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Reality Check: Ad Attacks Barrett, Falk

Published On: Apr 04 2012 06:29:51 AM CDT   Updated On: Apr 04 2012 09:35:09 AM CDT

Newly re-elected Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called it a "strange honor" to be attacked in ads two weeks before he announced he was running for governor in a recall election against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

That ad makes misleading claims about Barrett's record on unemployment, but also attacks former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a Democrat who is also running in the recall election.

The ad is being paid for by the Republican Governor's Association, but it's hard to determine that from the ad itself. The Republican Governor's Association set up the "Right Direction Wisconsin PAC" to pay for the ads, which it said is in compliance with campaign finance laws to spend money on politics in Wisconsin.

"Going up," says the ad, prominently featuring an elevator. "Under Tom Barrett government spending went up $300 million and taxes went up every year but one."

WISC-TV found this is true, and it's the same attack the RGA used on Barrett in the 2010 gubernatorial election, which he lost to Walker.

The tax levy did go up over Barrett's tenure, and spending increased about $300 million since 2005. But as WISC-TV pointed out in 2010, spending in Milwaukee County under Walker, who was Milwaukee County executive at the time, went up about the same amount over the same time period.

"And jobs, going down," says the ad. "Unemployment got 27 percent worse."

WISC-TV found this is misleading. The RGA said unemployment went from 8.1 percent in April of 2004 when Barrett took office to 10.2 percent in January of this year. But the group missed what happened in between. Unemployment dropped for the first four years of Barrett's term, then jumped in 2009 to 11.9 percent when the recession hit across the country. It now stands at 10.5 percent.

"And what about Kathleen Falk?" the ad asks. "Property taxes up every year. Unemployment tripled."

Again the viewer needs to look at the whole unemployment picture. The RGA points out a jump from 1.7 to 5.2 percent during Falk's term. The details? Unemployment steadily crept up in the county, leveling off at just more than 3 percent. It nearly doubled in 2009 when the recession hit, and dropped back to about 5 percent.

WISC-TV found that it's true that property taxes went up each year under Falk, although she limited most of the increases to 3 to 5 percent each year, which was generally lower than most counties in the state.

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