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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: The Truth-O-Meter Comes to New Jersey

Do you want to know if Gov. Christie is telling the truth about balancing his budget or raising tolls or the graduation rate of kids in Newark? Do you want to know the same thing about his critics? Since 2008, an award-winning column called the Truth-O-Meter has ranked public statements on a scale that ranges from True to Pants on Fire.

This column has mostly covered national elections and politics – until recently. For about the last year, New Jersey has been one of nine states to benefit from this fact-checking column. Over 90 New Jersey statements and stories have been fact-checked. Five of these statements have been shown to be “Pants on Fire” wrong; 13 have been totally true; and everything else has been somewhere in between.

Gov. Christie has been the most checked of any New Jersey person or organization, facing the Truth-O-Meter 26 times. Nearly half of those claims – 11 – have been ruled either “half true” or “mostly false,” illustrating what the journal State Tax Notes calls “the grimy little half-truths … that sometimes are just beneath the surface of the most gleaming political rhetoric.”

While State Tax Notes finds that “the coverage of tax topics is spotty,” Politifact New Jersey has tackled economic arguments on occasion, mostly in the context of political battles. Some highlights:

  • It found Gov. Christie’s claim that “tax increases approved by Democrats in past years had led $70 billion of wealth to leave New Jersey between 2004 and 2008, mainly to relocate to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania” to be mostly false.
  • It found Gov. Christie’s “assertion that he didn’t raise taxes” to be half true, since cuts in tax credit programs have accompanied stable or decreasing rates for the state’s three major taxes — gross income, sales and corporation business.
  • It found that Assemblyman Lou Greenwald’s claim that the “governor’s proposed income tax cut benefits millionaires more than middle-class families” was totally true.

Truth and transparency are often lacking when it comes to political speak. Politicians take credit for things they didn’t do, talk about numbers that don’t exist and generally mislead the public. Most of us are impressed or disgusted by the things we hear, but have no way to verify whether what we hear is truth. It would be nice to believe that politicians would be more accurate in what they say if they knew they would be held accountable. The Truth-O-Meter might be a first step.

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