Wednesday, August 16, 2017

GOP budget dysfunction means K-12 schools will likely struggle again

The largest part of the delayed Wisconsin state budget is aids to K-12 schools, and with Milwaukee Public Schools already opening up this week, and other most public schools following in 2 weeks, these districts are dealing with some serious uncertainty.

Molly Beck of the State Journal had an in-depth breakdown of the difficulties many districts are having in trying to pinpoint how much money they will have available for the start of the school year, and how some schools might have to take out a loan to pay the bills until the budget is finalized.
The leaders of the state Senate have said lawmakers on the state’s budget-writing committee could resume work on the budget Aug. 23. But if a budget is not in place eight days later, schools in rural areas will miss state payments they usually get in September to subsidize school operations, according to a memo from the Department of Public Instruction sent to budget-writing committee members this month.

“(The delay) may cause some districts to have to short-term borrow to cover this deficit,” said Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance. “The majority of our districts are already working with very tight budgets and any aid delay in payments can have a serious impact.”

DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said the department could push back the rural school payment deadline if lawmakers gave DPI a “clear signal” that the budget was going to be passed quickly.
A couple of large complications in figuring out the final amount of school aids is whether the Fox-con becomes law in the next 2 weeks, as that might restrict the amount of revenue available, and it is unknown how much voucher money will be funneled away from schools, and this caused many districts to back off on hiring and improvements for this year. This means that the start of the school year could be quite a mess.
...[Since] Republican lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly have each proposed separate education spending plans. Kaukl said a number of rural school districts have delayed hiring and purchasing until they know what is included in the state budget.

“This may mean classes may begin with substitute teachers covering a class, classrooms being overloaded or, worse case, courses being dropped,” Kaukl said.
That is NOT what Governor Walker wanted when he put in a proposed increase in K-12 school spending in this pre-election budget. But all Scotty seems to care about these days is selling and shoving through the Fox-con instead of giving a damn about what happens with the budget. And Walker and the Legislature have no one to blame but themselves, because it is their dysfunction, corruption (especially on vouchers) and no-tax gimmickry that prevented them from coming up with a sensible solution in a K-12 budget that should have been relatively easy to figure out.

It's completely unacceptable, and it's yet another example of why these self-absorbed WisGOP clowns at the Capitol need to be kicked to the curb ASAP.

Will Wisconsin even have the people to pull off the Fox-con?

As the Foxconn package comes up for a vote in the full Assembly tomorrow, more discussions of the project and what might actually happen if the multi-billion dollar giveaway incentive package becomes law. What hasn't been brought up much is the question about how the Foxconn package fits into the overall state economy.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz put that other factor in play when it comes to questioning the Fox-con - can a state with a stagnant and aging population even handle a massive project like this?
The important statistic when considering the availability of labor is the “prime working age” population, which economists classify as people between 25 and 54 years old. Wisconsin had 105,000 fewer prime working age people in 2015 than it did in 2010. Some of the sharpest decreases occurred in Jefferson, Kenosha, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties. As the state with the 15th oldest population in the U.S., Wisconsin’s prime working age population is expected to continue to shrink through 2040 to just 33% of its total population. This is down from 41% in 2010.

Looking at 2016 census estimates for Racine and Kenosha counties, Racine lost 6,709 (8.3%) of its prime working age population in just the past 6 years. Kenosha lost 2,998 (4.3%) since 2010. So the very region being counted on to fill as many as 35,000 jobs has a smaller number of working aged people, and that number is continuing to decrease….

In addition to the lost workforce due to the retirements of baby boomers, more than 27,000 people left Wisconsin between 2010 and 2014, according to a study from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). According to Todd Berry, WISTAX president, Wisconsin lost people “at a faster rate than we should, and this means not only are we not going to grow the workforce, we’re going to see a shrinking workforce if we keep that up.”

