Friday, August 29, 2014

As the bell rings, why are there all these kids in the classroom?

Tuesday starts a new school year in Wisconsin, and the fallout from Act 10 and related Walker/WisGOP policies still reverberates today. The always-good State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout has an excellent column discussing the numerous funding and staffing issues that schools throughout her Western Wisconsin district are facing this year.
Many public schools are forced to do more with less because lawmakers who voted for the last state budget increased state tax dollars to private schools. Nearly half of Wisconsin’s public schools will receive less aid this school year than the last – including many of our local schools.

Eau Claire received the largest dollar amount cut statewide – over $2.3 million while Pepin and Alma received the largest local percentage cuts - over 15%. At the same time, state aid per pupil going to private ‘voucher’ schools reached its highest point in state history.

In his letter, [Pepin Area School] Superintendent [Bruce] Quinton noted the difference between amounts of state aid for Pepin to that of private schools: for the 2014-15 school year Pepin receives $1,667 per student; public tax dollars to private ‘voucher’ schools are $7,856 per high school student and $7,210 per K-8 student.

“Pepin Area School District taxpayers will pay an additional $70,119 in taxes to educate children in other districts this school year,” Mr. Quinton wrote. “I cannot comprehend why taxpayers are willing to subsidize a private voucher school education system, especially when research indicates that private voucher schools perform at best as well as the public school system and in many cases below their public school peers.”
Vinehout also mentions that several districts in Western Wisconsin are facing school referenda that force citizens to choose between large property tax increases and the closing of schools and reduction in other education services.

The culprit in this is Scott Walker's education policies, which began by cutting state aids to public schools in 2011 and 2012, and continued by expanding the state's voucher program statewide. And the "tools" of Act 10 have not come close to offsetting these cuts, particularly in the smaller districts in rural Wisconsin.

Take a look at this map that shows the changes in state funding for 2014-15. Nearly half the districts in Wisconsin will have reductions in state aid for this year- more than 3 years after Act 10 took place.

Notice all the districts in red that are up North? Those districts are each looking at state aid cuts of more than 10% for this year, and will need to raise property taxes to make up for that difference. The beige-colored districts are also disproportionately away from the big cities, meaning that rural districts are facing the lion's share of funding difficulties for the upcoming year. Sure makes you wonder if that reality will sink into those areas before the November election, and if they'll realize that there's no payoff to denigrating teachers and destroying one of the few reasons to stay in these communities- strong public schools that develop strong communities.

And this is coming on the heels of public school services already being stressed. The Wisconsin Budget Project notes average class size increased 8% from 2004-05 to 2011-12, from 14.3 to 15.5, and Wisconsin teaching positions were reduced by 4,300 FTE in the sme time period. In the two years since, the DPI indicates that 500 FTE teachers have been hired back (meaning we're "only" down 3,800), but class sizes have stayed high, and the replacement of teachers has often been at the cost of numerous years of experience.

Some districts continue to bleed teachers as the teachers' current agreements run out, and they lose their voice over pay and work conditions. This was recently shown in the case of West Allis-West Milwaukee English teacher Eric Zentner, who was one of 139 teachers in the district to leave this Summer. Zentner quit after 18 years, and wrote a four page letter that described an administration that he felt was too busy trying to micromanage teachers after Act 10 took effect, instead of leaving it up to the judgment of the pros in the classroom.
He said new behavior policies that emphasize keeping kids in the classroom rather than sending them outside class when they disrupt the learning environment is difficult for teachers.

Teachers are also undermined by interesting content children can access on their iPads, and he said, they're limited in their ability to take away the devices.

Teachers are also urged to give students as many tries as necessary to complete assignments, and pass students even if they're not ready, he said.

Zentner said there appear to be more administrators in the building at a time when teachers are asked to attend more meetings, limiting their time for meaningful interactions with students.
As we start the 2014-15 school year, I'd ask you to treat your teacher with respect. They're underappreciated while being worked as hard as ever, likely taking home less pay than they did 4 years ago, and their districts are being squeezed by budget cuts from an ALEC-beholden Republican Party, who would love nothing more than to screw up public schools so they could justify funneling even more taxpayer dollars to corporate and religious private school operators. And despite the claims of Gov Walker and company, these policies will likely jack up your property taxes over the next two years.

