Sunday, July 31, 2016

Luke in Limbo

Went to the Brewers game last night with a large group. Good times, great weather, and a nice win for the Crew. But obviously the bigger story is off the field, as the team agreed to trade All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Cleveland Indians, only to see Lucroy veto the trade. Here are my thoughts on it.

1. Luke's decision to turn down the trade seems to be based on playing time and money. He's got a cheap (by MLB standards) $5.25 million contract for 2017, but then gets a chance to cash in as a free agent after that year. The Indians said that they weren't planning to have Lucroy catch full-time next year (when their younger, high-prospect catcher comes back from injury), and Luke felt his stats and playing time might suffer, which would hurt his desirability on the free agent market. When Lucroy couldn't get the Indians to then void the last year of his contract and make him a free agent after THIS year, he told them to fuck off. I can't blame him for thinking about what this trade would have done to his future earning ability, although it does blow up Luke's complaints this off-season about being OK with being traded out of Milwaukee because he wanted to play for a contender (the Indians are 4 1/2 games in first as I type this).

2. This is you build certain things into contracts when you negotiate them. Luke gave the Brewers a significant discount when he signed a 5-year contract extension in 2012, but he got the freedom to turn down trades to places he didn't want to go to (and/or have his family go to). He's got that leverage, even if you disagree with his choice to push it there. It seems like the Brewers get this (General Manager David Stearns seemed pretty cool with it, and indicated he would move on and see what happens from here), and it's probably less unusual than we think- we just don't often see it play out in public like this.

3. The Brewers don't need to take a subpar offer for Lucroy- keep him around if someone doesn't give you a huge deal. All-Star catchers don't exactly grow on trees, and while the Brewers aren't contenders this year, they're doing better than many of us thought. Why not keep Luke as a piece to build around for that future, or a piece to trade in the off-season when there should be a better market for him, (given that more teams will know their needs and the Brewers won't be pressured by the trade deadline)? Ryan Braun seems unlikely to be traded in the next 2 days, given that Braun is both hurt and is set to be paid big money for the next 3 years, so I think the off-season is the best time to re-evaluate where the team is, and to see what other teams might be willing to give.

4. The Brewers are in an entertainment industry, and I don't know how they could sell the last 2 months of the season to their fans if Lucroy (aka "The Face of the Franchise") and Braun were given away with no immediate help coming. Yes, they're playing good ball right now (6-3 in this current homestand), but I'd still anticipate a whole lot of small crowds the rest of the year if there were no major stars to come to see from the home team. I think Brewers fans have been remarkably patient and understanding that the Crew is in a long-term rebuilding project after last year's disaster, but you're going to have to start contending in the next 2-3 years, or else the fans will give up and stop coming.

I find the whole last 12-18 hours in Brewer-land interesting more than anything else. The team is holding Luke out of the lineup again today (so they don't get caught in a strategic disadvantage if he's traded during the game), and we'll see if Luke gets sent to the Dodgers or Mets in the next 24 hours. But if it doesn't happen, I have full confidence Luke will continue to be a pro and continue to play hard for the Crew.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Very quietly, state shifting another $1 billion in debt

Because I’m a nerd, I occasionally look at the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Capital Finance page, to see if any new debt is being offered by the state, and also to see if there are any updated budget items I can latch onto. If you click on that page, now you’ll see these three items.

$598 million of General Fund Refunding Bonds
$317 million of General Obligation Refunding
$93.7 million in GO Bonds (new money)

That’s over $1 billion in debt that’s being put out by the State of Wisconsin, so I wanted to see how this was all put together, and if it was a (further) sign of bad budget times to come. I’m no expert in all of the mechanism of these bonds, but in looking through the debt offering document for the $598 million in "refunding” (basically refinancing), it looks like this influx of money goes to pay off old debt that was first sent out in 2003, 2008, and 2009 to pay the bills in those deficit-addled years. This is done to keep from waiting until those bonds mature in later years to pay out the $1,000 face value, and just like with a car or a house, refinancing in itself isn’t necessarily a bad idea (especially given how low post-Brexit interest rates have been), and it can take a lot of near-term debt payments off of the books.

And if I’m reading the preliminary bond statement document correctly, $417 million of these bonds would come due in 2018, and would hit the next budget. This refunding would seem to be a nice way to avoid some budget pressures looming for the next session. The interesting question becomes what interest rate the bonds are offered at. A look at the recently-closed sale of $93 million offered interest rates ranging from 0.80% to 5.0%, and if this new refunding pulls such a high rate that investors are willing to pay more than face value (in exchange for taking in higher interest rates in future years), the state benefits because it doesn’t need to borrow as much in the future, or it can pay off more outstanding bonds if it’s a refunding. This will likely improve the state’s budgetary bottom line for this year and the near future.

But the problem with this refunding is that it also pushes interest costs into years that we weren’t slated to pay them, given that these bonds are paid off as late as 2037, and if 4% and 5% interest costs are above what regular interest rates would be, we would pay more than we need to. It would also tie the hands of future budgets, since we’re not only paying higher interest costs, but the face value of that debt matures at some later point as well. This might be a smart gamble to make if you think inflation and/or interests costs will eat away at those concerns over the next 10-20 years, but it also makes it intriguing to see what happens to our debt service projections, and see if that crowds out spending on more pressing issues. (if you want to take a cynical view of things, the ALEC crew is fond of schemes that tie government’s hands from spending to solve problems- easier to privatize that way).

Also of interest are the statements on another $317 million of refinancing that was bid on last week, as it gives an update on the state’s overall indebtedness. You’ll see that this number is back on the rise after leveling off between 2012-2014, with last year having the largest increase in debt in 4 years ($267 million).

GO Debt, Wisconsin
July 1, 2008 $5.235 billion
July 1, 2009 $5.362 billion
July 1, 2010 $6.015 billion
July 1, 2011 $6.730 billion
July 1, 2012 $7.279 billion
July 1, 2013 $7.492 billion
July 1, 2014 $7.261 billion
July 1, 2015 $7.449 billion
July 1, 2016 $7.716 billion

This figure includes the $101 million “scoop and toss” maneuver that Gov Walker’s office pulled in May, which has added to the debt payments due in this Fiscal Year as well as the 7 years afterwards. It makes me wonder if perhaps some of this refunding is to even out the higher payments that resulted from that move and a similar “scoop and toss” in 2015.

We probably won’t get much of an idea about where the state stands on its future indebtedness until we see budget requests come back in September, and then we get to see the final FY2016 picture with the Annual Fiscal Report in October. But I find it intriguing that the state continues to try to deal away large amounts of current-year debt in exchange for the hope that it’ll be easier to take care of things in later years. Either that, or the Walker Administration is trying to pass the buck and dump the problem onto the next unlucky governor who’ll have to clean up the mess. I suppose we’ll find out in the near future which answer it is.

A few Dem convention thoughts

The best speeches on the final night were Rev. Barber and Khizr Kahn back-to-back. Barber showed that moral decency and demanding equality of rights and opportunity should be American values, but that these days, it is only progressives that follow them. Rev. Barber was further vindicated yesterday when race-based voting restrictions in his home state of North Carolina were struck down, and followed shortly by similar Jim Crow-like suppression getting the boot in Wisconsin.

And when Mr. Khan did this and said “Mr. Trump, you have sacrificed nothing,”…GAME OVER.

Those guys represented and spoke to the America I believe in, and know that we can become, if we have the guts to choose it.

Hillary’s speech was really good, especially once she got out of the wonky weeds and drew the contrast between GOP hate and Dem inclusion. And also drew the contrast between her steadiness and intelligence, and Drumpf’s weakness, stupidity and horrible temperament. Drumpf and his pathetic followers are now on an island, and look like the diminished, shriveldicked fools they are.

Sure, this thing’s not over- catastrophes could hit that drive up the fear prospect which makes people vote foolishly (Drumpf’s only chance), but the Dems couldn’t have run things better and set themselves up better, given how things looked at the start of this week. They have now taken command of military competence and done so with an inclusionary message of respect and hope that fits the 21st Century- what Reagan Republicans claimed to be 30 years ago (even if they never really lived up to it).

My biggest complaint- WHERE WAS THE MESSAGE TO VOTE DOWNTICKET? The biggest problem with the DNC and the Party in general for the 2010s is too much concentration on DC and the Presidency, and not enough attention to more local races. They should have hammered Congressional GOPs for their obstruction, and ripped GOP governors for their failed policies and hateful fundie social laws (did you hear about North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” or the anti-public education policies of ALEC? I didn’t). Where’s the message of “Give us a Democratic Congress, and put Democrats in charge at the state level, and you will see this country move ahead.” I didn’t hear enough of that.

