Gubernatorial candidates’ responses to MMAC survey are revealing

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) this week released the results of a survey it conducted with the two candidates for governor of Wisconsin: Democrat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Republican Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.

In the survey, both candidates were asked the same questions by the MMAC. The questions were a mix of yes/no or multiple choice questions and questions that required a written answer.

Interestingly, Barrett declined to answer several of the yes/no or multiple choice questions, preferring to respond with lengthy written answers with more nuances.

The questions that Barrett declined to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to reveal a lot about his political philosophy.

Walker, on the other hand, was willing to give simple answers to yes/no or multiple choice questions, and his answers were what you would expect from a conservative Republican.

One of the questions in the survey had four parts, asking the candidates if Wisconsin’s individual income tax, sales tax, property tax and corporate income tax are each “too high,” “too low” or “about right.”
In each instance, Walker checked “too high.”

Barrett did not select any of the multiple choice options. Instead he gave a written answer that said, in part, “I do not believe that this question can be answered without recognizing the budget deficit awaiting the next governor. At a time when the state is confronting a nearly $3 billion structural budget deficit, the most pressing question is not whether property taxes are too high, but where the cuts in spending come from to fund any additional tax cuts.”

The next question on the MMAC survey asked, “which of the following tax changes would you support?”
– Reduce Wisconsin’s top personal income tax rate.
– Enact retroactive transition rules to mitigate the impact of combined reporting on state business.
– Repeal the domestic production activities tax.
– Restore the 60 percent tax exemption for capital gains.
– Repeal the corporate income tax.
– Increase the state sales tax in order to lower other taxes.

Walker checked (indicating his support for) all of those tax changes, except for the increase in the state sales tax. Barrett checked none of them and offered no explanation, other than his response to the previous tax question.

On education issues, Walker and Barrett had a major difference on one question: “Would you support increasing per-pupil funding for (the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program) and charter school students to 80 percent of the per pupil amount received by MPS students?”
Walker checked “yes.”
Barrett declined to check “yes” or “no” and instead gave this written answer: “The next governor will inherit a structural deficit of nearly $3 billion. While I support the (Milwaukee Parental Choice Program) charter schools and other innovative efforts to improve academic outcomes, I simply cannot promise that the state will be able to afford a dramatic increase in funding on these or any other programs in the coming budget. I can promise that education will be my top priority, and as we look for ways to reduce that $3 billion deficit, education programs will be viewed only as a last resort. We need to protect Wisconsin’s well-earned national reputation as a place of academic success and innovation.”

Barrett also declined to give a “yes” or “no” answer to the survey question: “Would you support reconstruction and capacity expansion of the Zoo Interchange?” 
Walker checked “yes.”
Instead of checking “yes” or “no,” Barrett gave another written answer, saying, “I support reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange. As governor, I will reconvene the Transportation Projects Commission to take the politics out of transportation decision-making and have capacity issues decided upon factual analysis that projects traffic counts and projected future volume.”

Walker and Barrett differed on two other infrastructure questions on the survey: Would you support giving local governments the option of creating a dedicated funding source for mass transit services?”
Barrett checked “yes,” and Walker checked “no.”
“Should Wisconsin impose state environmental standards and renewable energy mandates that go beyond federal standards?’
Again, Barrett checked “yes,” and Walker checked “no.”

On health care, Walker checked “yes,” in response to two questions: “Would you support legislation to exempt health savings accounts from state taxation?” and “Will you require any new state collective bargaining agreements you approve to include public employee contributions toward their health care benefits commensurate with the average private sector employee contribution?”
Barrett checked neither “yes” or “no” to both questions and instead gave written answers.

On HSA taxes, Barrett wrote, in part, “I am open to exemption of health savings accounts from state taxation if it would provide more incentives to control health care costs and increase coverage.”

On health insurance benefits for public employees, Barrett wrote, “As mayor, I have successfully bargained with public sector unions to increase both health and pension contributions. In my proposed ‘Madison on a Diet’ plan I have called for the study of private sector and public sector benefits with the pledge that if public sector benefits are out of line with private sector comparables, I will seek to bring parity among them.”

There was one more yes/no question on the survey that Barrett decided to provide a write-in answer for: “Would you support qualifying (Great Lakes) diversion requests to the broadest regional footprint allowed under the (Great Lakes) Compact?
Walker checked, “yes.”

Barrett again did not check “yes” or “no.” Instead, Barrett wrote, “As mayor I supported the Great Lakes Compact and the sale of water to New Berlin. I support qualifying diversion requests that meet the flow of return standards and follow the forthcoming rules that will govern such requests from the Department of Natural Resources.”

Barrett responded to eight of the yes/no questions on the survey with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. He gave written answers to five of the yes/no questions on the survey. He also declined to answer the multiple choice tax questions and gave a written answer instead.

Walker gave “yes” or “no” answers to all of the yes/no questions, and he responded to the multiple choice tax questions.

There are, of course, different ways to interpret the candidates’ responses to the MMAC survey.

Walker supporters could say his answers to the survey show that he has a pro-business agenda and is the best choice to improve the state’s economy and create jobs.

However, Barrett supporters can use the survey to reiterate one of his campaign’s main talking points: that Barrett’s more nuanced answers demonstrate that he will provide “adult supervision” to the state and is the only candidate with detailed plans for the state’s problems.

Don’t forget the big deal that was made about the length of Barrett’s economic plan and the font size used on Walker’s economic plan.

To read the responses to the MMAC survey for yourself, click here for Walker’s responses. For Barrett’s responses, click here.

Which candidate do you think did a better job in responding to the MMAC survey?

Andrew Weiland is managing editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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