Friday, December 15, 2017

New roads, electric bills, and local subsidies. Hidden costs of the Fox-con

We haven’t checked back on what’s happening with the Fox-con recently. And we probably should, because we are finding out that a lot of unadvertised costs and changes are rippling out that go beyond what we were told during the debate over the bill a couple of months ago.

I had a post ready to explain some of these added costs, but then we saw this blockbuster story from the Wisconsin State Journal tonight, which summarizes the mess in totality.
Wisconsin has converted several local roads near the future Foxconn factory in Racine County into state highways to access state road repair and improvement funding, a new state report has disclosed.

But the move could siphon $134 million from other highway projects around the state, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo.

Gov. Scott Walker says savings from other road projects will help cover those costs....

The fiscal bureau memo to Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, now reveals the previously unknown cost of local road improvements on top of the $252.4 million in state bonding that was authorized to pay for the nearby expansion of Interstate 94.
None of the plans for the state to take over these roads nor the extra costs that state taxpayers would pay were revealed during the debate of the Fox-con package in the Legislature. The Walker Administration claims that they have the extra money in the DOT budget, but the $100 million in "savings" that Walker flack Tom Evenson references in the article seems to be no different than what was carried over into the 2017-19 budget to begin with, and built into the figures for the next 2 years.

Which leads the LFB to indicate that this $134 million in extra road-building costs for the Fox-con would take away from other road projects in the state,
...fiscal bureau analyst John Wilson-Tepeli explained in the memo that because the roads in Racine County were local roads when the 2017-19 budget was adopted it is "unlikely" that the work was accounted for in the state highway rehabilitation fund during the budget debate.

"Therefore, the use of state highway rehabilitation funding to complete this work near the Foxconn site would likely result in the delay of other, previously planned rehabilitation projects on state highways," Wilson-Tepeli wrote.
An example of this new taxpayer-funded road construction near the Foxconn campus was detailed in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report today about a brand-new road in Racine County being created to deal with the added traffic that will result from the plant.
State transportation officials unveiled plans Thursday for a new two-mile road east of I-94 aimed at easing traffic congestion near Foxconn’s planned $10 billion manufacturing complex in Racine County.

The Department of Transportation revealed plans for the road, dubbed “Wisconn Valley Way,” at a public meeting to provide details of planned upgrades to I-94 and state roads near the Taiwan company’s proposed facility…
The road will have two lanes in each direction with adjacent bike and pedestrian paths on both sides is expected to cost $20 million to $30 million and is planned for completion in 2019. The road will be paid with existing state transportation funds, officials said.
Let me remind you that this money is being shelled out while projects like the Zoo Interchange and US 10-441 in Appleton are being delayed because allegedly there isn’t enough money available to pay for those projects, and statewide highway development and rehabilitation is being cut in the 2017-19 budget. But throwing $134 million more down into the “Wisconn Valley” near Foxconn? NO PROBLEM!

There was another story out this week showing how everyday Wisconsinites will end up paying for added infrastructure from the Foxconn plant, this time in the form of higher electricity rates and in buildings being knocked down.
American Transmission Co. plans to make $140 million in upgrades to its power line system between Racine and Pleasant Prairie to meet increased electrical demand from Foxconn and related development.

The project would include a new substation to serve Foxconn’s Mount Pleasant campus, new electric transmission lines and modifications to existing transmission lines, structures and substations, according to a description of the project posted on the utility’s website…

Plans also call for the addition of a second 345-kilovolt transmission circuit to the existing transmission line between Racine and Mount Pleasant. Crews would replace 19 structures along the route, but no new right-of-way would be required.

ATC says the project’s $140 million cost would be spread across roughly 5 million residential customers over a 40-year period. That would amount to about 70 cents per year.

Getting power to Foxconn’s campus, which the company projects could ultimately employ 13,000 people, is just one of the infrastructure challenges related to the project.
That $8.40 a year is a direct subsidy from Wisconsinites to Foxconn to help in the start-up costs of their plant. And of course, this is on top of the bags of cash that Foxconn and its contractors will get from the state for constructing the plant and hiring people, because the write-offs are more than any taxes that Foxconn would ever pay.

And let’s not forget that Racine County and other local governments are on the hook for major borrowing and infrastructure upgrades related to the Fox-con, while other people are being bought off/driven off their land as part of eminent domain measures in and around the plant site. And those who remain will be the only ones paying property taxes until the Foxconn property can be worth enough to close the massive TIF district that was created solely for the campus (if that ever happens).

We already knew the Fox-con was a massive scam from the absurd $3 billion+ price tag of the incentives. But add in the local subsidies and Foxconn-related public works projects that will disproportionately benefit one small sliver of the state’s economy, and the foolishness of the Fox-con gets compounded.

It’s time to get some responsible leadership into office at the Capitol that can stop this madness and get an economic strategy that goes beyond “giving away everything to a few connected corporations at the expense of everyone else.” And if it doesn’t happen in 2018, giveaways like the Fox-con may make us too fiscally screwed to ever return this state to making investments that help ALL Wisconsinites, instead of the failing cronyism that we see today.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paul Ryan bailing out as the heat gets turned up?

In light of today's blockbuster story in Politco Magazine that said a prominent Wisconsin politician might be leaving DC in a year, I could say a lot, but I'd rather forwar you to someone that'll say it better than I - the great Charlie Pierce of Esquire's political page. And as a fellow Irish Catholic (albeit one that actually graduated from college in Wisconsin, unlike Ryan), Pierce sees through Purty Mouth Pau-lie, starting with a piece of spin in this clearly-planted story from Ryan's folks that tries to claim he might leave Congress to spend more time to "come home" to the Midwest.
On a personal level, going home at the end of next year would allow Ryan, who turns 48 next month, to keep promises to family; his three children are in or entering their teenage years, and Ryan, whose father died at 55, wants desperately to live at home with them full time before they begin flying the nest.
Isn’t that just too fcking sweet for words? Of course, young Paul Ryan had Social Security survivor’s benefits to live on when his pappy kicked and, once again, you’re welcome, dickhead. And I’m sure that his own children have excellent health care in his magnificent Georgian Revival home back in Janesville. I tell you, I’m almost as moved as I was when Ryan washed some clean pots and pans at that soup kitchen, or those several times when he dropped by impoverished neighborhoods in order to have his picture taken there.

Also, I’m sure that the fact that, in 2018, all indications are that his party will be facing a bloodbath in the midterm elections, and that the abomination of a tax bill that is his crowning achievement will be one of the party’s larger millstones, have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Paul Ryan’s giant, if remarkably delicate, intellect suddenly can no longer handle the hurly-burly of everyday politics. Good god, this man could not be a bigger fake if he were made of papier-mâché.

Soooooo punchable

May I add that Paul Ryan hasn't had an actual job based in Wisconsin since he was driving the Wiernermobile in college, more than half his life ago? Ryan is a DC insider and donor puppet all the way, and it is laughable how the Politico article portrays Ryan as some kind of principled individual that has been run down by the dysfunction in DC. Bubble World BSers like Ryan are the CAUSE of that dysfunction, and the wreck that it is threatening to heap on the country with awful ideas like this Piece of Shit tax bill and the cuts in Social Security and Medicare that will follow.

Pierce also laughs at the Politico article's suggestion that the 2012 GOP candidate for Vice-President was thinking of leaving Congress after Ryan and Mitt Romney got thumped by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Wait a minute. He was running for a job that would have kept him in Washington for eight years—and that would’ve made him the frontrunner for the top job that would’ve kept him there for eight more—but only after he and Mitt Romney lost did he decide that Janesville and his 13 rooms were a’callin’ him home? That dog sleeps on the porch. There are those of us who recall that Ryan was such a flop on the national stage that Joe Biden laughed at him in a debate, and that he couldn’t even carry his home precinct for the ticket.

And no matter how much gauzy nonsense is spun about how reluctant he was to become Speaker, Ryan knew that the only way to maintain his utterly unearned reputation as an intellectual, while simultaneously dismantling everything about government that he opposed at a theological level, was to become the smartest chimp in the monkeyhouse. That was something he did. And now he and his owners have scored their biggest victory. People he doesn’t even know will suffer for years because Paul Ryan was Speaker of the House. People he doesn’t even know may well die because of it. But he has that one happy moment in which Paul Ryan, threw his head back and slammed his hands together [when the House passed the original version of the Piece of Shit tax bill].