But it still was a great event if you support Dems or if you’re frightened by the prospect of a Drumpf Administration ending this country’s democracy, and it feels like things are more in control and settled down in this country than they were last week. But being complacent is nowhere near good enough- we need Dems to DOMINATE in the elections and slam Republicans into dust, if we truly want to take a big leap forward after 2016. And that goes far beyond merely putting Hillary Clinton in the White House.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pence rally, journalist ejection show WisGOPs staying in Bubble

For a bunch of people who use the word “freedom” a lot, today’s Republicans sure don’t like the 1st amendment when it comes to reporting on reality. Take a look at this now-notorious story from here in Wisconsin last night, where a Washington Post reporter was banned from Mike Pence’s first headlining rally as Donald Trump’s Vice-President, even as a member of the general public.
Post reporter Jose A. DelReal went to cover Pence's rally at the Waukesha County Exposition Center, but he was turned away by volunteers at a press check-in table before entering.

DelReal then tried to go through the general-admission line, as reporters who were banned from Trump's events last month have generally been able to do in the past, the Post reported. Again, he was stopped there by a private security guard who told him he couldn't enter the building with his laptop and cellphone.

When DelReal asked whether others attending the rally could enter with their cellphones, he said the official replied, "Not if they work for The Washington Post."

DelReal placed his computer and phone in his car, returned to the line and was detained again by security personnel, the Post reported. This time the the security personnel summoned two county sheriff's deputies who patted down DelReal's legs and torso, seeking his phone, the reporter said.
But why would we be surprised by this? Scott Walker was the main greeter for Pence at this event, and we know how allergic to the public Gov “Unintimidated” is, given how he pre-selects the audiences at his taxpayer-funded “listening sessions.”

By the way, WisPolitics has a good rundown of the other top WisGOP officials who showed up at this (allegedly poorly-attended) Pence event, and why they supported the Indiana governor (because he has passed laws harming public schools and women’s reproductive rights). The image of Scott Fitzgerald blubbering "Trump-Pence" is really disturbing.

Wispolitics also has some jaw-dropping quotes from the handful of dopes that did go to this train wreck of an event.
Debbie Gorichanaz said she remains a big Scott Walker fan and also likes Paul Ryan and has noticed Ryan "speaks very highly of Pence." She said she is most put off by Clinton's "email scandals."

Asked if she was troubled by Walker's own email allegations, she replied, "No, because that was not a real email scandal."…

Brad Wilkins, of Waukesha, says he's been a Trump supporter for 20, 30 years.

"We need somebody who can manage money," he said.
Yes, the millionaire’s son with multiple bankruptcies is absolutely a person who knows how to manage money (about as well as Scott (27% credit card) Walker, come to think of it). And apparently Scott Walker’s secret campaign server in Milwaukee County (and Madison?) that resulted in actual criminal convictions is somehow better than Hillary Clinton’s having a separate server, and zero criminal convictions. This is how things roll in the 262. Instead of listening to others and admitting the failures of both Trumpism and Walkerism, these guys choose to try to make their Bubbles even bigger- shutting out other voices and making up different realities to justify the idiocy, scumminess and corruption of their “team.”

I’d almost feel sorry for what will happen to these dimwits when that Bubble breaks and they realize they’ve followed idiots, scumbags and losers for years. But given the damage that has been inflicted as a result of the voting habits of these suckers? Fuck em, I hope they get crushed. Not just in elections over the next 2 years, but also spiritually and in their everyday lives. Apparently that’s the only way these gutless Bubble Boys will ever get themselves on the road to recovery, and the only way this state and this country can get back to having politics that function as a force for public good.

Nygren gets the numbers, shows Transportation $1 billion in the hole

The last couple of days have offered more proof that when it comes to road funding, Governor Walker and reality are not mixing well. And now we have some numbers to go along with that, courtesy of Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren (R-Marinette). Nygren asked the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to compare the costs of the state’s road projects with the amount of money that would come in for them (before borrowing), and said that gap in funding confirms that Wisconsin has to look at raising fees and/or the gas tax to pay for roads.
“In the 2015-17 State Budget, several transportation projects were delayed. Instead of updating and building upon our infrastructure, efforts were focused on maintaining existing roadways. Unfortunately, to cover these maintenance costs, Governor Walker advocated to use an unsustainably high amount of transportation bonding.

“According to LFB, we will need to recover over $939 million just to maintain what was approved last budget. That figure doesn’t include debt service payments. Our state’s principal repayment currently stands at $4.3 billion in bonding; a whopping $3.5 billion of this repayment is owed by the transportation fund and the rest is set to come from the general fund. Moreover, some of the transportation bonds that were approved last budget have yet to be issued, which means Wisconsin’s debt service will only continue to rise.

“We have kicked the can down the road long enough. In the upcoming budget, we need to bring in new revenue that will help buy down our transportation debt and structure a sustainable plan for Wisconsin’s infrastructure. It’s imperative to look for reform and program savings as we continue discussing revenue options for the benefit of our state. Moving forward, I implore the governor to consider additional avenues of funding as well.
There’s a small bit of good budget news buried at the bottom of the memo, which says “an estimated $26.8 million reduction in bonding will be required. DOT may submit a s. 13.10 request in 2016-17 to replace the bonding reduction with transportation fund revenue.” This is part of a budget provision that allowed for the $350 million in additional borrowing that was approved in November by the Joint Finance Committee, which said that Transportation Fund revenues came in higher than budgeted, then that borrowing would be reduced. .
c) For fiscal year 2016-17, the modification amount is equal to the amount by which total state revenues for the transportation fund as shown in the annual fiscal report for fiscal year 2015-16 exceed $1,661,562,400, except that the modification amount may not exceed $150,000,000. Notwithstanding paragraph (a), the total amount of debt authorization under section 20.866 (2) (uuu) of the statutes that the joint committee on finance may approve in fiscal year 2016-17 is reduced by the modification amount.
So it goes from $850 million to a little more than $823 million over the course of the 2-year budget. Still not great, but worthy to know.

Interestingly, Nygren is backing down a bit on those statements today, saying he was merely trying to "lead a discussion." But the fact that he felt a need to say anything to begin with illustrates how bad the situation is. Did this news of Wisconsin being nearly $1 billion short of paying for its needs move Gov Walker off of the “no-tax, no-fee” pledge he has made to out-of-state oligarchs ? Of course not.
"Raising taxes and fees is not the answer," Walker said in a statement Wednesday issued in response to Nygren's comments. "Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin. That is a commitment I will honor. Leadership will require us to identify cost savings and prioritize our needs, as I have directed my Department of Transportation secretary to do, especially when it comes to safety and maintenance. I am confident we can do better than placing new taxes on Wisconsin citizens."

In a letter to DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb last month, Walker outlined his opposition to increasing gas taxes or registration fees and encouraged Gottlieb to look for design changes to construction projects that could be made to reduce spending.

Proposed spending on mega-projects in southeastern Wisconsin should be minimized, Walker wrote, with an emphasis on needs rather than wants. Large, necessary projects should have their plans reviewed to look for possible cost savings while maintaining safety, he also wrote.

I’m sure slowing work on the Zoo Interchange project (making that mess last even more years) and keeping I-94 under construction between Milwaukee and Kenosha is going to go over REAL well, and won’t make us fall further behind in our competitiveness. What a maroon.

What’s scarier is that if you dig into the LFB memo that Nygren references, you’ll see that only $15 million is slated for Southeast Wisconsin “megaprojects”, leaving that area nearly $385 million short compared to what is being spent in the current 2-year budget. And we still have an additional shortfall of over $550 million in the rest of the state, even if we keep using current revenues at the same amounts as we are now.

The second part of Nygren’s LFB request is also intriguing, as it looks at the 4 states that border Wisconsin, and notes that motorists in those states pay a larger amount of combined taxes and fees than Cheeseheads do – often much larger. First of all, it compares the gas tax per gallon that motorists pay, and Wisconsin is pretty much in line with our neighbors these days, now that states like Michigan and Iowa added to their gas tax in recent years. This analysis assumed a gas price of $2.38 a gallon, to account for the fact that Illinois and Michigan pay sales tax on their gas (so their total taxes go up or down based on the price).

