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Fact check: The final debate between Utah candidates for governor

Utah gubernatorial candidates Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and Democrat Chris Peterson, right, are pictured in handout photos from the Utah Debate Commission on Sept. 25, 2020.

SALT LAKE CITY– The two candidates for Utah governor, Republican nominee Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Democrat Chris Peterson, participated in their final debate Tuesday. Both candidates focused on education and the state’s response to COVID-19. 

Here is KSL NewsRadio’s fact check of claims made by both candidates during the debate. 

 

Fact check: COVID-19 Response 

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed scientists say wearing a mask is likely to slow the spread of COVID-19.

True.

While health experts were hesitant about the use of masks at the beginning of the pandemic, a slew of recent studies indicate wearing a mask does slow the spread of COVID-19. A study conducted by Brigham Young University shows that wearing a mask could be the most powerful and cost-effective tool to minimize infection and mortality rates. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed Utah’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases is driven by young people.

True.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn attributed the recent spike in COVID-19 cases to those between the ages of 15-24. Utah County contributed 40% of the state’s positive COVID-19 cases, according to Dr. Dunn. Additionally, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare stated that young people made up the majority of coronavirus cases in Utah County.

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed Utah is ranked fourth in the nation for confirmed coronavirus cases.

True.

Utah is currently fourth in the nation for newly confirmed COVID-19 infections per capita, according to data from John Hopkins. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed school hybrid models limit the spread of COVID-19.

Partly true.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a hybrid school schedule typically has fewer students per class, therefore limiting the transmission risk. However, there is no published scientific study on optimal maximum or minimum class sizes that would reduce the spread of the virus. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed that 86% of Utahns are using face coverings in public and when physical distancing isn’t possible.

False.

In a recent survey done by the Utah Department of Health on Sept. 27, 2020, 69% of residents complied with wearing a mask inside and outside, 80% complied when indoors and 28% when outdoors.  

Fact check: Chris Peterson claims over $100 million has been spent on a COVID-19 response, with state funds being utilized properly. 

True.

The state has spent more than $108 million in its response to COVID-19. 

A new state audit found Utah spent $800,000 on a medicine thought to curb the side effects of COVID-19. The audit also found Utah paid an average of $110 more per COVID-19 test than other testing services, which the state auditors office said is “unreasonable.” Additionally, the state paid $4 million for the “Healthy Together” app that is no longer active.  

Fact check: Education 

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed that Utah is last in the nation for per-pupil education funding.  

True.

Utah spends the least amount of money per student in the country. The state spends an average of $7,628 per student, according to the 2018 Annual Survey of School System Finances. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox said Utah per-pupil spending is higher than some states.

False.

On average, Utah spends $5,000 less per student than any other state in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed Utah has the highest teen suicide rate in America.

False.

Utah used to have the highest teen suicide rate. Alaska now has the highest teen suicide rate in the nation.

However, the suicide rate in Utah for people between the ages of 10-19 is well above the national average. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10-24. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox said that within the last five years, Utah has seen a larger increase in education funding than any other state and is the only state that hasn’t cut education funding. 

Partly true.

Between 2014 and 2018, Utah increased education funding by more than $1.5 billion. Since 2014, education funding for instruction has steadily increased by 5%, according to the Utah Office of the State Auditor.

So, there have been no budget cuts to education and only more money allocated. It’s unclear if Utah has spent more money on education than any other state in America and it’s unclear whether Utah is the only state not to cut education. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox said education spending is going towards building new schools, not students and teachers. 

Partly true.

According to the Utah Office of State Auditor, , 13% or $886 million of the annual education budget was spent on facilities acquisitions and construction services in 2018. However, there’s been a 58.1% spending increase for facilities acquisitions and construction services since 2014. 

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed that one in four Utah fourth graders don’t know how to read at a basic level. 

Partly true.

There are conflicting statistics on this topic. According to the Nation’s Report Card, one in four — or 25% — of fourth-graders in Utah are not proficient in reading for their age group.

However, the Utah Board of Education reports that roughly 31% of fourth-graders in the state are reading below the recommended proficiency.

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed the federal government owns 70% of Utah’s land.

False.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the federal government owns 63% of Utah acreage.   

Fact check: Quality of life 

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed the Utah legislature tried to nearly triple the food sales tax in a recent tax reform bill. 

True.

Under the tax reform bill passed (and later overturned) by the Utah legislature during a special session aimed to increase food sales tax from 1.75% to 4.85% — which is a 2.77% jump. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claims Utah is the fastest-growing state in the nation over the last 10 years. 

True.

Utah is the fastest-growing state of the last decade. As of 2020, Utah is ranked number four, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Utah also ranks number one for fast-growing in terms of housing units.     

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed Utah is in the top 10 in America for migration.

False.

The U.S. Census Bureau ranks Utah 13th for migration.    

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed Utah has the best economy in the nation over the last 10 years. 

Partly true.

As of 2020, Utah has the best economy in the nation. But, in 2019, Utah had the third-best economy in America. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed Utah has the lowest poverty rate in the nation.

True.

Utah has the lowest poverty rate in America, making up 9% of the population.   

Fact check: Environment and climate change 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed within the last 10 years, Utah’s air quality has improved by 30%. 

True. 

From 2011 to 2019, air quality along the Wasatch Front has improved by 30.5%, according to data from the Utah Division of Air Quality. 

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed half of Utah’s dirty air comes from tailpipes. 

True.

According to Randy Martin, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at Utah State University, tailpipes in Utah emit more than half of the pollution into Utah’s air. 

Fact check: Chris Peterson claimed Tier 3 gasoline has lower sulfur emissions that protect against pollution. 

True.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Tier 3 gasoline reduces the number of emissions being pumped in the air, therefore lowering pollution.  

Fact check: Spencer Cox claimed Tier 3 gasoline burns about 80% cleaner than the gas used currently.  

True.

Tier 3 gasoline burns 80% cleaner than gasoline used at gas stations.  

Fact check: Chris Peterson says Utah has the third-highest untapped resources in geothermal energy in America. 

True.

According to the U.S. Energy Administration has the third-largest amount of unexplored resources in geothermal energy.