Saturday, December 16, 2017

Even with a few nice changes, tax bill still a POS

Now that the GOP bravely dumped their updated Piece of Shit tax bil on a Friday evening ahead of a vote next week, let's see where things stand.

First of all, the Congressional Budget Office does say the bill would only need 50 votes to pass (or 50% of those voting, a situation in play with 2 GOP Senators in the hospital), because it can be reconciled to the 2018 budget resolution which projects a deficit increase of $1.5 trillion in the next 10 years. Its overview of the bill starts as follows.
Title I would amend numerous provisions of U.S. tax law. Among other changes, the bill would reduce most income tax rates for individuals and modify the tax brackets for those taxpayers; increase the standard deduction and the child tax credit; repeal deductions for personal exemptions; repeal or limit certain itemized deductions; and increase the exemption amounts for the individual alternative minimum tax. Those changes would take effect on January 1, 2018, and would be scheduled to expire after December 31, 2025. The bill also would permanently repeal the penalties associated with the requirement that most people obtain health insurance coverage (also known as the individual mandate).

Title I would also permanently modify business taxation. Among other provisions, beginning in 2018, it would replace the structure of corporate income tax rates, which has a top rate of 35 percent under current law, with a single 21 percent rate. The legislation also would substantially alter the current system under which the worldwide income of U.S. corporations is subject to taxation. Title II would direct the Secretary of the Interior to implement an oil and gas leasing program for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and would affect oil and gas leases and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Because oil drilling = tax reform, you know.

In addition to raising people's income taxes in 8 years, the CBO also says the other reason this Piece of Shit tax plan can fit under the $1.5 trillion deficit cap, is because it counts on less people being covered money being spent for Obamacare subsidies by removing the individual mandate
Effects on the Federal Budget

CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would reduce revenues by about $1,649 billion and decrease outlays by $194 billion over the 2018-2027 period. As a result, the bill is estimated to increase the deficit by $1,455 billion over the next 10 years, excluding effects from macroeconomic feedback. A portion of the changes in revenues would be from Social Security payroll taxes, which are off-budget. Excluding the estimated $27 billion increase in off-budget revenues over the next 10 years, the legislation would increase on-budget deficits by about $1,482 billion over the period from 2018 to 2027. Pay-as-you-go procedures apply because enacting the legislation would affect direct spending and revenues.
And those pay-go procedures will reportedly lead to a $25 billion cut in Medicare next year, and other programs are also facing required cuts if deficits end up higher as a result of this Piece of Shit bill (as they likely will, even if there's an increase in economic activity).

For more specifics, Bloomberg News has a good rundown of what is now in (and out of) the bill. Some of these include items we had heard about, including a major cut for pass-through income that is taxed so millionaires like Ron Johnson can keep even more money from their businesses, and a near-doubling of the standard deduction to $12,000 single/ $24,000 married, while removing the $4,150 personal deductions. . But here are some others.

In addition to the base corporate rate being cut from 35% to 21%, the Corporate Alternate Mininum Tax (AMT) is now repealed. This repairs a screw-up by the GOP Senate, who accidentally put the AMT back in when they were hand-writing their changes to the bill 2 weeks ago.

In addition to the temporary income tax rate changes over the next 8 years, and the income that is not subject to the AMT is also higher ($16,000 for single filers, about $25,000 for married couples). This makes the bill a "double tax break" for richer people, as they are the ones who overwhelmingly pay the AMT in the first place.

They have allowed for individuals to use both income and property taxes for the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. But it is still limited to $10,000 total, and unless married couples have major mortgage interest or donations to charity, they are not likely to be able to deduct anything, due to the higher standard deduction (as noted in the Trump Tax calculator). Which greatly reduces the incentives for couples to buy houses vs renting.

And here a couple of others from Bloomberg
Child Tax Credit
Current law: A $1,000 credit for each child under 17. The credit begins phasing out for couples earning more than $110,000. The credit is at least partially refundable to qualified taxpayers who earned more than $3,000.

Proposed: Double the credit to $2,000 and provide it for each child under 18 through 2024. Raise the phase-out amount to $400,000, and cap the refundable portion at $1,400 in 2018.

