Sunday, February 26, 2017

Greedy Wisconsin CEOs and WisGOP politicians work together-and hold our economy back

Dave Zwiefel had an excellent column out today in the Capital Times where he noted that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is part of a new group that is trying to update Wisconsin's image for the 2010s, with the idea of encouraging talent to locate in the state. This is something Zwiefel finds odd, since WMC and the GOP politicians they support have backed policies that have had the exact opposite effect.
Our state government long embraced the "Wisconsin Idea," where the best and brightest at UW shared their expertise with the state to help build the middle class and promote economic and social justice. Coupled with its concern for education and the environment, the state became a magnet for young idealists who wanted to be a part of it.

As we know, that image of Wisconsin has been turned upside down. Where once the state exported ideas aimed at building a more equitable economy and an infrastructure of strong schools and a world-class university, the biggest idea the Scott Walker administration is touting is a textbook plan on how to destroy unions. Instead of inviting university faculty to partner in solving problems, this Legislature demonizes them as pampered left-wingers intent on brainwashing young-adult students.

Environmental regulations have been eviscerated, the state parks have been unfunded and many of our school districts are struggling. This isn't the image that attracts young people hoping to start a career and raise their families.

If Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce really wants to send a message that our state is a welcoming place to locate, perhaps it ought to stop spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on politicians who do their best to prove that it isn't.
The greedy, "profit and power over anything else" mentality of the state's business lobby is equally perplexing to me. It's not like that mentality is leading to good results, as Wisconsin has had the worst economy in the Midwest over the 6 years that the WMC-bought GOP politicians in the Governor's Office and Legislature have been in power.

In addition, the WMC crowd is constantly whining about a "skills gap" at the same time that they have vociferously backed wage-suppression measures like right-to-work (for less) and the recent legislation against Project Labor Agreements, and have backed a governor and Legislature who won't even consider raising the minimum wage above $7.25. In addition, Wisconsin firms continue to pay among the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest, between $3.50 and $5 an hour lower than the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, on the average. It's like these business "leaders" have never taken an introductory Economics course where they mention that shortages in labor require THAT WAGES BE RAISED to encourage more people to want to enter the market.

And the business community's choices in the state school superintendent's race illustrate this foolishness. Instead of backing strong public schools to generate talent and strong, stable communities that businesses can utilize to grow, the state's business community wants to lower the level of public education in exchange for grabbing more money and influence for themselves. Look at how the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce shelled out $10,000 of its members' funds to pro-voucher candidate John "I'll say anything" Humphries, who promptly got 7% of the vote in last week's primary and was laughed out of the race. You know, the same MMAC that has backed Scott Walker for 15 years, have demanded school privatization for longer than that, and whose home area won this "honor" in 2016.
Over the year, nonfarm employment rose in 49 of the 51 metropolitan areas with a 2010 Census population of 1 million or more, and fell in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis. (-0.5 percent), and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.-N.C. (-0.4 percent).
Sticking with the business community and the School Superintendent race, One Wisconsin Now discovered an email from the other voucher whore (and general election candidate), Lowell Holtz. Not only was Holtz using his work email to ask for campaign help last year (a big no-no), but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted that Holtz used that personal account to draft a letter to a "business leader" about advice on how to run his campaign.
The email was dated May 25, 2016, and time stamped at 1:43 p.m., in the middle of the school day. It was sent by Holtz to his wife, Susan, and was a draft of note he wanted to send to a woman named Diane asking "if you would share some of your expertise and advice with our committee."

Holtz added that he wanted to discuss "some of the issues we want to emphasize that align with the Governor's thoughts on career and technical education, business partnerships, common core, state-wide testing, and the expansion of vouchers."

Diane's full name was not used.
Oh, given that Holtz runs in WisGOP circles and previously worked in Beloit, I think we have a good idea who Diane is.


Speaking of Scott Walker and Cruella de Ville Diane Hendricks, I noted this story from recent days.
As the Hendricks CareerTek youth workforce training facility opened its doors to the public for the first time Wednesday, officials welcomed Gov. Scott Walker on an early morning tour of the center, set to bring Beloit businesses closer with middle school and high school students.

