In the final days before the Sept. 14 primary, the Republican gubernatorial candidates are focused more on the past than the future -- chiefly, the 1998 federal transportation bill, Mark Neumann’s vote for it and what rival Scott Walker said about it at the time.
It began with a Walker ad that faulted Neumann for voting for the pork-laden bill, which included the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, and equating him with current Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The two are hardly ideological soul mates, and we rated that connection False.
Neumann struck back with his own ad.
"Scott Walker claims I’m Nancy Pelosi?" Neumann says, speaking to the camera. "He must be kidding. The vote Scott Walker’s attacking me for, he supported too. The bill he calls pork today, he said would save the taxpayers money, back then."
We’ll stop there for a closer look.
As the pork line is read, an image of a June 15, 1998 letter to the editor that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel appears. It settles on and partially highlights in yellow this line: "In our opinion, supporting these projects is a better use of the funds and will ultimately save Milwaukee County taxpayers money."
The letter is signed by Walker, then a member of the state Assembly representing Wauwatosa.
Is it a smoking gun?
The Walker letter came about three weeks after the May 22, 1998 vote in the U.S. House on the big road and transit bill. The letter makes it clear he and five other state lawmakers representing Milwaukee County backed a specific change in transportation funding made possible by a provision in the bill.
That provision, inserted by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, lifted a requirement that $241 million in federal money set aside for Milwaukee be used on either a light rail system or freeway bus and car-pool lanes in the East-West Corridor between Milwaukee and Waukesha.
Walker, a longtime light-rail opponent, wanted the funds to go instead to freeway reconstruction in Milwaukee, including the Marquette Interchange, and the county bus system. He has long opposed light rail as a waste of taxpayer money, too costly to build and likely to lead to long-term government subsidies.
So, at issue now is what Walker was pointing to in the "money saving" statement highlighted in the Neumann ad. Was Walker talking about the full bill with its $9 billion in pork, or the provision that moved money from light rail to other purposes?
And, by supporting that piece of the bill, was Walker supporting the entire bill?
Start with the money savings.
In addition to the letter in the TV ad, the Neumann campaign also cited a May 30, 1998 Journal Sentinel story quoting from a letter that Walker and the five other state lawmakers sent to then-Gov. Tommy Thompson the day before.
In the letter to Thompson, Walker and the others are clearly focused on the Petri provision.
"We believe the taxpayers of Milwaukee County will benefit from not being forced to use these transportation funds" on a light rail system or special freeway lanes, the letter read.
Walker certainly did not say the entire bill would save taxpayers money.
The provision in question did not increase funding. The $241 million in question had been appropriated seven years earlier and was sitting unspent.
The Neumann campaign has not pointed to any statement of support by Walker for the full bill but notes that in legislative bodies you either vote up or down on a measure; in the end, you don’t get to pick and choose pieces of it.
Ironically, that’s what Neumann complained about in the wake of the first ad -- he didn’t like the pork but supported the bill because of other policy aspects, especially because it prevented the siphoning off of federal gas tax proceeds for non-transportation purposes.
So what about the central statement by Neumann?
He’s not totally off base. Walker’s only public comments were actually in favor of one provision in the bill. Walker did not qualify his remarks to suggest he liked the Petri provision but was against the whole bill. We could find no record of Walker opposing the full bill or the $9 billion in pork.
But by pairing the highlighted words from Walker’s letter with Neumann’s narration, it leaves viewers with the impression that the words refer to support for the full bill. They do not.
We rate the claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.