Friday, October 30, 2015

UW, Badger football does not go better with Koch

I’m heading out to watch my alma mater play some football tomorrow, and I am dreading the fact that this will inevitably come up and momentarily spoil my gameday experience.
The Wisconsin Badgers’ Oct. 31 football game against Rutgers at Camp Randall Stadium will be sponsored by Koch Industries, the energy company run by billionaire political players David and Charles Koch. The game sponsorship is part of UW’s multi-year contract with a collegiate sports marketing company worth more than $111 million in guaranteed payments alone.

A 2012 UW Board of Regents contract, obtained by the Capital Times through an open records request, gives Badger Sports Properties, a subsidiary of Learfield Communications, Inc., the right to sell game sponsorships and advertisements to be displayed at UW-Madison athletic venues through 2026.
Basically, Learfield pays UW Athletics to get the right to make money by selling sponsorships and other ways for a company to get its name out there in front of a captive audience of 80,000 (well, given the rain and crappy opponent, it’ll probably be more like 65,000, but you get the idea). And as the Center for Media and Democracy pointed out last month, Koch is more than willing to step up and try to use college sports to look like nice guys, since the Koch name isn’t exactly one that’s thought of very favorably in much of the thinking parts of the country these days.
Koch Industries is in is the midst of a 10-year image makeover, including airing pro-Koch ads during The Big Bang Theory and The Daily Show, to hilarious mocking by Jon Stewart. CMD recently reported on a major Koch hiring spree to beef-up its internal communications team, hiring senior PR pros with experience at firms known for shilling for cancer-causing tobacco, such as Edelman and Burson-Marsteller. One of these new hires is Steve Lombardo, the head of Koch Marketing and Communications, who previously worked to assist the cigarette company Philip Morris with its image problem (its image was so bad it rebranded itself globally as "Altria").

"College sports are a great fit for us and we're excited to lend our support to these schools," Lombardo said of the Koch football deal.

Using sports to pump up the Koch name is a nice alternative to other methods of invading colleges and universities, although PR Watch noted that the Kochs are willing to use the power of their purse strings to do that as well.
The Kochs have come under scrutiny for providing funding to university programs with strings attached, raising serious questions about academic freedom. At Florida State, for example, the Kochs demanded control over the economic program's curriculum and the hiring of professors in exchange for providing funding. At the University of Kansas, the Kochs earmarked funding to a university professor as part of a fight against the state's renewable energy standards.
And this is certainly true in Wisconsin as well. Sure, the Kochs haven’t started paying off academic departments and installing right-wing hacks for UW professors (yet), but they sure put a lot of time and effort behind supporting a Governor who proposed a $300 million cut in his latest budget (on top of a major cut in 2011). Koch front groups also backed numerous GOP legislators who dishonestly demonized the UW for carrying reserve funds in 2013, and used that as an excuse to cut state aid in both the 2013-15 budget, as well as a $250 million cut for 2015-17.

In addition, Walker and the GOP Legislature have approved measures to demolish the tenure system at UW campuses, and have diminished the university’s independence from the Legislature, which have hurt the university’s ability to compete for top talent. Just today, there is a story out where UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank is telling colleagues that UW President Ray Cross is backtracking on a promise to allow the flagship school to develop its own tenure program, and is instead putting in a top-down proposal that comes from the Walker-stacked Board of Regents. Chancellor Blank says this could lead to a revolt from faculty, and even more departures from Madison.
Blank was responding to a memo from Cross last week that said regents “will not be in a position to approve campus-specific” policies until they adopt system-wide policies. And then campus rules will be considered within the “controlling limits of system-wide policies.”

Being told to set aside a UW-Madison tenure policy proposal after months of work, discussion and debate “will be widely interpreted as the faculty process being undercut by the BOR,” Blank wrote hours before discussion of Cross’ memo drew swift opposition from faculty at a meeting of the system-wide tenure task force.

“Those voices that have argued for more extreme policies (and have argued that the BOR is less-than-trustworthy on these issues) will be strongly reinforced, and those of us who have been trying to shepherd this in a responsible way toward resolution are likely to lose effectiveness,” Blank cautioned of superseding campus level policy-making.
With clear evidence that the Koch-owned GOP Legislature and Governor are undercutting the UW System’s ability to compete in the market for higher education and research with their regressive actions, allowing Koch to sponsor Badger football seems to run into conflict with the contract UW Athletics has with Learfield Industries. Take a look at this passage from last week's Wisconsin State Journal article on Koch’s game sponsorship.
UW’s contract with Badger Sports Properties prohibits the company from entering into “any agreement to provide services to a person or organization that has interests that are adverse to the university.”

The agreement also provides for eliminating a “damaging sponsor” upon action that the university and Badger Sports interpret as “unethical, immoral or illegal.”
Can someone tell me how Koch’s puppetmastering of a state legislature that seems determined to smear and injure the UW System (and especially those Madison liberals) isn’t an “interest adverse to the university?” C’mon man!

In the meantime, I’ll be interested to see what crowd reaction there is when we hear a PA announcement of “your Badger game sponsor, Koch Industries!” with some Koch PR flack standing next to Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. The in-game ads that Koch runs during UW football already get a handful of boos, mostly coming from the student section (in the adult sections, a lot of people are probably like me, gritting their teeth but not willing to say anything in fear of getting into an argument with some Bagger fan of Bucky’s). But what we’ll see tomorrow is a whole ‘nother level, and I’ll be interested in seeing if this is a catalyst for some Halloween actions from faculty or interested students who have taken on collateral damage from the Kochs’ regressive agenda in Wisconsin.

It’s time for Barry and Becky to let Learfield Communications know that Koch Industries is not going to profit off of the same university that their politicians hurt with their actions at the Capitol. If you need a few hundred thousand in donations to Bucky Atheltics, I’m sure me and many others who love this university will be glad to step up to get the dirty Koch name off of Camp Randall’s scoreboards. Just give the word.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Never forget the GOP's central goal

I didn't watch the absurdity known as yesterday's GOP debate last night, as I preferred to watch the Royals take it to Jacob DeGrom for 4 runs in the 5th inning of Game 2. Fortunately, I had the Twitter machine to catch me up on the whininess in real timd, and the great Charlie Pierce to tell the truths today that more "legitimate" media won't.
The economics the [GOP candidates] are pushing do only one thing well: shove more of the country's wealth upwards. History tells us this. The candidates don't tell all of us this, but they tell their donors this very thing when they think nobody's listening—or covertly taping their remarks. Right, Mitt? The contempt for ordinary workers, the suckers who vote for them because of scary Muslims or Jeebus or both, is manifested most clearly when they talk to their primary constituencies within the country's oligarchy. Sometimes, though, the truth slips out. Marco Rubio wants no taxes at all on investment income. None. Zero. Zippola. Bupkis. And he quoted JFK to support his position in the clumsiest example of the chronic supply-sider tic of enlisting Kennedy as a premature Lafferite I think I've ever seen. As I usually say in such circumstances, when we get the top marginal rate back up to 65 percent, which is the level to which Kennedy's tax cut reduced it, then we can start to talk about the rest of it. I think it's significant to note that, when Rubio tossed this turkey from the helicopter last spring, even supply-side fanatic Steve Moore thought it was at best incoherent nonsense, albeit because it also includes a head-fake toward middle-class tax relief that Moore believes leaves the plan open to reneging on its glorious promises to the yacht-owning classes.
Hey, if Marco Rubio wants to bring back a 65% tax rate on the rich, then maybe his budgets would have a snowball's chance in Hell of balancing. But I'm guessing I'll have to keep waiting for that.

You're seeing this in Wisconsin as well, from a bill being discussed next week to come up with yet another way to make it tougher for laid-off workers to receive unemployment benefits, to the proposals being circulated to eradicate Wisconsin's "first in the nation" workers compensation program. This is in addition to all the abusive laws passed in Wisconsin over last 4 1/2 years, from Act 10 and (right-to) work-for-less's union-busting, to numerous tax breaks that favor the rich, to wanting rich oligarchs to be able to hide their donors through dark-money third party organizations while encouraging discrimination against those who signed a petition to recall the governor, to the redirecting of funds away from public education and into private schools with vouchers.

The GOP's pattern is clear, whether at the federal level, or in an ALEC state like Wisconsin. The inner circle of donors and the wealthy are given every advantage, often at the detriment of the working classes. Social issues like guns, religion, and racism are used as a wedges to try to distract enough non-rich (white) voters to be suckered into voting GOP, allowing the downward spiral to continue. But make no mistake what the GOP's puppetmasters are REALLY about, and it isn't being culture warriors.

"High-tax, big spending" Wisconsin? Not really

Here is more interesting reporting from the Wisconsin Budget Project site, who crunched the numbers and showed that despite what WMC and GOP propaganda try to tell you, Wisconsin is pretty much middle-of-the-road when it comes to taxing and spending.
Wisconsin ranked 21st out of the 50 states in the amount of state and local taxes, fees, and other revenue collected per person in fiscal year 2013. Measured as a share of personal income, Wisconsin ranks 19th among the states in taxes, fees, and miscellaneous revenue.

