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Reality Check: Walker claims his policies saved $1 billion

Published On: Apr 26 2012 06:41:39 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 26 2012 07:39:30 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

Gov. Scott Walker is saying in stops across the state this week that policies enacted since he took office last year have saved the state more than $1 billion.

But is it simply too good to be true?

Walker is staking his recall campaign on the claim that his reforms have saved taxpayers money. In fact, while the governor is correct that there are substantial savings, a WISC-TV analysis found that claiming $1 billion is savings is stretching the truth.

"Literally, county by county, we've documented the savings we can find from the reforms we passed last year," Walker said at an event in Brown Deer on Monday.

WISC-TV found this needs clarification. On a website Walker's office created, reforms.wi.gov, the governor said people can click by county to "see the savings."

The first thing to note is that for all the local pension savings, the website cites a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo from March 2011. It estimates pension contributions have saved around $464 million. But it's an estimate -- not actual savings.

Secondly, it's based on 2009 payroll numbers, and since the state lost thousands of public workers due to retirements since then, the savings are less.

Third, federal dollars are used to pay some local workers, and making them pay more for pensions doesn't save a municipality any money. Overall, it's safe to say the savings here are less than projected, but it's hard to put a number on how much that may be.

Then there's the local health care savings, which the state said in a memo "may be in the range of $300 million." Even the governor admits it's hard to project because health care changes were not the same across the board. But on the website, Walker shows off "media reports" that quantify pension and health care savings.

It's also important to note that the governor is taking credit for any savings reached in collective bargaining contracts negotiated before Act 10 was in effect. Act 10 is the law Walker championed that stripped most public employees of nearly all collective bargaining rights.

For example, the city of Madison and Madison Metropolitan School District both reached contracts before Act 10 was passed, getting concessions from their employees at a savings of about $28.5 million between the two.

In Sheboygan, school district and county employees agreed to more concessions than were even proposed in Act 10, at about $10 million.

WISC-TV found at least 70 districts or communities that agreed to contracts before Act 10, for a total of at least $217 million in savings achieved through bargaining. Whether Walker should get credit for that is up to voters.

Then there are the state numbers, which are likely more exact. State pension savings are estimated at $226 million and savings from health insurance changes totals around $194 million.

"The facts are our reforms are working for the taxpayers of Wisconsin," Walker said on Monday.

So, in total, is it "working" to the tune of $1 billion? The state said it saved about $420 million from pension and health care changes, numbers which are reflected in the state budget. But it's "guesstimating" on the rest and taking credit for bargained savings because of the threat of Act 10.

The Democratic Party has called Walker's claim of $1 billion in savings "bogus." The Democratic Party pointed to the loss of nearly 1,500 teachers this year due to cuts in public education, a drop in property values statewide and a projected $143 million budget shortfall.

As the recall process continues, WISC-TV will be tracking the candidates' claims and the ads supporting them. Every Thursday at 6 p.m., tuned in to WISC-TV for a "Reality Check."

If you have an idea for a Reality Check, email it to realitycheck@channel3000.com. 

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