are other reasonable ways to look at the numbers, too, which makes it difficult for PoliGraph to make a definitive ruling on this statement.

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