Hintz goes on to note that Wisconsin takes in a smaller amount of immigrants than much of the country (4.8% foreign-born vs 13.5% nationwide), so there’s no help in the state’s demographic issues there, and while the low amount of people in the working-age population could mean a labor shortage that drives up wages (which would be good if it happens), Hintz adds that this will increase the incentive for Foxconn to turn to robots and other automation faster.
Not sure I agree with the “higher wages” part of the hypothesis from Rep. Hintz, as I think Wisconsin’s low manufacturing wages are something that won’t change with the Fox-con, but I agree with the point about Foxconn automation being a real possibility (especially over 25 years) and lessening the payoff in terms of jobs and income taxes. But there are two other more factors that also are in play.

A generic job making $12-$15 an hour at Foxconn isn’t going to be something that makes a person pack up and leave for Racine or Kenosha County on his/her own. That area is going to have to offer quality schools, decent roads and services, and a good quality of life in order to encourage the labor pool that will be needed for such a large project. Given the future budget cuts and environmental degradation that will accompany this Fox-con, that will not happen. It exposes what a rushed, desperate gimmick the Fox-con is, as there is no larger strategy coming from Gov Walker or the WisGOP Legislature beyond trying to cut taxes on the rich and corporate, and funnel taxpayer dollars to campaign contributors.

Do the white guys in this pic have a clue?

In addition, if people actually do choose Foxconn over other employers, what happens to other businesses that aren’t getting a state handout? There is already displacement going on in the state’s economy due to legislative buffoonery in the WisGOP-run Capitol. Take a look at this article that floated out near the end of last week from the Daily Reporter, and these words from Terry McGowan, the head of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
WisDOT officials have seen the state’s highway money dwindle in recent weeks as lawmakers struggle to pass a new two-year budget. Wisconsin’s previous spending plan expired on June 30. Without a new budget in place, the state continues to run on a “base-level” of funding that does not include the sort of new bonding that many road projects depend on.

McGowan said the budget struggles are having real consequences for the union members he represents. At a Local 139 meeting in Pewaukee on Wednesday evening, he was told by several people that they had “migrated” from road jobs to working on buildings and underground utilities.

“The road industry has been unreliable,” he said.

McGowan also mentioned that operating engineers are disheartened when they hear that some lawmakers want to repeal what remains of the state’s prevailing-wage laws. Uncertain that they will be able to continue making a decent wage on public jobs, many have decided to try their luck in the private sector.
There are only so many construction workers to go around, and if the ALEC-GOP Legislature continues to support wage suppression laws that discourage workers from choosing Wisconsin as a place to work, what happens when Foxconn sucks up most work in that area? Do costs go through the roof, and/or are businesses not able to afford to hire contractors because Foxconn takes up too much of the work?

Now add in the pothole-filled roads in other parts of the state that become even less likely to be fixed, and the likelihood of budget deficits leading to cuts that affect jobs and services in all parts of the state, and you can see where funneling so many resources toward Foxconn could hurt the economy in many other parts of the state.

This displacement of spending and economic activity isn’t mentioned in the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s analysis of the Fox-con, but maybe it should. Because without a reversal of the recent trend of people leaving and/or growing old in Wisconsin, there will inevitably be problems in trying to find workers to do the work needed. This is true not only for Foxconn, but for other parts of the state’s economy. And I don’t see the ALEC-GOPs passing anything that’ll make the casual person want to come to Wisconsin - on either the “pay and work conditions” side, or in the “quality of life” side.

Well, there is one way to increase the likelihood of workers being available for jobs on the Fox-con - a recession with sizable unemployment. But if that's the case, wouldn't a New Deal-style public works package do a lot more good for Wisconsin than using all of those tax dollars on one corporation (and allow a lot more Wisconsinites to reap benefits from those projects)? And oh yeah, a recession would collapse the state’s house-of-cards finances faster than the Fox-con will.

So barring some kind of unforeseen "Escape to Wisconsin" by people who don't live here now, we're pretty screwed if this Fox-con package becomes law.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

While WisDems call out Trumpist hate, Walker's silence is deafening

As President Trump digs a deeper hole by sympathizing with Nazis and other white supremacists, some of the disgust is soothed by media and Democrats have generally been pushing back on this racist garbage, and calling out half-assed statements and false equivalencies.

A good example was this response from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin from the event in Charlottesville over the weekend. DPW Chair Martha Laning had a decent statement that both said neo-Nazism had no place in America and that Dems will "continue to build bridges, not walls. We will continue to advocate for communities of color, for our LGBT brothers and sisters, and for those of every faith."