Quite a trick, for an unusually sophisticated marionette.
Well said, Charlie. And Paul Ryan is trying to get out before the voters in SE Wisconsin get the chance to kick his ass out in 2018, and before he presides over massive GOP losses in the House and has to be seen giving the gavel over to Nancy Pelosi or whatever other Dem would become Speaker.

Besides, it allows his to cash in and get a helluva lotta Koch money as a nice reward for all of the windfall profits, tax cuts, and pay-to-play favors he has shoveled to oligarchs over all these years. And he gets to avoid all acountability for the damage he has caused. Now THAT'S a uniquely American story, isn't it?

And oh yeah, Ryan and other bought-off GOPs are apparently so desperate to give the farm away to his donors and other owners that they will raise taxes on people even sooner, to make the tax scam's numbers add up, and only need 50 votes to pass the Senate.

So in all sincerity, if you are bailing out after all the damage you have inflicted on this country, there is only one fitting response that is legal. And that is, "Fuck you, Paul Ryan."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When we said "change the tax bill", we didn't mean "more giveaways to the rich"

One day after their already-small Senate majority was cut in half with the surprising election of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama, GOP Congress members are still going ahead with their Piece of Shit tax plan. In fact, there are reports that a tentative tax deal is in place between the two houses.

Not surprisingly, few of the changes will affect any one that isn't rich.
Both the House and Senate bills propose slashing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. But negotiators were discussing whether to raise that rate to 21 percent in the final bill, lawmakers said.

Republicans were said to be leaning toward setting the corporate rate at 21 percent and the top individual income tax rate at 37 percent, down from 39.6 percent.

A one-percentage-point change in the corporate rate would give tax writers about $100 billion of revenues over a decade that could be used in many ways. One could be to repeal a federal tax on inheritances paid by wealthy Americans. Another might be to end the corporate alternative minimum tax.

Some Republicans also wanted a higher corporate rate to pay for a higher child tax credit.

Lawmakers had also debated capping a popular individual deduction for mortgage interest at $750,000 in home loan value, instead of $1 million.
Later reports indicated that AMT repeal is also part of this deal. Combined with the lower rate on the highest income, that means MORE tax cuts for the rich with the large corporate tax cut being slightly less large.

Permanent avatar of this tax package.

But a Bloomberg News report indicates that there might be a couple of other modifications. This includes a modification of the changes to the SALT deduction that makes the damaging move of limiting the deduction a little less damaging for the middle and upper-middle classes.
A tentative deal reached by House and Senate lawmakers includes letting taxpayers deduct state income taxes in addition to property levies -- up to a $10,000 cap, according to two people briefed on the details.

The versions of the bills approved by the House and Senate just preserved the individual deduction for state and local property taxes -- capped at $10,000 -- but not for income taxes. House and Senate leaders, along with the White House, had previously signaled they were open to including state income tax deductions in the cap.
Of course, if that exemption is still below the doubled standard deduction of $12,000 single and $24,000 married filed jointly, then adding local income taxes to the SALT write-off doesn't matter because PEOPLE WON'T BE ABLE TO USE IT ANYWAY. And the damage to the housing market would still occur, since the incentives of home ownership get greatly reduced.

The Bloomberg article also says that the tax break for pass-through entities for owners of LLCs and other privately-held companies won't be as big. That tax cut for pass-throughs was demanded by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson (who conveniently was bequeathed a pass-through entity by his father-in-law), but don’t shed too many tears for the Ron Johnsons of the world, because they’ll still get a nice tax cut.
Under the House and Senate agreement, pass-through entities would be able to deduct 20 percent of their business income, instead of 23 percent as originally proposed in the Senate bill approved Dec. 2, the people said. The top individual tax rate would also be lowered to 37 percent, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Combined with a lower individual income rate, the change would still provide roughly the same amount of relief for owners of the most lucrative pass-through businesses.
If it's the "same amount of relief", then what’s the point of changing the pass-through tax rate from 20% to 23%? Oh wait, that's because smaller business owners whose income doesn't fall under the top tax rate will pay more under this compromise, so there's your revenue increase (excuse me, I need to slam my head on a desk)

But all of these extra tax cuts for the rich makes me skeptical of how the math can add up so the price tag fits under the $1.5 trillion limit to allow the tax scam to pass with 50 votes in the US Senate. So what's under the shell that transfers all this money to the well-off?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Wednesday that a tax overhaul will include the repeal of the mandate for individuals to buy insurance -- a core part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act...

The repeal of the mandate is seen as a win-win for most Republicans -- smashing Obamacare, as they’ve promised to do for years, while raising some $300 billion to pay for tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office has said the savings would result because the federal government would no longer have to provide subsidies for roughly 13 million people who would no longer be insured.
Oh, so this Piece of Shit would pay for a bigger tax cut for the rich by CUTTING PEOPLE OFF OF HEALTH CARE? You run on that in 2018, GOP....if you can get yourself out of the tar and feathers by then.

And may I remind you that the GOP has no voter mandate for this. In the last 14 months, the GOP has:

Received less than 46% of the popular vote for president
Lost 5 seats in the Senate
Lost 7 seats in the House

And now Dems lead the Congressional ballot by 10+ points ahead of the 2018 elections. No one wants this Piece of Shit tax bill and the Banana Republicans have no consent of the governed to stay in power.

We have to stay on each detail as the GOPs try to jam this through, because it seems that it is deteriorating by the day. If the GOPs keep ignoring the public, then harsh action needs to be taken. This includes the Dems in Congress stepping up and SHUTTING IT DOWN as funding runs out for the government in 9 days. The shutdown has to be vocally signaled and then executed if this Piece of Shit goes through.

Yes, it's that bad. And the refusal of the GOP to listen to anyone but their donors must be met with major consequences that go beyond the economic damage that this awful bill will inflict.

Alabama and Virginia expanded voting rights to felons. Why not Wisconsin?

In last night's Senate win in Alabama for Democrat Doug Jones, it was hard to ignore this part of the race's exit poll.

It's no surprise that black voters overwhelmingly chose Jones over Roy "We were better under slavery" Moore. But the bigger stat is that 28% of last night's vote came from African-Americans, in a state that is less than 27% black. And interestingly, it was
a law signed by Alabama's Republican governor earlier this year that may have played a role in that sizable black voter turnout.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law on Wednesday that could restore voting rights to thousands of felons, many of them African American, in a state where about 250,000 people are disenfranchised because of their criminal records….

The Definition of Moral Turpitude Act was passed by state lawmakers last week and signed by the governor, a Republican, on Wednesday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman from the governor’s office. The law creates a list of fewer than 50 crimes of moral turpitude, including murder, kidnapping, and sexual abuse—though notably, white-collar crimes such as public corruption are left off the list.

It is still unclear how many felons will be affected by the new measure—the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates it could be thousands, many of them African American, though Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has suggested that fewer will be affected. In any case, by eliminating the gray area in the law, registrars in charge of the state’s voter rolls will now have clearer guidance while registering voters.

Fifteen percent of black residents in the state have been kept away from the polls because of their criminal records, according to the Campaign Legal Center, which filed a lawsuit last year arguing the state’s moral turpit ude rule was discriminatory. “Felony disenfranchisement laws have the undeniable effect of diminishing the political power of minority communities,” said Danielle Lang, an attorney for the center. Indeed, at the time of the state’s constitutional convention, the president of the convention said the rule was intended to “establish white supremacy” in the state.
We saw another large turnout of African-Americans in another former Confederate state that had big a Dem win in 2017- Virginia. And that state also restored the voting rights of some felons last year. This article in the Huffington Post discusses the case of LaVaughn Williams, a convicted felon who was released from prison 3 years ago and is now studying to be an auto mechanic. The article says Williams voted for the first time at age 55 in November's election for Governor and State House in Virginia.
“I now felt like a citizen. I now felt like I will make a difference in some kind of way. Just bubbling in them little circles, it’s like power, it’s power,” Williams said just after she voted, displaying two “I voted” stickers with American flags on her jacket. “If you had asked me maybe a year and a half, two years ago, I would’ve said, no, I didn’t never think I would vote.”

Votes from people like Williams on Tuesday were deeply significant because it marked a significant achievement by McAuliffe, who acted unilaterally to restore those rights to more than 168,000 former felons ― a policy Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the governor-elect, has said he is proud of and would continue.

