Sunday, September 30, 2012

New info gives same ol' story- Wisconsin trailing U.S. economy

A couple of reports out this week show that the country largely remains in a slow-but-steady recovery. This week's revised 2nd quarter GDP report gave some not-so-good news for the U.S. economy in terms of overall growth, with the growth rate dropping from 1.7% to 1.3%. But the monthly Philly Fed coincident index of economic conditions by states indicates that U.S. growth is still happening, with a slight majority of states increasing over the last 3 months. However, you will notice that Wisconsin is not one of them.

In fact, Wisconsin's economy has remained stagnant since Walker's inauguration in January 2011, while the U.S has gained 4.2% in the same time period. And as this chart shows, Wisconsin lags well behind any other state in the Midwest for the last 21 month

Another report from the feds that indicated we might be better off than we thought, as there were 453,000 private sector jobs then first estimated, and 386,000 more overall. While there should be some skepticism with these numbers (the timing 6 weeks before the election is "interesting", and they can be revised later on), it also indicates that the recovery may be on firmer ground than we first thought as well.

However, this is also bad news for Wisconsin, because if you plug in those 386,000 total jobs and 453,000 private sector jobs, it pushes the Walker jobs deficit grow even larger past the 90,000 job mark. In these graphs, I added the additional jobs starting in March and prorating over the 6 months, to make for a more gradual increase.

Wisconsin vs. U.S. jobs, all jobs

Wisconsin vs. U.S. jobs, private sector

Yeah, it still ain't working.

Incomes don't trickle down- not in U.S., not in Wisconsin

Couple of reports in the last week shows yet again that the missing link in the economic recovery of the last 3 years has been a lack of wage growth for the average American. This is a topic I've touched on in the past, especially in showing how real wages are lower now than they were in 2000, and in pictures like these which illustrate how wages have been taken out of GDP, while profits have never been reaped and hoarded like never before.

To review, here's the wages stat.

And now the profits stat.

And corporate profits continue to go up. While the bigger news in last week's GDP report was the revising down of 2nd quarter GDP from 1.7% to 1.3%, page 15 of that report showed that profits are growing at a lot more than 1.3% a year.

After-tax profits, U.S.
Q2 2011- $783.9 million
Q2 2012- $925.3 million (+18.0%)

Where's your cut of this 18% increase? Unless you're an oligarch or have enough money left around to play in the stock market, the answer is "not much."

This flatlining of wages in light of huge profits has coincided with the Bush tax cuts, which lowered marginal tax rates on the wealthy, and later lowered capital gains and dividend taxes even more. And it's not really surprising because lower tax rates on the rich and corporate make profit-hoarding and gambling on stocks and real estate more worthwhile than paying employees and, you know, MAKING ACTUAL STUFF.

And while we finally saw some increases in incomes for the first half of 2012, the stats from Friday's personal income report showed some slippage in August. Real disposable incomes were up 1.43% in the 6 months between January and July, but was down by 0.33% in August. This also leveled off the year-over-year increase in real disposable income, keeping it at 1.8% over the last 12 months.

Some of that had to do with higher gas prices raising inflation (the current-dollar increase in disposable income was basically the same as the one in July -a sucky 0.1%). The higher gas prices sucked up most of the increase in consumption as well, as it real consumption expenditures went up less than 0.1% in August compared to the strong 0.4% increase in July, and year-over-year barely nudged up, to 2.0%.

This failure of trickle-down also shows itself in state incomes. The BEA released their quarterly survey of state incomes last week, and it showed Wisconsin continuing to trail much of the rest of the nation in income growth.

Wisconsin was 38th in the country for income growth in the 2nd Quarter of 2012 at 0.9%, below the U.S. average of 1.0%. It was the 4th time in the 5 quarters since Act 10 was passed that Wisconsin's income growth trailed the nation's income growth, and since the Walker/WisGOP budget was passed, the state has also lagged most of its Midwestern neighbors.

Income growth, Q2 2011-Q2 2012
Ind. +4.22%
Mich +4.09%
Ohio +3.62%
Minn +3.56%
Iowa +3.52%
WIS. +2.69%
Ill. +2.52%

So here's another example of how the supply-side experiment of cutting corporate taxes and cutting public sector workers' take-home pay is failing. We are not growing incomes and we're certainly not growing jobs. All these Walker/WisGOP policies have done is mirror the giveaways at the federal level that have thrown money upwards to the rich and corporate while leaving the average worker no better off than they were before, despite being more productive than ever.

With that in mind, it is yet another piece of evidence that trickle-down economics doesn't work in improving and economy or wages, and needs to end as soon as possible. The Democrats succeeded in putting the spotlight on this failure at the DNC earlier this month, and if they continue to pound this point in the next 5 weeks, there's no amount of Republican cheating that'll allow the GOPs to win in November. Real people know that trickle-down isn't water.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wisconsin's rich pay more than our neighbors...and much less than the 99%

This was an interesting report that probably fell under the radar in the last few days. It comes from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, and discusses who pays state and local taxes, and what measures are put in to combat poverty. Wisconsin's traditionally had a large number of poverty-fighting measures, and has generally stayed below the national average for poverty in no small part due to these measures. But this report shows that we are like most other states in another measure- the lower classes pay a higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes than the rich do. And with the age of Fitzwalkerstan starting up in 2011, that trend will probably accelerate.

First, the big numbers that come in at the end of the report, where all states are compared for state and local tax burdens for three classes of people: Those in the lowest 20% of income, those in the middle 20% and those in the top 1%. You will see that Wisconsin's tax burden is relatively high for the lower classes, rises a bit for the middle class, and drops off for the upper class.

State and local taxes as % of income, Wisconsin
Lowest 20% 9.2%
Middle 20% 10.6%
Top 1%ers 6.7%

When you compare Wisconsin to the 4 states bordering it, tax rates are similar to the Middle 20% (Wisconsin's slightly higher), but Wisconsin generally has a lower tax burden on the lower classes (especially compared to high-sales tax Illinois), and taxes the 1% a bit more than most of our neighbors (with "broke" Illinois having the lowest tax rates on the rich).

State/local tax rates for Midwest states
Wis 9.2% 10.6% 6.7%
Ill 13.1% 10.1% 4.1%
Iowa 11.0% 9.6% 6.0%
Minn 9.2% 10.0% 6.6%
Mich 8.9% 9.5% 5.3%

It shouldn't be too surprising to see the 1%ers have the lowest state and local tax rates of these 3 groups. The rich are more likely to be able to write off taxable income with tax credits, business write-offs, capital gains credits and federal tax offsets that states seem to have plenty of. It also illustrates how the middle classes get a larger burden on property taxes than the rich, because the home values aren't as different between these classes than the incomes are. It also illustrates how sales and excise taxes frequently hit the poor worse than the richer classes, as Illinois has relatively high sales taxes (especially in Chicago) and also has a sales tax on gasoline, while Wisconsin has no sales tax on gas and has a relatively low 5% overall sales tax with plenty of exemptions.

It's also interesting to note the poverty rates for these 5 states and see if there's a correlation. Note that the two states with the lowest tax burdens on the rich, Michigan and Illinois, are also the two states with the highest poverty levels.

Poverty rates by state
Minn 11.9%
Iowa 12.8%
Wis 13.1%
Ill 15.0%
Mich 17.5%

And that trend of low taxes on the rich and high poverty also is true for other states. Number 1 in poverty Mississippi (22.6%!) has a tax rate on the 1%ers at 5.5%, below all the Midwest states other than Michigan. New Mexico has 21.5% poverty and a 4.5% tax rate on the rich. Alabama taxes their 1%ers at a measly 4.0% and has poverty at 19%, Texas has 18.5% poverty and a 3.0% tax rate on its rich.

Now this connection is not absolute, as New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the U.S. but also has a 2.0% tax rate on the rich. But that could also be geographic, as neighboring Vermont also has a low poverty rate below Wisconsin's, and taxes the rich at 7.5%- a rate above Wisconsin and any of our neighbors.

