Monday, October 31, 2016

AG Schimel makes fool of himself on "free speech", John Doe

State Rep. Chris Taylor has been calling out the absurd double-standard of Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who last week asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to investigate the leak of information on the allegedly-closed John Doe case in Wisconsin, but has pointedly refused to do the same for right-wing money-launderer Eric O'Keefe. This is despite O'Keefe constantly leaking (often false and misleading) information to right-wing media during the course of the investigation, and keeping enough voters ignorant to keep much of the Wisconsin GOP from feeling consequences for their corruption.

Schimel released a statement this evening in response to Rep. Taylor's latest reminder of the double-standard, and Schimel's "reasoning" left my jaw on the floor.
As a career prosecutor and now as Attorney General, I respect the Constitution and would never threaten to prosecute a private citizen who is exercising his or her individual rights.

“No judge has the authority to place a gag order on a private citizen to prevent that person from talking about acts committed against them by the government.

“It is important to clarify that as a private citizen, Eric O'Keefe had a right to publicly voice his objection to the manner in which he was being treated. It is a fundamental principle that citizens have the freedom to speak out against their government.

“Rep. Taylor, or anyone else, has a First Amendment right to criticize me as a public official. As someone with a law degree, Rep. Taylor should also realize that Mr. O'Keefe has a right to criticize the government's outrageous actions."
There is a LOT of bullshit to unpack in those 4 paragraphs. First of all, "I never threaten to prosecute a citizen exercising his/her individual rights," and "acts committed against them by the government"???? Laundering money in clear violation of state law and setting up fraudulent shell groups to avoid taxes as a "social welfare group" isn't an individual right as far as I'm concerned. Maybe to a Koch-addled puppet in Bubble World, but not in the Real one. Scott Walker certainly didn't believe he could speak about the John Doe investigation as it was ongoing, and frequently sais as much to reporters. Was Walker lying to reporters when he claimed that, AG Schimel, or are you lying now?

Second, Schimel willfully allows a different standard for his boy O'Keefe vs the John Doe prosecutors, who by law could not leak the documentation they had in the John Doe case. I wonder if he feels the same way about FBI Director James Comey's leaking of information on Friday, on second-hand emails that Comey may not even have had a warrant to look at, let alone release a statement implying certain details regarding an ongoing investigation. I also would have been interested to see if Schimel would have denigrated Human Weasel Jason Chaffetz (R-DC Sleaze) for planning to leak out that information 10 days before an election - should the John Doe prosecutors have been able to do the same as "private citizens" right before Walker's 2012 or 2014 elections? I think someone should ask Donald Trump and Scott Walker what they think about Schimel's stance when they rally in Eau Claire tomorrow, don't you? (well, that and maybe ask about Walker's love of private servers)

In addition, Schimel is clearly allowing a different standard for O'Keefe as a "private citizen" than he does for the leaker that gave the bombshell information to the Guardian which laid out the whole money-laundering scheme. Aren't they both assumed to be private citizens, Bradley boy?

Schimel closes by calling the investigation into this money-laundering and pay-for-play influence-peddling "outrageous." That should scream volumes to you. In Schimel's and WisGOP's Bubble World, it's looking into the source of the money train and the corruption that is the threat, and not the corruption and hiding from public scrutiny by rich oligarchs. They're totally cool with that stuff, and the secrecy of their little cabal, and the hell with what happens to democracy in the process.

But hey, let's put Schimel's statements to the test. I guess it's well past time for the rest of the John Doe information to be leaked to the public (by a "private citizen", of course), as well as the contents of tapes Schimel made while he was the Waukesha County DA- tapes Schimel has blocked from the public and has asked other right-wing hacks on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to keep from the public's eyes.

It's time to stop thinking these GOP scumbuckets will ever operate in good faith, or in any manner of consistency to the law, and Dems cannot continue to play nice with these lawless slime. They must be removed ASAP before they remove the last vestiges of accountability that WisGOP elected officials may have to the law.

WisGOP Senate poised to be crazier than ever..unless voters stop them

One of the helpless feelings I occasionally get form living in Madison is the fact that there isn’t all that much I can do to change the gerrymandered State Legislature. Sure, I can contribute to some outstate candidates, but I can’t vote out any of the WisGOP fuckheads that have helped to wreck the state over the last 5 ½ years- all of my state Legislators are liberal Democrats. So these lowlife and low-IQ GOPs continue to stay in office in their suburban/rural Bubble Worlds, and they may get even worse (if possible) after the November elections.

Steven Walters of Urban Milwaukee and WisPolitics gave a rundown of some of the priorities of these nutjobs, who are likely to make up a GOP Senate caucus that Walters calls the most conservative “in decades, maybe ever.” Take a look at some of the items these goofs will be sure to push for if they stay in the majority. I have a few comments to throw in with Walters’ list.
*Creation of a special legislative committee with the power to subpoena records of closed secret John Doe investigations conducted by local district attorneys. Republicans would love to see the records of DAs who, with the cooperation of the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board, investigated fund raising by Walker and his supporters before and after he survived a 2012 recall election. (hey dickheads, you want John Doe items all out in public? So do I! But I bet you’ll be as selective as the latest House Committee on BENGHAZI or James Comey in dealing with Hillary Clinton's emails when it comes to what the people actually see)

*Changing the state Constitution so governors appoint – instead of voters electing – the state superintendent of public instruction. (because the WisGOPs might not like what the people choose, and independence of any state agency is something these fascists cannot abide).

*Making it a felony to injure or kill a child younger than one year by co-sleeping, if the adult is intoxicated. (an obvious racist dog-whistle. And for Christ’s sake, hasn’t the parent kind of suffered enough in that situation?)

*Making it harder to collect workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, and requiring state agencies to verify personal details in court orders before they approve public benefits. (Yes, another money-wasting “hate the poor” measure. This has done wonders for our state’s economy, hasn’t it?)

*Eliminating the personal property tax, which the nonprofit Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says is $287 million that helps local governments pay for public services.
That last one is a real doozy, because it’s basically a straight giveaway to businesses, with the average homeowner being the one that’ll have to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference. And tell me one job or one bump in workers’ wages that will be added to the state from this? But no surprise, given that this crew has been all about protecting and expanding the profits of the WMC oligarchs instead of encouraging new business developments and improving the talent base or wages of the state’s workforce.

And that is just a small piece of the overall WisGOP Senate agenda. Walters also mentions that these slimeballs from “the party of local control” plan to override the wishes of local governments on everything from tenants’ rights to the school referenda to public employee retirement benefits (likely through raising the retirement age and trying to mess with the amount of pension payouts). Oh, and they might want to recommend an amendment to the US Constitution requiring a balanced budget amendment or some kind of new convention, and they don’t care about the consequences of such an act. Yes, these GOPs are that deep into the Bubble, and that disinterested in dealing with realities like job creation, health care, or adequately funding K-12 or the UW.

This paints an extremely bleak picture for the 2017-19 Legislative session. And the only way it changes is if people in less urbanized areas of Wisconsin remove crooked GOP Senators that are supposed to be “representing” them, but instead are working for out-of-district and out-of-state oligarchs to FUBAR the state beyond repair (oh, and vote in Mark Harris to the open seat in Fondy-Oshkosh-Waupun). I can’t do this for you guys, so please, if any of you are in an even-numbered Senate district with a GOP running in it, know that those people have disqualified themselves from the ability to take votes that reflect the public interest, and you need to kick their asses out in 8 days. Or else there might not be a state worth saving by the time you get another chance at these slugs in 2020.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wisconsin corporations won't step up to improve state's economy

In a large weekend article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, there was a discussion generated from a recently released study from UW-Madison and the UW-Extension talking about the state's economic prospects, and how the skills and demographics of the workforce fits in.

One major part of the study discusses how Wisconsin's workforce and job needs are out of sync with each other, not just in education levels required for the jobs, but also in the fact that the jobs aren't existing where the workers live.
In addition to the potential shortage of workers, a quantity issue, there is also a labor quality issue in the form of skill mismatch. A “skills gap” or “mismatch” occurs when despite a high number of job seekers, employers report difficulty finding appropriately skilled workers for the available positions. Such a circumstance suggests that the skill requirements of available jobs do not match those of people looking for work. Based on projections through 2022, Wisconsin faces a potential skill mismatch in that there are more jobs than workers available for low-skill positions requiring a high school diploma (Loritz et al. 2013). Conversely, there are not enough jobs for workers with a college education including associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree holders for the projected job (Loritz et al. 2013).