The center will serve as a bridge between students and future career fields, from construction and manufacturing to information and technology development. The center broke ground last year thanks to a grant from the Hendricks Family Foundation to the Stateline Boys and Girls Club. The facility is strategically located in the Ironworks campus on Third Street, next to IronTek, Beloit’s business incubator space, home to expanding technology firms including Comply365 and AccuLynx.

“This center will have a positive impact on the community in terms of helping students get a head start on what their career paths might be,” Walker said. “A place like this really will help students then apply what they learned from those academic career plans and plug it into whatever path they might be on.”
Gotta say this about our Guv. Once he's bought, he stays bought. And Diane Hendricks gets a bunch of tuition money and free labor to make more money off of, with some of that extra money kicked back to Scotty. Win-win, baby!

Of course, the other 99% of us don't win, as our state's economy flounders and talent continues to leave. But the regressive Wisconsin business community and the WisGOP politicians they own don't care, as long as THEY'RE getting paid and doing fine. Had enough of this crap yet?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Public defenders may face big deficits, and Walker's not dealing with it

In addition to lower revenues, one other item that seems likely to throw a wrench into Scott Walker's budget giveaways is the fact that other needs aren't being taken care of. One of these items comes from the area of Public Defenders, which already face a sizable deficit over the last 4 months of this fiscal year, and will likely face more problems in the 2017-19 biennium.

This was reiterated in an update given to the state's Joint Finance Committee this week. This report not only shows the workload and payments that state is making for its own public defenders, but also the costs it has to shell out for private lawyers to take on some of these cases (also known as "private bar attorneys."
Between October 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016, the SPD (Office of the State Public Defender) appointed counsel in 32,652 cases. Of the total cases assigned, 13,030 were assigned to private bar attorneys either on a rotational or contract basis. The total expended this quarter from the private bar appropriation under 20.550(1)(d) was approximately $5.99 million.
And that $2 million a month given out to private attorneys is a problem, because high expenses in that account last year means that there isn't enough to last through the end of this Fiscal Year on June 30.

Private bar appropriation
2015-17 2-year budget $44,097,800
2015-16 Fiscal Year $27,020,146
2016-17 1st Half $9,647,938
2016-17 Remaining 2nd half $7,429,716

If we continued to spend $2 million a month to private attorneys to provide counsel, this would mean we would have a deficit of over $4.5 million by June 30. And if you think we could just have our current staff of State Public Defenders take on more work, that seems unlikely to be a solution. The state's Public Defenders are already adding to their caseload, although somehow they're saving a bit of money by doing so.

State Public Defenders cases, expenses
Caseload, Trial
2015-16 Fiscal Year 79,987
2016-17 First Half 40,567
2016-17 Full-year Pace 81,134

Caseload, Appellate
2015-16 Fiscal Year 1,313
2016-17 First Half 659
2016-17 Full-year Pace 1,318

Combined costs, SPD staff
2015-16 Fiscal Year actual cost $58,083,389
2016-17 First Half $24,814,443
2016-17 Full-Year Pace $49,628,886
2016-17 Full Year budget $58,239,000

So if that $49.6 million figure holds up, that would allow enough savings in the 2016-17 budget for the SPD's office to cover the private bar deficit of $4.5 million. But I also have doubts that the State Public Defenders are handling more cases for much lower cost, so it seems more likely that the "lower" costs reflect delayed billings that are being paid at a future year and then not being credited back to the proper quarter. Bottom line- do not be surprised if some measures have to be taken in the next months to give extra funding to the private attorneys, and possibly the SPD as well.

These shortfalls led the SPD to ask for an added $16 million in funding for the 2017-19 budget, with the overwhelming amount of that money being related to increases to cover private bar payments and related SPD counsel needs. But Governor Walker's budget only has $1.15 million of that increase included. At the same time, Walker's budget allows the SPD board to ask for more staff to handle the bigger workload, but it doesn't set aside money that would pay those people, which seems like absurdly duplicity (but not surprising with this crew). Lastly, Walker's budget consolidates the entire Public Defender appropriations into a block grant, with the private bar and SPD counsel costs no longer being separated. Seems like something you'd want to track and pay for separately, and it makes you wonder the point behind such a move.