Some policymakers focus on Wisconsin’s ranking on taxes alone when evaluating its revenue compared to other states. But focusing just on taxes means that fees and other charges, which come from residents’ pockets much like taxes do, are not taken into account. Combining taxes with fees and other revenue gives a broader and more complete measure of the money that state and local governments in Wisconsin collect from their residents.

The average amount state residents paid in taxes and fees is close to the national average. In 2013, Wisconsin residents paid an average of $6,711 in taxes, fees, and other charges to state and local governments, $57 higher than the national average. State residents paid 15.9% of personal income in taxes and other revenue, above the national average of 15.1%.

This explains how Wisconsin is 11th in the country when it comes to total taxes paid as a percentage of income, but falls to 19th when fees and other revenues are added to the equation (i.e.- “real life payments”). We make up for relatively high state taxes with the reality that local governments levy few taxes other than the property tax (a 0.5% county sales tax is about it), and that non-tax fees are often lower than other places (such as our $75 vehicle registration fee, a number that was a welcome relief to friends of ours who moved from California three years ago).

Another reason Wisconsin rates so high for state and local taxes is that the state is in the bottom third of both federal revenue and federal spending, which drops Wisconsin down to 26th in the nation for per capita revenue and 25th in per capita spending when the federal payments are mixed in. In addition, this means state and local payments have to make up the difference in order to maintain the same levels of service of states that get more cheese from D.C.

The Budget Project also notes that Wisconsin may have deserved a high-tax reputation 15 years ago (during the Booming Clinton/Thompson years), the state has generally fallen down that list since 2000, as evidenced by the following statistics.

Revenues and spending as % of income, Wisconsin
Revenues including federal aid
2000 18th
2013 25th

Revenues excluding federal aid
2000 13th
2013 19th

Total spending
2000 19th
2013 25th

And yet, while Wisconsin was generally a leader for Midwestern job growth and quality of life at the start of the 2000s (the state gained over 190,000 jobs between the end of 1996 and the end of 1999), it is now a laggard in both categories today, despite being allegedly “better for business” by lowering its ranking in total taxes and spending. Is it possible that the WMC/GOP mentality of "low taxes, low regulations, low wages" just doesn’t work? Reality and math sure seem to indicate that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

GAB Director drops a truth bomb onto WisGOP

A couple of weeks back, General Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy testified in a public hearing on the WisGOP Legislature's bill designed to destroy the state's election oversight agency. This meeting featured Kennedy asking State Sen. Chris Kapenga (aka the Delafield Fumbass) "Have you no decency?", when Kapenga tried to play the "guilt by association" game when he asked what relationship Kennedy had with IRS official Lois Lerner.

(You know, the same Lois Lerner who was in charge of verifying the non-profit status of alleged "social welfare" organizations who seemed to spend all their time doing policial campaigning, and the same Lois Lerner who was cleared of all criminal wrongdoing last week.)

In that same hearing, State Sen. Leah Vukmir made a number of allegations of GAB incompetence and partisanship, using many a story that had been repeated in the right-wing Bubble World of talk radio and Bradley Foundation-funded websites. Well, Kennedy responded yesterday with an outstanding smackdown, taking the accusations of Vukmir (R-ALEC) head-on, and refuting them point-by-point. Here's a taste, with Kennedy's reponses in bold, and me putting extra emphasis in italics.
[Vukmir statement] Q: In continued pursuit of unrelenting ludicrousness, in December of 2011 the GAB ruled that “Mickey Mouse” is a valid signature on recall petitions if it is accompanied by a Wisconsin address. Mickey Mouse. From Disney World. A valid voter in the eyes of the Government Accountability Board.

A:The G.A.B. responded to concerns about potential recall signature fraud by building a recall database at a cost of more than $75,000 and actively searching for duplicate signatures and fake names. There was no roadmap for such an effort and it was an unprecedented investment of staff time and resources. Out of 930,000 signatures submitted on petitions to recall the governor, there were 4,001 duplications and four fictitious signatures (Adolf Hitler, Mick E. Mous, Donald L. Duck, and I Love Scott Walker Thanks) which were not counted. The G.A.B. struck another 26,109 signatures for other deficiencies.

State law dictates that the responsibility for challenging fake, duplicate and otherwise insufficient signatures from a recall petition belongs to the official being recalled, not the G.A.B. The Board initially declined Friends of Scott Walker’s demands to exceed the statutory requirements in examining the petitions. FOSW sued the G.A.B. in Waukesha County Circuit Court, where Judge Davis ordered the Board to create a database to find and eliminate duplicates. The Board complied with the order and created the database at considerable time and expense to taxpayers. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice appealed Judge Davis’ ruling, which the Wisconsin Court of Appeals overturned in early February 2012. Despite this vindication of the Board’s original position, the Board moved forward with creation of the recall database and checks for duplicate and fake names in the interest of transparency and public confidence in the recall petition review process.

Politifact Wisconsin recently examined this claim in the context of a Twitter message by Governor Walker and ruled it was false.
Kennedy also gives the exact same response to three separate Vukmir claims that the GAB didn't look into actions of certain unions that may have violated election laws during the recall elections of 2012.
The G.A.B. takes all complaints seriously. State law makes it illegal to release information about complaints and investigations unless the Board has referred a matter to a district attorney, filed a civil complaint, dismissed a complaint after an investigation or found no probable cause to investigate. A legislator’s lack of knowledge as to whether the Board has investigated a complaint does not mean the Board has not investigated it, and legislators and the public should be careful about speculation and false assumptions in such cases. Additional information regarding the Board’s handling of confidential complaints cannot be released unless the Legislature removes the criminal penalties for G.A.B. staff who disclose information regarding agency investigations.
In other words Sen. Vukmir, KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT BEFORE YOU SAY IT, YOU PATHETIC HACK! Here's a tip to the ALEC Queen, just because Char-lie Sykes and Icki relay words from their Koch/Bradley bosses, it doesn't mean any of them are telling the truth (most likely, they are not). But then again, when you're a typical weak-minded suburban Milwaukee Republican slimeball, I guess facts and truth are whatever you choose it to mean, instead of independent realities.

Or maybe there's some other reason beyond whiny, suburban weak-mindedness, and it goes back to Delafield Dumbass Kapenga's reference to Lois Lerner. Given that Sen. Vukmir is the National Chair of ALEC, and that ALEC is one of those fake non-profits that allow its corporate members to dodge taxes by claiming to be a "public charity," maybe defanging oversight of campaign donations serves a deeper purpose. It allows for even more dirty, corporate money to infect our politics, and hide the source of that money, which insulates corporations from public blowback that may result from using their profits to buy up such scummy politicians who pass such slanted, destructive legislation.

Oh wait, there's no maybe about it. That's EXACTLY what Vukmir and the rest of the ALEC crew (aka: pretty much every GOP in the State Assembly) is up to with this deform "reform" of the GAB.

These people are not worthy of decorum or respect in any walk of life, but especially if you believe in fair elections and public accountability. With that in mind, Kevin Kennedy has acted in the only appropriate way you can with these thugs- letting them have it with the facts, and not "looking nice" and watering down the criticism. More people in the public sector need to follow suit, not necessarily to change the minds of the GOPs who are trying to impose their power, but to expose to the public just how dishonest and power-mad these people truly are.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The rest of the nation informs on Wisconsin's crookedness

Two great articles from writers based out of state calling out our Fair Governor and the Wisconsin GOP Legislature for its condoning of corruption.

The first one comes from a guy who's been onto Scott Walker's game from early on- Charlie Pierce at Esquire Politics. Unlike the paid-off Wisconsin media, Charlie connects the dots and lays the situation out in stark terms, pulling no punches in calling the recently-signed John Doe legislation out as the Gilded Age-style corruption and GOP protection racket that it is.
This law is part of a general corruption-enhancing effort that has its roots in a decision by the state's Supreme Court last July that not only ended an investigation into Walker's 2012 re-election campaign, but also declared the kind of coordination between campaigns and "outside" groups to be legal, and then ordered all the evidence gathered in the investigation to be destroyed. At least two of the justices ruling on this case had been the beneficiaries in their own campaigns from the same "independent" groups that were the subject of the case in the first place. They refused to recuse themselves. In addition to the law killing off the John Doe process, Walker's pet legislature also has proposed new laws that would turn the state's independent Government Accountability Board from a nonpartisan body through which independent retired judges evaluate the performance of government officials to a board whose members are appointed by the governor, and one that would make the rubble bounce on what's left of the state's campaign-finance laws.