Ed Gillespie, his Republican opponent, ran attack ads warning that restoring voting rights to former felons would make Virginia less safe. Republicans in Virginia have expressed little interest in continuing to aggressively restore the rights. Last year, the state GOP successfully challenged McAuliffe when he tried to give a blanket order restoring rights to former felons, and he has done so only on an individual basis since. The party also unsuccessfully pushed a constitutional amendment in the state legislature that would condition the restoration of rights on the payment of all fines and legal fees ― a measure critics likened to a poll tax.

In 2016, there were 508,680 potential voters in Virginia disenfranchised because of felonies, including more than one in every five African Americans, according to The Sentencing Project. The state’s disenfranchisement of felons extends back to the 1830s and was included in the state’s 1902 constitution as part of a set of voting restrictions intended to keep African Americans from voting.
The large black turnouts and Dem wins in Alabama and Virginia are the exact opposite of what we saw in Wisconsin in 2016, as lower turnout in Dem-voting cities with disproportionate amounts of minorities were a significant factor in Donald Trump winning the state by 2016 by 22,000 votes.

The ACLU has a map which shows what regulation various states have when it comes to voting rights for felons. As you can see, in Wisconsin felons cannot vote until they complete their post-prison probation, unlike many of the Midwestern states to our east, which allow felons to vote as soon as they done with their incarceration.

Wisconsin’s standard seems overly cruel, given that these individuals on parole and/or probation can be working, contributing members to society with most other rights of citizenship, if people can look past the felony conviction (owning a gun is a rare exception). But when it comes to voting, these people are still considered second-class citizens in the state. That prohibition is especially noteworthy given that Wisconsin had the highest percentage of African-American men in prison in the country in the 2010 Census, and it is logical that these voting restrictions would fall heavily on black people in the state.

Then add in the fact that Scott Walker and WisGOP have passed several other types of voter suppression that are clearly geared toward keeping black people from voting (something that they seem to have been successful in doing in 2016), and voting rights seems like an issue to HAMMER for 2018.

Looking ahead, it makes me wonder if African-Americans are as fired up to vote in Wisconsin in 2018 as they were in Alabama and Virginia in 2017, and does that mean GOPs have even less of a chance of winning in what already seems like a pro-Dem year? Or does it mean Governor Walker, US Senate candidate/ALEC Queen Leah Vukmir (who was reportedly “frothing at the mouth” to limit voting rights in 2011), and the rest of the Wisconsin GOP are just better than Alabama at keeping Dem-leaning groups from voting?

I think we need to ask our Walker, Vukmir, and the rest of the vote-suppressing ALEC crew at the Capitol why Wisconsin isn’t following the example of states like Virginia and Alabama, and restoring the voting rights of felons as soon as they are put back into society. If we want people to be “corrected” from their time in prison, don’t we want them to be rewarded with full rights and responsibilities outside, so it’s less worth it not to return to a life of crime?

I’d love to see the response from the race-baiting, election-rigging WisGOP slime as they try to talk their way out of that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wis doctors and lawyers can get loans written off, why not others?

As I browsed the Committee Calendar in the Wisconsin Legislature, I noticed that it included two separate hearings on bills that target individuals for student loan relief for those that are in certain occupations and locations in the state.

One of the bills getting a hearing is one that uses student loan relief as a method to deal with the state’s shortages in public defenders.
This bill directs the Public Defender Board to establish a student loan payment pilot program for private bar attorneys who accept public defender appointments. The program would provide a payment to use to repay student loans of up to $20,000 per year for attorneys in counties with a population of 25,000 or less who agree to accept at least 50 state public defender appointments per year. The bill provides $250,000 GPR in each fiscal year of the 2017-19 biennium for the program.
It’s got an interesting bipartisan group of sponsors, with some rural Republicans and some big-city and college-town Democrats. It seems to be a public defender’s version of a program from Wisconsin’s Office of Rural Health that writes off loans for physicians and psychiatrists who take practice in rural and underserved urban communities.

Staying on the subject of student loan relief, there’s another bill getting a hearing this week in the Assembly’s Health Committee that tries to encourage new psychiatrists to start their practice in Wisconsin, to the point where they may be able to practice without paying a dime of taxes.
This bill creates an individual income tax subtract modification, or deduction, for up to $200,000 of income earned in this state by a psychiatrist, in the taxable year to which the claim relates, from the practice of psychiatry. The deduction may not be claimed for more than ten years, and must be claimed during the ten-year period that begins once the claimant first claims the credit. The deduction must be claimed initially within the first two years that a psychiatrist begins to practice in this state, or within the first two years that a psychiatrist returns to this state after practicing in another state for at least one year. If an individual begins to claim the deduction and is then ineligible to claim the deduction in any year that he or she is a full-year resident of this state, the individual may again claim the deduction in a future year if eligible to do so. If an individual begins to claim the deduction but is unable to claim it for ten consecutive years because he or she leaves the state, the individual must add to his or her tax that is due for the year in which he or she leaves the state the total gross tax that would have been due if the subtraction was not claimed for any year minus the amount of gross tax actually due for those years. In addition, an individual who is eligible for and claims the deduction may not claim the homestead tax credit.
Well, if the State Legislature finds it important to write off the student loans and give tax breaks for certain professions in need, why not expand it to the rest of the population with student loans? That's what some Legislative Democrats have asked for, with a student loan relief bill that all debtors can take advantage of.
A pair of Democratic lawmakers is reintroducing for the third time a proposal that would allow student loans to be refinanced at lower interest rates, but the bill is unlikely to gain traction in Wisconsin's Republican-led Legislature.

The bill, authored by Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, would create a Wisconsin Student Loan Refinancing Authority, modeled after the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

The authority would be charged with creating a system to buy federal and private loans and refinance them at lower rates. Under the bill, borrowers would also be able to deduct student loan payments from their income taxes.
But Republicans aren't giving that bill a hearing this week, despite the alleged desire by this Governor to make the state more attractive for younger workers. That seems to be yet another example of WisGOP policies (or inaction) being a significant barrier in reaching WisGOP's alleged economic goals.

And student loan debt is a legitimate economic problem. The One Wisconsin Institute did a study of workers in 2011, and found that student loan debt played a significant role in delaying and/or preventing individuals from buying new vehicles or homes. Add in Wisconsin's notoriously substandard wages, and it's not that surprising that the state is having a problem attracting and keeping younger talent?

So if members of both parties recognize that student loan relief and tax credits for certain occupations is a method that can get younger workers to come to and/or stay in Wisconsin in certain fields, why aren't we applying that strategy to all people statewide? It seems a much better investment of tax dollars than blowing $7 million on an ad campaign that doesn't match reality, which is what Gov Walker wants to do.

The Budget Guy says more on GOP's Tax Scam

I wanted to forward to you another great column from Stan Collender at Forbes (aka TheBudgetGuy). Collender's been consistently hammering Trump and GOP for their absurdity of a tax bill, and his article from the weekend is titled "Consider This An Indictment Of Trump/GOP Economic Policy Making."

The first GOP failure Collender sees is that the current economic conditions are good (well, unless you work for wages), and that makes it an awful time to put in tax cuts.
"Trump Family and Friends Tax Cut" now in conference between the House and Senate is the wrong fiscal policy at the absolute wrong time. With the U.S. economy humming along, the stock market seeming to reach new record highs daily, unemployment just reported to be at an 17-year low and corporate profits soaring, this is not the correct moment to add a $2 trillion-plus federal stimulus. It may be good politics (and recent polls show even that's not certain), but it's definitely not smart economics.
The next fault Collender sees is the GOP's reliance on magical thinking that not only believes that there will be a big boost to growth from these tax cuts (there won't be), but that the growth will be so spectacular that it'll allow the tax cuts to "pay for themselves."
First there was the almost comical GOP attempts to discredit the Congressional Budget Office by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that culminated in a failed attempt by the House Freedom Caucus to eliminate CBO's Budget Analysis Division.

Then it was the decision by Senate Republicans to ignore the Joint Committee on Taxation's estimate of the huge revenue loss from the tax cut in favor of a purely superstitious belief that the bill would pay for itself even though not one reputable analysis showed that to be true.

Finally, there was the GOP's reliance on a repeatedly made promise by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that there was a report from his department proving that the tax cut would pay for itself even though no one had ever (and still hasn't) seen that report. In the meantime, Treasury's inspector general has now begun an investigation to determine whether Mnuchin withheld the report because it didn't show what he said it would prove.