The shortage of job openings for college degree holders, may partly explain the net negative migration of the young educated workers. Without adequate employment available in Wisconsin, those with college degrees seek jobs at their skill level in other states. This trend suggests that the issue of skill mismatch is at least partly geographic. There are jobs available that require higher education, but the jobs are not in the same place as degree-holding job seekers. The distance between jobs and appropriately skilled job seekers can lead to unemployment or underemployment despite there being both job openings and workers to fill them.

The spatial mismatch also occurs in many large cities, as entry-level job opportunities are often distant from the residences of appropriately skilled workers. The spatial disconnect between inner city residential areas and suburban job opportunities can contribute to the poor employment outcomes for those living in the inner city. Milwaukee, for example, exhibits trends that correspond to geographic mismatch. First, even after accounting for several factors, Blacks in Milwaukee commute far longer to get to their jobs, which suggests they are located further from employers who are offering employment at their skilllevel (Ewing, 2004). Further, there has been evidence of an oversupply of low-skill labor in the inner-city forcing low-skill workers, largely Blacks and Latinos, to commute to the suburbs for employment without any compensation via higher wages.

This geographic mismatch can also be seen in rural Wisconsin. Many larger employers located in smaller communities must draw from a very large geographic area to find a sufficient pool of workers. Given the lack of public transportation, workers are responsible for all commuting related costs. For higher paying jobs the commuting costs may be only a small factor as high wages can support the expense of the commute (a reliable car, gas, and time) and still make the job worthwhile. For lower paying jobs, however, the costs can be more constraining because the expenses represent a larger share of income at low wage levels, reducing both the feasibility of the commute and the incentive. Consequently, fewer workers may seek lower paying jobs that require a costly commute. This latter problem can also play out in urban areas; a lack of reliable transportation for commuting purposes can limit the potential pool of labor.
Another part of the UW report indicates that instead of describing some of these skill mismatches as "brain drain", the bigger problem isn't as much educated people leaving Wisconsin, as much as it is the fact that the state can't get educated workers to come here.
In addition to a changing age structure, migration also affects the pool of available workers. In Wisconsin, both in-migration and out-migration rates of the college-educated and workingage population are low compared to other states (Figures 1 and 2). Only a small share of people leaves the state in any given year. While this low rate of out-migration, particularly of the educated working age population (i.e., brain-drain) does erode the labor pool, perhaps more problematic is the even lower rate of in-migration. Outmigration by itself is not necessarily concerning if there is a sufficient offsetting flow of inmigration. Wisconsin, however, has not been able to successfully recruit residents (in-migrants) leading to negative net migration. In a sense, Wisconsin is not suffering from a brain-drain but more from the lack of brain-gain. We expect that more precise analysis would show the migration trends in Wisconsin are part of a more general rural to urban trend in the U.S., in that the out-migration from Wisconsin, a relatively rural state, flows primarily to the Twin Cities and Chicago area (Robinson et al, 2016).
It's worthy to contrast those findings to what a prominent member of the state's business community says in the Journal-Sentinel article, as he blames the educational system and the workers themselves, instead of calling on businesses to take proactive steps to reduce these spatial and educational workforce gaps.
Tim Sullivan sees things differently. The former CEO of Bucyrus International served as Gov. Scott Walker's special consultant for business and workforce development a few years ago, and has been a prominent voice speaking on the so-called skills gap that many in industry say has left job openings unfilled....

"If anything, we should be emphasizing our technical college system," he said.

In a report he prepared for Walker four years ago, Sullivan said some 34,000 students enrolled in the state's technical colleges already had four-year degrees - indicating they were struggling to find employment and were seeking more job-specific skills.

"Education's supposed to really provide you the skill sets to get you a job and to go through life being able to provide for yourself and your family," Sullivan said. "If you're not marrying or tying the educational system to the available job market, it's crazy."
WHOA. First of all, this shows that Sullivan thinks that all forms of education should be geared towards the needs of business, much like how Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos mocked the UW after the 2014 elections.
The Republican agenda for next year also includes several changes for the University of Wisconsin, according to Vos. He said that he wants to ensure that faculty spend more time teaching, and that research is geared toward helping the state's economy.

“Of course I want research, but I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” said Vos. “So we want to try to have priorities that are focused on growing our economy.”
In the world of right-wingers like Tim Sullivan and Robbin' Vos, there is no value in an educated public that has an understanding of the outside world, or in the concept of any type of public good, but instead everything should be geared around the monetary value of what can be obtained by that education. And denigrating the concept of higher education isn't a good thing, as UW researcher Steven Deller is quoted in the Journal-Sentinel article as saying that the college-educated are the group that starts most businesses, a stat that Wisconsin ranked dead-last in for each of the last two years, according to the Kaufmann Foundation. And turning Wisconsin into an low-educated, low-quality of life place isn't something that's going to bring those highly-educated people here when they can choose to go to many other areas that are a lot more enjoyable to live in and to find a qualified pool of workers.

Second of all, note that Sullivan doesn't say part of the answer involves raising wages to make a technical education a viable, attractive option for potential workers, and in encouraging start-ups that attract talent which leads to further growth. That's because oligarchs like Sullivan don't want well-paid employees and don't want start-ups- both of those developments threaten the market share and power of established Wisconsin businesses. And because those guys are the puppetmasters of the Wisconsin GOP, it explains why their policies have been based on funneling increasing amounts of power and money to a handful of currently-existing businesses over encouraging the economy to go in new directions, and in competing for the high-skill talent that can spark that new development.

I find it mystifying that this business community isn't demanding improvements in education and quality of life from the State Legislature, but apparently they prefer the easy, lazy way to operate over a more vibrant state economy that might have more competition, but could also help all sizes of businesses, and make Wisconsin more attractive for people to relocate to. That regressive mentality goes a long way toward explaining why this state's economy continues to flounder and lag most of our neighbors, and it won't change until oligarchs like Tim Sullivan and their puppet legislators are taken out of the equation when it comes to determining the direction of the state's economic policy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

GDP still growing, but not as great as 2.9% headline

Here are a few of my reactions from yesterday's GDP Report, now that we’re all calming down from James Comey’s partisan leak of an absolute nothingburger (and yes, I think it was total bullshit done to help Republicans).

The topline of the GDP report is really good- 2.9% quarterly growth is the best we’ve had in 2 years- and it at least allays any fears we might be stalled out and/or in recession. But breaking out the report into the various parts indicates things really didn’t change all that much from what we had before, with the exception of a few key areas.

First of all, the growth in Consumption was actually cut in half during Q3, going from 4.3% in Q2 to 2.1% in Q3. So how did overall GDP growth accelerate so much, given that Consumption is more than 2/3 of the overall economy? Because other sectors had nice rebounds, after not doing much for the economy in the first 6 months of the year.

Contributions to GDP, 2016
Q1 2016 -0.56%
Q2 2016 -1.34%
Q3 2016 +0.52%

Federal government spending
Q1 2016 -0.10%
Q2 2016 -0.01%
Q3 2016 +0.17%

Net Exports
Q1 2016 -0.09%
Q2 2016 +0.18%
Q3 2016 +0.83%

The net exports figure is especially interesting, as exports went up by more than $51 billion from Q2, with almost all of that increase in goods, where we usually run a deficit. And the goods increase largely stems from one product- soybeans.
Some nine-tenths of a percentage point of the gain came from a surge in soybean exports, much of which was shipped to China, an event that won't be repeated in coming quarters.

That may not sound like a lot. But nine-tenths of a percent of an $18.6 trillion economy works out to $167 billion. That's roughly the size of Iowa's annual economic output.

U.S. farmers are on track for a record soybean harvest of more than four billion bushels. At the same time, a poor harvest in Brazil boosted demand for the U.S. crop from big importers like China.
But it's a nice one-time blip to have in trade, because the US has been facing troubles due to its strong dollar, helping lead to that decrease in GDP in 2015 and early 2016.

Another reason for the big GDP number is restocking of store shelves in America, which also is a reversal from the early part of the year.

Change in inventories
Q1 2016 -0.41%
Q2 2016 -1.16%
Q3 2016 +0.61%

In fact, when you remove inventories from the equation, the story of GDP growth is a different - while we are quite a bit above the slow Q1, we actually declined from “final sale” figures for Q2, and the growth trend has gone down a bit in the last 2 years.

Combine these stats with job growth in 2016 that falls into the “decent but not as strong as the past 2 years”, and I don’t think the story on the direction of the US economy has changed much with this report. Still solid but not great growth- not booming, but also not in recession.