Estate Tax
Current law: Applies a 40 percent levy on estates worth more than $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for couples.

Proposed: Double the thresholds (to $11 million individuals, $22 mil for couples) so the levy applies to fewer estates. The higher thresholds would sunset in 2026.
Also worth mentioning, it appears the potential tax hike on graduate students and people with student loans isn't going to happen.
Senate and House Republican leaders have agreed to abandon many of the controversial proposals that higher-education leaders and students had rallied to thwart, according to congressional aides. Under the agreement, tuition waivers received by graduate students remain tax-free, students can still deduct loan interest payments and bonds that colleges use for construction stay interest-free.
Well, I guess that means I probably won't need to send in an interest-only payment in 2 weeks, so that's not so bad. And since it's "above the line" instead of a Schedule A deduction, my state taxes also won't go up, since I'll still be writing off a similar amount that reduces my taxable income.

But it's still probably worthwhile for us (and lots of you) to pay your mortgage and property taxes before the end of the year, as it may be the last one for quite a while where it is worth it to write it off. And this thing is still a regressive Piece of Shit that will drive our already-awful levels of inequality even higher. And given the prospect of the deficit exploding in the next 5 years along with people losing their health care, this awful legislation still needs to be exposed and shot down before it's allowed to blow up our economy in the next few years.

No, you don't need the help

Wages falling behind while spending more money? Sounds scarily familiar

It isn’t just the resurgence of Democrats at the polls that is making things feel like 2005-06 these days. As I mentioned earlier this month, there’s a worrying trend that we are also returning to the mid-2000s trend of “low wage growth, high spending, low savings.” And two reports released this week indicate that trend may be accelerating.

The first part was with the Census Bureau’s release of the Retail Sales report for November. The November report is understandably more important than most others because it includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales for the Holiday season. And the signs were positive for consumer spending, as the sales figures were very strong.
Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for November 2017, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $492.7 billion, an increase of 0.8 percent (±0.5 percent) from the previous month, and 5.8 percent (±0.7 percent) above November 2016. Total sales for the September 2017 through November 2017 period were up 5.2 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The September 2017 to October 2017 percent change was revised from up 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* to up 0.5 percent (±0.2 percent). Retail trade sales were up 0.8 percent (±0.5 percent) from October 2017, and were up 6.3 percent (±0.7 percent) from last year. Gasoline Stations were up 12.2 percent (±1.4 percent) from November 2016, while Building Materials and Garden Equipment and Supplies Dealers were up 10.7 percent (±2.1 percent) from last year.
But a lot of those extra sales must be going on credit for many people, because a separate report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that earnings failed to keep up with inflation last month.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees decreased 0.2 percent from October to November, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported [Thursday]. This result stems from a 0.2-percent increase in average hourly earnings being more than offset by a 0.4-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).
This is the fourth straight month that real average hourly earnings have declined, a noted reversal from the real hourly wage gains that we saw in 5 out of 6 months between February and July, and down 1.0% percent from that July peak.

With these recent declines, the BLS says real hourly earnings are no different than they were when Donald Trump was elected, with more gains coming from a longer workweek than actual wages.
Real average hourly earnings increased 0.2 percent, seasonally adjusted, from November 2016 to November 2017. The increase in real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.6-percent increase in the average workweek resulted in a 0.8-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.
And another comparison to the mid-2000s involves inflated GDP figures that are a result of this overspending. We had 8 of 14 quarters with GDP growth above 3.0% between 2004 and Q2 2007, blowing the bubble larger, and making the crash worse. Now recognize that Q4 2017 growth will likely be higher than most quarters in the 2010s due to these strong retail sales and other indications of lower savings, despite many people not actually being better off. Uh oh.

And if this Piece of Shit regressive tax bill passes, it’ll put this trend into overdrive, with even more stock buybacks and other profit hoarding by richer people and corporations, and less incentive to add jobs or wages (in fact, it will encourage automation and layoffs). This article from Bloomberg titled "America's Inequality Machine is Sending the Dow Soaring", summed it up quite well.
The Fed’s post-2008 toolkit included massive purchases of financial assets, which supported a liftoff on the markets but took time to trickle through to the real economy. Trump’s tax critics say his plan will have a similar effect, because companies will spend the windfall on share buybacks or dividends, instead of job-creating investments. Plenty of executives say that’s exactly what they’ll do.

