Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wisconsin road delays, lack of funding shouldn't surprise

You may have heard that Wisconsin highway needs are getting backlogged, and that there is concern over how to fix that problem. Well, we got an updated look at that yesterday, and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gave a decent summary of where things stand in this article from yesterday.

To start, the article reminds us of the needs that are being set aside in the near future, including some major reconstruction and expansion work on Wisconsin’s busiest freeways.
The [D]epartment [of Transportation] announced last week it was pushing off work for two years for five projects: I-39/90 from the Illinois state line to Madison, Highway 151/Verona Road in Madison, Highway 10/441 in the Fox Valley, Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth, and Highway 15 near New London in Outagamie County.

Work on the projects in many cases is underway. The work will continue, but at a slower pace that will delay completion for two years.
So the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association (aka the Road Builders) got the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to do a study on the state’s infrastructure needs and its costs. Here’s the passage that has gotten a lot of attention in recent days, where a price tag was put on the costs of inaction.
Wisconsin construction inflation has averaged around 5% a year since 2000, while the CPI has increased on average at a rate less than half of that.

To put this into perspective, what a dollar could buy in construction materials and services in 2000 costs almost $2 today. On the consumer side, it would take around $1.40 to buy the same $1 worth of goods and services as in 2000.

Accordingly, construction inflation has a significant impact on the state transportation budget and the cost of specific projects. Consider the four Major Highway Projects currently facing a delay of two years or more—I-39/90 Madison to Beloit, Verona Road in Madison, STH 23 from Plymouth to Fond du Lac and USH 10/441 in the Fox Valley. The cost to complete these projects is $1.76 billion so any delay is not simply “hitting the pause button.”

Looking at average annual construction inflation over the last fifteen years and the remaining amount to be spent on these projects, TDA estimates each year of delay could increase the total cost of the projects by $80 million.
Obviously, pushing these projects back by 2 years = $160 million.

In the 2015-17, the State Legislature reduced Gov Walker’s plans to borrow $1.3 billion for state highways and related projects in the 2015-17, knocking that figure down to $500 million guaranteed, with another $350 million that could be released if approved by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. Interestingly today, Walker asked Senate Republicans to allow that $350 million in new borrowing to go through, in order to reduce some of the backlog. But a concern with that is not only the extra debt, but that the $350 million would be borrowed with the General Fund, and not the Transportation Fund. This type of General Fund borrowing for DOT work has become more common since 2009, which is why the General Fund has paid hundreds of millions of dollars more into the Transportation Fund than Jim Doyle ever “raided” to pay for schools in the early 2000s (so take that GOP talking point and shove it up your ass).

But what can we do to stop these projects from being delayed, but also not have to borrow for it? Well, let’s go back to the 2015-17 budget request by the Department of Transportation and use that information from there. You may remember this budget request, as it featured a number of recommendations to raise taxes and fees to pay for projects, but was buried by the Walker Administration until after the November 2014 elections.

Based on that request, an increase of 5 cents a gallon on gasoline and 10 cents a gallon on diesel would have raised $358 million itself over the next 2 years- enough to remove the need for the Joint Finance Committee to approve the extra borrowing.

Another item in that request was the “new car tax”, identified as “a fee for new passenger vehicles….calculated at 2.5 percent of the manufacturer’s suggested base retail price (MSRP), exclusive of destination charges.” This option would raise $378 million, but keep the annual registration fee for these vehicles at $75 each.

There was another item in the DOT budget request that would have boosted the current transfer of 0.25% of General Fund taxes to the Transportation Fund up to 1.0%. Using the finalized amounts in the signed state budget, this would have raised $114 million in year 1 of the budget and $118 million in year 2, for a total of $232 million. But that option went out the window due to subpar revenues that have resulted from years of Walker/WisGOP tax cuts. Remember, this budget cut $250 million to the UW System, barely gave any increase at all to K-12 schooling, and has $1.1 billion in lapses built into it to artificially reach “balance,” so there wasn’t more money that could be sent out of the General Fund to pay for transportation needs.

As frequently seems to happen in Republican administrations in both DC and in statehouses, the inability to admit that revenues are a needed factor in government operations is coming back to bite in the long term. Striking a “no-tax” pose for Grover Norquist, the Koch Brothers, and the dopes who vote in GOP primaries are now leaving the state in a major hole, and not taking action will cost even more in both up-front costs, and in added debt.