And let's not forget that this is a helluva lot better than we were at this time 8 years ago, when GDP fell by 1.9%, and was going to collapse by 8.2% in the last quarter of 2008. I’ll take where we are today vs the last time we were on verge of picking a new president, and let’s make sure we choose wisely, and don’t go back to those policies, shall we?

The dishonesty and foolishness of (mo)Ron Johnson

With the November election approaching, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and his billionaire allies have grown exceeding desperate to try to hang on to their seat against Russ Feingold. As part of these escalating and whiny attacks, there has been a theme that Johnson is some kind of self-made business man that would still bring a fresh perspective to Washington as opposed to a more experienced, established politician like Feingold.

Yes, I know this theme makes little sense outside of Bubble World, given that Johnson is the incumbent and Feingold has been mostly living in and working in Wisconsin since the 2010 elections, but some dipshits still buy it I guess. But those dipshits are being lied to in more ways than one, and Joel McNally gave an excellent explanation why in a great commentary in this week’s Shepherd Express titled “Why We Should Elect Politicians.”

The whole thing is very good, but I especially like this segment where McNally talks about the childish inaction that has been Johnson’s act since he was elected to the Senate 6 years ago, causing the dysfunction that Johnson cynically tries to score political points with, when (mo)Ron bitches about “Washington insiders not listening to the people.”
All professional politicians want to do is solve the nation’s problems. Non-politicians like Johnson have more important concerns, such as cutting taxes for wealthy people like themselves.

Now Republicans have nominated a non-politician supported by Johnson who is clearly unfit to be president. As the Trump campaign goes down in flames, you’d never guess what Johnson and other Republicans promise to do if they’re re-elected to the Senate and House.

They’re promising to continue the gridlock in Washington by doing everything possible to block any accomplishments by the first woman president just as they tried to block the first African American president from accomplishing anything.

Republicans call that providing a check on President Hillary Clinton. It’s more like sabotaging the government of a democratically elected president. Republicans have extended their sabotage to the U.S. Supreme Court, refusing to even hold hearings on a highly qualified presidential appointee.

Washington gridlock is what disgusts citizens about politics. But not all politicians are at fault. The problem is politicians like Johnson who pretend not to be politicians at all while sabotaging government from within.

And the cynicism with Johnson goes beyond his role in helping to screw things up in D.C. When Johnson claims to be this “successful business man”, remember that this success is largely because of the billionaire family he married into. He didn’t just get the startup money for PACUR plastics from the Curlers, his FIL’s folks kept paying him as a key buyer of his services. Let’s hearken back to this national story from October 2010, as people were just starting to fill in the blanks on Ron Johnson’s career.
However, Johnson's usually mum about the fact that one of his largest clients is Bemis, a publicly traded company founded by his now-deceased father in law, and currently run by his brother in law, Jeffrey Curler….

Johnson joined PACUR in 1979, to help a different brother-in-law, Pat Curler, run what had -- until then -- been a Curler family business. In fact, the name PACUR is the hybrid of the names Pat and Curler.

According to proxy statements Bemis filed with the SEC, "During 2009, we and our subsidiaries purchased, at market competitive prices, approximately $9.5 million of polyester and polyester copolymer products from Pacur, Inc. Ronald Johnson, brother-in-law of Jeffrey H. Curler, is President of Pacur, Inc. Mr. Curler is Chairman of the Board of the Company and our Executive Chairman."

Bemis has made similar, major purchases every year going back years, ranging in size from $6.1 million (in 1998) to $12.6 million (in 2006).
Give any of us millions of dollars as a dowry and have that new family be the main one buying your products, and we’ll be pretty damn “successful,” too. And we’d thankful for the huge break we’d been given in life, instead of being a self-absorbed, science-denying jackass like (mo)Ron Johnson who thinks he’s entitled to his fortune.

This leads to my final point. Why do we think “businessmen” (gender intentional) are a special group? It seems to me that more often than not, the greed and cluelessness of these people have caused more pain to Americans than helped them, and they certainly don’t seem to understand much about life other than squeezing a few extra dollars of profit (through means legal and otherwise). We’ve seen in Wisconsin the disaster that has resulted with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce running our state’s economic policy over the last 5 years, with job growth consistently at or near the bottom of the Midwest, and talent leaving the state due to regressive social policy and de-investment in education.

Seriously, given that these guys live in such a narrow world where nothing and no one has a value other than numbers on a balance sheet, why trust them to do anything good for anyone other than themselves and their little cabal?

I want politicians who understand issues and know that people and resources have a value well beyond their profit-loss potential. I don’t want blank brains like Ron Johnson who only know “facts” from their narrow business interests, their corporate campaign contributors, and the Israel lobby.

That’s why I greatly resent (mo)Ron trying to imply Russ Feingold is somehow a “phony” and second-class citizen because Russ chose to study and teach law, and decided to serve the public for a career. And not only because of the implication that public service is somehow a lesser calling than being in business (although that’s a lot of it). But also because any examination of the two candidates’ resumes will show who is the real fraud running for U.S. Senator- “successful businessman/citizen legislator” Ron Johnson. And in his heart, even (mo)Ron knows it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trump, Ryan tax plans don't measure up to Clinton plan

Been tied up with my own life, but I wanted to forward the latest article in Bruce Thompson's often-strong "Data Wonk" segment in Urban Milwaukee. I encourage you to read the whole thing, as Thompson compares the following 3 tax plans.

1. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

2. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

3. The tax plan put forth by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the House GOP

I'll give you the nice pictures, and you can read Bruce's article for more detail. First of all, when these tax plans were scored by the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center, both institutes agreed that Clinton's would raise additional revenue by taxing the rich more, while both Trump's and Ryan's plans reduce revenues by cutting taxes for everyone, but especially the rich and corporate.

Now, if you're into having government collect less in taxes on principle, you may still prefer either of the GOP's plans, and the lower revenues can also be a good excuse to cut Medicare, Social Security, and other social spending (strangely, these people never seem to bring up military spending as a place to cut). But Thompson mentions that what those Trump or Ryan tax cuts won't do is grow the economy in the long term as much as Clinton's plans. The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton model indicates that while Ryan's or Trump's tax cuts may give a very small bump in economkc activity in the first couple of years, it'll drop activity far below the current trend line in the years after that, and make us worse off than both the status quo and Clinton's plan.

And Thompson concludes by noting that even if you buy into the right-wing magic of "dynamic scoring", where people respond strongly to tax cuts to grow the economy much more than history shows it will, the GOP cuts will still leave revenues depressed, leading to either huge deficits, or major budget cuts, unlike Clinton's plans.

So there you go. Run with that information any way you want over these last 12 days.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wait, why are GOPs suppressing UW student votes anyway?

You've probably heard about the latest bout of WisGOP voter suppression going on, this time in the City of Green Bay. Ari Berman of the Nation blew the cover off of this with an article yesterday that detailed the behind-the-scenes discussions that happened in Titletown as the city finalized early voting plans for the Fall elections.
After the [April presidential] primary, leaders of eight different student groups—including the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties and the Black Student Union—asked the city to put an early-voting location on campus to alleviate long lines. But city officials ignored the request and opened only one early-voting site on September 26 for the entire city—the third-largest in Wisconsin—at the clerk’s office, a 15-minute drive from campus, which is open only during business hours. City Clerk Kris Teske, an appointee of Republican Mayor [and soon-to-be convicted criminal] Jim Schmitt, a close ally of Governor Scott Walker, said the city didn’t have the money, time, or security to open an early-voting location on campus or anywhere else.

“For this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city...”

But privately Teske gave a different reason for opposing an early-voting site at UW–Green Bay, writing that student voting would benefit the Democratic Party. “UWGB is a polling location for students and residents on Election Day but I feel by asking for this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city as a whole,” she wrote on August 26 in an e-mail to David Buerger, counsel at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. “I have heard it said that students lean more toward the democrats…. I have spoken with our Chief of Staff and others at City Hall and they agree that budget wise this isn’t going to happen. Do I have an argument about it being more of a benefit to the democrats?”

The e-mails were provided to The Nation following an open-records request by the One Wisconsin Institute, which has successfully challenged early-voting cutbacks in the state.
First of all, if GB thought having multiple early voting sites was too expensive to do, could be legitimate and certainly seems legal (although that excuse seems flimsy and somewhat undemocratic). Not doing it because it benefits one party or the other, however, is not a good reason, and likely not legal. And very stupid to say in an email that is subject to open records and legal discovery.