So tell me, is it working?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jon Stewart, Kos Poster nail it on the white-wing bubble

This is one of the better Jon Stewart segments I've seen. It centers on the uprising over the last 3 weeks in Ferguson, Missouri, and the issues that have been brought to the surface as a result. Jon perfectly lays out both the double-standards on race and complete cluelessness about white privilege that apparently is part and parcel of being on Faux News.

(after white guys on Faux complain that black people don't deal with black-on-black violence and "take care of their own communities)
"Oh, that's right, because African-American leaders did hold a summit about that in November. And have met at least three times in the city just in the last 13 months. Which is not to say it's been effective, but taken along with the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative, which attempts to address this violence, and the countless vigils and marches within these violence-torn communities means they are trying, actually, to do something. You see, you being ignorant of those attempts doesn't mean the issue itself is being ignored. The same way that when it snows where you live doesn't mean the world isn't getting hotter."
And the ending thought is an amazing statement.
"I guarantee you that every person of color in this country has faced an indignity from the ridiculous, to the grotesque, to the sometimes fatal, at some point in their — I'm gonna say — last couple of hours. Because of their skin color.

Quick story. So we live in New York City, a liberal bastion. (Let me finish.) Recently, we sent a correspondent and a producer to a building in this liberal bastion, where we were going to tape an interview. The producer — white — dressed in what can only be described as homeless elf attire, and a pretty strong 5-o'clock-from-the-previous-week shadow, strode confidently into the building preceding our humble correspondent — a gentleman of color — dressed resplendently in a tailored suit. Who do you think was stopped? Let me give you a hint: the black guy.

And that shit happens all the time. All the time. Race is there, and it is a constant. You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.

And calling the divide in opinion over the events and fallout of things in Ferguson a black-white thing is being simplistic. An excellent Daily Kos column by a poster named "Vyan" lays out what the real separation is on the issues in Ferguson.
When 80% of Black people all tend to feel the same way, that's called being in agreement. When 37% of White people also feel that same way, that's an extension of that agreement. The Divide here is with the other 47% of White people who feel the other way about it.

And yes, most of those on one side tend to be Democrats while the others are Conservative Republicans. This isn't White vs Black. It's not even Left vs Right. It's provable Facts vs Deluded Bullshit.
PRECISELY. Seriously, read that whole thing- it's filled with some amazing stats on disparities and other facts of life for black people that white righties refuse to understand.

And it's part of the biggest problem in this country, where far too many people are literally in different existences, without a care of what happens with others. If you spend all your time listening to angry man radio and watching Faux News and don't talk to or know any people of color, you have no idea about how minorities are often picked up and put under suspicion for no reason other than their appearance, and have never had a similar experience yourself. Which allows you to be suckered into accepting the cops' side of the story, no matter how implausible, and resent those minorities and liberals who say these disparities are the result of racism.

When these white right-wingers start shooting off their mouths about race in America, they need to heed the great words of former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora: "You think you know, but you don't know. And you never will."

We really need to puncture the angry white-guy bubble, and make them realize the world is bigger and more complex than what they have been told to believe. Because this state and this country cannot continue with such a divide in the Reality-Based community, and the Faux-AM Radio Bubble.

Verified- a massive budget deficit in Wisconsin. Who'da thought?

Well, those Wisconsin revenue numbers we’d been waiting on finally dropped today. And as predicted, we’re now looking at a real and growing budget deficit in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin tax collections are more than $281 million short of estimates, nearly 2 percent less than anticipated.

The state Department of Revenue on Thursday released the figures for the fiscal year that ended in June. Those figures show the state collected $281.2 million less than was anticipated by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in January.
Huh, who could have predicted something like that?

You can check out the details on this shortfall for yourself by clicking this link. How did we get here? The big culprit is the Koo-Koo tax cuts of 2013 and further cuts passed at the start of this year, which not only reduced tax rates, but also changed the withholding tables, meaning that less money came to the DOR from people’s paychecks. The cynical idea is that this would make voters more likely to back the Republicans this November with a few more dollars in their pockets (key word- few), and much of these withholding table changes will be counteracted by what you don’t get in tax refunds over the next 2 years (basically, your refund will be less, so the state “keeps” more. Conveniently, this doesn’t happen until after the November elections).

What does this do for our budget situation? Well, the State Journal rundown has one side of the story.
However, the budget was expected to have a roughly $724 million cushion by July 1, making emergency action now unlikely.