Then Vice-chair and State Rep. David Bowen laid the lumber.
"We must recognize the connection between the words and policies of Alt-Right and Tea Party leaders who have infiltrated the Republican Party. The stakes are too high to pretend otherwise. When President Trump began his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, neo-Nazis heard his words and knew they had a candidate they could support. President Trump took it a step further by hiring many top officials in the White House with direct ties to white supremacy groups. Those actions legitimized and set precedent for the actions that occurred in Charlottesville.

"If you want proof of this connection, look at the statements and actions put out by President Trump, and his colleagues like Governor Walker. Neither were willing to name white supremacists as the cause of violence and death in Charlottesville. Neither is willing to label the perpetrators as domestic terrorists. Instead, President Trump condemned the “many sides” involved in this violence, and Scott Walker responded by putting out one tepid, generic tweet.

"These are not the actions of strong leaders or those seeking a swift end to xenophobia and bigotry. They are the actions of cowards who fail in the call for accountability and then aim to use hatred to win elections while further dividing this country.

"President Trump and Governor Walker have shown the world their true colors. When they are next on the ballot, we’ll show them ours.
-State Rep. David Bowen

That's how you do it, Dems, and they must continue to remind voters that the Republicans and their spokespeople on AM radio are more than happy to pander to the gut instincts of racists. Dems must make the voters choose sides, because sides must be chosen after the disgraceful events in Charlottesville and the pathetic minimizations that have been done by this Fascist-friendly president.

The Giovernor made his side not choosing. Take a look at Scotty's Twitter feed in the last 3 days, since his pathetic non-statement against "violence and hate" in Charlottesville. A whole lot of "job photo ops" with campaign contributors and BS spin about the Fox-con. Oh, and this thing.

Pence has generally taken the "both sides are to blame" tact and whined that "the media spent more time criticizing the president's words" than discussing the violence itself. I would guess Scotty's in the same boat, as I can't remember Walker saying one bad word against Trump since the Donald took the GOP nomination over a year ago.

And I bet he won't have the guts to say anything now, because Walker will pander to and take money from anyone, if it improves his chances of winning. As I mentioned on Sunday, race-baiting and stirring up resentment among mediocre white people has been central to this grifter's career, and I am convinced there is no bottom that Scotty wouldn't explore. Walker's deafening silence in this time of a crisis of leadership in the White House confirms that instinct that I have about him.

He and his WisGOP backers need to put out into the political wilderness. They honestly deserve worse than that, but that's the least they must get in the next 15 months. Or else this state is done and likely not worth saving.

Monday, August 14, 2017

No tax revenues + no Trump Boom = more Wis budget problems

With all of the Foxconn talk in Wisconsin, it’s also worth remembering that we still don’t have a state budget for the next two years. And an article today from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Jason Stein mentioned that the budget picture is starting to concern Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald and others in WisGOP leadership, because the house of cards that this pre-election, gimmick-filled budget was based on may be starting to collapse.

The reason? One we should be used to in GOP-controlled Wisconsin - lower-than-projected tax revenues.
In May, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected state revenue growth of 2.7% for the fiscal year that ended in June.

Final tax collection numbers including the month of June have not yet been released by the Walker administration. But as of the end of May state revenues were at 2.5% growth for the year.

That modest difference — if sustained through June — could amount to up to a few hundred million dollars of smaller than expected growth. What's more, lower tax collections for last year would drive down estimates for each of the next two years within the next state budget, compounding the effect.
Actually, a 0.2% shortfall would only be around $34 million, but the point about the effect of driving down future year revenues is the real problem. And that shortfall for the net 2 years would be likely become larger if the predicted “Trump Boom” that LFB and other economists were counting on in January doesn’t happen.

Back in January, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau was basing its rosy revenue outlook on a strong GDP growth outlook on a "Trump Boom" that would include tax cuts and big increases in infrastructure.