Bank of America’s most recent buyback program totals $18 billion. Chairman Brian Moynihan championed the tax proposal this month. “It’s good for corporate America, and it’s good for us,” he said....

Soaring markets helped the top 1 percent of Americans increase their slice of the national wealth to 39 percent in 2016, according to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances. The bottom 90 percent of families held a one-third share in 1989; that’s now shrunk to less than one-quarter.
And if you want to say "Well, at least the 401-ks and investments are growing for everyday people," don't forget that the majority of Americans have few if any investments (as shown by the blue and gray bars in the chart below), and rely on wages and the future promises of Social Security and Medicare to get by.

Put these realities together with the ramifications of this Piece of Shit tax bill, and it means in the next year or two, expect this story to become familiar again for a lot of Americans.

Friday, December 15, 2017

New roads, electric bills, and local subsidies. Hidden costs of the Fox-con

We haven’t checked back on what’s happening with the Fox-con recently. And we probably should, because we are finding out that a lot of unadvertised costs and changes are rippling out that go beyond what we were told during the debate over the bill a couple of months ago.

I had a post ready to explain some of these added costs, but then we saw this blockbuster story from the Wisconsin State Journal tonight, which summarizes the mess in totality.
Wisconsin has converted several local roads near the future Foxconn factory in Racine County into state highways to access state road repair and improvement funding, a new state report has disclosed.

But the move could siphon $134 million from other highway projects around the state, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo.

Gov. Scott Walker says savings from other road projects will help cover those costs....

The fiscal bureau memo to Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, now reveals the previously unknown cost of local road improvements on top of the $252.4 million in state bonding that was authorized to pay for the nearby expansion of Interstate 94.
None of the plans for the state to take over these roads nor the extra costs that state taxpayers would pay were revealed during the debate of the Fox-con package in the Legislature. The Walker Administration claims that they have the extra money in the DOT budget, but the $100 million in "savings" that Walker flack Tom Evenson references in the article seems to be no different than what was carried over into the 2017-19 budget to begin with, and built into the figures for the next 2 years.

Which leads the LFB to indicate that this $134 million in extra road-building costs for the Fox-con would take away from other road projects in the state,
...fiscal bureau analyst John Wilson-Tepeli explained in the memo that because the roads in Racine County were local roads when the 2017-19 budget was adopted it is "unlikely" that the work was accounted for in the state highway rehabilitation fund during the budget debate.

"Therefore, the use of state highway rehabilitation funding to complete this work near the Foxconn site would likely result in the delay of other, previously planned rehabilitation projects on state highways," Wilson-Tepeli wrote.
An example of this new taxpayer-funded road construction near the Foxconn campus was detailed in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report today about a brand-new road in Racine County being created to deal with the added traffic that will result from the plant.
State transportation officials unveiled plans Thursday for a new two-mile road east of I-94 aimed at easing traffic congestion near Foxconn’s planned $10 billion manufacturing complex in Racine County.

The Department of Transportation revealed plans for the road, dubbed “Wisconn Valley Way,” at a public meeting to provide details of planned upgrades to I-94 and state roads near the Taiwan company’s proposed facility…
The road will have two lanes in each direction with adjacent bike and pedestrian paths on both sides is expected to cost $20 million to $30 million and is planned for completion in 2019. The road will be paid with existing state transportation funds, officials said.
Let me remind you that this money is being shelled out while projects like the Zoo Interchange and US 10-441 in Appleton are being delayed because allegedly there isn’t enough money available to pay for those projects, and statewide highway development and rehabilitation is being cut in the 2017-19 budget. But throwing $134 million more down into the “Wisconn Valley” near Foxconn? NO PROBLEM!

There was another story out this week showing how everyday Wisconsinites will end up paying for added infrastructure from the Foxconn plant, this time in the form of higher electricity rates and in buildings being knocked down.
American Transmission Co. plans to make $140 million in upgrades to its power line system between Racine and Pleasant Prairie to meet increased electrical demand from Foxconn and related development.