The state Elections Commission's lawyer said budgetary reasons were likely a sufficient excuse, and expressed skepticism about Teske's idea that early voting would favor Democrats.
Nathan Judnic, the Wisconsin Elections Commission's legal counsel, wrote Teske her concerns about budget, staffing and ballot security "are all legitimate factors that other communities were weighing as they considered whether to open multiple early voting sites."

"As far as stating that one political party may be advantaged more because of a particular location, I might be hesitant to make that argument unless you could point to something other than 'I've heard that students lean more democratic,'" Judnic wrote. "Additionally, the in-person sites could be used by all residents of the city and wouldn't be restricted to use by students. Finally, if the campus polling location is OK for election day, and there is no 'political advantage' then, I'm not sure what the difference is for in-person absentee voting at that same location?"
And that led me to ask a simple question- do UW-Green Bay students vote for Dems more than other residents of Green Bay? The assumption is yes, because college students and younger voters generally have favored Democrats in the state and the country in the Obama era, but it's relatively easy to test this theory for UWGB, because one city ward for voting is largely contained to the UWGB campus- Ward 3.

So I went the GAB's site with records of past elections in Wisconsin, and compared what happened in that ward compared to the rest of the city. And you know what? Other than the elections last April, the GB students haven't been all that much different, and actually favored Scott Walker in 2014 more than the rest of the Green Bay did.

UW-Green Bay student vote
2012 November election
Ward 3, Green Bay- Obama 56.9%, Romney 41.1%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Obama 56.6%, Romney 41.9%

2014 November election
Ward 3, Green Bay- Walker 51.4%, Burke 45.6%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Walker 50.6%, Burke 47.9%

2016 Votes, Presidential Primary
Ward 3, Green Bay- Dem 61.3%, GOP 38.7%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Dem 51.5%, GOP 48.5%

Ward 3, Green Bay- Kloppenburg 54.0%, Bradley 45.6%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Bradley 53.1%, Kloppenburg 46.6%

In other words, Teske's theory that UWGB "favors Democrats" compared to the rest of the city generally doesn't pan out. Guess they're not big at looking at data down at GB City Hall.

By comparison to GOP-run Green Bay, the City of Madison has actively encouraged early voting for its residents, both in having large amount of days to early vote, and in having numerous sites around the city. It seems to be paying off, as the numbers that came out today have to scare the daylights out of the Trump and Ron Johnson campaigns.
As of Tuesday, the City of Madison Clerk had issued a total of 35,497 absentee ballots and had 31,421 returned to be counted, shattering the previous records of 32,012 issued in 2008 and 29,199 returned in 2012.

The City has also established another new record with 26,527 absentee ballots cast in person at early voting locations. The previous high was 18,752 ballots cast in person in 2012.

The Madison Clerk's office expanded both the early voting period for 2016 and the number of locations, after a federal court struck down a state law in August that had limited early voting to two weeks prior to the election with no weekend hours and only allowed cities to provide one location for people to cast in-person absentee ballots.

In response to the court's ruling, the City of Madison started in person absentee voting on September 26 at 11 different locations, which expanded to 13 locations this week and to 14 by next week.
What we don’t know is how much of that early vote in Madison is being done by UW students, and how much of it is from everyone else. And what’s interesting is that when you look at the “liberal UW-Madison” student vote (which I derived by looking at the results from 17 wards in areas on or near campus where UW students live), and the checked the results from that area for the November elections of 2012 and 2014, and the April 2016 Supreme Court race/presidential primary, the Republican candidate actually did better on/near campus than in the rest of the city.

City of Madison vote
President, 2012
UW Student Wards- Obama 72.5%, Romney 24.6%
Rest of the City- Obama 79.4%, Romney 19.0%

Governor, 2014
UW Student Wards- Burke 69.0%, Walker 29.2%
Rest of the City- Burke 79.8%, Walker 19.1%

Supreme Court, April 2016
UW Student Wards- Kloppenburg 76.6%, Bradley 22.8%
Rest of the City- Kloppenburg 80.4%, Bradley 19.4%

Of course, there are still big Dem advantages in the student wards of Madison, as those areas gave Obama an extra 12,000 votes over Romney, while Burke beat Walker by over 7,000 votes, and Kloppenburg beat Bradley by over 9,700. But at least in Green Bay and Madison, we don't see the breakdown in how students vote being that much different than the vote in the rest of those cities. Yes, that vote will likely more rural leaning than the redder rural areas (who generally aren't affected by how much time is given to early voting), but it does show that encouraging early voting in student areas at UWGB and UW-Madison would be more for boosting overall student turnout than in favoring one side over the other.

But it's those increased margins in Madison and increased proportion of the electorate for UWGB college students that explain the real strategy behind the GOP’s voter suppression. They are choosing to hold down the vote totals of UW students rather than develop policies and ideas that might get more of those students to vote for them. That's what WisGOP fears- having more young people voting PERIOD, because then they have to care more about what young people think, and the WisGOPs might want to think twice before screwing over the UW again, or in placating narrow special-interests by passing regressive social legislation. But the sad fact is that all of us, not just the young folks, are the ones losing in Wisconsin because of those kinds of bills and the backwards approach that goes with them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Walker gaffe shows he will deform state employee health care, if given chance

These are three short paragraphs in an article in the La Crosse Tribune. But they say sooooo much.
Any new money for public schools most likely would be distributed through both equalization and categorical aid, Gov. Scott Walker said Monday.

He visited the Barney Center in Sparta for an invitation-only “listening session” that was closed to the media.

Walker has pledged to spend more on public education by using savings from changes to state employee health plans. He said the specifics will come early next year when he sends his biennial budget to the state Legislature.
"Invitation-only "listening session" that was closed to the media? It's nice to know the Guv is staying in touch with everyday Wisconsinites isn't it? And you wonder why this state falls further and further behind the rest of the country in both economy and quality of life when you have this guy deciding to hide inside his protective bubble?

But even worse is what you see in the last sentence. Extra money that goes into public education will be available due to "savings from changes to state employee health plans." What changes are we talking about, Scotty? Notice that he's not saying until after the election (Unintimidated!), but let's go with what we do know on that subject. The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds sent out a Request for Proposal in July looking for the following.
The objective of this RFP is to acquire health benefits administrators to provide Services that will accommodate the current Uniform Benefit plan design and enhance the value of the plan through the following changes: 

Transition to a self-insured health benefit program; 
Regional, statewide, and nationwide networks; 
Consistent administration of health benefits;
Value based plan design; and 
Data sharing and strategic coordination with other Contractors and/or third party administrators, such as the State’s data warehouse, PBM, consulting actuaries, wellness Contractors, etc.
Those proposals had a deadline of September 20, but conveniently will not be opened and shown in public by the Group Insurance Board until November 15- one week after the elections. Selecting one statewide vendor for self-insurance or even choosing a handful of private organizations to cover the various regions would be a major departure from the competitive environment of bidding that happens with state employee health benefits these days. And a new system is far from guaranteed to give savings to taxpayers....unless Walker has already planned to push off costs onto state employees through higher premiums, or by cutting costs through major reductions in covered services for those employees.

And ya think the chosen vendors just might be champing at the bit to grab the hefty profits that are sure to come from such a system, and that they just might be willing to say "thank you" with a few campaign contributions to Scott Walker's 2020 presidential campaign or the WisGOP legislators that have to sign off on them? Win-win all around! Hey, who cares about the jobs and low-cost efficiencies that go with the well-functioning current health care system for state employees when there's money to be kicked back, right?

What Walker said in Sparta yesterday is the definition of a gaffe- someone telling a truth that they don't want the public to know, and one that makes the speaker look bad. Know that if voters in Wisconsin allow rubber-stamp Republicans to stay in power after November 2016, then this type of screw-job is coming. In a way, I guess we should thank Scotty for being so stupid as to give the game away.

Monday, October 24, 2016

FEMA aid will be a big help to get flooded Wisconsin back to normal

After last month's major floods in western Wisconsin, local and state governments were facing an extra level of road repairs that they didn't account for. While the state of Wisconsin sets aside $1 million a year in the Transportation Fund, and budgets an additional $6.5 million of General Fund Aid for the 2015-17 biennium to help local governments pay for damages, that wouldn't be nearly enough to handle the needs that have arisen from record rains that happened last month, as well as the widespread damage from a 12-inch downpour in July in Northern Wisconsin.

Governor Walker and members of Wisconsin's Congressional delegation made a request of President Obama to release funds from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to lower the burden that state and local governments would have to shoulder for repairs to roads and buildings. And on Thursday, the President agreed, making a major disaster declaration for much of western Wisconsin, which means FEMA will pick up 75% of the costs involved in repairs from the floods. Governor Walker announced the FEMA declaration in a press release and thanked President Obama's Administration for the move (without using Obama's name, of course).
...The counties included in the declaration are Adams, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Richland, and Vernon.