And things for the upcoming years don’t look any better, because as Marley pointed out yesterday in the J-S, there is no guarantee that future needed actions will be taken.
While the DOT has said the delays will be for two years, they may end up being longer. The DOT's projection assumes lawmakers will inject new revenue into the transportation system in the years ahead. But legislators for years have struggled with finding ways to put more money toward roads, with Walker and some Republicans who control the Legislature ruling out raising gas taxes or registration fees.

The delays on the five projects will likely have a cascading effect that will push off work on future projects, but the department hasn't said what those could be.
Hmmm, seems like to me a simple bump in the gas tax or some other minor fee modification would take care of a lot of these concerns, as the increased revenues would come in year after year.

But why would the Fitzwalkerstanis ever do the sensible thing when they can pose for holy pictures with RW Bubble-Worlders and leave heavier lifting to the Dems when they get back into power in the coming years? After all, we all know that “responsible governing” thing is a liberal plot. So the WisGOPs think they can keep kicking the can down the (pothole-filled) road and hope you won’t notice their poser-driven negligence until it’s far too late.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Yes Confederates, it can happen to you too

Yet again, Charlie Pierce nails it, this time regarding the deadly and historic rainstorms in South Carolina that have hit in the last few days.
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of the destruction, certainly. (To paraphrase Will McEvoy, nobody's thoughts and prayers are with the flood.) But my memories go back to 2013, when a survey warned us that the country is chockfull of aging, obsolete dams, many of them of the earthen variety, like the ones that gave way in South Carolina today. That same survey found South Carolina's performance on dam safety as leaky and unsafe as the dams themselves. I mean, 4.3 fulltime employees to monitor and inspect 550 dams, 162 of which were classified as "high-hazard." And, while my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, my memories go back a year earlier, in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy blew New Jersey off toward the Azores, and every single member of the South Carolina congressional delegation save one voted against a relief package for the victims. This list includes presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, lop-headed Benghazi gumshoe Trey Gowdy, and Joe (You Lie!) Wilson. And it's not difficult at all to summon up the fact that the entire Republican party denies that an increasingly deranged climate is causing increasingly deranged weather. Sometimes, the compassion of the blue states toward their backward brethren in red is well-nigh astonishing.​
Funny how these GOP hotshots were all about blocking Obama's disaster aid to the damn Yankees when they were hit by an Act of God, but they get hit 3 years later, and you can bet their whole Confederate "you guys are on your own" mentality is going right out the window when they talk about taxpayer dollars going to fix THEIR community. And there's even a legitimate argument that they don't even deserve it, because as Charlie brings up, some of this devastation was due to South Carolina running things on the cheap to prop up their "low tax, low cost, pro-business" selling points. But being part of a country means you see past such petty arguments, and do the right thing when someone in another part of the country is hit by disruptive horror. You come together and help to turn things back to normal as soon as possible, and maybe you do something that makes it less likely another type of disaster hits someone else.

That still doesn't mean I don't wish us liberals could be assholes once in a while, hammering selfish, scolding policies onto GOPs like they do to us any time a Republican is in power. Can you imagine if a Democrat said 1/10th of the inflammatory crap that Republicans and their spokespeople on AM Radio are allowed to throw out? Can you imagine if we just told the Confederate red states you're done getting more in federal spending than you send in to D.C? Can you imagine if we told rural, Walker-voting Wisconsin to build their own infrastructure and generate their own jobs and skills in response to the GOP Legislature's de-investment in the economic and academic engines of Madison and Milwaukee?

