Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Mary Burke, so far

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has criticized Republican Gov. Scott Walker's handling of state finances.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has criticized Republican Gov. Scott Walker's handling of state finances.

The last time Marquette Law School did its statewide poll, in late January 2014, 70 percent of the respondents said they hadn’t heard enough about Mary Burke to have an opinion on her, or didn’t know if their view of her was favorable or not.

Whether the Democrat gubernatorial candidate has raised her profile should be known March 26, 2014, when the next Marquette poll is scheduled to be released.

Compared to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, whom she hopes to defeat in the November 2014 election, Burke isn’t well known at PolitiFact Wisconsin, either. But she did pass a milestone of sorts the other day -- 10 of her statements have been rated on the Truth-O-Meter.

So, we thought this would be a good time to review how she’s fared so far.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Burke targeted Walker with nine of the 10 claims.

Here’s a rundown, by topic.

Jobs and economic development

Five of the 10 Burke claims we’ve rated center on jobs or economic development.

Burke debuted on the Truth-O-Meter by claiming that her actions as Wisconsin commerce secretary -- under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle from February 2005 to November 2007-- brought the state "84,000 more Wisconsin jobs than we have today."

We rated that statement Half True. The numerical part was on target -- Burke’s tenure was pre-recession and, despite job gains, Wisconsin has not yet rebounded to 2007 levels. But Burke overstated the credit she and Doyle deserved and she skipped past the recession that helps explain the statistical truth.

We rated Mostly True Burke’s statement that Wisconsin ranks 49th in the country in new businesses created. A study she cited and other data indicated Wisconsin was 48th and Burke has since modified her claim to reflect the slightly higher ranking.

Burke earned a Half True when she claimed that since January 2011, when Walker took office, Wisconsin is trailing every other state in the Midwest in job creation. The claim was accurate for adjoining states. But three states in the Census Bureau-defined Midwest  -- Ohio, Nebraska and Missouri -- show slower private job-growth rates.

Burke received a Pants on Fire for claiming in her first TV ad that unemployment is up, from 4.8 percent to 6.2 percent, under Walker. The rate was 7.7 percent when Walker took office and has steadily trended downward, reaching 6.3 percent in December 2013, the latest figure available when Burke made the claim in early March 2014.

Burke’s most recent claim -- that under Walker, the state economic development agency "isn’t even using the funds that are appropriated to it’ -- came out at Mostly True. Her reference to a surplus accumulated by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was accurate, although the agency’s current budget is on track to be spent in its entirety.

State budget, taxes

We’ve rated four Burke statements about the state budget and taxes.

In early November 2013, Burke claimed the state budget had gone from having a $700 million surplus to a nearly $750 million deficit. That earned a Half True.

Walker’s first biennial budget, for 2011-’13, ended with a $759 million cash surplus. And it’s true the state at the time was facing a $725 million deficit -- of sorts. The surplus, however, is a hard number while the deficit -- known as the structural deficit -- is not red ink, but rather a rough projection of the tax-collection growth the Legislature and governor will need in mid-2015 to balance the next two-year budget, covering 2015-’17.

For saying the budget under Walker has grown by $4.6 billion, suggesting Walker had boosted the spending, Burke got a Half True. The figure is accurate, but it is due almost completely to Medicaid costs, not budget decisions Walker made.

Burke got a Pants on Fire for claiming Walker plans to end the income tax and more than double the sales tax. Walker wants to explore the possibility of eliminating the state income tax, which likely would trigger some increase in the state sales tax. But he has not advanced a plan to eliminate the income tax, nor to raise the sales tax by any particular amount.

And Burke received a Half True for saying Wisconsin is not a high tax and fee state, but rather -- considering fees as well as taxes taken in by the state and local governments -- it ranks somewhere in the middle.

By one widely used measure, Wisconsin is very close to middle of the pack -- just a shade over the national average, with a ranking as low as 19th. But by another measure, Wisconsin was significantly above the national average, with a ranking around 15th.

Campaign money

Burke also claimed that Walker raises nearly 70 percent of his campaign money from out of state. That earned a Mostly False.

By Burke’s layman’s definition of the 2014 campaign season, she was on target. But the number dropped to 56 percent if you use the official state definition of the 2014 cycle -- an approach that weeds out a mountain of donations related to the failed 2012 effort to recall Walker, as Burke’s campaign said she intended.

GOP statements

A footnote: We’ve rated four statements made about Burke, all of them by the Wisconsin Republican Party.

The state GOP got a Half True for saying in October 2013 that Burke has a record as a Madison School Board member of supporting higher taxes and spending; Mostly True for saying that since 1988, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was greater than the U.S. rate only while Burke was state commerce secretary; Mostly False  for saying that while Burke headed Commerce, she drafted, sponsored and promoted budgets for the entire state government that were fiscally irresponsible; and a False for saying the 2007-’09 state budget was Burke’s budget.

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