Gov. Scott Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick says the state will finish the two-year budget cycle with a positive balance. She says, "As we have done in the last several years, we will continue to manage the Wisconsin taxpayers' money well and keep the state's fiscal house in order.”
BUUUUUT, there’s another side of that ledger. I will assume all other expenses and revenues remain the same, and the rate of revenue growth in 2014-15 to stay the same - even with the reality of a shortfall in Medicaid due to Walker’s TeaBagging of Obamacare, and the $25 million that the Potawatomi refused to pay the state in response to Walker’s shakedown of the tribes regarding the Kenosha casino. These are based on the LFB’s May projections, after the Koo-Koo tax cuts were passed into law.

Wisconsin Gen Fund budget after revenue shortfall

Opening balance +$759 million
Taxes and other revenues +$14,529 million
Net Appropriations -$14,865 million

Opening balance +$443 million
Taxes (3.49% growth) and other revenues +$14,994 million
Net Appropriations -$15,843 million
Required reserves -$65 million

Sorry, Laurel Patrick, but we are far from on pace to finishing this budget with “our fiscal house in order.” I understand honesty isn’t a Walker Admin official’s top priority, but couldn’t you at least run the math before you try to BS people?

And the revenue shortfall means things get significantly worse in the next budget. I’ll continue to use the LFB projections from May, including their assumptions of no changes of revenue or spending through growth, just current law.

Taxes and other revenues +$15,116 million
Net Appropriations -$15,732 million

Taxes and other revenues +15,038 million
Net Appropriations -$15,744 million

This means a budget deficit of $1.322 BILLION lying in wait for the next 2-year cycle. And if we see any more slippage in this year (very possible with low job growth and higher expenses being revealed by the day), this number grows higher.

So we’ve now seen a repeat of the Tommy Thompson and George Bush idiocy of 2001, where a one-time surplus has been blown by short-sighted tax cuts, and now we have a widening budget deficit as a result. It also blows apart a major theme Gov Walker has tried to repeat during this campaign- that his austerity budget moves and tax cutting has left the state better off fiscally. It has not, and in fact, our hands are tied much more than they were when Walker took office in 2011.

That reality has yet to sink in to many Wisconsin voters, as shown in yesterday’s Marquette Law School Poll. Check out the responses of Registered Voters to this question.

Would you say the state's budget is in better shape now than it was a few years ago, about the same or in worse shape now?
Better shape 44.9%
About the same 26.4%
Worse shape 22.5%
Don’t Know/Refused 6.1%

Interestingly, 48% of that same poll’s respondents correctly noted that Wisconsin is growing jobs slower than the rest of the nation, a higher number than in previous Marquette polls. Somehow I’m thinking if the Dems and Mary Burke gave them this budget information in an ad blitz similar to their recent “last in the Midwest for jobs” meme, that 45% who wrongly think our budget is in better shape would be reduced significantly. And that would be especially true of the low-info or “mis-info” types that would be the most likely to desert Walker over the next 10 weeks if they could find out that it really isn’t working.

So there are your numbers. Pass em on and TELL THE TRUTH.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Did Walker just admit to a massive budget deficit?

Another day, another Walker screw-up, and it’s not for the reason you might think.

A top story in today’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel discussed a letter Gov Walker and Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch released relating to the proposed casino in Kenosha. In typical “Unintimidated” fashion, Walker and Huebsch released the letter 1 day before Racine and Kenosha-area Dem legislators were going to hold a press conference calling Walker out for not approving the Menominee Nation’s casino (funny how those things work with this crew).

In between a bunch of “blame Jim Doyle” whining (as if the terms of gaming compacts had been somehow changed in the year that Walker’s administration has been reviewing the casino proposal), there was this startling revelation.
The Potawatomi has failed to make its annual revenue sharing payment that was due June 30, 2014. This had already had a significant revenue impact on the State of Wisconsin.

