Thursday, October 19, 2017

September jobs in Wis bounce back, unemployment rate back to reality

Today featured the release of another monthly Wisconsin jobs report, and you can see the spin coming from Scott Walker’s Department of Workforce Development from the headline of “Number of Private-Sector Jobs in Wisconsin Reaches All-Time High in September.”

File that under “that’s nice, but so fucking what?” The US reached all-time highs for private sector employment for 42 straight months starting in March 2014 (until the Hurricane-caused decline in September).

It’s more telling to me that it had been 5 months since Wisconsin’s previous “all-time high”, because we’d lost 4,300 jobs in the 4 months since April. What’s the better news in this report is that August’s losses were revised down and that September had a nice bounce-back.

Change in private sector jobs, Aug-Sept 2017
Aug revision +2,700
Sept change +5,900

But some of that should be taken with a grain of salt, since September is usually a time of large seasonal layoffs as Summer ends. This year was no exception, as the non-seasonally adjusted number of private sector jobs was down by nearly 33,000, with the only sectors gaining on a raw total being Warehouse jobs and private “Educational/Health Services”.

It is possible that some of these September job increases are just the natural converse of there not being as much seasonal hiring in Summer. But it is noteworthy that manufacturing gained 1,200 seasonally-adjusted jobs and had August revised up by 900, meaning that we’ve seen a sizable year-over-year increase of 12,600 in the last year after a drop in manufacturing jobs of 3,400 in the 12 months before that.

On the other side, overall 12-month private sector job growth remains below the national rate, at 28,800 (+1.14%), and while there was a narrowing of the Walker job gap due to September’s storms, it’s still well over 116,000.

As for the other part of the jobs report
A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.5 percent in September 2017, up slightly from 3.4 percent in August and below the national unemployment rate of 4.2 percent.
Just as I predicted, that 3.1% figure Walker and the DWD was throwing around 3 and 4 months ago was likely too good to be true, and this is the natural “snapback” into reality. 3.5% still is pretty good, but that’s also a reflection of the state’s declining population growth, and the Capitol regressives don’t seem to be doing much to encourage people to want to come here.

In all, it’s a good “recovery report” in September after a bad last 4 months for Wisconsin payrolls, even if the Walker Administration’s spin of “record number of private sector jobs working” is obnoxious and hilariously cynical.

Ari Berman goes deep on how GOP rigged the vote in Wisconsin

Ari Berman of The Nation has been tracking the issue of voter suppression for several years, and has had a lot more to write about since the GOP and ALEC started taking over increasing amounts of states in the 2010s. And nowhere has this type of “GOP takeover followed by voter suppression” sequence played out more than in Wisconsin, both in the restrictions on the vote, and in the success in helping the GOP’s chances for “victory” in elections.

Berman is out today in Mother Jones with a tremendous article titled “Rigged: How Voter Suppression Threw Wisconsin to Trump.” Berman starts out by talking to Andrea Anthony, an African-American from the North Side of Milwaukee that had voted reliably for nearly 20 years. That turned out not to matter in November 2016.
She’d lost her driver’s license a few days earlier, but she came prepared with an expired Wisconsin state ID and proof of residency. A poll worker confirmed she was registered to vote at her current address. But this was Wisconsin’s first major election that required voters—even those who were already registered—to present a current driver’s license, passport, or state or military ID to cast a ballot. Anthony couldn’t, and so she wasn’t able to vote.

The poll worker gave her a provisional ballot instead. It would be counted only if she went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new ID and then to the city clerk’s office to confirm her vote, all within 72 hours of Election Day. But Anthony couldn’t take time off from her job as an administrative assistant at a housing management company, and she had five kids and two grandkids to look after. For the first time in her life, her vote wasn’t counted….

Anthony said her 19-year-old daughter and 21-year-old nephew, who didn’t drive regularly and had misplaced their licenses, were also stymied by the new law. “It was their first election, and they were really excited to vote,” she said. But they didn’t go to the polls because they knew their votes wouldn’t count. Both had planned to vote for Clinton.

On election night, Anthony was shocked to see Trump carry Wisconsin by nearly 23,000 votes. The state, which ranked second in the nation in voter participation in 2008 and 2012, saw its lowest turnout since 2000. More than half the state’s decline in turnout occurred in Milwaukee, which Clinton carried by a 77-18 margin, but where almost 41,000 fewer people voted in 2016 than in 2012. Turnout fell only slightly in white middle-class areas of the city but plunged in black ones. In Anthony’s old district, where aging houses on quiet tree-lined streets are interspersed with boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, turnout dropped by 23 percent from 2012. This is where Clinton lost the state and, with it, the larger narrative about the election.
If those 41,000 votes also turned out to be 77-18 Clinton, that would be a margin of 24,000 votes- enough to allow Clinton to win Wisconsin.

Berman goes on to interview Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht, who quantifies how voter ID and other suppression made a big difference in the turnout of the Trump/Clinton race in Milwaukee.
“I would estimate that 25 to 35 percent of the 41,000 decrease in voters, or somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 voters, likely did not vote due to the photo ID requirement,” he said later. “It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin.”

A post-election study by Priorities USA, a Democratic super-PAC that supported Clinton, found that in 2016, turnout decreased by 1.7 percent in the three states that adopted stricter voter ID laws but increased by 1.3 percent in states where ID laws did not change. Wisconsin’s turnout dropped 3.3 percent. If Wisconsin had seen the same turnout increase as states whose laws stayed the same, “we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016,” the study said. These “lost voters”—those who voted in 2012 and 2014 but not 2016—”skewed more African American and more Democrat” than the overall voting population. Some academics criticized the study’s methodology, but its conclusions were consistent with a report from the Government Accountability Office, which found that strict voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee had decreased turnout by roughly 2 to 3 percent, with the largest drops among black, young, and new voters.

And as I've shown before, the real "success" in GOP voter suppression in November 2016 was how it was pinpointed to Dem-voting cities in southern Wisconsin.

Yes, there is some blame to be given to Team Hillary/DNC on this one, as they should have adjusted to the possibility that GOP election rigging would throw Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania into play. I also blame President Obama for not publically and forcefully calling out Walker and WisGOP for their attempts to keep Wisconsinites from voting, and for not federalizing troops to make sure those rights were able to be exercised.

But the biggest blame goes to Republicans, who have had a long-term plan to try to Block the Vote and increase their chances of winning. For years, they’ve lied to their AM radio-listening sheep about why voter ID is needed, as outlined by this infamous message from an MMAC lobbyist, which was sent to convicted criminal/GOP lobbyist Scott Jensen in 2011, and Jensen sent it on to Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling and other AM radio slime.

And they don’t even make a pretense of fairness these days, and are doing voter ID entirely for political gain, as US Rep. Glenn Grothman admitted in April 2016.

Berman’s article also reminds us of federal court testimony of a State Senate aide where Grothman and ALEC Queen/US Senate candidate Leah Vukmir were “frothing at the mouth” behind closed doors to rig elections in the GOP’s favor.

So it’s well-documented that Wisconsin Republicans will cheat and lie to stay in power. My responding questions to that fact are twofold-

1. Why do they have to pull this race-baiting and voter suppression BS in the first place? Is it because they know in their hearts that the general public doesn’t buy into their right-wing garbage policies?

2. If these WisGOP office-holders are indeed illegitimate, why do so many in Wisconsin still allow them to carry on as if they earned their spot in power? Isn’t “consent of the governed” still a thing?

Given that this election-rigging was successful in Wisconsin last year, Berman points out that GOPs will try even harder to cheat next year.
Control of Congress in 2018, not to mention the presidential election in 2020, hinges in part on states like Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia that have put new voting restrictions in place. The lesson from 2016 is terrifyingly clear: If voter suppression can work in a state like Wisconsin, with a long progressive history and a culture of high civic participation, it can work anywhere. And if those who believe in fair elections don’t start to take this threat seriously, history will repeat itself.
On a related note, if a majority of Wisconsinites are not allowed to throw these people out of office by the ballot box, take a look through history and see where that leads to. HINT: it isn’t anywhere good, for either the average citizen, or the tyrants who cling to power without legitimacy.