It is here where we remind the country that, for more than a century, Wisconsin has been the test-track for good-government initiatives of all sorts. Walker's primary mission in office has been to convert the state into a lab rat for plutocratic experimentation and exploitation. If they could make a banana republic out of Wisconsin, they figured, they can pull it off anywhere. And with Walker, whose penchant for soulless penny-ante grifting is the only distinguishing characteristic of his entire political career, they found the perfect tool, in every sense of the word...

All of these measures have been pushed by groups based outside the state and financed in large part by the various elements of the Koch political machine. (The gutting of the campaign finance statutes is being pushed almost wholly by Wisconsin Right To Life, which is headed by a former official of the state's chapter of Americans For Prosperity.) People opposed to the griftification of Wisconsin have as their only real hope that the vandals will go too far, revolting an electorate that voted for Walker three times in [four] years. Good luck with that.

In addition, Walker and his cronies have been playing mischief with the state's court system, probably to guarantee that they never again will be hauled before it for violating the spectral remnants of Wisconsin's anti-corruption statutes. In September, state Supreme Court Justice N. Patrick Crooks, a fiercely independent veteran jurist, literally died in his office. Two weeks ago, Walker appointed an appeals court judge named Rebecca Bradley to replace Crooks. Bradley is a career conservative hack who owes almost her entire rise through the judicial establishment to the intervention of one Scott Walker, who appointed her up through the ranks three times in as many years. (Walker and his allies previously had arranged for the defenestration of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.) Bradley already has shown her gratitude by refusing to recuse herself from cases involving Walker's cronies that might come before the court. This will give Bradley a leg up when she runs for election on her own, because this is the way you do things in what used to be the state of Wisconsin.
Well, that's the way things are done until the people rise up and make sure it isn't done, anyway. Or until the Feds say "Enough" and step in with a RICO investigation with real charges filed. We have 12 months to save things from truly going over the edge for good, and both of these groups better step up.

And in that November 2016 election, we know that Scott Walker won't be on the ballot after his presidential campaign imploded (well, barring Recall, Part 2 happening at that time). The New York Times editorial page looked at the cesspool that's growing in Wisconsin now that Walker's off the campaign trail, and the Easterners breathe a sigh of relief that they won't have to deal with that mess. In a piece titled "The Revenge of Scott Walker", the NYT tells the nation just how slanted the field is getting here in Dairyland, and openly laughs at the suggestion from Bradley/Koch funded media that the John Doe investigation in Wisconsin was a Benghazi-style fishing expedition.
Don’t be fooled. Grand juries conduct investigations like this every day, at much greater expense and inefficiency, and rarely to any protest. (There is a reasonable case against the gag orders, but lawmakers could easily have fixed that part of the law by itself.) The real difference here is that the John Doe law was being used against powerful politicians and individuals.

The law will continue to apply in cases involving violent or drug-related crimes. Where it will not apply is corruption cases against politicians, for whom the new law carves out an unexplained and unjustified exception.

Mr. Walker and his allies are also moving to dismantle the state’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which enforces election, lobbying, and ethics laws. Lawmakers are also working to codify into law the State Supreme Court ruling in July that effectively obliterated the state’s modest campaign-finance regulations and smoothed the way for powerful special interests to pour ever more money into Wisconsin politics.

It is a relief that Mr. Walker won’t be able to impose his warped ideas about democratic accountability on the rest of the country. But for the Wisconsinites who are stuck with him until 2018, America’s gain is their loss.
And boy are we losing back here in Wisconsin. I'm beyond sick and tired of being a national laughingstock, and I'm especially angry that it feels like those of us who have been right about this guy's foolishness and corruption since day 1 are still having to rely on low-info voting rubes to catch on to the game in order to get our state back. The polls show more of them do get it, but I don't feel nearly secure enough that things will soon turn around.

Vouchers up 150%, and your taxes will follow

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released the figures on the number of students using vouchers to enroll in private schools for the 2015-16 school year. This includes the figures from the long-running Milwaukee voucher program, but also includes reports on the newer program that allows students outside of Milwaukee to also use vouchers. These figures should get extra attention, as it is the first year that the cap on the number of students receiving vouchers statewide was removed, with the only limitation being that 1% of a district’s headcount could get a voucher (a limit only reached by a handful of places).

As you’ll see, these changes caused a 150% increase in the number of students receiving vouchers statewide, from just over 1,000 to just over 2,500, resulting in a significant shift of state aid away from local districts and into the private schools receiving students with vouchers. And in a continuation of a pattern that we’ve seen in these voucher expansions in recent years, the vast majority of the students using vouchers already went to private schools.
.…Of the 1,640 new students enrolled in the WPCP for the 2015-16 school year, 19.1 percent (306.1 FTE) attended a public school last year. [75.7% were in private school]

While there are 82 private schools or school systems participating in the statewide choice program in the 2015-16 school year, 79 of those schools have enrolled students using a voucher through the WPCP. Changes to state law recently eliminated the previous WPCP cap of 1,000 FTE students. Enrollment in the WPCP voucher program in 2015-16 from a single public school district is limited to 1 percent of the school district’s student population. Enrollment numbers reported are from the student count conducted on the third Friday in September at each school. Student eligibility will be reviewed by independent auditors per state law and submitted to the DPI in December, so enrollment numbers are subject to change.

For the 2015-16 school year, each eligible private school participating in the WPCP may receive a voucher payment of $7,214 per FTE student in grades K4 through eight, or $7,860 per FTE student in grades nine through 12. The WPCP is estimated to cost $18.3 million in 2015-16.
Also worth noting is that while districts lose the state aid associated with a student, they can more than make up for what is called a “non-recurring revenue limit exemption”, which could raise property and other local taxes by nearly $21.4 million statewide.

You can take a look and see which private schools received voucher students across the state at this link (interestingly, very few of these schools have voucher students make up more than 15% of their enrollment), and you can click here to take a look to see how much your local school district had funneled away from it as a result of this giveaway to campaign contributors change in the voucher program.

There is one noteworthy exception to the statewide voucher system, and that’s in the Racine Unified School District. Racine has had vouchers in its district since 2011 (a pet project of Racine County native/ALEC Cabin Boy Robbin’ Vos), and allows for unlimited enrollment, instead of the 1% cap like every other non-Milwaukee district. The DPI notes these changes, and the two-track nature of funding students that are in Racine’s voucher system
Act 55 (Wisconsin 2015-17 Biennial Budget) changed the manner in which the RPCP is funded. Students who participated in the program prior to the 2015-16 school year will continue to be fully funded from state general purpose revenue. Pupils who begin attending a private school under the RPCP [Racine’s voucher program] in the 2015-16 school year and thereafter are funded with a reduction to Racine Unified School District’s (RUSD) state general aid, estimated at $4.2 million for the 2015-16 school year. Incoming pupils in the RPCP are included in RUSD’s membership for state general aid purposes, but the district may not levy to backfill the aid reduction. The district will receive a non-recurring revenue limit exemption, which the school board may include when setting the 2016 tax level. The exemption is computed by multiplying the number of FTE resident choice pupils participating in the RPCP by the district’s current year per pupil revenue limit. For 2016, the district’s estimated revenue limit authority is an additional $5.6 million.
So the Racine district loses over $4 million in state aid for this year, and Racine district taxpayers could have to shell out another $5.6 million in property taxes due to this voucher program. I’m sure the residents of those communities will love that line item in their property tax bill this winter.

Also interesting is that unlike the statewide system, 2/3 of the Racine students that ended up in voucher schools were in public schools last year. In another change from what we saw statewide, many of these private schools have an overwhelming majority of students with vouchers, with 4 having voucher students be between 98 and 100% of their enrollments. These two developments likely means that there was large amounts of scrambling in both the public and voucher schools in Racine, in order to handle a different number and demographic of students than what was projected at the start of this year. I can’t think that makes the first few weeks of school go well, as neither place is likely to be appropriately staffed.

But that type of chaos is exactly what the ALEC puppets in the Legislature want to see, because it leads to the lowering of chances that quality education can be a leveler and expander of opportunity. Because let's face it, the whole voucher scam isn't about improving education, it's about grabbing taxpayer dollars and political influence while taking the same away from public education. And these figures on voucher enrollment show that they've been succeeding in those goals of grabbing money and power, at the expense of community and increased opportunity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Packers did it best when it came to stadiums, too

Steven Walters has an interesting "compare and contrast" article discussing the various ways of funding the arenas for Wisconsin's 3 major league sports franchises over the last 20 years.

First of all, let's go over the total numbers that went into all three of these projects, and not just the initial costs, but the added interest that goes to pay off that debt.
In 2001, the Professional Football Stadium District issued $174 million in bonds to remodel the stadium and pay other costs – bonds that were paid off earlier this year. The [0.5%] surtax raised a total of $300.3 million to pay off the principal and interest costs of those bonds, according to Revenue Department figures.

About $259 million in bonds were issued to build Miller Park. The Journal Sentinel estimated they will cost a total of $395 million to pay off, which will not occur until sometime between 2018 and 2021.

