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In the second U.S. Senate debate, Republican Tommy Thompson went after Democrat Tammy Baldwin as an extreme liberal with a voting record to the left of most in her own party.
The former governor said the pattern reached back to Baldwin’s years representing Madison in the state Assembly from 1993 to 1999.
"When I was governor I cut income taxes three times. I cut property taxes by over a billion dollars, not once, but twice," Thompson said. "And you know, my opponent was in the Assembly at the time. Most of the Democrats voted with me. Congressman Baldwin voted against it. Property taxes is a huge tax on the middle class. She voted against it."
Let’s go to the tape.
Did most Democrats, but not Baldwin, vote for big property tax cuts?
Although Thompson mentioned two big property-tax relief bills, he appeared to narrow it to one vote when talking about Baldwin.
When we asked Thompson’s campaign for backup, they pointed us to a vote on the 1995-’97 budget.
That two-year budget provided $1.2 billion in local property tax relief without a general state tax increase. The mechanism: A big boost in state aid to local school districts, reducing the property tax burden.
The Journal Sentinel July 1995 headline on the bill signing: "Thompson exults over tax relief."
Elected officials and tax experts debate whether the relief was fairly distributed and ultimately amounted to $1.2 billion, but say it’s reasonable to describe it that way.
So give Thompson a point.
The main thrust of his charge, though, was that Baldwin was an outlier.
Here’s what the legislative history shows:
In 1995, at the time of that vote, Republicans controlled both the Assembly and Senate. Baldwin voted no when the budget bill containing the property tax relief passed the Assembly on June 22, 1995.
The vote: 52-47, with only one Democrat, Rep. Annette (Polly) Williams, joining with Republicans to approve it. In the state Senate, it was the same story: only one Democrat, Sen. Lynn Adelman, joined in the majority.
So Thompson’s main point -- that Baldwin bucked a bipartisan tide voting for the plan -- is off the mark.
Finally, it’s worth noting the budget bill contained hundreds of spending decisions as well as major policy items -- not just the property tax plan.
The year before, there was a stand-alone vote on a Democratic bill that went even further than Thompson’s later plan. It sought to completely eliminate local property tax funding of schools. Thompson’s 1995 plan greatly boosted state aid to schools but still left one-third of the costs to local districts.
Baldwin voted in favor of the 1994 bill, which passed 81-18 but did not get through the Senate amid GOP accusations it was an election-year stunt. All but one Assembly Democrat voted for it. Many Republicans voted yes, with an election looming. Thompson warned that state tax hikes might be necessary to pay for the Democratic plan.
Finally, a footnote. We did not find a second instance of a billion-dollar property tax cut under Thompson. There was a tax-cut package close to that in 1999 that was a mix of income tax cuts and property tax relief. It was approved with significant support by Democrats. Baldwin was in Congress by then.
Thompson claimed Baldwin, while in the Assembly, voted against a property tax relief plan that most other Democrats favored.
There’s an element of truth in that Baldwin voted no on the budget that prominently included a property tax relief plan. But most Democrats actually opposed the budget, a critical fact that undercuts the impression Thompson meant to leave -- that Baldwin had bucked her own party.
We rate his claim Mostly False.
YouTube, video of second Senate debate, Oct. 18, 2012
Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 1995-97 Wisconsin State Budget, accessed Oct. 23, 2012
Interview with Rick Olin, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst, Oct. 23, 2012
Interview with Todd Berry, president, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, Oct. 23, 2012
Email exchange with Dale Knapp, research director, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, Oct. 24, 2012
Legislative history of Assembly Bill 150, accessed Oct. 23, 2012
Roll call on AB 150, final passage in Assembly, June 22, 1995
Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives
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