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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher February 10, 2012

GOP Senate candidate Tommy Thompson says that as tax-cutting governor, he "never raised taxes"

When it comes to reciting the tax cutting he did as Wisconsin’s governor, Tommy Thompson can riff as well as any politician.

The Republican U.S. Senate candidate launched into his litany with reporters after giving a speech at the Milwaukee Press Club on Jan. 23, 2012.

John Mercure, host of the afternoon news show on WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee, noted that some Republicans prefer a more conservative nominee in 2012 and asked Thompson if he is conservative enough. Thompson said yes.

Mercure then asked: "What do you say to those critics that say that you're not?"

Cue the riff.

"Ninety-one times I cut taxes; 91 times," Thompson replied. "Three times, income taxes. Eliminated the inheritance taxes, eliminated the gift taxes. Gave the people of this state $2.1 billion in property tax (relief) -- and never raised taxes. If you want a conservative, follow me."

We’ve rated Mostly True Thompson’s claim that Wisconsin’s overall tax burden went down while he served as governor from 1987 to 2001.

As we said in that item, tax burden is a broad measure:

"Tax burden" takes those total collections -- including property, income, sales, corporate and other taxes --  and divides them into all personal income earned in the state.  It does not reflect what every individual experienced; it’s a composite measure of the composite statewide tax bite, or burden. The "burden" measurement is considered the gold standard for measuring tax impact.

But in saying he never raised any taxes, Thompson raised the bar awfully high, so we decided to take a look.

Darrin Schmitz, Thompson’s campaign spokesman, told us Thompson "was referring to Wisconsin’s general taxes: income, sales, property and corporate taxes."

But that’s an attempt to lower the bar.

Thompson did not qualify the statement when he made it. In fact, he listed a variety of taxes.

With a little research we found examples of taxes Thompson raised -- including some of the ones his campaign mentioned as not being raised.

General taxes: The 1995-1997 state budget contained $63 million in tax increases -- including boosts in the general tax increases Thompson cited, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the neutral scorekeeper that tallies tax hikes and tax cuts. The budget projected an increase of $17.5 million in sales tax revenue over the two-year period by eliminating an exemption for certain office equipment. And eliminating an exemption for certain health care providers raised corporate income taxes by a projected $900,000.

(That budget also raised fees by $120 million over two years.)

The 1997-1999 budget contained $125 million in tax increases, the fiscal bureau said. That included an increase of $36 million in sales tax revenue over two years by imposing a "use tax" on catalog sales.

Cigarettes: The cigarette tax was 25 cents per pack when Thompson took office. It was raised four times during his tenure and was 59 cents when he left to join President George W. Bush’s administration. (The tax is now $2.52.)

Gasoline: The gas tax rose to 18 cents per gallon shortly after Thompson took office, based on a law adopted before he took office, and rose by more than 8 cents to 26.4 cents before he left. (It’s now 30.9 cents.)

Twelve of the 14 gas-tax increases under Thompson were automatic annual adjustments, which occurred because of the previous law. But Thompson did not take action to stop the automatic increases and two of the increases -- which totaled 3 of the 8 cents -- were raised by budgets adopted during his tenure.      

That’s not an exhaustive list, but it provides enough for the claim at hand.

Our rating

Thompson stated flatly that as governor, he "never raised taxes." Thompson has a long list of taxes he cut and, on balance, he can claim to have reduced taxes. But he also raised some specific taxes along the way.

We rate his statement False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

WTMJ-AM, Tommy Thompson interview, Jan. 23, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Thompson says Wisconsin’s tax burden went down while he was governor," Oct. 23, 2011

Email interview, Tommy Thompson’s campaign spokesman Darrin Schmitz, Jan. 30 and Feb. 8, 2012

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Alcohol and tobacco taxes," January 2011

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, tax modifications in 1995-1997 budget, Aug. 10, 1995

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Motor vehicle fuel and alternate fuel tax," January 2011

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 1997-1999 state budget,

Email interview, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance research director Dale Knapp, Feb. 7, 2012

Interview, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance president Todd Berry, Feb. 8, 2012

Interview and email interview, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families research director Jon Peacock, Feb. 7, 2012

Email interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst Fred Ammerman, Feb. 2 and 7, 2012

Email interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst Rob Reinhardt, Feb. 2 and 7, 2012

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GOP Senate candidate Tommy Thompson says that as tax-cutting governor, he "never raised taxes"

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