After 4 1/2 years of this "divide and conquer" disaster in Wisconsin, I feel a lot like Jules Winfield. As time and events continue to prove us on the left correct, and as the ones who frequently have to show our better angels and not stomp on those who shot their mouths off and abused their power, it gets very tiring to see this pattern have to repeat. And it's hard not to justify seeking retribution on those who deserve it. But I don't, which I guess makes me the better person, but it sure doesn't seem to pay off enough in the 2010s (and yes, the language in the clip in NSFW).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Destruction of civil service allows for destruction of public interest

With Tuesday's public hearing on the civil service eradication "reform" bill looming, and with Friday's passing of AFSCME president Marty Beil, let me take you back to something I wrote less than one month after the failure to remove Scott Walker in the recall election of 2012. In that post, I criticized Beil and then-WEAC president Mary Bell for falling into the GOP trap of making the debate on public sector unions one that revolved around money and power, instead of reiterating the fact that unionism is a necessary check on political corruption, which allows public workers to be servants of the people, and not partisan hacks.
...look at the stories that have come out in the last few days regarding new school-board imposed handbooks for teachers in Madison-area districts, to the mass desertions in New Berlin the year after the new handbook took effect. What Act 10 and the daily rantings from hate radio have done is to devalue public service and is encouraging well-qualified individuals from staying in (or considering) public sector jobs.

This devaluing of public service was something Tom Barrett effectively pointed out in his stump speeches, but the DPW and the unions failed to drive this point home during the recall campaign, leaving the Fitzwalkerstanis to be the ones allowed to define the issue, and portray teachers, road workers, fire fighters, and police officers as "takers" instead of the people who stabilize our communities and improve the quality of life for all of us.

And it plays right into the hands of GOP puppet-masters, who want public service to be just another extension of the elected hacks in the Legislature and the Governor's Office, and not to have accountability to anyone but the corrupt bosses who call the shots. I've hit on this before, with the Walker Administration's hiring of the Brian Deschanes, Val Casses and Tim Russells of the world, and [Isthmus's Marc] Eisen's article accurately points out how independent whistle-blowers at the DNR stopped high-level Walker appointees and corrupt legislators from the 262 area code [from] putting hundreds of homes near Oconomowoc from being at further risk due to negligence from GOP donators at Herr Environmental.
Eisen's June 2012 article also looked backward by 80 years to point a way forward for public sector unions after Walker was retained in the recall, and ironically, it was due to concerns that a Democrat would be the one to install hacks over civil servants.
[Albert] Schmedeman came into office in 1932 as the first Democratic governor in 38 years. He was hell-bent on firing state employees and hiring his friends. Fearful of the Democrats' plan to destroy civil service, the nascent state employees association began organizing. Their objectives included a forthright pledge "to extend and uphold the principle of merit and fitness in public employment." There was also the promise to advance the welfare of state employees.

But organizers took it a step further. They also pledged "to promote efficiency in public services" and to reduce to a minimum "overlapping and duplication of services." In other words, they focused not just on their own needs, but also on looking out for the taxpayers. They were outlining a mission - a cause - that reached beyond their own enrichment.
And now Gov Walker and the WisGOP legislators want to end that mission, and turn over state service to the politically connected and the subservient who won't ask questions or tell inconvenient truths to their superiors. And sadly, the revolving door of executives at WEDC and the numerous taxpayer-funded handouts at that slush fund to Walker cronies are clear examples of how things are getting worse in state government since 2012, as the Age of Fitzwalkerstan continues and the influence of Walkerism pervades more areas of state government.

Just today, we saw another example of this crooked WisGOP mentality, as the Wisconsin State Journal has a long report illustrating how Walker Administration officials and WisGOP legislators have decreased and/or buried analysis by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regarding the possible environmental harm of certain projects, and have frequently acceded to the wishes of big business donors and lobbyists in instituting DNR policy. Here's a passage that should chill anyone who gives a crap about the great natural beauty and resources that this state has to offer.
In July, DNR officials reorganized internal management and began a yearlong study that will result "in staffing and system changes over the next year as we assess our core priorities," said Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede.

Agency spokesman Jim Dick said the review of employee "core work functions" was unrelated to this summer's budget cuts, which raised questions about the DNR's direction when Walker said the 18 senior scientists - all funded by federal dollars and program revenue - were cut because they weren't needed for the department's "core mission." Lawmakers complained about "controversial" DNR research on wildlife, mining, and climate change...