It’s a great write-up from Berman on just how rigged things were here in 2016, and still are today. Read the whole thing.

Tuition reciprocity, special counsel, and other odd costs

One of the odd items I like looking at in the state’s Annual Fiscal Report is at the end of the main document, which has a list of all of the uncapped expenses for the year.

Better known as “Sum-Sufficient” appropriations, it budgets a certain amount for each item, but it could be above or below that amount depending on how things work out. Overall, the $4.3 billion in sum sufficient appropriations had actual expenses fall short of that figure by a little more than 1%, helping the state’s bottom line by $45.7 million.

This was split up with $12.15 million in above-budget spending, and $57.9 million in lower spending in other places, and it was interesting to note that a sizable amount of that net increase happened in higher education tuition and assistance.

Amount of higher-than-budgeted costs, FY 2016-17
Minn-Wis student reciprocity $3.24 million
Wisconsin grants for UW System students $242,000
Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship $55,000
Wisconsin Covenant $8,000

That’s over $3.5 million that had to be sent over to help pay for financial aid. Obviously, not big in the overall condition of a $16 billion budget, but it’s odd to me that the Joint Finance Committee only added $2 million to the 2017-18 amount for Wisconsin-Minnesota reciprocity, and am keeping it flat the following year.

I suppose they’re figuring that some of the increase was a one-year fluke (it was related to the big funding cut to the UW in 2016-17 and UW’s “reduced costs” as a result), but it also counts on an increased amount of Wisconsinites heading across the border to Minnesota and paying higher tuition, which means that we taxpayers do not have to make up as much of a difference to the students Minnesota “lose” to Wisconsin. We’ll see if that gamble pays off, or if we end up paying more this year in reciprocity as well.

This increase in Wisconsin grants was largely because the UW System and Higher Education Aids Board (HEAB) had to deal with eligibility requirements that had not kept up with increases in costs, leading to a financial aid waitlist. By allowing more students to qualify for the grants, more expenses were needed last year. In response, Wisconsin grants got a nice boost in the last budget, nearing the $60.97 million that was paid out in 2017 for this year, and then adding another $3.55 million for them in 2018-19.

On the other side, it’s interesting to see who some of the biggest lapses were in the sum-sufficients for 2017, as millions were sent back to the state treasury because projected job incentives fell short.

Sum-sufficient lapses, FY 2017
Enterprise Zone Tax Credits $8.50 million
Business Development Credit $5.635 million
Jobs tax Credit $5.425 million

That’s $19.6 million that could have been budgeted/used for some other purpose if the estimates were closer to accuracy. And it’s 1 year after the Jobs Credit fell short by $4.27 million (the Business Development Credit didn’t exist, and the Enterprise Zone was only off by $1.27 million).

Interestingly, the Joint Finance Committee increased the amount of Jobs Credits from $16 million to $20 million for this year, before declining to $13 million in 2018-19, after getting information from WEDC that more credits would be granted this year due to past activity. Also noteworthy is that Governor Walker wanted to expand the amount of state Enterprise Zones in the 2017-19, but was shot down by Joint Finance.

And here are a couple of other items in the sum-sufficients that seem worthy to point out.

1. “Special counsel” for the State Department of Administration was over $1.03 million in FY 2017, overshooting its budget by $419,000. There’s no further explanation of what that Special Counsel was used for (gerrymandering case?), and why the State Department of Justice couldn’t handle those cases

2. $3.24 million was set aside for “Disaster Damage Aids” in FY 2017, but $0 was used. It’s not like we didn’t have floods and other natural disasters messing up roads, and a look at the Transportation Fund part for Disaster aids shows $1.86 million of those funds being spent last year. This might not be a big deal, except that the 2015-17 budget only set aside $1 million in DOT funds to pay for disasters, meaning that the Walker Administration chose to “bank” that $3.24 million in General Fund money, and make the Transportation Fund eat $860,000.

Those types of moves are worthy for at least a little discussion why these choices are being made, and perhaps if there needs to be better policies that match the needs that are out there. And that’s why sometimes the fine print of the Annual Fiscal Report presents some intriguing information that can be a bigger story than the toplines and overall figures would indicate.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fox-con secrecy and WEDC arrogance continues

Put your shock face on! The Fox-con may have some details that need to be cleaned up.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. delayed a vote on a nearly $3 billion incentive package for Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn until November after an unspecified problem was discovered with the deal board members were set to vote on Tuesday.

Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, declined to describe the problem but characterized it as a “nuclear bomb” that, had it not been addressed, would have resulted in a contract that “would not have protected taxpayers whatsoever.”

WEDC board chairwoman Lisa Mauer confirmed the vote was pushed back because of a particular concern but also declined to provide specifics. She said it was detected late in the negotiating process.
Huh, maybe we should have had these details ironed out before our State Legislature agreed to send Foxconn $3 BILLION, eh? And you would think that the Village of Mount Pleasant and the rest of Racine County might want to know about this before they vote to give away hundreds of millions more in land, property taxes and infrastructure in the next month.

By the way, remember how Scott Walker and his WEDC lackeys claimed that the Legislature had to blast through the Fox-con by September 30? Weeks later, the same crew feels no need to reveal a final agreement between the state and Foxconn, and WEDC Chair Mark Hogan said yesterday the details are “very complex” and requires more time.

And there’s no oversight or input from the public on any of these details, so we’ll have the information sprung on us at the last minute with little ability to say “No.” In essence, Walker, WEDC and Foxconn put a gun to the heads of the legislators and the public and said “Promise us the money, and we’ll handle the rest later.”

In fact, the WEDC Board doesn’t even get to approve or veto the contract itself. Instead they are given an outline of the agreement, and give an up-or-down vote to allow the GOP hacks WEDC executives to finalize the deal with Foxconn.

The arrogance is so deep with this group that even members of the WEDC Board are being kept in the dark about the proposed agreement, let alone be allowed to ask questions of Foxconn themselves. Sen. Carpenter told reporters that drafts of the underwriting agreement were being changed one day before yesterday’s meeting, with little information being given to board members to figure out what exactly would or would not be allowed.
[Carpenter] said he raised several questions about language in the report. One issue he raised was the language didn’t appear to compel WEDC to rescind tax credits if the company wasn’t complying with the terms of the contract.

He said he asked for the vote to be delayed, but he didn’t learn it would be delayed until Tuesday morning after a separate issue that he had not raised was discovered by WEDC officials.
I know that closed sessions are supposed to be top-secret, but with state taxpayers being potentially on the hook for such a large price tag, don’t the people have a right to know what safeguards are (or more appropriately aren’t) being put in so we don’t get stuck losing tax revenues AND jobs?

We know the GOP appointees that control the WEDC Board won’t step up to do their duty to protect taxpayers and Racine County homeowners from being screwed by the Fox-con. So even if it violates the spirit of closed sessions, isn’t it time for the two Dems on the WEDC Board to go public with what this “nuclear bomb” is, and give us time to prepare and possibly mitigate the damage through further legislation or actions?

Let’s face it, if the Fox-con was a good deal for the state, they wouldn’t have had to create special laws for Foxconn’s enterprise zone, and the Walker Administration wouldn’t be trying to overpromise about how many jobs would be at Foxconn. Now add in that these guys are hiding all of the details of the publically-funded contract from the public and the WEDC Board?

The Fox-con already was slimy as hell (let's check out who's on the most recent donation list for Walker and WisGOP), but the secrecy makes it seem even worse. It’s a mode of operation that befits a Banana Republic(an), and not anything resembling American capitalism and government that we want to believe that we have.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Bigger surplus" is because of cheap WisGOPs that cost Wisconsin plenty

I was waiting yesterday for the release of the State of Wisconsin’s Annual Fiscal Report, which comes out every October 15, but since it fell over the weekend, it didn’t get released till late yesterday afternoon.
Turns out the topline was pretty good for the final numbers for Fiscal Year 2017.
Wisconsin’s budget finished the fiscal year that ended June 30 with a $579 million surplus, $126 million more than expected and the fourth-largest surplus of the past two decades.

The amount was higher than expected mostly because agencies spent about $116 million less than they were authorized to spend.

