Friday, April 29, 2016

More tourists stay in Wisconsin, but new laws take away local benefits

Today featured the release of the Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin report for 2015, which featured largely positive numbers. If you take a look at the PowerPoint from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism summarizing the report you’ll see how this industry has a significant impact on Wisconsin’s economy.
Visitor spending of $11.9 billion generated $19.3 billion in total business sales in 2015 as traveler dollars flowed through the Wisconsin economy.

•Visitor activity sustained 190,717 jobs in 2015, both directly and indirectly.

•1-in-12.5 jobs in the state is sustained by tourism activity – 8.0% of total employment in Wisconsin.
In addition, the Department of Tourism notes that one of the biggest drivers of 2015’s increase was in the lodging industry, as spending went up in that area by 7.3% to more than $2.5 billion. This allowed lodging to move past retail into 2nd place for the sector with the most tourist spending in Wisconsin for 2015 (only Food and beverage had more, at just over $3 billion). Hotel room revenue especially surged in the warm-weather months last year, as the Department of Tourism says Q2 and Q3 revenues were up by 11% in each of those 3-month periods.

The Tourism Department goes on to note that local governments and entities raised just over $100 million in lodging taxes last year, an increase of 8.2% that goes beyond the increase in overall lodging spending. Ordinarily this would be a good sign, as these lodging revenues could be use to increase services and take pressure off of the property tax in the communities that these tourists are staying in, which could go a long way toward keeping the positive cycle of tourism spending going.

However, the Wisconsin GOP Legislature threw a monkey wrench into that with the 2015-17 budget, and it could hurt these local communities as they deal with next year’s budget over the coming months. The Legislative Council has a good rundown of these changes in room tax laws, and why it might cause some difficulty for the locals.

·Specifies that the required percentage of room tax revenues must be spent on tourism promotion or tourism development, not municipal development generally. Under prior law, the revenues had to be spent on “tourism promotion and development.”

·Eliminates a municipality’s authority to directly spend the room tax revenues that must be spent on tourism promotion and tourism development. Under Act 55, a municipality must forward those room tax revenues to a commission, if one exists for the municipality, or to a tourism entity.

· Modifies the 1994 grandfather clause, which generally permitted municipalities that had imposed a room tax prior to May 13, 1994, to retain more than 30% of room tax revenues if they had been doing so as of that date. Beginning with the room taxes collected on January 1, 2017, Act 55 creates a cap on the amount of room tax revenues that a municipality subject to the 1994 grandfather clause may retain for purposes other than tourism promotion and tourism development. The cap will be gradually reduced over a period of five years, such that, by fiscal year 2021, an affected municipality will be able to retain only the same dollar amount of the room tax that it retained in fiscal year 2010 or 30% of its current year room tax revenues, whichever is greater.
Basically what this does is prevent certain communities from using more than 30% of the revenue that comes from room taxes on things like streets or fire protection or a number of other services (despite the need for services growing due to tourists coming into the area). It also diverts money from the local communities from doing their own tourist promotion and spending, and forces it to go to commissions like the Greater Madison Visitors and Convention Bureau. These moves that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said would cause a $1 million budget hole to a city that sits in a county that had tourism spending grow by nearly 6.2% last year.

A similar concern about how this provision robs local governments was voiced last June by a couple of tourist-driven towns on opposite ends of the state.
The change, which was approved by the Joint Finance Committee last month, would mean communities would have to turn over 70 percent of room taxes they collect to local tourism. Bayfield Mayor Larry MacDonald said his city keeps 48 percent of the tax now, and that the proposed change would result in services getting cut.

"We will be forced by the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association to damage our tourism economy because we will not have as many police officers, garbage cans, parks — you name it," said MacDonald….

Denise Pieroni is the city administrator for Delavan. She said the city currently uses 82.5 percent of room taxes collected for capital projects that improve city infrastructure. Delavan would likely increase borrowing to pay for improvements to maintain their tourist town. With the change, Pieroni said there would be no incentive to add beds because of the cost it would take to service them. She said it’s short-sighted to use all the revenues for tourism promotion.

"(Visitors are) not going to come again if you have a downtown and it’s deteriorating," she said.
But wait, maybe Governor Walker realized that this bill would hurt the town he graduated high school in, wanted to maintain local control (remember when GOPs were all about small government and local control?) and did something to fix it!

