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Reality Check: Walker overestimates cost of vacant lot deal

By Jessica Arp, jarp@wisctv.com
Published On: Jul 29 2014 05:33:37 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 29 2014 08:34:47 PM CDT

Gov. Scott Walker is renewing a line of attack on his Democratic challenger Mary Burke about a vacant lot in Kenosha County.

MADISON, Wis. -

Gov. Scott Walker is renewing a line of attack on his Democratic challenger Mary Burke about a vacant lot in Kenosha County.

His latest ad uses made-up newspaper headlines crossing the screen to go after Burke on a deal she made as commerce secretary in 2006.

"As Jim Doyle's commerce secretary, Mary Burke wasted $12.5 million on a vacant lot hoping to lure a company to Wisconsin to create jobs," the ad says.

News 3 finds this needs clarification. Not everyone agrees the $12 million for the Kenosha property, which was intended to draw Abbott Labs from Chicago, was wasted. Village of Pleasant Prairie officials defend the purchase, saying 300 construction jobs were created for infrastructure work on the property and nearby company Uline wouldn't have expanded without the economic development work there.

Burke also defends the purchase as a long-term investment, but the federal government has said the money was spent improperly.

"Today the lot is still vacant and the federal government is demanding the state pay the money back, meaning Mary Burke's boondoggle could cost Wisconsin taxpayers as much as $25 million," the ad says.

News 3 finds this is misleading. Walker said Burke's commerce department spent $12.5 million on the deal and the state now has to repay $12.5 million to the feds, which adds up to $25 million. But it's not that simple.

The money for the land was actually a federal grant to the state, which gave $12.5 million to Pleasant Prairie. Village officials awarded the grant to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance to buy the property. The deal said if 2,400 jobs didn't come, KABA had to sell the land to pay the state back, or hand over the land.

The federal government now says the deal was improper and is asking the state for $6 million in cash back and a cut in future grants of $6 million.

So here's our math: The feds gave Wisconsin $12.5 million. They're asking for it all back through cash and cuts. The costs shift to the state, but the cost is still $12.5 million. It may even be less than that since local officials are on the hook to at least in part repay the state. The total cost is certainly not $25 million as Walker claims.

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

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