Walker's DNR Secretary is Cathy Stepp, a former Republican state senator and critic of the agency. Pat Stevens, former environmental director for [Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce], was placed in charge of air and waste regulation. Water quality protection was added to his division in the reorganization.
Gee, you think that crew will tell their buddies at WMC that they can't pollute the countryside and have to improve the way they do business due to the public's needs? Riiiight. Having this bunch of hacks in charge also makes it less likely that red flags will be raised when a department is needlessly overspending in a certain area, especially if they stand to profit from the wasteful contracting or incompetence at a later point in their careers. Destroying civil service also diminishes the desire of those with knowledge, credentials and career options to pursue employment with the state, driving the quality of services down- just the way these Koch/ALEC tools want it.

In light of these developments, it is obvious that the idea of the proposed changes in the bill is to take away the ability of civil servants to tell their superiors "No," and to help ensure that the people hired in these high-knowledge areas are ones who are less likely to want (or know enough) to say "No."

So I'll end this post with the same thing I said on July 1, 2012, and I want to see this message reiterated as this bill is debated in the coming weeks.
Public employees must have the freedom to say "NO" without fear of retribution when they see policies and laws being broken, or when they feel the public is being endangered by politicians and corporations who do not care about the consequences of their actions.... [T]he public is aware that government is letting them down, but they often don't think about why this is so, and they choose to take out their frustration on "faceless bureaucrats" and their local teachers instead of the people who are really screwing things up.

So the bottom line I see here is that public unionism is needed more than ever in an age of Citizens United and corporate-politician alliances. And we need to speak up and present this truth now, or else the public's last line of defense from the public sector will be obliterated, and we'll all be badly hurt if that occurs.

September jobs disappoint, are things slowing down?

There was little good to report out of Friday’s shockingly bad jobs numbers. Not only is the increase of 142,000 well below the average monthly gain of nearly 240,000 that we had been having, but August and July were also revised down by a combined 59,000 jobs, meaning it’s also the worst 3-month stretch for job growth since Dec 2013- February 2014. The unemployment rate staying at its low level of 5.1% (technically, it dropped to 5.05%) also isn’t necessarily great news, as it is a result of 350,000 people dropping out of the work force instead of a reflection of job growth.

Even more concerning is that the stalling of overall job growth comes at a time when government employment is bouncing back, with more than 115,000 jobs added in that sector over the last four months. What this means is that private sector job growth is at its lowest levels in more than 3 years, and a look inside the sectors shows that much of the weakness is a result of the oil bust and the strong dollar hampering heavy industry.

Job losses, June-Sept 2015
Mining and Logging -30,000
Manufacturing -16,000

And if Friday's events in Wisconsin are any indication, that downtrend isn't likely to change in October, as a cheese plant in Plymouth announced plans to lay off 300 workers, and in Lake Mills, Hamlin Inc is closing their plant, which will cause 175 workers to lose their jobs.
The struggles in those industries are also reflected in overall manufacturing output growth flatlining to its lowest level in 2 ½ years, along with stagnating wages that we’ve seen in the last year in both of those industries, as well as the higher-wage construction industry. I’ll remind you that these numbers are before inflation.

Change in avg. weekly wage, Sept 2014- Sept 2015
Durable Goods Manufacturing +0.4%
Mining/logging +0.5%
Construction +0.6%
All Manufacturing +1.5%

And the news wasn’t any better in September, as weekly wages in both Manufacturing and Construction fell, as did the private sector as a whole, with average weekly earnings sinking by 0.3% (they are up 2.2% for the year).

Now combine that with the S&P 500 index declining another 2.6% after August’s drop of 6.3% (oddly, it had a major reversal after mid-morning on Friday and closed up 1.4% after the bad news came out). This was a pretty lousy way to end the 3rd Quarter of 2015, and it’s noteworthy that the Atlanta Fed cut its estimates of GDP growth in half this week, predicting an increase of less than 1% when we those numbers are released at the end of this month.

Let’s not panic too much, but this subpar September report adds to the concern I had with August's U.S. job numbers disappointed, and I’m starting to wonder if after 5 years, the Obama Recovery is starting to slow down if not stall out.

Friday, October 2, 2015

J-S Politi-"fact" is back...to working for Walker

If you thought the implosion of Scott Walker’s presidential campaign would lead more critical analysis of this dishonest fool by his former fans at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Politi-“fact”, I think you’re going to be disappointed.

