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Engaged in a tight re-election duel with Democrat Mary Burke, Gov. Scott Walker is returning to a theme that’s been a constant in his career.
In a new TV ad, the first-term Republican governor peers into the camera and declares: "Thanks to our reforms, the average family will have an extra $322 to spend."
Walker then asks: "What are you going to do with your savings?"
A series of regular-lookin’ folks enthusiastically answer: Buy clothes and school supplies, buy 96 gallons of gas, new truck tires, 2,700 diapers.
Burke has criticized Walker’s tax cuts as tilted to the rich.
We rated Half True her claim that Walker cut "taxes for the wealthiest" and raised taxes "on 140,000 Wisconsin families." That claim left out important information, namely that Walker has also cut income taxes across the board.
So, what about Walker’s claim of $322 in savings for an "average family."
When we asked Walker spokesman Tom Evenson for back up for the $322 figure, he pointed to a series of income tax cuts and property tax relief policies enacted by Walker and GOP lawmakers.
Evensen said the figure is based on an "average family" as having four people and a median household income of $81,000. The time frame for the claimed savings, he said, is the 2014 tax year.
U.S. Census figures show that a family of four in Wisconsin has a median income of that amount, or slightly higher. A family of four is a common measuring stick. About one in five family households in Wisconsin is that size.
But according to the census bureau, a family of two is much more common, making up almost half of those households. There are also more three-person households than four-person ones.
More notably, we found the median income across all family sizes in Wisconsin is lower than what Walker used -- $65,618. Because it’s a broader figure, it’s arguably a more representative "average family" income.
"To figure out a typical tax cut for a typical Wisconsin family, the $65,618 figure would be the income figure to use, said Tamarine Cornelius, analyst at the Wisconsin Budget Project, a program at the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.
Let’s see how this plays out under both scenarios. We’ll break our calculations into the two major parts -- property taxes and income taxes.
Special injections of state property tax relief provided in the form of aid to schools and technical colleges helped drop the property tax bill for a median-valued home taxed at statewide average rates.
That hypothetical, "average" property owner will see a decrease of $151 on the 2014 property tax bill compared to what they would have without the relief measures, according to estimates from the state’s nonpartisan budget scorekeeper, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Not every family at the average income level will see that savings.
For one thing, not every family owns a home or property.
And while the Fiscal Bureau estimate is widely cited by both parties as an illustration of changes in property taxes statewide, the bottom line on tax changes can vary widely depending on a variety of factors at the municipal level.
Using Walker’s "average family" income figure of $81,000, the income tax cuts enacted under Walker would top $200 in 2014, based on our reading of the Fiscal Bureau’s analysis of two income tax rate reductions enacted under Walker.
At the $65,618 income figure, the average tax owed would drop more than $185.
Combining the two types of tax cuts shows a reduction of more than $330 in 2014 for a property-owning family at the median income level for Wisconsin families.
Using the higher "average family" income for four people -- the one cited by Walker -- pushes the average savings over $350.
Either way, the figures support the ad’s claim of $322.
Walker tells TV viewers that "Thanks to our reforms, the average family will have an extra $322 to spend."
Using some solid sources, the governor accurately pegs the combined estimated savings for a median-income family from his income- and property-tax cuts.
The claim needs clarification, though, because not every average family is in circumstances to receive a cut of that size, particularly if they are not property owners.
We rate the claim Mostly True.
Walker campaign TV ad, "Savings," Sept. 18, 2014
Interview with Tamarine Cornelius, research analyst, Wisconsin Budget Project, Sept. 24, 2014
Interview with Tom Evenson, Walker campaign spokesman, Sept. 24, 2014
Interview with Fred Ammerman, program supervisor, Transportation and Property Tax Relief section, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Sept. 25, 2014
Interview with Rob Reinhardt, program supervisor, Tax Policy, Children and Families and Workforce Development section, Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Sept. 24, 2014
Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Distributional Information on Individual Income Tax Rate Reduction," July 28, 2014
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