When Scott Walker put out a TV ad reviving a skit from "The Electric Company," a 1970s children’s television show that co-starred Morgan Freeman, Mashable snarkily called it "one of the most bizarre campaign ads of 2018."
The ad aims to win the Republican governor a third term in the Nov. 6, 2018 election. It features silhouettes of a woman and a man facing each other. They take turns claiming that Walker’s Democratic challenger, state schools superintendent Tony Evers, would raise taxes.
But there is a more conventional ad -- where Walker makes a similar, but more specific claim on Evers and taxes -- that we want to fact check.
In that spot, released Sept. 20, 2018, Walker begins by saying: "With all the attack ads, it’s easy to forget" things in Wisconsin he likes to highlight, such as low unemployment and high-performing schools. Then Walker himself attacks, saying:
"Tony Evers? Well, he’ll raise property taxes, raise income taxes and raise gas taxes by as much as a dollar a gallon."
Walker has made claims like that in three more TV ads. What’s more, similar claims are made in a TV ad from the Republican Governors Association/Right Direction Wisconsin PAC and in a TV ad from Americans for Prosperity.
So, what evidence does Walker have to back his political future-telling?
It’s a mix: Evers is at least opening the door to higher property taxes; he said he will raise income taxes in at least one way; and he might raise the gas tax, but he says not by $1 per gallon.
But it’s also important to note that, while Evers has said he is open to tax increases, it’s not clear that he would raise all the taxes Walker says. And when it comes to property and income taxes, Evers has not expressed support for across-the-board increases.
Evers wants to raise limits on how much local school districts can levy in property taxes — in other words, giving school districts the ability to increase property taxes.
He argues that because he also proposes increasing state aid to schools, among other factors, that will offset — at least in the aggregate — the need for any property tax increase.
On the property tax side: Current law allows no per-pupil increase in local property taxes. Evers’ 2019-’21 budget request for his Department of Public Instruction calls for allowing school districts to increase local property taxes by $200 per-pupil in the first year of the budget and by $204 the second year.
On the state aid side: But Evers has also called for, as part of his budget proposal, increasing state payments to schools by $1.4 billion, or 10 percent, over two years. Evers has said he could increase the aid by making cuts elsewhere in the state budget.
The upshot, according to the Department of Public Instruction, is school districts with higher property wealth could their see property taxes go up, while less-wealthy districts could see property taxes go down.
But the department says there would be no net increase in property taxes collected. The department provided us figures indicating that increased state aid and other factors would offset any property taxes in total during the 2019-’21 budget period. A spokesman for the department told us Evers is committed after that, when revenue limits would rise with inflation, to continue to provide enough state aid to keep property taxes flat overall.
In any case, lifting the revenue limits at least opens the door to property tax increases.
Before he secured the Democratic nomination, Evers said he wants to eliminate the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, saying it favors the rich. His campaign has since repeated that Evers wants to eliminate the credit.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, supports the credit, saying it leads to business investment and job creation.
The credit, part of Walker’s first state budget in 2011, gradually reduced the state tax on the production earnings of manufacturers and agricultural businesses to nearly nothing -- from 7.9 percent to 0.4 percent. (In 2017, we rated Mostly True a claim that 11 people who each make over $30 million got a total of $22 million in credits from the tax credit.)
It’s also worth noting that Evers has said he is considering increasing income taxes on the wealthy and cutting income taxes for others — but adds: "There’s no definite plans at this time."
So, by eliminating one tax credit, Evers would be increasing income taxes on manufacturers and agricultural businesses; and he is open to raising income taxes on the wealthy, but lowering them on others.
On Aug. 15, 2018, the day after Evers won the primary election, Walker said Evers might be willing to quadruple the state’s 32.9 cents-per-gallon state gas tax because Evers hasn't said how much he would be willing to increase it.
Later that morning, a reporter asked Evers about Waker’s comment and whether he would raise the gas tax by $1. Evers responded more generally by saying: "I would support looking at anything, whether it’s removing tax credits, whether it’s slimming down state government, whether it’s gas taxes. Everything is on the table."
But by the afternoon, Evers said Walker was lying about his views on the gas tax. "The only thing I ever said about that," Evers declared, "is that every possible revenue source is on the table." Evers has not said how much of an increase in the gas tax he could back.
Evers has also said, in speaking about road funding, that he would consider increasing the gas tax or implementing tolls. He said he "has no range" in terms of how high of an increase in the gas tax he would consider.
Evers also has said that while he is considering increasing the gas tax to pay for roads, a $1 increase was "ridiculous."
So, saying Evers will raise gas taxes by up to $1 per gallon, when he has only said he would consider raising the tax some amount, goes too far.
Walker says Evers will "raise property taxes, raise income taxes and raise gas taxes by as much as a dollar a gallon."
Evers has pledged to eliminate a Walker-era manufacturing and agriculture tax credit. So, that will result in higher income taxes for those who have taken advantage of the credit.
On property taxes, Evers acknowledges that his proposed budget for the state Department of Instruction could result in higher property taxes in some school districts and lower levies in others. By lifting revenue limits, however, Evers would be allowing school districts to increase property taxes.
And while Evers has said he is open to raising the gas tax, he hasn’t said he would seek any particular increase and has flatly denied that it would be $1.
Moreover, while Evers is open to raising taxes, it's not across-the-board, at least in the case of property and income taxes.
For a statement that is partially accurate, we give Walker a Half True.
Join us for PolitiFact chat
Interested in the U.S. Senate race? How about the battle for governor? Or what it’s like to do fact checks on Donald Trump and other national figures?
PolitiFact Wisconsin is hosting a panel discussion about fact checking and the 2018 election at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23 at Anodyne Coffee, 224 W Bruce St., Milwaukee.
Participating in the panel will be Angie Holan, editor of the national PolitiFact operation, Greg Borowski, editor of PolitiFact Wisconsin, and Tom Kertscher, PolitiFact Wisconsin reporter.
The event is free, but preregistration is required. Register at jsonline.com/politifactevent.