Oh wait, Mnuchin and the Treasury Department did come out with that long-awaited "analysis" yesterday.

In other words, Mnuchin was full of shit, and knows that this fraud won't "pay for itself".

Collender ends the column by noting yet another deceit by the Congressional GOP. Most tax cuts on individuals are set to end after either 8 or 10 years, as part of reconciliation rules that require these tax cuts not to add to the long-term deficit. What Collender notes is that much like the Bush tax cuts of the 2000s, GOPs are not intending to have these tax cuts end, but stay in as law, and keep adding to the deficit for many more years to come.
The official estimates are that Trump Family and Friends Tax Cut will increase the federal deficit and national debt by "only" $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and, as noted above, the GOP is refusing even to acknowledge that number. But when you recalculate the legislation's true impact by assuming -- as Republican tax writers want us to do -- that the tax cuts set to expire in the future actually will be extended, the real cost of the bill increases to between $2 and $2.5 trillion ....

So put aside any lofty remarks and holier-than-thou statements about the deficit, national debt or Washington spending and taxing the Trump administration and congressional Republicans make between now and the 2018 election. What they're doing is closer to a plot on "Law and Order" than solid economic policy making.

Monday, December 11, 2017

If GOP tax scam passes, paying bills at the end of 2017 might be smart

As the year winds down and talks on the GOP's Piece of Shit tax bill heat up, it may be worthy to figure out if the tax talk may spur on other economic decisions before any changes would even take effect.

In particular, I want to bring you back to CBS Marketwatch's handy Trump Tax Calculator, which gives a projection of what would happen to your taxes if either of the GOP's tax bills were to become law. When I first messed around with this a month ago, it alarmed me, because it showed that we'd pay less by taking the larger standard deduction than in itemizing what deductions remained.

Now that might sound good on the surface, and maybe it will be compared to what we pay now (although a quick estimate is that it won't change much). But the bigger concern is that under the GOP tax bill, we would now have zero tax advantage to us writing off our mortgage interest and local property taxes, nor do we get any benefit to making charitable contributions. Obviously, this could have awful effects for many sectors of the economy, as it makes less people likely to own homes or donate to charity, which could cause severe disruptions in both of those parts of the economy.

But we may not even have to wait until 2018 to see things get changed. If this Piece of Shit looks like it's going to become law starting with tax year 2018, then we can make some moves for tax year 2017 that can change things. For example, we have until the 15th of the month to pay for our mortgage, but if we pay it by December 30, then we get that mortgage interest payment in 2017, while we can still write it off. Same goes for our home equity loan, and for my student loan.

And while we pay our property taxes in December every year, many people don't pay their taxes until January. But if they might lose the tax benefits of paying property taxes in 2018, it would make sense to pay that bill at the end of 2017, if they can. For example, paying a $5,000 property tax bill for someone in the 25% income tax bracket allows for someone to get $1,250 reduced on their 2017 taxes vs getting NOTHING if you pay in January 2018. Same goes for that donation to your favorite non-profit, whether it's a church, university, or social cause. If you want to get something back for that, better send it in by the end of December.

I know that many don't want to think much about paying bills as the year ends, especially with Holidays and travel going on. But if the GOP"s Piece of Shit does go through before the end of the year, spending a little now may prevent you from losing a lot later on. Now, you can argue that maybe those incentives should be limited and/or go away because it distorts outcomes - a view that I would be sympathetic to if we were starting from scratch.

But just because bad laws get passed, it doesn't mean that you ignore that reality, and it would be smart for people to take a look at the Trump Tax Calculator, and adjust accordingly in case this awful tax bill ever becomes law. Again, click through the Trump Tax Calculator and see if you are better off paying now, or paying later.

Dark Store Day reminds us that WisGOP leaders don't mind if we're ripped off

As property tax bills go out in the mail, it seems like a good time to revisit the ripoff known as the “dark store” loophole. This is where big-box retailers like Wal-Mart have lobbied and lawyered up to get their property assessments reduced by millions of dollars, which then raises the property tax rates of everyone else in the community because the tax base is lowered.

With that in mind, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities declared today “Dark Store Day”, and said Wisconsin legislators need to step up to outlaw this loophole, and restore tax fairness in the state’s communities.
Leaders of the Wisconsin legislature will determine whether Christmas 2018 will be merry or just more expensive for property owners in Wisconsin. City and village leaders around Wisconsin are making one wish: that the Legislature takes a vote on the Dark Store and Walgreens loophole repair bills. The bills have plenty of bipartisan support and will pass both houses with overwhelming margins, provided they are scheduled for a vote. If the Legislature doesn’t act, look for residential taxpayers to pay more, an average of 8% more in the future, to cover the tax break for these national retailers. Ho, ho, ho.

Tax attorneys representing national chain stores have come up with a novel reading of property tax law that has resulted in $10 million retail properties paying property taxes on half or less of that value. It’s called the “dark store theory,” because it holds that large retail buildings are only worth what they could be sold for as vacant, “dark” buildings. Wisconsin law needs to be clarified so that common sense and fairness once again prevail.

Reversing the 2008 Walgreens v. Madison Supreme Court decision is equally important. That decision requires an assessment using the income approach of retail property leased at “above market” rents to be based on theoretical “market rents” rather than the actual rents being paid under terms of Walgreen’s leases. As a result, numerous newer buildings housing Walgreens stores have sold for millions of dollars more than the value at which they can be assessed for tax purposes.

Over time, these loopholes will slash the commercial property tax base in Wisconsin, and more of the property tax burden will be shifted to small businesses, homeowners and other taxpayers whose properties are assessed at fair market value. Homeowners already pay more than two-thirds of the property tax bill. They should not bear more.

That's not abandoned. So why price it like it is?

If LWM and other communities have the support of so many legislators, why would they need to do this public push to get the “dark store” bills passed? This weekend article from the Kenosha News gave a good explanation.
In November, despite support for the bills, which were introduced by Republicans in both houses, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, opted not to schedule a vote, something that has raised eyebrows, if not ire, among some local elected officials.

Fitzgerald could not be reached for comment — something that didn’t surprise Somers Village Board President George Stoner.

“He’s not going to get back to you,” said Stoner, who has been waging an email and phone campaign to bring the bills to the floor. Stoner said he, too, has yet to hear from Fitzgerald…

“Every taxing body — Unified, Gateway, all of them — will be affected,” said Stoner, who has been asking legislators for the last two years to close the loophole.

“Somebody is not calling the vote. I know they could do it overnight if they wanted to,” said [Pleasant Prairie Village President John] Steinbrink, who served as a state legislator. “If they could do that for lobbyists and special interests, they could do it for the taxpayers.”
The reason why the dark store ripoff isn’t being outlawed seems obvious- Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos are doing the bidding of their donors at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, who oppose the bill, and actually had the nerve to claim that the lobbying effort to get rid of the dark store loophole should be called “raise your taxes day”.

Since the only taxes that would NOT be raised by keeping the dark store loophole would be the ones not paid by megastores like Wal-Mart and Menard's, it proves yet again that WMC doesn’t give a fuck about everyday Wisconsinites, just corporate greedheads. It lays bare what the “dark store” debate boils down to - organizations and local governments that value constituents over large corporate retailers vs politicians that are in the pocket of corporate slime (COUGH- Vos and Fitzgerald) and only care about reducing costs for their donors so some of those savings can be kicked back to them. So they want to bury the dark store bills, and don’t care about the great majority of Wisconsinites that would pay the price of their inaction.

Call me crazy, but I still think that government should work for everyday people instead of their big-money, multi-national corporate contributors. I know that’s a quaint philosophy in 2017 Fitzwalkerstan, but Wisconsin sure was a lot better place to live in when we used to have elected officials that valued people over profit.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wisconsin under Walker shows that tax cuts don't add jobs, and don't pay for themselves

I can't help but notice that our Fair Governor tried to get his name out into the national news and GOP Bubble World again last week, this time by being one of 21 GOP governors signing on to a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supporting the GOP's Piece of Shit tax plan.
“America needs a tax cut…Since January 2011, Republican governors have enacted $62 billion worth of tax cuts for the hard-working people of our states, according to Americans for Tax Reform,” the governors wrote. “We urge the two chambers to pass meaningful tax reform legislation and send it to the President’s desk. We’ve proven in our states that you can cut taxes, create jobs, and generate budget surpluses all at the same time. If it can work in our states, it can work for America.”
That's an odd statement, and not just because the GOP tax plan gets rid of "above-the-line" tax deductions like student loan interest and Health Savings Accounts will raise state income taxes for many individuals (by increasing their "income"). The bigger reason is that the tax cuts apporoved by Scott Walker and WisGOP have failed when it comes to adding jobs and revenues.

