The 3 biggest economic lies of campaign ’14

The next time Wisconsin has a gubernatorial election, the candidates should simply drop all pretense of probity and hire the same folks who write those Nigerian lottery scam emails — or that ad about the beautiful model in Mount Horeb who’s looking to hook up with a congenitally sarcastic, testosterone-challenged 49-year-old Lord of the Rings fan with a head the size of a Weber grill and a World of Warcraft character nearly as old as she is.

Those ads are effective, unfortunately — as are the B.S.-fests that pass as political advertising these days.

The bottom line is, if you’re dumb enough to believe unsolicited online pitches or unwelcome political advertising, you deserve what you get. But that doesn’t make the results any less tragic.

The reason that political ads have plumbed such undignified depths in recent years is that candidates covet easily manipulated low-information voters.

The folks who follow the issues tend to know how they’re going to vote months in advance, so it’s vital for the candidates to corral as many undecideds as they possibly can.

That means they have to lie — a lot. And when they’re not telling outright, bald-faced, according-to-Hoyle lies, they’re deceiving people like mad.

This election cycle has been no exception. Both sides have been full of it on numerous occasions. It is the considered opinion of this blogger that Scott Walker has been the larger (or is that smaller?) weasel, but Mary Burke has hardly been afraid to shade the truth.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Politifact appears to back up the conclusion that Walker is the less-honest pol. Politifact has tracked Walker’s statements since he began running for governor more than four years ago. In that time, the independent watchdog has rated 35% of his statements either false or “Pants on Fire.” Burke’s lying résumé is much shorter, but since Politifact started tracking her statements, they’ve rated 24% of her statements either false or “Pants on Fire.”

The rest of the categories? Walker: mostly false, 14%; half true, 18%; mostly true, 22%; true, 10%. Burke: mostly false, 15%; half true, 32%; mostly true, 24%; true, 6%.

So that’s not a huge advantage for Burke, but at the very least, it shows that Walker has been a more egregious fibber throughout his political career.

But there are lies and then there are howlers. Those are the ones that really get under people’s skin — and rightly so. Here are three of the best howlers from the ’14 campaign:

Those lost jobs: Walker kicks off one of his latest ads with this gem: “Before we took office, the policies my opponent supports cost Wisconsin 133,000 jobs.” Hmm, and what policies might those be? Neglecting to chloroform George W. Bush and throw him in the storage room of the Overlook Hotel until his term was up? Encouraging Wall Street to do whatever it wanted? Is it possible Walker forgot all about the really awful national recession we had in the late 2000s that started under George W. Bush and just happened to coincide with a portion of Jim Doyle’s term? (Hint: No, it’s not possible.)

Might that national recession, which saw catastrophic job losses across the country, have something to do with Wisconsin’s lost jobs? Yes, it’s possible. And the notion that Jim Doyle’s policies touched off a global financial crisis that nearly destroyed the U.S. economy? Well, that’s Walker logic for you.

The deficit: Scott Walker likes to claim that he wiped out Jim Doyle’s irresponsible $3.6 billion deficit and put us in the black. In fact, in same ad where he blames Mary Burke’s favored policies for the Bush recession, he notes that “we eliminated a $3.6 billion deficit, and the next budget will start with a half a billion dollar surplus.”

It’s nonsense, of course.

Politifact wrote at length about this in an article that rated false Walker’s claim about the state’s supposed surplus.

The number being debated is a projection (as was the famous $3.6 billion deficit in 2010) — or as Politifact notes, it’s “not a prediction of how the second year of the 2013-’15 budget will end up” but rather “projections on where the state’s finances will be as the next governor and Legislature put the 2015-’17 budget together in early 2015.”

So the $3.6 billion number Walker has spit out at every campaign stop like a CPA with Tourette syndrome was never more than an overview of where we sat based on a set of certain assumptions. As such, it’s a number that’s pretty easy to manipulate for political purposes. 

To put it in context, Jim Doyle also inherited a massive structural deficit from Scott McCallum. In fact, in an apples-to-apples comparison, the Legislative Audit Bureau put the deficit at $2.867 billion for the first biennium of Doyle’s term (in other words, that was the deficit Doyle inherited from McCallum), while the deficit Walker inherited from Doyle — following a devastating recession — was $2.511 billion. (See the chart accompanying this column.) 



So did Walker eliminate that structural deficit — either the $2.867 billion the LAB noted or the $3.6 billion Walker has touted? Of course not. The deficit is currently at $1.8 billion, and it could get worse. (Consider that the structural deficit was roughly $2.5 billion when Walker took office but ballooned to $3.6 billion after state department requests were factored in.)

So here’s how Politifact summarized the issue:

So what is Walker referring to with his $535 million surplus figure?

That figure is contained in a Sept. 18, 2014 Fiscal Bureau memo to a Republican state representative, John Nygren of Marinette.

In the wake of the $1.8 billion estimate, Nygren asked the bureau to look at it a different way.

He asked for an estimate of the budget challenge assuming that lawmakers would hold most spending at 2014-’15 levels for the two following years, and tax revenue would rise at the five-year average of 2.9 percent.

That yielded an estimate of a $535 million surplus.

The Fiscal Bureau also got a request from a Democrat, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse. It asked the Fiscal Bureau to run an estimate based on increases in school spending, granting state agencies their $1 billion spending requests and other changes. Budget requests came in Sept. 15, 2014.

That estimate was a $2.7 billion shortfall.  Another scenario run for Shilling was a deficit of $4 billion.

You get the idea.

In other words, the structural deficit is not gone. Not even close. And to say it is is pretty shameless.

Job creation: Of course, this election has largely been about Scott Walker’s jobs record. The truth is, his record on job creation has been pretty tepid, but that hasn’t stopped him from pretending he’s been a great job creator.

Actually, Walker and Burke have both been dishonest when it comes to Walker’s jobs record. Both have relied on the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Survey, which surveys a scant 3.5% of state employers and is subject to major revisions. The most reliable measure, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, has consistently shown that Walker is a pretty poor job creator (PDF), but that didn’t stop him from relying on the QCEW during the 2012 recall election when he wanted to refute claims that Wisconsin had actually lost jobs during his first year in office.

Well, despite having harshly criticized the BLS Current Employment Survey numbers in 2012, he’s been using them a lot as of late.

He now claims that Wisconsin added 8,400 jobs during September, based on the BLS Current Employment Survey — which is subject to revision and, frankly, is an embarrassingly unreliable measure.

Meanwhile, Burke hasn’t been any better on this score. She recently had her own ad that claimed “the new August jobs numbers are out, and Wisconsin lost another 4,300 jobs.” Well, that was based on the fatally flawed CES numbers as well. So, evidently, two can play that same game.


This often-nauseating election cycle is about to end. Whose prevarications will prevail?

It remains to be seen. But in an election like this, one thing is certain: We all end up losers.

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