However, Wisconsin's status of being a state that has low taxes on the poor may be in jeopardy, as the report notes policies such as Earned Income Tax Credits and renter's or homeowner's credits are ways to reduce poverty through the tax code. Well, Walker's last budget reduced Wisconsin's Earned Income Tax Credit and Homestead Credits, and these effects weren't seen until taxes were paid this Spring. This might have the effect of raising the taxes toward the lower 20% toward that of the Middle Class in Wisconsin. On the flip side, Walker's corporate tax cuts and other specialty maneuvers that favored the rich might make the disparity between the 1%ers and the rest of Wisconsin even higher when it comes to taxes paid between the classes(or not paid, in the case of the rich).

So keep this report in mind when you consider comments like Mitt Romney's infamous "47%" comment, and realize that the rich pay less in taxes once you take out federal income taxes, and the poor and middle classes are often the ones paying the burden at those levels. What's remarkable is that Republicans like Scott Walker aren't merely OK with this, they want to INCREASE it. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, this would seem to make it likely to also increase our poverty rate, which has stayed low over time due to this state's more-balanced approach to taxes and spending on services- two trends that are going by the wayside in Fitzwalkerstan

WEDC found unaccountable and corrupt? NOOO WAYYY!!!

As the blowback from the Seattle Screwjob subsided yesterday, I couldn't help but notice an article that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal in the afternoon that dealt with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (or WEDC).

Turns out that WEDC has used money from the U.S. Departent of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to improperly funnel taxpayer dollars to sketchy companies with little to no oversight. Scott Wittkopf at Badger Democracy goes into great detail about the most damning part of the letter, in which HUD says WEDC had never been approved to be the organization to shell out this money, and that the Walker Administration ignored several months of HUD requests to explain what WEDC was and how they were going to adhere to federal rules (because that money doesn't come without strings, you know). The Walker folks simply ignored the requests, and when that failed, tried to make WEDC's appointment retroactive 8 months after the fact (HUD turned that silliness down).

There were several other issues, as the State Journal article notes.
HUD said some of the problems resulted from the "hasty" transfer of duties from the former Department of Commerce to the new economic development entity without a formal written agreement. The monitoring apparently was triggered by an announcement in February by Walker that four communities had received $9.6 million in CDBG funding.

"At the time these awards were made," HUD said, "WEDC had no legal authority under the CDBG program to award or administer the CDBG funds."

The federal agency ordered Wisconsin to hire a high-level administrator for monitoring, oversight and compliance, saying DOA currently lacks "adequate staff or experience to adequately oversee ... the new activities that are being undertaken by the WEDC."

Among the most serious findings are that the state failed to perform required underwriting — the proceess of determining the financial soundness of a company — before giving $390,000 to Gilman USA LLC, a machining company in Grafton, and $1 million to Morgan Aircraft in Sheboygan. The aircraft company's website said it is developing a vertical lift technology that "combines the operational advantages of a helicopter with the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft."

In the case of Gilman, "WEDC staff indicated that the underwriting process was skipped in order to accommodate the business' timeline," HUD said. "In the case of Morgan Aircraft, WEDC staff indicates that an updated underwriting was performed, but not placed in the file. HUD staff requested a copy ... but it has not been provided."
So HUD yanked WEDC's ability to access the CDBG dollars and database in April for flagrantly violating their rules, and also found that $8.6 million in other CDBG funds flat-out WENT MISSING, which the Walker folks are tentatively blaming on a worker that allegedly controlled the money on his last day of work in December 2011.

Even better, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch gave a response to these issues to HUD on Sept. 12, but the Walker Administration hid this from the WEDC board in their meeting on Sept. 20, and Democratic Legislators Julie Lassa and Peter Barca didn't find out about WEDC"s screw-up of HUD funds until the papers ran with the story this week. Needless to say, they weren't happy with the cover-up.
“These problems could have been avoided if the governor and Republican legislators had worked together to ensure a smooth transition from the Department of Commerce to WEDC,” Barca said. “Instead, the Republican legislature made the hasty decision to create WEDC without having a business plan in place. From the beginning, top officials from the former Department of Commerce and the federal government told us there would be problems with the way this transition was handled.”

“It’s inexcusable that this letter was not shared with the WEDC Board at its meeting last week, even though the administration received it in August,” Lassa said. “The legislators on the WEDC Board are supposed to be providing oversight of taxpayer dollars, but we can’t play that role if important information like this is withheld from us. I expect WEDC and DOA to provide a full explanation of these charges, what they’re doing to remedy the situation, and why the Board of Directors was not informed of HUD’s allegations.”
Walker's response to those complaints? They were releasing the information on this issue with HUD on a "need-to-know" basis, and the WEDC Board members didn't need to know.

Wow. You wonder why I think the GOP's real motto is "Rules don't apply to us?" At best, WEDC and Walker's DOA has shown staggering incompetence and has been horribly negligent when it comes to being responsible with taxpayer dollars, At worse, it is blatant pay-to-play corruption and a willful violation of federal law. But who could have seen such a thing happening in a public-private, governor-run organization like WEDC?

Well, me for one, especially in light of the scandal from June where WEDC tried to mess with a bid on a major state contract by promising tax credits to a company before their bid was evaluated. Oh, and I also had an idea something was screwed up when WEDC pulled a $14 million deficit in its first 12 months. But don't worry. I'm sure WEDC is just going through growing pains, and has steady leadership at the top to get through this.

Oh wait, you're telling me that the top guy at WEDC is quitting after less than 2 years on the job, and that the Number 2 guy is a 30-year old lifetime GOP political hack with ZERO experience in the business world? Yeah, I don't think this is getting cleaned up very soon.

Not that I think the Walker boys care about cleaning it up- they'd rather have their contributors clean up with sweetheart WEDC handouts at taxpayer expense. Do you get the idea the stories this week is the tip of a pretty large iceburg of sketchiness at WEDC? Because I sure do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seattle Screwjob pt. 2- the NFL and oligarch mentality

For the second part of my reaction on the nightmare that is the replacement officials in the NFL, I want to frame it as symptomatic of a bigger problem in America, where the race to the bottom lowers quality and results for all of us. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell used language that sounded a whole lot like Scott Walker and other union-busters when he discussed the league's ref lockout earlier this month.
....[Goodell] didn't argue that the league's retirement contributions to referees had grown too onerous. Instead, he simply noted the fact that American workers in general are losing their defined benefit pensions. Even Roger Goodell, Goodell noted, doesn’t enjoy such a pension plan.

"From the owners' standpoint, right now they're funding a pension program that is a defined benefit program," said Goodell, who was in Washington on Wednesday attending a luncheon hosted by Politico's Playbook. "About ten percent of the country has that. Yours truly doesn't have that. It's something that doesn’t really exist anymore and that I think is going away steadily."

"What we agreed to do and offer as ownership," he added, "is that they would have a defined contribution plan, in the form of 401(k), so they'll still have a pension plan but the risk, like [for] most of us, would be on individuals."

Mike Arnold, the lawyer leading negotiations for the union, insists the referees were "all shocked" by the pension proposal, given the league's sound financial footing. He said the union simply wanted the same pay raises and benefit packages laid out in its 2006 contract. According to Green, referees earn between $4,000 and $8,000 per game, depending on experience.
By comparison, Goodell is slated to make up to $20 million a year as Commissioner, making the need for a defined benefit a little less important to him than to the average NFL ref. And it's not like NFL teams are struggling financially, as the average NFL team is worth more than $1 billion and the league is slated to get more than $6 billion in TV revenue ALONE by 2014 - or around $200 million a team. There's plenty of money available to pay the refs, but the owners feel they have to have it all, regardless of how much it damages the game.

And when you realize who owns NFL teams, it makes more sense, because a 2011 study showed the league is filled with billionaire white male owners who give big money to politicians, mostly Republicans.
In all, NFL players, owners and executives, along with their spouses, contributed a total of at least $1.4 million to federal candidates and political committees since January 2009, according to the Center's research, with about two-thirds of that money aiding Republicans.