Tax collections and departmental revenues came in almost level — $4.9 million more than projections that were made when the 2015-17 budget was approved two years ago, an indication that economic growth has held steady since then.
We had a good idea that the revenue side would be mostly in line, based on what came out a month ago from the Wisconsin DOR, but the lower-than-expected expenses (aka “lapses” in expected spending) are what led to the bigger carryover.

So let’s go into the AFR and its more-detailed Appendix, and what we find is that the savings were mostly concentrated in a couple of areas.

1. $353.6 million in lapses for “Health Care Access and Accountability” from the Department of Health Services. The overwhelming part of that was due to Medicaid spending coming in at an estimated $325 million below budgeted levels for the 2015-17 biennium.

I’ll leave it up to you as to how that large amount of Medicaid savings happened, but this cushion allowed for the current Medicaid budget to be reduced, freeing up funding for other areas and additional tax giveaways in the 2017-19 budget.

2. There was a $536.2 million lapse in the Department of Administration’s “Supervision and Management” functions, which seems directly related to several debt swaps the Walker Administration has made, including one in August 2016 to avoid a large balloon payment that would have hit this May (I described it in this post). That debt swap contributes $128 million of the large structural deficit that looms in the next budget.

Oh, and check out this note on another source of savings for the state.
In FY 2017, Chapter 20 included a compensation reserve for employee salary and fringe benefit increases (for state employees). The total amount reserved (appropriated) was $18,616,800 and the amount allotted was $1,224,500 leaving a lapse amount of $17,392,300.
So nothing given out in raises....again. And you wonder why the state is having trouble getting enough workers to adequately staff needed services?

Also worth looking at are the figures regarding the Transportation Fund in the Appendix of the AFR. Looks like the Transportation Fund ended up with a year-end balance of $219.1 million, which would be $74 million above what we saw projected in the budget that passed for Transportation last month.

But that’s actually not a good sign, and here’s why

Total state spending in Transportation Fund
2015-16 $1,929.6 million
2016-17 $1,941.1 million (+$11.5 million, +0.6%)

Debt payments, Transportation Fund
2015-16 $340.8 million
2016-17 $356.1 million (+$15.3 million, +4.5%)

So that means we actually SPENT LESS on fixing the roads and in giving out local aids for roads and transportation in Fiscal Year 2017 than Fiscal Year 2016. Which helps to explain the side effects of the 2015-17 austerity budget. Think about how many more wheel taxes and similar local fees that have had to be imposed in the last 2 years so communities could adequately fix their streets, because they didn’t have enough funding from the state or feds to take care of these needs.

That is a direct result of Walker/WisGOP shell games to push the taxes down to the local levels. Makes it pretty darn easy to “hit your numbers” when that happens, but the average Wisconsinite ends up paying more and dealing with more aggravation as a result.

And the other side effect was Wisconsin’s lagging economic performance in the 2 years of the 2015-17 biennium.

Change in jobs, June 2015- June 2017
Mich +3.48%
Minn +3.278%
U.S. +3.275%
Ind. +2.49%
Ohio +2.087%
Wis. +2.086%
Iowa +1.67%
Ill. +1.15%

The stagnant economy and the anti-education GOP policies that became especially pronounced for the 2015-17 budget helps to explain why Wisconsin’s population growth further stagnated from its already low amount. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the west aren’t just gaining more jobs than us, they've added 120,000 more people than we have in the last 6 years.

So while we have slightly more money than we thought we had at the end of Fiscal Year 2017, look at what it cost us to get there. We got our ass kicked economically, our population is growing slower, and we added on more debt. How can anyone honestly stand there and think that was a good trade-off? Or that this decline will turn around with the same crew in charge?

Monday, October 16, 2017

UW reorg might work, but Cross, GOP not worthy of trust

As people digest the announcement by UW System President Ray Cross about his plans to link the 2-year UW Colleges with 8 of the 4-year UW campuses, many are looking for more details as to how all of this would actually work out.

Noel Radomski heads up the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education on the UW-Madison campus, and posted on to the WISCAPE site with his thoughts. Radomski said Cross’s potential new operating model could work well in dealing with the financial and efficiency problems caused by the loss of enrollment at the Colleges.
The proposal to integrate the UW Colleges campuses into UW four-year institutions is interesting, and it has the potential to stem the decline in enrollment at the UW Colleges (future branches campuses), the UW’s four-year regional universities, and UW-Milwaukee​; ​facilitate transfer​; and improve the number and success of transfer students. The probability of meeting the proposal’s stated goals will increase if adequate time and resources are provided for the planning, adoption, and implementation of the proposal. The proposal could fix the problems caused by the recent, hastily planned and executed regionalization of the UW Colleges. Hopefully, a stronger focus on local control and a regional focus will be the twin pillars driving the future of the branch campuses and regional universities.

The proposal to move Cooperative Extension to UW-Madison is timely and​ could pay great dividends. If enacted, it could rekindle the relationship ​between the state’s land grant institution and ​its citizens, agricultural sectors, local and start-up businesses, established businesses, targeted industry clusters, community-based organizations, governments, K-12 districts, and others. It takes us back to the past: UW Cooperative was part of UW-Madison until ​they were divorced in the mid-1960s. Though it was yanked from UW-Madison with the best of intentions​ -- the expectation that a large infusion of federal and philanthropic funding would be provided to address Wisconsin’s urban renewal and the war on poverty​ -- these never came to fruition due to federal monies being diverted to the Vietnam War. Now, with this proposal, county agents will once again serve as a direct bridge and translator between UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students and the communities they serve.
But Radomski noted that the concern Cross stated about “declining high school graduates in Wisconsin” is at best overblown, and perhaps signals that System needs to adjust to changing demographics. Radomski also questioned why some UW-Extension services were being centralized into System administration in Madison.
The premise that Wisconsin’s current and projected high school graduates is contributing and will lead to more enrollment declines is highly questionable and must be revisited. The December 2016 report, Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates, by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), shows that the number of Wisconsin high school graduates will be stable for a number of years, and then slowly decline. However, if you dive into the recent and projected number of Wisconsin high school graduates, you will find that the number of white high school graduates is declining, and the number of Latinx and (to a lesser extent) black high school graduates is increasing. Many UW System institutions have already made significant changes to their programs that better serve the increasing number of underrepresented students enrolling, persisting, learning, and succeeding in their institutions. It is those youth who will be tomorrow’s civic leaders, employees, and business owners, if they have more than a high school diploma or GED. The previous hope that international students will either halt enrollment declines or provide enough tuition revenue to cover for the loss of domestic student tuition is not proving true for most of the UW Colleges and regional comprehensive universities. UW-Madison is the exception….

The proposal to move three [other] UW Extension divisions to UW System administration is highly suspect and identification of better placements should proceed immediately. Is the role of UW System administration to run divisions and programs?

Stevens Point-based writer Bill Berry had a similarly mixed reaction to Cross’s reorganization plans. Berry says a well-done reorganization could be a win-win for both the Colleges and the 4-year UW campuses they would feed into, and deal with challenging demographics in Central Wisconsin.
…The merger could solve some of the knots in the current arrangement. It could ease the transferability of credits from two- to four-year institutions and perhaps provide savings on administrative overlap. It may also address the current plunge in student numbers, pushed at least in part by declines in high school graduates.

Most of the four-year campuses to which the two-year centers would be hitched are struggling with the same challenges posed by declining enrollment, worsened by withering cuts in state support. At UW-Stevens Point, which would inherit UW-Marathon County and UW-Wood County, officials are already struggling with these issues and public reaction to efforts to address them.
But Berry also notes that Cross, the Board of Regents, the right-wing Governor who selected those Regents, and the GOP legislators that helped land the UW System in these funding constraints cannot be trusted to do this the right way.
But it’s hard to be confident given the record of the current governor and many legislators, who have used our public universities as punching bags over the past decade despite the fact they are major drivers of local, regional and state economies. Some have acted with outright malice toward the universities. They can only be viewed as anti-higher education. This is piled on top of almost a half-century of dramatic declines in state support. The same lawmakers have then cynically complained about rising tuition costs.

