Monday, October 20, 2014

Johnny Rotten's right- step up and VOTE

This is great stuff from John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.), emphasizing the importance of voting and getting involved. He's talking about British politics, but it's scarily accurate for our situation today.

"You have to vote. You have to make a change. You’re given lousy options, yes. But better that than nothing at all. Vote. Stand up and be counted. My advice to any member of the working class is to get smart, read as much as you can, and find out who’s using you. I did. What’s wrong with you?"
- John Lydon
100% correct. The oligarchs want us in 99%-land to be 1. misdirected, so we take out our resentments to "others" instead of the people who have been screwing us (what Lydon says about UKIP could easily be translated over to young, working-class men in America that vote Republican). And then the owners of the country hope years of people being let down by the system leads to 2. Cynicism and hopelessness, which shows in non-voting.

I say let's all vote out the scumbags and Koch-suckers instead. There's a whole lot more of us than them, so why not use that power of numbers to make them fear us? There's a reason they want to suppress our votes, because they can't win on their own. Unlike Going to non-voting and/or revolution should only happen when there are no other legal options left. We're close to that point, but we're not there yet, and we can start turning the tide back in 15 days.

Walker tries zombie lie to deflect from exploding deficit

It is remarkable to see our Governor desperately trying to convince people that his policies are somehow working, particularly involving his deficit-ridden budget. Check out this whopper from a press release trying to sell how “Wisconsin’s Economy is on a Comeback Under Governor Scott Walker." Among the list of "accomplishments" (most of which is due to the Obama Recovery, by the way), is this gem.

· Wisconsin is estimated to have a $535 million surplus in the 2015-17 state budget. Governor Walker has also built a rainy day fund that is the largest in state history ($279 million). (LFB, 2013-15 and 2015-17 General Fund, 9/18/14).

This links to the list of “what ifs” that GOP Joint Finance Co-Chairs Alberta Darling and John Nygren tried to throw at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau last month. The problem is that those numbers are based on BS that has little to no connection to reality, something I pointed out at the time.

But for the sake of argument, let’s go over those figures again, in light of last week’s releases of the state’s Annual Fiscal Report and the first three months of revenue figures for the fiscal year that started on July 1.

1. From the AFR, we know the year-end balance was $516.9 million, after the Walker Admin held back $25.75 million in payments to the Transportation Fund to beef up this balance, so plug that number in (this is $35.9 million better than what we had on revenues only).

2. Once you adjust for lower withholdings that are now in effect, the first three months of revenues are basically in line for the 3.5% revenue growth that LFB is projecting for Fiscal Year 2014-15. If that number were to hold up, we would be at $14.436 billion in tax revenues, or $289 million short of what the first assumption in that paper says.

3. If this is the case, then the balance that would have to be made up by “reducing appropriations” to the level of $0 would be $371 million, not $116 million. And this includes that extra $25.75 million that has to go in the Transportation Fund. This is also past the $279 million in the Rainy Day Fund, so Walker and WisGOP need to NAME THE CUTS.

4. 2.9% revenue growth on $14.436 billion in taxes with no change in expenses means the following balances for the 2015-17 budget (starting from $0)

a.2015-16 balance -$196.4 million
b.2016-17 balance +$144.4 million
c.TOTAL -$52.0 million + $65 million = $117 million deficit.

5. But that’s definitely not all, because it is only in Fantasyland that we won’t spend more money on our current programs. Don’t forget that budget requests for 2015-17 have now come in, which total over $1.1 billion in new spending required just to keep doing what we’re currently doing ($760 million for Medicaid alone). So that now makes the deficit in the next budget reach $1.217 billion.

6. And then you have at least $680 million in deficit for the Transportation Fund, and more likely $1 billion that'll have to be taken care of. But we’ll be kind and only add in the $680 million for now.