It is still unclear how the compacts negotiated by Governor Doyle with the Potawatomi will play out. It appears the complicated provisions may have been designed to block a Kenosha casino. It is possible the impact of the Doyle compact provisions will not be fully known until early January. We do know the proposed Kenosha casino project is very likely to impact out State budget. This proposed project has already caused significant short-term revenue losses due to Potawatomi’s failure to make its revenue sharing payment. As we continue to evaluate the long-term effects on our State budget and Wisconsin’s economy as a whole, one thing is clear – taking action on the proposed Kenosha casino project prior to following the processes laid out in the Doyle compacts could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Part of the reason the state and the Potawatomi are at loggerheads is because a Kenosha-based casino would likely cut into the business of Potawatomi’s casino and new hotel near downtown Milwaukee (less than 40 miles away), and they want some reimbursement as a result. As the Potawatomi noted in their own statement
According to the terms of the Forest County Potawatomi Community’s compact, the Tribe may get a reduction in, or refund of, the payments made to the State of Wisconsin should the State approve another casino within 50 miles of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee.The State may end up owing Potawatomi money should the Kenosha casino be approved. Consequently, Potawatomi put its 2014 state compact payment into a segregated / reserve account.
In other words, the tribe feels it’s pointless to send the state a payment (estimated by the Journal-Sentinel to be around $25 million) when the state would likely be paying it back to them anyway if the Kenosha casino is approved.

This is also a good example of the tribe calling Walker’s bluff, as there is little doubt in my mind that Walker held off on making a decision about the Kenosha casino in no small part because it allowed him to raise campaign funds from groups in support and opposition to the facility being built. The Potwatomi is now using their leverage by refusing to pony up to the state for Fiscal Year 2014, and Scotty and company were caught with their pants down.

But there’s a bigger issue here. How would the Potawatomi’s skipping of a year of payments to the state cause any sort of budget crisis? A quick look at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s information on Indian gaming shows that the state’s tribes were set to pay the state just over $53.25 million to the state in fiscal year 2013-14. Of that amount, $27.3 million goes to other state agencies (for tribal-related programs and other assistance), and $26.26 million gets sent to the state’s General Fund. So if you assume the agencies still get their money, the state has a revenue shortfall of $25 million.

But in the big picture, so what? The current budget (post-tax cuts) has a $100 million surplus already built into it, and is supposed to start fiscal year 2014-15 $724 million ahead. This $25 million short-term loss might be an inconvenience, but it’s a miniscule amount of the overall General Fund budget that’s over $30 BILLION. Heck, we’re at least $93 million in the hole for Medicaid right now, and Walker and WisGOP are tossing away $206 million in savings this year by refusing to use the ACA’s provision to expand Medicaid. How does this $25 million all of a sudden put us over the edge and in danger?

The only way this is true is if the budget was already blown up before the missed Potawatomi payment came to light. The problem is that we don’t know how much the budget may be screwed up, because the Department of Revenue has refused to release the end-of-the-year collections for Fiscal Year 2014. 4 Dem Senators needled the DOA Secretary Huebsch this week for the delay, noting that the numbers were already out this time last year, when the revenue numbers looked good for Gov Walker and the Wisconsin GOP. These Senators followed up today with a note to their Senate Dem colleagues, predicting the Walker Administration would dump the revenue numbers on Friday, ahead of the Labor Day holiday, in an attempt to bury the bad news.

The Wisconsin Budget Project was a little more sanguine, noting that a similar delay happened two years ago, but adding that the DOR has left out some data they usually provide.
Although the Senators’ letter was correct that the tax collection figures for FY 2012-13 were released sooner last year, that hasn’t been the case every year. For example, the FY 2011-12 numbers were released on September 5, 2012. For me, the bigger disappointment this year was that DOR didn’t release tax collection numbers specifically for June, as it did the prior year (in this July 12, 2012 press release). Although DOR hasn’t always issued a comparable set of June tax figures, the revenue trends this year have made it frustrating not to have any update since the May tax collection numbers.

That said, I think any questions about the timing of the revenue numbers for the last fiscal year will soon be inconsequential – once those numbers are released. I applaud the Senators for drawing attention to the fact that these are important figures to be watching for, and for asking the DOA Secretary what the state will do if there is indeed a revenue shortfall.
There definitely seems to have been some kind of budgetary shortfall for Fiscal Year 2014, and I’ve noted that the cash balance for the end of that fiscal year was nearly $546 million below what was estimated in March. Now that doesn’t necessarily correspond to what the General Fund totals might be, but if Scott Walker is claming that the Potawatomi’s missed payment of approximately $25 million is throwing the budget into turmoil, then we may be in much worse shape than we knew, and the General Fund budget holes to be closed might be much more than the $1.1 billion I’ve previously estimated.