Who knows, maybe this merger proposal will help shed new light on the value and importance of our universities. If nothing else, people who make decisions in Madison may get an education about how much local communities value their colleges.
Maybe, or maybe it’ll make constituents in places like Rice Lake, Wausau, Marshfield, Sheboygan, and Fond du Lac recognize that they need to get rid of the regressive ALEC trash that are defunding and deforming the UW Colleges in their communities.

And we should be wary of the motives behind this, particularly because of the isolated way Cross undertook to come up with this plan, leaving UW students and faculty in the dark until last week. At the same time, Cross is allowing input from another group of people, as the UW's Kris Olds noted from Cross's appearance on Mike Gousha's show this weekend.

So Ray Cross is talking to business leaders about how to shape a sizable amount of the UW System’s future service delivery, but isn’t doing the same for the actual students and faculty that will be directly affected by it? You’d think he’d want to get some buy-in and shaping of the plan from those groups, since the plan won’t work well if those groups don’t get on board with it.

Radomski was also alarmed by Cross’s secrecy, and said the idea that this reorganization could start in less than 9 months (before some current Colleges students would even finish their 2-year program).
UW campus administrators, faculty, academic staff, university staff, students, civic business leaders, and the fourth estate were not informed of the proposal to restructure the UW System until they read the October 11 press release announcing it. ​Though individuals can now submit questions about ​the proposal through a web page, ​ at a minimum, President Cross and the UW System Board of Regents should also convene a series of open community hearings with Q&A sessions across the state. ​In addition, they should conduct an informational session at a UW System Board of Regents meeting before the Board votes on the proposal. The approval and implementation date, therefore, need to be extended. The idea of approving the restructuring proposal at a November 2017, UW System Board of Regents meeting is folly, as is a July 1, 2018, implementation date.
Yeah, there’s a lot that has to be figured out with this proposed reorganization, and it seems quite telling that Cross and the Regents are trying to jam this through as quickly as possible, with changes starting before the 2018 elections, where “future of the UW System” would be a major issue if this plan was hanging out there.

But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, right Ray? Just like I’m sure it slipped your mind to talk to the students and faculty about how their jobs and academic plans might be upended, eh boss? That act is why I also have serious misgivings over this plan, even if it might help the current declining situation at these Colleges and campuses.

Because the people Ray Cross are working for are not to be trusted, and refuse to come clean with the public about what they want to see as a final outcome of these changes - Well, at least an outcome that doesn’t involve destroying higher education in the state, or one that resides firmly in Fantasyland.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

During "recovery", much of Wisconsin has stayed subpar

A great cover story by the Isthmus's Mark Eisen helps to explain why the economic situation in Wisconsin may seem very different depending on where you may live. It helps to explain why much of the state seems to be drowning in resentment and stangation, with alarming trends that only project to get worse if we continue in the same direction.

As the article notes, when it comes to economic performance, we have "Two Wisconsins." The Madison area and a few suburban counties have done very well in the last few years, but the rest of the state is falling behind.
Today, while Dane County booms and the bigger cities in the Fox River Valley and western Wisconsin prosper, the rest of the state is largely mired in a downturn that is a recession in all but name.

Wisconsin is not alone. This dichotomy is also America’s story, as the Economic Innovation Group, a centrist research group in Washington, D.C., first documented in May 2016. The EIG study — widely ignored and fraught with political implications, as pundit Harold Meyerson has argued — detailed how painfully limited the economic recovery from the Great Recession (the magnitude of job destruction earned its adjective) was compared to post-recession periods in the early 1990s and early 2000s.
That EIG report referenced in the article noted that in particular, bigger urban areas came back very well in the 2010s, but the rest of the nation may never have noticed that we were in a recovery. From 2010 to 2014, the EIG says a total of 73 counties in the US accounted for 50% of the new jobs in the country, and that counties with 1 million or more people added jobs twice at twice the rate as counties that had less than 100,000 people of them. In fact, 31% of US counties still lost jobs from 2010 to 2014 while the rest of the country was recovering. In addition, the amount of new businesses starting up has notably declined compared to the recoveries in the 1990s and 2000s.

Wisconsin fares even worse than most states for these troubling trends. Only 27% of Wisconsinites lived in counties that had job growth beat the US rate in that 2010-2014 period, we are notoriously dead last for entrepreneurship, and our population has stagnated in many of those counties that have trailed for job growth.

Eisen notes that the state is failing when it comes to attracting people to the state, and it's a definite indicator as to how we are being left behind in general.
Truth be told, Wisconsin is old and unadventurous in many ways. Almost 72 percent of the population was born here, according to the UW-Extension. That’s the fifth highest percentage in the nation. In more economically dynamic states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California and Washington, the percentage of homeys is under 50 percent. That’s because ambitious job-seekers are steadily flocking to those states.

Ain’t the case in Wisconsin. The state’s “brain drain” — the loss of college graduates, despite the presence of the expansive UW System — is a recurring topic of worry in Wisconsin business circles. How can we compete in the knowledge economy if our best and brightest graduates leave the state?

[The UW-Extension's Steven] Deller and his colleagues counter that the problem isn’t so much outflow — they say the Wisconsin exodus of its college grads is not extreme. The real problem is inflow. Wisconsin just isn’t attracting college grads to move here.
Huh, sounds like we need a number of policies that encourage talent to locate in Wisconsin, eh? You know, like not having the regressive social legislation and the defunding of education that are a hallmark of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. And maybe we should use the state's "Economic Development" organization for something other than a slush fund for donors from established corporation.

And it needs to change soon, because the inability to get young people to come into the state and raise families here is leading to a demographic nightmare in the state, especially in the rural areas that are being left behind. It's bad enough today, and it'll be a lot worse in 20 years if it doesn't change.

If there are no jobs being added and no one moving to these places, how are we going to be able to support a bunch of elderly people, especially with very few additions to the tax base in those places? It's going to lead to an even bigger displacement of resources, with more areas needing to be supported by the few places doing well.

These economic and demographic trends make it obvious that we need new strategy and leadership in the state, and it has to happen ASAP.

Sunday reading- listen to the Pack's Lance Kendricks

Been a busy weekend over here with friends in for Badger football and other outings. But I wanted to direct your attention to a great feature from the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Ryan Wood, who talked with current Packer and former Badger Lance Kendricks about his decision to sit during the national anthem before the Pack's game with the Bengals 3 weeks ago.

Kendricks is a Milwaukee native whose grandparents and uncles served in the military during wars, and while the article mentions that he had been racially profiled, Kendricks indicated his protest was more related to the fact that President Trump was ignoring the disaster in Puerto Rico, where his wife's family is from.
Some of the stranded are your wife’s family. One uncle waited in line 12 hours for gas. You want to make a difference. Maybe, you think, your platform can raise awareness.

After the storm, you constantly check the news for updates. President Donald Trump is speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Ala., and you anticipate encouraging words from a president whose authority extends to Puerto Rico. You hear something entirely different. “Son of a bitch,” Trump curses. He doesn’t mean the hurricane.

“That broke the camel’s back,” Kendricks says.
Wood's article continues with Kendricks being annoyed with that fans who tell athletes to 'Dance fucker, dance!" "Stick to sports" are forgetting that atheles are people as well, and just because they play football, it doesn't mean they are cut off from the outside world. And Wood notes that if you remove "football player" from Lance Kendricks' biography, he still has a resume and background that would be impressive, and familiar to a lot of other people living and working in Wisconsin.
Lance Kendricks is you. A few inches taller. Certainly faster and stronger. He’s a professional athlete, but Kendricks could’ve been a financial analyst. He earned his diploma from the University of Wisconsin, choosing economics over an art degree, he said, because of the rigorous coursework.

He wishes there was no need to use the national anthem in protest. Kendricks was a Cub Scout. In uniform, he saluted during the pledge of allegiance. He learned how to fold the flag.

Kendricks left the Scouts when sports conflicted, but he never lost an appetite for world events. It doesn’t matter how much money he makes playing a game, Kendricks says. He is a person with multiple dimensions....

“People don’t understand how smart football players are,” Kendricks says. “I think people just think we’re idiots, we’re dumb jocks from high school with the letterman jacket that cheated on tests and just got good grades, and went to college and lived their life. It’s like, no, we’re extremely smart.

Do you care why he is doing this?