That sum includes only money to candidates and party-affiliated political committees. It does not include money to nonpartisan political action committees (i.e. Koch-type front groups).

According to the Center's analysis, eight of the 10 biggest NFL-related political donors, all owners, also make the list of the 10 biggest contributors to Republicans.

Some of these men have given large amounts to each party, such as Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay and the San Diego Chargers' owner Alex Spanos.

But most lean heavily Republican with their money like McNair, Johnson, and the Arizona Cardinals' Bidwell family.

Only New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who's overseen three Super Bowl-winning teams, has heavily favored Democrats and given enough to make the top 10 contributors list. Of the $33,600 he has contributed since 2009, only $4,800 went to Republicans.
It's also worth mentioning that Commissioner Goodell's father was a Republican member of Congress, albeit in the old-school Northeast Liberal Republican type that now is a pro- Wall Street Democrat. But when you realize where these oligarchs come form and who they support, any surprise they'd buy into the GOP "divide and conquer" theory of "You should be screwed out of your pension because other people have been screwed out of their pensions."? I'm sure not. And it's hardly a stunner that they'd feel there is no such thing as too much profit being concentrated to the top (they also locked the players out of trainng camp last year, if you recall).

But now the greed of NFL owners and puppet Roger Goodell has bitten them in the ass, and even though Steve Young has his doubts that they'll feel the bite at the box office and the TV ratings, I think even the average NFL owner can see there's trouble here. They need to come to an agreement, give the refs almost everything that they want to end this ridiculousness (and the refs even were reportedly willing to take a two-tier system with a 401 (k) for new hires a couple of weeks ago).

Because if these guys have the hubris to believe the NFL will always be on top, they should remember that boxing was well ahead of sports like basketball, hockey and (yes) football until at least the late 1950s in America. And now boxing is considered a no-integrity joke that very few casual sports fans pay attention to in any kind of serious way. Between the scab refs and the more than 3,400 former players suing the NFL in relation to concussion issues and the league's lack of willingness to deal with them, I'd say the boxing paralells are getting far too close for the NFL. The league's owners need to drop the greed and get this great game's decency and integrity back NOW.

My thoughts on the Seattle Screwjob

Like most Wisconsinites, I was watching that travesty of a football game last night, and it's very tough to take on a lot of levels. First, I'll go with the football level, as the Pack dropping to 1-2 and 1-2 in the conference puts them in a hole. This is especially true if they end up in a tie with Seattle for playoff position, or even with the other teams in the NFC North, as they all play the NFC West and the Pack's now 0-2 against that division. The last 2 Super Bowl Champs (Packers and Giants) were the last teams in the playoffs in each of those years, and the possibility get ripped out of a spot due to those brutal calls disgusts me. There's 13 games left and the Pack can certainly recover, but every game is so big in the NFL, and to have one taken away like that...unacceptable.

Next, I'll discuss the replacement officials in general. It's hard to expect these guys to be close to the level of the real refs because the amount of speed and power in the NFL game is just so great, and these players are so good, that you can't expect them to be able to keep up. That being said, there is never any excuse for a play to lead to a picture that looks like this.

The fact that two guys are signaling two different things in such a big play is the mark of a crew who doesn't know how to work together. And then the referee compunded the mistake by not taking command of the situation, having a conference between the two refs to go over what they saw, and then making a call that could be reviewed.
The fact that none of these procedures were followed and carried out indicates the kind of unprofessional conduct that turns this officiating into a mockery where you watch this and say "These guys don't know what they're doing," and you cannot trust any call they make.

A couple of other notes- That last-play "TD" by Seattle may have been one of the craziest moments in gambling history, with an estimated $300 million changing hands on that one play, since the Packers were 3 1/2 point favorites and in position to cover. It also gave a flip to the money line (when you bet on the winner of the game instead of the spread), and the article goes on to note that the bookies are noting the effect of replacement refs on the lines and the game scores.
Casinos had already begun to react to replacement officials before Week 3 began, predicting the most scoring ever across the league.

Now, adjustments for replacement referees that were only talked about previously are being factored into betting lines, Colbert said.

"We've seen it now,'' Colbert said. "If we do see trends and we see bets, we'll move more aggressively than we did in the past.''

Teams normally get a 3-point edge factored into the line when they play at home. That home edge could be worth a half-point more with games refereed by replacement officials, depending on the game, Colbert said. Colbert said he believed the Monday night referees got caught up in the excitement of Seattle's home crowd.

"I'd be willing to make a big bet that if that game is in Green Bay, that play is overturned and they win it,'' he said.
I also have little doubt that this official and the replay official were intimidated by the Seattle crowd, and that played into their decision to puss out and let the play stand when the replays showed the Packers' M.V. Jennings clearly had possession first and never lost possession, making that an INT in the rulebook.

I just hope it was just incompetence taking place in Seattle last night, and not something else involving Vegas. When you realize that the same ref that made the TD call on the last play of the game is the same guy who made an awful pass interference call on Sam Shields earlier in the 4th quarter (bailing the Seahawks out of what would have been 2nd and 30, and leading to Seattle gaining field position that paid off on that last drive), you have to ask the question about if there were other things these guys had in mind.

After all, it's not like these guys were heavily vetted when the league hauled them in this Summer to replace the real refs (remember the ref who had to be pulled off of a Saints game because he had plenty of items on Facebook showing him backing the Saints). If these replacement refs realize this is a short-term deal, they'd have a hell of an incentive to use their influence to make some money betting on games in Vegas- a lot more than the regular refs who would be more likely to care about keeping their jobs and the league's integrity.

But as I'll mention in Part 2, you're dealing with a league run by people who don't really seem to care all that much about treating their employees well or caring about the integrity of their games. Which makes them like a lot of other rich white men in this country, when you think of it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wisconsin loses "low-unemployment" advantage

Couple of reports out of D.C. illustrate how the policies in Fitzwalkerstan have eroded something that was a big advantage for Wisconsin until Scott Walker took over in 2011- the state's low and falling unemployment rate.

When Barack Obama took over in January 2009, the country was in the throes of the Wall Street meltdown that was causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. And this was reflected in the spiking unemployment rate, which took till the end of 2009 to stabilize through the ARRA stimulus and other measures. Since then, it's been a slow but relatively steady decline in UE, down to today's 8.1%

Wisconsin was not immune from the problems of the Great Recession, and its unemployment went up like almost everywhere else from 2009 to 2010. But because the state wasn't as invested in the legalized gambling that caused a lot of the collapse, it didn't fall apart as badly as other places like Nevada or Florida, and unemployment never reached double digits here. From January 2010 to January 2011, the state's unemployment fell more than twice as much as the U.S. as a whole, leaving Scott Walker with a state in decent shape when he took office.

Wisconsin unemployment rate 2009-2011
Jan 2009 7.1%
Jan 2010 9.2% (+2.1%)
Jan 2011 7.7% (-1.5%)

Walker's supporters bragged about the state's low unemployment in the recall election campaign, with an example coming from his ex-Hooters Girl spokeperson.
[Ciara] Matthews confirmed that the ad uses Barrett’s whole tenure as mayor for its comparison: “The ad highlights the drastic differences in Governor Walker and Mayor Barrett’s leadership. In just 15 short months, because of Governor Walker’s bold leadership, unemployment in Wisconsin has fallen to 6.8% the lowest it has been since 2008."
Actually Hooters Girl, most of the heavy lifting of that drop was when Wisconsin was under Gov. Doyle and the Legislative Dems from 2010-2011. And as Thursday's August jobs report showed, Wisconsin's unemployment rate has spiked up since that interview in May. Now it's barely any different than when Walker took over 20 months ago, while the U.S. rate continues to fall.