In other words, on the issue of Public Defenders, our governor is again ignoring the real additional costs of governmental duties that have to be paid for one way or the other, and passes off the responsibility of dealing with this real issue to the State Legislature. The JFC and Legislature now either have to find a source for extra money (good luck doing so in a budget that is facing dwindling revenues and no cushion to begin with), or our neediest defendants are going to have to wait longer for the counsel they are entitled to while the SPD defenders get even more overworked (and underpaid).

Somehow, I'm guessing that screwing over poorer defendants and the lawyers who defend them isn't something that alleged Christian Scott Walker cares much about, but decent people who actually believe in our Constitution probably do. And while the dollar amounts are a relatively small sidelight in this budget, the lack of caring and resources given about the necessities for a democratic society is a symptom of the larger problem that afflicts Scott Walker and today's GOP.

GOP Obamcare bills likely to be a budgetary disaster

The Washington Post had a good rundown of the potential ACA replacement plan being discussed among Congressional Republicans, and it doesn't seem likely to keep the uninusred rate at the decades-low figures that we have today.
Meanwhile, the new plan would eliminate the income-based tax credits given to people who can’t afford insurance on the individual market, to be replaced with tax credits by age. But the Post also reports that the emerging GOP subsidy scheme is getting pushback from budget analysts, who are telling Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee (which is working on the subsidy plan) that it will stint on subsidies to those who need them most, i.e., lower income people:
According to the several people familiar with House leadership’s approach, a central idea under consideration there — new health-care tax credits — hit a snag this week when congressional budget analysts reported privately to the committee that they would cost the government a lot of money and would enable relatively few additional Americans to get insurance.

Those tax credits would replace subsidies the ACA provides people with incomes of up to 400 percent of the poverty level to help them afford health plans through marketplaces created under the law. The credits would be available to everyone who buys coverage on their own, wealthy or poor. But the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the credits, as conceived at the moment, would be too small to help low-income people afford health plans. They also wouldn’t make much difference to affluent people, according to the CBO, since most of them already are insured.
In other words, fewer poor people would be covered under the GOP’s plan and taxpayers would pay more. What a deal!

That reality doesn't really jibe with this statement from an alleged Wisconsinite.



So what’s one way that Republicans could prevent Obamacare repeal from exploding the country’s budget deficit, especially in light of the huge tax cuts on the rich that the ACA bill has in it? Shoving a huge tax increase onto people that are already getting insurance through their job!
As Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has made clear, the party’s real bottom line is that ACA taxes have to go — and the rub isn’t the tax penalty working people pay if they don’t get insurance, either through Obamacare or at work. A possible source of funds being floated for this investor-class tax cut? The $268 billion it costs to make benefits you get at work tax-exempt.

Let’s take the average corporate-sponsored family health plan, which the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates costs $18,142, of which companies pay $12,865. Though this is part of your pay package, you don’t pay taxes on it. Under at least some Obamacare-repeal plans, you would.

For families making between about $55,000 and $86,000, the middle fifth of all incomes, fully-taxed insurance would hike taxes by $1,900 to $3,200, using tax rates of 15% and 25% and assuming no offsetting deductions. The higher figure would also apply to the fourth income quintile, which runs up to about $133,000 in family income.
So instead of just screwing people in the lower classes, the GOP’s plan also screws middle and upper-middle class people who don’t even get their insurance the Obamacare exchanges. What a brilliant strategy!

And then let’s remember another aspect of Obamacare- Medicaid funding. DC publication (and RW troll hangout) The Hill broke down an earlier draft of the GOP’s plans to replace/change the ACA, and that draft indicated that sizable amounts of money would be sent to states to establish certain programs to serve certain high-cost/risk individuals. In addition, the expanded Medicaid funding that a majority of states have taken advantage of (Wisconsin not being one of them) would go away, and instead be replaced by block grants.
The plan also includes $10 billion per year in “state innovation grants,” which are a version of high-risk pools but appear to allow for a broader array of uses for the money by states. The money could be used by states to help sick people get coverage and stabilize premiums.

As an alternative to ObamaCare’s individual mandate, the plan would allow insurers to charge people 30 percent more on their premiums if they had a gap in coverage and then signed up again.

