AP FACT CHECK: Walker, Evers make misleading debate claims

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, and Democratic challenger Tony Evers, left, meet onstage prior to the debate at the Zelazo Center on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Milwaukee, Wis. (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

For eight years and through three elections, Democrats have unsuccessfully sought to defeat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who they revile for his success in severely weakening public sector unions in the purple state. This year they believe they have their best chance with state schools chief Tony Evers, who is leading or neck-and-neck with Walker in opinion polls.

The two met for their final debate in Milwaukee Friday night.

A look at their claims:

JOB CREATION

WALKER: “When it comes to Foxconn, they don’t earn any of those tax credits over the next decade and a half unless they actually have actual job creation and investment. No jobs and no investment, no credits.”

THE FACTS: The deal with technology giant Foxconn is a centerpiece of Walker’s efforts to revitalize the state’s economy. But it has also drawn criticism because Wisconsin has agreed to billions of dollars in financial incentives to lure the Taiwanese company.

Walker is mostly right that the tax credits are tied to job creation, although one clause designed to protect the taxpayers’ investment doesn’t kick in for five years.

The state’s 15-year deal with Foxconn provides $2.85 billion if the company makes a $9 billion capital investment and employs 13,000 people at a flat-screen factory being constructed in Mount Pleasant, near Milwaukee.

In order to get the credits, the company must meet minimum goals set by the state.

The state requires Foxconn to employ a certain number of people every year in exchange for tax credits that could total $1.5 billion over the next 15 years. The number of jobs Foxconn must keep grows every year and so does the tax credit. By 2027, the company must have at least 10,400 workers, making an average salary of $53,875, to get that year’s tax credit.

The state also promised another $1.35 billion, starting next year until 2025, if Foxconn makes a $9 billion capital investment on the site. That payout also requires job thresholds be met.

The state has also implemented “clawback” provisions that require Foxconn to pay back money if the company fails to meet the thresholds. That clause, however, doesn’t kick in until 2023 — which means Foxconn isn’t at risk of defaulting in the first five years of the deal despite collecting tax credits.

HEALTH CARE

EVERS: “Presently, (Walker) is in federal court to do away with the ACA and also to do away with pre-existing condition protections.”

It is true that Walker authorized Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel to join with 19 other states in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which provides federal protections for some people with pre-existing conditions.

If the lawsuit is successful it would leave those with pre-existing conditions in limbo until new laws are passed.

Walker has said if the law was nixed, he would call a special session of the Legislature to pass a bill “in a heartbeat” that would protect pre-existing condition coverage but it’s unclear if the votes would be there .

An estimated 850,000 people in Wisconsin under the age of 65 have a pre-existing condition, according to a study by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Only a portion of those people would be affected if the health care law were ruled unconstitutional.

GAS TAX

WALKER: “There is a clear difference between the two of us on this: Tony has said everything is on the table. Now, he’s saying that’s a lie. That’s ridiculous.”

THE FACTS: Walker is talking about whether Evers would increase the state’s gasoline tax if he becomes governor. Evers has said he would consider the idea of raising the state’s 32.9 cent tax on every gallon of gas.

Walker is right that Evers has avoided presenting a precise plan to fund road projects in the state — and what that might cost taxpayers in higher gas taxes. Instead, Evers has repeatedly said he wants “everything on the table” to fund road repairs and fix potholes.

Asked specifically by one moderator during Friday’s debate about a gas tax increase, Evers again avoided being specific. “My goal as governor is to do this … Bring people together, get a solution on the table and implement that solution.”

But Walker has also been untruthful on multiple occasions, suggesting Evers would raise the gas tax by as much as a dollar, something Evers has never said. Walker first raised that claim during a radio show on Aug. 15, the day after the primary.

IMMIGRATION

EVERS: “Gov. Walker talked about not providing in-state tuition (for people in the country illegally). I believe at one point in time, Gov. Walker participated in a budget that did do that and voted for that budget.”

THE FACTS: Evers is right that Walker did vote for a budget bill that would have allowed immigrants in the country illegally to pay in-state university tuition.

While in the state Assembly, Walker voted for a 2001 budget bill that offered in-state tuition for students who had lived in the state for three years and graduated from a Wisconsin high school but could not prove their U.S. citizenship. Walker also supported an effort to remove that item from the bill, although it was later added back in. Then-Republican Gov. Scott McCallum eventually vetoed the in-state tuition provision.

As governor in 2011, Walker revoked the state benefit that granted in-state tuition to immigrants living in the country illegally, a law approved in 2009 by Democrats, who controlled both the Legislature and governor’s office at the time.

STATE PRISON POPULATION

EVERS: “Violent criminals always stay behind bars. Red states across the country have always figured that out.”

THE FACTS: Evers was responding to a question about his support for a plan to reduce the state’s prison population by 50 percent.

If Evers wants to halve the prison population, experts say it would be impossible without releasing some violent criminals and reconsidering the way they’re sentenced.

Offenders who committed violent crimes accounted for 67 percent of the state’s total prison population last year.

“It’s mathematically impossible to cut it in half without releasing people who were convicted of violent crimes,” John Pfaff, a criminal law professor at Fordham University, who reviewed Wisconsin’s prison admissions and population earlier this year when The Associated Press fact checked this claim.

The biggest decline experts say they’ve seen is in New Jersey, a Democratic-leaning state that has decreased its population by 37 percent from 1999 to 2016 because of a series of sentencing reforms, including for those who commit drug and robbery crimes, according to the Sentencing Project.

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AP writer Scott Bauer in Madison contributed to this report.

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A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

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