The Walker File: 2014's best-read claims by the governor

Governor Scott Walker thanks supporters as he wins another term over challenger Mary Burke during his election night rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Park Exposition Center in West Allis, November 4, 2014. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo by Rick Wood
Governor Scott Walker thanks supporters as he wins another term over challenger Mary Burke during his election night rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Park Exposition Center in West Allis, November 4, 2014. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo by Rick Wood

The high-stakes frenzy of a campaign season often brings out the worst in the campaigners.

The Truth-O-Meter provided plenty of evidence for that in 2014 when it came to claims by Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic rival, Mary Burke.

But as we noted during the race, claims that were at least Half True were not uncommon.

Looking back at the whole of 2014, in fact, more than 60 percent of their claims landed on the meter’s true side (Half True, Mostly True or True).

Walker won the race handily, so on the eve of his Jan. 5, 2014 inauguration for a second term, let’s look back at the Top 10 most-clicked Walker claims of the year.

Here they are, in order of readership:

1. In the heat of the campaign, Walker portrayed Burke as an outsourcer extraordinaire because she was an executive at Trek Bicycles, the Burke family company.

"(Mary) Burke’s company," Trek Bicycles, "makes 99% of their bikes overseas," Walker said.

We rated that Mostly True, saying the number is a credible educated guess, but that calling it Burke’s company was a stretch because she left a decade earlier.

2. In June, Walker said the secret John Doe criminal investigation of his campaign finances has been "resolved" and two judges have said it is "over."

We rated that False, saying Walker’s characterization was misleading at best. At that point, the investigation had been stopped under one judge’s ruling. But the second ruling, while a serious blow, did not end the probe and, as we noted at the time, prosecutors had appealed both rulings.

In September, a federal appeals court overturned one of the rulings, sending the issue to state courts in Wisconsin, where various appeals are pending.

3. On cable TV’s MSNBC, Walker said "Jobs that involve the minimum wage are overwhelmingly jobs for young people starting out in the workforce."

False, we said. The best estimates are that 24 percent to 55 percent of such jobs are held by teenagers and young adults. That’s a lot, and from a relatively small component of the overall hourly-wage workforce. But Walker’s use of "overwhelming" strongly suggested that a very large majority of those jobs are held by young people. They are not.

4.  In a debate with Burke, Walker said, "The next state budget will begin with a surplus of over half a billion dollars -- $535 million to be exact."

We rated that False. That rosy number flew in the face of the official estimate based on a long-established method used by members of both parties, and the governor’s budget office.

5. In February, the governor was under fire for rejecting the federal Medicaid expansion. He said he didn’t trust that the money would come.

He said: "Federal government reneging" on Medicaid payments to Wisconsin caused about $240 million in extra costs in the 2013-’15 state budget.

We rated that False. Typical cost-sharing fluctuations, based mainly on a longstanding formula, explain the extra state burden -- not any reversal of course or pulling back on a commitment by Washington.

6. Walker claimed that a poll taken "a few months ago" found "70 percent approval or higher" of Act 10, his signature -- and controversial -- law curbing collective bargaining for most public employees.

We rated that False. No known poll asked Wisconsinites about Act 10 in the months leading up to Walker's statement on April 1, 2014, and his staff did not cite one. One poll question from May 2012 found 75 percent support for one part of the law, but what the level of support for Act 10’s various provisions might have been in early 2014 is strictly speculation.

7. We rated Mostly True the governor’s claim that Act 10 "saved the taxpayers some $3 billion."

Requiring most state and local government employees to contribute more to their pensions has saved public employers more than $3 billion, including $2.35 billion in pension costs, and there are more savings that haven’t fully been tallied.

Those costs haven’t simply been eliminated, however. They’ve been taken on by public employees, who are also taxpayers.

8. "Walker sticks to claim on Midwest jobs growth." That was our headline on an item testing Walker’s claim that "In the last year, Wisconsin ranked third in Midwest job growth."

The ranking was outdated, we found in rating the claim False. The updated ranking was fourth, closer to middle of the pack, something the governor knew before his ad aired.

9. Walker earned a True when he claimed: "Wisconsin is #1 in the Midwest for personal income growth over the year."

The governor correctly identified a good-news trend that saw Wisconsin boost its status from a laggard to a leader on total personal income, including wages, property income and government assistance.

10.  Walker repeatedly went after Burke’s time as state Commerce secretary. He claimed that, Since I took office, "Wisconsin ranks 11th in the nation in total business establishment growth compared to 47th in the years Mary Burke was Commerce secretary."

The numbers backed him up, we said in rating the claim True.