Total gas tax per gallon, 2016
Ill. $0.338
Mich $0.330
Wis. $0.329
Iowa $0.320
Minn $0.286

From there, the analysis decided to compare how much a motorist pays in fees and taxes to operate a vehicle for a year in all these states. The LFB used a couple of different car prices, to account for states that charge registration fees based on a vehicle’s value.

$25,000 car, driving 12,000 miles a year, 22.5 MPG
Wis. $250
Ill. $267
Mich $273
Minn $326
Iowa $424

$35,000 car, driving 16,000 miles a year, 15 MPG
Wis. $426
Ill. $432
Mich $486
Minn $541
Iowa $684

Also note that Illinois’ figures do not seem to include tolls, which would raise their figure above that $432, and make Wisconsin’s cheapness in the “cost to drive” even more obvious.

The only time these gaps narrow even somewhat is if you’re dealing with cheap cars that get lousy gas mileage, since that lowers the registration fees in some of these states. I figured that would mean that higher registration fees would be a logical solution, but interestingly Nygren said to the Capital Times that he was more in favor of raising the gas tax above over other policy options.
Nygren said he doesn't have a specific level of bonding in mind with which he would be comfortable, and added that he doesn't want to advocate specific policy proposals just yet. Rather, he said, he wants to start the discussion well in advance of the budget process….

"I'm hoping it won’t just be the governor saying 'yea' or 'nay,' but the people of Wisconsin stepping up and saying, 'we need to do something to fix our infrastructure going forward,'" Nygren said.

Personally, Nygren said, he favors a gas tax hike over a registration fee increase, because the cost would be shouldered by everyone who uses Wisconsin's roads. Similarly, he would be open to a toll road system; however, implementing a toll system in Wisconsin would require congressional approval.
I guess I could see that, in the sense that it makes the FIBs and other tourists pay some of the costs. If Nygren wants to go a step further, he could make that gas tax variable, where it is higher during the high-tourist months from May through September, and lower it for the other months, which would limit the burdens on Wisconsin residents even more.

Regardless of what is done, I agree with Nygren that SOMETHING has to be decided. Scott Walker’s inability to face the facts and cause a double-whammy of more borrowing and bigger repair backlogs is clearly something that is bothering his fellow WisGOPs in the State Legislature. And make no doubt, Walkerism (and Trumpism at the presidential level) is clearly a threat to the 71 GOPs who are up for re-election in 2016- a number that does not include Scott Walker. This is why you’re seeing top GOP legislators at the Capitol like John Nygren and Speaker Robbin’ Vos go out of their way to oppose Scotty on this issue, because they’re the ones that’ll deal with the consequences of doing nothing other than striking poses for Grover Norquist.

After taking a trip up North this last week, there’s a lot of work to be done, without a lot of sources for those communities to pay for it. The state will HAVE to help (barring a major bailout from the “liberal Washington” Scotty claims to dislike), and the solution that arises over the next 12 months will likely define how things shape up in Wisconsin as our critical campaign year of 2018 looms.

Silly homeownership

I had a whole post ready on the $1 billion shortfall in highway funding, and then our deck project took up the whole night (American Dream my ass).

I promise all 4 of you readers that there will be more content shortly. Enjoy your Thursday

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A few DNC thoughts as I return to civilization

Back from up North. Just a few thoughts on this week's big event in Philly.

The DNC Convention has alternately infuriated and gladdened me. The DNC Leaks thing honestly was more disappointing than shocking, because it was pretty obvious that the DNC was trying to slant things for their girl Hillary. That's what a lifetime of connections and careerist attitudes will do for you. That mentality and favoritism was one of many reasons I felt the Bern this primary season.

On the flip side, when you can bust out Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders as the mere openers, before the Big Dog, the President, and the nominee step in? Yeah, you're doing alright. ANd some of these stories and speeches are the true American Dream, and you can't help but be inspired and uplifted. The problems that I see with the Dems have little to do with the many of the people that we see on stage speaking for the party, especially the ones who SPEAK THE PARTY'S VALUES, which is something we don't see enough here in Wisconsin.

Here is the central problem- the DNC and DPW careerist hacks. I have dropped a few "FUCK YOU"'s to these smug fools on Facebook in recent days, and they have earned them for their denials of reality of the Party's issues in attracting voters in rural/Middle America. After seeing the GOPs run this state into the ground, but still command pretty much all levers of government, I don't know how any Dem party person from Wisconsin can honestly say the situation is acceptable, and that we should "trust the process." Even one of the hacks' main arguments for backing Clinton- that she would help downticket through her organization and Clinton Cash connections- was shown to be bullshit in a big story released by Politico today.
Leaked emails show the Democratic National Committee scrambled this spring to conceal the details of a joint fundraising arrangement with Hillary Clinton that funneled money through state Democratic parties.

But during the three-month period when the DNC was working to spin the situation, state parties kept less than one half of one percent of the $82 million raised through the arrangement — validating concerns raised by campaign finance watchdogs, state party allies and Bernie Sanders supporters.

The arrangement, called the Hillary Victory Fund, allowed the Clinton campaign to seek contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend extravagant fundraisers including a dinner at George Clooney’s house and a concert at Radio City Music Hall featuring Katy Perry and Elton John. That’s resulted in criticism for Clinton, who has made opposition to big money in politics a key plank in her campaign platform.
Hey DPW, can we get our Hillary Victory Fund money now? Or are they just laundering for Hills because it's a way to use more money?

But even with all the sketchiness, like Bernie Sanders I also believe in math and know the score, and will definitely pull the lever for Hillary this November. Competence and belief in democracy should be a low bar to clear, but Drumpf can't even clear that, and I don't think Hillary will have the Russians hack the opposing party for her like they apparently did for Drumpf. That's before we get into the ideological issues and the difference in appointments (major advantage Dems there), so I'll vote HRC and concentrate my efforts and interest downticket (RUSS and the state Legislature)

Wish I could have had more time up North, but reality, houses and other stupidities call. So goodbye to this for another year.

There's gotta be something else to lift my spirits on this day (well, until the Big Dog lets loose tonight). And I think I just found it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Now chilling up North

Up in Vilas County for the next few days. Lot less humidity, about 10 fewer degrees, and amazing stillness and scenery.

Having these spaces MATTER, and the Dems in this state should hammer that point hard. Talk to you more later on

Friday, July 22, 2016

June Wis jobs good, but May revised down. Gap remains

Lost in yesterday’s Nuremburg rally Trump acceptance speech and more crazy storms throughout the state was the release of the June jobs report from Wisconsin. And the topline numbers looked pretty strong, which the Walker Department of Workforce Development made sure to point out.
Place of work data: Based on preliminary data, the state added a statistically significant 49,900 private sector jobs from June 2015 to June 2016, including a one-month gain of 10,900 jobs in June. Other significant changes include monthly and year-over-year increases in manufacturing at 2,300 and 6,600, respectively, a one-month increase in construction by 2,100 jobs, and a 12-month increase in total non-farm jobs at 47,800. Financial activities, and leisure and hospitality also saw significant increases over the month. Total nonfarm jobs grew by 5,300 over the month.

·Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.2 percent in June 2016, unchanged from May and holding at its lowest ratesince March 2001. The rate is lower than the national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in June 2016. Wisconsin's labor force participation rate of 68.5 continues to outpace the U.S. rate of 62.7 percent in June.

"Over the past year, Wisconsin's private sector created 49,900 jobs, including 10,900 during June 2016, according to the latest monthly estimates," DWD Secretary Ray Allen said. "And while the national unemployment rate increased to 4.9 percent, Wisconsin's rate held at a 15-year low of 4.2 percent during June. As our state economy continues to grow, we need to keep our focus on ensuring Wisconsin employers have access to a robust talent pool to fill their labor market needs."
Well Ray, if you’re trying to keep the talent pool strong, you could convince your boss to invest in quality of life items like education, social policies that accept all people, and protecting our natural scenery and waterways. But I digress, and as Drumpf’s theme song reminded us last night “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

However, there’s a fly in the ointment of this report, and it comes with revisions to May’s figures.

May 2016 private sector jobs, Wisconsin
Original number +9,700
Revised number +3,400

That makes it only a 4,600 increase compared to where we thought we were at, which is still good, but slightly below the US pace of growth for that month. And the seasonally-adjusted drop in government employment for June (reflecting larger than normal declines reflecting the end of the school year and other early-Summer factors) means that the overall jobs number barely budged.

So even with this good report, Wisconsin’s total jobs number is still 3,800 below where it was in March, and private sector jobs are only up by 2,800 for the second quarter of 2016. Yes, the strong seasonally-adjusted numbers for January, February and March leave the year-over-year private-sector growth over 2% (good for second in the Midwest, according to the Cap Times’ Todd Milewski’s interactive chart), but take out those 3 months, and it’s not so impressive.

