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By Dave Umhoefer June 26, 2014

Scott Walker says Mary Burke tied to billions in tax hikes

Gov. Scott Walker’s latest TV ad seeks to link his leading rival for governor to "billions" in tax increases approved under Walker’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

The new TV spot, which uses a gambling motif complete with playing cards that depict Doyle as a joker and Burke as a queen, says:

"When Jim Doyle was governor and Mary Burke was commerce secretary, they gambled taxpayer money on dreadful policies, like billions in middle-class tax hikes on nursing home beds, gas, phones and garbage."

The ad then blames the duo for "state budgets that created billions in deficits, and unemployment rates above the national average for the only time in 25 years."

"Wisconsin can’t afford to be dealt another bad hand by Mary Burke," it concludes.

The unemployment rate claim is a familiar one. We gave the state Republican Party a Mostly True when it said "The only time over the last 25 years when the state’s unemployment rate exceeded the U.S. average was when Burke was commerce secretary."

But what about the tax-hike claim in the ad?

When we asked Walker campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marré for back up, she pointed in part to fiscal estimates for specific tax and fee increases in the proposed 2007-’09 state budget, as calculated by the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The bureau is considered the gold standard for budget scorekeeping.

The estimates show that when Burke was commerce secretary (Feb. 2005 - Nov. 2007), Doyle’s proposed 2007-’09 budget sought a higher tax on nursing home beds and proposed a new tax on oil company revenues based on vehicle fuel sales.

What about taxes on "garbage" and "phones"?

They are not listed as tax increases, but the same Fiscal Bureau report tallies fee increases. Doyle sought increases in "tipping fees" for disposing of recyclables and industrial waste. And he sought fees on telecommunications companies to help fund various library services.

The gas and nursing home taxes came to $305 million in Doyle’s two-year budget proposal. The fees would have added another $61 million.

Grand total: $366 million.

That’s far short of the "billions" mentioned in the TV ad.

The gap grows when you look at the final version of that 2007 budget as signed by Doyle. The Legislature, which was under split control of Democrats and Republicans, changed the budget and the final budget included $19 million in increases for the items mentioned in the TV ad.

In the list she sent us, Marré added a big item not mentioned in the TV ad: a $414 million tax increase on hospital’s revenue, to support state health programs.

It didn’t make it into the adopted budget, but even if you count that proposal, the tally is $780 million, not "billions."

When asked about the ad’s "billions" claim, Marré contended other Doyle budgets -- not just 2007-09 -- are fair game. The TV ad, she said, is meant to refer to tax increases at any point in Doyle’s time (2003-2011) -- or increases during Burke’s state time.

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But the ad isn’t clear on that.

The ad’s language -- "When Jim Doyle was governor and Mary Burke was commerce secretary" -- refers to their time together. And Burke was around for development of just one budget.

Later budget

Nevertheless, we took a look at the 2009-11 budget, which Marré argued should be included when evaluating the ad.

By our calculation, that second budget proposal contained $520 million to $1.35 billion in new taxes and fees on the four items cited in the ad. (It depends on whether you count $830 million in fees on telecommunications companies as a levy on "phones"; the bill barred companies from passing it directly along on consumers’ bills).

So if you add the two budgets together, there were as much as $1.7 billion in new taxes on those four items.

But there’s a major problem with tying Burke to that budget.

She left more than a year before it was proposed.

Marré brought up one last point, a quote from Burke that is also in the TV ad, which says, "Mary Burke came out saying, ‘I support Gov. Doyle’s positions entirely.’"

Burke did say that, in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal:

Q: Are you politically active?

Burke:  No, and I can't say why or why not...I've always been an independent. I've always voted for who I thought was the best person for the position. I support Gov. Doyle's positions entirely. I'm very impressed, and I'm starting to feel very Democratic at this point because I feel he is just doing so much that's right for Wisconsin that creates a better place to live for everyone."

The comment is sweeping, so it’s fair game.

But it’s from April 2005.

That gives it limited value at best as evidence of how Burke felt about a Doyle budget proposed after she left state government.

Our rating

In a campaign ad, Walker says that "when Jim Doyle was governor and Mary Burke was commerce secretary," Wisconsin saw "billions in middle-class tax hikes on nursing home beds, gas, phones and garbage."

As a cabinet secretary, Burke would have had some impact on one of Doyle’s budgets. And it did contain increases on those four items.

But the ad misfires badly on the math and the blame game.

Proposed new taxes and fees in that one budget totalled $366 million on nursing homes, gas, garbage and phones, not "billions." And the tally was far less in the final version of the budget Doyle signed.

Beyond that, Burke was gone when Doyle’s subsequent budget sought up to $1.35 billion more for those items in 2009.

We rate Walker’s claim False.

Our Sources

Friends of Scott Walker, campaign ad, "Bad Hand," June 20, 2014

Interview with Alleigh Marré, Friends of Scott Walker campaign spokeswoman, June 20, 2014

Legislative Fiscal Bureau, tax and fee memos for 2007 proposed, 2007 enacted, 2009 proposed and 2009 enacted state budgets

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin GOP says Mary Burke, Scott Walker’s challenger, was responsible for state budget when she served as a Cabinet secretary," March 16, 2014, "Q and A with Mary Burke, Commerce Secretary," April 1, 2005

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Scott Walker says Mary Burke tied to billions in tax hikes

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