As usual with the Walker boys, it's not the immediate issue (a missed Potawatomi payment of $25 million), but is instead the underlying issue (budget deficit) that's the real problem.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hey GOPs, when you're lying and hiding, you losing

Two classic examples of the exceeding levels of cynicism that define today's Wisconsin Republican Party. Both of these claims are in reaction to a failing and flailing Walker Administration, and both can be easily blown up based on what we already know.

The first is a tired rehash of a Walker campaign talking point. The press release is titled Backward Burke: Wisconsin Ranked 42nd in the Nation for Job Growth When Mary Burke Was Commerce Secretary." This is an argument dating back to numbers from the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages from 2005-2007, and I showed how cynical and BS this claim was when they first tried it out 2 months ago.
..... the Bush years were brutal for the Midwest economy, in no small part due to massive offshoring of jobs in the previously-industrial Midwest, as well as lower population growth than the rest of the nation. In every one of the years between 2003 and 2007, more than half of the 7 Midwestern states had job rankings below 30th, so it's not that surprising that Wisconsin struggled in that same period.

Walker has been lucky enough to have his 3 years of office coincide with the jobs recovery under President Obama, and the new growth in the Midwest that has happened in the wake of the auto bailout and other measures that have helped reverse the decline under Dubya.
What Walker and campaign bubblehead spokesperson Alleigh Marre conveniently leave out is that Wisconsin was solidly middle-of-the-pack in the 3 years Mary Burke was at Commerce, ranging between 3rd and 5th in the Midwest. By comparison, Wisconsin has never been better than 6th place for job growth in any year since Walker took office, and was dead last for job growth in Walker's first two years, as well as 2011-2013 combined. These guys are truly out of ideas if they're trying tho slip that weak sauce by the media again.

Speaking of weak sauce, Ashley Furniture is now comically backtracking on the revelations over the weekend that they were slated to receive $6 million in WEDC corporate welfare, and still allowed to lay off over 1,900 of their employees in western Wisconsin. Instead, they're claiming, the Wisconsin State Journal misread the memo, and that they really didn't mean it when they said they might have to going lay people off.
Company lawyer Bill Koslo said in a statement that the job guarantee number "just sets the base line of the risk Ashley was willing to accept as a good Samaritan to the City of Arcadia."

"It is Ashley's intent to add jobs at all of its locations," Koslo's statement said.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's business lobby, shared the statement Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal. The newspaper reported Sunday that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board in January approved the tax credits in a 9-2 vote. The award had not been made public because WEDC and the company have not reached a final agreement....

The State Journal contacted the company multiple times last week, and on Friday afternoon it confirmed the conditions of the credits. But that statement made no reference to the company adding jobs. Rather, it warned that "Wisconsin will lose a significant number of jobs" if the tax credits — to be used to reroute a creek, allowing for the company's expansion — are not granted.
The Ashley officials are claiming now that the 50% job loss figure was merely a worst-case scenario that would allow them to stay open in case something happened involving the wetland that the company's factory resides on, and the corporate welfare would help to reroute a creek in order to reduce the potential damage). They weren't really planning on laying off all those employees, NOOOOOOO. They just need some help to reduce the chances of a certain disaster happening (instead of, you know, paying for it themselves or going through the civil servants at the DNR). And the $20,000 kicked back donated to Walker by Ashley's top executives 2 weeks later was totally unrelated to this as well. Tell me another fairy tale.

And it's hilarious that Ashley won't directly talk to reporter Matt DuFour, but instead handed out a statement through the right-wing oligarchs at WMC, who apparently are better at bullshitting about backroom boodle with their boys in the Wisconsin GOP. You can tell DuFour and company aren't buying what Ashley's trying to sell- mostly because they weren't born last night.