Private sector job growth, Wisconsin
Q3 2015 +3,900
Q4 2015 +12,200
Q1 2016 +31,000
Q2 2016 +2,800

Total job growth, Wisconsin
Q3 2015 +2,600
Q4 2015 +16,900
Q1 2016 +32,100
Q2 2016 -3,800

This type of choppiness makes me quite skeptical over whether those strong Q4 and Q1 numbers hold when the next Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages hits in about 6 weeks. That survey will end with the 1st Quarter of 2016, and it’ll tell us if those huge gains actually happened, or if they are set to be benchmarked away in the near future.

And May’s downward revisions mean that even with the nice headlines, the Walker jobs gap has grown a bit from when we last saw it. It now stands at nearly 86,000 private sector jobs, and just under 87,000 overall.

Make no mistake, Wisconsin’s jobs numbers are going in the right direction (“Thanks Obama!”). But the hole of the previous 5 years is still there, and with unemployment allegedly being so low and population growth slowing in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, I wonder if there’s much more to be gained in the state before things inevitably turn back downward.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Walker will try sell to RNC an act that Wisconsinites are done with

As the rest of the country tunes into tonight’s GOP convention to see our fair Governor speak, Scott Walker might try to give an impression that he’s still liked back home, even as the rest of the GOP primary electorate laughed him out of the race in 10 weeks. And just he will in much of tonight’s speech, that impression will be false.

Take a look inside the crosstabs of last week’s Marquette Law School Poll, which had Walker’s approval and favorability remaining in the same sub-40% doldrums they’ve generally been in since he was ramping up his failed 2016 bid last year.

Scott Walker job approval 38.2-57.6
Scott Walker favorability 38.5-56.8

What’s remarkable about Walker’s approval numbers is how disliked he is in pretty anywhere outside of of GOP Bubble World. That goes for both his competence on the job, and the “have a beer with” favorability factor. Take a look at some of these demo numbers

Male 43.6-52.5 approve, 44.4-51.9 favorable
Female 33.2-62.4 approve, 33.0-61.4 favor

18-29 37.0-59.1 approve, 31.1-59.4 favor
30-44 32.3-64.3 approve, 33.0-66.4 favor
45-59 43.5-51.0 approve, 45.6-49.4 favor
60+ 37.0-59.8 approve, 38.3-57.9 favor

HS dropout 38.5-48.4 approve, 38.5-48.4 favor
HS grad 35.1-59.9 approve, 33.9-58.6 favor
Some college 40.7-56.4 approve, 41.4-56.4 favor
2-year degree 38.9-59.8 approve, 37.2-59.2 favor
4-year degree 39.1-57.7 approve, 41.9-57.0 favor

White 40.9-54.9 approve, 41.7-53.7 favor
Black 19.1-77.5 approve, 12.1-78.8 favor
Hispanic 34.0-59.1 approve, 31.4-60.3 favor
Other 21.5-78.5 approve, 21.5-78.5 favor

Geography by TV Market
City of Milw 15.5-79.4 approve, 12.0-85.2 favor
Rest of MKE 48.7-50.4 approve, 49.5-47.5 favor
Madison 31.6-59.8 approve, 31.2-61.8 favor
GB/Appleton 40.6-55.3 approve, 42.1-54.5 favor
Rest of state 38.6-58.7 approve, 37.1-55.7 favor

Political ID
GOP 80.0-17.7 approve, 80.6-16.3 favor
Dem 3.4-92.2 approve, 4.8-91.3 favor
Indy 38.5-56.5 approve, 38.1-55.9 favor

Conservative 68.9-26.0 approve, 71.1-25.4 favor
Moderate 29.3-67.3 approve, 27.6-68.4 favor
Liberal 8.5-88.7 approve, 9.3-85.6 favor

Good luck grabbing any swing voters or moderates with this guy. But then again, apparently that’s not who today’s GOP cares to talk to or to work for…just like anyone else that’s not a white conservative, come to think of it. And it’s been that way since right after Walker squeaked by in the 2014 election, put together a budget and policies that were more geared toward idiot GOP primary voters, and his near-even approval ratings nosedived to the place they have stayed ever since.

Walker’s approval trajectory is quite similar to another polarizing guy with Walker in his name, except that Scott Walker fell off the cliff faster after his re-election than even this guy.

George W. Bush average approval- Gallup poll
July 2004 48.0-48.3
July 2005 47.3-48.3
July 2006 39.0-56.7
July 2007 30.0-64.5

The comparisons don’t stop there, as Walker’s economic and budgetary performance is as failed as Dubya’s, with Walker carefully trying to get out of office before everything falls apart. And Scotty’s every bit the puppet of bad people, but without Dubya’s limited humanity and relatability (he’s more Nixon-like in that regard, without Nixon’s brains).

Also like Dubya in 2006, Scotty ain’t running again in the year ending in 8. He’ll likely be about as welcome alongside the Wisconsin GOP nominee for governor as Bush was with McCain during 2008. Which is why tonight’s speech will be all about trying impress the dopes inside the GOP Bubble to try to make a name for himself on the wingnut welfare circuit (where Dubya still gives speeches these days).

As Wisconsin media has noted this week, Walker’s been working behind the scenes to convince GOP oligarchs that last year’s complete failure of a campaign is in the past, and that they should get behind him for a 2020 campaign, (this assumes Drumpf loses, of course). Yes, this guy is that delusional, and the Wisconsin GOP is that delusional by not telling him “NO.”

That reason is why I bet you won’t hear Scott Walker say Donald Trump’s name in what is sure to be a hypocrisy filled, anti-Hillary Clinton speech tonight in Cleveland (do you really want to bring up the topic secret email servers and being untrustworthy, Scotty?). And his likely permanent collapse of support in Wisconsin also means that Scotty will likely say little about his own record back home, with anything he does say likely to be cherry-picked bullshit, if not flat-out lies. Those of us in the real Wisconsin know better.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Wisconsin Vets Fund teetering on the edge

A minor report on the state’s Veterans Trust Fund slipped out last week, and it seems timely to discuss a bit more in light of yesterday’s war/fear-mongering at the Republican National Convention. Particularly given that more Wisconsin GOPs are scheduled to strike a tough pose, it may prove useful to see how we actually do take care of those who served our country when they get back to Wisconsin.

The Veterans Trust Fund supports a variety of vet-related programs and reimbursements as well as the operation of the State Veterans Museum on the Capitol Square. In the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s information paper on programs for Wisconsin veterans, it explains how the fund was set up into its current form 55 years ago, and why it’s had troubles keeping up with expenses in recent years.
The veterans trust fund was created in 1961 through the consolidation of three predecessor funds -- the soldiers rehabilitation fund, the post-war rehabilitation fund, and the veterans housing trust fund.

Initially, the predecessors to the veterans trust fund were reliant on dedicated special taxes, as well as loan repayments for revenues. Since the expiration of those dedicated taxes, the veterans trust fund (as well as its predecessors) has been principally reliant on a series of transfers or one-time appropriations from other funds. The main sources of these revenues have been transfers or appropriations from the state's general fund, transfers from the mortgage loan repayment fund, and the deposit of net proceeds from the sale of loan assets. The fund has also received loans from the general fund and the state's investment fund, although these loans have been subsequently repaid. Table 2 summarizes the one-time veterans trust fund revenues since the World War II era.

Currently, the trust fund has several sources of ongoing revenues, including loan repayments, federal grants, museum sales receipts, and interest earnings. Over the past decade, the most significant source of ongoing revenue has been loan repayments. The 1997-99 budget transferred a portfolio of $54.6 million in primary mortgage loans and $7.9 million in home improvement loans, as well as $5.6 million in excess cash reserves, from the veterans mortgage loan repayment fund to the veterans trust fund. The cash and net proceeds of this transferred portfolio provided start-up funding for the personal loan program. Repayments on the mortgage loans and, subsequently, on personal loans, generated an ongoing revenue source for the trust fund. However, those payments have declined substantially in recent years as outstanding mortgage loan principal has declined. To illustrate, loan principal repayments to the trust fund averaged $9.7 million annually between 2005-06 through 2009-10, but had declined to just $1.9 million in 2013-14.
Then add in the fact that there are quite a bit more veterans now than there were 15 years ago (thanks Dubya!) and you can see where the stresses are going to continue for the foreseeable future with revenues declining.