Jan 2017 LFB estimates of real GDP growth
2017 +2.3%
2018 +2.6%
2019 +2.3%

But so far in 2017, we’ve seen real GDP growth come in at 1.2% in the 1st quarter and 2.6% for the 2nd quarter, which means growth would have to speed up to 2.7% in both the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2017 – the fastest pace in 2 ½ years. And the tax cuts and infrastructure package hasn't even gotten off the ground, and the uncertainties in health care will also hold down the economy in the coming months.

Don't bet on it, Scotty

This stagnation contributed the International Monetary Fund downgrading projected US growth in 2018 to 2.1% last month. Instead of economic stimulus, what’s now more likely to come out of DC is a fiscal crisis, as the debt ceiling and a new federal budget both have to be figured out in the next 7 weeks. Good luck getting either of these items passed in any sort of smooth manner, given the buffoons running Congress and the White House these days.

With the economic and fiscal picture getting dimmer, State Rep. Gordon Hintz noted how absurd it was for Republicans to talk about giving away massive amounts of money in corporate tax cuts while there may be less money to go around.
Hintz said that Republicans are considering cutting the personal property tax assessed on some businesses in the state and committing to up to $2.85 billion in cash payments to Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan in exchange for a liquid crystal display plant. Both actions could make it harder to balance future state budgets, he said.

In light of the uncertainty, Hintz said he was considering asking the fiscal bureau to revisit its revenue estimates prior to the update that is currently scheduled for January.
Maybe the reality that things are going to get worse is exactly why Governor Walker and other WisGOPs are trying so hard to jam through the Fox-con, to distract people from the mediocre present and lousy outlook for both Wisconsin’s economy and its (still not-completed) budget. Why else would they lie and overpromise about what the Fox-con is about?

With another Wisconsin jobs report coming up later this week and the final 2016-17 revenue numbers likely coming out by the end of this month, what I see between the lines is a lot of concern from WisGOPs who fear that they will finally be held accountable for how Wisconsin keeps lagging behind our Midwestern neighbors and the rest of the country after 6 ½ years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and an Obama Recovery that has gone on through that entire time period.

And they should be afraid.

Walker Admin goes on Mke TV, J'ville paper to deceive on Fox-Con

It sure seems like the Walker Administration and other GOP hacks are getting desperate when it comes to selling the Foxconn package to voters. This weekend, Walker Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel and WEDC Chair Mark Hogan went on Mike Gousha’s show to try to promote how great Foxconn is going to be.

In the process, the Walker appointees claimed that the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau wasn’t giving Wisconsinites a full picture of Foxconn’s impact.
But the limits of the analysis also hide the potential of the deal, Scott Neitzel, secretary of the Department of Administration said on “UpFront.” Neitzel appeared on a segment with Mark Hogan, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Both men were involved in crafting the deal.

The breakeven analysis accounts for the 13,000 Foxconn jobs, but not for the “indirect and induced jobs across the whole state” or a “whole new high tech manufacturing ecosystem.”

“There are going to be benefits beyond what is just in that report that are very hard to quantify using historic models,” Neitzel said.
Well, let’s go to pages 15 and 16 of the LFB’s analysis of the Foxconn project, which includes assumptions on added employment from the Foxconn project. And what you will find is that LFB took the best-case scenario for the Walker Administration and other Fox-con supporters.
The estimates assume that the project will require an average annual employment of approximately 10,200 construction workers and equipment suppliers earning an average total compensation of approximately $59,600 (including benefits) per year during the four- year construction period (from 2018 through 2021). Total income for these individuals is estimated at $2.4 billion. In addition, it is assumed that nearly 6,000 indirect and induced jobs will be created during the construction period, with an average total compensation of $48,900.

It is estimated that the additional construction-period jobs would generate increased state tax revenues (primarily income and sales taxes) equal to approximately 6.3% of the additional gross wages. The total increased state taxes associated with the construction period are estimated at $186.9 million.