As a former high school teacher, I've also developed a pretty good idea when less-than-savory people are caught, but still think they can sneak stuff over on folks. And given that the average WisGOP seems to have the maturity and intellect of a snotty teenager these days, it was a good insight into how these guys roll. If the Wisconsin GOP can't tell the truth about jobs numbers or future business plans, you can bet it's nothing they think will help them at the polls in November. I guess we'll find out in tomorrow's Marquette Law School poll if the damage is already sinking in from these deceptions and swindles, or if that fallout happens later. Because the problem with constantly lying and deceiving is that at some point, you don't remember what you claimed or tried to pull over on someone, enough people call "BULLSHIT", and the whole thing unravels.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Walker tries to pick more jobs cherries

Apparently Governor Walker is going to try blow smoke up the Wisconsin voters' backsides and tell them things aren't so bad ahead of the November elections. How else can you explain his latest ad propping up that the state is “3rd in the Midwest” for jobs added since July 2013? It's lame enough that the governor is trying to prop up mediocrity to counteract the Burke campaign's hammering on the jobs issue, ("We're middle of the pack!" doesn't really say "Give me another term."), but it also is yet another example of the Governor cherry-picking stats to hide the failures of his tenure in office.

Now on the surface, the numbers Walker is propping are correct. Even though we lag the national rate of growth, last week's state-by-state jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Wisconsin above all but 2 Midwestern states for private sector job growth.

Private sector job growth, July 2013-July 2014
Ind. +2.65%
U.S. +2.16%
Mich +1.66%
Wis. +1.50%
Minn +1.30%
Iowa +1.19%
Ohio +0.66%
Ill. +0.60%

And even though we already know those jobs figures are inflated by more than 11,000 based on the final QCEW figures for 2013, and we'd drop to 5th place if we deflated those numbers accordingly, let's allow Scotty his moment at this time.

What Walker's leaving out is the 2 ½ years before July 2013, which were awful. Even if you use the inflated monthly numbers, Wisconsin is 6th out of 7 in the Midwest for private sector jobs gained since Walker took office in January 2011 (both in percentage and in total increased jobs). And the updated Walker jobs gap shows we’re more than 67,000 behind what we’d have if we just kept up with the rest of the nation.

It must also be mentioned that job growth for the 7 months of 2014 has Wisconsin on pace to have its worst job growth of any of Walker’s 4 years. The monthly surveys show that we’ve gained a total of 11,000 private sector jobs and 10,900 overall in 2014. This is barely more than 1,500 a month, and a pace of less than 19,000 for the year. That would be a significant drop from the growth that the QCEW reported for 2011, 2012, and 2013,

QCEW private sector job growth, Wisconsin
2011 +29,800
2012 +33,872
2013 +28,141
2014 pace through July- +18,857
Projected total +110,670

This means we wouldn't even go halfway to Walker’s “floor” of 250,000 jobs. It’s only because so many Midwestern states were set back by the polar vortex winter that 2014's subpar number can look OK compared to other places.

Even before this lame “comeback” ad came out, Jud Lounsbury at Uppity Wisconsin noted that Walker’s Department of Workforce Development refused to release the preliminary numbers for the QCEW for Q1 2014.
To try to mitigate the early-release of QCEW as being labeled as purely political, the WDWD developed an official policy that they would begin releasing QCEW data on their own, approximately one month before the BLS. So, for example, the first quarter of 2012 and 2013 were both released on the third Thursday in August.

Given this past release date pattern, I was eagerly awaiting the first quarter of 2014 to be released last Thursday-- the third Thursday in August. When no data was released, I wrote to WDWD communications director John Dipko to ask when the the QCEW for the first quarter would be released. He responded that Wisconsin's first quarter QCEW would be released by the BLS on September 18, 2014.
So they're hiding the numbers, and I have little doubt it’s because those numbers would show another bad stretch of mediocre jobs figures. They would likely be similar to the 28,000 number that we saw at the end of 2013, which placed Wisconsin 37th in the nation for job growth, and with job growth starting to pick up nationwide in early 2014, it may be similarly poor. It almost makes me wonder if Mr. Lounsbury or someone else should send an open records request to the DWD to see if there was a Club for Growth-style bit of “message coordination” going on there.

But that’s OK, those numbers will be out nationwide in just over 3 weeks, and we’ll have plenty of time to jump all over these guys when that happens. In the meantime, it's important to call out the cynicism that the Walker Administration is trying with this "comeback" meme, because the only thing this state would be coming back from is the mess Walker's own divisive policies put us in. I prefer governors who don't screw up in the first place. Crazy, I know.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ashley Furniture and WEDC- two connections of WisGOP crookedness

Today's headline in the Wisconsin State Journal, and following story by Matt DuFour is bad enough on its face. "WEDC board OK'd Ashley Furniture getting $6 million tax credit, cutting 1,900 jobs." Yes, that's right. We're giving taxpayer dollars to a company that will lay off massive amounts of Wisconsinites.
As approved by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board, the award would allow the Arcadia-based global furniture maker to move ahead with a $35 million expansion of its headquarters and keep 1,924 jobs in the state.

