Fact-Checking Scott Walker
The perpetual candidate’s campaign claims don’t match reality
Claim: Walker “introduced eight consecutive budgets
without an increase to the property tax levy from the previous year.”
Reality: It’s a carefully worded statement, but “sneaky and misleading,” said
Anna Landmark, research director of One Wisconsin Now (OWN).
On the face
of it, Walker’s
statement makes it sound like he hasn’t raised property taxes since proposing
his first budget.
not the whole story, of course.
it works: Walker
will introduce an unrealistically stringent budget each autumn. The county
board then has no choice but to add spending and tax increases to keep up with
inflation and other increased costs of doing business. Walker will veto the changes, and the board
will override the veto. Then Walker
will use that budget as the base line for his next year’s budget.
And, voila! Walker can say that he
hasn’t increased taxes and spending because the board has made the tough
So how much
have property taxes increased during Walker’s
reign? OWN crunched the numbers and found that Walker’s proposed budgets from
2003 to 2010 raised property taxes about 17%, while he’s increased spending
35%, more than Gov. Jim Doyle did during the same period. What’s more, fees on
licenses, permits, fines and forfeitures have increased a whopping 129% during Walker’s tenure.
the world that exists, in which he has made these increases, and then there’s
this fantasy world of the campaign he’s running,” said OWN’s executive
director, Scot Ross.
problem, of course, is the lengths to which Walker must go to not increase taxes while
trying to come up with a budget. Walker
failed utterly when he introduced his 2010 budget with a $32 million hole in it
that was to be magically filled through $32 million of wage and benefit
concessions during union contract negotiations. But Walker’s labor negotiator had never proposed
these concessions to the unions. That budget still hasn’t been resolved and
probably won’t be by the time voters cast their ballots this fall. In the
has forced many union workers to take 22 unpaid furlough days in 2010,
furloughs that are wreaking havoc in places like the Milwaukee County Mental
Health Complex and the Milwaukee County Zoo. It’s likely that the cost of the
furloughs in these critical 24/7 operations will outstrip what has been saved.
Claim: Walker says that as governor he wants to decrease
taxes on employers, property owners, wealthy investors and retirees.
Reality: This makes for a great sound bite on the Republican campaign trail, but
Walker’s tax proposals would blow a $5 billion hole in the state budget,
according to research conducted by OWN.
First off, Walker would inherit a
$2.3 billion deficit. Then he wants to slash the income tax for the top 1% of
earners, which would cost the state $287 million over the biennium. He also
wants to reopen the “Las Vegas loophole” to
reward Wisconsin companies that set up phony offices in states without a corporate
income tax to avoid paying Wisconsin state
taxes. That move would set the state back about $375 million. Then he wants to
roll back the capital gains tax paid by the state’s wealthiest people. Cost to
the state over two years: $243 million. Walker
also wants to phase out taxes on retirement income—regardless of the retiree’s
wealth—which would cost the state a whopping $920 million over the course of
two years. And Walker’s
latest gimmick is to put the sales tax from new cars into the transportation
fund, which would take more than $1 billion out of the state’s general fund.
to the state: $5.125 billion during Walker’s
first two years in office.
Although Walker is constantly
campaigning, he’s been pretty silent about how he’d make up for these cuts. His
only proposal thus far is to require state employees to contribute to their
pensions. But that would generate a mere $185 million—$4.94 billion short of
what he’s slashing from the state budget and handing to the state’s wealthiest
Claim: Walker plans to add 250,000 jobs during his first
term as governor.
Reality: Interesting, because the county’s unemployment rate has increased
been in office. This promise means reducing the state’s unemployment rate to
virtually zero. Walker
offers no details on how he’d create jobs beyond cutting taxes and improving
education, and it’s hard to improve education with less revenues.
has cut 20% of the county’s workforce. Many of those jobs have vanished, while
others were outsourced to private companies based out of state, such as the
multinational corporation Wackenhut/G4S, which took over some of the county’s
last week’s Bucyrus International dust-up, which has now been resolved. Bucyrus
CEO Tim Sullivan, a political conservative, commended the Obama administration,
Sen. Herb Kohl, Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for engaging in
an “all-nighter” to resolve the dispute between the South Milwaukee manufacturer and the
Export-Import Bank. And how did Walker handle
the threat to a major corporation within Milwaukee County?
By taking out a full-page ad in a Racine
paper to whine about the situation on the day Obama visited that city.
Claim: Walker is the one candidate who can help
has tried at every turn to seem “cool” by being a big Harley supporter. His
latest gimmick is to promise to help Harley by reviving the Las Vegas loophole (otherwise known as
repealing the combined reporting law), which Walker (not Harley) claims is
costing the motorcycle manufacturer $22 million in taxes.
though, is that it just isn’t true. Combined reporting hasn’t caused Harley’s
troubles and, what’s more, the state’s new tax policies are helping its bottom
line. The new corporate tax policies benefit Wisconsin-based manufacturers. “If
the change [to corporate tax policies for Wisconsin-based manufacturers] had
not been made and Harley had continued to pay taxes at its 2005 rate, then in
2008 its income tax bill would have been $16 million instead of $1 million,”
concluded a study by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future.
Claim: Walker “invested over
$199 million in renovations and improvements to General Mitchell
without increasing the property tax levy.”
Reality: Of course the airport didn’t use the
property tax for its improvements. “The airport doesn’t rely on the property
tax,” explained Milwaukee County Supervisor Chris Larson, because it uses fees
paid by airlines and passengers.
Claim: Walker “implemented a pension obligation plan to
save Milwaukee County taxpayers $237 million.”
Reality: Voters in Milwaukee County
rejected issuing bonds to cover pension payments in a 2005 referendum. But Walker succeeded in
getting almost $400 million in these bonds approved by the county board and
state last year. While “bonds” may sound safe in theory, in reality they’re
actually kind of risky. The idea is to invest the $400 million from the
bond sales in hopes of receiving an interest rate that is higher than what the
county pays on the bonds. This is like
refinancing your house and investing the money in volatile tech stocks, and
hoping that you’ll turn a consistent profit.
2008, the Public Policy Forum looked at Walker’s plan and was worried: “In light of the existing turmoil in the nation’s
financial markets, it is highly questionable whether [pension obligation bonds]
could and should be issued in this calendar year , and whether the
existing plan would have the desired impact in light of an almost certain
dramatic increase in the unfunded liability due to investment losses.” Guess
did in fact implement them in 2009, a year full of financial turmoil.
And the $237 million saved? Walker campaign
spokeswoman Jill Bader explained that the savings are spread out over 35 years.
What’s more, Walker failed to clean up the pension system
he’d inherited. In fact, the Journal
Sentinel won a Pulitzer in 2008 for its reporting on how a $50 million
loophole still existed in the plan five years after Walker was voted into office.�
2002 through 2010, Scott and Tonette Walker have given back over $370,000 of
his salary to the county.”
Reality: Walker likes to brag that he returns a portion of his salary to the county to show that he’s frugal. But in 2004, a campaign rival noted that despite Walker’s claims of returning some salary, he was still drawing his pension and benefits on his full salary.