"We're pleased these communities will receive federal assistance as they work to repair roads and other infrastructure that was damaged during the flash floods last month," said Governor Walker. "The damage caused by these flash floods and mudslides have placed significant strains on many local budgets, so this federal assistance is a welcome relief."

Last week, Governor Walker formally requested a federal disaster declaration. Although impacted by the floods, Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties did not sustain enough damage to qualify for the federal assistance.

Heavy rains hit western Wisconsin September 21 and 22, causing flash floods, mudslides, and washed out roads. Preliminary damage assessments conducted by FEMA determined the storms caused more than $11 million in damage to public infrastructure, including over $5.2 million in damage in Vernon County.
Walker's request and promotion of the FEMA aid seems ironic for a guy who ranted at the Republican Convention about how states like Wisconsin shouldn't rely on "liberal Washington." And while I applaud Walker for actually doing his job and asking for help from FEMA, it shows how absurd that neo-Confederate "state's rights" pose is, because the state of Wisconsin and especially the local governments in the western part of the state would have faced significant disruptions to their road repair plans if they had to pay for it on their own. And no local or state government deserves to be handcuffed because of natural disasters like the large-scale floods that have afflicted Wisconsin in recent months.

Now that the feds have done their duty to help the states in their times of need after natural disasters, there will likely be little long-term damage to state budgets and infrastructure. The FEMA funds are especially handy for Vernon County, a place without a lot of people or money flowing around, and the Vernon County 2017 budget needs to be finalized in the next month after millions of dollars in unforeseen repairs have been made.
Vernon County Highway Commissioner Phil Hewitt said Obama's Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration is like Christmas coming early.

"It means that we're going to be able to do road construction and that sort of thing next year instead of paying for flood damage," Hewitt said. "This declaration, especially with the townships and even with the county, it saves us.".
The Vernon County Highway Commissioner also says in the Wisconsin Public Radio article that the FEMA money also allows for pre-emptive measures that minimize future disasters.
Hewitt said FEMA officials usually approve funding for infrastructure improvements, not just replacements. Without FEMA authorized improvements to riverbanks and bridges after flooding in 2008, this year's flood damage would have been 10 times worse, he said.

"That's the big thing about FEMA, is they usually will allow you to do mitigation on some of these projects, and then you don't have to go down this road again," Hewitt said.
And there's no question that preparing for the next storm is something that is a worthwhile investment of tax dollars. With these once-in-a-lifetime floods seeming to hit every few years these days, and 1-2 inches of rain forecast for much of southern Wisconsin over the next 48 hours, it seems that natural disasters are something that will cost us more money now and in the future. And regardless of how much the Kochs shell out to make GOP politicians deny the man-made contribution to climate change, to not budget and prepare for this new reality of weather-related costs is something that cannot be done by any responsible government.

"Special needs vouchers" - a scam in more ways than one

Throughout the 5 ½ years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, we have seen the continual and increased funneling of taxpayer dollars away from K-12 public schools through various voucher programs, putting those funds into religious schools and other private (often for-profit) organizations. This has been infuriating enough to those of us who understand that one of Wisconsin’s few advantages over other states had been its strong public schools, and it is no concidence that the state’s economy has floundered and failed to attract talent as the Wisconsin GOP has deinvested in K-12 public schools and the UW System.

But the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Erin Richards gave new, in-depth information today on the most recent voucher school scam in the state- a new “special-needs scholarship” program that started this year, designed to allow special education students to get additional money to attend private schools.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau described the funding of the new special needs program in this manner.
Set a per pupil aid transfer amount of $12,000 in 2016-17 to be transferred from the resident district to the nonresident district for each special education pupil who open enrolls. Specify that this amount be indexed annually in a manner similar to the transfer amount for a regular education pupil, which is based on the revenue limit per pupil adjustment and the change in categorical aid funding per pupil in a given year.
That $12,000 is $4,024 to $4,670 more than what is handed out in state aid for a “regular” voucher student. And just like with the traditional voucher program, many of these special needs vouchers came from students who were already attending the voucher school in the first place and whose parents were already getting a tax break for private school tuition (another scam put in by WisGOP in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, enabling those parents to write off private school tuition and the property taxes they pay for public schools).

This new special needs voucher doesn’t have any money budgeted for it in 2015-17 state budget, but instead will be “paid for” by cutting the general aids of the public school that’s in the student’s home area. Richards describes how this has resulted in further aid reductions for two prominent Milwaukee-area districts, which they just found about.
Down the road in Hartland, Arrowhead Union High School officials opened their state aid figures this month to find a new deduction of $84,000 to pay for seven resident children using special-needs vouchers.

The method for paying for special-needs vouchers results in districts with declining enrollment, like Arrowhead, losing a separate cushion of funding. That amounted to an additional $20,000 loss from last year, Business Manager Steve Kopecky said.

“It’s a new tweak we have to budget for," he said.

Districts can recoup some of the aid losses through a complicated funding formula. But over time, most districts would still face a gap of at least $2,000 per participating child each year.

Milwaukee Public Schools has the largest number of resident children using new special-needs vouchers. The district will lose about $1.8 million in state aid to pay for about 150 resident students.

Interestingly, the state budget also threw in an extra $5,000,000 for High-Cost Special Education aid for students with exceptional needs. As the Legislative Fiscal Bureau described
Under the current law program, school districts, CESAs, County Children with Disability Education Boards (CCDEBs), and independent charter schools are eligible for high-cost aid for 90% of non-administrative costs above $30,000 for an individual pupil in the previous school year, if the costs were not reimbursed by state special education categorical aid, federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or the federal Medicaid program. If funding is insufficient, payments are prorated.
This program had maxed out its allocation of $3.5 million in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, likely meaning that at least some districts did not get that full 90% reimbursement (the 2015-16 figure has not been produced, as it is among the “missing appendix items” in last week’s Annual Fiscal Report). So $5 million was added to the $3.5 million for a total of $8.5 million available in high-cost aid for the 2016-17 school year. But while these extra funds for high-cost special education are nice, they only apply to a small portion of students. And the money comes with a major catch: the 90% coverage of costs over $30K that were previously covered was reduced by WisGOP to 70%. So while there’s more money available, the district has to eat more of the high costs associated with students with exceptional needs. So much for that “funding increase.”

Even worse, the State of Wisconsin hasn’t raised the amount of special education aids it gives to K-12 districts for 8 years. This often means that the extra, required costs of special education get loaded onto general education, and the property taxes of district residents. And now these special needs vouchers are taking out even more of the general aids for schools.

And it’s not like special education instructors and aides can be reduced in these districts just because a few students (and their parents) grab the special needs vouchers and head to a private school. There are still sizable amounts of students in need of special ed services, and it would be hard to justify reducing one of those staff positions just because a few students have left, as it would likely be an inefficient move (in addition to being really scuzzy).

I suppose that outcome might lower the student-to-teacher ratio a bit, as the remaining special education students in the district might get a little more individual attention. But that marginal help doesn’t come close to the loss of resources that the district has had to take on, both for this year and in previous years. Given the lack of an increase in special ed funding from the state and the cuts to general K-12 aids, it is likely that the level and/or quality of special ed services have declined over the last 8 years.

We shouldn’t be surprised that convicted criminal Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby have pulled off another scam on Wisconsin taxpayers with this “special needs scholarship” program. But we can stop it from getting worse, by voting out every and all GOP legislative candidates that have voted for this crap, or getting help from voucher front groups this election season.

And no matter what these GOP puppets may say to their voters in public, and no matter what “show votes” they may make against the state budget, if they are kept in office, the voucher lobby’s agenda will continue. NONE ARE INNOCENT. And if the voucher lobby’s agenda continues, the deterioration of Wisconsin’s public schools will continue, and the rip-off of Wisconsin taxpayers will continue.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"How rural America lost its F**ing Mind"- and why it's understandable wouldn't seem to be a great source of social and economic commentary, but David Wong beat those expectations earlier this month with a great article titled "How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind." Wong grew in downstate Illinois, and notes that part of the reason Donald Trump has done well with small-town, lesser-educated white people shouldn't be limited to mere racism. It's also because rural America has a very different experience than the America that lives around big cities, a point Wong reiterates by noting "[Illinois] isn't blue. Freaking Chicago is blue."

