Thursday, March 22, 2018

Walker DWD keeps painting a jobs picture that doesn't hold up

After the annual delay due to benchmarking, we’re now caught up on Wisconsin’s jobs reports after today’s release by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. And Scott Walker and most other state Republicans were talking up this part of the report.
Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February 2018 reached a record low of 2.9 percent, down 0.2 percent from January's rate of 3.1 percent, and 1.2 percentage points lower than the national unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. The previous record-low state unemployment rate of 3.0 percent was reached in July 1999. Wisconsin also reached a record high for the number of people employed in the state, with 3,068,200 people employed, while the state's total civilian labor force also reached a record-setting level, with 3,161,000 people considered actively employed or actively pursuing employment and part of the state's labor force. Wisconsin's labor force participation rate also increased from 68.5 percent in January to 68.6 percent in February 2018.
Wow! We’re in a record boom in Wisconsin! What, you're not noticing it and being eternally grateful?

If you answered “No,” there may be good reason why you might not be feeling all of these good stats. Remember that jobs reports have two components- a payroll survey (which tracks the number of jobs are reported by employers in the state), and a household survey (which tracks Wisconsinites that have jobs, and those who are searching for jobs).

So when GOP hacks talk up the “record low unemployment” in the state they’re talking about the household survey, and that’s an important distinction to bring up, as the amount of people “working” in the state has tended to differ from having the jobs actually be located here.

For example, look at the difference in Wisconsinites that are listed as “employed” since the start of 2017, and the amount of jobs added in Wisconsin since the end of 2016.

Jan 2017- Feb 2018 change, Wisconsin
Total jobs +22,400
“Employment” +41,700

Now that may mean a sizable amount of Wisconsinites are finding “gig jobs” and/or working out of state. Or it may mean that the “employment” and labor force stats are being overestimated by Walker’s DWD, like they were to a ridiculous degree in 2017.

Estimates of change Dec 2016- Dec 2017
Original DWD report +86,900
After benchmarking +30,900

Labor force
Original DWD report +55,700
After benchmarking +22,500

In the last 2 months, Walker’s DWD says that the amount of people “employed” in Wisconsin has risen by 10,800 while the labor force has gone up by less than 2,750, dropping the unemployment rate from 3.2% to 2.9%. One of those numbers seems legit, and it isn’t the amount of people employed.

Moving over to payroll jobs, they continued to lag in Wisconsin in February, as 300 private sector jobs were lost in Wisconsin, a month when the US private sector gained 287,000. Combined with a downward revision to January’s private sector jobs total by 900, this shoots the Walker jobs gap even higher, now nearing 140,000.

The one bright spot of the payroll side of the report showed that 2,500 new manufacturing jobs were allegedly added in Wisconsin for February, and January’s totals were revised up by 700. And if you’ve paid attention in the past, your immediate reaction to that stat should be “BULLSHIT!”

As UW-Madison’s Menzie Chinn pointed out, the subsequent release of the “gold standard” Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) has consistently caused the Walker DWD’s “strong gains” to be revised down sharply over the last 3 years.

Magically, manufacturing jobs are up by 10,900 in Wisconsin since that benchmarked figure for September. And since Professor Chinn isn’t Koched up or receiving a Bradley Foundation “grant” to get his job at the UW Department of Economics (unlike Noah Williams, whose “research” Walker tried to talk up yesterday), you see why I’m intensely skeptical those reported gains have actually happened.

After overshooting on these estimates for the last few years, I can’t help but think these DWD errors aren’t accidents, but instead another arm of Scott Walker’s 2018 election campaign. That’s not what our tax dollars should be going toward, and it’s well past time that people with media megaphones start calling that out, along with Walker’s constant taxpayer-funded campaign trips around the state.

