Claims we've rated in the Milwaukee County executive race

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele (left) is being challenged in the April 2016 county executive race by a fellow Milwaukee Democrat, state Sen. Chris Larson. (Journal Sentinel photos)
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele (left) is being challenged in the April 2016 county executive race by a fellow Milwaukee Democrat, state Sen. Chris Larson. (Journal Sentinel photos)

Voters heard a lot about the Estabrook Dam and also heard claims from a third party group in the race for Milwaukee County Executive between incumbent Chris Abele and challenger Chris Larson. The election is Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

Here’s a look at some of the claims we have rated:


Dam: An image in an Abele TV ad depicts "wealthy citizens" who would benefit from a "lake" created by the controversial Estabrook Dam. That claim was rated Pants on Fire. The image was a stock photo and shows a different body of water -- and a boat that’s more suited for Great Lakes cruising.

Domes: Abele’s claim that the Mitchell Park Domes "lose about $1 million-plus every year" and "the number of people going to the Domes has been going down" was rated False.     

In the past five years, the tab for county taxpayers exceeded $1 million once. On average it was $630,000. Meanwhile, attendance has actually increased 28 percent under Abele’s watch.

Transit: Abele’s said that since he took office as Milwaukee County executive, "we have never raised" bus fares and "this year there’ll be a million route-miles more than there were five years ago." We rated that Mostly True -- budget reports showed constant fare prices and a million mile increase in route miles. He didn’t mention, however, that some of the increased route miles were the result of a lawsuit against the state.

Budget: Abele’s claim that he balanced the Milwaukee County budget "without raising taxes five years in a row" was rated Half True.

Abele did propose a freeze in the property tax levy each year and he issued budget vetoes that would have kept the levy down.

But the County Board ultimately adopted a budget that raised the total property tax take in four of the five years -- and Abele took advantage of those actions, using the higher level as his new base when proposing a freeze the following year. So, taxpayers are paying more than when he took office.


Dam: Larson’s claim that Abele "has had five years and he’s done nothing" about the Estabrook Dam was rated  False. News reports and county records show that Abele has pushed in a variety of ways -- within county government and also by meeting with other local officials and community groups -- to have the dam removed.

Homelessness: Larson’s claim that Abele "once proposed a plan to end county funding to homeless shelters" was rated False. After we asked about the claim, the Facebook post disappeared, Larson’s campaign manager said it was wrong and apologized.

Transit: Larson’s statement that the county’s bus system has "among the highest fares in the nation" was rated False. The system’s $2.25 cash fare wasn’t at the top of a national comparison, with fares reaching as high as $4 per trip. And regular patrons who use a Smart Card are charged just $1.75 a ride, making the Milwaukee County bus system about on par with average costs.

Land sales: The Milwaukee County executive can sell the public "museum, the airport and the zoo" -- all on his own, without County Board approval. That was rated Mostly True.

A recent change in state law that applies only to Milwaukee County allows the executive to sell any county-owned land not zoned as park land without approval of the County Board. However, such sales would need the OK of at least one other person -- either the elected county comptroller or a real estate expert appointed by elected municipal officials who lives in the community where the land is located.

Other claims

County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, who is also the head of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, said Abele is a "billionaire."

That was rated False. We found plenty of evidence that Abele is a wealthy man, with a even-wealthier father. Meanwhile, the family’s Argosy Foundation doesn’t appear to have anywhere near $1 billion in assets, and, regardless, that isn’t Abele’s personal holdings.

The Working Families Party, which supports Larson, said Abele spent "$100,000 of taxpayer money on a new luxury SUV." That was rated False. The SUV is part of a package of security services was part of a package of security services, presumably just like the uniforms, radios and other items used by the two guards assigned to protect Abele.