As noted, permanent staff at the Foxconn facility are estimated to increase from about 1,000 in the second half of 2017 to 13,000 beginning in calendar year 2021. The average annual wage for these employees is estimated at $53,875, based on a headcount distribution, by job type, provided to EY by Foxconn and median wages for each occupation from the Economic Research Institute. Total ongoing payroll at the company is projected to be $13.8 million for the remainder of this year and increase to approximately $700 million annually beginning in 2021. State tax revenues associated with the additional employees and wages are estimated to increase from about $900,000 this year to $44 million annually beginning in 2021.
And this report proves Neitzel and Hogan to be either lying or ignorant when they went on Gusha’s show and claimed the LFB didn’t look at “indirect or induced jobs.”
Indirect and induced jobs associated with the project are estimated to total 22,000 beginning in 2021, based on a multiplier of 2.7. Average annual wages for these individuals are estimated at approximately $51,000. Total ongoing wages are estimated at $1.12 billion annually, and related state taxes are estimated at $71 million per year. Smaller impacts are estimated in calendar years 2017 through 2020 as the project ramps up.
The LFB assumes $115 million in additional income tax revenues in each year of their analysis starting with 2021, and they assume that Foxconn will not lower headcount below 13,000 people in the next 20 years, even with changes in technology, consumer tasters, and productivity. That’s pretty damn lenient to the Walker Admin’s case, if you ask me.

So all the Walker Admin hacks have to promote Foxconn is vague promises of good things that are “very hard to quantify using historic models.” I have no idea what these are, as the Foxconn facility is projected to be making LCD screens for TVs and iPhones, and doesn’t seem to be involved in chip design or other technology development.

Which circles us back to this point- if there were no handouts, then manufacturing those things in Wisconsin may well be a good thing vs manufacturing them overseas. But why would we give away hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to a corporation to do it in a time when the state can’t adequate fix its roads and bridges, and has a $1 billion budget deficit looming before we even account for the Fox-con?

Let me also address another attempt to assuage concerns about the Fox-con by a Walker appointee. This one comes from Department of Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler, who claims that Wisconsinites shouldn’t worry too much if Illinois residents go across the border to get jobs at Foxconn, because of the state’s reciprocity agreement with our neighbors to the south.
In the case of Illinois, we have an income tax reciprocity agreement so that Wisconsin residents who work in Illinois do not have to file income tax returns there, and Illinois residents who work in Wisconsin do not have to file tax returns here.

Instead, they only file returns in their home state. We then calculate how much the Illinois residents would have paid in Wisconsin taxes, and how much the Wisconsin residents would have paid in Illinois taxes, and the states agree to pay those amounts to each other at the end of each tax year.

This means that Illinois residents who work in Wisconsin are paying income taxes to Wisconsin through the income tax reciprocity mechanism, even though they file their returns in Illinois. Illinois collects taxes from them and then sends us the amount they owe on their Wisconsin earnings.
Chandler accurately is describing how his works- to a point. However, if someone is still living in Illinois, they are still paying local property taxes and likely buying more items out of state than a Wisconsin resident would. And they are not likely to be affected by cuts to Wisconsin schools and services that will result from us giving away hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Foxconn.

Furthermore, as we found out when the LFB mentioned last month that Wisconsin would owe an extra $51 million in 2017-19 to Illinois under this reciprocity agreement, the taxes that Illinois resident would pay on assets or other business income would stay in Springfield, and not head up to Madison.

Bottom line, while our reciprocity payment would likely go down if Foxconn hired a sizable amount of FIBs, we wouldn’t feel as much of a benefit to our budget as we would if that job was taken by a Wisconsinite, so give Chandler a “Half true” for that article in the Janesville Gazette (of course, this assumes the Illinois resident would take a job in lower-paying “work-for-less” Wisconsin in the first place).

The bigger story is that the Walker Administration felt a need to trot out their cabinet members and other appointees to try to sell Foxconn further, which is a clear tell that the average Wisconsinite isn’t buying the Fox-con as they find out about it. If Dems are smart, they’ll come out strong against this scam as it goes through the Legislature in the coming weeks, and tie it around the necks of any Republican who dares to sign off on this pre-election corporate welfare.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How Trumpism and Walkerism helped to build 2017's racist ugliness

I've had the better part of a day to reflect on the disgusting murder and actions in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the emotions are all over the board for me on this.