Wong notes these differences lead to major limitations in small-town America, but that these differences are largely ignored in media and therefore the consciousness of most Americans.
If you don't live in one of these small towns, you can't understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around the city is now a hundred-foot wall called "Cost of Living." Let's say you're a smart kid making $8 an hour at a Walgreen's and aspire to greater things. Fine, get ready to move yourself and your new baby into a 700-square-foot apartment for $1,200 a month, and to then pay double what you're paying now for utilities, groceries, and babysitters. Unless, of course, you're planning to move to one of "those" neighborhoods (hope you like being set on fire!).

In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may be only two doctors in town - aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The "downtown" is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in WalMart's blast crater, the "suburbs" are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic...

And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will put out an iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege. Already, someone has replied to this comment saying, "You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!" Exactly. To them, it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help. Meanwhile, the rate of rural white suicides and overdoses skyrockets. Shit, at least politicians act like they care about inner cities.
This is a great point. Because our media is based out of big cities on the coasts, the fact that much of small-town America has gone down the tubes in the 2000s and not recovered much (especially in ALEC states like Wisconsin) gets largely ignored by the media, even as the rest of American economy got back on track.

Because life in these communities is so limited, and the "American Dream" meme is "you can succeed anywhere if you are born into any circumstance", this naturally causes a conflict and leads a lot of those people to lash out at forces that really are keeping them down, but that they can't do much about. Sure, some of these people are very limited and made bad choices, but lots of kids in big cities do the same thing, and their lives don't seem to be shit...or at least the media notices that their lives are shit and rightfully recognize it as a PROBLEM that needs to be talked about.

So what do people in these small, isolated communities do? They turn to people who actually "feel their pain", even if that person is racist fool whose policies will leave them worse off. As Wong notes later in the column
The rural folk with Trump signs in their yards say their way of life is dying, and you smirk and say what they really mean is that blacks and gays are finally getting equal rights and they hate it. But I'm telling you, they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying. It's not their imagination. No movie about the future portrays it as being full of traditional families, hunters, and coal miners. Well, except for Hunger Games, and that was depicted as an apocalypse.

So yes, they vote for the guy promising to put things back the way they were, the guy who'd be a wake-up call to the blue islands. They voted for the brick through the window.

It was a vote of desperation.
That doesn't mean we should excuse small-town white people for falling for Trump or for accepting the racism and regressive mentality that comes with accepting Trumpism. But we should understand where it comes from, and try to deal with the different often-bleak reality that exists in small-town America in 2016. Instead, we have a DNC that concentrates on the "Obama Coalition" of educated whites, minorities, and others who believe that diversity and equal rights makes the country better off. And despite those values of respecting diversity being a good thing, what has often been ignored by Team DNC/Clinton is a strong platform addressing economic inequality, realizing that "free trade" with 3rd world Countries has eliminated jobs and reduced the wages of a lot of Americans who did nothing wrong, and cleaning up a corrupt government where the rich and connected are able to play by different rules than the rest of us in "99%-land".

Republicans have used this legitimate anger to rise to power in many states, despite having an economic agenda that makes the crappy life in rural America even worse (especially by defunding public schools, one of the few levels small-town America can have). Some of this is done by distracting older, rural voters with social issues like guns or abortion, because those are personal items that rural people can relate to over racial/sexual equity questions or how to best balance the state budget. It's also done by driving resentment against "educated elites"- (mo)Ron Johnson denigrating Russ Feingold as somehow being a lesser person because Russ chose to be a lawyer, politician and college lecturer vs Johnson's more "legitimate work" of inheriting his father-in-law's business is a great example of this strategy. People in small towns with HS education have little concept of the work that goes into obtaining a higher education, or the value that educational institutions give to a society, but they can see a local mill or business, and think most of those guys are legitimate.

Again, this doesn't excuse the mess and social damage that Trumpism has caused, and it won't go away after November 8 just because a sizablre majority of people of this country will reject Trumpism. These resentments in small-town America will continue, and those of us that live in states that aren't overly dominated by big cities will have to deal with these realities. If small-town America continues to be made invisible, the country will fail to reach its potential because we will have a sizable amount of states run by people like Scott Walker who take advantage of those resentments to win off-year elections, and then those GOPs will put in policies that do nothing to solve the chronic economic problems that make life in the small towns so depressing and anger-inducing, and that'll continue for years until the cycle is broken by a new Dem mentality, or because the rural population declines and dies off enough that they get outvoted for good. And that is not a near-term future that sounds any good for anyone.

PS- Here's a Saturday Night Live skit from last night, where Tom Hanks plays a rural white guy who kicks ass on "Black Jeopardy", because he seems to have a lot in common with the lives of the working/lower-class black people that the questions are geared toward. Well, until when they get to "Lives That Matter" question, and then the answers between Hanks and the two other (African-American contestants) seem likely to be a LOT different.

And you can bet that right-wing radio and rural white America will turn this into "see, look at how those Hollywood elites think of you." And far too many rural whites will say "Yeah, fuck them! What do they know?"

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Awful September jobs put exclamation mark on horrible Wisconsin record

After yesterday's release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' state-by-state jobs report which showed Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state in September, I wanted to update a couple of stats that look at Wisconsin's performance vs the rest of our Midwestern neighbors.

First let's start with the September report, which showed some other Midwestern states lost jobs, and that Indiana had a huge increase. But Wisconsin definitely "separated" itself from the rest.

Change in jobs, September 2016
Ind. +16,300
Ill. +7,400
Mich +5,400
Minn +1,900
Iowa -900
Ohio -3,100
Wis. -10,500

Private sector
Ind. +10,100
Ill. +6,300
Mich +4,900
Minn +300
Iowa -100
Ohio -300
Wis. -8,500

The same trend of Wisconsin lagging continues if you widen it out for the last year. Only the dysfunctional mess in Illinois keeps Wisconsin out of the Midwestern cellar over this time period.

Change in jobs, Sept 2015- Sept 2016
Mich +2.00%
Iowa +1.90%
Minn +1.61%
Ind. +1.45%
Ohio +1.35%
Wis. +1.25%
Ill. +0.73%

Private sector
Mich +2.11%
Iowa +1.96%
Minn +1.81%
Ind. +1.58%
Ohio +1.27%
Wis. +1.27%
Ill. +0.85%

But even worse is if you narrow out to the last 6 months. When you do that, Wisconsin is in a class by itself....of losing. And it looks even worse when you see the growth on the other side of the St. Croix River.

Change in jobs, March-Sept 2016
Minn +29,100
Ind. +23,100
Iowa +11,800
Ill. +9,600
Mich +6,900
Ohio +6,500
Wis. -13,000

Private sector
Minn +24,500
Ind. +21,700
Ill. +13,100
Mich +10,500
Iowa +9,100
Ohio +1,400
Wis. -11,700

And of course, we were already near the bottom of the Midwest for job growth in the 5 years before March 2016, according to the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages. The list above, with Wisconsin being the only state to lose jobs, are the 6 months that have been reported since that last report ended. Ruh Roh.

So maybe it's time to pull the plug on this ALEC crap and remove the puppet politicians that have allowed this mess to happen. You wouldn't accept the Badgers or the Packers to be this horrible compared to our neighbors, so why do we accept it in something more important like jobs, schools, or quality of life?

Friday, October 21, 2016

More bad news, as Wisconsin revenues continue to fall short

I had a whole post ready to go to break down the new Wisconsin revenue numbers for the First Quarter of Fiscal Year 2017, but the Wisconsin Budget Project beat me to it, and so I’ll quote some of their analysis instead.
If you are a glass half-full person, you might be happy to know that the new tax collection figures from the Department of Revenue (DOR) show that revenue grew by 1.4% during the first three months of the current fiscal year, compared to the same period in 2015-16. But that growth rate is very disappointing when you consider the following:
•The state needs a 3.7% increase over the full course of 2016-17 to reach the revenue level projected by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) early this year.
•With 1.4% growth, tax collections in the first quarter fell $64.6 million short of the amount needed to be on track to reach the total projected for the year by the LFB.

On the positive side, income tax collections grew by 3.6% compared to the same quarter of the previous fiscal year; however, sales tax growth was an anemic 0.9%, and corporate income taxes fell by 11.9%.
That “$64.6 million short” measures the difference between 1.4% and 3.7% growth for the first three months of the year, and even worse is that it requires better than 3.7% growth in the future months to “catch up”.

As the Budget Project notes, this is very early in the game, and not worthy to hit the panic button yet- in FY 2016, less than 19% of the overall yearly revenues came in for the first 25% of the fiscal year. But the flip side of that is if the trend of 1.4% year-over-year growth maintains itself throughout the Fiscal Year, then it means a shortfall of nearly $350 million, which would likely trigger a budget repair bill and/or more skipped debt payments by the Walker Administration.