This led to this memo from the Department of Veterans Affairs on Veterans Trust Fund from last week, which contained the following passage which somehow contains both alarming information alongside complacency on the state of the VTF.
…Per our previous projections, the VTF became insolvent in the first quarter of FY2016. However, the department has been able to extend the life of the VTF due to the continued efforts to be fiscally responsible while ensuring that funds are being used effectively to provide the best services possible for Wisconsin veterans.

The condition report illustrates a transfer from the Homes appropriations of $12 million to alleviate any negative balances. This transfer is pursuant to s. 45.57 (1) Wis. Stats., which permits the department to transfer all or part of the unencumbered balance of any homes appropriations to the VTF. The extraordinary turnaround and success of the homes, due to a commitment to efficiencies, cost savings, maintaining census levels and optimizing federal funds has made the DVA self-sufficient for the foreseeable future.
To translate, the Veterans Trust Fund would have run out of money, but the DVA had $12 million in extra charges from the Veterans Homes (money that’s charged to aging veterans and other users of the facility, by the way), to help fill in the gap for this year. That’s kind of an “ugh,” when you think about it.

Then I looked at the future projections in that report, and I wouldn’t exactly call the Veterans Trust Fund “self-sufficient.” It bleeds out its $5.4 million cash balance in this current 2017 fiscal year, and needs major bailouts from either the homes or the general taxpayer in both FY2017 and FY 2018 to not fall further down the hole.

Transfers projected into Veterans Trust Fund
FY2017 $6.5 million
FY2018 $12.1 million

There is no explicit source as to where those $18.6 million will be coming from, but the 2015-17 budget assumed $21.1 million total to be transferred out of the Homes account, which would be enough to cover the 2017 amounts, even with $12 million taken out in FY2016. So it’s likely that this transfer of excess funds from the Homes will continue, and given the statement from DVA, it seems that this is one of the situations where the Walker Administration isn’t so concerned with grabbing more dollars from DC (funny how they change their tune on federal money when it’s not money intended to help minorities poorer people).

These figures seem a bit timely given that the 2 top elected GOPs statewide- U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov Scott Walker – are scheduled to address the Republican National Convention in the next 2 days, and it seems like their main themes will be national security (as laughable as the idea of those dopes speaking on that subject may be outside of the Bubble). It seems appropriate to note that the money the GOP-run state of Wisconsin has set aside for our veterans is endangered, and a more permanent funding source is likely to be needed in the very near future. But then again, with these guys, it’s always about putting your mouth ahead of the money necessary to truly support our vets.

Nerdy details on how the Northwoods can be helped by state, federal gov't

In the wake of the awful floods that continue to wrack Northwestern Wisconsin, and the continued road closings and washouts, I wanted to see how the process works when it comes to the state helping to pay for the repairs associated with these disasters. In addition, I wanted to find out which funds are set aside in case of such emergencies, and what I’m finding is that without federal assistance, this deadly last week of weather is going to lead to even more budget pressure.

First of all, we need to understand that this is historic flooding, with many homes and businesses uninhabitable, along with the damage to infrastructure. Take it from someone who’s been up there for decades.
In his 32 years in the Wisconsin state Legislature, former Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, has seen many disasters, but never one with as much water damage spread across a region, he said. Jauch traveled through the area over the weekend.

"Almost every town road, county road and state highway is closed, washed out. The water has receded, but you can tell from the water marks on the trees just how high the Bad River got, and how difficult it was for families who were virtually isolated in this storm," Jauch said.

More than $30 million in damage has been reported, over $28.8 million from damage to public infrastructure, according to the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center. …

The most critical step upon completion of the damage assessment is for Gov. Scott Walker to declare it a disaster area and submit an application for a FEMA declaration, Jauch said. Jauch expects that to happen sometime this week.

Walker has asked for a damage assessment by FEMA, scheduled to start July 25. The governor declared a state of emergency for eight northern Wisconsin counties last week.

Some federal money is already on its way to the state, as the Wisconsin DOT announced yesterday that the Federal Highway Administration has released $2.5 million in emergency funding after receiving a letter from WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb. But that’ll just scrape the surface of the estimated $10 million in damage to state and federal highways due to the floods, and doesn’t touch the large amount of local roads and bridges that’ll need to be repaired and/or replaced.

With that in mind, I checked the state statutes on disaster damage aids for roads (section 86.34 if you’re interested) and found that local governments have 2 months to send in their request to WisDOT for help. That would mean the deadline is around Labor Day to get that request in, although that can be extended to wait for federal disaster aid, if need be.

From there, the Wisconsin DOT can give their assessment of how much they can/should give, and reimburse the local government accordingly.
(2)  The department shall make such investigation as it deems necessary and within 6 months from the date of filing the petition shall make its determination as to the granting of aid, the amount thereof, and the conditions under which it is granted. In making its determination the department shall cause an estimate to be made of the cost of repairing or replacing the facilities damaged or destroyed to standards and efficiency similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, and also an estimate of the cost of reconstructing the facilities to a higher type or improving any such facilities if determined to be warranted and advisable. Except as provided in subs. (2m) and (6), the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a disaster described in sub. (1g) (b) 1. shall be 75 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, plus 50 percent of the increased cost of the reconstruction to a higher type or the improvement of any of the facilities. Except as provided in subs. (2m) and (6), the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a disaster described in sub. (1g) (b) 2. shall be 70 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction. The department may revise estimates on the basis of additional facts. The county, town, village, or city shall pay the remainder of the cost not allowed as aid, but this shall not invalidate any other provision of the statutes whereby the cost may be shared by the county and the town, village, or city.
Here’s where the timing of this storm is bad for the local governments involved. These areas are starting their annual budget deliberations and completing them in November, while a 6 month delay from the state would mean any state funds wouldn’t come up North until after the start of the January 1 local fiscal year. Which makes me wonder if the timeline gets accelerated at both levels, and since the Governor’s Office and Wisconsin DOT can release the money without consultation from the Legislature (and no Governor’s election this November), let’s see how soon things get resolved from that side.

Even if the money gets out of Madison and DC fast, the floods and disappearing roads likely just changed a lot of priorities for the 2016 and 2017 budget, especially with the snow flying in 4 months in the Northland. And it’s not like the local governments in the 715 had a lot of funds lying around for roads to begin with, as state and local officials from Northwest Wisconsin were among the largest proponents of a local sales tax to fix roads, complaining that budget constraints from DC and Madison were not allowing for adequate repairs to be done. That effort was defeated by the WisGOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year, despite support from some GOP legislators from the northern half of the state.

A bigger complication is the state’s already-messed up budgets for both Transportation and the General Fund. Because as the rundown for state disaster aids shows, Governor Walker and the WisGOPs in the Legislature gambled that there wouldn’t be any large disasters for the 2015-17 budget period, and reduced the amount of General Fund dollars set aside to pay for such events.
Decrease funding by $9,000,000 in 2015-16 to reflect the removal of first year funding from the base for the disaster damage aids transfer appropriation and $2,500,000 in 2016-17 to reflect a decrease in the estimated amount needed to fund disaster claims. 2013 Wisconsin Act 20 [the 2013-15 budget] established a sum sufficient appropriation from the general fund to fund a transfer to the transportation fund in the second year of each biennium equal to the amount of disaster aid payments made in that biennium in excess of $1 million for any single disaster event. The transfer was estimated at $9,000,000 in 2014-15 under Act 20, although this amount has since been reestimated to $500,000 to reflect slower than expected reimbursement claims for damage related to a 2011 storm in northwest Wisconsin. This item would remove the first year funding from the base, and fund the estimated transfer at $6,500,000 in 2016-17 to reflect additional claims expected from that disaster.
Given that this is a sum-sufficient appropriation from the General Fund, the extra money can be spent out, but it also means that because money wasn’t budgeted, any overruns past the $4.9 million allowed for the 2015-17 budget makes the tight General Fund budget even tougher to handle.

There is a separate $1 million a year appropriation from the Transportation Fund designated for disasters (a designated sum-sufficient fund that started in 2013). But that’s obviously not going to be nearly enough to take care of the washed out roads and messed-up infrastructure up North, and that also will go over its budgeted amount. In fairness, it does seem like the Walker Administration is sensitive to the charges that they've stopped caring about the people in Wisconsin that pay their salary (especially when Walker's spent more time kissing up the GOP oligarchs and ripping on Hillary Clinton this week instead of doing the job he's paid to do). It was nice to see that late this afternoon, they sent out a long press release detailing the steps various state agencies are taking to help the Northland area get through these tough times. It includes tidbits like these.
The Department of Transportation (WisDOT) staff are inspecting and documenting the impacts and damages to existing infrastructure and looking into what types of funding may be available for repairs. WisDOT will utilize $2.5 million in federal funds requested to accelerate repairs to northern Wisconsin roadways damaged by flooding....

•Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) continues to work with local, tribal, and county officials assessing the damage and coordinating state resources. WEM is also working closely with FEMA and other federal agencies to provide situational awareness and review all possible disaster resources.

•The Department of Administration (DOA) made $3 million in funding available through Community Development Block Grant Emergency Assistance Program (CDBG-EAP). The funds may be used to assist eligible, low to moderate income homeowners for housing rehabilitation, business assistance, and repair local public infrastructure. Local communities should work with the Division of Energy, Housing, and Community Resources to apply. Please visit their website or call (608) 266-7531. The Department of Administration also notified local governments that they may use state contracts to purchase goods and services as they recover from flooding and storm damage. A complete list of contracts available to municipal governments can be found on the State’s procurement website, Vendor Net.
You know things are bad up North when this WisGOP crew is going out of its way to promote federal and state spending to help the recovery efforts. And even though they wouldn’t admit it in this week’s RNC Convention, I bet a whole lot of the WisGOPs speaking at it are pleading with the Obama Administration to take a lot of the burdens off of the good people near Lake Superior with FEMA aid. Fortunately, I have confidence that the Obama Administration isn’t so arrogant to screw over people in retribution for the middle fingers far so many WisGOPs have thrown his way over the last 5 ½ years (although let’s see what out-of-state Baggers in Congress do with the Federal Fiscal Year nearing its end).

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hey Paulie, explain how Wisconsin's economy is "doing better"

Seriously, what the hell is Paul Ryan talking about here?

I know Purty Pau-LIE is a fraud, but does the guy ever look at, you know, ACTUAL NUMBERS? We certainly don't lead when it comes to looking at the 50-state coincident indexes produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, which bases its number on the following.
The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average).
That stat says Wisconsin has the worst economic growth in the Midwest since Walker took office in January 2011.

And it isn't job growth, we're dead last in the Midwest for that as well, according to the "Gold Standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages.

And I'm guessing Ryan isn't talking about how the fact that even under the "Obama Economy", the Walker jobs gap is 85,000 behind the US rate as of May, even with a fluky narrowing of that gap in 2016.

Oh wait, an underperforming economy that leads to wage deflation, overwhelming corporate power and eventual fiscal disaster is exactly what Koch Boys like Paul Ryan and Scott Walker want. Now it makes sense...

WisGOP Bubble Worlds become clearer in the real one

As I pick up from the weekend, I want to pick up on a story that was completely unsurprising yet reflected good, enlightening journalism, the Capital Times’ Jessie Opien got to the bottom of who attends Gov Scott Walker’s invite-only “listening sessions.” Walker has held 50 of these taxpayer-funded events since December, which are closed to the public, with the media usually only allowed in after the meeting is done.

Walker made a memorable gaffe last month when he blamed the media for his lousy poll numbers, claming it didn't match what he heard at these listening sessions. What Opien found out is that the crowds are supportive because they include a lot of Walker appointees, Chamber of Commerce types, lobbyists and other people who lean to the right politically.
Why the disconnect? Critics of the governor's administration say it's because the listening sessions are composed of overwhelmingly friendly audiences and, in general, people more involved in politics than the average citizen.

About 15 percent of adults nationwide say they've donated to political candidates in recent years. Among the attendees for 21 listening sessions from December 10, 2015, through March 29, 2016, about 32 percent have donated to political candidates or causes.

Attendees who donated have made about 3,800 total donations totaling about $1.1 million, according to state campaign finance data. Those donations overwhelmingly — at more than 80 percent — favored conservative and Republican candidates and causes.

Such an “Unintimidated” guy, isn’t he? And you wonder why everyone outside of GOP Bubble World can’t stand him anymore?

Then again, it’s not like the typical Republican is known for having a clue about what the “Real America” looks like. Check out this selfie from another Wisconsin GOP showing off the party’s Capitol Hill interns, and try not to be blinded by the whiteness.

How can you trust anyone so disconnected from 21st Century reality with running anything, let alone give them the keys to this country's government? This a clueless crew that desperately will not try to man up and deal with what their destructive ideology and policies have wrought. And they all deserve the boot as a result.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chillin in Chitown

Lounging in Chicago this weekend, gettibg ready to head back out for more.

I'll break down more of the Marquette Poll later, but I'll just say that if the Senate or Presidential races were really tightening, you'd be seeing a lot more ads and events in Wisconsin than we are seeing.

Back to the fun outdoors. Do the same before it heats up next week.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Record rains shows problem with WisGOP's condoning of pollution

You may have heard that the area in Wisconsin near Lake Superior has taken quite punch from Mother Nature this week. As I type, 8 counties are under a State of Emergency after up to 10 inches of rain hit on Monday, with many main roads washed out, and at least 2 deaths resulting from the floods and rushing streams.

Bayfield County officials are estimating that the damage to their roads could be as high as $2 million. And the washed-away roads aren’t the only problem to deal with in the storm’s aftermath. NBC 15 in Madison talked to UW Professor Patty Loew, who is on the Bad River Reservation in nearby Ashland County for a Native American outreach program, and Loew said other types of infrastructure were deteriorating in the area.
"There was a gas rupture and now there's no gas to any of the residences or businesses in Bad River."

To add insult to injury, they also lost power.

"The lodge and casino have emergency generators but nobody else has electricity.

Then the sanitary system maxed out.

"There's some parts of the reservation where people are telling me that there's raw sewage bubbling up from their basement," says Loew.
This sounds like a massive cleanup project with after-effects continuing well after the flood waters have subsided. The local governments are hoping for disaster assistance from both the Feds and the state government, but those funds will merely help offset what is damaged today.

The Northwoods weather disaster reminded me of another story that appeared in the news from that part of the state this week. In a unfortunate bit of irony, this article appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio news Monday, before the torrential rains came. It dealt with the local government of Bayfield County being blocked by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from implementing regulations on a massive proposed Combined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) near Lake Superior.
The ordinance was intended to anticipate potential pollution issues related to livestock operations. Bayfield County residents are divided over the 26,000-hog operation Iowa based Reicks View Farms wants to establish in the town of Eileen. Opponents of the proposal are concerned this CAFO would endanger drinking water in the watershed of South Fish Creek, which flows into Chequamegon Bay in Lake Superior.

The creek currently has elevated phosphorous levels, which researchers attribute to existing farms in its watershed. But the impact of this pollution also extends to the over 9,000 residents of the city of Ashland who rely on Chequamegon Bay for their drinking water.

In July 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources rejected Bayfield County's ordinance. County officials are appealing the decision, and are working with the DNR to see if they can revise the ordinance to make it acceptable to the state….

[Wisconsin] law's prevention-oriented language might have been the rationale for striking Bayfield County's ordinance. The DNR's reasoning basically comes down to this: The ordinance isn't necessary to achieve water quality standards because there isn't a CAFO currently contributing to pollution in the South Fish Creek watershed."
Yes, because why would we want to stop pollution of waterways before the runoff and other complications start? What’s the statewide interest in that?

And it’s not like we don’t have recent evidence of what kind of runoff damage to the streams happens due to these CAFOs and other mega-farms. We just saw it last week in northeastern Wisconsin after they got hit with a downpour.
A manure runoff in a northeast Wisconsin killed fish in a nearby creek after employees of Shiloh Dairies spread thousands of gallons of manure on a hay field, then heavy rains washed much of it into the creek.

It's impossible to tell how much manure got into the Plum Creek, which runs into the Fox River in northern Calumet County, but anytime there's a fish kill, it’s a serious incident, said Ben Uvaas, a state Department of Natural Resources agricultural specialist.

"Most of the fish species that are dead, you're looking at suckers, minnows, shiners, those kind of species," Uvaas said. "We estimate that the fish kill in the most heavily impacted stretch of this creek is going to be a pretty high percentage of the creek."

Both Calumet and neighboring Kewaunee counties have high concentrations of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Some families in the area can't drink the water from their wells….

Shiloh Dairies will face some level of enforcement, but the DNR must first finish an investigation, Uvaas said. Shiloh Dairies is working with the DNR to clean up what manure it can from Plum Creek.
For more on the runoff problems with Shiloh Dairy and other areas of the 920, and the crookedness that goes with it, read MAL's excellent rundown of the issue.