First of all, if you didn't think Donald F'ing Trump wasn't unfit for office before this, there isn't much doubt that he is unfit after this pathetic pile of nothing that he spat out yesterday.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," Trump said during a short statement from his private golf club in New Jersey. "It has been going on for a long time in our country -- not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America." - Donald Trump
"On many sides"? No Donny, it was WHITE SUPREMACISTS that did this, and they chose Charlottesville because they were getting rid of monuments to the white supremacist society known as the Confederacy.

"It has been going on for a long time"? What's been "going on," Drumpf? We didn't get a response to that, because scared little Donny ran off the stage without taking follow-up questions. And a famous Wisconsinite called out Trump for coming up so small in such a big moment.

But one group heard Trump's false equivalency loud and clear.

On a related note, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke told reporters his fellow white supremacists would "fulfull the promises of Donald Trump", and told the dirty secret behind Trump's non-statement in public soon after.

This is the bigger story coming out of the events of Charlottesville. Trump was far from the only Republican who gave out a non-statement on this. Take a look at what the top Wisconsinite in Congress and Wisconsin's Governor didn't say yesterday.

You see the words "white supremacy" or "Nazis" in there? Me neither. Now, to be fair to Lyin' Ryan he did call out white supremacy in a tweet...7 HOURS LATER (after the public blowback became apparent). I'm still not counting on the Spineless Speaker to do anything beyond the bare minimum that is politically required in order to keep from losing too many votes from the racist segment of the GOP vote.

On the other hand, Walker gave out 4 tweets on the Brewer game he was (allegedly) at last night, but NOTHING ELSE ON CHARLOTTESVILLE or the white racism that led to those incidents. That shouldn't be surprising, because Scott Walker's career has been advanced by racist dog-whistles to make people look the other way on his regressive and failed right-wing polices. Let's go back to perhaps the best article on this topic- "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker", by Alec MacGillis in 2014.

You built this, you amoral slime

MacGillis' article begins with AM radio host Mark Belling giving a race-tinged take belittling African-American Congresswoman Gwen Moore. That's hardly unusual for Belling or other hosts on KLAN Radio 1130, but it's something that might make a respectable politician decide he/she doesn't want to be associated with. Not Scotty.
In any case, the riff did not keep the state’s governor, Scott Walker, from appearing on the show a few days later. Belling’s treatment of Walker was notably more deferential. “Have you,” he asked, “sat back and thought about what has been accomplished by yourself and the Republican legislature? Has it really sunk in that you’ve transformed a fiscally reckless state into perhaps the most fiscally sound state in the nation? Has it sunk in, I guess is what I’m saying, do you realize what’s been accomplished?” Walker replied that no, his achievement had not sunk in, because he had been “so busy doing it.” (we'll leave aside the fact that Belling's take on "fiscally sound" is a blatant lie).

That accomplishment—effectively eliminating collective bargaining for most public employees in the state, facing down the angry protests that followed, surviving a rancorous recall election—has vaulted Walker into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders for 2016. He is the closest person the party has to an early favorite, and not simply because of Chris Christie’s nosedive from grace or because Jeb Bush is still waffling about his intentions. Walker has implemented an impeccably conservative agenda in a state that has gone Democratic in seven straight presidential elections. Unlike Mitt Romney, or, for that matter, John McCain, he is beloved by the conservative base, but he has the mien of a mainstream candidate, not a favorite of the fringe. His boosters, who include numerous greenroom conservatives in Washington and major donors around the country, such as the Koch brothers, see him as the rare Republican who could muster broad national support without yielding a millimeter on doctrine.

This interpretation of Walker’s appeal could hardly be more flawed. He has succeeded in the sort of environment least conducive to producing a candidate capable of winning a national majority. Over the past few decades, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee has developed into the most bitterly divided political ground in the country—“the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation,” as a recent series by Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it. Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. These trends predate Walker, but they have enabled his ascent, and his tenure in government has only served to intensify them. Anyone who believes that he is the Republican to save his party—let alone win a presidential election—needs to understand the toxic and ruptured landscape he will leave behind.
While MacGillis was wrong in the sense that Walker was out-Klanned in the 2016 GOP primary by Trump, and looked comparably feckless and cynical to the lowlifes who supported those types of things, MacGillis was right in that Walker gained and stayed in power in Wisconsin because of his race-tinged and anti-intellectual policies.

