Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Fact-checking the GOP

The Republican Party of Waukesha County, in suburban Milwaukee, used this float in a training room in January 2012.
The Republican Party of Waukesha County, in suburban Milwaukee, used this float in a training room in January 2012.

Wisconsin’s job growth in 2013 was the best since the 1990s?

At least 70 percent of residents approve of the state’s wildly controversial collective bargaining reform law?

When Republicans ran Washington, they let the food stamp rolls skyrocket?

We’ve fact-checked some striking claims from Wisconsin Republicans in recent weeks. With the party holding its annual convention in Milwaukee on May 2 to 4, 2014, we decided to collect the latest ones.

The keynote speaker at the convention is first-term Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The former 12-year member of Congress has been mentioned as a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016.

Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who are seeking re-election in November 2014, also will deliver remarks. So will U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

We’ll round up claims from Wisconsin Democrats ahead of their state convention, which is set for June 6 to 7, 2014 in Wisconsin Dells.

Here are the 10 latest fact-checks we’ve done on Wisconsin Republicans, starting with five by Walker.

Gov. Scott Walker

  • "In 2013 we had the largest, the best, private sector job growth we’ve had in this state since the 1990s." Mostly True.

The claim was accurate based on the best available data source and using a common method of comparison. But it needed clarification because the number is not final, meaning the ranking is subject to change.

  • A poll taken "a few months ago" found "70 percent approval or higher" for the Act 10 collective bargaining reform law. False.

No known poll has asked Wisconsin residents about Act 10 in the months leading up to Walker's statement. 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 "a few months ago" is strictly speculation.

  • "Once our Blueprint for Prosperity is signed into law, we will have delivered $2 billion" in tax relief. True.

Some of this was best guesswork, but estimates from multiple sources -- including the nonpartisan fiscal office used by the Legislature -- confirm the figure is right around that number.

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

Walker had made the claim in explaining his rejection of federal money to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. 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.

  • "With the tax controls we already put in place, property taxes on a typical home in December of 2014 will actually be lower than they were in December of 2010. Mostly True.

It wasn’t all because of Republican actions, and the claim is based on projections that could change. But the governor’s main point was solid based on the specific citation he highlighted from the Legislature’s fiscal bureau.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman

  • "When Republicans last controlled the presidency and Congress, from roughly 2001 to 2007, "the number of people on food stamps (and) the number of people in low-income housing went through the roof." Mostly True.

The West Bend Republican made the statement in announcing his run for Congress in 2014, positioning himself to the right of U.S. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, who later announced he would not seek re-election.

The number of people receiving food stamps increased 52 percent during the period, as the George W. Bush administration and Congress widened eligibility and encouraged more eligible people to apply. The increase in people living in low-income housing was more modest, but significant.

Wisconsin Republican Party

  • Mary Burke’s "2007-’09 state budget had a tax hike of $1.8 billion -- costing every man, woman and child in the state an extra $310." False.

The figures were basically on target. But the weight of the claim was that Burke, who was then the state commerce secretary, was responsible for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s entire state budget. Burke is now challenging Walker in his 2014 re-election bid.

  • As state Commerce secretary, Mary Burke drafted, sponsored and promoted "budgets that raised taxes by billions, created high structural deficits and raided funds to finance huge spending hikes. Mostly False.  

Burke had a hand in budgeting, as any cabinet member would, and lauded two Doyle budgets, which did indeed leave high structural deficits and bust into segregated funds. But it was a big overstatement to say she "drafted" two overall state budgets. In any event, those two budget proposals from Doyle raised taxes by $1.35 billion, not "billions" as claimed.

  • "The only time over the last 25 years when the state’s unemployment rate exceeded the U.S. average was when" Mary Burke was Commerce secretary. Mostly True.

The statistic was accurate -- covering 15 months in 2006 and 2007 -- and the claim only indirectly blamed Burke.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson

  • Even though Chicago has "the most stringent gun laws on the books," it still "has the highest murder rate" in the country. Half True.

Chicago does have some of the strictest gun-control laws, but was not number one among U.S. cities for the murder rate. Meanwhile, the evidence is mixed on whether stricter gun control is associated with fewer murders.