Ahh, who am I kidding? In typical Walker fashion, he made this provision even worse, as explained by the Leg Council.
Governor’s Veto

Under SB 21, as enrolled, a municipality that would otherwise be subject to the room tax retention reduction schedule, could have delayed implementation of the reduction schedule if the municipality had entered into a contract before January 1, 2016, that depended upon room tax revenues to satisfy its terms. The Governor vetoed this provision. Therefore, under Act 55, all municipalities that had imposed a room tax as of May 13, 1994, and had retained more than 30% of room tax revenues, pursuant to the 1994 grandfather clause, will be subject to the room tax revenue retention reduction schedule beginning with the room tax collected on January 1, 2017.
So the hit is guaranteed to come starting next year, and you'll see the resulting cuts and higher property taxes as a result. How kind of the man.

Here's another example of how the Wisconsin GOP gets things backward when it comes to business development in the state. Visitors get attracted to Wisconsin due to neat little towns, great events in cities, and beautiful scenery. So what does Walker and the ALEC crew do? They reduce the ability of those cities to maintain its infrastructure to handle these tourists, and instead push those duties onto the local property taxpayer, all while claiming to "protect" those same taxpayers. In addition, these same Republicans have defunded those cities with shared revenue cuts, and couldn’t even allow a vote on a bipartisan measure that would allow these communities to impose a sales tax to pay for upkeep on their roads. This is despite the fact that tourists cause extra use and wear on those roads, and pay a sizable amount of sales and room taxes.

Then add in WisGOP’s deregulation of the environment and regressive social policies, and it makes for even more incentives to keep people from considering Wisconsin over other areas to spend their tourist dollars. After a strong 2015 for tourist spending and the hotel business in Wisconsin, we see the state Legislature and Governor Walker trying to undo all of this success, and harm the original and beautiful Wisconsin communities that got those tourists to “Escape to Wisconsin.” It’s just so dumb.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sorry Dem leggies, but Dane County primaries are a good thing

As I head out to lunch from my bureaucratic job these days, I occasionally see State Sen. Fred Risser gathering nomination signatures around the Capitol Square area. Risser is running for yet another term this Fall. Risser has been in the State Legislature since 1957, and in the State Senate since 1962, and in that time period the City of Madison has grown from just over 125,000 in 1960 to nearly 250,000 today. In those 59 years, there have been whole generations of progressives come and go through the Mad City, but Risser has stayed in office, usually without any challengers from his fellow Democrats. As of this writing, there doesn't seem to be a primary challenger willing to take on Sen. Risser this August, despite the fact that Risser turns 89 next week and would be 93 when his term ends.

The lack of a challenge to Sen. Risser in the growing, progressive city of Madison leads me back to an article that came out last weekend which caused a bit of consternation within certain corners of progressive Wisconsin. It dealt with Fitchburg's Jimmy Anderson deciding to challenge incumbent Rep. Robb Kahl in the Democratic primary election this August. Anderson claimed that Kahl wasn't progressive enough for the district, citing Kahl's vote for Gov Scott Walker in 2010, and in Kahl going along with Republicans on a bill toughening penalties for trafficking food stamps.

Anderson's primary challenge disturbed some established Democrats, including State Rep. Gordon Hintz, who said Dems have a hard enough time in this state without having to use time and resources for intra-party primaries.
"This is such a distraction," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. "Think about this. Hopefully all 35 of us (Democrats in the Assembly) are going to come out strongly for Robb. Every dollar and every door that we do for our colleague is another dollar and another door that we’re not doing in a Republican district that we can win. When we pick up a seat or two fewer in the fall, I’m going to think about these so-called progressive hypocrites that went after this unnecessary seat to make themselves happy or to high-five their friends at the co-op."
Gordon, I like you, and I've cited you plenty of times on this site, but you are way off here. And not just for the tactless "progressive hypocrites/friends at the co-op" slam.

The bigger reason I have a problem with Rep. Hintz's quote is that I don't buy his reasoning. If Robb Kahl is a worthy enough Assemblyman, he shouldn't have to worry about some unknown newcomer knocking him out of office, and he shouldn't need a major effort from other party members to do so (why would they stick their nose into that business anyway?). The district is strongly Democratic, and the winner will likely be unchallenged in the November election, let alone have to spend any sizable resources. And if Hintz is right, and the Democratic Party might fail to pick a seat statewide because one candidate might have to spend a few thousand dollars in August, they have MUCH bigger problems than Jimmy Anderson challenging an incumbent Dem Rep.

Now that doesn't excuse others who went off the deep end in reaction to Hintz's comments, such as Jeff Simpson in Cognitive Dissidence, who gave a childish rant against Hintz and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, using personal slams and a right-wing framework to do so. I said my piece in the comments section of that column, and there's no need to reiterate them here, but I thought that was every bit as inappropriate as Rep. Hintz's original comments.