7. Put it together and the TOTAL DEFICITS IN NEXT BUDGET ARE $1.897 BILLION.

For Scott Walker to even try to pull that “we have a budget surplus” talk when the numbers have already been debunked, and with new information in the last week making that scenario even less likely, it shows a level of cynicism that is sickening. And for Walker to be allowed to pull this zombie lie out in Friday’s debate, in his press releases, and likely in his scripted interviews with AM radio shows how pathetic our state’s political media is when it comes to discussing economic issues.

So if any of your media types are reading this, learn something from these posts, and challenge Walker whenever he tries to BS his way around the huge budget hole he and his WisGOP have put this state into.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wisconsinites moving West, and not always to warmth

Jud Lounsbury at Uppity Wisconsin observed an interesting number in the recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau on net migration. If you click on the report, you will see where people that move from one state to the other goes to, and what the trends are over the last several years. As Lounsbury points out, a sizable amount of Wisconsinites moved across the St. Croix River to Minnesota last year, home of a 4.1% unemployment rate and more progressive politics.
According to the latest U.S. Census state-to-state migration report, 9,352 more people moved out of Wisconsin than moved into Wisconsin and a large share of those leaving-- 1,972 to be exact-- are going to our next door neighbor, Minnesota.

Most people in Wisconsin would hate to suffer the embarassment of becoming a Gopher and this bucks a national trend of people moving from colder to warmer states. In other words, people in Wisconsin are so hard-up that they're willing to move to Minnesota!
In fact, Wisconsin and Minnesota trade people quite a bit, with Wisconsin losing more people to the Land of 10,000 Lakes more than any other state, including our neighbors to the south in Illinois. As these stats will show, Wisconsin loses people to the three less-populated Midwestern states, while gaining from the higher-population states (which makes some sense- there's more people that could potentially move in the bigger states than the smaller ones).

Wisconsin vs. neighboring states
Minnesota- 15,722 IN, 17,649 OUT (-1,927)
Iowa- 4,172 IN, 5,219 OUT (-1,047)
Indiana- 1,515 IN, 2,490 OUT (-975)
Michigan- 5,920 IN, 5,297 OUT (+693)
Ohio- 3,331 IN, 2,390 OUT (+941)
Illinois- 25,364 IN, 15,844 OUT (+9,520)

Of course, the Midwest has been losing in net migration for several years. Some of it due to struggles in the post-industrial economy, but also many of the losses have been to places with warmer climates (think retirees). One state in particular is losing more than others (Illinois), in levels far beyond what you would expect from the most populous state in the Midwest. Also interesting is that Minnesota's relatively high net migration is largely due to movement to the oil boom states of the Dakotas, which is something the other Midwestern states have generally not had.

Net migration for Midwest
Iowa- 77,470 OUT, 75,650 IN (-1,820)
Indiana- 135,472 OUT, 133,508 IN (-1,964)
Wisconsin – 110,198 OUT, 100,846 IN (-9,352)
Minnesota- 119,221 OUT, 104,825 IN (-14,396) (-8,096 to Dakotas)
Ohio- 201,515 OUT, 185,749 IN (-15,766)
Michigan- 166,996 OUT, 144,091 IN (-22,905)
Illinois- 304,644 OUT, 223,605 IN (-81,039)

Lastly, here's a look at other popular destinations for Wisconsinities to move to, or for people to come from when they move to Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, most are warm, with one notable exception.

Top 5 other states for Wisconsin-related migration
Florida- 4,423 IN, 7,321 OUT (-2,898)
Texas- 3,799 IN, 6,646 OUT (-2,647)
Arizona- 3,749 IN, 5,694 OUT (-1,945)
California- 5,149 IN, 4,704 OUT (+445)
Washington- 1,616 IN, 4,190 OUT (-2,574)

Climate may explain the first 4 on that list, but it does not explain why Minnesota and Washington should be gaining thousands of Wisconsinites, which leads back to Lounsbury's theory about higher quality of life and a stronger economy being reasons for certain states to attract talent from Wisconsin. And it's also worth mentioning that both states have higher minimum wages than Wisconsin, and were ahead of us in instituting progressive policies such as strong public transit and marriage equality.