Weekly unemployment claims tell a similar story. While U.S. claims haven't had a year-over-year increase in unadjusted claims since a one-week blip in 2011 (and the one previous to that was in 2009). By comparison, Wisconsin has had 5 weeks of year-over-year claims increases this year alone, including the most recent week listed in early September (shown by a listing above 0 in this graph). This is in stark contrast to the Doyle-Dem budget year of 2009-2010, when new Wisconsin unemployment claims were consistently down 20-30% from the previous year.

And when you compare Wisconsin's trend in unemployment claims with the U.S.'s, you've seen a steady erosion in Wisconsin's advantage since Act 10 was passed in March 2011. Nowadays, it is likely that a year-over-year drop in Wisconsin unemployment claims is due to the improving U.S. economy under Obama, and often Walker/WisGOP state policies are causing increased unemployment claims- which could be theorized when you see any number above 0 on this chart.

Change in y-o-y unemployment claims, Wis. vs. U.S.

So from these charts, it shows that Wisconsin's economy is stalling out and perhaps falling into recession while the rest of the U.S. remains on a slow and steady recovery. Keep it in mind when you think about retaining the Republican Legislature that passed these laws, and left us where we are today.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Updated Walker jobs gap, with more pictures!

Yesterday's Wisconsin jobs report seemed OK on the surface, with 7,800 seasonally-adjusted jobs created overall in August. But it masked a lot of weakness beneath it. Among the not-so-great things about it.

1. 3,600 of those jobs created were in local government, and a lot of those seem to be the result of a lack of seasonal, end-of-summer layoffs, because there were only 300 jobs created in the non-seasonally adjusted survey.

2. 5,900 jobs were created in the "Leisure and Hospitality" sector, which is code for "Bars and Hotels." Not exactly big-paying jobs, and probably not unrelated to college getting back in session, but Summer tourism season not quite ending. Watch for this to even up in September.

3. 4,500 jobs were LOST in manufacturing in Wisconsin in August. Much like the rest of the country, some of these are probably related to a snapback from a lack of automaking layoffs in July (I touched on this in this article). But there were still 1,900 actual jobs lost in manufacturing in Wisconsin in August, and as this chart shows, our manufacturing losses were far greater than the nation's as a whole.

Given that manufacturing has contnued to come back in the U.S. over the last 12 months, you'd think a heavy-manufacturing state like Wisconsin would be booming. The fact that we've lost jobs in manufacturing instead illustrates yet another Walker jobs failure. So what's Scotty's solution? To fly to Texass and meet with Chinese investors. Unbelievable.

Wonder if he'll point to these charts to show how Wisconsin's "going in the right direction." For example, that the Walker jobs gap is at 80,000 jobs overall, and that 20,000 jobs have left since the start of his term in January 2011.

Or maybe Walker can point to the private sector jobs gap, which is now at 84,000 jobs and is down 15,000 from the time he took office.

Yeaaaaah, I'm betting that's not going to get brought up to the Chinese today by ol' Scotty. Oh, and just in time for your weekend, public employees are now slated to get another take-home pay cut of 0.75% due to higher pension contributions, (well, unless Act 10 is thrown out). I'm sure fewer jobs and lower take-home pay for hundreds of thousands Wisconsin families will do wonders for demand in our state for 2013, won't it?

No, it really isn't working.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The mooching 47% sure pay a lot of taxes!

You may have seen Mitt Romney's epically silly comment given to his fellow oligarchs about who supports his opponent, but if you haven't, here's the best-known line.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
I'll leave aside the crassness of a presidential candidate saying he doesn't care about 150 million people (a disqualifying comment on its face), and instead look at the tax question.

The "47% pay no income tax" line comes from federal income tax records, and the Brookings Institute says Romney is close enough, as 46.4 percent of households ended up owing $0 income tax to the federal government after filing their taxes. Of course, all 46% of these households don't work at all, but instead they get their federal income taxes written off through deductions such as interest on home mortgages and student loans, or through tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit,and credits for raising children. And a majority of the people who don't owe federal income taxes sure do end up paying other taxes- most notably Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. (picture courtesy Tax Policy Center at Brookings)

And of those people who don't pay payroll taxes, the majority of them are elderly, and past working age.

So to identify the "47%ers" as unemployed freeloaders is absurd- most do work and earn some kind of money, and many of those who don't probably did when they were younger and more able-bodied.

But it goes further than that. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released a report on the same day as Romney's statement which was a summary of previous research they'd done on taxes. This report notes that the same tax credits that lead to many people owing no federal income tax also has driven more people to look for work and get them off of the welfare rolls, which I thought Republicans were supposed to be all about.
Studies of the EITC expansions enacted in the 1980s and 1990s found those expansions induced more than half a million people to enter the labor force. One prominent study identified the EITC as “a particularly important contributor to both the recent decrease in welfare use and the recent increase in employment, labor supply, and earnings” among female-headed families. The creation of the refundable component of the Child Tax Credit, which like the EITC is available only to families that work, has complemented the EITC’s pro-work efforts. Moreover, the EITC and CTC lifted 8.9 million people — including 4.7 million children — out of poverty in 2010. These refundable credits lift more children out of poverty than any other program or category of programs at any level of government.
So when Romney and the oligarchs that buy into his trash start whining about non-taxpayers, ask them which deductions and credits they'd like to do away with, and if they'd prefer more productive citizens to go onto the dole (and increase government spending) instead. Because that would be the result if they got rid of the EITC and CTC.

It is especially disgusting to hear rich people like Romney whine about people who don't pay federal income taxes, because lower-income people pay a much higher tax rate than Mittens on a lot of other taxes. Also from the CBPP report are a couple of graphs worth looking at. First of all, the non-rich pay a much higher percentage of their income in payroll and excise taxes, as Social Security taxes are capped at just over $100,000, and everyone pays the same tax on a 6-pack of beer or gallong of gasoline regardless of how much pay you take home. (click for larger image)

State and local taxes also hit the lower classes harder. States lay on excise and gas taxes as well, and also have sales taxes, which are usually regressive (especially in backwards states like Alabama and Tennessee where they tax you for groceries). In addition, property taxes also often end up being regressive- especially when you realize the rich are usually having those taxes deducted at 35% vs. 15% or 28% for most middle-class people.

Lastly, Mittens apparently doesn't know much about which parts of the country do and do not pay taxes. Because a whole lot of the Confederate states that Romney and Republicans count on to run up votes are the ones that are most likely to have the "dependent on government" types. These are the states that are marked in red, and Romney just admitted he doesn't care about governing "those people."

So good luck going ahead Mittens. Oh, and while you're at it- can you verify for us that you're not one of those 47%ers? You know, by showing us your income tax returns? Yes folks, another reason this is such an epic blunder is because it brings Romney's refusal to show us his tax returns right back to the forefront.

What an assclown.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yep- G'town and Elmbrook ARE killing themselves

Just over a year ago, I noticed articles in newspapers talking about suburban Milwaukee public school districts that used Gov. Walker's Act 10 "tools" to stick it to their teachers, like the Sykes-suckers that they are. And I centered on the Germantown and Elmbrook districts, and said at the time that these places were slitting their own throats, and using the tools against teachers would come back to bite them. Well, we have another school year that just started up, and let's see where these 2 districts are.

Let's go to Germantown first. The G'town district jacked up the health care premiums and deductibles that teachers had to pay, with the school board arguing that making teachers pay more out of pocket was a way to reduce "unnecessary" usage of insurance, which could keep costs down. At the time, I said
But hey, that $40 a G'towner with a $250K home will save this year is worth it! Even that isn't impressive, because that same homeowner has had their school tax rates go up 16.4% since 2007, which includes the cut this year. And because Germantown schools refinanced $9.5 million in debt last year and now owe $11 million on their borrowing, that's money that'll have to be paid off with higher amounts in future years, bringing the school district back to needing large tax increases, without the tools to offset the cuts from the state. So with a little context, it's obvious that 2011 is a one-time retraction that won't do anything except mark Germantown as unfriendly to the teachers they rely on.
And sure enough, one year later, the teachers have noticed how the school board treated them, and don't want to stay in G'town. And so the district had to start classes this September without a full staff of teachers to meet the district's needs.
The Germantown School District saw an unusual number of resignations before the 2012-13 school year and is continuing to fill five open positions.