There's a better way to question why DPW officials (elected and otherwise) have such a problem with the prospect of primary challenges. Isthmus's Alan Talaga showed how you do it in a thoughtful commentary that ran this week. Talaga turns Hintz's complaints about a lack of Dem seats in the Assembly on its head, and says having primary competition can improve the caliber of Dem candidates, and get their messages out in front of an audience that doesn't hear enough about Democratic positions and values.
Now, putting aside Hintz’s AM talk radio-esque dig at the high-turnout progressive base that gives Democrats even a chance at being competitive statewide, I fully understand what he is doing. The Democratic and Republican caucuses are teams — you show support for your fellow team members. Plus, Hintz is correct when he says that a Democratic purity test is a bad idea. I don’t want a Democratic Party where the leadership Dale Schultz-es any moderates out of its ranks.

A lack of primaries is good for current Democratic officeholders. However, what’s good for incumbents isn’t always good for voters, or the Democratic Party as a whole.

This is a party that needs more leadership at a statewide level. If Democrats are ever going to retake the lower chamber of the Legislature, they need to convince voters they have a plan and an agenda that is more grandiose than “stop the onslaught of horrible, garbage legislation.”
I also like another point from Talaga- a primary challenger would finally give a reason for the politically-active area around Madison to get involved in a Summertime election.
This primary election also gives Dane County Democrats a chance to get engaged in a legislative election in their own district. With the exception of retirements and redistricting, there’s rarely a competitive race for the Wisconsin Legislature in the Madison metro area. That’s somewhat of a natural consequence — there’s a solid slate of people who represent the area in both the Assembly and Senate who draw few serious complaints.

However, the high rates of Dane County incumbency make it difficult to get local people engaged in legislative races. Local races are how you move voters from making social media posts to getting out in the community and talking to other voters. A high-stakes primary has the potential to raise energy for the party, regardless of who wins. Getting local residents mobilized for Kahl and Anderson in the primary — knocking on doors, making phone calls — builds up a Democratic base that can be used to knock on doors and make phone calls in other Assembly and Senate races in the general election.
I can't agree with this more. It is absurd that much of the City of Madison has had the same state senator for more than 50 years, and that's not to rip on the effectiveness or positions of Fred Risser. But don't the voters in this growing, changing city deserve the chance to decide if Risser should be retained or replace him with a potential upgrade? This bowing to incumbents has kept a number of good progressives in Madison from moving up the ranks and making their own name, and it hasn't helped the state party in the last 20 years either, as the ability to promote new names stagnated 20 years ago. Now state Dems are in need of a boost more than ever, but it doesn't help to have the same names stay in the same spots for decades and block others.

There's one other positive to having a primary challenge in Madison and other Dem-leaning college areas- a contested August election is a good reason to get young voters registered and "in the book", which could pay huge dividends for the general election in November. Getting pre-registered would also lessen some of the huge lines Republicans have tried to impose with voter ID and other rigging of elections.

Besides, isn't it better for Chris Taylor to run for statewide office as a Majority member of the State Senate rather than being stuck as a Minority member of the State Assembly? Or have someone like Kathleen Vinehout or Jen Shilling run for Congress after Ron Kind moves on to his next gig after numerous terms in the House? Or have any of Milwaukee's numerous under-40 Assembly and Common Council members move onto DC to speak up for Wisconsin's largest city in place of Gwen Moore?

Oh wait! Did I just say that? It's just a hypothetical, folks. And given that the Democratic Party seems to be OK with having its elected officials be entitled to jobs for life, it wouldn't be anything we'd get to see in the next few years. Even though we should.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Steineke "arrogance" on UW shows why Bucky should fight WisGOP

Things are already heated on the UW-Madison campus, as the campus is grappling with numerous years of budget cuts and the dissolution of tenure in the last state budget. And the temperature got turned up even higher today, in light of the UW Faculty Senate's plans to pass a resolution of no confidence against UW President Ray Cross and the UW Board of Regents.
The resolution to be considered next week blasts the Regents for approving new tenure policies that weaken faculty layoff protections and accuses Cross and the board of damaging the reputation of the flagship campus.

Written by sociology professor Chad Alan Goldberg, who has been among the most vocal faculty members in calling for strong tenure protections, the resolution declares the Faculty Senate has no confidence in Cross or the Regents to “protect tenure and shared governance.”
Basically, the faculty Senate is saying that they've been pushed past the breaking point, and do not trust Cross and the Walker-stacked Board of Reents to act in the best interests of UW-Madison. Instead they believe Cross and the Regents are working on behalf of Walker and the WisGOP Legislature in allowing the defunding and reforms deforms happen to the UW System, and demand that UW System Administration actually stand up for the UW.

UW-Madison chancellor Becky Blank said she thought the resolution would lead to more turmoil for the university, as it could lead to revenge by the WisGOP State Legislature in the form of further damage.
“The backlash on this will be potentially very real,” Blank said, “particularly as we’re going into a budget year where the number of people who are looking for reasons to cut UW-Madison is uncomfortably high. This gives them those reasons.”