Why do I say you shouldn’t get your hopes up? Read this piece of bilge today by Politi-"fact"’s Tom Kertscher, where he tries to paint State Sen. Jon Erpenbach as a liar (and Walker as being truthful) for Erpenbach saying that Walker reversed himself when Scotty supported proposed changes in the state’s civil service rules. Here’s the start of Kertscher’s “analysis.”
On a number of occasions in February 2011, as if to reassure state workers outraged by Act 10, Walker said union contracts weren't needed because the civil service law would protect public employees from political favoritism or retribution. And he made a point to say that Act 10 would not change civil service protections.

Two examples:

· On "Fox News Sunday," Walker said: "There is no state that has a better civil service system in terms of protections. That does not change in this. Worker rights will be maintained even after our bill passes."

· In a televised address that has become known as his "fireside chat," the governor said: "It’s important to remember that many of the rights we’re talking about don’t come directly from collective bargaining. They come from the civil service system here in Wisconsin. That law was passed in 1905, long before collective bargaining, and it will continue long after our plan is approved."

But saying that Act 10 would not change the civil service system is not the same as pledging not to make any changes to the system. And Erpenbach did not cite any such statements from Walker to us.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? So because Walker didn’t explicitly say he wouldn’t change the civil service system, that makes Erpenbach’s statement that Walker wouldn’t change things false? Bullshit.

Then check out the basis Kertscher gives for saying Erpenbach “ignores critical facts” regarding Walker’s position on civil service, leading Kertscher to give the “mostly false” rating. After admitting that then-DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch said no changes were in the works in June 2014, and that a DOA spokesperson says Walker was not planning any changes, Kertscher throws this copout in there.
But the Journal Sentinel also reported that records it had obtained showed there had been early-stage discussions about removing red tape that slows hiring for state jobs.

And the next month, Walker didn’t directly respond to a request from the Journal Sentinel when asked if he favored changing current civil service protections.
Yes, the J-S has proof that the Walker Administration officials were lying about not having thought about changes, BUT WHERE DID WALKER STATE ANY CHANGE OF POSITION FROM 2011? There isn’t any, so the last statements on the record before last week was that Walker was still backing the civil service, and now he is not. How is that not a flip-flop (if not a flat-out lie), and how is Erpenbach wrong for calling it out?

This is exactly the type of pro-Walker parsing and false equivalency that allowed Walker to slip by in the November 2014 election with 52% of the vote. And it is disgraceful favoritism that would lead to the firing of anyone that tried to pull it at any newspaper worth a damn. Then again, this is the MMAC/Bradley Foundation’s Rag Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel we’re talking about, isn’t it?

It’s the type of “lying by omission” and flip-flopping BS that Walker couldn’t get away with when he tried it against a national media whose bosses weren’t giving orders to cover up for him. Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee has an excellent summary titled “8 Reasons Why Walker’s Campaign Failed,” and one theme that comes up over and over again is how Walker was insulated in Wisconsin from having to know something beyond talking points, and give legitimate answers on questions (something I and many others reiterate in the comments of this article). Here are a couple of examples.
2. A lack of preparation for the national media: In Wisconsin, Walker could count on fawning coverage from talk radio and could generally control when and what kind of interviews he did with the far-from-robust print and TV media in this state. But Walker couldn’t control the national media and seemed unprepared by the sheer onslaught of probing questions he received, even from conservative reporters at Fox. His steely discipline — a key asset — melted away because he too often was unprepared for questions, leading to evasions, slip-ups and contradictions that increasingly made him seem not ready for prime time…

5. Candidate Walker was anything but “unintimidated”: His core message was that he was the politician who won’t back down on tough issues, but Walker’s constant flip-flops undermined this image and he increasingly looked like he was pandering. “This is a candidate who built his presidential campaign on the premise that he was a fighter — yet he seemed uncomfortable confronting people face to face, especially fellow Republicans,” [the Washington Post’s Jenna] Johnson writes. “Ahead of the first Republican debate, I watched hours of video footage from Walker’s previous debates in Wisconsin. In a few of these, Walker had the opportunity to ask his opponent a question and passed. Instead, he stuck to his talking points and avoided confrontation… On the early campaign trail, Walker ignored protesters, maneuvered out of conversations that turned testy, rarely held town halls and avoided follow-up questions from reporters whenever possible.”
But in spite of the unmaksing that happened to Walker on a national level as a dishonest, empty fraud, here’s Tom Kertscher and the Journal-Sentinel’s Politi-“fact”, still letting Scotty off the hook for what is an obvious flip-flop from earlier statements, and trying to knock down Dems for pointing out this reality.