The plan also includes a “per capita cap” for Medicaid, which imposes a per-person cap on federal spending on Medicaid. A lobbyist who reviewed the language said the Medicaid provisions were more generous than expected, based on the growth that is set out for the cap on federal payments.
Ahh, there’s your savings! Reduce the amount of funding many states get for Mediciad, and either leave them holding the bag to have to pay more money themselves, or cut off a large amount of the working poor who have had their situation stabilized due to Medicaid being made available to them.

Obviously there's a caveat in that we there isn't a final bill out there, and the blowback that we're already seeing at GOP Reps holding town hall over any possible changes to the ACA might well lead to more changes. But from the fiscal side, there is little doubt that any move to get rid of Obamacare under Republicans will be expensive, and likely handcuff the rest of the federal budget, which would lead to further cuts in other areas.

That outcome is probably just fine with this group.



These insured, well-connected folks in the Beltway don't need to worry about the backwards steps that will be imposed on tens of millions of Americans. So maybe it's up to us to do things that make them worry.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Janury revenues disappoint, meaning Walker budget may already be impossible

While our Governor was telling the Bubble-Worlders at CPAC to ignore the voters who pay their salary, we got another indication that things aren't as nice in Wisconsin as Walker claims to the clueless outsiders. That came with the release of January’s revenue figures from the Wisconsin DOR. The numbers are a bit wonky because of New Year’s and other start/end-month days falling on weekends in both 2016 and 2017, but when you include the DOR's adjustment for that variable, the numbers were mostly disappointing.

Year-over-year change, Jan 2017 vs Jan 2016, Wisconsin
Income taxes DOWN 0.9%
Sales taxes UP 6.1%
Corporate taxes DOWN 41.7%
Excise taxes DOWN 5.1%
Other taxes UP 17.6%
TOTAL REVENUES UP 0.2%

That 0.2% increase in total revenues is well short of what we need to stay in line with the 2.7% increase in total revenues that was projected by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau for Fiscal Year 2017. For the entire fiscal year, we are only up 2.1% with 7 months completed, but more concerning is the 20.9% drop in corporate taxes for the year. The LFB only projected a decrease of 6.5% for Fiscal Year 2017, so if we continue to have the 20.9% decrease that we currently have in corporate taxes, that’s a shortfall of $138 million.

Fortunately, sales and income taxes are in line for the Fiscal Year estimates so far. However, it is concerning that the Fiscal Bureau indicated in its relatively rosy report that income tax revenues were likely to end up on the low side for the coming months of tax season, because of tax maneuvering.
A lower growth rate in the second half of 2016-17 reflects some taxpayers accelerating estimated payments in December, 2016, as opposed to January, 2017, and an increase in refunds in the Spring months due to law changes. The law changes include increasing the standard deduction for married filers, federalizing exemption amounts under the alternative minimum tax, the final year phase-in of the manufacturing and agriculture credit, and the capital gains exclusion for Wisconsin assets. The capital gains provision was enacted as part of [the 2011-13 state budget], but its initial impact will occur in tax year 2016 due to a five-year holding period requirement.
And January’s decline in income taxes happened before those higher refunds (and lower revenues) were filed and released. Ruh roh.

One other potential shortfall in coming months may come as a result of the record warmth we just had throughout the state. The LFB wasn’t counting on that when it projected this part of the revenue report last month.
Public utility taxes are estimated at $359.7 million in 2016-17, $373.5 million in 2017-18, and $378.2 million in 2018-19. On a year-to-year basis, these estimates represent a decrease of 0.2% in 2016-17, and increases of 3.8% in 2017-18 and 1.3% in 2018-19. The gross revenues tax group comprises almost 70% of estimated collections, and gross revenues taxes are estimated to increase 0.3% in 2016-17, 5.9% in 2017-18, and 1.7% in 2018-19. Private light, heat, and power companies are the largest taxpayer group among gross revenues taxpayers, and collections from these companies are estimated to increase 0.7% in 2016-17, 6.2% in 2017-18, and 1.6% in 2018-19. This pattern is influenced by a mild winter and low natural gas prices in 2016 and a return to more normal weather patterns and some "bounce-back" in natural gas prices beginning in 2017.
Well that just went out the window in the last week, didn’t it? Sure, these are relatively small things in a budget that relies on $15.5 billion in General Fund taxes for this year. But the problem is that any shortfall for Fiscal Year 2016-17 pretty much ends any chances for the state to be able to afford Governor Walker’s cynical handouts and unfunded tax cuts.