Blank said a no-confidence vote risks alienating UW’s potential supporters in the Capitol and the business community, groups with whom she said Cross is popular, and questioned what UW-Madison would gain from the resolution.
Very telling that Blank thinks the interests of "business community" is more important than the interests of the workers that produce the knowledge and goods that come out of the university that she heads up. That business community is better known Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other corporate oligarchs, who elected the Legislature that instilled the cuts in the first place.

And as for those "potential supporters in the Capitol", take a look at how a high-ranking WisGOP legislator reacted to the Faculty Senate's resolution against President Cross, and to faculty complaints over the new work conditions.
On Tuesday, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, defended Cross and the Regents, described the changes to tenure as "minor" and criticized faculty for bringing the no confidence vote.

“This action ... shows an arrogance that doesn't serve the university or its students well," Steineke said. "It’s a clear example of the complete disconnect between UW-Madison faculty who seem to expect their job to come with a forever guarantee and the average Wisconsin family struggling just to make ends meet.”
Now the Number 2 guy in the State Assembly would know, because after all he got a degree from the UW-Madison and he knows how different those professors view things vs the "real world.". I mean, just look at Steineke's bio. It screams "expert on the ins and outs of higher education."
Born Milwaukee, November 23, 1970; married, 3 children. Graduate Wauwatosa West H.S. 1989; attended UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh. Realtor, salesman.
Let me translate for you- "attended" college means STEINEKE DROPPED OUT WITH NO DEGREE. The only job skill he seems to have is convincing rubes to buy into whatever he is selling.

But Jimmy didn't stop there. Like the undereducated fool with multiple criminal convictions that he is, he felt the need to explain his comments to the public in a massive Twitter meltdown this afternoon, which included this gem.

There is so much wrong in those 140 characters. Here's just a couple of them.

1. Tenure is not a "guaranteed job for life." You can still be fired for misconduct (and rightfully so), and that's not it's main calling card. What tenure allows is intellectual freedom to carry out research and discuss ideas without fear of reprisal from ideological bullies. You know, like college dropout governors and legislators who warn that there will be repercussions taken against universities who have faculty organizations who call the UW System President to account.

2. UW-Madison is a research institution, who has most of its funding and mission be based on research which advances society, and whose findings increase quality of life outside the university borders. This statement comes directly from UW-Madison's mission statement.
The primary purpose of the University of Wisconsin–Madison is to provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all. The university seeks to help students to develop an understanding and appreciation for the complex cultural and physical worlds in which they live and to realize their highest potential of intellectual, physical and human development.
Sure, there is a teaching element to things at UW (especially at the undergrad level), but the main focus of that university is research, and it's what separates it from the rest of the System. It's also a main reason that UW-Madison was a Big Ten school and a top 10 public institution in America (until Steineke and ALEC/GOP started messing with it) that attracted great minds from around the U.S. and the rest of the world. Steineke's comment is the logical offshoot of what Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos's said after the 2014 elections about what the UW's priorities should be.
“Of course I want research, but I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” said Vos. “So we want to try to have priorities that are focused on growing our economy.”
And who defines what "grows the economy?" You got it- the Assembly GOP and their non-innovative WMC puppetmasters. In this mentality, there is no concept of public good or societal advance, just profitization for those who are in the inner circle.

Unlike Blank, another UW chancellor decided there is nothing to be gained by cowering to these anti-education thugs in the Legislature, and he went public with his concerns today. UW River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen released a statement illustrating how state support of his school has plummeted over the last 40 years, and how that reality not only threatens the university’s viability, but also business development and the quality of life in western Wisconsin.
At UW-River Falls, the 2015-2017 state budget approved by the legislature and Governor resulted in a $2.87 million base budget cut, representing an 11.2% reduction in base state support. Also, as part of the budget bill, undergraduate tuition was frozen for 2015-2017, extending the tuition freeze for a total of four years. The primary use of state and tuition funds is to support faculty and staff who work directly with students. At UW-River Falls, the budget cuts have resulted in a reduction of 55 state/tuition-supported positions, including 18 permanent layoffs or non-retentions. Since 1974-1975, the balance between funding of core educational costs at UW-River Falls has shifted from 79% state funds and 21% tuition, to 28% state funds and 72% tuition in 2015-2016….

UWRF is an extraordinarily student-centered university, has prepared its graduates well, and is deeply connected to River Falls, Hudson and the entire St. Croix Valley,” said Chancellor Van Galen. “Through initiatives such as the Hudson Center, the St. Croix Valley Business Incubator, and new academic programs in agricultural engineering, data science, and neuroscience, the university is striving to be responsive to the needs of our state and our students.”