Maybe we should look into bringing that mentality back to Wisconsin, and elect the governor that'll promote those items, instead of playing "divide and conquer" and denigrating the progressive policies and high quality of life that attracts talent. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday reading- Dom Noth on our pathetic political media

I highly recommend this article from Dom Noth for today. It starts out asking why the most extreme voices are given legitimacy and air time over more reasoned statements (if any exist today for the GOP). And he rightfully points the finger at a media in America and especially Wisconsin in how the game is slanted in favor of these ridiculous GOP politicians and their statements. As an example, Noth points out the double-standard that comes up with the non-story regarding Mary Burke's jobs plan, and Scott Walker's actual absurd and dishonest statements.
When [Walker]said Wisconsin “doesn’t have a job problem, we have a work problem,” he demeaned a million hard working low-income workers or job hunters hoping for action from a governor who failed to deliver the 250,000 new jobs he promised. (There is no question those boners helped Burke win their first debate and will draw more desperate attacks by his side, probably reaching back in time to her tenure under Jim Doyle – but that’s the painful politics of today.)

Consider how minor and common was Burke’s error yet what hard play it got from the media – a paid consultant quoted himself verbatim with jobs ideas from other states he suggested for her jobs program, but he didn’t change a word. That got him promptly fired and Burke accused of plagiarism, though candidates borrow ideas from each other all the time – in this case good ones, in Walker’s case clones from ALEC or from policies that have failed here. Yet the reporters gave the Burke issue more space than what Walker said, forcing the voters to dig out the balance the media failed to deliver.

Across the county similar examples of disparate coverage abound. So my complaint is simple. Journalists should be a bulwark against this leap toward instant gratification and obviously false statements. But when Politifacts flails around more than Tilt-o-Whirl, when news interviewers fail to pin the big lie or follow up with the vital question, journalism becomes just another transient pastime in a world filled with escapist opportunities.

Reporters electronic and print should scoff at a political dodge but bury with invective sheer hypocrisy, which is far more damaging to America in the long run. That would satisfy both their “gotcha” eureka for ratings and the public’s need to separate a small sin from a major one.
But what if those reporters are paid off and are under orders not to tell it like it is? The best examples being Dan (I Follow Up on Any GOP Smear) Bice and the increasingly-absurd Wisconsin Politi-crap - both have made extra efforts in the last month to go out of their way to try to make Burke and Walker seem equally deceptive, when any honest assessment would expose Walker as a seamy liar that is far more dishonest than Burke.

For example, Walker last night went on and on about how he backed ShotSpotter- a tool used by Milwaukee Police to locate where gunfire may have come from, with strong results in identifying shooters and reducing the number of "shots fired" incidents. Except anyone with a modicum of memory would recall that Gov Walker actively worked to take money away from Milwaukee Police that was designated for SpotShotter, as this article from Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy in 2013 points out.
But even as the police look to beef up its policing, the state legislature has been cutting back funding to the department, which originally went for police overtime and community policing. State funding was $750,000 in 2006 but began to decline in the years since.

In the most recent budget, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee included $445,500 for community policing in Milwaukee, which [Milwaukee Police Chief Ed] Flynn hoped to use for ShotSpotter. But Walker removed it from his executive budget and legislators declined to restore the money. Walker has suggested that every city will want a special program like Milwaukee’s.

But Flynn responds that Milwaukee is the state’s only city with such a high level of crime or so great a need for funding. He charged that the governor’s response is political, and caused by “the apparent desperate need of the (Walker) administration to exact political payback on Milwaukee. Because the mayor had the temerity to challenge for the governor’s job. What else could it be?”
The public pressure and lobbying from legislators on both sides finally allowed $175,000 of the $445,500 of requested ShotSpotter funding to be restored and Walker signed it after feeing the heat. For him to stand up there last night and take credit for his "investment" was disgusting, and insulting to anyone who had a clue about his attempts to remove that item from the budget.