The project would include a new substation to serve Foxconn’s Mount Pleasant campus, new electric transmission lines and modifications to existing transmission lines, structures and substations, according to a description of the project posted on the utility’s website…

Plans also call for the addition of a second 345-kilovolt transmission circuit to the existing transmission line between Racine and Mount Pleasant. Crews would replace 19 structures along the route, but no new right-of-way would be required.

ATC says the project’s $140 million cost would be spread across roughly 5 million residential customers over a 40-year period. That would amount to about 70 cents per year.

Getting power to Foxconn’s campus, which the company projects could ultimately employ 13,000 people, is just one of the infrastructure challenges related to the project.
That $8.40 a year is a direct subsidy from Wisconsinites to Foxconn to help in the start-up costs of their plant. And of course, this is on top of the bags of cash that Foxconn and its contractors will get from the state for constructing the plant and hiring people, because the write-offs are more than any taxes that Foxconn would ever pay.

And let’s not forget that Racine County and other local governments are on the hook for major borrowing and infrastructure upgrades related to the Fox-con, while other people are being bought off/driven off their land as part of eminent domain measures in and around the plant site. And those who remain will be the only ones paying property taxes until the Foxconn property can be worth enough to close the massive TIF district that was created solely for the campus (if that ever happens).

We already knew the Fox-con was a massive scam from the absurd $3 billion+ price tag of the incentives. But add in the local subsidies and Foxconn-related public works projects that will disproportionately benefit one small sliver of the state’s economy, and the foolishness of the Fox-con gets compounded.

It’s time to get some responsible leadership into office at the Capitol that can stop this madness and get an economic strategy that goes beyond “giving away everything to a few connected corporations at the expense of everyone else.” And if it doesn’t happen in 2018, giveaways like the Fox-con may make us too fiscally screwed to ever return this state to making investments that help ALL Wisconsinites, instead of the failing cronyism that we see today.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paul Ryan bailing out as the heat gets turned up?

In light of today's blockbuster story in Politco Magazine that said a prominent Wisconsin politician might be leaving DC in a year, I could say a lot, but I'd rather forwar you to someone that'll say it better than I - the great Charlie Pierce of Esquire's political page. And as a fellow Irish Catholic (albeit one that actually graduated from college in Wisconsin, unlike Ryan), Pierce sees through Purty Mouth Pau-lie, starting with a piece of spin in this clearly-planted story from Ryan's folks that tries to claim he might leave Congress to spend more time to "come home" to the Midwest.
On a personal level, going home at the end of next year would allow Ryan, who turns 48 next month, to keep promises to family; his three children are in or entering their teenage years, and Ryan, whose father died at 55, wants desperately to live at home with them full time before they begin flying the nest.
Isn’t that just too fcking sweet for words? Of course, young Paul Ryan had Social Security survivor’s benefits to live on when his pappy kicked and, once again, you’re welcome, dickhead. And I’m sure that his own children have excellent health care in his magnificent Georgian Revival home back in Janesville. I tell you, I’m almost as moved as I was when Ryan washed some clean pots and pans at that soup kitchen, or those several times when he dropped by impoverished neighborhoods in order to have his picture taken there.

Also, I’m sure that the fact that, in 2018, all indications are that his party will be facing a bloodbath in the midterm elections, and that the abomination of a tax bill that is his crowning achievement will be one of the party’s larger millstones, have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Paul Ryan’s giant, if remarkably delicate, intellect suddenly can no longer handle the hurly-burly of everyday politics. Good god, this man could not be a bigger fake if he were made of papier-mâché.

Soooooo punchable

May I add that Paul Ryan hasn't had an actual job based in Wisconsin since he was driving the Wiernermobile in college, more than half his life ago? Ryan is a DC insider and donor puppet all the way, and it is laughable how the Politico article portrays Ryan as some kind of principled individual that has been run down by the dysfunction in DC. Bubble World BSers like Ryan are the CAUSE of that dysfunction, and the wreck that it is threatening to heap on the country with awful ideas like this Piece of Shit tax bill and the cuts in Social Security and Medicare that will follow.