So the state will need to pick up the pace, and with the state losing more jobs than any other state in the country last month, that would be quite a reversal going forward. Keep these figures in the back of your head, as the Department of Revenue will release its own revenue projections and tally of budget requests, and that was the document which showed a $2.2 billion budget deficit in November 2014 (numbers which came out after Walker and WisGOP had been re-elected, of course).

It’s interesting to me how the state’s media didn’t report much on the disappointing revenue and jobs numbers that came out on Thursday, which was probably the intelligence of the Walker Administration’s design for doing both within a few hours yesterday. But as the election nears, we have to hold Walker and WisGOP responsible for the fiscal and economic lagging that continues to plague Wisconsin, and understand that this will never change until those people are changed out of power.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

There are actual job creators in Wisconsin, but they ain't in WEDC/WMC

I usually roll my eyes when Wisconsin companies get newspaper articles about their latest expansion and/or “plans to hire more people” event. In the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, many are nothing more than partisan PR events to try to trick the average rube into thinking regressive GOP policies are working in the state, and the event is often associated with some kind of tax giveaway. A good example of this happened in Kenosha this week where a printing company got $1.3 million in taxpayer-funded assistance for the 100 jobs it was relocating from northern Illinois. As a result, the company received a visit from Governor Walker yesterday, and the company’s CEO just happened to talk to the media about Wisconsin’s “pro-business” policies (look for his name on a WisGOP campaign contribution report soon).

But I casually clicked on an article from the Portage Daily Register today about a business expanding in that town, and it read a bit differently from the Guv’s photo op in Kenosha.
The company adding 60 new workers is “faster than what we expected,” human resources manager Jane Berg noted Wednesday, minutes before executives cut ribbon to commemorate the expansion in a ceremony for employees. Saint-Gobain’s 48,000-square-foot addition, completed in May, made room for more equipment and increased customer orders.

“There are a lot of places in the world for expansion, so why Portage?” Steve Maddox, general manager of Saint-Gobain’s Life Sciences division, told a crowd of about 75. “We have the capabilities (in) design … and it’s about the people — what you guys can deliver and will deliver.”

Saint-Gobain’s expansion marks only the latest investment in the Portage plant, said Tom Kinisky, the president of Performance Plastics. Since 2008 the company has invested $30 million in the Portage plant, which opened in 2001, he said….

The Portage plant belongs to the “innovative materials group” of Saint-Gobain and manufactures components for medical devices. Recent hirings have brought its workforce to about 400. The 70 open jobs are all injection mold operator positions, though the company has other openings — like in accounting and manufacturing-engineering, Berg said.

Saint-Gobain would be happy to have all of its 70 remaining jobs filled already, Berg said, but “very low” unemployment numbers — something that’s otherwise positive for communities — has slowed the hiring process somewhat. Unemployment in Columbia County is at 3.3 percent, according to August numbers from the Department of Workforce Development. Unemployment in Dane County is even lower — 2.8 percent — while Sauk and Marquette counties are at 3.1 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.

I noticed a lack of state and local politicians making an appearance at this event (if they were there, they weren’t quoted), and there was no mention of WEDC tax credits or similar giveaways that we often see at “expansion/jobs announcements” that feature Governor Walker or other GOP hacks. That seemed a bit unusual, as Walker did show his mug at Saint-Gobian in early 2015 when they broke ground on the development, and WEDC promised up to $700,000 in write-offs.

But none of the Saint-Gobain people even reference WEDC in the article as a reason behind their expansion, and instead talk about their on-going investment in the company, which indicates to me that the Walker/WEDC folks were trying to front-run on this expansion, and take credit for something that likely would have happened anyway, and without the need for the handout from government. In fact, WEDC isn’t mentioned at all except for a Portage Chamber of Commerce type referencing a WEDC study showing that Portage was growing faster than nearby communities. This is where I point out that Saint-Gobian is in blue-voting Columbia County in a tech-related industry, instead of some old-economy business in a red or 50-50 voting county outside of the Madison media market. Funny, that.

Then I looked at the roster of the Board of Directors at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and no Saint-Gobian reps appear on there. I also looked up the three Saint-Gobain executives quoted in the story on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s “Follow the Money” website, and they don’t show up as donating to any state candidates there, either.

Maybe it’s because these actual “job creators” spend time developing a quality product, hiring good employees and meeting product demand. That seems to be their answer as opposed to throwing money at candidates through front groups like WMC and then demanding payback in the form of handouts and tax cuts from the politicians they paid off. Not that these businesses won’t take those goodies (hey, if the desperate WisGOP government is gonna offer em up, why not take them?), but it doesn’t seem to be their first priority, as it is with the slimeballs at WMC or in companies who play communities off of each other in order to extort the biggest write-offs.

In other words, businesses that care more about running their businesses do better than the lazy, unimaginative corporations that have far too much power in this state. That seems worthy to point out, and might be a strategy to encourage in the future over the pro-oligarch garbage that we have today.

More job loss in September in Wisconsin- had enough?

Today featured the release of another bad job report in Wisconsin, as 10,500 jobs were lost on a seasonally-adjusted basis in September, and 8,500 in the private sector. Sure, the losses in August were lessened with revisions, showing a drop of only 2,700 private sector jobs instead of the 6,200 reported last month (total August jobs went from -2,900 to +100). But that’s still 11,200 private jobs out the door over the last 2 months, and it’s starting to become an alarming trend.

Because when you take a wider view, and look at the 6 months of Wisconsin jobs figures reported since the time period covered in the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment (where Wisconsin only rated 33rd in the nation for March 2015-March 2016), things look really bad.

change in jobs, Wisconsin March-Sept 2016
Private sector -11,700
Overall -13,000

A main culprit in the bad September Wisconsin jobs report were the Leisure and Hospitality sector (aka bars, hotels, and restaurants), which had larger-than-normal seasonal layoffs, leading to a seasonally-adjusted loss of 4,000. Construction and Manufacturing also had losses in September, making for 3 straight months of losses in Manufacturing (granted August’s losses were smaller, from 4,500 to 1,000, but that’s still not good). And local government dropped 3,000 jobs in September, along with a downward revision of 500 for August. You have to wonder if that loss in local government reflects a loss of jobs in K-12 schools (because it really shows smaller-than-normal seasonal increases). If so, doesn’t that directly reflect Governor Walker and WisGOP following the ALEC agenda of defunding public schools and shifting resources to voucher schools?

Sure, the Wisconsin DWD’s news release leads with the state’s unemployment rate dropping to “4.1%,” but that’s really a drop from 4.19% to 4.147%, and Wisconsin’s increases in the labor force and number identifying as “employed” was relatively small (4,400 and 5,700, respectively). Those numbers shouldn’t seem surprising when you realize the US jobs report in September had 444,000 more in the work force and 354,000 more report as employed, and Wisconsin’s seasonally-adjusted increase in work force in September is still well below we were in March, meaning Wisconsin’s lower unemployment rate reflects slower population growth in Wisconsin over any kind of gain in jobs.

Change in work force, “employed” March-Sept 2016
Work Force -11,000
Employed -200

In fact Wisconsin may well be going the way of Kansas, which had an unemployment rate as low as 3.7% last May, even as its economy and budget was going down the tubes, because people who leave the state don’t count as “unemployed.” So let’s not quite break out the party hats for 4.1% unemployment, shall we?

In fact, the deterioration over the last 6 months in Wisconsin has exploded the Walker jobs gap, since the US has continued to add jobs over the same time period. We now are over 111,000 jobs in the hole for private sector jobs, and nearly 108,000 overall jobs. Both are the widest Walker jobs gaps yet.

So with 19 days before most of the State Legislature comes up for re-election, can you tell me why we should keep the same GOPs in charge that put us in that hole? None of these bad results will change until the lawmakers and their puppetmasters are tossed out for their bad performance. KNOW THIS.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Towns tell Scotty one-time bump in local road aids won't fix the problem.