First, let's look at the jobs front. Walker and WisGOP started by cutting taxes and regulations on corporations, while attacking worker's rights from 2011-2013. Then income tax cuts and an accelerated tax cut for manufacturers followed in 2014, after a one-time surplus of funds appeared.

What do we have to show for it? 24 straight quarters of job growth in the bottom half of US states, and a Walker Jobs Gap of nearly 115,000 jobs during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

And as you can see, that gap has grown consistently over those 81 months, with no discernable difference in how it grew in the years after the income and M&A tax cuts went on full blast after 2013.

In addition, once a budget deficit appeared after those 2014 tax cuts, Walker and WisGOP put in spending cuts to balance the budget, and the already sub-standard job growth nose-dived, as shown by the year-over-year figures in the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages.

And it's worth noting that in this time where Republicans are claiming that $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in DC will "pay for themselves" with added growth, that this has not come close to happening in Wisconsin since the 2014 tax cuts were put into place. We can put this into numbers by looking at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's revenue projections starting with January 2014, along with what the LFB figured would be the reduction in revenue due to the 2014 tax cuts, and see what actually happened.

Let's start with the immediate effects, and see how far short the state’s tax revenues fell compared to initial projections in the first two years those tax cuts were put in place.

FY 2014 Projected effect of tax reduction -$170 million
FY 2014 Actual taxes vs pre-tax projection -$451.8 million
SHORTFALL $281.8 million

FY 2015 Projected effect of tax reduction -$285.6 million
FY 2015 Actual taxes vs pre-tax projection -$476.0 million
FY 2015 SHORTFALL $190.4 million

This exploding cost of the 2014 tax cut is why the Walker Administration had to skip debt payments in 2015 and 2016 just to avoid the embarrassment of a budget repair bill. It also led to such a budget deficit for 2015-17 that Walker cut the UW System by $250 million, with UW-Madison falling out of the top 5 for public research schools soon after. K-12 education and local governments also remained underfunded, and led the numerous referenda and wheel taxes that we have seen in the last 2 ½ years that have hiked local taxes for many Wisconsinites.

This pattern has repeated over the next 2 years, as Wisconsin revenues fell short of initial projections in those years as well.

Revenue shortfalls vs 2015-17 original budget
FY 2016 $106.1 million
FY 2017 $138.1 million

And 2018's revenues are under a slow start as well. Now maybe a Bubbly stock market will take care of some of that gap as tax returns are filed in early 2018, but that's certainly not anything to count on, and it still underscores that jobs or revenues have not jumped in Wisconsin due to the tax cuts put in place over the last 6 years. In fact, it's more likely that we can say those pro-corporate and trickle-down measures have made the state fall behind the rest of the country throughout most of this Obama Recovery.

But that won't stop Shameless Scotty from trying to throw around this zombie lie of "you can cut taxes, create jobs, and generate budget surpluses all at the same time." And while it is tiring to have to keep reiterating the fact that this claim is Bullshit, Dems have to keep doing until the average Wisconsinite realizes that GOP fiscal policy in Wisconsin is every bit as destructive as the regressive Piece of Shit that the GOP tax plan in DC is.

Not-so-Happy Holidays from SNL!

If it doesn't feel like a festive Holiday season so far, it's not just because there's a lack of snow on the ground here in Wisconsin. Saturday Night Live's open hit on it well, and it reminds me how much I wish I didn't know or care about in 2017.

All that was missing was Megyn Kelly coming up and saying African-American Kenan Thompson wasn't a real Santa Claus. Maybe that happens after the ex-Faux News Bobblehead gets fired in the next year for her low ratings. Funny how people didn't buy her as legit when she wandered outside of the Faux News Bubble.

But the most wince-inducing line comes from a little girl about 1:45 in:

"I learned if you admit you did something wrong, you get in trouble. But if you deny it, they let you keep your job!"

That's definitely the strategy righties use these days "DENY, LIE, AND SPIN. But never admit that you were wrong, never concern yourself with consistency, and never change your opinions to match the evolving reality.

Hey, it's worked for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP for the last 7 years. Why wouldn't Trump and the other GOP slimeballs do the same?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tax bill bad enough, but "fixing" its deficits make it much worse

The GOP’s Piece of Shit tax bill is still far from being law, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look ahead and figure out the fallout if that regressive plan becomes law. And that’s something that Yahoo! Finance’s Rick Newman examined Friday in a column titled “The Trump tax cuts could be much worse than advertised.” As Newman points out, if economic growth doesn't close the extra deficits that pile up from these tax cuts (and it won't), then who pays to make up the $1.5 trillion in lost tax revenue?
...To estimate that, the Tax Policy Center examined three scenarios meant to assess who the winners and losers would be if, or when, the bill comes due for the Republican tax plan. Since there are two ways to close a budget gap — either raise new revenue or cut spending — the group included both options in its analysis, and applied the analysis to legislation passed by both the House and the Senate.

None of the scenarios is comforting. If the cost of the tax cuts in the House plan were spread evenly among all taxpayers, 27% of households would enjoy a tax cut but 73% would face a tax hike. After-tax income would fall for lower- and middle-income workers, while rising for the top 20%.

If that $1.5 trillion were covered proportionally, according to income, the outcome would be slightly better, with 39% of households getting a tax cut and 59% facing a tax hike. The top 20% of earners would still end up better off, but not by as much in the first scenario.

If the cost of the tax cuts were covered proportionally, according to the portion of taxes household actually pay, it would be a bit better still. Sixty-five percent of households would get a tax cut, while 18% would face a tax hike. And the burden would fall a bit more heavily on high-income households than middle-income ones. (credit Newman for having a sense of humor for thinking this would happen with today’s Koched-up GOP). Results for all three scenarios were similar in an analysis of the Senate bill.

Trump and his fellow Republicans aren’t saying much about the cost of cutting taxes, although they are beginning to ramp up efforts to cut spending in 2018. If that happens, it will fall disproportionately on lower-income workers, if only because they receive more in government services. One Republican target is likely to be Medicaid, for example, which is designed to help those who can’t afford health insurance. Republicans may also target food and disability aid and other types of welfare programs.
Which means that tax cuts that go overwhelmingly to the rich and corporate and encourage profit-hoarding over job creation will also take funding away from the working class and the poor. If you thought people were angry about the stagnant economy and standard of living that they were experiencing before….

And let me remind you that the $1.5 trillion is ADDITIONAL deficits- we already are looking at increasing deficits in a time of full employment BEFORE we account for this Piece of Shit.

The third option is that the deficits are never dealt with and are allowed to grow, and add onto the debt. Debt in itself isn’t a big deal unless it causes interest rates to rise (due to fewer people wanting to take on the debt), inflation rises (due to more dollars being printed), or the interest on the added debt crowds out other spending that might give the economy a bigger bang for the buck. Not a good situation, but if you value a stronger economy, it might be the best choice (well, next to taxing the rich back to 1950s or 1970s levels, a time when we had a middle-class with a better future ahead of it).

But of course, raising taxes on the rich or letting things ride for a few years is not what cynical Republicans would do, as they are already scheming as to how they will “fix” the added deficits their idiotic tax cuts will cause. Wisconsin’s own Lyin’ Paul Ryan made the mistake this week in admitting out loud what that meant.
"We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said during an interview on Ross Kaminsky's radio show, The Washington Post reported. "Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking."

Following private conversations between the two, Ryan said he also feels confident that the president will support his efforts to scale back Medicare, which Trump promised he wouldn't do on the campaign, along with Medicaid and Social Security.

"I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare," Ryan explained. "This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think it's the biggest entitlement we've got to reform."

Why don't you pay up instead, a-hole?

No, you fuckhead! Ryan seems not to understand (or care) that health is pretty much a REQUIREMENT OF HAVING A DECENT QUALITY OF LIFE. And is something that is so indispensable that it would cost older and/or sicker people so much that they would either die or go broke.

Health or retirement security is not like a freaking iPhone that the average person can take or leave. While I understand that you stopped learning at age 15 Pau-lie, you should know that situation would destroy our country’s economy as people choose between living and dying, and spending more on health care vs less on other items.