There is also some severe white privilege in play among people who get agitated over (mostly minority) football players making gestures during the national anthem. Why is a white person's belief in what proper conduct is during the anthem and what the flag stands for supposed to be standard in this country anyway? And why is another point of view supposed to be viewed as "less than" and disregarded out of hand? Why don't these white people want to at least listen and find out why these protests are happening? Is it because they're too arrogant and/or weak-minded to want to find out, because it might cause them to question what's going on in this country, and their own values and status in life?

Look, I think a lot of the whole "anthem protest" issue is played out. People are forgetting the main point of the protests- to bring attention to the fact that many Americans are not being treated equally and with respect, and instead trying to make it about their own actions and agendas. But it is the height of white entitlement to think that they get to make the ground rules for what people like Lance Kendricks can or cannot do, and what is or is not damaging to the NFL's image (I'm looking at you Jerry (I Sign Woman-Beaters) Jones).

Again, read the long and well-written piece from Ryan Wood on Lance Kendricks. It's worth looking at to get some perspective before today's Packers-Vikes game.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bought-off WIsGOPs continuing onslaught against Wisconsin environment

Recent events in the state show that the attack on Wisconsin’s water and natural beauty never ends with the current GOP crew in charge. For example, take a look at this bill that is up for a public hearing next week.
Under this bill, if the Department of Natural Resources issues a wetland individual permit to a public utility, DNR may not require mitigation unless the discharge authorized by the wetland individual permit will result in a permanent fill of more than 10,000 square feet of wetland.

Under current law, no person may discharge dredged material or fill material into a wetland unless the discharge is authorized by a wetland general permit or individual permit, or the discharge is exempt from permitting requirements. Current law requires DNR to issue wetland general permits for discharges to wetlands that are necessary for temporary access or waste disposal if not more than two acres of wetlands are affected, discharges for certain development if not more than 10,000 square feet of wetlands are affected, and for utility and highway construction and maintenance.
And you can bet that if the door is opened for utilities to not need a permit, private businesses come next. This is right in line with the “if Foxconn can do it, why can’t we too?” meme we heard from the pro-polluter crowd as soon as the Fox-con became law, and it’s also a main reason behind a recently-introduced bill that would get rid of the DNR permitting system on wetlands entirely.

Seems fitting that this type of back-door deregulation is trying to be pushed through at the Capitol right after this week’s decision in a Dane County Court that said the DNR violated the state constitution by allowing mega-farms and other businesses to grab massive amounts of water for their own use.
A Dane County judge has thrown out eight high-capacity well permits the state granted to businesses despite warnings from its own scientists that the massive water withdrawals would harm vulnerable lakes, streams and drinking water supplies.

Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ruled that the permits ran afoul of a constitutional provision requiring state government to protect water for the public.
State Senator Mark Miller observes that respecting and protecting the environment used to be something that all politicians in Wisconsin believed in, regardless of party. Sen. Miller (who’s been in the Legislature since 1998) since rightfully asks in the column, “What happened to Wisconsin?”
In the early 2000s, water bottling giant Perrier had a plan to open a facility in the central sands of Wisconsin. There was great concern for the impact this might have on our groundwater resources. High capacity wells in that area have a direct impact on surface waters. As we can see today, they cause lake levels to decrease and rivers to run dry. The threat of Perrier brought together Republicans, Democrats and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle to pass what was supposed to be the first step in protecting groundwater quantity. 2003 Wisconsin Act 310 was passed nearly unanimously, 99-0 in the Assembly and 31-1 in the Senate and signed into law by Governor Doyle. In the years that followed, bi-partisan study groups continued to look at the issue to determine what those next steps forward might be to ensure everyone has reasonable access to the waters of the state….

In the mid-1990s, the threat of a sulfide mine in Crandon, Wisconsin brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass the mining moratorium. This legislation, 1997 Wisconsin Act 171, was passed with overwhelming support, 91-6 in the Assembly and 29-3 in the Senate and signed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. Sometimes referred to as the “Prove it First” law, it simply requires that anyone wanting to operate an sulfide mine in the state of Wisconsin needs to demonstrate than another similar mine has been able to operate and close somewhere in the United States without polluting for at least 10 years. Because there has not yet been an example of a mine that can operate without causing pollution, Republicans now want to change the law….

In 2001, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, SWANCC vs. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, left all geographically isolated wetlands unprotected. In the wake of that decision, legislators in Wisconsin sprang into action. A concerted effort over a five month period led to Republican Governor Scott McCallum calling a Special Session to pass a bill which put in place state-level protection for isolated wetlands. 2001 Wisconsin Act 6 was passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature. Since 2011, a number of proposals have chipped away at the 2001 law, but the latest, LRB 4115/1, proposes eliminating state protection for isolated wetlands.

What has happened to Wisconsin? Not that long ago, when faced with an environmental crisis, Democrats and Republicans worked hand-in-hand to come up with common sense solutions. I worked diligently with my colleagues on both the wetlands and groundwater laws during my tenure in the State Assembly and was proud to have voted for both. Now I see a new generation of Republican lawmakers, very different from the last, who fail to see the forest for the trees.

Doesn't this matter?

Well Sen. Miller, I think I have a good idea “what has happened to Wisconsin.” And it goes back to the case on high-capacity water permits that the state DNR lost last week. The reason the permits were “running afoul” of the state’s constitution in the first place was because of something our WMC-owned Attorney General did last year.
The DNR stopped considering cumulative impact in June 2016 based on an opinion issued by state Attorney General Brad Schimel. Schimel cited a 2011 law that prohibited state agencies from taking actions not specifically authorized in statutes…. (a law passed by the WisGOP Legislature and signed by Governor Walker)

[Victorious Madison attorney Carl] Sinderbrand said Schimel and other elected Republicans were ignoring the Constitution in order to serve business interests.

“It is political decision-making and it’s done totally to protect the interests of people who finance election campaigns,” Sinderbrand said. “It’s government for sale, and the attorney general is as much an offender as anybody.”
That’s exactly right. The GOPs are messing with Wisconsin’s environment because WMC, the Kochs, and other benefactors are paying them to do it. This starts at the top with the Koch-owned Governor, to the disgustingly partisan Attorney General, on down to the lowliest legislator who will vote the party line in exchange for campaign favors.

And until people who live in the areas affected by the removal of these protections respond by removing these GOP puppets, the destruction of one of our few advantages will continue, with no benefit to anyone outside of a few connected profiteers.

Walker/Trump sabotage raising health premiums, and offering no solutions

Well, it’s October again, and that means sign-up time for health care. With that in mind, this wasn’t welcome news for people who don’t get health insurance through their job.
The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) has completed its review of rates and forms filed by insurers requesting to participate in the federally facilitated exchange. It is important to note these rates and forms are impacting the individual market only and not the group market where most Wisconsinites get their coverage.

"This year, we were successful in ensuring coverage in all Wisconsin counties," stated Commissioner Ted Nickel. "Unfortunately, Wisconsin consumers will be facing an average premium rate increase of 36 percent for individual ACA-compliant health insurance plans in Wisconsin. These rate changes and the recent exiting of numerous national carriers make it even more important for individuals to actively explore their health insurance options. As always, it's helpful to seek out insurance professionals to help guide you through that process."
The methodology is a bit sketchy, as it assumes a mid-level “silver” plan for a 21-year-old. That person is likely to be covered by his/her parent’s insurance or by their college health plan, and the people in bigger need of the exchanges are older working-class people, many of whom work as independent contractors and/or menial jobs that don’t offer insurance.

But it at least gives a comparison across years and counties, so let’s go with it. In the Wisconsin State Journal article on this subject, Deputy Insurance Commissioner J.P. Wieske was at least more honest about what the average exchange user would really pay.
Premiums next year will increase an average of 40 percent for so-called silver plans on the exchange in the state. About 90 percent of people with the coverage get subsidies that will also go up accordingly, so they won't be directly impacted, Wieske said.

Rates for bronze plans, which offer less coverage, will go up 21 percent. The cost for gold plans, which offer more coverage, will go up 19 percent. People buying those plans will have to pay more.
Oh, so most Wisconsinites won’t actually pay more, there will just be more tax dollars spent in subsidy to make up the difference. That’s not good if you’re concerned about the federal deficit and being able to pay for other needs (it also might make tax cuts a really bad idea), but let’s not pretend that a lot of Wisconsinites are going to be driven into poverty as a result of what was revealed today.