But in fairness, if you 24 hours where you had to settle a lawsuit for $19 million due to negligence at a youth prison (that was covered up for two years) and was found to be violating state law for failing to hold elections for vacant legislative seats in a timely fashion, I suppose you’d look anywhere for good news to spin and cling to. So that’s why I expect Walker and the WisGOPs to sell this “2.9% unemployment” claim for as long as they can….until that also becomes untrue.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Walker spending spree might be slowed or an odd reason- GOP dysfunction

After last night's vote-o-rama in the State Senate, let's take a look at where we are budgetarily, and on other bills.

HEADING TO WALKER'S DESK: $6.8 million "talent attraction" program, a bill that slants things heavily for landlords vs tenants, and $24.0 million to adjust the tax code to federal changes.
OUT: The $50 million rural WEDC program, and this potential future expense.

That adds a bit of cushion back, but there's one other category that we have for this session - UP IN THE AIR. One reason is because the State Senate was first to vote on the $100 million "student safety" package (that does nothing about the guns that threaten student safety), and the Assembly hasn't voted on it yet. Ominously, a scheduled vote in the Assembly Education Committee was put off today, which means that maybe even the GOPs know that this thing is being rushed and has a lot of gaps in it.

And oh yeah, there's another sizable bill that leaked out yesterday to add to the pile.

But there's another reason that some of these initiatives are up in the air - because the Senate modified several Assembly-passed bills yesterday, which tosses it back over to the lower house. While you might think it's a formality for the Assembly to shove it ahead tomorrow, the Wisconsin State Journal's Mark Sommerhauser says that's not a sure thing.

So are we going to be seeing more of this tomorrow?

And yes, Walker has been this feckless.

Remember, the Senate is supposed to have started their 9 1/2 month paid vacation today, so if another modified bill comes out of the Assembly, does that mean those bills are dead? Or does Fitzgerald call them back in?

If those bills do die tomorrow, it would be somehow fitting if these pre-election stunts were to avoiding hitting Scott Walker's desk because Vos and Fitz had hurt fee-fees against each other, and insisted on having the bill THEIR WAY. Combined with the fact that most of these bills won't be for anything that helps the overwhleming majority of people in this state long-term, and will tie the hands of future legislatures, it's a big reason why these guys gotta go ASAP.

Racine County residents feeling the Fox-con bulldozer

Whether it makes any sense or not, Foxconn's new facility in Southeast Wisconsin continues to plod ahead. And many of the residents around the planned campus are seeing the Foxconn steamroller come through no matter who lives there and who it hurts.

The people in Racine County sure are finding that out the hard way, and it was reiterated in a meeting with the public at the Mount Pleasant Village Hall yesterday. Since many individuals still want to stay in their houses despite being offered inflated (taxpayer-backed) prices to move out. So now the Village says they're literally going to call say those neighborhoods are blights to get them out of there.

Village officials argued while homes in the area aren't in poor shape, they have the ability to change the land's designation if properties are getting in the way of progress.

"Even though there may not be a single blighted property within the boundaries of the redevelopment area, the area may still meet the definition of a blighted area, which allows the acquisition of non-blighted properties," said Alan Marcuvitz, Mount Pleasant village attorney.

Village officials point to the following clause in which the state defines blighted property: "An area which is predominantly open and which because of obsolete platting, diversity of ownership, deterioration of structures or of site improvements, or otherwise, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community."

The village argues current homes in the area will stop their sound growth.

The village says using eminent domain is a last resort, and homeowners are being offered up to 140 percent of their home's assessed value and other benefits to move.
On another side of Racine County local government, there was concern that nearby residents would not be able to get good wages and work conditions if they worked for Foxconn. With that in mind, Racine County executive Jonathan Delagrave sent a memo to state legislators asking that a certain “labor reform” bill be stopped.
Local municipalities, under the proposed legislation, could not enact ordinances related to wages; employee hours and overtime, including scheduling of employee hours or shifts; employment benefits; or “an employer’s right to solicit information regarding the salary history of prospective employees.”

It could also affect local hiring provisions.

The Assembly bill included an exemption for the Foxconn Technology Group project and related projects “from unintended negative consequences of this bill.”