Elected officials used 20-year payoff estimates for the $250 million in public funds to pay half of the Bucks arena. But no one knows exactly what 20 years of payments will ultimately cost state and Milwaukee city and county taxpayers.
Walters also notes that Brown County voters approved of the 0.5% Lambeau sales tax in a 2000 referendum, while the only election that happened with Miller Park was the recall election that resulted from one state senator changing his vote to allow the bill to pass. The voters also didn't get an up-or-down decision on the new Bucks arena, and the Bucks arena is the only one of the three projects that do not have an additional sales tax associated with it (the Wisconsin Center's current 0.5% sales tax on restaurants in Milwaukee County is merely redirected to the Bucks arena).

Walters also mentions there will likely end up with a tax refund on the Lambeau Field project totalling $17 million, which will be distributed to all local governments throughout the county. This will be finalized with the State Assembly's vote tomorrow on a bill which directs the excess money from the Lambeau Field sales tax to go to
a segregated account established and controlled by the municipality to use only for the purpose of providing property tax relief, tax levy supported debt relief, or economic development. A municipality may not make expenditures from the segregated account unless the municipality's governing body adopts a resolution specifying the purpose for which the revenues will be spent and the amount of the revenues to be spent for that purpose.
By comparison to Brown County with Lambeau, the City and County of Milwaukee are going to shell out funds for the Bucks arena for nearly 3 years, with no guarantee of the development occurring that would allow for some kind of payback in that investment. This uncertainty was why I mentioned in July that there should have been a 0.25% countywide sales tax to pay for the Bucks arena. I theorized the sales tax would be more effective in raising revenue for the arena, and also gave an immediate payback to those local governments to pay off their share of the project.

So when I size up the various packages that went into the state's 3 pro sports arenas, it seems like the Packers did things the right way when it came to financing, and in being the only ones to go to the voters to get the funding approved. Now, the Lambeau project is completely paid for, and Brown County taxpayers are in line to get a nice one-time tax break. There also doesn't seem to be the bitterness in Titletown that you still see in parts of Southeastern Wisconsin that exists toward the Bucks and Brewers' respective projects.

Maybe there's a lesson to be learned out of this when it comes to discussing if the public should pay for the next big-time facility that'll be located in a specific part of the state.

Funding public schools? Local control? Not in Fitzwalkerstan!

In Wisconsin, there have been strict limits imposed on local school districts on the amount they can raise on property taxes for a long time, but those limits have been made even tougher since the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began in 2011. In the last 4 ½ years, local districts have only been able to raise revenues by the amount of net new construction (with a few exceptions), which often has required total property taxes having to be frozen or even cut in some circumstances, regardless of whether that was a desired outcome from the local school board.

The one way around these constraints would be if residents of a district would approve a referendum allowing the district to exceed those revenue limits, and increase property taxes. This is a tactic that has been happening with increasing regularity in Wisconsin, as over 200 such referendums were held in 2014, the most in over a decade. This pattern repeated this Spring, with 74 different school referendums going to the voters in April 2015. In addition, Wisconsinites have generally been OK with what the schools want to do, as the referendums succeeded at a 76% rate last year, and at a rate near 70% this Spring.

This background leads into what the Wisconsin State Journal’s Molly Beck reported on Sunday. Apparently some Republicans in the State Legislature have a problem with the choices those citizens are making, because passing the referendums allow property taxes to go up, which goes against the tax-cutting claims they made on the 2014 campaign trail.

So the WisGOPs’ solution to the “problem” of communities agreeing to tax themselves to maintain and/or improve their schools via referendum? Get rid of those damn referendums!
One bill — yet to be introduced but available in draft form — would require school boards to ask voters to approve referendums only during the traditional spring or fall elections, and prohibit school boards from going back to voters for two years after a referendum is rejected.

Currently, school boards can hold special elections for referendums and can go back to voters during the next scheduled election if a question fails.

Another bill bans school boards from exceeding their state-imposed revenue limits in order to pay for energy-efficiency projects — an exception to levy limits that lawmakers created in 2009.
So much for the GOP being the “party of local control.”

It also shows that the moves made in prior budgets by the WisGOP Legislature and Governor Walker were merely one-time gimmicks designed to give an impression to voters of “lower taxes”, which suckered some of those people into keeping the GOP in power during the next election. These gimmicks include the “tools” of Act 10, which took money out of the wallets of teachers and staff to try to make up for huge cuts to public schools in the first Walker budget of 2011-2013 (it didn’t quite do so, but it sounded good to the rubes). This was followed by an unfunded $406 million giveaway in 2014 that lowered the amount of property taxes that went to the state’s technical colleges, but couldn’t be used to improve services or instruction.

Those bullets have now been used up, but the budget deficits, reduced funding and increased needs for these schools remain in 2015. Instead of restoring the cut funding to public education, the WisGOPs in power continue to funnel money into vouchers for private schools while over 55% of Wisconsin public school districts lost state aid in this school year, which helped lead to the referenda held in 2014 and 2015 to keep the public schools running.

This seemingly dumb choice of the WisGOP Legislature to disallow local communities to raise taxes and maintain public schools as they see fit makes doesn't seem to make sense if you care about governing or getting the best results for society. But they make more sense when you realize how many of these guys got in power. Former Assembly Speaker/convicted criminal Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby have spent millions to obtain and expand GOP majorities in the State Legislature, and the voucher movement needs public schools to fail in order to justify receiving more dollars from taxpayers. So if the public schools can be starved of revenue, they will be more likely to (literally) crumble, bolstering the argument for a new for-profit or religious organization to swoop in and take those students, and the taxpayer dollars that come with them.

Combine that with a right-wing fiscal policy of "low taxes over all other priorities (no matter how much it screws things up)," and these otherwise idiotic bills make more sense. They are designed to pay back the voucher donors that got the Wisconsin GOP in power, and are designed to pose for holy pictures to Bradley/ALEC/Koch oligarchs for “holding the line” on taxes. And it is those voucher and oligarch groups who are being given higher priority than the actual Wisconsin citizens that want to support their local schools.

This sure doesn’t sound like a sustainable plan for economic growth to me. Neither does it sound like anything resembling unobtrusive, "smaller government," or any type of democracy I'm aware of. But then again, when have today’s Wisconsin Republicans (motto for their puppetmasters: “Fuck you, pay me!”) ever cared about any of those things since taking power in 2011?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Campaign finance bill is defintiely scummy, probably unconstitutional

You've probably heard about the campaign finance bill that passed the Wisconsin Assembly on Wednesday night. In addition to doubling direct contribution limits, there are a number of provisions that further encourage dark-money and third-party interests to exert even more control over state elections, and all Democrats in the Assembly recused themselves from voting on the bill, claiming that this was a conflict of interest to slant the field before their next election.

GOPs in the Assembly called the Dems' move a "stunt" and derided the tactics. Well of course it was a stunt, since EVERY ASSEMBLY GOP VOTED FOR THE BILL to allow it to pass, so the outcome wasn't changed. But it was a good stunt, because this is not a bill that is in the best interests of anyone other than big money and their puppets in the Legislature, and the bill is not likely to stand if challenged in the courts.

In addition to increasing the amount of direct contributions, the Assembly-passed bill also allows open coordination between candidates and third-party interests, as long as those third-party interests don't say "magic words" such as "vote for/against candidate _____," allowing for obvious corruption and money-laundering without having to put the candidate's name behind it. Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos tried to argue that this bill simply codified the decision by the WMC's 4 judges in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the John Doe case, and didn't go further than what was already settled at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Matt Rothschild shows the flawed reasoning that Wisconsin Republicans gave in their claim that these changes fit 2010's Citizens United decision. Because as naïve as the reasoning in Citizens United was (claiming that candidates wouldn't be corrupted by what SuperPACs did or said), it openly called for disclosure of information to the public, and wanted to keep a wall of separation between special interests and a candidate. I'll add bolding for emphasis.
First, nowhere in Citizens United does it say that candidates can coordinate with so-called outside or independent groups. In fact, the entire distinction in Citizens United (and in the landmark 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo) between “independent expenditures” and direct campaign contributions rests on precisely the fact that there is no coordination.

“By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate,” the Court noted in Citizens United. It maintained this distinction on the grounds that “independent expenditures,” because they are not coordinated with the candidate, do not pose a significant problem of quid pro quo corruption....

Second, far from limiting disclosure of expenditures, the Supreme Court in Citizens United went out of its way to endorse disclosure.

It said: “Disclosure is a less restrictive alternative to more comprehensive regulations of speech.”...

And it saw disclosure as a way to mitigate corruption:

“Prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
Hiding who a donor works for is the exact OPPOSITE of this, and Robbin' Vos and other Republicans openly said that provision was put in to protect a business from public blowback resulting from the people knowing which candidates their owners and employees were paying off.