...[d]istrict had 22 resignations and seven retirements this year, which is a significant jump over the last six years, Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Coley said during the board's personnel committee meeting this week as she gave an update on staffing to board members.

In the 2010-11 school year the numbers were flipped as there were six resignations and 23 retirements.

"It's hard to know if this is the start of a trend with only one year's worth of data but it is a recognizable spike in terms of resignations," Superintendent Susan Borden said....

During the personnel committee meeting Monday, Borden said districts are just beginning to understand the ripple effects of changes at the state level as a result of Act 10.

She said the term commonly thrown around is "free agency" as educators realize their seniority no longer matters.
Guess what, those free agents are going to go somewhere that they are respected and can get the take-home pay they deserve, and good luck trying to replace them, G'town. At least you have that hoops title from last year.

Now let's go a couple of towns south into Walkershaw County, and check out the Elmbrook School District, which slashed expenses and property taxes by millions in 2011, mostly by shifting the costs over to the teachers. This led to a predictable run on retirements, and combined with a loss of nearly $600,000 in state aid for this year due to Walker's budget, the Elmbrook district had to close 1 elementary school, which has now led to the other elementary schools having 30 kids in classes, and angering parents. One was quoted in a TMJ-4 story as saying "They add 50, 60, 100 kids to the school but no teachers." And now the same school board that allowed this situation to go on has their annual budget meeting for this school year scheduled for next week, and will probably be facing a lot of parents like that one. Have fun dealing with that, ya Brookfield Baggers!

12 months ago, I saw this coming, and said the following:
Not only won't teachers not want to locate there, young families won't choose Brookfield like my parents did 30 years ago. As suburban Boomers become empty nesters and want to downsize their home or retire elsewhere, they're going to have to get rid of their big-lot houses. So that $40 or $60 they save in school taxes this year will probably cost them thousands in home value when they need to cash in their equity 10-20 years down the road.

Then watch those places fall into disrepair and insignificance as they get passed up for somewhere that's better to live in. It's already happening in Elmbrook, where they're talking about closing at least 1 elementary school due to declining enrollment. So this divide and conquer, race-to-the-bottom mentality of low taxes that exists in the 262-area code suburbs who rely on high levels of services may indeed be the source of their own demise.
The declinig home values are certainly happening in Bagger-ific Washington County, (which includes Germantown) as Washington County's median home sales price is down more than 4% vs. last year, and in Charles Sykes' home of Ozaukee County, sales prices are down 6.7% in 2012. By comparison, the median sales price for rest of the state has seen a small increase, so these Bagger counties are already falling behind after only 1 year of Fitzwalkerstan and Act 10 policies.

In addition, now that Act 10 is null and void for public school districts, places like Elmbrook and Germantown will have to shell out huge amounts of back pay to the teachers they decided used the tools on, and will try to pick up the pieces from the fiscal mess that now is going to exist. This will probably result in big property tax increases, along with possible cuts in classes that a lot of students and parents want. Have fun facing the voters after you get done screwing up the schools in towns that really have nothing else of to offer!

And the worst part, these guys did it to themselves. Need I remind you that both Germantown and the Elmbrook district voted more than 2 to 1 for Walker? So it can be argued that results like this is what the people of those communities supported. Now those Baggers get to lie in that bed, while us in the thinking and decency parts of the state will be taking the teachers that you chose to disrespect. So we'll be thriving while their suburbs turn into declining ghost towns. Just breaks my heart, it does.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

So was Act 10 worth it, Scotty?

Obviously yesterday was good news for us in Wisconsin who still believe in a shred of decency and respect for people who perform public service, as Act 10's rules against public sector unions were struck down for local government employees. And it illustrates the biggest failure (among many) of this incompetent Walker administration- they got greedy with Act 10, and instead of reducing expenses, it'll end up costing taxpayers more than if they'd stopped themselves.

First, the basis of the ruling is important to bring up. I'll give you the State Journal stenographer version, and then I'll explain a bit more on it.
In his decision, Colas disagreed with the unions' contention that the enactment of the law violated a constitutional clause limiting special legislative sessions and said the law does not violate the constitutional prohibition against taking a property interest without due process.

But he wrote that while collective bargaining is not a constitutional right, once the government has permitted it, "it may not make the surrender or restriction of a constitutional right a condition of that privilege."

He wrote that the law imposes burdens on employees' exercise of their right of free speech and association, limiting what local governments may offer union-represented employees and prohibiting them from paying dues by payroll deduction, "solely because the dues to go a labor organization."

"Conversely," he wrote, "employees who do not associate for collective bargaining are rewarded by being permitted to negotiate for and receive wages without limitation."

Colas also wrote that the law creates distinct classes of public workers who are represented by unions and those who are not. The law also prohibits payroll deduction for dues for general labor unions but allows dues deductions for public safety and transit unions.
First of all, the reasons Colas struck down the law have nothing to do with the Supreme Court decision last June, where the 4 con judges said that the method of passing Act 10 was OK. Colas says the METHOD the law was passed was legal, but has a problem with WHAT WAS IN THE LAW, and the case is extremely different as a result. We'll see if that matters to the Supreme Court once the inevitable appeal heads its way, but if I were Justice Patience Roggensack and up for appeal in 6 1/2 months, I might want to rule on the side of the justice and not try to make shit up, because we're just begging to put a target on her back (I'm just saying, Patty).

The decision once again exposes the exemptions carved out for police and fire fighters, which Walker did as a payback in exchange for their support in the 2010 elections, help to make Act 10 illegal (the transit workers were added later, when the stare realized they lose nearly $50 million in federal transit funds if they took away bargaining rights for transit employees). Walker admitted to crazed tax-ducking billionairess Diane Hendricks that this was part of the "divide and conquer" plan when he kissed up to her in 2011.

The plan was to try to get police and fire to stay out of the fray so there'd be less resistance. Well, given all the "Cops for Labor" signs and the ascendance of Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell as a key Dem voice against Walker, I'm thinking it didn't go as planned for ol' Scotty. And now the divide and conquer, "separate the types of public employees" strategy is a big reason why Act 10 got shot down. So that's Walker FAIL #1.

Here's Walker Fail Number 2- If we live in a time of Citizens United and money = speech and "corporations are people, my friends," then employees certainly have the right to associate with whatever groups they wish, including forming unions. Hey, if this decision leads GOPs to understand that Citizens United is a bad deal and leads to special interests getting too much power and should be limited, I'm all for it. But I'm guessing that's not the way the average self-absorbed Sykes listener and Koch head is capable of seeing it.

And that leads to FAIL #3, because Walker and company made the blunder of wanting it all, and now they'll get nearly nothing. They decided to reach down from the state level and get in the way of local governments and their negotiations with their local unions, instead of limiting their screw job to state employees. And they tied the hands of local governments by drastically reducing state shared revenue, and limiting the amount of levy increases these communities could do, so even if a community valued its employees or if a district valued its teachers, it couldn't pay them or raise the revenues to retain qualified employees (you know, like any other business could).

Judge Colas has now said that the restrictions on local government are overreach (especially when it comes to interfering with the Milwaukee ERS systems, which are separate from the state retirement system). Now these systems that used Act 10's "tools" to screw over public employees have to deal with the double-whammy of renegotiating deals with these public workers, while having to deal with Walker's and WisGOP's cuts. If Walker had merely left the local public workers alone, even with the stupid levy limits, I'd bet that both sides would have worked out deals that would have left things closer to the way they were, while still leaving the local communities and districts with better services than they they have now.