Which goes to a bigger point. How can we be surprised by this situation when Attorney General Brad Schimel’s Department of “Justice” constantly sides with big agribusiness (donors) over the needs of everyday Wisconsinites? The Wisconsin State Journal’s Steven Verburg had a long, front-page article this week discussing how the Environmental Protection unit at the DOJ is now down to 6 people from 10 in 2008. Not coincidentally, the state is handing out a lower number of fines and taking fewer actions against polluters in recent years, even with the news of several atrocities similar to last week's manure spills.
The DNR sent between 105 and 179 violations to environmental protection unit lawyers annually between 1989 and 2009, according to data compiled by DOJ, but the number has topped 100 only once since then.

Last year, total fines against polluters dropped to their lowest point since at least 1994, falling below $1 million for only the second time during that period, the data show.

“It is very apparent that there are very few major violations being referred to the Department of Justice,” said Carl Sinderbrand, a Madison lawyer who once worked in the environmental protection unit and has since represented the DNR and private groups in regulatory lawsuits and served as mediator in pollution cases the DOJ filed against companies.
Last week’s major rains in Northwestern Wisconsin are sadly becoming more common, as there have been record floods in many areas of the state over the last 10 years (remember when I-94 was closed between Madison and Milwaukee for several days in 2008?). This makes it all the more critical to have drinking water kept clean and potential hazards such a manure runoff from CAFOs reduced.

Instead, Brad Schimel and the rest of the Wisconsin GOP have looked the other way, and allowed the dangers to increase by giving a wink and nod to their donors allies in CAFO agribusinesses. And we shouldn’t need to wait for the next natural disaster to be reminded that clean water shouldn’t be a concern in the 2010s- it should be a RIGHT, and something that should be a constant, top priority of any government. It is not these days in Wisconsin, and that is a dereliction of duty that must be fixed ASAP.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

WEDC gag order par for course for secretive Walker Admin

Gee, these actions don't seem sketchy in the least.
The proposal could have barred members of the Wisconsin Economic Develop Corp.'s board of directors from publicly divulging information about its taxpayer-funded operations and subjected them to discipline if they spoke to reporters.

Shortly after the Journal Sentinel posted a story about the proposal online Wednesday, WEDC Chief Executive Officer Mark Hogan told his fellow directors that he was shelving the proposal based on "feedback I have received from various board members."

Christa Westerberg, an attorney and vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the policy had seemed to put more emphasis on the uncompensated board members than on WEDC itself and its two-year budget of $65 million.

"That (discipline) provision I find troubling because it seems like the focus of the policy is the conduct of the board members, not the agency," Westerberg said. "If anything, we need more oversight of the agency, not less."
Props to the Journal-Sentinel's Jason Stein for drawing attention to WEDC's attempt to hide information from the public (interesting that they dig for this story, but ignore the M&A tax giveaway details), and the fact that GOP donor Mark Hogan pulled the proposal after WEDC Board members gave "feedback" is a dead giveaway on how this came down.

These orders came from the Walker Administration, and like many WisGOP maneuvers on open records, it was an attempt to sneak through the changes before anyone could figure out what they were trying to do. It's reminiscent of how the Walker Administration tried to exempt WEDC from open records laws when it came to giving information about a prospective grantee's finances. Because when you're handing out millions in taxpayer dollars to businesses, what right do the people have when it comes to evaluating their financial fitness?

That proposal was pulled back as it was brought to the public's attention via a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo (sound familiar?). I mean, it's not like there are stories in the paper which describe how a GOP mega-donor might not give all the needed information on a business that has no track record, and get more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars from WEDC.
Paul Piikkila, of Appleton, admitted committing conspiracy to defraud his employer Horicon Bank of more than $700,000, according to a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. Piikkila originally pleaded not guilty and a hearing on his change of plea is scheduled for July 22.

As part of the deal, Piikkila agreed to testify in the case involving De Pere businessman Ron Van Den Heuvel, who pleaded not guilty to a 13-count grand jury indictment related to the case filed in April....

According to the plea agreement, “all of the witnesses agree that Ron and Kelly Van Den Heuvel lived a high-end lifestyle including an expensive house, another residence in Florida, expensive automobiles, a live-in nanny, expansive use of credit cards and a private plane. All this despite little evidence of actual business activity by any of Ron’s business entities.”...

Van Den Heuvel was able to secure more than $1 million for one of his many companies, Green Box NA Green Bay, from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. in September 2011. Van Den Heuvel didn’t disclose previous lawsuits in his application, and a WEDC staff review stated the application’s only weakness was that it was a startup.The agency gave Green Box more time to repay the loan in September 2014 before declaring the loan in default in early 2015. A judge has placed the company in receivership, but so far the money has not been repaid.
And this is far from the only time that the Walker Administration has tried to hide from the public, whether it be in the notorious 999 motion that tried to gut the state's open records law 1 year ago this month, and Walker's lame attempt to change open records law in court (which was also shot down in the "Wisconsin Idea" case this May).

That's what makes this whole lame attempt to hide WEDC information and put a gag order on WEDC Board members such an absurd two-fer. Not only does it reiterate that WEDC is nothing more than a GOP slush fund, but it also reiterates the Walker Administration's contempt for the people who pay the taxes that pay for WEDC's handouts. And it's likely to continue as long as this Reign of Error continues, because the members of this administration from the Governor on down continue to try to deceive and hide from the public that pays their salaries, instead of changing their way of doing (monkey) business.

Which also helps explain why Walker's approval rating continues to be below 40%, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

GOP's "Stick it to Obama" pose on broadband kept rural Wisconsin behind

Another day and a look at the state's news sites have more stories how the shortsighted decisions of Wisconsin GOP elected officials to suck up to oligarchs and pose against the Obama Administration continue to leave this state behind. You may recall that the Walker Administration turned down $23 million in 2011 that would have gone toward establishing more broadband capability in underserved areas of Wisconsin, particularly in schools, libraries, and for emergency response communications.

I want to go back over that decision, and take a look at the lame reasoning they gave back then.
But state taxpayers would have been on the hook for the entire $23 million if the state could not meet the grant's precise requirements, Mike Huebsch, secretary of the state Department of Administration, said in a memo to school and library associations.

"This is simply not an acceptable risk," Huebsch wrote.

Wisconsin received the grant [in 2010] from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included about $7 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees to extend broadband to underserved rural areas and was compatible with President Barack Obama's goal of making high-speed Internet available to 98% of Americans by 2016.

The money would have been used for the BadgerNet Converged Network, which brings the Internet to schools, libraries, and state and local government agencies. It would have paid for 200 miles of fiber-optic cable, improving the Internet connections at hundreds of public facilities.

BadgerNet, however, runs on infrastructure owned and managed primarily by AT&T Inc. - and that became a sticking point with federal officials who were not used to public-private partnerships, according to the state.
Let's leave aside the fact that the Walker Administration was paying back favors to AT&T more than having any kind of principled, reasoned decision, and discuss where the state's coverage is today. 5 years later, take a look at the rumblings that are coming from Western Wisconsin, where broadband telecommunications access is still sparse in many places.
Audience members voiced frustration over years of discussion on broadband with still no foreseeable developments.

“I have received more calls on this than anything else put together,” said Michael Kahlow, a Pierce County Board supervisor and chair of the Information Services committee. He described some of the language callers use as “colorful.”

Lack of broadband access can reduce the property value of a house in Pierce County by $10,000 or more, he added. “That’s a real substantial impact.”
The situation is so dire and improvements are so needed that both of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators are in a rare moment of agreement in asking federal agencies to make broadband more accessible.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin are among 26 senators to sign onto a letter, sent Monday, encouraging the FCC to use its Mobility Fund to develop and improve mobile broadband service in underserved rural and agricultural areas.

The fund is part of the FCC's Universal Service Fund, collected essentially as a user fee on phone bills. It was designed to help wireless carriers cover the cost of bring service to rural areas. The commission is considering changes along with the question of whether the fund is needed at all.

The senators argue it is necessary, noting in particular how important broadband service is for farmers and ranchers….

"The expansion of rural broadband should be a top priority of federal and state policymakers, as expanded deployment in rural areas will address important economic, educational, health care and public safety goals," the letter reads.
The Walker Administration has finally taken some steps in recent years to remedy these broadband gaps, setting up a Broadband Expansion Grant Program in the 2013-15 budget and currently giving $1.5 million a year to give “reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred to extend or improve broadband telecommunications service in underserved areas of the state.” But way too little and far too late. That $1.5 million in state funds pales in comparison to the $23 million in federal funds in 2011, and the federal funds didn’t require state tax dollars to match.