And Wieske acknowedges that the anti-Obamacare talk from our President* is leading insurance companies to assume a worst-case scenario, which explains why there is such a jump in unsubsidized premiums.
A major reason for the stiff hikes is that President Donald Trump's administration hasn't said if it will continue certain payments to insurers, said J.P. Wieske, deputy commissioner of insurance…

Trump has threatened to end payments to insurance companies to help cover low-income people, though the payments have continued.

Wisconsin, like some other states, told insurance companies to assume the payments, associated with silver plans, won't be provided next year. That contributed significantly to their large rate increases for silver plans, Wieske said.
Wieske goes on to say that if the payments to insurers continue, then that would likely lower premiums next year. In addition, he says Trump’s executive order allowing for crap insurance to be sold to small groups may also allow for lower premiums than what was being reported today.

But those realities didn’t stop our Koched-up governor from opening his trap, and continuing to spread the Big Lie.
Gov. Scott Walker added: "Obamacare is collapsing, and these huge premium increases show the law failed on its promise to deliver affordable healthcare."
The duplicitousness of Sleazy Scotty is a real piece of work here.

1. If Trump would simply CARRY OUT THE LAW and allow the cost-sharing payments to insurance companies, Obamacare wouldn’t be looking at “huge premium increases” in Wisconsin.

2. Walker’s whole cynical plan in rejecting Medicaid expansion was to push Wisconsinites above the poverty line onto the exchanges, in the hopes of overloading the exchanges and making them less cost-efficient. Now Scotty is openly cheering the fact that people are facing premium hikes as an outcome of this decision instead of DEALING WITH PROBLEM AND HELPING THE PEOPLE OF WISCONSIN.

Trump and Walker are in the same boat here, willfully injuring their constituents to…accomplish what? Mess up the legacy of the Black Man that used to be in the White House? They've got no solution when it comes to giving adequate medical coverage to more people, and our media never asks these slimeballs what outcome they want to see, or how they plan to do it.

And why do people stand around and not demand that these bastards be run out of town on a rail for this ridiculous and sickening act?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trump tax cuts will hurt many in Wis. When does the GOP greed stop?

Tamarine Cornelius of the Wisconsin Budget Project has put up a good summary of studies that illustrate the burdens of the proposed GOP tax cuts in DC. Spoiler: If you're not massively rich, it's not likely to be good news.

The Budget Project summarizes the findings from the Institute for Taxation and Policy, who performed analyses for all 50 states, using the “tax plan framework” that was released by Donald Trump and the GOP Congress 2 weeks ago. In Wisconsin’s case, quite a few people would end up paying higher taxes under the (admittedly vague) plan, while the rich and corporate would get by far the biggest benefits.
If the framework was in effect in 2018, 13.2 percent of Wisconsin households would face a tax hike. Whether a family would pay higher or lower taxes would depend on their circumstances. There are two provisions that reduce the amount of income that is subject to taxes for most families, and the framework increases one of them (the standard deduction) while repealing the other (the personal exemption). Families who itemize their deductions (rather than claiming the standard deduction) may pay higher taxes because the framework repeals most itemized deductions, including the deduction for state and local taxes [SALT].

The framework would be particularly generous to the wealthy in large part because it would reduce the corporate income tax rate. The bulk of the benefits would go to the owners of corporate stocks and other business assets, a group of overwhelmingly (although not entirely) high-income taxpayers. The framework would also provide a special tax rate of 25 percent for other types of businesses. While it describes this as a tax cut for “small businesses,” most of the benefits would go to the richest one percent of Americans. The wealthiest taxpayers would also benefit greatly from the framework’s reduction in the top personal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent and elimination of the estate tax.
In particular, ITEP says it’s the upper-middle class in Wisconsin who is most susceptible to getting a tax increase from this plan, due to their group being reliant on SALT and other itemized deductions, but not making enough for the top tax rate reduction.

The Budget Project also notes that the increased deficits will likely require spending cuts and/or other tax increases in order to keep the federal budget deficit in line. If we assume those extra taxes and reduced benefits are applied equally, then almost all Americans end up losers, with the poorest ones taking the hardest hit.

Here’s the even worst part of this package for Wisconsinites – it’s already on top of numerous regressive tax cuts and wage suppression during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan that have helped to make economy lag the country and made inequality worse. So now we add in this extra “juice” from the Feds that also will have most of the benefits go to the richest and most connected? How does that improve things?

It leads to a simple question that Ted Kennedy asked 10 years ago on the Senate floor, during the last era of GOP tax cuts and deregulation combined with a lack of an increase in the minimum wage. “When does the greed stop?”

UW restructuring could work, but anti-intellectual righties are the real problem

I saw the headlines start to filter out last night about some possible changes going on at the UW System that would go on top of the “free speech” restrictions that the Board of Regents just passed. And sure enough, the UW System released a statement today explaining those proposed changes, which will go in front of the Regents next month.
UW System President Ray Cross announces he will propose merging UW Colleges with four-year UW institutions as part of a broader restructuring of UW Colleges and UW-Extension. There are currently 13 two-year UW Colleges campuses located statewide. Under his proposal, Cross will propose integrating UW Colleges campuses into UW four-year institutions, effective July 1, 2018. Cross will also propose assigning divisions within UW-Extension to UW-Madison and UW System Administration. The restructuring proposal will come before the Board of Regents in November seeking approval to proceed with implementation planning.
My immediate reaction was “Oh God, now what?” Cross, and the Walker-selected Board of Regents in general are not to be trusted, and anything that they say is a “reform” is something that should be treated with immense skepticism.

But there is a legitimate problem with declining enrollment, which is down 37% at the on-site UW College campuses since 2010. This is on top of the budget cuts and tuition freezes which already restrain revenue, so it makes sense that something needed to be done to stem that tide.

So I wanted to take a step back and see what the overall idea was. Let’s look at the objectives behind these modifications, starting with the first three listed.

Maintaining and expanding access to higher education by offering more general education and upper-level courses at the integrated branch campuses

Identify and reduce barriers to transferring credits within the UW System.

Maintain affordability by continuing current tuition levels at the branch campuses post-merger for general education courses.
Here’s a look at the map that helps explain which Colleges would be aligned with specific 4-year campuses.

Those aren’t bad ideas on their own, although the concept of “integrated branch campuses” is a bit confusing. Does this mean that (for example) UW-Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Marinette would now be sort of a “UW-Green Bay Junior”, where you can theoretically take classes at for the next 4 years but get a GB degree? Similar to how Madison Area Technical College allows students to take classes in numerous communities outside of Madison? But if this makes it easier for credits to transfer between campuses, that’s good flexibility for students, and likely speeds students through the system faster, which likely helps students, businesses and the campuses.

I’m not sure what the “current tuition levels at the branch campuses” means. Would it be cheaper to go to these “junior campuses” than the main one, and clear a back-door way to allow for tuition increases at the main 4-year campuses? My instinct says yes, but we’ll see where this goes.

In looking at the map, it seems odd that four campuses don’t have a “feeder College” - River Falls, Stout, Superior and Madison. The Madison part makes sense, because Madison should be in a different category for most things involving the UW System - it’s a 4-year on-campus research school with by far the most enrollment, and has major outside funding sources, and a much larger out-of-state enrollment.

But what happens to those other 3 relatively smaller campuses in the western edge of the state? The fact that Cross’s statement promotes not having to close any of the Colleges’ campuses but is silent on the 4-year campuses is concerning. Although it is possible that they consider River Falls, Stout and Superior to be regional campuses that don’t need a feeder, and with no 2-year College in those areas, there is little point in assigning a feeder school. I’m willing to give Cross the benefit of the doubt on this one and think those schools are in the clear for now.

But so far, it actually seems pretty sensible. The red flags I see comes from Cross making a statement about “aligning the university to meet Wisconsin’s projected workforce needs.” That sure sounds like he’s referring to Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos’s wish to turn the System into UW Tech, which would de-emphasize humanities and other majors that use creativity, honest research and analysis.

