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Fact-checking the pundits on Wisconsin's budget

By Robert Farley, Angie Drobnic Holan, Dave Umhoefer
Published on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 at 6:53 p.m.

A knock-down drag-out fight is going on in Wisconsin over the budget, and it's got national pundits talking about what it all means. Both sides of the debate are warning that what's happening here could soon be happening in other states.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the state Legislature are using their newfound control of government to force state employees to pay more toward pensions and health care and advancing wholesale changes to the Wisconsin's collective bargaining laws.

If the measure passes, public employee unions would be left with the right to bargain only over wages, and that would come with limits.

Here, we wanted to gather our ratings of what national pundits are saying about the Wisconsin budget crisis. You can find even more fact-checks on the PolitiFact Wisconsin home page.

We rated two statements from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who appeared on This Week with Christiane Amanpour. Brazile said, "The firefighters, the policemen and others who supported (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) in his election bid ... don't have to worry about their collective bargaining rights." We rated that Half True, because only some of the states' police and fire unions endorsed Walker; others endorsed his Democratic opponent.

Brazile also said that "The (Wisconsin) governor has proposed tax giveaways to corporations." We rated that Mostly True, taking issue with the use of the word "giveaways." But it is true that Walker advocates lower tax rates for businesses even in the face of the budget crisis.

Conservative George Will, meanwhile, said that if Wisconsin's governor cuts benefits as much as he plans to do, "it would still leave (workers) better off than their private sector" counterparts. We rated that True; the 12.6 percent share of health care premiums that Walker proposes employees pay is well below what most pay in the private sector.

Liberal MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow, meanwhile, said on her show that, "Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, the state is on track to have a budget surplus this year." We found that Wisconsin's Medicaid program is expected to have significant shortfalls, a problem that predates Walker's tenure. We rated the statement False.

Fox Business News anchor Eric Bolling put up a blackboard graphic comparing the total compensation for Wisconsin teachers versus all private sector workers, which Bolling said showed that Wisconsin teachers were getting significantly more. But it's a misleading comparison. On average, Wisconsin teachers are far more highly educated than the average private sector worker. People with higher levels of education tend to make more. And so we rated Bollings' comparison Barely True.

Finally, we looked at a statement from another MSNBC liberal, Ed Schultz. He said that, under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin "who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight." We found it was between 6.8 percent and 11 percent. We rated his statement False.

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Researchers: Robert Farley, Angie Drobnic Holan, Dave Umhoefer

Names in this article: Donna Brazile, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, George Will

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