So it seems likely that this bill would be struck down if it was ever signed into law, unless the federal courts and Supreme Court of the United States completely reverses what they said 5 years ago. Which makes it an arrogant and pointless exercise, in addition to the obvious scumminess behind the bill and its supporters.

But this is the Wisconsin GOP's SOP- to gain political advantage and remove any checks on their power, and claim "liberal activism" if anything gets in the way of that steamroller (you know, things like LAWS AND COURT DECISIONS). This pattern was summed up in an excellent floor speech by State Rep. Gordon Hintz, who added up all of the GOP's election-slanting and abuses and expansion of power since the start of 2011, and showed how this mentality has failed the people of Wisconsin, both morally and economically.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Low-income credits cut with less use. Vouchers? Not so much

A recent post by an excellent Wisconsin budget analysis site drove me to look into what happens when certain incentives and expenses are used on a less-than-expected basis, and the numbers that I found were quite surprising, although the slanted use of those policies and resources shouldn’t.

It started from reading this post from the Wisconsin Budget Project, which noted that the state’s Homestead Credit accounts for less and less in terms of purchasing power, even if low-income Wisconsinites are able to qualify.
The annual DOA budget report, which was released last Thursday, shows that spending for the credit dropped again in the 2014-15 fiscal year and was 9% below the anticipated amount. A major reason for the decline is that the formula for determining eligibility and the size of the credits is not adjusted annually for inflation. The practice of indexing the Homestead formula was ended in 2011, even though almost all the other significant elements of the state tax code are annually adjusted for inflation.

Thanks in large part to that change, fewer people meet the income eligibility standards, the value of the average credit is declining, and the total value of the credits has declined by almost 25% since 2011. The following chart illustrates the 31% decline in the value of the credits since FY 2005, based upon the inflation adjusted amounts.

In addition to the value of the credit going down due to inflation, it appears fewer are taking it at all, as evidenced by the plunge in expenses over the last 4 years. This has meant that the amount of money going out in Homestead Credits ends up being less than budgeted, resulting in a large source of the Fiscal Year 2014-15 “savings” that appeared in the Annual Fiscal Report. As shown on page 32 of the document, there was $116 million set aside in the 2014-15 budget to pay for the Homestead Credit, but only $106.4 million was paid out, allowing $9.6 million to go back into the General Fund and fill budget holes.

And the Homestead Credit was far from the only provision that this occurred in. These are the largest lapses for tax credits in the last fiscal year, and note the large giveback from Wisconsin’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which was also reduced in 2011 as part of Governor Walker’s first budget. This also may indicate the lessening of the credit is discouraging people from taking it at all.

Tax credits with lapses over $1 million, FY 2015
Enterprise Zone Jobs Credit $17.32 million
Homestead Credit $9.64 million
Veterans & Surviving Spouses Prop Tax Credit $6.37 million
Earned Income Tax Credit (GPR portion) $6.03 million

Some of these large lapses drove adjustments in this latest budget, reducing the size allotted for 2015-16, as shown on the Shared Revenue and Tax Relief and General Fund Taxes part of the LFB’s summary, and the state budget document itself. Here are some of the credits that got their budgets reduced to match recent use.

Reductions of certain tax credits, 2015-16 budget
Homestead Credit $116.0 mil to $112.5 mil (-$3.5 million)
EITC $44.3 mil to $36.4 mil (-$7.9 million)
Vets, Surviving Spouses Prop Tax Credit $32.37 mil to $28.4 mil (-$3.97 mil)

Interestingly, the credit with the largest lapse from lack of use was the Enterprise Zone Jobs Credit, but that got bumped UP by over $5 million dollars for this Fiscal Year. I find that decision and the priorities it shows….noteworthy.

Regardless, reducing the money set aside for those other three credits result in a “savings” of over $15 million in this fiscal year alone. The positive part is that this allowed for budget holes to be filled without raising taxes or cutting services, but the bad part is that is lessens the chances of lapses at the end of the fiscal year. And with $1.1 billion in lapses built into the 2015-17 budget, that’s not a good thing.

On a related note, the AFR also lists the outcome of what are considered Sum-Sufficient expenditures, which are basically entitlements that have a number set aside each year in the budget, but the amount of those expenses could be above or below what is actually paid. This also featured some interesting numbers.

Lapses of over $1 million, sum sufficient expenses, FY 2015
State Senate $3.17 million
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program $2.97 million
State Assembly $2.13 million
Disaster Aids- Public Health Emergency Quarantine $1.39 million
Circuit Courts $1.21 million
Legislative Documents $1.13 million

Interestingly, the Courts, Assembly, and Legislative Documents all got increases in their 2015-16 budgets (relatively small ones that total $3.1 million, but still). The Senate had a small decrease of $217,000, and the Disaster Aids were kept at the same $2.5 million level of the previous year (makes sense, you need to be ready when bad things happen).

But these adjustments are tiny compared to what we’re seeing with the Milwaukee School Choice Program. Given that nearly $3 million lapse and the program largely staying as-is, if anything, this program should have its budget cut for next year. But instead, it’s being given a $6.9 million INCREASE in the 2015-16 budget, allowing for $9.9 million in added money to go into Milwaukee vouchers compared to what it spent last year. That $9.9 million could have been used in a lot of other ways, but given that Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby got many Republicans elected in 2014, they have to get their favors cashed in. So is anyone surprised that the taxpayer money is designated for their group instead of other needs?

By the way, that $6.9 million increase in budgeted Milwaukee vouchers is on top of the $18.5 million in additional budgeted funds for vouchers throughout the rest of the state, and an additional $4.1 million that’ll go to charter schools. And yes, both of these programs also underspent their allotments last year by a total of just over $900,000.

This shows just how policy changes in Wisconsin have reduced the ability of low-income people to take advantage of tax credits, which then causes large lapses in those credits and the excuse to cut the amount of money set aside for them in the future budgets. In return, there are extra funds available to be directed toward special-interests like voucher schools, who continue to get additional funding despite failing to use up what they were given in previous years.

Interesting how these things work out, eh?

WPR poll confirms Wisconsinites fed up with Walker, GOP act

The biannual Wisconsin Public Radio poll from St. Norbert College came out yesterday. While I’m a bit skeptical of this poll’s history, due to its relatively low response numbers and jumpy numbers in terms of party ID, there are a few tidbits of data to look into.

First of all, Wisconsinites are very upset with the way things are going under the “leadership” of Gov Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP.

“Right direction, Wrong direction?”
Right 36%
Wrong 57%

Walker approval
39% Approve or Strongly Approve
60% Disapprove or Strongly Disapprove

14% Strongly Approve
40% Strongly Disapprove

I’ll add that those “right track, wrong track” and Walker approval questions were asked before the State Legislature legalized political corruption, and the Assembly voted to politicize the state’s elections oversight and expand the role of big money in elections this week. Both moves have been done with Walker’s tacit approval after Scotty and his campaign staff were investigated (and some of them convicted) for wrongdoing, so I’d guess both these are numbers are, if anything, worse today.

Walker’s failed 10-week soiree into the 2016 presidential race also angered most Wisconsinites in this poll, as evidenced by the following responses. They didn’t like that he ran for president, they felt it hurt the state, and they don’t want him to run again for Governor.

Did presidential run give you a more positive or negative view of Walker?
Positive 22%
Negative 58%

Was Walker’s presidential run positive or negative for Wisconsin?
Positive 20%
Negative 66%

Should Walker run for a third term in 2018?
Favor 33%
Oppose 62%

Huh, funny how being exposed by a national media outside of the Wisconsin cocoon did that to Gov Dropout. Now the key is not to relax and allow the paid-off Wisconsin media to let Scotty off the hook for what he did to us.

This poll also had a taste of what these Wisconsinites thought about the candidates that remained the 2016 presidential race. The GOP race was a jumble (Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump all statistically even, and no one above 20%), and the Dem race featured Hillary Clinton with a 47-42 lead over Bernie Sanders with Joe Biden not considered to be in the race (which is the correct assumption after today).

Those numbers are intriguing, but what I found more interesting was looking at the head-to-head matchups that the St. Norbert Poll asked about. Both Dems have leads, and double-digit leads against Trump and Jeb Bush.

But note the differences in the spread between the two Dems.

vs. Trump
Clinton 50-39
Sanders 55-37

vs. Bush
Clinton 49-39
Sanders 52-38

vs. Carson
Clinton 49-45
Sanders 48-42

So Bernie leads against all 3 Republicans by a wider margin than Hillary does. It’s similar to this week’s CNN poll which showed Sanders being statistically even with Clinton’s margin against the potential Republican candidates, and doing better against Trump. So at least early on, the argument of “Hillary is more electable” doesn’t hold water. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote for Hillary if you think she’s the best candidate, but the argument of "I like Bernie but can’t vote for him because he can’t win a general election" is not true in October 2015.