Take a look at this article from a Walker propaganda stop in Viroqua last week. In addition to reporting on a crowd of protestors who ripped Walker for avoiding the public in the “listening session”, check out what’s going on across the river to our west, as we break out the party hats for adding $1.5 million of broadband.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has budgeted $20 million to improve broadband in the Gopher State, and he advocates spending another $100 million from the state’s surplus.

Attending the press conference was Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. She also welcomed Broadband Forward’s certification measures.

“It streamlines the application process so communities will know how and where to apply,” Shilling said.

However, the measure “is not nearly enough” to meet Wisconsin residents’ needs, she said.
This is how the Walker folks roll, with short-term “win the day” headlines and political stances that might get the approval of talk radio and dimwitted dead-enders who want to stick it to those smarty-pants Dems. But those poses haven’t made life in Wisconsin any better, and it has left this state behind while other places that accepted the federal investments grow, and have much more stable budgets on top of it.

It is very reminiscent of another stupid Walker pose on a stimulus project, where he and his talk radio allies encouraged the Wisconsin DOT to turn down over $800 million for a high-speed rail line connecting Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. That line would be up and running today if not for the Walker boys and Koch/ALEC crew striking a pose against Obama, and instead millions of state dollars have been spent in recent years to upgrade rail lines while hundreds of millions of other state dollars have to be borrowed to fix Wisconsin’s roads.

And now we end up spending more for investments like broadband in later years to remedy problems that could have been fixed 5 years had ago had the WisGOP crew just been smart enough to shut up and take the money from DC. Had enough of this, yet?

Walker still ignores reality on how invest in, create jobs

Interesting article in the Capital Times today, which follows up on last month’s decision by the Wisconsin GOP members of the Joint Finance Commmittee to move $8 million from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s [WEDC] fund for start-ups, and instead use it for giveaways incentives to existing companies (I discussed that action in this post).

In the article, author Erik Lorenzsonn talked to entrepreneurs and academics in addition to WEDC officials to give a wider view of the issue, and he found that actual job creators say they don’t need tax credits to grow. Instead, they’d rather have policies that grow human and physical capital.
Max Lynch is the co-founder of Ionic Framework, a Madison startup that's created a mobile developer platform. He says that for his own company, the shifting of tax credits really doesn't matter — such incentives have been irrelevant to Ionic. He believes there are other actions the state could take that would be more effective at nurturing the entrepreneurial environment.

"We as a company want to see more tax money going into public infrastructure and the university," he said. "We want smart people to come work for us."

University of Wisconsin economist Steve Deller said that research by and large supports the idea that tax credits aren't great tools for promoting growth.

"People aren't really that susceptive to small changes in tax code," he said. "Businesses are the exact same way. If they're offered a tax break, it won't change things all that much."
And you’re even starting to see versions of these statements coming out of the mouths of the audience at Gov Scott Walker’s hand-picked “listening sessions.” Take a look at what’s buried at the end of this report on Scotty’s trip to the Eau Claire area yesterday.
Throughout his speech, Walker portrayed the shortage of talented workers to fill available jobs as the No. 1 challenge facing Wisconsin….

Among the diverse topics raised by participants in Altoona were UW System funding, the worker shortage, schools, technology, broadband, roads, water quality, the state’s wolf population and government efficiency, said [Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce president Bob] McCoy, who noted the link between education funding and the skills gap.

“If you don’t have a good educational system, you don’t have a basis to create a good workforce,” he said.
Scotty must be seeing a similar result from polls, because even he is talking some game about increasing aid to the UW System in the next budget. But naturally, instead of admitting that this year’s cuts may have gone too far, Scotty can’t just do the right thing and reinvest in higher education. Instead, the governor mentioned that any UW increase would come with strings attached.
The governor slashed UW System funding in each of his previous three budget bills, with a controversial $250 million reduction approved as part of the 2015-17 budget. The cuts have resulted in program and employment cuts at campuses across the state, including the loss of 179 full-time-equivalent positions at UW-Eau Claire and 55 at UW-Stout.

Walker cautioned that any increase in funding would be tied to performance and efforts to prepare graduates for high-demand fields. He cited UW-Eau Claire’s efforts to increase its four-year graduation rate and UW-Stout’s 97.3 percent placement rate as examples of strong performance that can result in more quality workers for Wisconsin employers.

Such efforts send an important message to students, Walker said, adding, “We want you to get a great education, but we also want you to get employed so you can use those skills not only to support yourself and your family, but to support our economy, to support our communities.”
You can see how that contrasts with what the real job creator in Madison and the Chamber of Commerce guy in Eau Claire were saying. The Walker Administration’s economic strategy continues to be based around the wants of established businesses and campaign donor oligarchs instead of increasing Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness through improving the talent pool and boosting start-ups. Does anyone doubt that this “performance-based” aid for the UW would be given with a heavy amount of input from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Koch-related organizations, and that they’d be more interested in generating head-nodding worker drones instead of dealing with increased competition from entrepreneurs and innovators?

So ignore the election-season “moderate” talk from ALEC/GOP- these guys either still don’t get how to add jobs in the 21st Century, or they’re too paid off to want to get it. If you want the strategy to change in Wisconsin, you need to change the decision-makers and the politicians.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

June job growth booms...back to average

Friday's jobs report was viewed with more than the typical anticipation, because of May's severe drop-off in growth and the looming presidential election. But the fears were assuaged in the short-term, as the U.S. added 287,000 jobs for June, and while unemployment ticked up to 4.9%, it's still below what it was in April. The stock market blew up, with the Dow Jones rising 250 points, closing at its highest points of the year.

Unlike the stock market, I didn't see the jobs report as a sign that the economy was booming. Both the jobs and unemployment figures seem to be a reversion to the norm that we saw in the first part of 2016, and still going in the right direction. If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' write-up on the revisions, you'll see how May and June's figures seem to balance each other out.
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for April was revised from +123,000 to +144,000, and the change for May was revised from +38,000 to +11,000. With these revisions, employment gains in April and May combined were 6,000 less, on net, than previously reported. Over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 147,000 per month.
What's interesting to note with those May revisions is that the private sector change was revised from +11,000 to DOWN 6,000. If that holds, then it would be the first month that private sector job growth declined in 6 1/2 years, the longest unbroken streak of job growth since they've been keeping the stats. But quite a bit of this "May down, June up" pattern seems to be seasonally-related where May hired less Summer workers than normal (or what the BLS thinks is normal), and June made up the difference. This seems particularly true if you look at the sectors that have a sizable amount of seasonal hires.

Non-seasonal vs seasonally-adjusted employment change
Leisure and Hospitality
Non-seasonal May +344,000, June +475,000
Seasonally adjusted May -3,000, June +59,000

Retail trade
Non-seasonal May +97,200, June +108,800
Seasonally-adjusted May +3,000, June +29,900

Non-seasonal May +17,000, June +18,000
Seasonally adjusted May -16,000, June +14,000

A notable exception to the "May down, June up" trend was health care services, which doesn't have much of a seasonal adjustment, and still added 47,600 jobs in May and 58,200 in June. It's been the largest sector of growth the last year, with nearly 600,000 jobs added since June 2015.

On the unemployment rate side, we see a similar story in reverse. May had a drop in unemployment from 5.0% to 4.7%, largely due to seasonally-adjusted drops in the work force, and June went back up by 0.2% with more people entering the work force. The BLS basically admits as much.
The unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage point to 4.9 percent in June, and the number of unemployed persons increased by 347,000 to 7.8 million. These increases largely offset declines in May and brought both measures back in line with levels that had prevailed from August 2015 to April.
As you dig inside the numbers, the amount of people identifying as "employed" didn't change much between the two months.

Unemployment rate stats, April-June 2016
Employed- May +26,000, June +67,000
Labor force- May -458,000, June +414,000
Unemployment rate May -0.3%, June +0.2%

So while the June jobs report does calm any concern about major job slowdowns, I also don't see it as proof as the economy kicking into a higher gear. In addition, the Brexit did not happen until after the June jobs report survey had occurred, so any effect of that (and the result rise in the dollar and plummeting of interest rates) won't be shown until next month. Along with those effects, I'll need to see where these figures go in July and August to get a better idea on where job growth is headed, as the pattern of 150,000 per month growth seems to be where we're at in this near full-employment scenario.