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By Dave Umhoefer February 19, 2014

State GOP says Burke drafted and promoted state budgets that were fiscally irresponsible

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke’s attack on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s tax-relief plan drew a strong response from the state Republican Party.

"While Millionaire Mary Burke has called Walker’s tax relief plan ‘irresponsible,’ the reality is she helped construct some of the most irresponsible budgets and policies in our state’s history," said Joe Fadness, executive director of the state party, in a Feb. 10, 2014 news release.

"Burke promoted budgets that raised taxes by billions, created high structural deficits and raided funds to finance huge spending hikes."

Fadness accused Burke, who was state Commerce secretary from 2005 to 2007, of "ignoring her record of drafting and sponsoring budgets that set Wisconsin on a downward spiral" under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

In the election, prepare to hear a lot from Walker and his allies about Burke’s ties to Doyle.

In this item, we’ll examine whether Burke helped "draft" "sponsor" and "promote" budgets that "raised taxes by billions, created high structural deficits and raided funds."

Burke’s role in budgets

During Burke’s tenure as commerce secretary, Doyle signed a pair of two-year state budgets into law.

The first budget was introduced Feb. 8, 2005. Burke began her job just one day earlier as Doyle’s pick to run the state’s primary economic development agency.

Department budget submissions were due in fall of 2004 and were months in the making, so Burke would have had effectively no chance to affect the Commerce budget, much less Doyle’s entire blueprint.

Jesse Dougherty, spokesman for the state GOP, said that cabinet secretaries should be held accountable for what the Administration puts forth.

As evidence that Burke "promoted" Doyle’s 2005-07 budget, Dougherty pointed to an April 2005 Wisconsin State Journal interview in which Burke said that while politically independent, "I support Gov. Doyle's positions entirely."

Burke’s role in the second budget in question (2007-09) is somewhat clearer.

She was responsible for and submitted the Commerce budget, but also spoke out enthusiastically in favor of a variety of initiatives in Doyle’s overall state budget, on taxes, education, worker training, health care and others.

"Gov. Jim Doyle's 2007-09 budget is a smart, responsible budget for Wisconsin businesses. It is fiscally responsible, identifies our priorities for success, and invests in those priorities," Burke wrote in a 2007 Commerce newsletter.

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So while Burke’s department is not involved in drafting the overall state budget, the GOP says her actions as a team player give her a degree of responsibility over the overall final product.

We agree that Burke "promoted" the two budgets, but "drafting" goes too far.

Fiscal impact of those budgets

Let’s look at the three GOP statements about the Doyle budgets that coincided with Burke’s tenure.

"Raised taxes by billions": The budgets Doyle submitted included tax-policy changes that raised net taxes, cumulatively, by $1.35 billion (down $12.68 million in the first budget, then up $1.371 billion in the second). Examples of changes included increases in cigarette taxes, a new tax on oil-company earnings, and a new revenues tax on hospitals.

The budgets Doyle signed, after legislators changed them, raised net taxes by $351 million, according to reports by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Big money, but not "billions" in either scenario.

"Created high structural deficits": In criticizing Walker’s plan to return half of an expected surplus to taxpayers, Burke noted reports saying his plan would boost by about $100 million a potential $700 million shortfall -- or "structural deficit" -- heading into the 2015-17 budget.

By contrast, the two Doyle budgets in question left much higher structural deficits -- $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion each -- than either of Walker’s two budgets. And, notably, Walker’s first budget actually created a small structural surplus for the following budget.

"Raided funds to finance huge spending hikes": It’s been well-documented that Doyle and lawmakers repeatedly tapped segregated funds for roads, compensation in malpractice cases and other purposes in order to balance the state budget.

Significant withdrawals occurred in the two budgets that overlapped with Burke’s time.

Our rating

State Republicans said that as state Commerce secretary, Burke drafted, sponsored and promoted "budgets that raised taxes by billions, created high structural deficits and raided funds to finance huge spending hikes."

There are accurate elements here but some critical facts are ignored or misstated.

Burke had a hand in budgeting, as any cabinet member would, and lauded two Doyle budgets, which did indeed leave high structural deficits and bust into segregated funds.

But it’s a big overstatement to say she "drafted" two overall state budgets, especially given that the 2005-07 version came out just one day after she joined Doyle’s administration.

In any event, those two budget proposals from Doyle raised taxes by $1.35 billion, not "billions" as claimed.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Republican Party of Wisconsin, press release, Feb. 10, 2014

Interview with Joe Zepecki, spokesperson, Mary Burke campaign, Feb. 12, 2014

Interview with Jesse Dougherty, spokesperson, Republican Party of Wisconsin, Feb. 11, 2014

Email exchange with Stephanie Marquis, state Department of Administration spokesperson, Feb. 13, 2014

Capital Times, "Q&A with Mary Burke, Commerce Department secretary,"  April 1, 2005

Wisconsin Commerce Department newsletter, "A smart budget for business," April 2007

Legislative Fiscal Bureau, memos on tax and fee changes in state budgets, 2005-07 and 2007-09

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "2013-15 and 2015-’17 General Fund Budget," Oct. 15, 2013

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Mary Burke says Wisconsin had 84,000 more jobs when she was Commerce secretary," Oct. 9, 2014

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State GOP says Burke drafted and promoted state budgets that were fiscally irresponsible

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