But it wouldn’t require Ashley to create any new jobs, instead granting the company license to lay off half of its current 3,848 Wisconsin-based workers in exchange for an enterprise zone tax credit, one of the most valuable and coveted state subsidies.

The board’s decision has not been made public because a contract with the company has not been finalized. But in a statement Friday, in response to questions from the State Journal, Ashley Furniture confirmed it is seeking state subsidies that include terms allowing for job reductions.
The tax "incentives" ask Ashley to only lay off 30% of its employees this year, and no more than 50% by 2016. Cool deal, huh? DuFour's story mentions that the only 2 members of the WEDC Board to vote against this giveaway were the two Dem legislators- Sen. Julie Lassa and Rep. Peter Barca.

In the story, Ashley Furniture indicates that the layoffs incentives are needed in order to stay in the Trempealeau County Village in Arcadia because of the high transportation costs involved in being away from major markets. At least, it seems to be the transportation costs, because it sure isn't because of high wages.
According to the WEDC memo, 56 percent of Ashley employees make less than $10.88 per hour, which is the wage standard WEDC uses when determining if a company is meeting job creation goals. [WEDC Board member Paul] Radspinner said the board was not happy with the wages. But he said the company deserves credit for its health insurance benefits, which the memo said cover 76 percent of an employees’ premiums.
And now here's the REALLY BAD PART. And no, it's not only because it adds to last month's revelations about WEDC giving tax breaks to other Wisconsin companies that outsourced and laid off workers.

Last March, Gov Walker appeared at Ashley Furniture in a thinly-disguised campaign event, and the company sure wasn't talking about layoffs then.
With 22,000 employees at plants and stores worldwide, Ashley could have expanded elsewhere, said founder and board chairman Ron Wanek. If not for Walker, he said, “we probably wouldn’t have done it here.”

“We like the direction that Wisconsin is going,” he said.

CEO Todd Wanek said the $13 million expansion allowed the company to boost the plant’s payroll from about 400 to 518 workers since its completion.
Back at the time of the March event, I noted that Wanek had given large donations to Walker in recent years, and that Walker had pulled the same "photo op at a contributor" routine right before the 2012 recall election. Given that his company had just been offered massive tax write-offs in exchange for his threats to shut down (and past contributions?), I imagine Todd Wanek would like this arrangement.

I usually don't like to toot my own horn, but I saw this coming back in March, well before we knew about the WEDC write-offs given to outsourcers and how these tax breaks disproportionately go to Walker donators. That's not necessarily because I'm that smart, but more because our media is just that gutless.
....when we see Walker showing up at Ashley Furniture for his 2014 campaign like he did his 2012 campaign, you gotta ask- what's the payback that's expected this time? Both from the Wanek family and other Ashley execs when it comes to contributing to Walker's campaign, as well as what kind of legislation is Walker thinking of cooking up if he slips by both John Doe Deux and Mary Burke and gets re-elected. You know it can't be anything that helps us 99%-ers.

And it's also yet another indictment of the Wisconsin media. Yes, Chris Hubbuch of the La Crosse Tribune deserves some credit for giving context of Ashley Furniture's favoritism, and in relaying Ron Wanek's TeaBagging speech (even more disgraceful is that Wanek did this in front of a captive audience of employees). However, it wasn't nearly good enough, and if we had a real media in this state, they'd ask "Gov. Walker, given that you've already had sketchy dealings with Ashley Furniture, why did you decide to show up at this event? Was something promised?"
Now we know that there was a promise of millions in tax breaks already offered by the WEDC Board (and Chairman Scott Walker) 6 weeks before this event. It also shows exactly why the Walker Administration announced last month that they would hide this type of information from the public, to keep us in the dark on any future giveaways until our money is already in the crony/campaign contributor business owner's pockets.

There's a whole lot more where this story came from, Mr. DuFour. You and the State Journal should go after it. We know the Journal-Sentinel won't do it, since they take ad money from the corrupt oligarch handout known as WEDC, so you won't have much competition.

And oh yeah, don't buy any furniture from Ashley, because we now see where that money is going- right into Scott Walker's campaign fund.