However, Delagrave wrote in his memo that he is concerned that: The bill does not exempt work on Interstate 94 or Highway KR and wastewater utility work; the Foxconn exemption might not hold up in court; and there could be other construction projects unrelated to Foxconn “where we want local hiring provisions and worker training incentives or requirements to help Racine County residents get hired. The amendment doesn’t protect any of these projects, so our local workforce efforts would be prohibited.”
So what did the ALEC-owned WisGOPs do last night in the Senate? They made the bill even worse for Delagrave!
The state Senate today approved legislation prohibiting municipalities from creating their own local labor laws after stripping out a change the Assembly made last month.

That means the bill would have to be approved by the Assembly, which plans to be in Thursday in extraordinary session, before it could head to the guv’s desk.

The Assembly provision that was stripped from the bill would have made clear the legislation did not apply to Foxconn.
“Small government conservatism” at its finest. Let’s see if the GOPs in the Assembly (of whom over 95% voted for the Fox-con) are cool with this amended bill tomorrow.

So in addition to removing environmental regulations and grabbing millions of gallons from Lake Michigan, now the locals in the Racine/Mt. Pleasant area can’t even demand that Foxconn pay a decent wage, hire locals, or have any standards above Fitzwalkerstan’s rapidly declining ones.

And just because Wisconsinites are heavily subsidizing the Foxconn facility, it doesn't mean that state and local companies will be the ones who do the work. That was seen again yesterday, as Foxconn announced the contractors for the building project.
Foxconn Technology Group (Foxconn) today announced that it has selected M+W Gilbane, CH2M, and The Sigma Group to serve as the lead contractors and designers for its state-of-the-art display manufacturing campus in Racine County. The three companies all have strong ties to Wisconsin and will begin to work within the next 60 days to hire construction workers to support phase one of the project, which will create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin and thousands more jobs through construction and the extensive supply chain supporting this project.

(Side note- I love how the GOP hacks try to keep telling the lie that Foxconn will create 13,000 jobs when the actual contract with the state says Foxconn only needs to add 10,400 jobs to keep all of the tax dollars Wisconsin would hand out, and it has 10 years to get there).

In looking at these companies, the “three companies all have strong ties to Wisconsin” claim is sketchy at best. It appears that only one does, as Sigma Group is a homegrown Milwaukee company, and they will deal with much of the environmental and engineering consulting.

But Gilbane is headquartered in Rhode Island and only has a small branch office in Milwaukee for a Wisconsin presence, and as for CH2M, they’re based out of suburban Denver, and were recently bought by the Jacobs Group, an international organization whose Wisconsin presence consists of two local branches in Appleton and Green Bay.

I suppose the local area will get an economic boost when these companies move workers to the Foxconn site in the near future. But many of the gains from these project will still be sent back to the home offices of these businesses, and unlike a road project, few Wisconsinites will actually be able to utilize what’s being built for Foxconn.

So it look like the only people winning with the Fox-con these days are the foreign corporation itself, a few contractors fortunate enough to land something associated with the Fox-con, and the politicians that may get headlines and campaign kickbacks from this taxpayer-funded business. Is that worth $4.5 billion+ over the next 25 years, and a whole lot of other needs going by the wayside in Wisconsin?

The more this thing develops, it looks like more people in SE Wisconsin will end up losing with the Fox-con, other than the handful of people who might get a job out of it (and with the unemployment rate being low, did they really need us to throw money at Foxconn to find a job?). The losers include the residents that are losing their land and homes, but also include those that are left will have to pay the higher local taxes to subsidize this local development.

And all of us will have to deal with the environmental and fiscal wreckage in the coming years from the Fox-con. And when WisGOP inevitably whines in future years “Who could have seen it coming?”, the answer will be obvious: “Anyone with a clue.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

GOP Senate chooses gimmicks > responsibility, and we'll pay the price next year

The Wisconsin State Senate is trying to wrap up their session for the 2017-19 biennium, and two big-ticket items have found their way through today, albeit in modified form.