The other part I roll my eyes at is this statement from Cross.
“By 2040, nearly 95% of total population growth in Wisconsin will be age 65 and older, while those of working age 18-64 will increase a mere 0.4%. Our labor force growth will be flat, while the demand for an educated labor force is growing exponentially,” said Cross. “We must plan for the future now and be increasingly bold in our efforts to get more students through the educational pipeline to help meet Wisconsin’s needs. We must do this by improving access to higher education and keeping it affordable for students and families.”
You want to know what fights off some of those demographic problems, Ray? Making Wisconsin a state that attracts younger people to attend school and live in after college. And the Walker-selected Board of Regents just went the entire opposite direction, with their passage of the “wingnut welfare safe space” speech code last week.

What do you think prospective students and young talent think when they see reactions like this coming from other parts of the country?

UW-Madison knows those sorts of tweets and the related headlines are damaging to their brand and their competitiveness, which is why they’re going out their way to distance themselves from the speech codes.

But a right-wing apologist like Ray Cross won’t dare tell Governor Dropout and the WisGOP Legislature that one of the best ways to combat Wisconsin’s demographic problems is to invest in and promote the UW System instead of demonizing it, and to start practicing responsible governance that helps the state instead of playing political games by playing to resentment-filled, low-educated white guys.

Look, this restructuring could well be a good thing, and an efficient way to deal with declining enrollment at the UW Colleges without losing access to higher education in many of Wisconsin’s communities. But it doesn’t change the underlying problem of disrespect and disinvestment of the UW by the ALEC crew at the Capitol and inside of the Board of Regents, which damages the reputation of the state and the university in the minds of the people they need to get. And that trend won’t go away until the people approving of this anti-intellectual agenda go away.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

WisGOP dysfunction on rural schools continuing after budget

The state budget may now finally be law after a delay of nearly 3 months, but it looks like the issues behind the disputes between Republicans at the Capitol are going to linger for quite a while. Just take a look at what happened today when it came to the issue of giving extra money to rural schools.

First off, Governor Walker and two rural legislators released a statement saying that they wanted increases in the Sparsity Aid program back to the levels Walker proposed in his original state budget 8 months ago.
Senator Howard Marklein (R – Spring Green) and Representative Jeff Mursau (R – Crivitz) introduced legislation that increases Sparsity Aid for the 2018-19 school year. The Sparsity Aid Program aims to offset the challenges faced by low-population school districts through providing $300 in per-pupil funding for districts with 745 students or less and a population density of less than 10 students per square mile.

The new bill provides an increase from $300 per pupil to $400 per pupil for districts that currently qualify for Sparsity Aid, and creates a second tier of Sparsity Aid by providing $100 per pupil for districts with 746-1000 pupils.

"This bill provides rural schools with support that they desperately need," said Senator Marklein. "I am proud to champion this bill and look forward to working with my colleagues to move it through the legislative process."

"This increase in Sparsity Aid will positively impact rural school districts across Wisconsin," said Representative Mursau. "Our rural districts face significant challenges and I'm thankful we have an opportunity to provide these districts additional state support."
This initiative would cost a little over $10 million next year, but with a $210 million cushion built into the budget, there would theoretically be enough money to handle it.

What’s interesting is that Marklein voted for the omnibus K-12 education package in Joint Finance that removed Walker’s proposed sparsity aid increase, and both he and Mursau ultimately voted for the 2017-19 approved budget that didn’t include that increase. But now they’re turning around and wanting that full increase back in for next year? Sounds like Walker, the very vulnerable Sen. Marklein and Northwoods Rep. Mursau are feeling the heat from back home, and that their one-time increase in per-pupil aids aren’t solving the problem of underfunding public schools for the previous 6 years.

However, that proposal might have a tough time getting through in the rest of this session. It’s worth noting that Walker vetoed an Assembly GOP plan that was included in the Legislature’s budget that would have raised the revenue limits for many rural and suburban district (you can see the list at this link). Walker’s veto claimed that he didn’t want to allow “a substantial increase in property tax capacity” without local citizens having a chance to vote on it through a referendum (referenda that are now limited to a handful of dates, also due to a Walker veto in the budget).

And as a result of that veto, Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren didn’t seem too willing to go along with what Walker, Marklein and Mursau wanted.
“The proposed 2017-19 budget included a provision that increased sparsity aid to help support small, declining enrollment schools. After thoughtful review and analysis, the Joint Committee on Finance voted to remove the Governor's proposal to increase sparsity aid. At the time, we believed that this alone was not the appropriate way to fund smaller declining enrollment schools and that a long-term approach is more appropriate.

“Instead, we adopted provisions that rewarded districts for sharing administrative functions and entering into collaborative agreements. We also provided relief for low-spending, frugal districts, many of which are rural schools. These reforms would have provided more resources for the classroom, increased educational opportunities for students, and would have provided an environment for rural schools to flourish…

Nope, doesn't seem like things are all that different from when this was going on a few months ago between the 2 GOP leaders in the Legislature.

You can get a look at the districts whose hands remained tied by Walker's veto by clicking here.

You know who seems to be not part of these discussions on school funding? Legislative Democrats, who have called for better funding of rural schools for several years and released a plan in June which added funding and equity through the General Aid formula. It also allowed for the increases in revenue limit that was in the Assembly GOP’s plan, but without the need for the property tax increases that led Walker to veto the AssGOP item in the budget.

If we had a GOP that actually wanted to get something done to help rural Wisconsinites keep their schools funded, you’d think they’d work with Dems on what is an obvious compromise between lower property taxes and higher aids to rural districts that makes all sides happy. But then that would require GOPs to be anything other than self-centered people that want to use their gerrymandered majorities to control all aspects of Wisconsin governance, and take all of the credit for whatever passes.

So instead, we will likely see nothing get passed that helps rural schools either this year or next year, and nothing will be passed that helps rural schools until we actually have some adults/Democrats put into power that care about results over political posturing.

No surprise- rural Wisconsin has barely recovered at all

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance recently released an analysis sorting out the economic performance in several economic aspects between 2009 and 2016. What the WTA found is that while some parts of Wisconsin have thrived over the 7 years of economic recovery, other places have missed out, with some counties having fewer jobs than they had in 2009.
By combining information on jobs, workforce, unemployment, population, and home values, WISTAX identified 28 counties whose post-recession recovery was above the state average and 44 counties where it was below average. Three counties—Calumet, Dane, and St. Croix—far outpaced all others, while Adams, Buffalo, Forest, and Iron trailed most significantly.

Although many factors affect economic growth, WISTAX identified three that deserve attention: access to major highways, high-speed Internet, and university campuses. Twelve of the 14 fastest-growing counties contained an interstate or other four-lane highway; the two remaining had a major highway within miles of their borders. This is not surprising: A 2014 WISTAX study showed Wisconsin’s industry mix is more transportation-dependent than any other state, except Indiana.
Huh, so maybe investing in public infrastructure and higher ed has a nice economic payoff. Who knew? (certainly not the GOPs at the Capitol).

On the down side, Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry says that when it comes to the economy over the last 7 years, the bottom 30% of Wisconsin counties are overwhelmingly in central and northern Wisconsin, and are almost all rural.
“If one word were to characterize these 22 lagging counties,” WISTAX’s Berry said, “it might be isolation.” Nearly all these counties lack access to major highways and high-speed Internet, and are without major cities. Excluding Milwaukee, Manitowoc, and Wood counties, the largest city in these remaining 19 counties is Marinette, with fewer than 11,000 residents. All other cities and villages have fewer than 8,200 residents, and just five had more than 5,000.

In addition to looking back at county economic performance during the 2009-16 period, WISTAX also looked ahead to future workforce trends. “It is the availability of adequate labor going forward that will most impact future economic progress,” Berry pointed out.

WISTAX calculated a “replacement rate” for each county that measures its capacity to replace soon-to-retire 55-to-64 year olds with young people currently 15 to 24. A close look at these replacement rates shows the economic divergence among counties that prevailed during 2009-16 will likely continue for the next decade.