In a bit of recent news, Gov Walker announced that he would add $14.6 million to the DOT’s budget request, and have that money be allocated to towns to give them an extra boost in fixing their roads. That increase comes on top of added road aids that are slated to go to all levels of local government in the original DOT budget request.
Governor Walker gave remarks at the Wisconsin Towns Association Annual Convention on Monday in Stevens Point and announced an additional $14.6 million in transportation aid would be included in his budget proposal for Wisconsin’s towns. When combined with the $8.9 million increase included in DOT’s budget proposal, Wisconsin towns are projected to see a $23.5 million increase in funding. This represents an 8.5 percent increase over the last budget in overall funding to Wisconsin towns for both the Local Road Improvement Program and General Transportation Aids.
However, some state news services quoted Wisconsin Towns Association Board member Jerry Derr in a way that implied this new increase mentioned by Walker was enough to meet the towns’ needs, and that things were all good. The Towns Association sent out a press release the next day saying that wasn’ty the case, and clarified that while Walker’s proposed increase is nice, it merely evens the towns up with other local governments, and the bump isn’t nearly enough to handle what has to be done.
…the $14.6 million fully addresses an equity concern in WisDOT’s budget request that was being voiced to WTA by town officials representing 95% of Wisconsin’s geography. The budget request included a $65 million increase, of which only $8.9 million was appropriated to towns. This amount was a 2.99% increase in LRIP and GTA combined. We are very pleased that the Governor’s announcement creates an 8.5% increase for towns, which is consistent with the 8.43% increase for counties and 8.61% increase for cities and villages.

Second, although the Towns Association quoted Derr in a recent press release, the faulty reporting does not come close to what Derr said or the WTA position. As was actually stated in the press release by WTA President Lee Engelbrecht, we are looking forward to “begin to work toward a long term, sustainable transportation solution for the whole system.”

To accomplish this solution, WTA continues to feel strongly that we first must squeeze every drop of blood out of the transportation rock through efficiencies that have already been found during the last legislative session and presumably will be found through the WisDOT audit. It is very likely efficiencies will not be enough to address significant unmet needs. At that point, a long term, sustainable, and equitable solution can only be achieved by growing the transportation resource pie so state and county highways, town roads, and city and village streets provide a foundation for economic development in Wisconsin.
What’s also interesting about Walker’s announcement is that he pulled the “see, I can do this without raising taxes” routine as part of it. Well, a big reason this is possible is because the Transportation Fund came in with nearly $207 million left over at the end of 2016, and Walker is likely draining that reserve to pay for this increase. This move doesn’t change the lack of steady revenues that causes the structural deficit which plagues the Transportation Fund (in fact, this increase to towns would make it larger, if it's continuing past 2018), and it still leaves the large debt service bills and reduced highway projects to be figured out by the State Legislature. Oh, and it also likely dumps it on the desk of the next governor in 2019.

I guess I can give a golf clap to Walker for realizing that shared revenues really do make a difference, and that the state has to start picking the slack their prior cuts have caused. But don’t buy the happy talk that all the potholes will be filled and we’ll improve from our 3rd-worst in the nation status for road conditions, because at best, this is short-term assistance that won’t fix the underlying problem of a lack of revenues being generated for what needs to be paid for. And at worst, it’s required even heavier lifting to seriously solve the problem in the coming years.

Roger Waters lets Trump have it (video somewhat NSFW)

Yes Roger Waters can be a dick much of the time, but that dickishness also can lead to some great music and visuals. Last weekend at the Desert Trip concert was a great example, where Waters dedicated "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" to a certain presidential candidate. (In typical Waters fashion, the video has a few NSFW images)

And I'd already been digging this song and album some in recent weeks, as I was finding the concept of "Animals" more relevant, even before this "Trump/Pig" blast.
Big man, pig man, ha ha charade you are.
You well heeled big wheel, ha ha charade you are.
And when your hand is on your heart,
You're nearly a good laugh,
Almost a joker,
With your head down in the pig bin,
Saying "Keep on digging."
Pig stain on your fat chin.
What do you hope to find.
When you're down in the pig mine.
You're nearly a laugh,
You're nearly a laugh
But you're really a cry.

Bus stop rat bag, ha ha charade you are.
You fucked up old hag, ha ha charade you are.
You radiate cold shafts of broken glass.
You're nearly a good laugh,
Almost worth a quick grin.
You like the feel of steel,
You're hot stuff with a hatpin,
And good fun with a hand gun.
You're nearly a laugh,
You're nearly a laugh
But you're really a cry.

Hey you, Whitehouse,
Ha ha charade you are.
You house proud town mouse,
Ha ha charade you are
You're trying to keep our feelings off the street.
You're nearly a real treat,
All tight lips and cold feet
And do you feel abused?
.....! .....! .....! .....!
You gotta stem the evil tide,
And keep it all on the inside.
Mary you're nearly a treat,
Mary you're nearly a treat
But you're really a cry.

UW defunding = higher tuition...and more costs for UW faculty?

While this week's Annual Fiscal Report had a lot of data missing from its Appendix, one bit of information they did have involved information on the funding of the UW System. This showed not only how much state taxpayers gave to the UW, but also how it funded the rest of its operations. Fiscal Year 2015-16 was especially noteworthy since it was the first year of a two-year cut in state aid that was part of the latest state budget, and it continued a trend of deteriorating state support of the UW that started in the 2000s, and has been accelerated since the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began in 2011.

This chart will show how the UW's funding has changed over the last decade. You'll see how state funding went down from 27.0% in 2006 to 23.3% when Governor Scott Walker took office in 2011. But it's even worse now, with state funding dropping all the way to 19.0% after this last year. Federal grants have also declined when it comes to taking up UW costs, while tuition and fees have taken up much of that slack, along with self-supporting entities such as dorms and student unions.

You can see this trade-off between less state funding and more tuition and fees over the last 10 years in this chart, and it especially broke apart once Walker and WisGOP came to power in 2011. And despite Gov Walker's claims of a tuition freeze, you can see that this gap has continued to grow over the 3 years that policy has been in effect.

In addition to trading higher tuition and fees for lower state appropriations, WisGOP’s Legislature and governor also continue to follow the ALEC agenda by defunding the UW System is the hopes of screwing it up by disrespecting those who work there through the loss of take-home pay (via Act 10) and tenure protections. As a result, it is no surprise that much of the UW’s talent base is now more likely listen to offers from other schools. That’s reflected in the figure released this week which shows that UW-Madison had to give out $23.6 million in retention bonuses to its faculty and staff in Fiscal Year 2015-16.

The amount of offers increased markedly from the previous fiscal year, which ended as the Legislature was debating those 2015-17 budget cuts to the UW System, and with those changes in place last year, it made the UW staff an even more inviting target for other institutions.
This much was clear: More retention offers, 232, were made last year, compared to 177 in 2014-2015, according to a new report on retention efforts. But because retention activities are not tracked in a central data base, detailed comparisons of retention costs from year to year were not immediately available, [UW-Madison Provost Sarah] Mangelsdorf said.

And while colleagues at other universities made no secret of the fact that the controversies at UW-Madison over state funding cuts and tenure policy revisions were prompting them to try to lure faculty away, Mangelsdorf said it is not clear how large a factor those issues played in faculty decisions….

Campus officials were successful in 2015-2016 in retaining faculty in 77 percent of cases where they had been offered other jobs and 62 percent of cases where officials made preemptive offers to keep prized faculty members, Mangelsdorf told reporters.

Some $21.7 million paid in retention efforts were one-time expenditures financed through a gift from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Those expenditures included such things as paying for research assistants, remodeling labs or buying equipment.

WARF annually donates money to UW-Madison to support research, and campus officials could say Friday only that the gift was “somewhat larger” last year.
Which means only $1.9 million of the $23.6 million in UW-Madison retention funds actually came from taxpayers, conserving valuable funds that had been cut by Governor Walker and the WisGOP Legislature. UW-Madison was fortunate to have research-based resources like WARF to tap funds from, and to have a large donor base that consistently puts money into ventures like WARF along with other UW-Madison academic and social initiatives.

The same cannot be said at most other UW System schools, which rely more on state aid to pay its faculty and staff, along with keeping the lights on for the classrooms. Those schools are the ones at larger risk in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, as they would likely have to dip into their already-scarce funds to keep the highly-qualified teachers and staff at their institutions, especially as they increasingly become targets from other university systems in states that value their educators and higher education in general.

Also noteworthy is that Manglesdorf mentioned that offers for tenured and tenure-track positions at UW was reduced by over 15% last year. With more money being needed to spend to keep current faculty in light of the disrespect shown to them by the WisGOP-run state government, and less money available from other sources, it becomes much harder for UW-Madison to recruit new talent to work with the people they are already struggling to keep.

With state funding continuing to go down and top faculty continuing to get offers from other places who want to succeed, does this sound like a UW System and flagship school on their way up to you? And do you think that trend will change in any way with as long as the ALEC crew is in charge of things at the Capitol, especially as gifts and other self-support can’t be counted on to continue to take up the slack? Yeah, me neither.