The Wisconsin corporate media suck-ups apparently haven’t been shamed enough from allowing the charade of Scott Walker’s political career to advance to where it has, and for allowing the state of Wisconsin such strife and damage for not calling out Walker’s lies and true intentions. So they must pay every bit the price that Walker and his WisGOP enablers should- by direct action and removal as soon as possible. THIS HAS TO END.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How can the Lottery cut my taxes? Glad you asked!

There were a couple of lottery-related items in the news today. The one you may have heard of was the $310 million Powerball jackpot that was won last night by someone who bought their ticket in Michigan (and of course, I forgot to buy one).

The one you may not have heard of is a bit closer to home. It was a document sent by the Walker Administration to the Leigslature’s Joint Finance Committee estimating an amount for the Lottery Tax Credit that’ll appear on property tax bills this Fall. This estimate comes out every year around this time, and I wanted to explain a little bit about how it works before I tell you how your bill might change next year.

This Lottery credit is based on proceeds from the many games the Wisconsin Lottery is part of. This amount has gone up in recent years, largely due to more spending by people on the lottery, which meant more money was left over after winnings and costs to be sent back to Wisconsinites for property tax relief.

This tax break was boosted further in the 2013-2015 by the WisGOP Legislature and Governor Walker, when they added $14.85 million a year in taxpayer funding to the school levy credit, instead of having the Lottery Fund chip in to that credit (items 1 and 2 under “Property Tax Credits” in this paper). This didn’t change the amount of the School Levy Credit, but allowed the Lottery Fund to get bigger, which increased the amounts that got taken off on tax bills. Smooth trick, eh?

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s informational paper on the lottery credit and related property tax breaks explains that this credit is a flat amount regardless of the value of your property.
Since most properties have a value in excess of the credit base [$11,000 for tax year 2014(15)], most taxpayers' lottery and gaming credits equal the school tax on the credit base. Because of this, most taxpayers in the same school district receive identical credits, and taxpayers with lower-valued properties receive lottery and gaming credits that are a larger percentage of their gross school tax levies than taxpayers with higher-valued properties.

For example, 2014(15) tax credits of $113 would be extended to all properties with values over $11,000 that are located in a school district with a tax rate of 10.25 mills. For a property with a value of $150,000, the credit would reduce school taxes of $1,538 by 7.3%. A reduction of 4.4% would occur for a $250,000 property with a school tax bill of $2,563.
If your school district has a higher mill rate, you get a bigger lottery credit write-off (I live in Madison, and our credit was a little over $131 last year).

The bottom line is that this credit has reduced property taxes on the average Wisconsin home by $28 a year compared to what it did when Gov Walker was elected in 2010.

Average Wisconsin lottery property tax credit
2010(11) $85
2011(12) $89
2012(13) $94
2013(14) $113
2014(15) $113

This $28 increased credit has contributed to a common Walker talking point of “I cut property taxes”, and the LFB indicates that this is the rare Walker claim that has some truth to it, as the tax on a median-valued home in Wisconsin went from $2,963 in 2010 (11) (page 15 of this paper) to $2,831 in 2014(15) (page 3 of this paper).

Of course, what is not usually mentioned by Walker is that the median home value in Wisconsin dropped by nearly $17,500 in that same time period, and he also usually doesn’t mention that the shift away from the Lottery Fund for the School Levy Credit and an increased property tax break for tech colleges added over $840 million to the last budget, crowding out any increases for other needs like roads or public education.

With that background in mind, these updated numbers are intriguing because they indicate a slight slowdown in sales growth, which means a reduction in the Lottery Credit is due to come. I compared the Walker Administration’s report with the projected Lottery Fund numbers in the most recent budget, and you’ll see that taxpayers aren’t slated to get as much of a break as it originally looked like over the next 2 years.

