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Since budget protesters descended upon Madison in February 2011, Wisconsin has seen a barrage of television commercials, news releases and radio spots, with each side blasting the other.
One news release was particularly harsh:
As the Legislature’s budget-writing committee opened its hearings on the governor’s spending plan, state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) issued a news release March 29, 2011, that made several sharp claims about Republican Gov. Scott Walker -- all rolled into one neat sentence:
"Gov. Walker has yet to create a job, he gives away millions to his friends, and he raises taxes on working people."
Incompetence, corruption and raising taxes: sounds like the political equivalent of the trifecta.
Let’s examine Taylor’s statement, one claim at a time.
Claim #1: "Gov. Walker has yet to create a job."
This goes at one of Walker’s main promises, to create 250,000 new jobs in his first term.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said: "(Walker) typically talks about growing jobs in light of ensuring Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs, which is different than claiming the governor will directly create 250,000 new jobs."
Officials are quick to claim the credit for job growth, and even quicker to assign blame elsewhere for job loss, but employment gains have much more to do with the economic cycle than individual politicians, said Bruce Hansen, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Nevertheless, if a person is in higher office at the time the economy tanks or improves, he or she typically gets the credit or the blame. So, let’s look at what has happened since Walker took office in January 2011.
According to Department of Workforce Development statistics, the state had a net gain of more than 13,000 jobs in January and February. To be sure, Walker’s policies hardly had time to take effect in that time frame, but that’s not what Taylor is citing as evidence.
Taylor said when she calculated the net job gain in January and February she took into account thousands of potential jobs that were lost when Walker killed a high-speed rail line to Madison.
In the past, Democratic groups have claimed somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 jobs were lost when Walker rejected $810 million in federal funding for the new train link between Milwaukee and Madison.
PolitiFact gave a Barely True and Pants on Fire rating to variations on this claim, since -- among other reasons -- the groups double counted the number of jobs that were to be created.
Beyond that, the projections did not measure other impacts.
Walker might have saved some jobs in the airline, auto and gas industries by killing the rail line, said Steven E. Polzin, an expert on rail proposals from the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, a pro cars and roads group.
But even if we were to accept Taylor’s calculations when it comes to subtracting jobs lost that were never created in the first place, and disregard Polzin’s thinking, Wisconsin still gained at least "a" job this year under Walker’s watch.
Claim #2: "He gives away millions to his friends."
In politics, friends can be a fairly ambiguous term. It can mean campaign contributors, ideological supporters or actual ... friends.
Does Taylor mean Walker literally gives million-dollar handouts to his golf buddies? Or that he uses state money to reward the governor’s supporters?
Taylor said she meant the latter.
"Throughout the January 2011 special session, the governor proposed and signed into law over $140 million in tax credits and contributions, which flows to a predominately corporate environment which has been strongly supportive and friendly to the governor," she told PolitiFact Wisconsin.
But Taylor’s evidence doesn’t exactly hold up after scrutiny.
For starters, the $140 million in tax credits and contributions don’t flow to "a predominately corporate environment."
That figure incorporates a couple of different bills, including the Economic Development Tax Credit, which includes tax benefits for every job Wisconsin businesses create, and a tax break for Health Savings Accounts.
The Health Saving Accounts deduction primarily benefits individual workers who have an HSA, whether the workers voted for Walker or not. This credit allows people to deduct contributions they make to Health Savings Accounts from their state income taxes, as they can from their federal income taxes. Almost every other state already allows this.
And while the Economic Development Tax Credit does include a provision giving corporate companies additional tax cuts for locating their regional or national headquarters in Wisconsin, all businesses are eligible for the job creation tax breaks.
In other words, whether businesses are Walker’s friend or foe, they can obtain tax benefits from adding jobs.
Taylor also cited the recent Jack Links controversy, in which the snack food company was awarded a $75,000 grant. The company and its CEO made nearly $50,000 in contributions to the Republican Governor’s Association, which spent $5 million to help get Walker elected.
While Jack Links was awarded $75,000 after contributing $50,000 to Republican causes, the grant handed to the beef jerky company doesn’t validate Taylor’s statement. She has not provided evidence the company received the grant because of the political donations.
What’s more, the grant was for tens of thousands -- not millions -- of dollars. And the news release that was critical of the grant came out six days after Taylor's original statement.
Claim #3: "He raises taxes on working people."
Taylor’s evidence for this claim was pretty straightforward: "Governor Walker strips $41 million from the Earned Income Tax Credit in his 2011-’13 budget. This move reduces the credit available for persons eligible for the EITC which means that their tax liability is increased or refund reduced."
"Her blanket statement about taxing the working class is way too broad in scope and factually inaccurate when you look at the impact of taxes in the budget on the worker," spokesman Werwie told PolitiFact Wisconsin. "While the EITC credit will decrease, Senator Taylor doesn’t talk about Governor Walker’s efforts to hold Wisconsin’s income and sales tax steady. The EITC only hits some workers."
He also argued there is a net decrease in taxes under Walker’s budget.
This is true if we combine all of Walker’s tax policies. However, Taylor was referring only to taxes on working class people, which the Earned Income Tax Credit reduction affects the most.
And the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau backs up Taylor’s view that the change is a tax increase in an April 15, 2011 memo. In that memo, the bureau listed the EITC change under the "tax increases" section, saying families with multiple children will pay more to the state.
Where does all of this leave us?
In her statement, Taylor said "Gov. Walker has yet to create a job, he gives away millions to his friends, and he raises taxes on working people."
But the state gained 13,000 jobs in January and February, ruining Taylor’s argument of "yet to create a job." Walker has not given away millions of dollars to "friends," and the "corporate" tax cuts cited as evidence by Taylor are, for the most part, available to all businesses in Wisconsin.
By taking out funds from the Earned Income Tax Credit, Walker has raised taxes on "working people," meaning Taylor was spot on with one of her claims.
Taylor batted one for three in her news release-- great numbers for a baseball player, but not a strong percentage on the Truth-O-Meter.
We rate Taylor’s statement as a whole as 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.
Politifact Wisconsin, Sierra Club says killing high-speed rail project will cost almost 10,000 permanent jobs in Wisconsin, November 15, 2010
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Governor-elect Scott Walker’s opposition to high-speed rail "killed 13,000 Wisconsin jobs"December 14, 2010
Press release, Sen. Lena Taylor, March 29, 2011
Press release, Governor Walker Announces Funding for Link Snacks, Inc., April 5, 2011
Press release, Department of Workforce Development, April 14, 2011
E-mail interview, Sen. Lena Taylor, April 15, 2011
Memo,Legislative Fiscal Bureau, April 15, 2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,Tax bills for average homes to rise less than 1% under Walker's budget, April 16, 2011
Email interview, Cullen Werwie, press secretary, April 19, 2011
Email interview, Richard Jones, Communications Officer, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, April 20, 2011
Interview, Bruce Hansen, University of Wisconsin-Madison, April 25, 2011
Wisconsin Department of Commerce website
Wisconsin Department of Revenue website
One Wisconsin Now press release, Walker Returns $50,000 in Jack Links'-Related Contributions with $75,000 in Taxpayer Dollars, April 4, 2011
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