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By James B. Nelson June 26, 2015

Jim Steineke says Wisconsin was broke when Republicans took power in 2011

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke frequently uses Twitter to spar with political opponents, and a recent exchange got more heated than usual.

The Kaukauna Republican criticized Democrats, liberals, the proposed Milwaukee streetcar and high speed rail in a vigorous exchange June 18, 2015. In the midst of the discussion, he tweeted: "WI was literally broke when we got here. Been cleaning up your mess ever since."

That is an oldie but goodie on the PolitiFact Wisconsin jukebox.

We rated the "broke" claim False when Gov. Scott Walker made it in early 2011.

Nevertheless, we asked Steineke -- who like Walker was elected in November of 2010 -- for  backup for the claim. We did not hear back and soon after the request, the tweet was deleted. But it lives on in the archives, and in various retweeted versions.

Walker’s claim came Feb. 21, 2011, as protests got underway against the budget repair bill, which later became Act 10. The bill curtailed collective bargaining rights for most public employees and required them to pay more toward health care and pensions.

The governor declared he would not negotiate on the bill: "We are broke in this state. We have been broke for years." He repeated the mantra in his budget speech: "The facts are clear: Wisconsin is broke and it’s time to start paying our bills today -- so our kids are not stuck with even bigger bills tomorrow."

A spokesman said Walker was referring to $58.7 million plus interest owed to Minnesota under a discontinued tax-reciprocity deal and at least $200 million owed to the Patient's Compensation Fund after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision. Other factors cited included the Medicaid and corrections deficits, as well as the state’s "structural deficit" which at the time was estimated at $3.6 billion.

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When we cracked a dictionary to look up the word "broke," we found listings that included: "having no money; bankrupt" and "without money; penniless."

But numerous experts told us the state wasn’t teetering on the brink of bankruptcy or insolvency and, under federal law, could not make such a declaration. In January 2011, Moody’s -- which studies and rates debt issued by governments and corporations -- had said Wisconsin fared well when compared with other states.

What’s more, the state had numerous tools available to deal with any shortfall -- even if some of the options, such as tax increases, were declared off limits by Walker and Republicans.

Indeed, by law, each Wisconsin budget must be balanced -- that was what the budget repair bill was aimed at fixing.

Walker would go on to repeat the "broke" claim in a Sept. 2, 2011 fund-raising appeal. We declared that claim Pants on Fire, because at that point the state had passed a balanced budget with a structural surplus that Walker had celebrated as fiscally sound.

Our rating

Steineke tweeted that Wisconsin was "literally broke" when he and other Republicans took office in 2011. When Walker made the "broke" claim, we rated it False.

It still is.

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More by James B. Nelson

Jim Steineke says Wisconsin was broke when Republicans took power in 2011

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