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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher November 23, 2011

Rebecca Kleefisch says recall election would cost $7.7 million that could already be allocated to teacher raises, health care for poor

In a YouTube video aimed at discouraging Wisconsinites from signing recall petitions, Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch thrusts toward the camera a football autographed by Bart Starr, the legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback.

Kleefisch talks about the value of signatures -- she says Starr’s cost more than $300 -- and how much it will cost taxpayers if enough signatures are collected to force her and Gov. Scott Walker into recall elections in 2012.

She then says holding a statewide recall election would cost "$7.7 million -- $7.7 million that may already be allocated to merit raises for teachers or health care for the poor or school books for your kids."

The cost of a statewide special election is a concern to many taxpayers, as is where that money would come from.

So let’s check Kleefisch’s claim.

The video was posted Nov. 15, 2011, the same day recall campaigns against both Walker and Kleefisch were launched. Organizers have until Jan. 14, 2012 to collect more than 540,000 valid signatures for each in order to force them into recall elections. Recall campaigns against four state senators are also in the works.

Let’s examine Kleefisch’s statement in two parts -- her cost estimate and the sources of money she says might be used to pay for a statewide recall election.

Cost estimate

In the video, Kleefisch says her $7.7 million estimate is based on the $2.1 million it cost to hold recall elections for nine state senators in the summer of 2011.

Those recalls, which included eight primary elections, did cost an estimated $2.1 million -- a figure based on a survey of local governments done by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections.

Kleefisch took the $2.1 million estimate and applied it to all 33 Senate districts to come up with her $7.7 million figure for a statewide recall election, said Republican Party of Wisconsin spokeswoman Nicole Larson.

One can’t assume that the average per-district cost of a recall election in the nine Senate districts would be the same for the other 24 districts.

But Kleefisch’s basic math is accurate -- and her estimate might even be low.

Walker himself has noted a $10 million estimate for a statewide recall made by state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who requested the cost estimate for the Senate recalls. Vos said he also based his estimate on the cost of the summer recalls.

An official cost projection by the Government Accountability Board, also requested by Vos, is expected to be ready by the end of November 2011, said board spokesman Reid Magney.

Magney would not comment on whether Kleefisch’s $7.7 million or Vos’ $10 million are good estimates. But Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said he did a quick estimate and came up with $8 million.

Sources of money

Kleefisch claimed money to pay for a recall election "may already be allocated to merit raises for teachers or health care for the poor or school books for your kids."

Larson, the GOP spokeswoman, didn’t provide evidence to back that claim. But she said the point of the video is that tax money that would be spent on a recall election "could be used for worthy local causes."

Let’s analyze how elections, and other services, are funded.

The state funds schools and health care for the poor, but pays only a fraction of the cost of holding a recall election. Meanwhile, municipalities and counties, which pay the lion’s share of election costs, don’t fund schools.

And the school districts, which would pay for merit raises and books, don’t run the elections.

So, where would tax money to pay for a recall election come from?

In the Senate recalls, less than $90,000 of the $2.1 million estimated cost of running the elections was covered by the state, said Magney, the Government Accountability Board spokesman.

The first option to pay for the the state’s share of a statewide recall election would be reserve funds controlled by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, said Robert Lang, director of the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

(On Nov. 17, 2011, the Government Accountability Board notified the committee it would seek $650,000 just for reviewing recall petitions and other election preparations.)

Lang said the Joint Finance Committee has $267,000 in unreserved money that could be spent for recall costs. The committee could also tap $30 million in reserves that are targeted for, but not actually allocated to, specific programs such as correction officers’ overtime, he said.

So, it’s possible, as Kleefisch said, the state will need to tap funds that are at least designated for, if not obligated to, other programs.

But it’s highly unlikely lawmakers would take money already allocated through the state budget to schools or health programs for the poor, Lang said, because the Joint Finance Committee "cannot counter the intent of the Legislature."

As for local governments, cities, villages and counties will use reserve funds to pay for the recall election and it would be highly unlikely they would cut spending for other purposes, said Thompson of the municipalities league and John Reinemann, legislative director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Both said it is possible, however, there could be isolated cases of a municipality or county transferring funds from another program to pay for the election.

Susan Edman, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, estimates a recall election would cost the city $250,000 -- and another $250,000 if a primary also had to be held. Deputy City Clerk Jim Owczarski said the Common Council likely would be asked to pay for the recall from the city’s $5 million contingency fund.

As for towns, many will tap reserves for the election, although those that don’t have reserves or unspent money in other departments might have to cut spending in some areas, said Rick Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association.

So, the thrust of Kleefisch’s statement -- that the money to hold a recall election has to come from somewhere else -- is accurate, though the examples she cited are generally off point.

Our conclusion

Kleefisch said a statewide recall will cost "$7.7 million that may already be allocated to merit raises for teachers or health care for the poor or school books for your kids." Both of her claims are a mixed bag.

Kleefisch’s cost figure is stated as fact, when the actual figure is not known, but it appears to be in the ballpark and might be conservative.

On her second point, Kleefisch provides no evidence that funds would be taken from allocations already made for schools or health care. But her broader point -- that money for the election might come from funds that are at least designated for other programs, is correct.

In short, Kleefisch’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details-- our definition of Half True.

Our Sources, "The value of a signature" Rebecca Kleefisch video, uploaded Nov. 15, 2011

Democratic Party of Wisconsin, filing complaint over Kleefisch video news release, Nov. 16, 2011

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Democrat Party complaint over Kleefisch video, Nov. 16, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker recall effort kicks off," Nov. 15, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recall cost to government: $2.1 million; amount spent: a record $44 million," Sept. 20, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal bureau fiscal analyst Paul Onsager, Nov. 16, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal bureau director Robert Lang, Nov. 17, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney, Nov. 17, 2011

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Recall of congressional, county and state officials," June 2009

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, recall processing memo, Nov. 17, 2011

Rep. Robin Vos, "Cost of a statewide recall," Oct. 14, 2011

Rep. Robin Vos, letter to Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Oct. 12, 2011

Interview, Rep. Robin Vos, Nov. 18, 2011

Journal Times, "Vos says recalls ‘like a cancer’ -- state recalls cost taxpayers estimated $2.1 million," Sept. 20, 2011

Email interview, Republican Party of Wisconsin deputy communications director Nicole Larson, Nov. 17, 2011

Interview, League of Wisconsin Municipalities executive director Dan Thompson, Nov. 17, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Counties Association legislative director John Reinemann, Nov. 17 and 18, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Towns Association executive director Rick Stadelman, Nov. 17, 2011

Interview, City of Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Susan Edman, Nov. 18, 2011

Interview, deputy Milwaukee city clerk Jim Owczarski, Nov. 18, 2011

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Rebecca Kleefisch says recall election would cost $7.7 million that could already be allocated to teacher raises, health care for poor

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