“Our role, however, is not only to produce talent that benefits our state and region,” Chancellor Van Galen continued. “A UW comprehensive campus like ours is truly here to help prepare students to become engaged, ethical citizens for the entire course of their lives. State budget cuts, in conjunction with a tuition freeze, inhibit our ability to do this. We need our alumni and community members who care about education and this university to stand up and support us now, more than ever.”
Chancellor Van Galen recognizes the reality that these anti-education WisGOPs will try to cut and deform the university no matter how UW higher-ups treat them, so why not go over their heads and take the UW's case directly to the public? After all, removing anti-UW legislators like State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (who "represents" River Falls and voted for all of these cuts and deforms) is the only way that the UW System can stop the bleeding and start the recovery process from this destructive ALEC agenda.

Becky Blank should do the same at my alma mater in Madison, especially since Bucky has the donor and research base to "go it alone", and likely has a much higher level of respectability in the eyes of the typical voter than the sleazy ALEC crew at the Capitol. And if Chancellor Blank isn't willing to stand up for Bucky in the strongest language possible, tell UW grads all over the state that these destructive jackwagons in the Legislature can stick their anti-education attitudes up their backsides, and that they need to be replaced for the damage they have caused, then she's not cut out for the job and we need a UW advocate put in her place. Because the state's best resource and generator of talent can't afford to have timid, cowed leadership in this crucial time, and needs to understand that the ALEC crew isn't going to decide the funding of UW-Madison or the rest the System in good faith.

At this point, what do UW campus officials have to lose? The WisGOPs will cut and screw them over if they stay in power past 2016. And if you succeed in changing the current Legislature and its destructive attitude toward the UW System, that's quite a bit to win back.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Just like ALEC planned- less Wisconsin teachers, and less want to be

In today's edition of "Gee, whaddya know?", the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took a deep dive into a recently-released report which gives hard numbers behind teacher staffing in Wisconsin, and how those ranks are being thinned in the post-Act 10 world. While the results of the Public Policy Forum’s report aren’t surprising, they do illustrate that teachers are leaving the profession in higher numbers, both in the Milwaukee area, and statewide.

Among the findings:

■ Wisconsin saw a spike in departures between the 2010-’11 and 2011-’12 school years. Act 10, the state law restricting bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, took effect in the intervening summer. But the report could not definitively point to the law as the cause.

■ Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest district, lost 9% to 15.4% of its teachers annually over a four-year period. But others, including Waukesha and several in rural communities, saw higher rates.

■ While departing teachers tended to be retirement age, more than a third in the Milwaukee area were in their 20s and 30s. New teachers with less than five years of experience were the second-largest group to leave.

■ More than a fourth of the teaching workforce in metro Milwaukee is over 50, suggesting that departures will increase, and about 62% of the replacement teachers come in with no prior experience.
Making this situation worse is that there is a smaller amount of potential teachers entering the pipeline. The PPF report goes on to report that enrollment in the state’s college teacher education programs has declined significantly in the 2010s.
A casual look at the data shows the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has declined sharply over the [2008-2014] period. Statewide, enrollment levels have fallen 27.9%, from 12,323 students in the 2008-09 school year. Public universities saw the biggest impact of the decline with enrollments falling 31.5% over the six years. Private colleges experienced a decline of 18.2% over the same period. Indeed, 28 of the 41 programs in the sample saw enrollments fall since 2008-09.

Looking at individual programs, UW-Oshkosh was affected the most, with enrollment falling by 1,526 students (70.1%) since 2008-09. UW-Whitewater and UW-Eau Claire also experienced large decreases of 679 and 272 students, respectively. Some colleges appear to have added students over time, though enrollments have declined from their peak. For example, UW-Milwaukee had

499 students enrolled in its program in 2013-14, an increase of 251 students compared to 2008-09. However, enrollments fell by nearly 50% from a peak of 962 students in 2010-11.
The PPF paper is careful not to directly blame Act 10 for this decrease, claiming that the real decline didn’t start until 2012-13 (a year after Act 10 was passed) and that other Midwestern states also had declines in teacher education programs. But this is easy to explain, as students who were sophomores and juniors in 2010-11 (when the Act 10 “bomb” was dropped) would be likely to continue with their major instead of changing gears and having to likely take more time to complete their degrees. Once those students left, and once Governor Walker was retained in the June 2012 recall election, it became evident that Act 10 provisions would remain in place, and students adjusted their careers afterwards.

It’s also not surprising that other Midwestern schools would see declines in teacher education programs in the 2010s. As this chart from a 2014 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, Wisconsin may have had the largest cut in inflation-adjusted K-12 spending per student in the Midwest between 2008-2014 at over 15%, but Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan also had cuts ranging from between 8.6% and 11.7%, putting all those states in the “top” 20 for cuts per student.