Look at the list of things that have become law in Wisconsin under Walker.

1. A voter ID law and restrictions on early voting that was pushed through after years of lies about alleged "voter fraud" perpetuated by minorities - lies that we now know were pushed to AM radio by WisGOP operatives like Steve Baas and former Assembly Speaker/voucher money-man Scott Jensen. Portions of those voter restrictions were thrown out 1 year ago on the basis that it constructed excessive barriers, particularly to minorities in Wisconsin.
“The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities,” U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote.

In his ruling, Peterson wrote that he could not overturn Wisconsin’s entire voter ID law, unlike recent decisions in North Carolina and Texas, as a federal appeals court had already found Wisconsin’s restrictions to be constitutional. However, he ordered that the state quickly issue valid voting credentials to anyone trying to obtain free photo IDs, calling the current system for issuing IDs a “wretched failure” that overwhelmingly cut out black and Hispanic citizens.

“To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease,” Peterson wrote in his opinion.
2. In addition, the same governor promoted by radio hosts that called the former First Lady "Moochelle Obama" (hi, Charlie Sykes!) is now trying to force the (disproportionately minority) recipients of food stamps to take a drug test before receiving benefits, while not requiring the same of the corporates who get hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts through WEDC and other corporate welfare. And the drug-testing proposal is far from the only barriers Walker and WisGOP have put up in the last 6 years trying to prevent the unemployed and poor from getting benefits they are entitled to, frequently resorting to "hammock" language to imply these people are lazy and undeserving.

3. Let's add in Walker's opposition to fully paid-for high-speed rail in Wisconsin, much of which was based out of code words claiming "those people" would be using the train. And Walker infamously said to outstate audiences during the recall elections of 2012 that Walker didn't want Wisconsin to be like Milwaukee. You know, the majority-minority city that has a lot of THOSE PEOPLE, while conveniently leaving out the fact that Milwaukee has been actively defunded by GOP politicians like Walker via cuts in shared revenue, while giving the city no way to make up the difference.

This is merely the surface of my anger with this. Much of my post-Charlottesville seething also has to do with the state's voters who have been taken in by this racist garbage, choosing resentment over good policy because it keeps them from making the hard choices in life. The incentives for GOP politicians is not to be a decent human being, but instead play "divide and conquer", because it appeals to the GOP primary electorate, and encourages enough dopes to ignore the backwards policies that come with the GOP because it sticks a finger in the eye of "those people" that aren't like the white mediocrities that dominate GOP-voting areas.

That's what's despairing and frustrated for me about a lot of this. Sure, I have a sense of decency, and most of my fellow college-educated friends in Madison do as well, but it feels there is little I can do about this other than vent and display my feelings in this blog. My town and my county didn't vote for regressive fuckheads like Scott Walker and Donald Trump. So the rest of the people of Wisconsin have to step up, make racist dog-whistles a loser for Republicans in an election, and make that mentality DISQUALIFYING FOR OFFICE.

The bottom line is that the race-baiting GOP won't change until the voting habits of their rural and suburban constituents change. So will those of you living in areas "represented" by Republicans get a clue, and make these bastards pay a price for their hate-stirring and evil talk? We'd like to use legal, non-destructive methods to change for the better, and Charlottesville shows that we can't wait much longer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

On Great Taste Day, craft brewing still going well in 2017

On this beautiful Saturday, Madison is hosting the 31st annual Great Taste of the Midwest. I'm sitting this one out after going last year - $60 is getting a bit rich for my blood to go through the effort I need to get tickets - but I did take plenty of part in Great Taste Eve at numerous Madison establishments last night, so it is all good.

I sometimes worry that the craft beer boom of the last 10-15 years is starting to level off, and that there will be an inevitable cutback/correction. But new ones still keep popping up, and the Brewers Association said last week that the industry is still in a growth mode.
Small and independent craft brewers demonstrated continued, but slowed, growth, according to new mid-year metrics released by the Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers. American craft beer production volume increased five percent during the first half of 2017.

