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Politics / Issues

PolitiFact Checks State Education Property Taxes; Trump's 'Earned Media'

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The Florida Channel
State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, discusses the education bill on the Senate floor

Did Florida lawmakers really cut property taxes by more than $400 million dollars? And why is presidential campaigner John Kasich complaining about free media coverage by one of his opponents? WUSF's Steve Newborn tackles these claims with Josh Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

The legislative session in Tallahassee is over, and lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott didn't see eye-to-eye very much. But they both agreed that spending on education should go up. Even then, however, they couldn’t agree on how to do it.

Gov. Scott wanted to pay for it almost entirely by increasing property taxes. But legislators weren't too keen on the idea, saying they didn’t want homeowners to bear most of that burden.

So in the end, lawmakers passed a compromise bill - signed by the governor -that would reduce the rate of property taxes by upping more money from the state. Here's what State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville,  had to say about that:

"You can go home and say that under President (Andy) Gardiner, we were able to provide $428 million worth of property tax relief," he said.

Here's what PolitiFact Florida has to say about that:

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The education budget the Legislature passes each year is based on two parts: state funding and local funding. This local funding includes a discretionary millage rate on property that counties control, and a millage rate for the so-called required local effort. (A "mill" is a levy of $1 for every $1,000 in taxable value on a property. If your house is worth $100,000, a one-mill rate equals $100.) The required local effort is paid for through a millage rate the Legislature sets annually, and local governments must assess that rate on property owners in order to kick in enough cash for schools and get their share of state funding. While lawmakers in Tallahassee set the rate each year, what they’re really doing is setting a dollar amount local governments need to contribute. Keep in mind, the state’s economy has rebounded from the recession fairly well. Property values are up, and so are tax collections on those properties. That’s because even if the government is charging the same millage rate on a property as the year before, the taxable value has increased, raising the tax bill. Scott was largely banking on this increase to pay for a bigger budget, but legislators said no. They didn’t want property owners paying more than the $7.6 billion they paid in 2015, so they used state tax money instead of more local property taxes. To use Gaetz’s term, the budget-writers "bought out" the required local effort. They moved $428 million from the general revenue fund, which includes money from practically every other tax and fee except ad valorem taxes. Then they reduced the millage rate to 4.694 mills, a 0.29-mill decrease, to counter higher taxable values and bring in the same $7.6 billion in property taxes. According to state projections, the next fiscal year’s property taxes are actually slated to be $724,000 less than last year. The $428 million, meanwhile, is preventing an increase that is projected to happen, not cutting current taxes that people are paying now. We could quibble with Gaetz referring to this as "tax relief," because the plan is altering future collections, instead of cutting current collections. But property owners are shielded from shouldering the burden of increased education spending, so we rate this statement Mostly True.

Moving on to the presidential campaign, it's left Florida, but not the airwaves.

Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press that his message is starting to be heard, but  Donald Trump had the market cornered on media coverage without spending a dime.

"Guess what? In the grassroots, people are getting it," Kasich said in a pre-taped interview for the March 20, 2016, show. "Now, they didn't get it because, frankly you put me on the tube a lot, but Trump got, you know, $1.8 billion worth of free media. I got, like, none. Okay?"

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Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:
 

Kasich’s campaign confirmed to PolitiFact that he was referring to analysis by mediaQuant, a Portland, Ore.,- based media firm that in part tracks political coverage. The metrics were highlighted in a March 15 story by the New York Times that pointed out mediaQuant said Trump topped all presidential candidates with $1.898 billion worth of "earned media" coverage over the last 12 months. Earned media is coverage that candidates don’t have to pay for, such as newspaper and magazine stories, social media posts, and TV broadcasts. That’s different than paid media, which are mostly those campaign ads that blanket markets in an attempt to sway voters, and cost campaigns or super PACS or special interest groups. MediaQuant tracks these mentions and then assigns a dollar value to them depending on the outlet and the quality of the coverage. That includes weighing whether coverage was positive, negative or neutral. Trump scored about 79 percent positive coverage, which is a big difference than, say, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 40 percent positive coverage. The discrepancy between coverage of Trump and his rivals is out of the ordinary, experts in political campaigns and advertisements told us. While Trump first garnered attention because he was a novelty, like Ross Perot in his 1992 independent run, media outlets continued to cover Trump as his campaign gained traction. That has allowed him to self-promote and share his own message in ways normally reserved for campaign ads, they said. "I have never seen a candidate get as much earned media/free media as Trump. It isn't even close," political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said in an email. "I have been stunned at the amount of time Trump receives. They do telephone interviews. They cover entire speeches. He seems to be everywhere. It is very unusual." Our ruling The Ohio governor was referring to an analysis by mediaQuant, which measured so-called earned media coverage of presidential candidates and assigned a dollar value to them. Trump has gotten almost $1.9 billion in the past 12 months, while Kasich has only $37.7 million, according to mediaQuant. That's a ratio of 50 to 1. Kasich is exaggerating that he doesn’t get any coverage, but his approximation stands, especially when compared with Trump. We rate this statement Mostly True.