Remember, Walker’s budget relies on $453 million being in the bank on June 30, and then it promptly takes more than $371 million out of the bank over the next 2 years. Add in reserve requirements of $75 million, and there is less than $7 million of breathing room in this budget.

It illustrates just how tenuous Walker's budget is, and combine the disappointing revenues with a whole lot of uncertainty regarding how much money will be flowing down from DC (and in what parts), and anyone who thinks Walker’s budget is going to largely remain intact is a complete SUCKER. The only question is how much patchwork is the Legislature going to have to do in the coming months.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Roads and state buildings keep crumbling in Fitwalkerstan


Today's big story at the Capitol was a hearing that followed up on the brutal audit released last month by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Scott Bauer of the Associated Press will remind you of what that audit showed, as well as what might be done to try to fix the problems.
The audit found that 19 major highway projects completed in the past decade cost a total of $1.5 billion — twice as much as the $772 million original price tag. It also said the cost of 16 ongoing major highway projects more than doubled to a total of $5.8 billion — increasing by a staggering $3.1 billion — from the time they were approved through August 2016.

Failing to account for inflation was a major driver of the cost overruns, but the audit recommended a number of other cost-saving steps.

The Audit Committee's bill would require DOT to account for inflation in its original cost estimates, report on changes annually to the Legislature, explain any changes, give an update on when the project is expected to be completed and offer an opinion on whether the work will be done on time under the original budget....

The audit found that Wisconsin's roads have consistently deteriorated over the past five years and are in "considerably" worse shape than roads in six other Midwestern states. The proportion of state highways in good condition decreased from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41.0 percent in 2015, the audit said.
New DOT Secretary Dave Ross and the Republicans on the Audit Committee indicated that they hoped to find new ways to make the DOT more "performance-based", and possibly save money through that and other methods (like wage suppression).

But doesn't the fact that these highway projects are running well over budget, as well as the fact that roads are falling apart in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, indicate that more investment is needed, or at least getting more local projects done as opposed to shelling out big money for a few choice developments? And State Senator Kathleen Vinehout pointed out that maybe it's better to have the Legislature use some of its power to demand information, and use their power of the purse to say "Yea or Nay" to any major changes and additions to these projects.



While the Audit Committee was discussing one type of construction today, Gov Walker released his plans for another type of construction- one that deals with the state's buildings and facilities. That was shown as part of Governor Walker's Capital Budget, which was released today and will be voted on by the State Building Commission next month.

The Capital Budget gives information not only on the projects Governor Walker wants to see funded, but the ones that state agencies requested and didn't have Walker sign off on. Here are the topline figures. The state media makes the $803 million in projected Capital costs for the 2017-19 seem like a lot, but it would be the smallest amount of total building costs of Walker's 4 budgets (although the amount of new borrowing does go up from $101.2 million to $449.9 million). In fact, the last 2 Walker budgets have been significantly lower for spending on buildings and upkeep.

Total Capital Budget expenses
2011-13 $967.0 million
2013-15 $1,454.8 million
2015-17 $848.7 million
2017-19 (proposed) $803.5 million

And one area in particular that is losing Capital funding is the University of Wisconsin System. The UW System asked for nearly $635 million in specific capital improvements across all of its campuses and offices, and Walker's office only signed off on $128 million of those requests, including ZERO going to UW-Madison.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz from Oshkosh (another UW campus shut out by the Governor) noticed the horrid double-whammy of lower spending along with higher debt for both the state's roads, and had an apt picture to go along with his press release- a falling house of cards.
Governor Walker’s inability to effectively govern on transportation infrastructure funding is now causing problems for the state’s crumbling building infrastructure. For the fourth straight budget, Governor Walker has failed to address Wisconsin’s transportation funding crisis, choosing to instead rely on increased borrowing and delaying scheduled highway projects, despite the state’s sorry status of having the third worst roads in the country. Under Governor Walker, debt service as a percent of transportation revenue has nearly doubled, and Wisconsin now spends over 20 cents of every dollar of transportation revenues paying debt.