Pierce also laughs at the Politico article's suggestion that the 2012 GOP candidate for Vice-President was thinking of leaving Congress after Ryan and Mitt Romney got thumped by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Wait a minute. He was running for a job that would have kept him in Washington for eight years—and that would’ve made him the frontrunner for the top job that would’ve kept him there for eight more—but only after he and Mitt Romney lost did he decide that Janesville and his 13 rooms were a’callin’ him home? That dog sleeps on the porch. There are those of us who recall that Ryan was such a flop on the national stage that Joe Biden laughed at him in a debate, and that he couldn’t even carry his home precinct for the ticket.

And no matter how much gauzy nonsense is spun about how reluctant he was to become Speaker, Ryan knew that the only way to maintain his utterly unearned reputation as an intellectual, while simultaneously dismantling everything about government that he opposed at a theological level, was to become the smartest chimp in the monkeyhouse. That was something he did. And now he and his owners have scored their biggest victory. People he doesn’t even know will suffer for years because Paul Ryan was Speaker of the House. People he doesn’t even know may well die because of it. But he has that one happy moment in which Paul Ryan, threw his head back and slammed his hands together [when the House passed the original version of the Piece of Shit tax bill].

Quite a trick, for an unusually sophisticated marionette.
Well said, Charlie. And Paul Ryan is trying to get out before the voters in SE Wisconsin get the chance to kick his ass out in 2018, and before he presides over massive GOP losses in the House and has to be seen giving the gavel over to Nancy Pelosi or whatever other Dem would become Speaker.

Besides, it allows his to cash in and get a helluva lotta Koch money as a nice reward for all of the windfall profits, tax cuts, and pay-to-play favors he has shoveled to oligarchs over all these years. And he gets to avoid all acountability for the damage he has caused. Now THAT'S a uniquely American story, isn't it?

And oh yeah, Ryan and other bought-off GOPs are apparently so desperate to give the farm away to his donors and other owners that they will raise taxes on people even sooner, to make the tax scam's numbers add up, and only need 50 votes to pass the Senate.

So in all sincerity, if you are bailing out after all the damage you have inflicted on this country, there is only one fitting response that is legal. And that is, "Fuck you, Paul Ryan."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When we said "change the tax bill", we didn't mean "more giveaways to the rich"

One day after their already-small Senate majority was cut in half with the surprising election of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama, GOP Congress members are still going ahead with their Piece of Shit tax plan. In fact, there are reports that a tentative tax deal is in place between the two houses.

Not surprisingly, few of the changes will affect any one that isn't rich.
Both the House and Senate bills propose slashing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. But negotiators were discussing whether to raise that rate to 21 percent in the final bill, lawmakers said.

Republicans were said to be leaning toward setting the corporate rate at 21 percent and the top individual income tax rate at 37 percent, down from 39.6 percent.

A one-percentage-point change in the corporate rate would give tax writers about $100 billion of revenues over a decade that could be used in many ways. One could be to repeal a federal tax on inheritances paid by wealthy Americans. Another might be to end the corporate alternative minimum tax.

Some Republicans also wanted a higher corporate rate to pay for a higher child tax credit.

Lawmakers had also debated capping a popular individual deduction for mortgage interest at $750,000 in home loan value, instead of $1 million.
Later reports indicated that AMT repeal is also part of this deal. Combined with the lower rate on the highest income, that means MORE tax cuts for the rich with the large corporate tax cut being slightly less large.

Permanent avatar of this tax package.

But a Bloomberg News report indicates that there might be a couple of other modifications. This includes a modification of the changes to the SALT deduction that makes the damaging move of limiting the deduction a little less damaging for the middle and upper-middle classes.
A tentative deal reached by House and Senate lawmakers includes letting taxpayers deduct state income taxes in addition to property levies -- up to a $10,000 cap, according to two people briefed on the details.