So what did the four white guys from Milwaukee media (guys who you'd think would have a bit of background on this issue) do at last night's debate when Walker tried to take credit for SpotShotter funding? They nodded and did absolutely nothing, like the good tools they are.

Now more than ever, we gotta watch the watchmen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

As rural schools have it tougher, Walker cares even less

A couple more bits of information out in the last couple of days starkly illustrate how rural Wisconsin schools are being left behind in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and it's interesting to see these events and stories hit ahead of the election.

Earlier this week, the Department of Public Instruction gave their finalized aid amounts for this school year based on enrollment numbers (you can click for your district here). And while there were some minor modifications to what had been projected earlier this Fall, the tale is largely the same- most school districts in Northern and Western Wisconsin are looking at aid cuts for this year, and many above 10%. (I'll gladly take the updated version if someone has it, but it pretty much looks like this)

The pro-Walker Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tried to spin this situation with a headline stating "52 percent of Wisconsin districts will get an aid increase." But many of these increases barely cover inflation, and the silver bullet of one-time Act 10 savings has already been used in almost every district. With many districts looking at lower aid amounts for at least the second or third time in the last four years, Wisconsin Public Radio looked into this issue in greater detail, describing the squeeze many of these smaller districts are feeling.
Schools in small, rural towns across Wisconsin are struggling. Enrollment is declining, poverty is rising, and transportation costs are considerable.

Jerry Fiene, the executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, says that limited school funding has exacerbated the situation.

“Really for the last 20 years since the revenue limits went into effect, rural schools have been faced with significant challenges in being able to maintain the programs and offerings that they're providing for their students,” he said.

The current school funding formula places a lot of emphasis on enrollment and property values, meaning that when rural districts lose students, they also lose money. Fiene said that often the only good choice they have is to appeal directly to local taxpayers.
And that explains why there might be more than 80 referenda questions on the November ballot across the state related to school funding- in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, these schools have no choice but to ask the voters to raise property taxes to merely keep operating as they are. And money that could offset those property tax increases for schools is instead being used to give tax cuts that have not created jobs, but instead merely led to a looming budget crisis due to exploding deficits.

And we found out today that Governor Walker won't take even the smallest step to help alleviate this situation. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan sent out a press release describing how negligence in the Governor’s Office will cost many districts a better chance to fund and improve preschool programs.
Last week, Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02) sent a letter, with Reps. Gwen Moore (WI-04) and Ron Kind (WI-03), urging Governor Walker to apply for a Preschool Development Expansion Grant. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker failed to submit an application before Wednesday’s deadline depriving Wisconsin of up to $60 million for preschool programs. Since taking office in 2010, Governor Walker has turned down or ignored federal grant opportunities to expand Medicaid for 87,000 Wisconsinites, to expand high speed internet service for schools, to build a high speed rail system between Madison and Milwaukee, and refused to increase the amount of heating assistance given to people in poverty resulting in cuts to Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“I’m very disappointed Scott Walker has put Tea Party politics ahead of doing his job as Governor,” Rep. Pocan said. “Playing political games with these federal grant opportunities, while neglecting our infrastructure, ignoring our most vulnerable citizens and running up a projected $1.9 billion deficit is inexcusable. Too many people from Wisconsin are being left behind as Walker prioritizes his higher ambitions.”
And a whole lot of those people live in small towns where the schools are being underfunded. In addition to the fiscal irresponsibility of not trying to get tens of millions of dollars in federal aid to help pay for these programs, improving pre-K education is a move which often pays strong dividends in improving the quality of education as those children get older. In many cases, strong public education and the sense of community those schools generate is all those places have going for it. We used to identify institutions like schools as a key part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin, and it sure seems to be in danger of slipping away under this crew.