Projected Lottery and gaming Credit, 2015-17

Budget $162.782 million
New projection $161.429 million (-$1.353 million)

Budget $161.531 million
New projection $158.197 million (-$3.334 million)

Granted, if you assume the Lottery Credit on the average home is reduced by the same amount that is made available, it only accounts for a lower credit of 0.8% in year 1 and 2.1% in year 2. That only translates into $1 extra on your next bill and around $2.50 on the one after that, but hilariously, that’s the same amount of property tax “savings” on the median Wisconsin home that Walker was trying to sell as such a great thing in the 2015-17 budget.

And those figures were calculated before bubble-icious home price increases took hold in Wisconsin this Spring, which will be reflected in future property tax assessments and bills. In other words, I hope you haven’t blown all of the projected $3 in upcoming savings in one place, because it seems more likely not to happen.

See, you learned something today, didn’t you? Can’t say it made your life better, but you might score some brownie points at your next social gathering with your new knowledge on the Wisconsin Lottery Fund. You don’t even have to thank me!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Marquette Poll shows Wisconsinites ain't buying the GOP

My real life has interfered with going too far into detail on today's Marquette Law School poll, but here are a few quick thoughts.

Obviously, a major headline is Scott Walker's approval rating staying in the toilet, with only 37% approval (and perhaps even worse, 59% disapproval). But take a look at other Walker-related poll questions, and if anything, it looks even worse for him.

Walker favorability
Favorable 36.5%
Unfavorable 56.5%

Scott Walker cares about people like me
Yes 35.3%
No 60.5%

Would you personally want to see Scott Walker seek a third term?
Yes 34.9%
No 62.0%

This is why I don't see Walker recovering, regardless of how the Wisconsin media still tries to throw him softball questions and prop him up. People flat-out don't like him any more, and want him to go away. This feels very much like George Dubya Bush's 2nd-term approval trajectory- once it got upside down, it never came back.

It's bad news in general for Republicans in this poll. The party ID skews slightly more Dem than usual (30 D, 25 R, 43 Ind.), but not much different than you'd see in a pro-Dem year. And the head-to-head matchups in the Marquette Poll indicates it would definitely be a Dem year if the election were held today. Stating with Russ Feingold's boat-racing of (mo)Ron Johnson.

Feingold 50.0, Johnson 36.2

Feingold favorability
Favorable 41.6%
Unfavorable 31.6%
Haven't heard enough 24.3%

Johnson favorability
Favorable 26.8%
Unfavorable 35.5%
Haven't heard enough 33.4%

More people find Johnson unfavorable AND more people don't know enough to have an opinion about him than they do with Russ. And given that Johnson is so far down, all he and his dark-money backers can do is go negative, which will likely drive even more people to dislike (mo)Ron. Plus, it's hard to make better-known person like Russ unfavorable when more people already like him.

And (mo)Ron Johnson wouldn't be the only GOP losing in a statewide race in 2016. Take a look at these presidential head-to-heads.

Clinton 50.5%
Bush 38.1%

Sanders 48.8%
Bush 38.5%

Clinton 48.1%
Rubio 40.3%

Sanders 48.5%
Rubio 36.3%

Clinton 49.8%
Trump 36.4%

Sanders 53.1%
Trump 34.5%

Note that Bernie Sanders does better against Rubio and Trump than Clinton does, and both lead Jeb Bush by double-digits. Marco Rubio does the best in any head-to-head matchup (within 8 points of Clinton), but that seems to be related to Rubio having the highest "unknown" rating out of the three GOPs asked. That's not a good sign for how the GOP brand is being thought of in the state, when the least-known guy is the one who does best.

Sure, it's merely one poll and we're 13 months out, but it sure seems like the typical Wisconsinite isn't buying what the GOP is selling, either on the state or national level. Which makes me wonder why the GOPs think doubling down on their arrogance and bad ideas is a winning strategy (maybe they just don't care at this point and want to grab whatever they can before they lose).

Regardless, this is not the time for Dems to be lame and try to coast in. This is where they need to be standing up stronger and louder and pointing out that they don't stand for the crap the GOP wants to pull, and that if Dems are put in power, THE CRAP WILL END. This is not the time to play nice let these guys off the mat, no matter what the consultant class tries to say is "political reality."