The versions of the bills approved by the House and Senate just preserved the individual deduction for state and local property taxes -- capped at $10,000 -- but not for income taxes. House and Senate leaders, along with the White House, had previously signaled they were open to including state income tax deductions in the cap.
Of course, if that exemption is still below the doubled standard deduction of $12,000 single and $24,000 married filed jointly, then adding local income taxes to the SALT write-off doesn't matter because PEOPLE WON'T BE ABLE TO USE IT ANYWAY. And the damage to the housing market would still occur, since the incentives of home ownership get greatly reduced.

The Bloomberg article also says that the tax break for pass-through entities for owners of LLCs and other privately-held companies won't be as big. That tax cut for pass-throughs was demanded by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson (who conveniently was bequeathed a pass-through entity by his father-in-law), but don’t shed too many tears for the Ron Johnsons of the world, because they’ll still get a nice tax cut.
Under the House and Senate agreement, pass-through entities would be able to deduct 20 percent of their business income, instead of 23 percent as originally proposed in the Senate bill approved Dec. 2, the people said. The top individual tax rate would also be lowered to 37 percent, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Combined with a lower individual income rate, the change would still provide roughly the same amount of relief for owners of the most lucrative pass-through businesses.
If it's the "same amount of relief", then what’s the point of changing the pass-through tax rate from 20% to 23%? Oh wait, that's because smaller business owners whose income doesn't fall under the top tax rate will pay more under this compromise, so there's your revenue increase (excuse me, I need to slam my head on a desk)

But all of these extra tax cuts for the rich makes me skeptical of how the math can add up so the price tag fits under the $1.5 trillion limit to allow the tax scam to pass with 50 votes in the US Senate. So what's under the shell that transfers all this money to the well-off?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Wednesday that a tax overhaul will include the repeal of the mandate for individuals to buy insurance -- a core part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act...

The repeal of the mandate is seen as a win-win for most Republicans -- smashing Obamacare, as they’ve promised to do for years, while raising some $300 billion to pay for tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office has said the savings would result because the federal government would no longer have to provide subsidies for roughly 13 million people who would no longer be insured.
Oh, so this Piece of Shit would pay for a bigger tax cut for the rich by CUTTING PEOPLE OFF OF HEALTH CARE? You run on that in 2018, GOP....if you can get yourself out of the tar and feathers by then.

And may I remind you that the GOP has no voter mandate for this. In the last 14 months, the GOP has:

Received less than 46% of the popular vote for president
Lost 5 seats in the Senate
Lost 7 seats in the House

And now Dems lead the Congressional ballot by 10+ points ahead of the 2018 elections. No one wants this Piece of Shit tax bill and the Banana Republicans have no consent of the governed to stay in power.

We have to stay on each detail as the GOPs try to jam this through, because it seems that it is deteriorating by the day. If the GOPs keep ignoring the public, then harsh action needs to be taken. This includes the Dems in Congress stepping up and SHUTTING IT DOWN as funding runs out for the government in 9 days. The shutdown has to be vocally signaled and then executed if this Piece of Shit goes through.

Yes, it's that bad. And the refusal of the GOP to listen to anyone but their donors must be met with major consequences that go beyond the economic damage that this awful bill will inflict.

Alabama and Virginia expanded voting rights to felons. Why not Wisconsin?

In last night's Senate win in Alabama for Democrat Doug Jones, it was hard to ignore this part of the race's exit poll.

It's no surprise that black voters overwhelmingly chose Jones over Roy "We were better under slavery" Moore. But the bigger stat is that 28% of last night's vote came from African-Americans, in a state that is less than 27% black. And interestingly, it was
a law signed by Alabama's Republican governor earlier this year that may have played a role in that sizable black voter turnout.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law on Wednesday that could restore voting rights to thousands of felons, many of them African American, in a state where about 250,000 people are disenfranchised because of their criminal records….

The Definition of Moral Turpitude Act was passed by state lawmakers last week and signed by the governor, a Republican, on Wednesday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman from the governor’s office. The law creates a list of fewer than 50 crimes of moral turpitude, including murder, kidnapping, and sexual abuse—though notably, white-collar crimes such as public corruption are left off the list.

It is still unclear how many felons will be affected by the new measure—the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates it could be thousands, many of them African American, though Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has suggested that fewer will be affected. In any case, by eliminating the gray area in the law, registrars in charge of the state’s voter rolls will now have clearer guidance while registering voters.