So the disastrous after-effects of this Piece of Shit tax deformation are pretty obvious- more inequality and a decline in standard of living for most of us, and even more income and influence being gained by a small group of oligarchs who could not care less what happens to the rest of the country. Go look at the history of Banana Republics that have had a similar system and I'm betting it's not what you want. Banana Republics tend not to work out very well, either for the people, and for the oligarchs when the people catch on to who has been screwing them.

Friday, December 8, 2017

If the job market's so good, why are workers still not getting a raise?

From most angles, the November jobs report that came out today was a good one, with 228,000 jobs added (221,000 in the private sector) and the unemployment rate staying at a low 4.1%. In that type of labor market, you'd think things would be great for workers, with labor markets being tight and workers still in demand, and it would lead to sizable wage increases. But that's not what we're seeing.
In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $26.55. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 64 cents, or 2.5 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 5 cents to $22.24 in November.
That’s a pay increase that’s barely above the rate of inflation, and lower than the 2.7% increase we had in November 2016, which allegedly led many frustrated blue-collar whites to vote for Donald Trump in hopes that their lives would get better. How’s that working out, guys?

In manufacturing, the job totals may be coming on strong (+31,000 in November, +189,000 over the last year), but the wages aren’t doing so hot, with average hourly earnings in manufacturing up by less than 1.9% since Nov 2016, and durable goods manufacturing wages only up by 1.7%. The pay in the “trade transportation and utilities” sector has also stagnated, with an hourly wage increase of only 1.6%.

Now maybe some of that is related to the new hires in these businesses, who may be making lower wages due to lack of experience. But other reports don’t seem to indicate that. I witnessed a similar trend of “big production, mediocre wages” in another BLS report from this week- this one on worker productivity.

While non-farm productivity per worker went up by 3.0%, overall nonfarm output revised up to 4.1% and hours worked went up to 1.1% from 0.8%, hourly compensation got revised DOWN from 3.5% to 2.7%. And the same pattern showed up for the 2nd Quarter, as worker compensation ended up lower than we knew.

Change in real and nominal hourly compensation
Nominal hourly compensation
Q3 2017 original +3.5%
Q3 2017 revised +2.7%

Q2 2017 original +1.8%
Q2 2017 revised+ 0.3%

And the compensation figures look even lamer when you adjust for inflation, showing that workers didn’t receive much for wages for the extra items they cranked out.

Real hourly compensation
Q3 2017 original +1.5%
Q3 2017 revised +0.7%

Q2 2017 original +2.1%
Q2 2017 revised +0.6%

If you stretch it out over the last 12 months, the picture is even worse for workers, as real hourly compensation has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 4 straight quarters, including a 1.1% decline in 3Q 2017.

12-month change, real hourly compensation
2016 Q4 -2.1/%
2017 Q1 -0.7%
2017 Q2 -1.1%
2017 Q3 -1.1%

That drop in real compensation is despite a 3% increase in output and a 1.5% increase in hours worked at the same time. That goes against the Marginal Revenue Productivity Theory of Wages. That theory says that if output and hours worked go up, then compensation should go up above inflation by that same amount.

Instead, real compensation is going DOWN, so where’s the money going? Right into the pockets of CEOs and stockholders, as we saw in the most recent GDP report.
Profits from current production (corporate profits with inventory valuation adjustment and capital consumption adjustment) increased $91.6 billion in the third quarter, compared with an increase of $14.4 billion in the second quarter.
And profits were up $114.8 billion on a 12-month basis (5.4%). Which begs the obvious question- if corporations are raking in increasing profits at the expense of workers under the current tax code, why wouldn’t we expect that inequality to get even worse when corporate rates are cut to encourage more profit-hoarding?

It shows yet again that what the majority of Americans need to break out of their economic stagnation isn’t more trickle-down tax cuts. Instead, THEY NEED A REAL PAY RAISE. And until we see a government that passes policies that encourage wages over profit-taking, the stagnation and crippling inequality will continue, along with the degradation of our quality of life.

And on top of the wage stagnation, we're not getting payback in any type of public goods, as corporations and their puppets in Congress are taking that as well. RFK nailed this fact nearly 50 years ago.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Al Franken and John Doe and Trump-Russia.

On this melancholy day, the great Charlie Pierce delivered with a column summing up the loss of a Senator from our neighbors to the West.
I was going to let Dahlia Lithwick’s angry, lucid account in Slate of the end of Al Franken’s senatorial career speak for me, since Lithwick said everything I felt about this tawdry episode, and probably better than I could. Especially this part:

Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve

Lithwick is dead right. There is no commonly accepted Moral High Ground left to occupy anymore, and to pretend one exists is to live in a masturbatory fantasyland. It’s like lining yourself up behind Miss Manners in a political debate against Machiavelli. Until the Democrats are willing to think asymmetrically about the very real political danger posed by the president* and his party, the danger will grow until it becomes uncontrollable, and that point is coming very soon, I fear. By the time the Democrats admit to themselves that their political opposition has moved so far beyond shame that it can’t even see Richard Nixon any more, the damage wrought to our political institutions may be beyond repair.

Oh, and just a reminder, out there touring a book right now are veteran conservative ratfckers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie. Lewandowski grabbed a female reporter on the campaign trail and Bossie once invaded a hospital room and berated the mother of a young woman who’d committed suicide. You look across a political landscape like the one that the last few decades have created, and the Moral High Ground looks like the lichen-mottled ruins of a dead civilization.
While I reluctantly think that Franken had to go because Dems (and our society in general) needs to have a zero-tolerance policy for scummy behavior by men towards women, I totally get Pierce’s and Lithwick’s points. Voters recently haven’t given a lot of benefit to “going high” these days, so why do good when the other side wants to destroy you?

However, I think this case is an exception, as I think being on the side of women vs lecherous men in power is something that connects with casual and/or low-info voters as these sexual harassment scandals explode, and that’s why I think it was tactically correct to have Franken resign. It also takes down the “both sides” BS that GOPs will inevitably try to pull, and lays bare that the GOP accepts such scumminess.

But Dems have to follow up and hammer GOPs for the next 11 months for being scum, instead of standing by and thinking that the casual person will remember in November 2018 that the Dems did the right thing in December 2017. The Dems in Wisconsin made the mistake of “assuming better angels” during the John Doe case in the 2010s, which reappeared in the news yesterday due to the release of an 88-page report from Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office. In John Doe, “trusting the system” failed miserably, and Wisconsin is still paying a big price for what was allowed to go on.

Schimel’s report dealt with the leak that led to details of Scott Walker’s and the Wisconsin GOP’s money-laundering operation being printed in The Guardian last year.

You think we've forgotten about this?

Most of the Department of "Justice"'s report is typical partisan Schimel hackery and is filled with the GOP’s “whiny victim” act. But there is an interesting and borderline funny part of the document that centers on comments from GAB employee Shane Falk.
When discussing the motion to quash filed by the attorneys for the targets, Falk stated, “These arguments are all baloney. The attorneys just don’t know what their clients did. They likely don’t have the full facts.” Falk claimed that the attorneys for the targets ignored applicable case law and a GAB formal opinion. He claimed that the attorneys for the targets violated ethics rules by not being candid with the court and by not identifying contrary authority. He claimed that the attorneys did not understand the trouble their clients were in. He criticized Attorney Rick Esenberg who at that time taught election law at Marquette University Law School (and now collects wingnut welfare full-time through the Bradley Foundation's chop shop at WILL), stating “Esenberg doesn’t know what he is talking about . . . . We are very familiar with Esenberg too and we should not be concerned about his understanding of campaign finance laws.”

After reviewing a motion from the attorney for the Friends of Scott Walker, Falk commented “Wow. He really doesn’t understand campaign finance law.” Falk ironically stated, “There is the reality of the law and what they (attorneys for the targets) think the law should be. They conflate the two and misrepresent the reality.”
But that’s the intelligence of the crooked GOP’s design- distort reality and facts, use your GOPperganda machine to lie on AM radio and Right Wisconsin regarding what the case is really about (tellingly, emails to Mark Belling, Icki McKenna and Charlie Sykes are part of the evidence collected), and then try to get some paid-off right-wing judges to make up a ruling that makes your laundering and concealment of donors to be “legal, free speech.”