And because of the cuts to take-home pay, many teachers and other public employees moved on from places where they weren't being valued, like in pro-Walker Germantown, where mass resignations have led to teaching vacancies at the start of the school year after imposing Act 10's "tools" on staff. (Gee, who could have seen that coming? Oh, THIS GUY! )

Instead, you can count on a lot of public workers filing suits to get back money that they are entitled to, but had taken away due to the illegal rules in Act 10. Basically, it'll be a replay of the $4.5 million Milwaukee County taxpayers are paying back due to Walker's flouting of contract law with furloughs in 2010. But not only will Walker's policies fail in being effective policy for maintaining services, it won't even save them any money past this year (I'm not even counting all the money that the state has blown on lawyers for defending this dumb, illegal law).

With local governments having their budget debates over the next 8 weeks, watch for some serious changes and cuts in services that would have been unneccessary without the idiotic Act 10. And I'm somehow not thinking the employees are going to be so nice to management now that they've seen how quickly some Bagger governments cut their take-home pay the last time. Hey, as I've said many times, these communities wanted Fitzwalkerstan, and now they're gonna get it! While communities that saw the problems coming and valued their public employees signed multi-year agreements with concessions in them are now in good shape, (like Madison Teachers, who are still under a contract signed in 2011) the Bagger towns that denigrated and imposed Act 10 on their teachers are losing...badly.

But let's be honest, the biggest fail of them all comes from Sen. Scott Fitzgerald's dimwitted "tell" in March 2011, when he admitted that Act 10 was never about helping to balance the budget, but was instead about the November 2012 elections.

Well beating Obama in 2012 ain't looking like it's gonna happen either, Scotty. So count that as FAIL #4, and no gerrymander that you did will be able to save you by the time people see the wreckage that is Fitzwalkerstan by 2014. So I hope this 20 months of posing and pitting neighbor vs. neighbor was worth it for Scott Walker and company, because Act 10 and its results are A MASSIVE FAILURE for most of us in Wisconsin.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Never forget...

Given that the markets exploded today after the Fed stepped in to buy more Dubya-style bad mortgage debt, helping the S&P to close at its highest level since 2007, I think it's worth remembering that Saturday's the 4-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. And it's worth keeping in mind where we were 4 years ago, and how we've been slowly working out way out of the hole we were slammed into in the Great Recession. Not that I think Obama needs much help for the election at this point, but in case things get closer in the next 8 weeks, keep this picture from Matthew Wuerker in your mind. Maybe it's a bit negative on Barack (note the garbage can), but we can never forget how we got here and why it happened, and why we can't go back to it again.

Even the Fed knows that jobs and economic growth are a lot more important concerns than any inflation right now, and with 10-year notes at 1.76%, the market seems to have no real problem with this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Walker DHS keeps on screwing, but J-S covers it up

I wanted to bring a couple of articles to your attention on how the failures continue to roll on at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The first is a follow-up of a story I told you about 3 weeks ago, when the husband of the DHS's top lawyer allegedly tried to kill her, and accused her of having an affair with her boss- DHS Secretary Dennis Smith. Well, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has still refused to mention the story, despite the fact that the husband's case is still moving through the court system. Urban Milwaukee writer Bruce Murphy had seen enough, and decided to call the J-S out for its silence on the story today, and its double-standard in covering these types of situations, depending on who's accused.
The Journal Sentinel buried a tiny story about the murder attempt by a husband who thought his wife was having an affair, but doesn’t mention Dennis Smith. The story is actually by the Associated Press, which may have made the decision to leave Smith out of the story, or it was trimmed by JS editors. Either way, the newspaper chose not to pursue the story.

These kind of stories are always judgement calls by the editors. In the case of Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, the JS pursued him aggressively until Flynn admitted having an affair (though I’m told editor Marty Kaiser reluctantly gave the okay for the story). Yet a year earlier, when it came out that Milwaukee lobbyist Bill Broydrick’s cell phone number was among those on the list of DC Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the JS chose not to report this. Broydrick has top clients in both Wisconsin and nationally, and could have conceivably been doing favors for politicians. WTMJ TV chose to report the story (this was back before the newspaper and its radio and TV stations began working cooperatively on stories).

The result of the JS decision in the Mary Spear situation is that everyone in Madison is talking about a story that almost no one in Milwaukee knows about. Brian Brophy, attorney for Andrew Spear, is blaming the affair for his client’s behavior. “Obviously, his wife’s affair may have led to some bad behavior,” Brophy has said. Brophy’s request to subpoena Mary Spear and question her about the alleged affair during the preliminary hearing was denied.

In short, it’s likely Brophy will emphasize this story if there is a trial, which could bring more publicity. Criminal complaints and legal hearings have always been fair game for the press. Odds are you haven’t heard the last of this story.
No, I don't think it's the last you've heard of it either, and it's worth keeping an eye on not only because of the sex angle, but there's a bigger question as to how Mary Spear REALLY got her big-money, taxpayer-funded job.

Another story the Journal-Sentinel hasn't mentioned yet is the closing of Western Wisconsin's Community Health Partnership. Approximately 360 people could lose their jobs as a result of this move, and the reason it's happening goes directly back to the policies of Dennis Smith and Scott Walker.
The two programs offered by CHP to the state DHS are Family Care, which offers assistance for individuals with functional challenges, and Partnership, which provides both functional and medical services to elderly and disabled individuals. The programs services about 2,700 people in the region, who were notified of the change by a letter from the state DHS.

CHP released a statement Tuesday saying that the agency informed state officials in July that it was not financially viable for CHP to continue offering the Family Care program.

“In early August, CHP received a letter from ... (DHS Secretary) Dennis Smith, stating that they interpreted (CHP’s) follow-up email as a notice that CHP did not want to participate in the Family Care program going forward,” the statement said.

“The letter ... also stated that this would also mean CHP’s operation of the Partnership program would end as of Jan. 1, 2013.”
It makes you wonder if some of this is related to the Walker Administration's jerking around of the Family Care program, which started by having Walker and Smith's DHS limit enrollment in the popular program to cut expenses, and led to the fiasco last December where Walker lied to reporters about his reasons for removng the cap (Remember when Scotty said he was doing it because it was the right thing to do when it turned out the Obama Administration told them to do it or else they'd lose millions in federal funds? Yeah, that screw-up).

Another part of that handling of Family Care involves payments to providers, and Walker and Smith have claimed that they will be able to reach millions in cuts through various "administrative measures." Well, I have little doubt that those administrative measures helped lead to CHP saying that it couldn't go on with the measly amount of money the state was paying it. So itends up going out of business, leaving 2,700 people in the lurch in places such as Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, and River Falls.

Now the state plans to run a competitive bid for these services and should be able to find some providers to continue to allow Family Care recipients to continue to get services, and some of those 360 people currently working at CHP will no doubt continue working for the new provider with a similar job. But there's no promise that the costs won't be higher, along with some painful transitions as the new providers go into place around January 1...and that's if the new vendor is competent and everything goes well in the changeover (which is not a guarantee in these situations).

However, this disruption of services for people in Western Wisconsin doesn't mean much to Scott Walker and Dennis Smith, they just care about the bottom line and the ability to pose behind an allegedly "balanced" budget. And if thousands of Family Care recipients and their families are damaged in the process and the value of services goes down, that's just collateral damage in the bigger picture of advancing right-wing ideology over results.

Hey J-S reporters, these are two big stories about DHS just sitting there for you to look into and expose. That is if you want to start caring about performing a public service and, you know, DOING YOUR JOB.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pt. 2 - they wanted Fitzwalkerstani public schools, they got 'em!

Now let's talk about the Walker/WisGOP damage to Wisconsin public schools, with much of the defunding hitting right at the heart of Walker Country- Waukesha County. Look at this article where parents in Brookfield are complaining about Elmbrook Schools closing an elementary school due to budget cuts, leading to classes with 30 kids in them. This is doubly interesting because last September, the Elmbrook district was bragging about using Walker's Act 10 tools and making their teachers pay a lot more in pension and health care contributions.