As a result of the increased debt issued to fund transportation, Governor Walker has decimated the state’s building infrastructure programs for the UW System and other state agencies. In October, 2016, the UW Board of Regents indicated that the backlog of needed repairs in the University of Wisconsin System has grown to an estimated cost of $2 billion. Governor Walker’s 2017-19 Capital Budget proposal funds just more than 50 percent (53.5%) of the level in the 2009-11 budget.

“Nothing says 21st century economy like 1970s university facilities. Governor Walker is intentionally holding up capital projects as a way to cover up his increased borrowing for roads. Our state – whether it be our roads or state buildings or universities – is literally falling apart,” said Rep. Hintz, “Meanwhile, as projects and repairs are ignored, the costs to maintain our infrastructure is steadily increasing. What family or business makes decisions like that?”
I know who makes decisions like that, Gordon.Someone who doesn't care what happens to the state after he's out of power, and someone who wants someone else to clean up the messes he has caused. And everyone in Milwaukee County is nodding their heads- they've seen these borrow-and-defer tricks from Scotty before.

No, this Walker gimmickry and "governance" ain't working.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Yes, the record warmth is great...unless you need cold-weather tourism

Hey, not that I’m going to complain about 60-degree days and being able to get in some Terrace time in February. It was awesome to be out and about this early in the year, and we got to see wacky scenes like this one all around southern Wisconsin.



but the tourist industry in Hayward likely isn’t as pleased about the recent warmup.
In light of the recent above average temperatures, along with continued warm weather conditions and rain forecast for today, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has announced that an adjustment to the overall race course for Birkie Week events is required.

After this weekend’s warm weather, Lake Hayward is no longer a viable option for race week. As part of a normal race, skiers would ski across Lake Hayward before entering downtown Hayward. Without Lake Hayward, there is no longer a possibility of finishing races in downtown Hayward. Given this decision, the International Bridge that normally spans Highway 63, will not be installed for Birkie week events this year. While snow is in the forecast for later this week, a downtown finish is no longer a feasible option for 2017 events.

As always, the safety of participants is first and foremost in mind for the entire ABSF staff and board, followed by their goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision the ABSF makes.


Won't look like this for Birke 2017

And as the Climate Wisconsin site notes, these type of weather-related changes may become more common with the Berkie in coming years.
According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison between 1950 and 2006 the Sawyer County area winter average temperature has warmed around 3 to 4.5 °F. They also found: a 4.5 °F increase in winter average daily low temperatures, a 4-10% reduction in the number of days with a high temperature below 20 °F, and a 15 to 18% reduction in the number of days with nighttime low’s below 0 °F. Interestingly, spring is coming earlier by 3 to 9 days. In general, Sawyer County has seen warmer winters, with higher high and even higher low temperatures.

Researchers have also downscaled global climate models using local historical climate data to generate fine-scale climate change predictions state wide. For Sawyer County they project that from 1980 to 2055 there will be: 21 fewer nights below 0 °F, fewer average annual freezing days, 16 to 18 fewer days with high temperatures below 20 °F, and 7.5 to 10 days earlier onset of spring. Moreover, the average annual winter temperature is projected to increase 9 °F, and the daily high and daily low are also expected to increase 6.3 and 9.0 °F, respectively. Additionally, for Ashland, WI, northeast of Hayward, researchers projected a decrease in the probability of frozen precipitation (e.g. snow, sleet), especially early and late in the winter. Since Ashland is slightly buffered from climate change by Lake Superior we can expect an even greater reduction in the probability of frozen precipitation for the Hayward area, which is further inland. Furthermore, a group of researchers from the Universities of Wisconsin and Iowa project that by the mid 21st century there will be a 25 to 40 cm reduction in snowfall and a 5 to 20 cm reduction in mean snow depth (on March 15th) for Sawyer County. In summary, by 2055, warmer winters, with warmer nights, a lower probability of snow fall, shallower snow pack, less snow cover, and an earlier onset of spring are expected. Considering the fact that the Birkie trail covers over 50 km of ground we can expect to see more adaptations to the event as warmer winter temperatures and less snow create unsafe race conditions.
With snow cover pretty much gone from most parts of Northern Wisconsin, I gotta wonder if that cut into festivities and snowmobiling activities over the Presidents’ Day weekend (especially when you consider everyone in Illinois is off today). Now, maybe that was offset statewide by all of us that wanted to get out and take advantage of the record warmth in recent days (I know campus and downtown Madison was jumping over the weekend), but I’m going to be intrigued to see what sales tax collections look like up North for these winter months, especially if there is a limited or canceled Birke to go along with no ice caves on the Apostle Islands this year.