Among the 22 counties that most struggled since 2009, the median (half lower, half higher) replacement rate was 54%. In other words, these counties have about half the number of young people needed to maintain their workforces. By contrast, in the 12 counties with the strongest economies during 2009-16, the median replacement rate was 96%. That is, they have nearly enough young people to replace their retirees.
Huh, sounds like we need to do something to improve infrastructure and encourage younger people to locate in those rural places. Maybe Scott Walker shouldn’t have tried to spite the Black Guy in the White House by turning down $23 millon for rural internet 6 years ago? And maybe we shouldn’t have continued to defund public education in the state, a trend that continued in the 2017-19 budget with the GOP Legislature’s removal of sparsity aids and Scott Walker’s veto of an increase for low-revenue districts that are overwhelmingly in smaller communities and suburbs.

Now I don’t count on the right-leaning Taxpayers Alliance to make that connection. But it exists, and it’s well past time people in those largely rural communities make Scott Walker and their (mostly) GOP legislators pay a price for the regressive policies that have left their communities in the dust.

Corporate profits keep trickling down. To Wall Street, not Main Street

Yes, by all means, let’s give corporate America another tax cut, since it’s really hard for them to get by in today’s economy. I mean, look at what measures the biggest name in American retail has to go these days.
Walmart is sweetening the pot for shareholders before its annual meeting, using the oldest trick in the book.

The retailer on Tuesday morning announced that it had authorized up to $20 billion in stock buybacks over the next two years. That's a massive amount of capital to be allocated for repurchases, which are frequently used by companies to boost shares during times devoid of other positive catalysts.

Not that Walmart will need to fall back on that tactic quite yet. In Tuesday's release, the company also reaffirmed its earnings guidance for 2018, an encouraging sign given mounting pressures in an industry operating increasingly at the whim of Amazon…
And investors seem to like what they're seeing out of Walmart. Its stock rose as much as 4.4% on Tuesday, after climbing nearly 2% on Monday's announcement.
After all, why invest any of that $20 billion in employee wages or offering health care benefits, when you can give it back to Wall Street gamblers and raise your stock price without increasing actual dollars invested in the stock?

Interestingly, Wal-Mart is somewhat behind the game on the stock buyback tactic, as Yardeni Research notes that buybacks among companies in the S&P 500 are actually down over 20% from the peak that we saw at the start of 2016. That being said, the amount was still near $500 billion in Q2 2017, and it’s 4 times the amounts we saw in the early 2000s. Not coincidentally, this has happened as tax rates on capital gains and dividends have been reduced.

And unlike stock buybacks, dividends being handed out to shareholders keep going up, hitting another record high in Q3 2017. This means that the amount of dividends have more than doubled in total dollars during this 8-year bull market run.

Remember that stock buybacks and dividends come from retained earnings, and that's money that could have been used to pay workers more or improve benefits. But instead of those added profits trickling down to people with real jobs, those funds are getting funneled to the investor class who has the time and money to lobby in the board rooms and the halls of Congress. Add in the lack of unions in the 2010s to get a countering voice at that table, and what’s going to stop this upward funneling of wealth in the future?

Got any questions why wages are still relatively stagnant despite the record stock market and full employment? And the last 20 years should tell anyone with an IQ above bug level that once the average person decides that it's safe to go "all in," that's when the Wall Street casino gives you the bad card on the flop, and you get cleaned out.

Monday, October 9, 2017

More to learn about state's Vets Homes, even if Walker thinks he isn't accountable

You may remember that the state has had several issues at the State Veterans Home at King, including significant understaffing and increased overtime, several stories with details of nelgect of aged and disabled veterans at the home, and water that looked like this.

In response to those concerns, and the fact that the Walker Administration used excess money given by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to plug budget holes instead of improving conditions at the homes, the Joint Finance Committee was spurred into action during this year’s state budget deliberations. The JFC voted 16-0 to require the Walker Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs to send them more information on how they planned to manage and operate the Veterans Trust Fund and the state’s Veterans Homes.
As passed by the Legislature, Assembly Bill 64 would have required the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to receive approval of the Joint Committee on Finance under a 14-day passive review process prior to making any transfers of moneys from unappropriated balances in the program revenue appropriations for the state veterans homes to the veterans trust fund….

As passed by the Legislature, Assembly Bill 64 would have required DVA to submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance that contains the following: (a) a description and analysis of the Department's administrative costs supported by the veterans trust fund and by revenue generated from the state veterans homes; (b) proposals for changes to the Department's administrative structure or position levels and salaries to increase efficiency or administrative costs; and (c) two proposed long-term plans to maintain the solvency of the veterans trust fund, one of which that includes transfers from the appropriations of the state veterans homes and one of which that does not include such transfers….

As passed by the Legislature, Assembly Bill 64 would have required DVA to do the following to implement recommendations contained in the Legislative Audit Bureau's Report 17-8 relating to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King: (a) promulgate administrative rules to establish a formula for calculating private pay rates for nursing home and assisted living care at the state veterans homes; (b) submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by July 1, 2018, relating to the cash balance in the state veterans home PR appropriation account and providing a plan for the management and proposed use of the cash balance in the account; and (c) submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by July 1, 2018, that includes a description of the Department's efforts to establish a process for identifying and assessing the capital-related project needs for all Wisconsin Veterans Homes and a description of the Department's efforts to use this information to complete a 10-year facilities plan for the state veterans homes….
But Governor Scott Walker arrogantly rejected all of these oversight and improvement provisions as part of his 99 vetoes of the 2017-19 budget, and enabling his administration to act on its own to (mis)manage King and the Veterans Trust Fund, including a green light to send $26.2 million away from the Homes to make sure taxpayers don’t pay a dime toward the Trust Fund. At the same time, the Trust Fund condition statement says there will be a $1.5 million cut in expenses paid out by the Trust Fund in Fiscal year 2018-19, even with the transfers.

But those issues haven’t gone away just because Walker’s Administration doesn’t want to talk about them. And tomorrow’s meeting of the Joint Audit Committee will check in to see if any progress has been made regarding the ongoing issues at King and within the Trust Fund. These comments from a preview article by the Capital Times’ Katelyn Ferral are not promising.
Lawmakers on the joint audit committee are set to meet Tuesday to discuss the vetoes and follow-up on the King audits released earlier this year. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, a co-chairman of the committee, said he is unhappy with Walker’s WDVA vetoes, but said the committee will keep working on issues identified in the audit.

“We’re elected just like he is, and our fiscal body should have some oversight over these things,” he said. “I’m not giving up on those issues and I would expect that the committee will ask for additional oversight. It’s rare that an agency defies us and doesn’t do it. I believe there are several concerns remaining that are left over from the King audit.”

Some of them, he said, are staff turnover and the Department of Health Services' refusal to give the audit bureau access to its records, Cowles said.
Seems like there are a lot things that need further investigation and transparency, but it seems unlikely we can count on the Walker Administration to do the right thing on their own. Which is why a leading legislative Democrat is asking for a law that would require more information to be released to her fellow legislators and the public.
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, sits on the Joint Finance Committee and is proposing a series of four bills that would bring more accountability to WDVA. The “King Veterans Home Accountability Package” specifies that the financial needs of Wisconsin veterans homes receive first consideration for the use of veterans home revenue before it is transferred to other WDVA funds and programs, and creates a hotline for veterans home employees, residents and their families to report abuse and neglect at veterans homes.
You’d think Shankland’s bill would have some movement, given the unanimous, bipartisan vote on Joint Finance during the budget asking for more oversight. But Ferral’s article later quotes State Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Spineless) as saying we shouldn’t expect that to happen in this session.
“The thing about it is we can pass a bill, but he can veto a bill, so what’s the point of that?” he said. “If he was a Democrat, he’d do the same thing because governors don’t like to give up power.”
True Lute, it’s not like there’s an ability for the Legislature to override a governor veto or take other actions to CHECK Gov Dropout, so whatcha gonna do? (slams head on desk)

So let’s see what we find out in tomorrow’s Joint Audit hearing, and to see if we get an update to what upgrades we cannot do at King and other veterans’ homes because the Walker Administration keeps taking money away from them to plug their budget holes. And let’s not have these concerns get put on the back burner just because the Walker Administration refuses to tell us what’s going on.