I also note one closing part of Schimel's report, which is intended to paint Falk in a bad light, but instead reveals just how debased our state has become in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.
In November 2013, Shane Falk wrote to the special prosecutor:

Please keep up the great work and stay strong. Remember, in brief, this was a bastardization of politics and our state is being run by corporations and billionaires. This isn’t democracy to say the least, but due to how they do this dark money, the populace never gets to know. The cynic in me says the sheeple would still follow the propaganda even if they knew, but at least it would all be out there so that the influences on our politicians is clearly known.
Boy are those words prophetic!

By the way, why did it take an “illegal” leak for us to know about this money-laundering and donor-hiding scheme, anyway? And why did the Wisconsin Supreme Court order evidence to be destroyed, and why haven’t we seen everything that was investigated to find out if some of the people ruling on the John Doe case were actually involved in the shenanigans themselves?

Which is why I think it's a big error that WisGOP and hate radio keep talking about how the bought-off GOP hacks at the Wisconsin Supreme Court came up with BS that kept paid-off GOP hacks at the Capitol from doing perp walks for their laundering scheme. Given that what is happening with another money-laundering and influence-peddling operation in DC, where the GOP is trying the same "we're being persecuted" BS to slant public opinion on another investigation, people might want to cast their eyes back to how the GOPs spun, lied and rigged things in Wisconsin. Especially since an overwhelming majority of Americans want to see Robert Mueller’s investigation continue without White House interference, WisGOP's act looks really bad today.

And Dems should not back off when GOPs claim they are “playing politics” when they call out GOPs for being such scum. As we have seen in Wisconsin, GOPs are the ones suppressing the vote, bending and breaking the law, and abusing their power. So when GOPs are (rightfully) investigated or blocked for their wrongdoing, they say the critics/investigators are being “partisan” because they’re going after GOPs. We need to remind people that the reason GOPs got investigated in John Doe and the reason that Robert Mueller is looking into Trump-Russia is BECAUSE THE GOPS ARE THE ONES LAUNDERING MONEY AND ABUSING THE LAW.

Just because the Wisconsin Supreme (Kangaroo) Court said such laundering was legal and that people didn’t have a right to find out who were pulling the GOP-puppets’ strings, it still doesn’t make it OK.

We need to directly ask voters “Do you think money-laundering is OK?” “Do you think that covering up corruption is OK?” “Do you think that it’s “debatable” that Roy Moore preyed on 14-year-old girls?” And the DPW and our state’s citizens need to step up, speak out against these crooks, and do their part in excising that cancer, and stop waiting for the casual day-to-dayer to figure it out.

Al Franken may have done the honorable thing by stepping aside today, but there’s no honor in allowing the evil of an amoral and lawless GOP to continue to degrade our society. At every turn, these crooks have tried to rig the playing field to the favor of themselves and their big-money puppetmasters, and erode our faith in government and our common decency (which is absolutely a goal of theirs).

The WisGOP/Walker/Trumpian mentality of “we are above the law and will bend any rule to win” needs to be taken out for good, and all right-wingers that were part of these scams and those who covered it up must be removed in 2018. In Wisconsin, that includes the wingnut judge trying to get on the Supreme Court this Spring, to Walker and the WisGOP majority in the Legislature, to the GOP CongressMEN trying to cover up Trump’s crookedness in DC.

While the WisGOPs likely won’t get the prison stripes they deserve for their sliminess, removal via the ballot box would at least be a start in wiping away the stain that this John Doe money-laundering scheme has placed on Wisconsin.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

OOPS! Senate GOP's panic means bigger deficits, changes for tax scam

Now that the hand-written junk that got slapped onto the Senate GOP’s tax bill is being printed and evaluated, people who do taxes for a living are seeing things that not even the GOP wanted in the bill. And it could drive the price tag of this thing a lot higher than the $1.45 trillion that it was already going to cost us.
Some of the provisions could be easily gamed, tax lawyers say. Their plans to cut taxes on “pass-through” businesses in particular could open broad avenues for tax avoidance.

Others would have unintended results, like a last-minute decision by the Senate to keep the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to make sure wealthy people and corporations don't escape taxes altogether. For many businesses, that would nullify the value of a hugely popular break for research and development expenses.

Some provisions are so vaguely written they leave experts scratching their heads, like a proposal to begin taxing the investment earnings of rich private universities’ endowments. The legislation doesn’t explain what’s considered an endowment, and some colleges have more than 1,000 accounts.

In many cases, Republicans are giving taxpayers little time to adjust to sometimes major changes in policy. An entirely new international tax regime, one experts are still trying to parse, would go into effect Jan. 1, only days after lawmakers hope to push the plan through Congress.

“The more you read, the more you go, ‘Holy crap, what’s this?'” said Greg Jenner, a former top tax official in George W. Bush’s Treasury Department. “We will be dealing with unintended consequences for months to come because the bill is moving too fast.”
Reinstating the corporate AMT in this bill would basically have the effect of a 20% flat tax, which doesn’t sound so bad to me (although I think the rate should be higher), but probably doesn’t work well with the Koched-up GOP caucus. Indeed, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says in the Politico article that the corporate AMT “should be eliminated, for sure.”

But there’s a problem there - getting rid of the corporate AMT would take this tax bill well above the $1.5 trillion limit for deficits over 10 years. Part of that comes from removing the research and development credit, (a move that also harms the country’s economic competitiveness) and Slate’s Jordan Weissmann says that the idea of “bringing profits back home from overseas” would go by the wayside if the Senate GOP’s bill were to stay in its present form.
Without getting too stuck in the weeds, the GOP’s bill was supposed to take the U.S. from a “worldwide” system of taxation, where the IRS tries to take a cut of profits American companies earn anywhere on the globe, to a modified “territorial” system, where companies could bring back their profits either tax-free or at a much lower rate. With the AMT still kicking around at 20 percent, though, “the United States would continue to operate under a worldwide system of taxation,” the lawyers [from Davis Polk] wrote.

Keeping the AMT was supposed to raise $40 billion, but that already appears to be a gross underestimate. (The figure came from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, whose analysts I can only assume were running on Red Bull and fumes while trying to provide the GOP with last-minute scores.) NYU Law professor and tax expert Lily Batchelder concludes that the AMT will actually cost companies at least $329 billion—good for limiting the blow to the deficit, bad for the corporations who are supposed to be stumping for this legislative Frankenstein—just based on the value of the R&D credits and international exemptions that have been rendered useless.

So in addition to the numerous other provisions that already made this tax scam a Piece of Shit, now there will be a mad scramble to raise another $300 billion just to make it possible for the Senate to pass the bill with 50 votes because rushing a bill with hand-written notes through turned out to miss some details (who knew!).

And now the slimy Turtle who heads up the Senate GOP says another major change may be in the cards just to get this thing to go through.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he’s open to making a provision on state and local tax deductions more generous to win over House Republicans when the two chambers merge their tax bills in the coming weeks.

Some House Republicans, particularly from high-tax states such as California, want language that would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 of either their property or state and local income taxes. Both the Senate and House bills include the property tax provision, which was aimed at winning support from GOP lawmakers from states such as New Jersey and New York…

The fate of the overall deduction, commonly referred to as SALT, has been an issue for months.

House Republicans from California are concerned eliminating the income tax portion of the writeoff could become a net tax increase on some of their constituents. Several voted for the House tax reform bill on the promise that more would be done to fix it.

Now that the chambers are preparing to go to conference, California Republicans want more federal tax relief for residents of the state, which has the highest state income tax rate in the country. Californians would not benefit as much from the bills' current language to deduct property taxes because the state already caps its property taxes.
Which sounds nice, except that I see nothing in the article that says the $10,000 limit that the property tax writeoff has gone away, so the effect would be limited and still likely lead to many tax increases on individuals (including in Wisconsin, where a lot of us take SALT). And even if allowing state + local income taxes to be the write-off does lower taxes for lot of people, it means that the deficit likely goes over the limit, meaning there’s ANOTHER place that GOPs will have to find an offsetting tax hike.

As I’ve mentioned before , the increased standard deduction likely limits the amount of people who would take SALT or any other deduction, especially a SALT deduction limited to $10,000. While that might mean lower taxes for some people, it also means that write-offs for home ownership don’t get used, and would likely lead to a decline (if not outright crash) in the housing market. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying lower or simpler taxes if the economy and your assets go down the tubes, as it likely would under this Piece of Shit.