But hey, you folks in the 715 wouldn’t need to worry about climate change reducing outdoor winter activities into something that's increasingly common, would ya? Nah, that’s just something us latte-sipping elitsts in Madison only worry about. So you keep on voting for Koch-owned climate deniers like Sean Duffy and Tom Tiffany, and don't whine to me when people stop coming up your way.

Trump and Walker Admin tricks will try to hide major budget holes

I’m usually not one to suggest reading Forbes magazine, due to its corporate, oligarchical bent. But they do have a good columnist when it comes to discussing Congressional budget issues and related taxing-and-spending topics, and Stan Collender did not disappoint this weekend.

Collender says that we can count on the Trump administration and the GOP Congress to try to peddle absurd fantasies of economic growth in order to claim that their tax-cutting budgets are responsible.
The Wall Street Journal’s ace economy reporter Nick Timiraos had the story this past Friday: The Trump administration is planning to use unrealistically optimistic assumptions about how fast GDP will grow to make it look like its spending and tax policies don’t increase the deficit.

To say the least, this first set of economic assumptions and the resulting phony deficit will be fake news – lies, in other words – from Trump. Most other credible economists – including from Wall Street, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve – either will disagree with Trump outright or, to be diplomatic, will say that what the White House is assuming is in the extreme upper range of what’s acceptable….

We’ve known since the campaign that the Trump promises of tax cuts, increases in military spending and a new $1 trillion infrastructure program would result in a big increase the federal deficit and national debt unless they were matched with similarly large tax hikes and spending cuts. But with Congress almost certain to reject tax increases unless they’re used to pay for corporate rate reductions, Social Security and Medicare cuts possible but not likely, interest rates and federal interest payments rising in the coming years and not enough other domestic spending left to be a complete offset, economic occult from Trump was a virtual certainty.

That’s why the triumphant return of “Rosy Scenario,” which hasn’t been seen much since David Stockman used overly optimistic economic assumptions to understate the deficit in Ronald Reagan’s first budget more than 3 decades ago, was always so likely.

Rosy scenario won’t be Trump’s only gimmick. Among other things, expect a new version of Reagan’s “magic asterisk” that says substantial spending cuts will be proposed in the future but doesn’t specify what they will be, tax cuts that are assumed to expire at some point after the end of the Trump administration so the long-term deficit and debt magically appear to be lower and an excessive use of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Fund to spend more than the cap on military spending.
In other words, Trump and his economic team will be saying , it'll be great(Trump voice) “Things will be fine and growth will be terrific, just terrific. And the deficit and debt will go away. It'll be gone. Just believe me, it'll be an outstanding economy!”

As mentioned by Collender, this is a longtime GOP ruse done to try to keep the public from realizing the true cost of GOP tax cuts, along with the increased deficits and budget cuts and deficits that follow. It is along the same lines of “dynamic scoring”, a measure that allows tax cuts to "pay for themselves” with higher growth, regardless of the evidence and history of corporate and consumer behavior when tax cuts happen. House Speaker and alleged Wisconsinite Paul Ryan insisted that the Congressional Budget Office change its standard to dynamic scoring in 2015, to try to minimize the actual fiscal damage that GOP tax cuts would cause.