This translated into a sizable drop in local government employment in the first half of the 2010s. Students attending college at that time would rightfully have seen that other areas of the economy were hiring more than education was, and likely shifted their career choices that direction.

The double-whammy in Wisconsin is that Act 10 also reduced take-home pay for teachers and condoned right-wingers and local yokels to denigrate the profession, making that career choice for teaching less worthwhile in take-home pay and satisfaction. It’s almost like the rules of supply and demand don’t just affect business owners, but they also have an effect on what potential workers choose to do as well. Imagine that!

Unfortunately, the Public Policy Forum’s study ends with the 2013-14 school year, which means it does not measure the added cuts to public education and increased voucherization that has happened in Fitzwallkerstan since that time. As the CBPP notes, Wisconsin was the only state in the Midwest to continue to cut funding for K-12 education in 2015-16, and had the 4th-largest cuts to K-12 schools in the country, going against the nationwide trend of restoring funding to public schools.

So with K-12 teachers aging and a lack of new college graduates on the horizon to replace them, how can schools keep on having classrooms staffed at an adequate level? One of WisGOP's answers: Lower the standards of becoming a teacher! Remember this from last year, after a UW-Madison student delivered a petition with over 37,000 signatures protesting licensing “reforms”?
Under the proposal, the Department of Public Instruction would be required to give a teaching license to anyone with a bachelor’s degree in core subject areas like English, math, social studies and science. People who demonstrated knowledge in non-core subjects also would be eligible for a teaching license, even if they didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

“Nobody, nobody wants to lower the licensure standards for teaching in Wisconsin,” [UW-Madison education student Briana] Schwabenbauer told [Edgewood College professor Jed] Hopkins and Tim Slekar, dean of the Edgewood School of Education, on their on their BustEd Pencils podcast.

“It’s become a movement,” said Schwabenbauer. “We’ve built up this momentum around the idea that we need higher standards in our education system and to meet those standards we need to push our educators, not discourage them from going into education.”

Hours after a press conference announcing the delivery of Schwabenbauer’s petition, Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, announced her proposal was being redrafted.

Czaja told the Wisconsin State Journal that under new language being drafted, individuals receiving the proposed alternative teaching licenses and permits could work only part time and in one school. The revised proposal would also require anyone teaching in a non-core subject area to have at least a high school diploma, something not included in the original language.
The proposal was eventually modified to allow for “experience-based” teacher licensing in certain STEM and technical fields, and to allow for reciprocity with other states if the teacher had at least one year of teaching experience in that other state. But you can see where this is heading, and if the ALEC/GOPs maintain control of the State Legislature after November’s elections, I have little doubt this proposal to lower teaching license standards gets resurrected to handle the “crisis” that is resulting from fewer people wishing to become teachers.

And that’s all part of the ALEC plan, isn’t it? Defund public schools, lower the status of the teaching profession, discourage some of the best and brightest from pursuing it as a career plan, and then use that as the excuse to say “See! Public schools aren’t working these days!” This allows for an excuse to funnel more taxpayer money into private schools, whose operators (and churches) kick some of that money back to them in campaign assistance. Combine that with stupid tax policies that starve the state of revenues and leads to more budget crises and K-12 public education cuts, and the cycle starts all over again.

It’ll only stop when we remove the scummy politicians and their ALEC puppetmasters from the Capitol. Know this, and act accordingly.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

West Bend doesn't have a silver lining

Washington County, Wisconsin starts on the exurbs of Milwaukee County, and goes up through the heart of the AM radio sheep that the Wisconsin GOP rely on- giving Scott Walker over 75% of the vote in 2012 and 2014, and Bigoted Becky Bradley 72% of the vote in the Supreme Court race of 2016. Both percentages were the most out of any county in Wisconsin for those GOP candidates.

You may wonder what type of place votes in such a way. To get an idea, take a look at the story that came out this week from the biggest city in Washington County. One of the West Bend city fathers was sent to jail...for wanting to be a young girl's daddy.
The city administrator in West Bend has been arrested after police say he tried to entice a 16-year-old for sex. Prosecutors say it started with text messages and only got worse.

49-year-old Thomas (T.J.) Justice is now in custody Friday, April 22nd and facing two felony charges.

According to a criminal complaint, Justice had been sending provocative text messages to a teenage girl for nearly a year -- including offering her money for sex.

Gotta love the "3x" mark on the orange jail shirt. Typical bully who lived off of "big fish, small pond" syndrome. But wait, it gets better.
The criminal complaint states the girl's mother turned the phone over to police. A detective with the Muskego Police Department posed as the girl to communicate with Justice -- setting up a meeting for sex at a local Dairy Queen.