As mentioned earlier, take this with a grain of salt, as it's a 600-person poll heavily influenced by primary voters. But it certainly seems to indicate there is pushback against the GOP in Wisconsin, in light of the bad antics of Gov Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP. And it also shows a competitive presidential primary race within both parties, with signs that indicate Bernie Sanders is doing better among crossover/Independent voters. Long way to go, but any new bit of data is usually helpful in figuring out the state of play. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The money's there for roads- why not use it?

I could discuss the legalizing of corruption by the Wisconsin Legislature today, but it's so depressing and sickening, and I really don't feel a need to drive things down today. So instead I want to talk about a real problem that needs to be solved at the Capitol- the unpopular cuts in road repairs that were the result of GOPs choosing to live in Bubble World during the state budget, and refusing to raise revenue or borrow for those projects.

This ongoing discussion of highway funding in Wisconsin continued today, with Governor Scott Walker telling his buddies at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce why he wanted more money to go towards roads. Walker gave his blessing to DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb to ask for the extra borrowing in a letter sent yesterday to the GOP co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee.

The request will ask for $200 million of the $350 million in General Fund borrowing that was set aside for JFC approval in the 2015-17 State Budget, with $125 million going to major highway development, and $75 million going to state highway maintenance. In the letter, Gottlieb argues that investing these funds saves higher costs later on, and keeps the state’s infrastructure development on track.
….Approving the additional bonding early in [State] FY 16 will:

· Reduce the declining condition of state highways. An investment in infrastructure now will prevent more costly repairs later.

· Maintain a more consistent highway program. Avoiding large fluctuations in funding supports a state transportation industry and promotes more competitive pricing.
Gottlieb goes on to say that the remaining $150 million in contingent borrowing will be requested from JFC at a later point, which would reduce delays on large road projects in Northeast and South Central Wisconsin from 2 years down to 1 year.

But Walker’s and WisDOT’s plans met opposition on this idea from one of the people that received Sec. Gottlieb’s request.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance Committee, said Senate Republicans would be unlikely to support the Walker administration's request. That's because the governor has cut bonding in other areas but hasn't been willing to address the persistent funding gaps in the state's road fund that are driving up borrowing in that area, she said.

"We're in a very tight box, and the governor has put us in this box," Darling said.
But there’s a simple answer to help Bertie Dahh-ling avoid extra borrowing and allow Scott Walker to keep his Road Builder supporters happy, and it won't even involve raising taxes or fees. Just use the money that’s already there.

I alluded to this last week, and if you look at the Appendix of the recently-released Annual Fiscal Report for the state of Wisconsin, you’ll see the Transportation Fund’s balance sheet on Pages 4 and 5. Then compare those numbers to the projections in the State Budget for 2015-17.

Wisconsin Transportation Fund
Projected starting balance, 2015-17 $63.8 million
Actual ending balance FY 2014-15 $203.8 million
Amount above 2015-17 budget projection $140.0 million

So my question is simple. Why can’t we use that extra $140 million as cash to pay for projects, which means some of these delays on projects can be removed, and we’re not borrowing from the General Fund to do it? This seems like an win-win all around, buys some time for next year to see if things improve further, and wouldn’t put the Transportation Fund in a further hole for the 2017-19 budget (since the ending balance is the same as projected).

All it would take is a bill approved by the Joint Finance Committee and the State Legislature to do so. And with 2016 elections looming, you’d think this would be the type of “getting things done without kicking the can down the road” action that would be approved of on both sides of the aisle.

Is this just too easy, or am I missing something here?

Monday, October 19, 2015

O Canada!

Say hello to PM Trudeau, apparently!

Huh, you mean that going against climate change, imposing austerity and appealing to racism really didn't work out for Stephen Harper and his party may be on the way of getting historically blown out of power.

And I guess the Koch Brothers aren't as good as rigging the election machines across the border as they are in the States. HAH! I Kid! I kid! (I kind of kid).

Let's hope that 2010s "new idea" and advancement thinking can spread it's way south a bit in the next 12 1/2 months, eh?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

U.S. revenues reduce deficit, save Wisconsin budget

With all of the economic reports that flew out of Wisconsin this week and the Dems' presidential debate on Tuesday, this bit of news out of D.C. may have slipped by your notice.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan today released details of the fiscal year (FY) 2015 final budget results, which show significant and continued progress in reducing the deficit. The deficit in FY 2015 fell to $439 billion, $44 billion less than the FY 2014 deficit and $144 billion less than forecast in President Obama’s FY 2016 Budget. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the deficit fell to 2.5 percent[1], the lowest since 2007 and less than the average of the last 40 years. In dollar terms, the FY 2015 deficit was the lowest since 2007 as well.
I guess you can tell that the deficit has been shrinking because it never comes up as an issue in the presidential election, but the reason why that deficit shrunk in the last year is what I want to focus in on.
Government receipts totaled $3,249 billion in FY 2015. This was $228 billion higher than in FY 2014, an increase of 8 percent. As a percentage of GDP, receipts equaled 18.3 percent, 0.7 percentage points higher than in FY 2014. The increase in receipts from FY 2014 can be attributed to a stronger economy. Growth in wages and salaries made collections of individual and payroll taxes strong throughout the year. Corporation income tax collections also increased in FY 2015 due to growth in taxable profits. Other miscellaneous receipts also increased, primarily due to fees and payments enacted under the Affordable Care Act that were collected beginning in FY 2015.
In fact, federal spending went up by 5% in FY 2015, but the revenue increases outpaced it, and that's what lowered the deficit.

In fact, if you go deeper into Thursday's Treasury report, that increase in income and corporate tax revenues becomes apparent, and is the clear driver of the increase in receipts.

Change in tax receipts, FY 2014 vs FY 2015
Income tax
FY 2014 $1,394,567
FY 2015 $1,540,802 (+10.5%)

Corporate tax
FY 2014 $320,731
FY 2015 $343,797 (+7.2%)

Now, those increases in taxes don't reflect who's getting those gains, or that our economic problems are solved and that there isn't a lot of room for improvement in our still too-unequal economy. But they certainly help the country's bottom line, and these increases have generally been helping state budgets, since incomes and corporate profits get taxed at the state level as well. So let's see how those increases translated at the state level in Wisconsin, especially since the Annual Fiscal Report was just released on Thursday, which will have the state's revenue numbers.

Granted, the fiscal years from state vs federal are in slightly different months (state is July 1- June 30, federal is Oct 1- Sept 30), but they should largely work in tandem. So let's see what Wisconsin's change in revenues was compared to the U.S.

Income tax change FY 2014 vs FY 2015
U.S. +10.2%
Wis. +3.7%

Corporate tax change
U.S. +7.2%
Wis. +3.9%

So Wisconsin's increase in tax revenues badly lagged the increase in the rest of the country. This would reflect the slower job gains that the state has had vs the rest of the country (as shown by the Walker jobs gap), and also the corporate tax cuts enacted by Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP over the last 4 years. Granted the U.S. doesn't have a national sales tax like Wisconsin does, and that was a source of budget strength for the state, with sales taxes up 5.7% vs FY 2014. But given that income taxes make up over half of Wisconsin's tax revenue, the sales tax bump still doesn't allow the state of Wisconsin to come close to the U.S.'s 8% increase in tax receipts in the last fiscal year, as we were up only 4.3% vs the last fiscal year.

And because Wisconsin needs a 4.6% increase in General Fund taxes just to keep next year's budget on track, that lagging is not a good sign. This is especially true as we see evidence of a slowing U.S. economy, declining stock market, and likely lowering of revenue growth at the federal level. We haven't seen the release of Wisconsin revenues for the first three months of Fiscal Year 2016, but they should be coming shortly, and that should give a first indication whether we will hit that 4.6% increase, or start falling short.

But what the U.S. Treasury report shows is that the state's $135 million cash balance (AND NO, THAT'S NOT A SURPLUS) is due to strong revenue growth throughout the country, and has nothing to do with "pro-growth" policies of Scott Walker or the Wisconsin GOP. In fact, Wisconsin has trailed the rest of the nation in seeing benefits from this economic recovery, and any mention of the positive year-end cash balance should be followed with two words. "THANKS OBAMA!"

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hiding the employment of donors = hiding corruptipon

There are a number of measures making their way through the Wisconsin GOP-controlled State Legislature intended to give advantages to big-money donors by increasing campaign contribution limits, legalizing dark money coordination, concealing information from the public. Among these items include a massive amendment that was tacked on to a campaign finance deformity yesterday by Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos that seeks to protect corporations and their CEOs from public accountability.
An Assembly committee signed off on an overhaul of Wisconsin's campaign finance laws after amending the bill to no longer require donors to disclose their employers.

The bill cleared the Assembly Campaign and Elections Committee along party lines 6-3 as Dems complained the bill would open the door to more corruption in Wisconsin.

But Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, questioned the relevance of "dragging an employer into an employee's personal activity."

"I think it's irrelevant, and I don't know what purpose it serves," he said.
I dunno Joey. Why would we care about that?