Fifteen percent of black residents in the state have been kept away from the polls because of their criminal records, according to the Campaign Legal Center, which filed a lawsuit last year arguing the state’s moral turpit ude rule was discriminatory. “Felony disenfranchisement laws have the undeniable effect of diminishing the political power of minority communities,” said Danielle Lang, an attorney for the center. Indeed, at the time of the state’s constitutional convention, the president of the convention said the rule was intended to “establish white supremacy” in the state.
We saw another large turnout of African-Americans in another former Confederate state that had big a Dem win in 2017- Virginia. And that state also restored the voting rights of some felons last year. This article in the Huffington Post discusses the case of LaVaughn Williams, a convicted felon who was released from prison 3 years ago and is now studying to be an auto mechanic. The article says Williams voted for the first time at age 55 in November's election for Governor and State House in Virginia.
“I now felt like a citizen. I now felt like I will make a difference in some kind of way. Just bubbling in them little circles, it’s like power, it’s power,” Williams said just after she voted, displaying two “I voted” stickers with American flags on her jacket. “If you had asked me maybe a year and a half, two years ago, I would’ve said, no, I didn’t never think I would vote.”

Votes from people like Williams on Tuesday were deeply significant because it marked a significant achievement by McAuliffe, who acted unilaterally to restore those rights to more than 168,000 former felons ― a policy Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the governor-elect, has said he is proud of and would continue.

Ed Gillespie, his Republican opponent, ran attack ads warning that restoring voting rights to former felons would make Virginia less safe. Republicans in Virginia have expressed little interest in continuing to aggressively restore the rights. Last year, the state GOP successfully challenged McAuliffe when he tried to give a blanket order restoring rights to former felons, and he has done so only on an individual basis since. The party also unsuccessfully pushed a constitutional amendment in the state legislature that would condition the restoration of rights on the payment of all fines and legal fees ― a measure critics likened to a poll tax.

In 2016, there were 508,680 potential voters in Virginia disenfranchised because of felonies, including more than one in every five African Americans, according to The Sentencing Project. The state’s disenfranchisement of felons extends back to the 1830s and was included in the state’s 1902 constitution as part of a set of voting restrictions intended to keep African Americans from voting.
The large black turnouts and Dem wins in Alabama and Virginia are the exact opposite of what we saw in Wisconsin in 2016, as lower turnout in Dem-voting cities with disproportionate amounts of minorities were a significant factor in Donald Trump winning the state by 2016 by 22,000 votes.

The ACLU has a map which shows what regulation various states have when it comes to voting rights for felons. As you can see, in Wisconsin felons cannot vote until they complete their post-prison probation, unlike many of the Midwestern states to our east, which allow felons to vote as soon as they done with their incarceration.

Wisconsin’s standard seems overly cruel, given that these individuals on parole and/or probation can be working, contributing members to society with most other rights of citizenship, if people can look past the felony conviction (owning a gun is a rare exception). But when it comes to voting, these people are still considered second-class citizens in the state. That prohibition is especially noteworthy given that Wisconsin had the highest percentage of African-American men in prison in the country in the 2010 Census, and it is logical that these voting restrictions would fall heavily on black people in the state.

Then add in the fact that Scott Walker and WisGOP have passed several other types of voter suppression that are clearly geared toward keeping black people from voting (something that they seem to have been successful in doing in 2016), and voting rights seems like an issue to HAMMER for 2018.

Looking ahead, it makes me wonder if African-Americans are as fired up to vote in Wisconsin in 2018 as they were in Alabama and Virginia in 2017, and does that mean GOPs have even less of a chance of winning in what already seems like a pro-Dem year? Or does it mean Governor Walker, US Senate candidate/ALEC Queen Leah Vukmir (who was reportedly “frothing at the mouth” to limit voting rights in 2011), and the rest of the Wisconsin GOP are just better than Alabama at keeping Dem-leaning groups from voting?

