Candidates dispute dollars

Finances are the topic of late in the upcoming Milwaukee Mayoral election. Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt accused opponent Tom Barrett of being a fiscal liberal, pointing to what he called fiscally irresponsible voting habits during Barrett's 10 years in congress.

"In general Tom Barrett is a tax and spend liberal," said Bridgette Ridgeway, Pratt's mayoral campaign press secretary.

"What he says at debates and forums and to the media is inconsistent with his voting record," Ridgeway said. She said examples and research confirming the validity of the examples would be provided at a press conference the campaign is planning for Thursday.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Pratt referenced political watchdog groups who gave Barrett poor ratings on fiscal responsibility while in the House of Representatives.

Joel Brennan, Barrett's campaign manager, said there are enough ratings groups in existence with varying opinions on elected officials that a person could portray any member of congress in any way they want to.

Many political watchdog groups have rated Barrett's record. The National Taxpayers Union, an independent group that rates elected official's fiscal habits, gave Barrett poor ratings each year from 1997 to 2001, according to the group's Web site.

His highest rating – 43 percent – came in 1997, with his lowest rating at 13 percent in 2001.

"We look at every vote that is considered in each chamber," said Jeff Dircksen, policy analyst for the NTU, when explaining how ratings are calculated. Each vote is then rated on its importance "based on spending or (the vote's) impact on tax payers," he said.

Dircksen said the total votes and their relative importance are computed to arrive at the percentage. He said no one receives a rating of 100 percent, or a rating of zero percent. The rating percentages are also assigned a grade.

"A 'C' grade tends to indicate a person is more or less supportive of the taxpayers about half the time," Dircksen said. During the years examined, Barrett received one C-, two Ds and two Fs, according to NTU's Web site.

However, Barrett scored consistently well based on numbers computed by the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, according to Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for TCS.

"Mr. Barrett has done very well," Ashdown said. As opposed to falling along party lines, Ashdown said he has noticed fiscal responsibility trends following regional lines. He said Wisconsin legislators have a tendency to perform well based on TCS's calculations.

During the period between 2001 and 1997, Barrett received a high of 88 percent in 1998 and a low of 54 percent in 2000.

Ashdown said TCS's numbers are based on major votes affecting federal spending. The votes are not weighted in any way, as are the votes under NTU's system.

Brennan said Barrett has a history of "budget cutting and fiscal responsibility." Ridgeway disagreed.

Meanwhile, Barrett has called for clarifications in Pratt's campaign finance reports over the past few years. Barrett's campaign set up a Web site counting the amount of time since Pratt "promised answers" to questions raised by Steven Kraeger. Kraeger filed a complaint in February with the Election Commission questioning Pratt's campaign finance reports dating back to 1999.

Pratt hired an independent auditor to review his reports. The auditor cleared up questions concerning the two most recent campaign finance reports last week at a press conference. However, the issues raised in Kraeger's complaint have still not been addressed.

"I'm still working on getting through all the stuff," said Michael Spang, the auditor hired by Pratt. "All of these finance things are very tedious and time consuming."

Spang said it was difficult to determine when his investigation would be finished and but would "hopefully" be completed before the April 6 election.