Looks like the sales tax holiday will only be limited to lower-cost computers, computer supplies, clothes, and school supplies, and the Wisconsin State Journal says this seems to be part of a compromise between Assembly and Senate GOPs, so they can say they got something through before November’s election.
The sales-tax holiday proposal initially was left off the calendar for Tuesday's Senate session. Some Republican senators also had said they thought the proposal was a gimmick.

Fitzgerald said the agreed-to plan for the sales-tax holiday would cost the state about $12 million, compared to the $52 million pricetag for the measure that passed the Assembly.

Fitzgerald said the deal with the Assembly retains provisions calling for replacing the youth prison with new, smaller facilities for juvenile offenders around the state.

But the final plan to replace the prison would be subject to approval by the Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also reportedly said he would call an extraordinary session on some of these bills to speed up the passage, and the Assembly also plans to do the same later this week. Apparently those 9 ½-month paid vacations can’t wait any longer!

As I mentioned last week, there is a real problem with trying to fit all of these pre-election goodies under a cushion of $382 million, and it also leaves a larger deficit looming for the next budget and next Legislature to clean up. And that’s without mentioning the $100 million Walker now wants to throw at schools for “safety measures” (that conveniently don’t involve removing the guns that cause schools to be less safe), where all of that money is set aside this year, even though it may take a few years to spend it all.

And we found out this afternoon that there's now another bill that'll subtract from this cushion.

You can't tell me Scott Walker and his administration didn't know about this 2015 settlement and the $19 million settlement. But hey, why deal with real problems when you can do pre-election bribes that might sucker a few low-info voters?

Anything that passes today, including the added costs that come from closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills and moving those inmates to smaller regional facilities, increases the already-sizable built-in deficit for the next budget. And that debt grows larger if this week's votes start a program that continues and needs more money in the next budget (like we'll see with the Lincoln Hills closings and other juvy reforms). With that in mind, I haven’t seen a report on everything that hasn't made the cut from the Senate, but Scott Bauer of the AP mentioned one of them.

Another big-ticket item that seems most likely to end up dead include $50 million a year Walker wanted to spend on a new “rural WEDC” program, so perhaps the entire cushion won’t be blown, but only about half of it. But stay tuned, because I have this sinking feeling that this is not the last we've heard about some of these bills, and the inevitable deficit that will blow up as a result of these pre-election gimmicks.

Walker/WisGOP "school safety plan another cynical, pre-election sham

Today, the Wisconsin Assembly's Education Committee held its one and only public hearing on Governor Walker's package of school safety bills. These bills are expected to be voted on by the committee tomorrow and the full Assembly on Thursday. And not surprisingly, there is a lot that clearly needs to be ironed out if our Governor and the State Legislature truly cares about lessening the chances of mass shootings in schools.

For exmaple, maybe we should listen to those who have actually been in the classroom and deal with K-12 education before we jam this through. Tony Evers’ Department of Public Instruction had their thoughts on what to do with school safety, and it greatly differed from the Walker/WisGOP bills. First of all, on the bill that sets aside a $100 million pot of money for schools to "upgrade school safety", DPI objected to Walker's decision to leave Brad Schimel's Department of Justice to be the ones who decide who gets the grants, and that the funding for safety should go beyond a one-time stunt.
The bill provides the Attorney General (AG) unrestricted authority to set grant criteria and conditions. While the proposed bill provide some restrictions on the use of funds, it exempts the Department of Justice (DOJ) from promulgating rules. As such, the AG could give preference to or limit eligibility to districts that arm teachers or allow conceal carry. This is a bad precedent and deeply troubling policy.

Restricting funds to “hardening” schools and armed officers is a narrow approach not supported by education stakeholders and law enforcement. Law enforcement and education leaders have called for a comprehensive approach including student supports, interventions, programming and infrastructure. Many districts have addressed their physical infrastructure and security staffing, but need resources to address student and family needs.