Well, the communities in the Elmbrook district voted 73-27 on June 5 in favor of Scott Walker (with over 30,000 votes cast in the area!). So these people clearly decided to support Walker's budget cuts to education, as well as slashing the take-home pay of their teachers. And their reward? Elmbrook schools lost nearly 10% of their state aid for K-12 schools for this year, and the closing of that elementary school and larger class size is a natural result from those budget cuts, and the state's limits on raising property taxes to make up for those cuts. So how's that "Standing with Walker" thing working out for you now, eh, Brookfield? Eh, Elm Grove?

And Elmbrook is far from the only place in the 262 and other pro-Walker communities to have this problem. I wrote about this 2 months ago when the preliminary school aid numbers came out, and I noticed many suburban Milwaukee schools getting big K-12 aid cuts for this year. Even more sick is the fact that the bad news may not be over with, as those school aid numbers don't get finalized until October, when the "3rd Friday" attendance figures are determined. It could end up being EVEN LOWER.

But the 262 is not the only place that's having school funding issues in the age of Fitzwalkerstan. Just this week, there was an update on the Shawano district's plans to make big raises in property taxes to make up for a $1.75 million cut in state aid. Not surprisingly, the decision to jack property taxes by 12.43% hasn't gone over well, but as the article notes, state coverage of Shawano schools has gone from 2/3 of costs in the late '90s to 1/2 today, and the money has to come from somewhere. Shawano voted overwhelmingly for Walker on June 5, and now they're feeling that result.

And perhaps this defunding of schools and cuts in take-home pay to teachers and other school employees is showing itself in home values. Wisconsin property values were down 3.2% in 2012, and the Wisconsin Realtors Assosication shows a paltry 0.4% increase in statewide home sales prices in July 2012 vs. July 2011.

You can't even blame this one on the national economy, because the U.S. just had their largest year-over-year home price increase in 6 years, at 3.8%, so this stagnant and declining home price situation in Wisconsin goes directly to the situation here, and that includes the defunding and devaluing of public education.

So we'll see if the Bagger areas of Wisconsin start to wise up to the failures of Fitzwalkerstan as their schools fall apart, property taxes go up, and home values go down. Or people will just pack up and leave these areas as they descend into Idiocracy. Either way, you get the sense things aren't going to get better for these folks until they wake up and realize that voting for anti-education Republicans is the equivalent of cutting their own throats.

Pt. 1- School privatization FAIL in Wisconsin

Last week was back-to-school time here in Wisconsin public schools, and there have been several reports coming out illustrating the failures of the Fitzwalkerstanis and their defunding and privatization schemes when it comes to K-12 schools in Wisconsin.

First, let's look at Fitzwalkerstan's preferred alternatives to public schools. Gannett's Wisconsin papers recently produced an excellent report on Wisconsin virtual charter schools, and it shows that virtual schools fall way short of K-12 public schools on most meaningful metrics. The study said far fewer virtual school students take AP tests vs. public schools, virtual school students also performed below public school students in math, social studies, language arts and science. And it looks even worse when you look at graduation and retention.
In 2010-11, the latest year for which data is available, 87.6 percent of the high school seniors statewide had received a degree or diploma within four years. In virtual schools, only 53.2 percent achieved that.

• Statewide in 2010-11, 99.4 percent of all students completed the school term they started. In virtual schools, that number was only 83.3 percent. Only 1.4 percent of students statewide were required to repeat a grade that year, compared with 6.8 percent of virtual students.

• More than one-tenth of virtual school students — 12.8 percent — were listed as dropouts in 2010-11, compared with 1.4 percent of students statewide
Yet Walker and the WisGOPs eliminated the cap on virtual schools, despite the evidence that they are a failing method of teaching students. But hey, why would the Walker folks care as long as it throws some taxpayer dollars to their buddies in this shady business, right?

Walker and the WisGOPs also allowed for a lot more money to be thrown at voucher schools in the most recent state budget (and voucher proponents like convicted criminal Scott Jensen and John Gard have given huge campaign contributions to WisGOP, and even had a role in determining redistricting maps), which makes the recent LAB audit of the Milwaukee voucher school program worth taking a look at, to see if this is actually working.

The report says voucher schools are a mixed bag. There appears to be a slight advantage in growth of reading scores among voucher students vs. students who stayed in MPS, but the growth was basically the same in math, and when it came to overall test scores, voucher schools did worse. Even when voucher students were compared to equally economically disadvantaged students that stayed in MPS, the results were barely different.
Among fourth-grade pupils, smaller percentages of Choice pupils than MPS economically disadvantaged pupils scored at the proficient or advanced levels on the reading, mathematics, and science sections; and

 among eighth- and tenth-grade pupils, higher percentages of Choice pupils than MPS economically disadvantaged pupils scored at the proficient or advanced levels on the reading and science sections, while lower percentages of Choice pupils than MPS economically disadvantaged pupils scored at those levels on the mathematics section.

Smaller percentages of Choice pupils than MPS pupils scored at the proficient or advanced levels in every grade level and on every test section, except for on the eighth-grade reading section. The percentages of pupils statewide who scored at the proficient or advanced levels were uniformly higher than those of the other three groups of pupils.
So there's really no difference with voucher kids vs. other kids from poor families in MPS schools, which to me indicates a failure of voucher schools. Why? Because parents that would put their kids into a voucher school care enough about their kids' education that they're willing to try something that they think could help their kids' chances of success. If those students are doing the same as the general MPS population (which includes some parents who don't give a shit about their kids' education), then that tells me voucher schools aren't doing the job.

But that won't stop politicians like Robin Vos and Scott Walker from allowing more of these schools to open and have money thrown at it, because it means major money from Scooter Jensen and the voucher school lobbyists. Even when Republican legislators admit in private that it's poverty, not public vs. private schools, that is a main factor in determining a student's success. Remember this great video from Madison's Inn on the Park?

So no, it's not "working" when you look at the Walker/ WisGOP/ Bradley privatization schemes that are being floated as an alternative to public schools in Wisconsin. And in my next post, I'll show you how Walker and co. fail the very constituents that voted for them by screwing the public schools.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tammy's groovin' values!

Tommy Thomspon's political director released the following video on the day that Tammy Baldwin was addresing the DNC, claiming that her dancing at a Madison Gay Pride event doesn't display "Heartland Values." Well here's the video, with Tammy in the blue shirt on the right, and I think it's great!

First of all, the guy who released the video and Tweets was Brian Nemoir, the same guy who ran Supreme Court Justice David Prosser's campaign in 2011, and famously claimed Prosser "would complement" Scott Walker and WisGOP's agenda. So given that this is a guy said judges shouldn't value fairness and the rule of law, and instead value the goals of the Wisconsin GOP, I really don't think he's one to talk about "Heartland values."

Second, I think the video helps Tammy, and not just because it makes the GOP look like homophobic d-bags. It makes her look a lot more interesting and fun than she often comes off in her regular work, and especially softens up the lying image WisGOP talk radio would give of her (does that look like a dangerous rabid Madison librul to you?)

Now let's compare that to Tommy Thompson's "Heartland values." I won't even bring up certain rumors about his marriage, but instead will remind you of how he represents our state in public. Remember how Tommy welcomed the Packers back from their Super Bowl loss in 1998?

Sorry, Brian Nemoir, but it is Tommy Thompson who embarrasses Wisconsin with his actions, not Tammy Baldwin. And Tammy Baldwin is the level-headed, decent person that better exemplifies Wisconsin values.

August jobs report = "morning in America"?

The big story yesterday was the monthly jobs report, which showed 96,000 jobs added in August, and the unemployment rate dropping to 8.1%. Tepid numbers on the surface, and they look slightly worse when you realize that June and July were both revised down, with a reduction of 41,000 jobs between them, making the gain only 55,000 vs. what was previously reported.