Here’s why. Take a gander onto the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s website, and look under donations of Sargento Cheese employees, especially CEO Louis Gentine and family. Over $200,000 in donations, and almost all to Republicans, including multiple maximum donations to Governor Scott Walker, and big money to Attorney General Brad Schimel and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, among many others.

Oh, and look what was in the news on Thursday. Sargento claiming they will expand operations and add jobs at one of their cheese plants in Wisconsin. And if you’re familiar with the way things have worked in Wisconsin for the last 4 years, I think you can guess what connection is coming. Yup, here it is, from July.
Sargento Foods Inc. was authorized up to $735,000 in tax credits by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) Thursday.

The tax credits were authorized for expansion projects at two of Sargento’s facilities in Kiel and Elkhart Lake. Sargento is investing $30 million for the expansions that are expected to create 140 jobs.
So the donors get a huge tax write-off, the Walker Admin and WisGOP get a nice headline, and the excess profits come back in the form of future donations. Nice racket, if you can pull it off.

And that, Rep. Sanfelippo, is exactly why the people have a right to know the employer of donors to political candidates, becasue it draws the line between who gets funded with taxpayer dollars, and their donations to the public officials that make those decisions. Just like how GOP donor Ron Van Den Heuvel got over $1 million loaned to him from WEDC in 2011, despite running a company with no record, and allegedly using that money to buy Packer luxury box tickets, fly to Vegas, and pay off alimony. You think Mr. Van Den Heuvel’s record of giving didn’t have an effect on whether WEDC would award him that taxpayer-backed loan?

But a crook like you knows this as well as anyone, doncha Joey? Which is exactly why you and Boss Vos don’t want employer information on the books, because it draws attention to what these CEOs and other members of the Fitzwalkerstani inner circle are doing, and how these rent-seekers REALLY make their decisions.

Just like with their attempt this Summer to gut the state's Open Records Law, just like with their stonewalling of the John Doe investigations, and like with their in-secret land sales, WisGOP believes the taxpayers have no right to know what’s being done. This is despite the fact that we fund their salaries and pay for their handouts to campaign contributors. Nice attitude, isn’t it?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

September jobs- some good, more not-so-good

Lost in all of the hoopla of budget reports and rigging of elections at the Capitol, the State of Wisconsin released its September jobs report this afternoon. And like previous job reports in the state, this had some good, and some things that were not so good.

The good- the state's unemployment rate dropped from 4.5% to 4.3% (actually 4.47% to 4.34%, but who's counting?). And unlike the last few months, that drop in unemployment is due to a good reason, as the labor force and number of people listed as "employed" in the household survey both went up. It breaks a string of 7 straight months where the state's work force declined, and while maybe some of this is a balancing out fewer people entering the work force in the Summer (which means fewer seasonal departures and a seasonally-adjusted "gain"), it's nice to see the work force number go up for a change.

The mediocre- In the payroll survey, any momentum of the previous 2 months hit a wall in September. Total jobs did go up, but only by 1,400, and the private sector actually lost 1,300 jobs. Oddly, the biggest job gainer was in state government, with an increase of 4,800 jobs in September due to larger-than-normal seasonal hires. Yes, the U.S. also had a jobs slowdown in September, and these blah numbers could reflect some of that, but we still should have gained about 2,600 private sector jobs in Wisconsin if we wanted to keep up with the rest of the country. This means that the Walker jobs gap grew larger in September, and is now back up to 94,000 in the private sector.

The ugly- Wisconsin lost 2,700 jobs in manufacturing in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis, and 6,700 without the seasonal adjustment. Some of that is reflecting the rough time manufacturing has had in this country in recent months (27,000 jobs lost in that sector since July), due to a strong dollar and the oil bust, among other reasons. But Wisconsin construction also lost 1,300 jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis (4,400 lost non-seasonal), and it's especially bad (or sadly funny) to see these losses while the Walker Administration is promoting September as Manufacturing month with job fairs.

"Hey kids! Go get a job in a sector where we're not hiring, and paying less than our Midwestern neighbors!"

And I must point out that since (right-to) work-for-less was introduced in February 2015 (allegedly to help manufacturers hire more workers due to the lack of union power) here are the job numbers for Wisconsin.

Wisconsin jobs, Feb 2015- Sept 2015
Total jobs +10,200
Private sector +4,600
Manfacturing -1,700

Oh, but there was one Wisconsin-based outfit that was paying well this Summer.

Funny how those things work out in GOP World, isn't it?

That's not a surplus in Wisconsin. And other budget BS

I want to start my summary of the Annual Fiscal Report by correcting a common error. I’ve seen news reports and GOP press releases that say something along these lines.
Governor Scott Walker's administration says the state finished the last fiscal year with a $135 million surplus.


Here are the actual General Fund figures that were in the report released today.

Starting 2014-15 Balance $516.9 million
Revenues + Adjustments $15,213.5 million
Expenses + Adjustments $15,594.8 million
Ending 2014-15 Balance $135.6 million
2014-15 change in balances -$381.3 million

In other words, that’s not a surplus in the last fiscal year, that’s a deficit. Yes, the ending cash balance of $135.6 million is much better than the $254,000 that was projected in the Governor’s Budget last Spring, but let’s not go celebrating the fact that for the second straight year, Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP put together a budget that overspent its revenues (the 2013-14 deficit was $242.3 million). Now there is very little cushion left in case there’s another shortfall in this fiscal year, in a time when the economy may be slowing down.

2. So how did we get to this "positive" cash balance when we had a Fiscal Year 2015 deficit projected in at the start of this year? Joint Finance Democratic Reps Gordon Hintz and Chris Taylor can help explain.
The $418.9 million difference between a January budget estimate by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the current balance shows that increased tax collections of $71.4 million accounted for just a small portion of the budget fix. The majority of the “surplus” was manufactured from:

·Delaying a $108 million debt payment that was due in May of 2015, impacting the next budget in the form of additional debt service payments and interest costs

·Raiding $98 million from compensation reserves (increases in pay and benefits that were projected for state employees).

·Spending lapses of an additional $102 million.
That’s right. If the can wasn’t kicked further down the road, and if state employees weren’t (again) forced to bear the brunt of mistakes made by elected officials in budgeting, we would have ended up in the red for this year. Even after starting out over a half-billion dollars up.

And by the way, even with the skipped debt payment and the extra lapses, the total lapse for Fiscal Year 2014-15 was $534.7 million- meaning another $200 million more would have had to have been cut to reach 2016-17’s budgeted lapse of $740 million. And there are practically no compensation reserves to raid in this next budget, either. Ruh roh.

3. The Transportation Fund had its own upside surprise in this report, as the DOA reported that it ended up at a cash balance of $203.8 million- or $140 million above what was projected in the recently-passed state budget. The reason for that increase is derived from a variety of good bumps in revenue compared to the projections that were originally part of the 2013-15 budget.

Transportation Fund revenues FY 2014-15 vs budget
Gas tax +$22.1 million
Vehicle Registration Fees +$30.6 million
Savings in Bond Debt Service +$14.8 million
General Fund Transfer +$18.2 million ($171.0 million total)
Railroad Property Taxes +$4.2 million

It seems like motorists were driving more in Wisconsin and state residents got a few more cars in the last couple of years (makes some sense during an economic expansion), which means there’s more money to play with for future years. This would make it a lot easier to make a supplemental request to the Joint Finance Committee to release funds to help end some delays on state highway projects, or to help communities pay for their local roads instead of having property taxes raised or new wheel taxes imposed.

But while the extra $140 million in Transportation Fund money is nice, we still need another $210 million in new borrowing or tax increases just to avoid the numerous additional delays on key highways that are projected in the next 2 years. This is an issue that still requires major work and a reordering of priorities, which is work that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP have refused to deal with despite increasing calls for action.

By the same token, just because we had an upside number that totals less than 1% of the General Fund budget, it does not vindicate Walker and WisGOP on the fiscal policies that put us where we are today. The reckless, deficit-ridden budgets from 2013-15 are the direct reason for the budget cuts to public education, state parks, and road repair that we are now dealing with. And barring an economic boom in the next 2 years that majorly raises wages and consumption in Wisconsin (hah!), we still will have major budget cuts to come.

So as this guy might put it, let’s not start enjoying each other’s popsicles quite yet when it comes to Wisconsin's budget situation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

$179 million DOT building project to be finalized tomorrow?

Well this is an interesting surprise, as the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is going to be called in tomorrow to vote on the proposed construction and sale of land at and around the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Hill Farms office building on the west side of Madison.
The DOT headquarters development would cost about $177 million, plus $2 million more to pay off debt on existing properties involved.

That's less than the original estimate of $197 million because of higher prices from the land sale and costs savings gleaned from the proposed building and garage, administration spokesman Cullen Werwie said. The new headquarters would have 600,000 square feet, house between 2,000 and 2,500 employees, and be built to last another 50 years….

