The other day, the office of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued an indignant press release, titled "Response to Factual Inaccuracies."
It correctly identified a fundamental difference between two numbers that Walker's critics have linked: the state's $137 million deficit through June 30 and the $140 million in tax breaks for business approved by Walker and the Legislature since he took office in early January.
The tax breaks, it noted, "do not apply to this fiscal year." They merely add to the state's budget hole down the line.
Thanks for the clarification. If there's one thing this heated debate doesn't need, it's factual inaccuracies. To that end, let's turn our attention to some of the things Scott Walker has said:
"If anyone doesn't know what's coming, they've been asleep for the last two years." That's Walker at his Feb. 17 press conference, in which he also insisted that extracting unilateral benefit concessions from some public workers and stripping almost all of them of their collective bargaining rights were "modest, modest requests." At his Feb. 21 media meet-up, Walker even claimed to have "campaigned on this throughout the election."
In fact, not once during the campaign or in the time between the election and his "budget repair bill" unveiling on Feb. 11 did Walker indicate he would refuse to negotiate with public employee unions or seek these radical changes. Walker himself clearly knows this, as shown by his comments to a prankster he thought was billionaire benefactor David Koch. There Walker refers to the time just prior to his budget unveiling as "before we dropped the bomb."
"To protect our schools, to protect our local governments, we need to give them the tools they've been asking for, not just for years but for decades." Walker initially made this point repeatedly, as at his Feb. 18 press conference.
But, as Isthmus reported (Madison.gov., 2/24/11), all four major state associations representing schools and local governments (not their employees) say this isn't true. Walker, at his Feb. 24 press powwow, amended his sound bite, saying he is giving schools and local governments "the tools they need."
"The guys we got left are largely from out of state." This is what Walker told "Koch" about the demonstrations in Madison, adding, "I keep dismissing it in all of my press comments, saying...they're mostly from out of state." He also claims one-third of the 70,000 people who came out to demonstrations on Feb. 19 supported his bill.
The Madison police estimated the total crowd at 68,000, so Walker was in the ballpark here. But even the pro-Walker side's wildly inflated numbers put their totals at 8,000 to 10,000, with more credible estimates being in the 3,000 to 5,000 range. And no sane person believes the protesters that day - or the 70,000 to 100,000 who turned out last Saturday - are "largely" or "mostly" from out of state.
"I have great respect for those who have chosen a career in government. I really do." Walker has trotted out this line repeatedly, including in his Feb. 22 "Fireside Chat." His tone is much different in private, as in his conversation with "Koch."
The mock caller says, "I'll tell you what, Scott, once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time." The governor's great respect for public employees is nowhere in evidence as he replies, "All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us to move the cause forward."
Besides these demonstrable falsehoods, Walker has made many statements of questionable veracity. Here are a few:
The governor claimed at his Feb. 17 press conference to have gotten "over 8,000 emails" from citizens, most urging him to "stay firm." At his Feb. 18 press conference, exactly 24 hours later, he claimed to have 19,000 emails, again the "majority in favor." On Feb. 23, he said there were 100,000, "obviously some for, some against."
As of press time, the governor and his staff had not responded to open records requests from Isthmus and others for these emails, which would allow his claims to be checked; Isthmus' request was made on Feb. 18.
In a Feb. 23 press release, Walker began asserting his "budget repair bill" would deliver at least $1.44 billion in savings to local school districts and governments. He even gave breakdowns: "[S]chool districts would save $488 million ($976 million over the biennium). Municipalities would save $98 million ($196 million over the biennium). Counties would save $64 million..." and so on.
Wow, those are really great savings. Just one question: How would they be achieved? Walker hasn't been specific, so far as I can find. A Walker staffer passed my inquiry on to press secretary Cullen Werwie, who did not respond.
Walker continues to make this claim but has since altered it. He no longer claims it will deliver these savings; he now says it gives schools and local government "the tools" to make this happen - presumably by following his lead in cutting employee benefits.
Finally, there's this, from Walker's Feb. 21 press conference, about the utter chaos he says is reigning just south of our border because of reckless actions taken there: "[L]ook at what Illinois did a month ago. [It] raised taxes on businesses and individuals and in turn we've seen a massive exodus of employers and jobs and individuals looking to come to places like Wisconsin."
What "massive exodus" is he referring to, and how come no one else seems to have noticed it? Is that even a question worth putting out for Walker aides to ignore? Or can we safely assume, as with so much else, that Scott Walker is lying?
Bill Lueders (firstname.lastname@example.org) is news editor of Isthmus.