But I also think our media overreacted to these numbers. I checked the newsstand today, and the Wisconsin State Journal is calling the jobs numbers "A blow to Obama." REALLY? I know it's not rainbows and ice cream, but I have a hard time buying that a report that shows private sector job growth for the 30th straight month is a major setback. And as this chart shows, the slow-but-steady recovery to the Bush Recession continues, with more than half of the jobs lost between August 2008 and July 2009 gained back in the last 3 years.

But given that the media really needs this Romney-Obama race to seem close so people will keep watching and buying ads, they're going to try anything in their power to keep Obama from pulling away after a great DNC. So they'll put out the alarm bells from a jobs report that doesn't really change the way things have been for the last few months.

My bigger concern from that report comes from the manufacturing figures, which shows a seasonally-adjusted drop of 15,000 jobs in that sector. That seems to go against the Dem convention theme of "Obama's auto bailout led to a manufacturing recovery." But the jobs report points out that many of the manufacturing "losses" weren't losses at all.
A decline in motor vehicles and parts (-8,000) partially offset a gain in July. Auto manufacturers laid off fewer workers for factory retooling than usual in July, and fewer workers than usual were recalled in August.
This is the flip side of the cosmetically low unemployment claim numbers in July, which happened because of carmakers continuing to crank out vehicles instead of having summer shutdowns. So it's better to look at the 2-month manufacturing trend with this in mind, and it shows an increase of 8,000 jobs since June, with 6,500 of those gains in "Motor vehicles and parts." So auto manufacturing is staying strong, and with this week's news of auto sales being up 20% vs. August 2011, the automobile sector looks to be in good shape and should add jobs for the near future.

If people concentrate on the unemployment rate, the rate of 8.11% is the second-lowest since Obama took office in January 2009. Now many will point out that much of August's drop is due to more people dropping out of the work force, and for that one month, that's true - there were 368,000 fewer in the work force on a seasonally-adjusted basis than July.

But if you look at the unadjusted numbers year-over-year, you see over 900,000 MORE people in the work force vs. this time last year, and 2.2 million more ID'ing themselves as employed, which explains how the unemployment rate is down by nearly 1% in the last 12 months. This chart will show how unemployment was rising in the 12 months before Obama took over, and crosses over when Obama became president in January 2009. Much like with the overall jobs numbers, the trend in unemployment rates is a good one, once the stimulus and other policies stabilized things in the middle of 2009.

What's doubly interesting is that the modern-day GOP gives nearly a god-like status to Ronald Reagan, while demonizing Obama as anti-American and everything Reagan allegedly wasn't. Well, when it comes to the economic circumstances both presidents arrived in office to, and in how their first terms have gone, they're pretty damn similar. In fact, it can be argued that Reagan didn't have it nearly as tough as Obama when he came to D.C. in 1980, and unlike Obama, Reagan's policies made things worse in the first 2 years. And 3 months before the presidential elections, unemployment had gone both for both Obama and Reagan, but the rate wasn't much different than the ones they inherited.

For Reagan's 1984 presidential re-election, the theme was one of optimism, that America had dug its way out of the stagflation economy of the previous decade. Watch this classic ad from that campaign, and answer a simple question- replace Reagan's name with Obama, and tell me what's different today?

So why is our media grumping about this latest jobs report? Has this country forgotten the depths of the mess we were in 4 years ago? Or is our media that far in the bag for a corporate America that loved Reagan's giveaways, and aren't as kind to Barack Obama? I think we know the real answer.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's not just any FRIDAY

And usually I'd be talking about the "bleh" jobs report or the huge amount of positive economic data that preceded it (such as great car sales and good productivity figures).

But not on Sept. 7. Not by me, anyway. You wanna know why?

Speaking of productivity, I noticed that 2/3 of my entries have been in the last year, which I guess is symptomatic of how this has become a great outlet in a crazy state and a crazy world. I want to give thanks to my 5 regular readers who have tuned in to my rantings and vanity for the last year, and I'll promise throw more around more of these thoughts in the months to come.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hey, it's a Walker Admin budget release!

Saw that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the DOR released end-of-fiscal year revenue numbers, and the Walker folks tried to do some "it's working" -style bragging. And on the face, the numbers look pretty good.
Preliminary data on general fund tax collections for the 2011-12 fiscal year is now available.
According to the Department of Revenue (DOR), collections totaled $13,514.6 million in 2011-12, which is an increase of 4.7% from the prior year.

The final estimate of tax collections for 2011-12 was $13,388,000,000, which is the number that will appear in the next version of the statutes. Actual collections were $126.6 million, or 0.9% above the estimate.
They also ended up $220 million above the LFB's estimates in February, where the LFB predicted a budget deficit opening up through due to low projected revenues. It also seems to contradict my claims in May that the increases were one-time blips that couldn't be trusted for final numbers at the end of the fiscal year. All taxes except for excise taxes came in above the orginal 2011-2012 approved state budget, which means there will be a bit of breathing room in year 2 to keep the numbers in line. They still need increases in incomes and sales taxes, but it's more along the lines of 2-3% instead of the 4-5% increases that were built into the 2012-2013 budget.

However, let's not quite break out the party hats just yet. If year 1 ends up in "surplus", it will be more because of some sketchy Walker Administration decisions on the spending side than improved revenues. The DOR's own pro-Walker release in May mentioned $78 million in savings due to "structural refunding authorized by [the state budget] and other debt refinancing, which is creating reduced debt service costs for the 2011-2013 biennium," and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout later got the LFB to reveal that this wasn't the only time this administation was kicking the can down the road by ringing up their credit cards.
State officials refinanced $190.1 million in May 2011 that would have otherwise been repaid. New bonds were sold in September 2011 to avoid paying $45.4 million in payments coming due in November 2012. And in March 2012, $218 million in debt payments due in May were delayed. The administration will also postpone another $104.8 million this May.

In one year, May 2011 to May 2012, a total of $558.3 million in debt payments due were delayed. Taxpayers will pay $156.2 million in new interest charges because of those recent financial actions. This new debt won’t be paid off until 2030-31.
Pretty easy to lower expenses if you just put em off, eh? And it's pretty easy to have a good budget when you fill its holes by taking $25 million in foreclosure aid money out of the hands of the people who might need it, a move that drew the ire of Preident Obama's HUD Secretary.
In a May 4 letter obtained recently, Shaun Donovan, secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the spirit of the settlement was to provide help directly to those affected, or at risk of being affected, by foreclosure.

"I am concerned about other reports indicating that the funds will be used to close state budget gaps unrelated to housing," Donovan wrote. "While ultimate allocation of these funds is up to you and other state officials, I would urge you to use this settlement payment to support direct homeowner assistance that can help ensure that Wisconsin homeowners can take advantage of every opportunity to avoid foreclosure and prevent the blight associated with foreclosure from hurting their neighbors and community."
But that would be helping people that aren't rich over posing for holy figures about papers that say your budget is balanced, which is a big no-no in Fitzwalkerstan. Therefore, they threw the money into the budget hole.

But you can bet none this will not be mentioned when the overall budget figures for year 1 of Ftizwalkerstan get finalized next month, and in all probably will look good at first glance. Walker (and most Republicans, in 2012 for that matter) have shown they can't be trusted to tell the truth on any of these matters, and their short-term gimmicks inevitably cost people more in the long-term. Look no further than Dan Bice's story this week, which showed that Walker's breaking of Milwaukee County union contracts on furloughs will now cost taxpayers an extra $4.5 million.

And why did Walker impose the furloughs in the first place (other than posing for Milwaukee talk radio and rubes in the 262)? A budget that illegally included a $17 million hole in it, assuming that there would be concessions. Walker used that hole to claim a budget emergency and impose the furloughs, (if this lie sounds like the cooked-up budget deficit that led to Act 10 at the state level in 2011, you would be correct).

So let's not give too many plaudits for Walker's "fiscal prudence." There's a whole lot of tricks that had to be pulled just to make this year look good, and you know the bill's coming due for those antics. And when that inevitably hits the fan, it'll create a whole lot more hurt to everyone...except for the administration that caused the problems.