Police pulled Justice over nearby and found a bottle of Viagra in his car.
A middle-aged bald man hopped up on Viagra who tries to relive his youth by enticing a teenage girl? You couldn't create a better stereotype of a Baggerland shriveldick if you tried. And this guy wasn't just some loser with a dead-end job listening to AM radio so he could blame others for his mediocre life. This guy was the top city official in West Bend, in charge of the city's budget and the hiring and firing of many city department heads.

But having unqualified idiots for public officials in Washington County is hardly unusual. Those same West Bend constituents also the same people that elected Jesse Kremer to the State Legislature, last seen claiming that Wisconsin's jobs problems were due to "entitled college graduates" and workers who won't accept slave wages, and who has introduced a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" targeting transgendered students. The State Senator for the area is Duey Stroebel, another bald dimwit who was an author of the bill that would have limited the ability of public schools to hold referenda. These referenda are the direct result of cuts in aids to K-12 public schools imposed by Stroebel and Kremer and the rest of the ALEC crew in the Capitol, and then Stroebel decided to impinge on local control in favor of "lower taxes by any means necessary", regardless of how much it damaged the communities involved. Stroebel was also a sponsor of the absurd (and likely illegal) bills that would defund Planned Parenthood and put restrictions on the fake controversy involving illegally-made videos regarding fetal tissue.

And let's not forget who begat all of these goons in present-day West Bend- current Congreessman Glenn Grothman. Grothman is the never-married "family values" fool who lived in his Mom's basement until he carpetbagged his way into a House seat in 2014, and most recently was caught on camera admitting that voter ID was a tactic put in place to help elect Republicans. Among his greatest hits as a legislator included saying that wage gaps existed because men "valued money more than women," and led a charge to get rid of required days off (aka "weekends"), claiming it burdened businesses. Grothman also called pro-union protestors during the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising "slobs" (the bloated, white-haired Grothman is quite the looker, you know), and claimed that already well-off Wisconsinites needed a tax break to send their kids to private school because Grothman said sex education was "radical" and that public school teachers "proselytized a liberal agenda."

This gives you an idea of the type of trash that Washington County and West Bend have signed off on to represent them. Oh, but you in the exurban 262 think that it's the rest of the state that doesn't get it, and you're some kind of low-tax, Christian community that can shut off the 21st Century and be a permanent Pleasantville. Here's a tip for all you in West Baggerland- you're not so virtuous, you're a regressive joke whose mentality is harming the rest of the state, and no one worth a fuck is going to want to live in such a backward-ass place. That's why I don't spend a dime in those parts of the state, and you shouldn't either.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

March revenues bounce back, but not by enough

I had mentioned before that March’s revenue figures would start to let us know if the higher employment figures reported last week by the Walker Administration were legitimate, or if it became more likely that the already-sketchy job reports would be revised down.

Well, the revenue numbers were slipped out Thursday afternoon, and it was a mixed bag. On the positive end, income taxes bounced back a bit from the huge drops we saw in February, and sales taxes also had a nice bump for the month of March. But on the flip side, corporate revenues suffered a notable decline, and overall revenues still indicate that the state budget will still require large cuts in the next 15 months to stay in balance.

Individual income taxes were the first item I wanted to look at, and not just because March was the middle of tax season and because it is by far the largest component of the overall revenue picture in Wisconsin. The other reason was that February’s income taxes dropped by $88.6 million (over 39%) compared to February 2015, and it had put the state a bit behind the 8 ball for March, requiring a good increase last month to get the revenues back on track.

And from that standpoint, there was some success, as March 2016’s revenues were up more than $63 million than March 2015 (+23.3%). The down side of that is that it still means Wisconsin income taxes are behind where we were in the first two months of tax season in 2015.

Income tax collections, Wisconsin
Feb-March 2015 $498.692 million
Feb-March 2016 $473.315 million
DIFFERENCE -$25.377 MILLION (-5.1%)

This also means that the year-over-year increase in income taxes is at 5.31%, which sounds good until you realize that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated an increase of 6.61% for this fiscal year when they redid revenue estimates this January. It makes April’s income tax numbers crucial, not just because it’s the month where so many income tax payments come in, and there needs to be a good number for the state’s already-tight budget to avoid slipping below even further. Even if the income tax increase stays at the decent 5.3% we are at so far in FY2016, that would still mean a shortfall of about $95 million.

Sales taxes stayed strong, with a 7.0% increase for March year-over-year, bumping the year-long increase to 3.16%. This also counteracts a soft February, and largely puts the state on track to reach the 3.25% increase that the LFB estimated (we’d need a 3.4% increase over the last 3 months of FY2016). I’ll give the state’s consumers the benefit of the doubt for now and say that they achieve that.