I think we need to ask our Walker, Vukmir, and the rest of the vote-suppressing ALEC crew at the Capitol why Wisconsin isn’t following the example of states like Virginia and Alabama, and restoring the voting rights of felons as soon as they are put back into society. If we want people to be “corrected” from their time in prison, don’t we want them to be rewarded with full rights and responsibilities outside, so it’s less worth it not to return to a life of crime?

I’d love to see the response from the race-baiting, election-rigging WisGOP slime as they try to talk their way out of that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wis doctors and lawyers can get loans written off, why not others?

As I browsed the Committee Calendar in the Wisconsin Legislature, I noticed that it included two separate hearings on bills that target individuals for student loan relief for those that are in certain occupations and locations in the state.

One of the bills getting a hearing is one that uses student loan relief as a method to deal with the state’s shortages in public defenders.
This bill directs the Public Defender Board to establish a student loan payment pilot program for private bar attorneys who accept public defender appointments. The program would provide a payment to use to repay student loans of up to $20,000 per year for attorneys in counties with a population of 25,000 or less who agree to accept at least 50 state public defender appointments per year. The bill provides $250,000 GPR in each fiscal year of the 2017-19 biennium for the program.
It’s got an interesting bipartisan group of sponsors, with some rural Republicans and some big-city and college-town Democrats. It seems to be a public defender’s version of a program from Wisconsin’s Office of Rural Health that writes off loans for physicians and psychiatrists who take practice in rural and underserved urban communities.

Staying on the subject of student loan relief, there’s another bill getting a hearing this week in the Assembly’s Health Committee that tries to encourage new psychiatrists to start their practice in Wisconsin, to the point where they may be able to practice without paying a dime of taxes.
This bill creates an individual income tax subtract modification, or deduction, for up to $200,000 of income earned in this state by a psychiatrist, in the taxable year to which the claim relates, from the practice of psychiatry. The deduction may not be claimed for more than ten years, and must be claimed during the ten-year period that begins once the claimant first claims the credit. The deduction must be claimed initially within the first two years that a psychiatrist begins to practice in this state, or within the first two years that a psychiatrist returns to this state after practicing in another state for at least one year. If an individual begins to claim the deduction and is then ineligible to claim the deduction in any year that he or she is a full-year resident of this state, the individual may again claim the deduction in a future year if eligible to do so. If an individual begins to claim the deduction but is unable to claim it for ten consecutive years because he or she leaves the state, the individual must add to his or her tax that is due for the year in which he or she leaves the state the total gross tax that would have been due if the subtraction was not claimed for any year minus the amount of gross tax actually due for those years. In addition, an individual who is eligible for and claims the deduction may not claim the homestead tax credit.
Well, if the State Legislature finds it important to write off the student loans and give tax breaks for certain professions in need, why not expand it to the rest of the population with student loans? That's what some Legislative Democrats have asked for, with a student loan relief bill that all debtors can take advantage of.
A pair of Democratic lawmakers is reintroducing for the third time a proposal that would allow student loans to be refinanced at lower interest rates, but the bill is unlikely to gain traction in Wisconsin's Republican-led Legislature.

The bill, authored by Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, would create a Wisconsin Student Loan Refinancing Authority, modeled after the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

The authority would be charged with creating a system to buy federal and private loans and refinance them at lower rates. Under the bill, borrowers would also be able to deduct student loan payments from their income taxes.
But Republicans aren't giving that bill a hearing this week, despite the alleged desire by this Governor to make the state more attractive for younger workers. That seems to be yet another example of WisGOP policies (or inaction) being a significant barrier in reaching WisGOP's alleged economic goals.

And student loan debt is a legitimate economic problem. The One Wisconsin Institute did a study of workers in 2011, and found that student loan debt played a significant role in delaying and/or preventing individuals from buying new vehicles or homes. Add in Wisconsin's notoriously substandard wages, and it's not that surprising that the state is having a problem attracting and keeping younger talent?

So if members of both parties recognize that student loan relief and tax credits for certain occupations is a method that can get younger workers to come to and/or stay in Wisconsin in certain fields, why aren't we applying that strategy to all people statewide? It seems a much better investment of tax dollars than blowing $7 million on an ad campaign that doesn't match reality, which is what Gov Walker wants to do.