If the budget panel approves the plan Thursday, work could start within weeks, with the ramp completed by late 2016 or early 2017 and the new building by early 2018, Werwie said. The new structures would be built on the current parking lot and land, so the DOT employees could remain in the existing Hill Farms building until their new offices are finished.
The new state office building at Hill Farms would be a behemoth nearly twice the size of the current Hill Farms buildings. And in addition to DOT, the following agencies would move into this complex.

Employee Trust Funds
Public Service Commission
Office of Commissioner of Insurance
Department of Financial Institutions
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
DOA (Division of Hearings and Appeals)

As for the prices the state will receive for its land, the state would receive just over $12 million for the nearly 14 acres that won’t be part of the new Hill Farms building- in line with an appraisal made on the property. In addition, the state would also sell the Badger Road Property that ETF’s headquarters is at for $1 million- well below the $2.845 million the appraiser set, but above the $522,700 that Smith Gilbane originally offered to pay.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says that the money from these sales would first go toward paying off any remaining expenses in the current state buildings, and the rest would basically be a down payment toward the new Hill Farms buildings (reducing further debt service costs), and would not be used to fill any future budget holes.
DOA indicates that the $2,054,000 is still owed on the Hill Farms and Badger Road properties.DOA indicates that the remaining proceeds after this debt is retired would be used to reduce the amount of debt issued to purchase the new Hill Farms state office facility and parking structure from the project developer, rather than to retire other outstanding debt obligations of the state.
The LFB paper also notes that there was a cost-benefit analysis done on the site which said that remodeling Hill Farms now and replacing it in 20 years would cost more than double the amount it costs to replace it today. And higher-paying tenants taking spots in the parking garage would offset more of these costs.
Under the analysis, two primary differences between the two sites are identified. Under the alternative to the proposed Hill Farms state office facility, the costs of replacing the DOT office facility in 2035 would inflate to an estimated net cost, after the sale of lands, of $400.7 million, compared to the $179.3 million in estimated costs for the facility in 2015 under the proposed site. Secondly, one of the primary differences in revenues between two alternatives involves the difference in parking revenue at the Hill Farms site under each alternative. The analysis projects that the new Hill Farms state office facility would have 1,700 stalls, with parking tenants paying a monthly rate of $100 per stall for total annual revenue of $2,040,000. Comparatively, it is projected that the existing DOT facility surface lot structure would generate only around $50,000 per year in the early years of the analysis and would grow to only $116,000 by 2035, the year in which the existing facility is to be replaced under that alternative.

Overall, over the 50-year period, the consultant's analysis indicates that the proposed Hill Farms state office facility development would generate sufficient rents to cover annual debt service costs on bonds issued for the facility. The analysis also indicates that the development would have a higher benefit to the state than the alternative scenario whereby the state remains in the existing DOT facility for 20 years and then replaces that facility.
Also noteworthy is that the DOA and its consultants say the new building at Hill Farms would improve the efficiency of several current state office spaces due to a new configuration which leads to a smaller footprint, as well as the “all-in-one-place” setup for those departments, instead of being spread across multiple sites. This would result in a projected annual savings of over $600,000 a year. The DOA also says another $1 million a year in savings could be realized due to improved energy measures and infrastructure.

I’ve had my questions about this development in the past, since the deal was largely done through private negotiations by the Walker Administration with the various bidders. Given this crew, that should set off red flags by itself, but the LFB analysis indicates much of this seems to have been on the up-and-up. From the state side of things, my only question is whether it should be selling off such prime land in a booming town like Madison, and not holding out until the new Hill Farms building is nearly up and the employees are working at the site, which may lead to a potentially better deal.

I also wonder why the City of Madison has been largely shut out of this deal, since the city will likely have to pay for impacts that might result from more traffic around University Avenue and Segoe Road (I’ll note that this part of University Ave. was just reconstructed a couple of years ago). On the flip side, as a Madison homeowner, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in tax base could be pretty helpful, and keep my property taxes in check a bit.

Of course, they’re planning to bring this Hill Farms sale up to the JFC on the same day that an Assembly Committee will try to vote on election finance deform reform, and when the state’s Annual Fiscal Report comes out. That’s another reason for concern, because it’s a classic WisGOP strategy to throw as much bullshit together at once so you can’t get them all, but at first glance, it looks like the state may end up doing OK with this new Hill Farms project. And while I'll skeptical of the way they went around doing it, I’m apt to say the project should be given the go-ahead tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A preview of Thursday's hue year-end budget report

Thursday features the release of Wisconsin's Annual Fiscal Report. This is the report that goes over all of the finances and fund for state government, and covers the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2014- June 30, 2015 (click here to look at the 2014 document). It'll go a long way toward determining the state of the Walker/WisGOP budget, and if there might be a bit of flexibility available to soothe the blows from this budget...or if the inevitable additional cuts and tax increases will have to come sooner than later.

Let’s start with the estimates the LFB had on the General Fund Balance when they made their revenue projections back in January:

2014-15 Starting Balance +$516.9 million
2014-15 Projected year-end balance -$283.4 million

However, the Walker Administration said they would take steps to correct this in-year imbalance, so there was no budget repair bill required (unlike when there was a smaller in-year deficit projected in 2011). So let's look at how we may get there.

We know that 2014-15 total revenues came in $71.4 million over what was expected, so that gives a little cushion. In addition, the estimation is that the Potawatomi would have paid the state $49 million. That’s a 2-year payment slammed into 1, as the Potawatomi refused to pay back any of its winnings in 2013-14 pending Gov Walker’s contemplation of a new casino for the Menominee in Kenosha that the Potawatomi said would violate its compacts with the state. Once Gov Walker’s refused to build that casino in February (to curry favor with fundies in Iowa. How’d that work out?), the Potawatomi did the “2 payments in -1 deal” for 2014-15.

Other state non-tax revenues are based at just under $505 million, and we’ll assume that didn’t change, so on the revenue side, it looks like this.

Tax Revenue +$71.4 million
Potawatomi +$49.0 million
TO MAKE UP -$162.0 million

Now, we’ll take the projected differences on the expense side. The -$283.4 million figure already assumed the following, so these don’t count:

Reduction in appropriations -$4.4 million
Lower-than-budgeted sum sufficient expenses -$82.0 million

So to start to get rid of that last $162 million, the Walker Administration proposed a reduction in “Compensation Reserves” (a separate line item for raises in salaries and fringe benefits that isn’t accounted for in expenses), which dropped from a budgeted $133.06 million to $35.0 million in Walker's projected budget, for a savings of $98.06 million (sorry workers).

The rest have to come from additional lapses (past the sum-sufficients), so that means another $64 million in lapses on top of the $324.4 million that were already assumed in the original budget. I don't know if the $108 million in debt payments that the Walker Administration skipped this Spring gets them to that figure, but either way, that lapse amount isn't an unprecedented number, as the 2012-13 budget lapsed nearly $750 million, mostly due to Act 10 "savings"). But the $388 million needed in lapses is still above the $345 million lapsed in the 2013-14 fiscal year. This lapse figure is the largest unknown quantity in this Fiscal Report, and will determine just how far ahead or in the hole we were when the new budget began on July 1.

We will also get a look at the status of the Transportation Fund, also a big deal given the growing call for releasing more funds to reduce delays on state highway projects. Here's what that's looked like in the last 2 years, and what it was projected to do in this current budget.

2012-13 ending balance $153.5 million
2013-14 ending balance $101.5 million (-$52.0 million)
2014-15 projected ending balance +$63.8 million (-$37.7 million)
2015-16 projecting ending balance $24.5 million (-$39.3 million)
2016-17 projected ending balance $21.2 million (-$3.3 million)

And remember, those Transportation Fund deficits aren't including the borrowing that has also been part of the last 2 budgets, and doesn't include the $350 million in additional borrowing that Gov Walker is asking his fellow GOPs in the Legislature to release. If there is more than $63.8 million to carry over into the next budget, it might cut the amount of extra funds that would need to be loaned out. On the flip side, if the numbers come in lower, there isn't much cushion that exists in the current budget, and it makes added debt or higher taxes even more of a requirement if more road projects want to be completed.

One last note I want to being up is the misuse of certain budgetary terms. Technically, spending more than you take in for revenue is s DEFICIT. For example, in the 2013-14 fiscal year, we had a DEFICIT, because this cash balance shrunk from $759.2 million to that $516.9 million (a little more than $242.3 million if you get past the rounding). And in the 2014-15 fiscal year, we will have a DEFICIT, as our balance will be much smaller than that $516.9 million, if not outright negative. So if you hear any talk from GOPs on Thursday of a SURPLUS with the release of the Annual Fiscal Report, they are lying. And with $1.1 billion in lapses built into this budget, if the revenues start off slow in Fiscal Year 2016 (we should see the first three months of the year shortly), we will likely be looking at additional budget cuts on top of the austerity that has already been imposed.

So be ready on Thursday, as the spin will be likely to be flying fast and furious once the AFR comes out.