Corporate taxes didn’t do so well. This measure had previously been greatly outpacing the LFB expectations, and through February 2016, the state had collected 8.2% more corporate taxes in FY2016 vs FY2015. But this turned around in March, a key month for corporate collections as it not only combines tax season filings, but quarterly payments made directly to the Wisconsin DOR, leading to large numbers in those quarter-end numbers.

Corporate taxes, Wisconsin
March 2015 $241.004 million
March 2016 $204.650 million
DIFFERENCE -$36.354 million (-15.1%)

It also leaves Wisconsin corporate tax collections down 10.8% for the first quarter of Calendar Year 2016, and Fiscal Year corporate collections are basically now the same as 2015’s (only up 0.4%). An increase would still be a good thing, as the LFB forecast a small decline in corporate tax revenues for FY2016. But the recent trend is troubling, and we will have to see where it goes these final 3 months.

As for the other taxes, the only noteworthy departure is that Excise taxes were way up in March (+9.6%), which leaves the “sin taxes” up nearly 2% for this fiscal year- double what they were supposed to be up. If that holds, then that could give a boost of a little over $6 million to the state’s bottom line. The modicum of all the other taxes paid in is pretty much in line, so no big deal there either.

Bottom line- March’s revenue figures indicate Wisconsin isn’t going to be facing an immediate budget emergency like fellow ALEC-owned states Kansas or Louisiana. But it also makes it less likely that revenues will end up beating LFB expectations, making the $726 million in unspecified lapses slated for the 2016-17 Fiscal Year one step closer to reality. And those lapses are on top of the already ominous list of budget cuts, increased property taxes and unmet needs that have been a common theme across many areas of Wisconsin during this biennium.

So while we dodged a bullet in March and the hole we're in didn't get deeper, next month will be the major tell-tale sign to see if Wisconsin government is going to stay afloat without much disruption in then near future, or if the emergency hits sooner than later.

You thought WEDC's waste and fraud was a thing of the past? Think again!

It had been a while since we saw a story on the problems that have been part and parcel of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Well, wait no longer! Matt DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal gave this update on the taxpayer-backed slush fund for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, and it looks like WEDC is throwing taxpayer money out the door for jobs that may not exist.

DeFour notes that over $170 million in “jobs tax credits” have been made since 2007, and at Thursday’s WEDC Board meeting, it was revealed that not all of those jobs may have happened.
Of that amount, companies have so far qualified for $65.8 million in credits for meeting job-creation goals, according to agency records, while the remaining nearly $105 million has not yet been earned.

But [WEDC Executive Director and Scott Walker donor Mark] Hogan told the WEDC board that the tax credits issued have been based on faulty calculations.

WEDC figures show that the credits are based on the creation of 13,797 jobs and the retention of another 44,114. It’s unclear how inaccurate those numbers are.
So not only has WEDC likely wasted taxpayer on tax breaks for jobs that don’t exist, they likely will also have to spend taxpayer dollars on legal action if they want to get back any of these unwarranted credits. We'll see if they actually try to get the money back, because in WisGOP World, the poor person that might get $100 in undeserved food stamps- THOSE are the people that are worth spending major time and resources to go after in case of fraud. Corporate criminals that waste millions in welfare? Not as big a priority, right WisGOP? It sure seems that way on your radio stations and other GOP-perganda sites. Wonder why that is?

And if you thought that WEDC had improved on its originally awful record tracking loans given out to Walker donors businesses in recent years, this move from yesterday’s meeting indicates otherwise.
The [WEDC] board also approved an amendment to its budget doubling the amount of reserves for writing off loans from $3.5 million to $7 million. The reserves cover both forgivable loans and defaulted loans that won’t be recovered.Earlier this week a judge issued an arrest warrant for a De Pere businessman whose company Green Box NA Green Bay owes WEDC more than $2.1 million in unpaid loans. (the same businessman had given tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Wisconsin Republicans over the years).

The Green Box loan was one of several bad loans from WEDC’s early days when the agency was under pressure to help Gov. Scott Walker create more than 250,000 jobs. The agency’s default rate has declined, but several of the defaulted loans, including Green Box, are still on the books as money the agency hopes to recoup.
And that means more money is going to have to go into WEDC in the coming years if they want to operate at the same levels, because more money has to be set aside to cover these defaults.

Oh, and this is where I remind you that a bill that would have made WEDC fraud a felony was shot down in the State Senate by Republicans who decided it was more important to allow the handouts to continue than to actually do anything about defrauding the taxpayer.

Maybe instead we should blow this slush fund up and try a different idea on job creation and incentives that doesn’t involve fraud, sketchy record-keeping, and/or kickbacks to GOP donors. Just a thought.