Reality Check: Ad attacks Barrett over Milwaukee trolley project

Walker ad mischaracterizes cost of Milwaukee streetcar project

MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker is pushing a Milwaukee issue in his latest ad, saying Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wants to waste money on a trolley.

WISC-TV found the ad echoes the high speed train debate from 2010 and mischaracterizes the cost of the project.

"Tom Barrett wants to spend more than $100 million on a trolley for Milwaukee," Walker says in the ad.

WISC-TV found this misleading.

A year ago, Milwaukee's City Council approved a $65 million streetcar proposal, which was championed by Barrett. It would be paid for almost by $55 million in federal transit funds that have been sitting idle for this use for years.

The rest would be covered by tax incremental financing dollars. It could also cost $55 million to move underground power lines, and the state Public Service Commission hasn't yet decided if the city or the utilities should have to pay for that. Will it cost more than $100 million? That's unclear, as the city has capped the cost of the project at $65 million, and if the PSC decides the city has to pay for utilities, the whole project would likely be re-evaluated.

"Now that's the kind of reckless spending that left Wisconsin with more than a $3 billion deficit," Walker says in the ad. "We eliminated that deficit by making government more efficient."

WISC-TV found this needs clarification. The governor did have a $3.6 billion deficit coming into office, and when the budget passed in June of last year, he eliminated that deficit. Projections since then have fluctuated with the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reporting in February that lower-than-expected tax collections would leave the state $150 million short at the end of two years.


But the Walker administration released new numbers earlier this month saying that higher-than-expected tax collections would leave the state $150 million in the black. While those aren't official estimates from the Fiscal Bureau, the bureau's director said the numbers seem reasonable and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau will do its own re-estimate later this summer.

"We cut waste and fraud and our reforms have saved taxpayers more than a billion dollars," Walker says in the ad.

WISC-TV found this is misleading. The $1 billion savings figure comes from Wisconsin Act 10, and WISC-TV checked this claim before.

WISC-TV could verify about half of that savings because it is found in the state budget, but the rest is a rough estimate of health care and pension savings across the state. Plus, Walker is taking credit for union concessions made through bargaining before Act 10 was passed, although he said without the legislation the unions wouldn't have agreed to savings for their municipalities or school districts.

The governor also mentions cutting $500 million in waste and fraud, which hasn't all been cut yet. A commission issued a report in January identifying changes that could lead to $486 million in savings. Only $370 million of it was state savings, and the rest would have to be from changes at the local government level. The governor's office said most of the changes are "in progress" but couldn't say exactly how much has been saved.

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