One-time funds will not provide a sustainable solution. In the almost 20 years since the Columbine High School Massacre, active shooter threats have proliferated. Schools have acted locally, while the Governor and legislature eliminated crucial tools by repealing the school safety revenue limit flexibility in 2011 Act 32. Providing one-time funding will not adequately address this challenge or remediate the extent of the infrastructure issues.
DPI also questioned why there needed to be more bureaucracy in the Department of Justice when DPI already has programs that can deal with mental health and training on how to handle potentially violent situations.
Housing a school safety center in DOJ narrowly focuses this effort on physical infrastructure and law enforcement’s response. Education stakeholders and law enforcement leaders have called for a comprehensive response. Elected leaders focusing on arming teachers is divisive and undermines public confidence in this proposal.

Funds should be allocated to the already existing Wisconsin Safe & Healthy (WISH) Schools Training & Technical Assistance. Providing new staff and resources to DOJ to create a parallel center is inefficient and will create a disjointed approach to school safety. The WISH center and DPI already have staff working in this area.
The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association also says that the GOP’s “school safety” bill doesn’t do what is needed to be done to diminish threats. The Police Chiefs agreed with DPI that arming teachers was an awful idea, saying “more harm than good” would likely result, and also said the GOP Legislature’s prior restrictions on spending for local governments and school districts should be lifted if we want to have these safety improvements.
Sufficient funds should be allocated to increase the number of school resource officers who are fully trained law enforcement officers and not merely armed security guards, who do not come close to law enforcement training standards. The ability to use lethal force in a school, should only be given to highly trained law enforcement officers. Law enforcement should not be forced to operate under existing revenue caps when the public is clamoring for more safety for their children. Relief from the revenue caps for public safety expenditures, so those communities that need to hire more law enforcement officers to address local community issues, can do so.

• Sufficient funds should be allocated for school security improvements. Improvements needed include: a single secure access point, securely locked exits throughout the school, security cameras which law enforcement can view in real time, metal detectors, school resource officers, and alarm systems on emergency exits and all classroom doors. Many schools are old and outdated. School districts should be allowed to exceed state-imposed revenue limits for security related expenditures.

• Sufficient funds should be allocated for mental health services for teachers, students, and kids who need help.

While policymakers have spent sufficient time studying the broken mental health service delivery system, there has been no comprehensive and sustainable effort to address the insufficient funding for the crushing demands of those in need of mental health services. Provide funds for training, including trauma informed care for teachers, guidance counselors, and school coaches so they can recognize potentially violent behavior from students. Currently, there is “no one” responsible for follow-up with troubled individuals. Additional educational resources for expelled students should be considered. The current system is underfunded, and operations are independent of one another, which is why critical communication is intermittent, uncoordinated, and sporadic. These additional mental health dollars should also cover a law enforcement officer who suffers from PTSD as a result of his or her involvement in dealing with a school shooting. Mirror language just passed by Florida.
The Police Chiefs also called for more coordination between schools and law enforcement as a way to figure out tactical entrances and evacuations, and asked for schools to have more funding for crisis relief.

Oh, and the Police Chiefs recommended another key modification to the Walker/WisGOP’s “school safety” agenda – HAVE MORE SAFEGUARDS TO KEEP BAD PEOPLE FROM GETTING GUNS. This includes universal background checks, with an additional mental health background check for people under 21, and reinstating the 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases that Walker and WisGOP repealed in 2015.

As State Rep. David Bowen noted during today’s hearing, if time is of the essence with this program, why is the Walker Administration starting up a brand new grant program through the Department of Justice? This requires criteria to be drawn up for the grant, then schools must be given time to put their proposals together, and then DOJ would have o grade and award those proposals. How is that going to work in time for the 2018-19 school year to start in 5 months? And the fact that Brad Schimel’s Department of Justice would draw up that criteria and decide what can/cannot be part of these safety grants is a very large red flag. Schimel was claiming today that he could have the whole thing ready to go in less than 3 months, and I find that impossible to believe, unless the grants truly aren't competitive and that the grantees have basically been selected, which makes the whole bill a sham.