In addition, the underfunding of rural schools and shifting of more and more taxpayer dollars into the failed voucher program shows how little the Walker Administration understands or even cares about people who don’t fund their campaigns. I sure hope the residents of the rural areas that are being screwed over by these regressive privatization and defunding policies keep this in mind when they go to the polls in 2 ½ weeks.

Your pre-debate primer on Wisconsin jobs stats

You can bet tonight's final debate in the Wisconsin governor's race will feature plenty of talk about the state's jobs stats, given that Scott Walker made job growth his central theme in 2010. And with yesterday's release of the final Wisconsin jobs report before the Nov. 4 election, we now have the complete data set of how Wisconsin has fared for jobs in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. And you can bet Walker will mention the numbers in this September report, because if you look at it in isolation, the numbers are pretty good.
Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in September, down from a revised 5.7 percent in August and from 6.6 percent in September 2013. The 5.5percent rate is the lowest since October 2008 and remains lower than the national unemployment rate of 5.9 percent.

Place of work data: A month-over-month increase in private-sector jobs by a statistically significant, 8,400 from August to September on a preliminary basis (seasonally adjusted). The year-over-year increase in private-sector jobs was also statistically significant, at 37,400 since September 2013. The year-over-year gain in private-sector jobs included the addition of 10,000 manufacturing jobs.
Wow, sounds like things are booming in Wisconsin, right? Meh, not so much when you look inside the numbers. First of all, the job gains in September are more of a reflection of lower layoffs than actual job growth, as Summer jobs ended and students went back to school.

Private sector job change, September 2014, Wisconsin
Seasonally-adjusted +8,400
Non-seasonally adjusted -24,900

It should be no surprise that job growth would look "strong" with lower-than-normal layoffs, because it's coming at a time when the country's new unemployment claims are at a 14-year low. In addition, the seasonally-adjusted gains were heavily concentrated, and not spread around numerous sectors of the state's economy.

Top three private sector job growth sectors, Wisconsin, 9/2014
Educational/health services- +5,800
Leisure/ Hospitality +1,100
Professional/Business Services +1,000

The drop in the unemployment rate is nice, from a (upwardly revised) 5.7% to 5.5%, but is no different than the U.S. drop from 6.1% to 5.9%, which also is the lowest since 2008. And as mentioned before, Wisconsin having an unemployment rate below the U.S. rate isn't any real accomplishment for Walker, as much of the heavy lifting had been done in Jim Doyle's final year in office, and the advantage we had over the rest of the nation was more than 3 times larger when Walker took office than it is today.

Unemployment rate, Wisconsin vs. U.S.
Jan 2010 Wis 9.2%, U.S. 9.7% (Wis rate -0.5%)
Jan 2011 Wis 7.7%, U.S. 9.1%(Wis rate -1.4%)
Jan 2012 Wis 7.0%, U.S. 8.2% (Wis rate -1.2%)
Jan 2013 Wis 6.9%, U.S. 7.9% (Wis rate -1.0%)
Jan 2014 Wis 6.2%, U.S. 6.6% (Wis rate -0.4%)
Sept 2014 Wis 5.5%, U.S. 5.9% (Wis rate -0.4%)

The job growth in September also more likely reflects the strong U.S. economy of recent months compared to anything being done locally. Wisconsin could have been expected to pick up 5,000 private sector jobs in September as their portion of the nation's September gain of 248,000 total jobs, and 236,000 in the private sector. The first 9 months of 2014 have had the strongest growth in private-sector jobs since the dot-com era of 1999, but Wisconsin isn't sharing in those gains, as even with this good September report, Wisconsin's private sector has only added 17,900 jobs in the first 9 months of the year. That puts us on pace to end up with less than 24,000 jobs gained for the year, which would be the worst job growth of Scott Walker's 4 years as governor.