So yeah, they got a lot of work left to do in DC to get a bill that can even be considered on the floors of both houses in Congress. Which means that this Piece of Shit can definitely still be shot down, or at least have a much less regressive and destructive effect than the current garbage does. With that in mind, I’ll forward you to an event that Indivisible Madison is holding on Saturday at Library Mall in Madison if you want to come out and be heard.

Combined with a government shutdown looming for this weekend (one that Dems should allow to go on until our compromised President releases his own taxes, by the way), and the floundering of GOP “governance” in DC is both absurd and dangerous.

But why should we be surprised at this? The 2017 GOP is nothing more than an unholy alliance between rich a-holes, fundies, racist rednecks, and other self-absorbed twits. They all gotta be gone ASAP, and be kept out for a LONNNNG time.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Goyke recognizes that Wisconsin's Corrections needs changes

One of the bigger budget problems in Wisconsin is the increasing costs in the Department of Corrections, and the lack of capacity at the DOC's facilities. Corrections is now the third-highest expense of state tax dollars behind only K-12 education and health care, and $145 million ABOVE what taxpayers gave to the enitre UW System in the last fiscal year.

To boot, the state's prison population is back on the rise after a few years in the 2000s when it had leveled off, as shown by this graphic from the Wisconsin State Journal.

With these realities in mind, State Rep. Evan Goyke released a document titled “Inmate 501” saying that the state needs to deal with these problems when it comes to funding and housing in the Department of Corrections. Goyke mentions that the state’s prison system is designed to have a capacity of 15,737, but has to deal with a population near 22,500.

On top of the overcrowding at the prisons , Goyke says an increasing amount of inmates are being sent to county jails as a means of dealing with this overcrowding, and that this strategy has also reached its limits.
Beginning in 2015, the use of county jails has increased, and offers a clear view on Wisconsin’s prison population growth. The use of contract beds, the cash payment to county jails for housing state inmates, has increased each of the last three years…

According to the DOC, there are only 500 available contract beds in Wisconsin. Today, we use 89% and have only 53 contract beds remaining.

When the remaining contract beds are filled, the DOC will have to find other options. One option, previously used by Wisconsin, is to contract with an out of state private prison corporation. The largest private prison group is CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). According to a November 2017 Washington Post article, CoreCivic charges $57.50 per day per inmate. Beyond cost, states have experienced safety and accountability concerns with private prisons.
Goyke adds that with an average need of 17 additional contract beds, that 500-bed limit will be hit in early 2018, requiring further action, and much more cost to taxpayers (hence the title “Inmate 501”)

Give a listen to the man.

Moving over the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile facility in the Northwoods, Goyke points out that this facility has had its population cut nearly in half over the last two years (yet remarkably, the troubles seem to get worse by the week). In addition, Goyke notes that the recent state budget make counties pay an additional $102 per day over the next two years to send a juvenile to a state facility like Lincoln Hills.

Not surprisingly, with funding for all services being tight, fewer counties are willing to pay that price, and are sending their juveniles away to the state and are using their own facilities instead. Goyke says this makes the Lincoln Hills facility inefficient when it comes to handling the state’s needs in juvenile corrections.
The cost increase magnifies the disincentive for counties to send juveniles to Lincoln Hills, which will further reduce the population. This downward spiral places the future of the prison at risk.

The cost savings realized from a large facility no longer exist. A facility built for 550 inmates, but holding only a fraction of that number, is no longer an efficient use of resources.
So Goyke comes up with an obvious solution- close Lincoln Hills and disperse those inmates among “smaller need-based or regional juvenile facilities”. These facilities also can be closer to the home areas of the inmates, allowing for the stabilizers of nearby family and staff that might be more culturally in tune with the inmates’ backgrounds.

Then Goyke says the state could turn Lincoln Hills into a Earned Release treatment facility (generally for substance abuse). This would not only reduces some of the overcrowding in the state’s adult facilities, reduces the 5,900+ person waiting list for treatement, and makes a better use of the larger Lincoln Hills space, but it also reduces the need to take on the large budget cost of building and operating another prison.

In addition, Goyke calls for reforming sentencing in a couple of key ways, including:

1. Allowing more individuals to serve less time in prison, but having their extended supervision be longer.

2. Reducing or eliminating the length of time people are sent back to prison when they do certain acts that violate their probation like violating a drug test, or missing required meeting with counselors or Corrections staff. Goyke says there is a middle ground where long-term incarceration doesn’t have to be the punishment for individuals that fail to follow all aspects of their probation, but haven’t committed any additional crimes.

When you live in a state whose budget and ability to house prisoners is being threatened, and in a state that is identified as "the home of black incaraceration" for having more than 1 in 8 of the state's African-Americans locked up in 2010 (the highest rate in the country), something has to be changed. I'm glad Evan Goyke is taking an honest look and coming up with some ideas beyond the failed 1990s Century mentality of "lock THOSE PEOPLE up and throw away the key" (as shown by the prison population tripling in that decade).

We need new thinking to break the cycle of hopelessness and a lack of opportunities to be "corrected", and improve outcomes once people get out of prison so they don't come back in and add to the already past-capacity prison population. Or else we'll continue to have Corrections eating up more and more of our budget and holding back Wisconsin's economic growth in the process, and that doesn't help anyone.

Subpar job growth and low wages- the Walker Way

For some reason, I thought the release of the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages was going to come out on Thursday, but instead it dropped this morning. And as always, digging into the interactive QCEW map website offers a lot of insight on where Wisconsin stood as of June.

Overall, Wisconsin ended up 28th in the nation for private sector job growth (and 29th overall). This marks the 24th straight quarter that Wisconsin has been in the bottom half of states for job growth – a “streak” that began right after Scott Walker’s and WisGOP’s first austerity budget being signed into law in June 2011. Amazingly, 28th in the country for private sector job growth is an improvement, as it marks the first quarter Wisconsin is out of the 30s or 40s in this category.

This pattern of “improving into mediocrity” also applies to where Wisconsin stands in comparison with the rest of our Midwestern neighbors, as we are out of our typical 5th or 6th-place status of these 7 states, and are firmly in the middle of the pack.

Private sector job growth, QCEW, Jun 2016- Jun 2017
Minn +2.0%
Mich +1.7%
Ind. +1.6%
Wis. +1.3%
Ohio +1.2%
Ill. +1.0%
Iowa +0.3%

One trend that didn’t improve to mediocrity was Wisconsin’s lousy pay to its manufacturing workers, as not only did we continue to have the lowest weekly wages in the Midwest, but that gap grew among most of the Midwest for the 12 months measured.

Average Weekly Manufacturing Wage, June 2017
Ill. $1,273
Mich $1,223
Minn $1,217
Ind. $1,127
Ohio $1,104
Iowa $1,068
Wis. $1,054

Change in weekly manufacturing wage, Jun 2016- Jun 2017
Ill. +$53
Minn +$50
Iowa +$43
Ind. +$42
Wis. +$26
Ohio +$9
Mich +$6

And even Michigan’s small gain in wages comes with a caveat, as it also added nearly 16,400 manufacturing jobs over the last 12 months, the most in the nation. It’s safe to assume many of those Michigan jobs are new hires that are lower on the wage scale. Meanwhile, Wisconsin only added 3,771 (less than half the growth that Walker’s DWD was claiming last Summer).

That trend lackluster wage growth expands to the entire private sector, where Wisconsin is down at the bottom while Minnesota was raising wages by the 4th highest amount in America (behind Washington, California, and North Dakota).

Change in weekly private sector wage, Jun 2016- Jun 2017
Minn +$46
Ind. +$32
Iowa +$28
Mich +$27
Ill. +$26
Wis. +$25 (+3.0%)
Ohio +$25 (+2.9%)

Let me remind you that Governor Walker wants to blow $7 million on an ad campaign to encourage talent to come to Wisconsin. Then In addition to the absurd theme of the proposed campaign (lower commute times and higher quality of life? From a Governor who backs policies that make all of these things worse in Wisconsin?), it seems pretty stupid to waste our tax dollars with lame PR when I can look at Minnesota topping the Midwest, and the answer to Wisconsin's problem seems obvious. PAY A COMPETITIVE SALARY and maybe more people will want to move here.

But until we do offer a competitive wage for workers, and until we remove this dimwitted Governor and his corporate cronies from power in our state, Wisconsin's ratings in the QCEW will never get better. Not that this is news to those of us with a clue, but it needs to be reiterated to the many people who don't.