Would you trust this guy to do this right? Schimel, I mean.

I also noticed a parent admonished the Assembly Education Committee at today’s public hearing for developing these bills in secret and trying to pass them into law within 72 hours of the text being made available to the public.
And I think the parent's instincts were spot-on. The rushed nature and flaws in these special session bills tell me that this thing needs to be put back in the oven, developed more wisely, and dealt with next year (hopefully with a Governor and AG that isn’t flop-sweating about their sketchy chances for re-election). If we can’t wait that long, then let's do what Superintendent Evers, the Police Chiefs, and legislative Dems want- give school districts the flexibility to spend money on school safety initiatives, and not have those expenses count against the tight revenue caps.

Which is why I don't think Walker and WisGOP are really that serious about actually lowering the chances of a mass shooting in Wisconsin schools. In fact, Scotty gave the game away yesterday at one of his taxpayer-funded campaign stops.
"Let’s just take it up. Let’s just get it done. I don’t care what the format is," Walker told reporters.
That’s because the intent of this legislation is for NRA-owners politicians like Walker to be seen DOING SOMETHING on school safety. It doesn’t matter to these posers if THESE INITIATIVES DO NOTHING TO MAKE SCHOOL SAFER, as long the pictures and claims can be used in campaign ads to distract rubes until November.

Sickening cynicism and desperation. But that's the way it goes with the 2018 GOP.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Staged photo ops ARE NOT NEWS!

Especially when they're in front of captive audiences. Thanks to former Feingold press secretary Jud Lounsbury for calling out Gov Dropout on this sickening, cynical tactic.

Case in point today

But when thousands of students and school officials came to the Capitol last week to demand answers to gun violence, Gov UNINTIMIDATED was hiding in a far corner of the state where he wouldn't be asked real questions.

We are way overdue to find out how much Wisconsinites are paying for all of these staged campaign events that Walker has pulled in the last year. Let's see if Scotty lives up to his "Government Transparency" award when asked about this subject.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Are we in '73, or '74 these days?

My wife sent this book to me after I brought it up a couple of weeks back. Seems fitting for these times.

I started by reading the end, when Nixon is about to resign,and it describes a meeting between Nixon and White House lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt.
"If they want to put me in jail, let them," Nixon said. "The best writing done by politicians has been done from hail." He mentioned Gandhi.

Brave talk notwithstanding, the President seemed deeply worried. He wanted to sound Buzhardt out on the legal situation. Again he likened himself to Gandhi. If he went to,jail, he would be a sort of political prisoner, he implied. Really, he had been persecuted.

Buzhardt agreed. If any other President had been,investigated so thoroughly, he said, similar or even worse abuses would have been uncovered. If the Republicans had had a majority in Congress, the investigations could have been stopped; the Senate Watergate Committee would never have been established and the House Judiciary Committee would never have begun impeachment hearings. The normal restraint of the press had been relaxed in Nixon's case, because the publishers and editors didn't like him.

Same whiny persecution complex with these crooks, same abuses of power, same desire to cover things up and rig justice, if they have the opportunity to do so.

Republicans in DC haven't changed in 4t years, don't believe otherwise.

The only difference today is that they have a majority in Congress in 2018 to try to slow-walk and suppress the awful truth, and they have a Faux News universe to try to keep enough rubes confused by "alternative facts."

But the GOP is not the majority in America. 54% of those who went to the polls did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. GOPs have lost 3 seats in the Senate in 2016 and other elections since then, and they also have lost seats in the House in that time.

Combine that with an 8-10 point Dem advantage on the Congressional ballot, and I DARE the GOP to keep covering up Trump-Russia for the next 7 1/2 months.

We are in a repeat of 1973-74. The big question is how far along is Robert Mueller vs Leon Jaworski.