Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker insists that the purpose of his budget-repair bill, which has become the focus of national debate, is to erase state budget deficits that are projected to exceed $3 billion by 2013.
But some of his critics seem certain that what Walker and other Republican leaders really want is to get rid of public employee unions entirely.
State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) went so far as to say, like Hitler, the governor was abolishing unions. We ruled that claim Pants on Fire.
But what if one of the GOP leaders actually did say that the true aim is to get rid of unions?
Just such a bombshell was dropped Feb. 21, 2011 by Madison lawyer Ed Garvey, a former Democratic nominee for governor and U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.
In a Capital Times opinion column about Walker’s bill, Garvey attributed this quote to one of the state’s top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald:
"It is necessary to eliminate unions in order to balance future budgets."
Garvey’s column, which was republished the next day on FightingBob.com, an opinion website run by Garvey, reported the statement as a direct quote from the Juneau lawmaker.
If the quote is accurate, it would be a potentially explosive development in the stalemate over Walker’s budget-repair bill.
Before we go further, let’s be clear about the Walker bill in terms of how it would affect public employee unions. We’ll rely on a breakdown we provided in a previous PolitiFact item.
The bill eliminates all collective bargaining rights for thousands of public employees.
For a much larger group -- including schoolteachers, local government workers and about half of 76,000 state workers -- collective bargaining could be done only for pay (and negotiated raises would be limited to inflation).
Only state troopers and local police and fire employees would be exempted. The bill, of course, does not affect private-sector unions.
Walker has argued the collective bargaining changes are needed not just for the short-term budget, but for future budgets at the state and local level -- to give local units of government flexibility in cutting costs. Union leaders say they are an unwarranted attack on public employees.
We’re not trying to settle that debate.
We’re looking at the quote Garvey attributes to Fitzgerald, that "it is necessary to eliminate unions" to balance future budgets.
We called and e-mailed Garvey on Feb. 24 and 25, 2011, asking for the source of the quote he attributed to Fitzgerald. He did not reply.
Since he did not reply, we turned elsewhere.
Searches of Google and the Nexis database also turned up no such Fitzgerald quote.
We put the purported quote directly to Fitzgerald, who said: "I have never said that."
So, how does this all shake out?
In an opinion column, Garvey attributed this quote to Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald: "It is necessary to eliminate unions in order to balance future budgets." It was a quote that, if accurate, would have gained much public notice.
Garvey did not respond to requests for proof that Fitzgerald made the statement; we couldn’t find any; and Fitzgerald denied making such a statement.
We rate Garvey’s claim as False.
(Editor’s note: Garvey returned our call on Feb. 28, 2011, after this item was posted. He could not cite a source for the purported quotation. He said he heard Fitzgerald make it, perhaps on a cable television talk show.
Garvey added: "In any event," he said of the quotation, "it's totally consistent with his position, as I see it.")