This reality of the national economy running ahead of Wisconsin's stats was what led me to create the Walker Jobs Gap charts, and even with the strong September, Wisconsin's 8,400 gain was on the heels of a seasonally-adjusted loss of 3,800 private sector jobs in August, leaving the net gain at only 4,600 over the 2 months measured. That's well behind the national pace, and the final tally before the election shows the Walker Jobs Gap at over 70,000 jobs in the private sector, and over 62,000 overall.

So Scott Walker can try to take credit for Wisconsin's added jobs, but in fact, it's the policies of Walker and his WisGOP rubber-stamps in the Legislature that have held the state back. And we're falling further and further behind as the years of Walker's tenure have gone on. You can put your own spin on why that might be, but it doesn't change the fact that the numbers show that statement to be true.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A few thoughts on the budget release

Here is a snap analysis from the State of Wisconsin's Annual Fiscal Report (AFR), which came out yesterday afternoon. The surface number was slightly better than what we projected based on revenues (+$517 million for FY2014 vs. $481 million based solely on revenues), albeit well below the $724 million that the original budget projected when the second round of tax cuts were passed earlier in the year. And a look under the surface leaves the budget situation as bad as we feared.

First off, let's use the One Wisconsin Now whiteboard as a visual aid.

Now let's see what the AFR reported.

Gross Appropriations 15,043
Transfers 35
Compensation Reserves 58
Less Lapses -345
TOTAL 14,796

We ended up lapsing more money than expected, and also paid workers extra pay and bonuses $20 million less than projected (that's the Compensation Reserves). But also there's this note that you can find on Page 13 in the AFR.
TRANSFERS. Certain transfers were delayed until the second year of the biennium, resulting in a positive variance or transfers.
Whoa, what's that? Well, I looked at the Appendix to the AFR and went to the Transportation Fund information, and sure enough, it says there was only $35 million sent to the Transportation Fund from the General Fund. Now compare that to what was expected when the budget was passed last year.
Governor: Transfer $23,000,000 during the 2013-15 biennium from the general fund to the transportation fund. Although the bill does not specify the year in which the transfer must be made, the fund condition statement submitted with the budget indicates that the transfer would be made in 2013-14, thus having the effect of increasing transportation fund revenues by $23,000,000 in that year. This transfer is in addition to the current law, annual transfer of 0.25% of general fund taxes made from the general fund to the transportation fund, estimated at $35,127,000 in 2013-14 and $36,302,500 in 2014-15. During the 2011-13 biennium, a transfer of $125,000,000 was made from the general fund to the transportation fund ($22,500,000 in 2011-12 and $102,500,000 in 2012-13) and the 0.25% of general fund taxes provision was created, with the first transfer of $35,127,000 occurring in 2012-13.

Joint Finance/Legislature: Increase the transfer by $110,293,200, to provide a total transfer of $133,293,200 under this item. The fund condition statement for the substitute amendment anticipates that $25,750,000 would be transferred in 2013-14 and $107,543,200 would be transferred in 2014-15.
I bolded that part under the Governor's proposal, because they were SUPPOSED to transfer another $25.75 million to the Transportation Fund....but the AFR shows they didn't do that. Gov Walker's Administration held it back till this fiscal year in order to make 2014's budget balance look better before the election. Tricky move there, Governor! But it also means that we're sending nearly $170 million to the Transportation Fund in Fiscal Year 2015. So that drives up expenses even further in this fiscal year.

With that in mind, here's the progression of our surplus-into-deficit trend under this 2013-15 budget, and for the 2015-17 budget. This assumes the 3.5% revenue growth that Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected for this fiscal year.

FY 2013 end balance +$759 million
FY 2014 end balance +$517 million (-$242 million for year)
FY 2015 end balance -$356 million (-$873 million for year)
FY 2015 required reserves +$65 million
AMOUNT TO BE MADE UP BY JUNE 30 $421 million

2015-17 projected deficit- $1.316 BILLION


Same as it ever was. Still a mess.