“The growth pace for small and independent brewers has stabilized at a rate that still reflects progress but in a more mature market. Although more difficult to realize, growth still exists,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association. “The beer world is highly competitive and there is certainly a mixed bag in terms of performance. Some breweries are continuing to grow, whereas others are having to evolve their position and nurture new opportunities to ensure they keep pace. Many brewers are benefiting from on-premises and taproom sales, and recent state-based reforms have the potential to help brewers in new regions capitalize on this growth.”

As of June 30, there were 5,562 operating breweries in the U.S., an increase of 906 from the same time period the previous year. Additionally, there were approximately 2,739 breweries in planning. Craft brewers currently employ an estimated 128,768 full-time and part-time workers in a variety of roles including numerous manufacturing jobs, all of which contribute significantly to the U.S. economy.
You may have also seen a few stories in the news relating to beer distribution, and the possibility of new limits and restrictions on who you can sell and distrubte beer and other alcoholic beverages in Wisconsin. The Brewers Guild of Wisconsin chimed in on that issue a couple of months ago, and warned against the State Legislature messing up something that the Brewers Guild says the makers of the beer need to be listened to.
I am writing on behalf of The Wisconsin Brewers Guild in opposition to a proposed bill currently being circulated by Tavern League of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association, and Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute. These organizations are using this proposed bill in an attempt to limit the growth of Wisconsin’s beverage industry by tightening the definition of the current three-tier system. In addition, the aforementioned parties seek to create additional restrictions and barriers to market through the creation of an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement. This additional level of bureaucracy is, simply put, a solution in search of a problem. Furthermore, as proposed, there is no method of paying for its creation, nor its maintenance, and is thus an example of wasteful government spending.

This proposed bill is yet another example of a dysfunctional three-tier system wherein two of the tiers attempt to speak on behalf of the third. In this instance we, the manufacturing tier, have been intentionally left out of any discussion regarding the construction, management, and enforcement of our industry’s three-tier system. This proposal, and the notion that changes should be made to Wisconsin Chapter 125 without the input of all the affected parties is unacceptable.

We, as Wisconsin’s independent craft brewers, are not three-tier abolitionists; rather we are simply looking for an equitable relationship and an even playing field within our industry. The vast majority of Wisconsin’s independent craft breweries rely on the relationships we have with our wholesale partners to move product to market efficiently. Additionally, without the retail tier’s participation, we would not be witnessing the craft beer renaissance taking place today in all corners of our great state. Meanwhile, not a day passes where there isn’t a new example of one of our small businesses trying to grow, or even get off the ground, being stifled by prohibition era laws. In Wisconsin our production breweries have the ability to cross the three-tier system by self-distribution of up to 300,000 barrels of beer (Ch. 125.29(3M)(6)) and to operate two retail locations within the state (Ch. 125.29(3)(f)). Despite our ability to cross the tiers and effectively operate as manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer, our commitment to the responsible trade practices and adherence to Chapter 125 has never wavered. Along with Wisconsin’s wholesalers and retailers we stand firm in our commitment to the responsible sale of alcohol within the State of Wisconsin.

That being said, Wisconsin has unfortunately fallen behind the curve when it comes to the opening of new breweries, the growth of existing breweries, and the subsequent addition of well-paid manufacturing jobs that come with that growth. Brewpubs, for example, are held back from growth due to arbitrary caps on their production levels and the number of brewery restaurants they can legally operate. We believe there needs to be action taken to modernize Chapter 125, but we firmly believe that this process should take place in an open discussion that includes all three tiers within our industry. The Wisconsin Brewers Guild strongly opposes any and all changes to Chapter 125 without all parties having a seat at the table.
Of course, back in June the thought was that these changes would be slipped into the budget bill at the last minute, but now with the budget being held up and 6 weeks overdue, it's hard to tell if it's still in play.

But in the meantime, things continue to do well for the craft beer industry in Wisconsin and around much of the country. Plus, it's one of those industries that's difficult to outsource to another country, no matter how much technology improves, and many of these brewers are the type of small-business entrepreneurs that are worth getting behind, as opposed to corporates who lobby to take more and more from the rest of us.

And it couldn't be a better weather week for the big events this weekend in Madison (I've suffered through quite a few humid and/or rainy Great Taste weeks). So get back to the fun, wherever you are.