PolitiFact Wisconsin's 'High Five' for May 2019

Sara Meaney, Wisconsin's tourism secretary, says the state has 15,000 lakes -- "More than Minnesota."  (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Sara Meaney, Wisconsin's tourism secretary, says the state has 15,000 lakes -- "More than Minnesota." (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Tony Evers says 1 million Wisconsinites have "voted to raise their own property taxes" due to Republicans' lack of school funding. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Tony Evers says 1 million Wisconsinites have "voted to raise their own property taxes" due to Republicans' lack of school funding. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The relationship between Wisconsin and Minnesota is so close and friendly that it’s possible to purchase $22 T-shirts with outlines of the neighboring states hugging each other.

But a skirmish over who has the most lakes between the border besties made a splash as PolitiFact Wisconsin’s most-clicked fact-check for May 2019.

Here’s a look at our "High Five" for May.

1. "Wisconsin, many people may not be aware, actually has 15,000 freshwater lakes. … More than Minnesota," said new state tourism secretary Sara Meaney.Meaney launched the battle of the lakes May 9, 2019 during an appearance on WTMJ Radio’s "Wisconsin’s Afternoon News."

"Wisconsin, many people may not be aware, actually has 15,000 freshwater lakes," she said.

"More than Minnesota?" asked host John Mercure.

"More than Minnesota," said Meaney. "Absolutely. We win. We win."

Oops. It turns out that both states use vastly different definitions of "lake," with thousands counting toward the tally in Wisconsin that wouldn’t meet the definition in Minnesota. If both states used Minnesota’s 10-acre minimum standard — or really any other reasonable metric — Minnesota has about twice as many lakes. Meaney’s statement was rated False.

2. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Wisconsin payday loans have a 574% average annual interest rate, "exploitative lending that keeps Americans trapped in debt."

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, took aim at high interest rates on credit cards and payday loans. He has introduced legislation along with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) — that would cap both rates at 15%.

In a tweet, Sanders zeroed in on several states, including Wisconsin, as being among the worst in the country for payday loans rates.

He listed Wisconsin as having an "average annual interest rate" of 574%. That’s in line with the numbers reported by a national group that tracks these numbers. But Sanders labeled the amount the average rate, when it’s actually the "mode," or most common rate among the largest lenders.

The state figures that calculate an actual average show a rate of 486% — slightly lower, but still among the highest in the nation. We rated Sanders’ claim Mostly True.

3. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, said Donald Trump's claim that "there was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent" directly contradicts Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s statement.

Mueller did use the term "insufficient evidence," but that was in a general reference to proof of a broad conspiracy involving Russian election interference. In his own tweet, Trump’s cited the phrase as evidence of his own guilt or innocence.

In actuality, Mueller was clear that he couldn’t charge a sitting president with a crime, and therefore out of fairness couldn’t even accuse him of one. And Mueller was careful to note, "if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

We rated Pocan’s claim Mostly True.

4. Gov. Tony Evers said "More than a million Wisconsinites have voted to raise their own property taxes because Republicans have failed to fully fund our public schools for the past eight years."

It’s not necessarily fair to blame construction-related referendums on funding levels — those are heavily determined by building condition and enrollment trends — but narrowing the focus to referendums for ongoing spending still shows more than 900,000 votes in support. That’s close to Evers’ claim of 1 million.

Blaming Republicans for all those referendums over-simplifies the matter, however, ignoring other factors that can play a role in voters’ decisions.

We rated Evers’ claim Half True.

5. Foxconn chairman Terry Gou said "We suspended the (Foxconn) work around October, November last year because the weather there was snowy and icy cold."

Gou claimed the company had suspended work in October and November 2018 because of the "snowy and icy cold."

Foxconn didn’t provide details on what Gou was referring to, but there was clearly work going on at the site throughout that timeframe.

And the weather data from those months isn’t consistent with an extreme snowstorm or cold snap that would have caused a multi-month shutdown of a large-scale construction project.

We rated Gou’s weather-blaming claim False.