After that gimmick was introduced, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained last July how the magic of dynamic scoring was used to keep a tax proposal from Ryan and other House Republicans from blowing a massive hole in the deficit- even though it would in the real world.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and the House Republicans just released a new tax plan that the D.C.-based Tax Foundation (TF) scored as losing $2.4 trillion over 10 years, mostly to benefit wealthy households and multinational corporations. Based on our aging population alone, which will require more spending on Social Security and Medicare, that’s really reckless budgeting. But when TF revs up its magic dynamic scoring machine, that $2.4 trillion loss falls to $191 billion (I would have rounded to $190 billion, but these guys have a sense of humor).

How does the GOP tax cut pay for 92 percent of itself? Good question, sort of. That is, we can try to get into the guts of the model and figure out what they did to get it to spit out such huge offset effects, but before that, it’s really important to stop and do a reality check. Perhaps I lack imagination, but based on other analyses I’ve seen on the macroeconomic effects of tax cuts, common sense, and the history of such promises around supply-side tax cuts like this, I find the magnitude of this estimate inconceivable.

On that last point alone (past supply-side claims), how many times do we have to go through this foolishness? The Reagan and Bush tax cuts hemorrhaged revenue, and the Clinton and Obama tax increases on rich folks raised billions. I’ve looked under every rock I could find for correlations of supply-side effects, and I come up empty. Ever since some waiter made the mistake of giving Art Laffer a napkin to draw on, this supply-side crowd has been wrong. The most recent exhibit is ongoing in Kansas, where, after Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation predicted that tax cuts would provide an “immediate and lasting boost” to the economy, those cuts blew a massive hole in the state budget, a hole accompanied by none of the advertised growth effects.
That’s the same Kansas that is so messed up now that the GOP-controlled State Legislature just approved of tax hikes to try to close budget deficits between 2017 and 2019 that are more than $1 billion.

We’re seeing a similar type of supply-side failure in our state, where tax cuts passed by the WisGOP State Legislature and signed by Scott Walker have led to revenue being below budget in each of the last 3 fiscal years. One of the biggest reasons behind these shortfalls is the Manufacturers and Agriculture tax credit, a giveaway to the rich and corporate that was only supposed to lower revenues by $617 million in the first 7 years after it took effect, but now is projected to cost the state’s budget a total that exceeds $1.4 BILLION.

It’s not just supply-side failures that lead me to worry about BS and fiscal failures at the state level. And a tweet from today is symptomatic of why I’m concerned. In recent months, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has joined several other state agencies in using their social media accounts to send out propaganda supporting Governor Scott Walker. Here’s an example from today.



Call me crazy, but shouldn’t the DOR be giving tax tips to the public this time of year instead of trying to sell Governor Walker’s budget? But there’s a deeper problem here, which is that the Department of Revenue is also in charge of releasing the monthly revenue figures to the public, which the Legislative Fiscal Bureau uses to make revenue projections that can make or break the state budget, and lead to numerous policy decisions as that budget is debated. If the Department of Revenue is releasing good revenue figures in coming months, why would we automatically believe that to be true, given the pro-Walker propaganda they are sending out these days?

And if those revenue figures, and Walker Administration data in general, are being given their own “rosy scenarios”, then it greatly raises the possibility of the wrong choices being made, and increased damage and more drastic adjustments having to be made later as a result. That’s why the only data I would trust from the Wisconsin DOR over the next few months would be if it said that revenue data was disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll report revenue figures that are good and try to analyze the options that might come from that, but I would be VERY skeptical that they would be real.

The fact that we are immediately skeptical of what a GOP government might give to the public when it comes to economic and fiscal data is a bad thing, but typical of what the GOP wants in an era of “post-truth politics.” And it’s why they want to eradicate public employee unions and civil service protections for government employees, so people who aren’t elected hacks aren’t allowed to call “BULLSHIT” on their statements, or at least not to let the truth come out until after the votes are cast and there’s little that can be done to fix the wreckage.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

McCain, Ryan are gutless. Worse than Trump?

A couple of items in not-so-mainstream political media have noted who the real villains have become in Donald Trump's 1-month Reign of Error. And it proves the axiom of "actions (or lack thereof) speak louder than words," and it's especially true when we talk about Republican politicians.

The first comes from Deadspin editor Alex Pareene, who takes a break from sports to call out US Senator John McCain. Sure, McCain's going on TV and making speeches about how President Donald Trump is acting like a dictator when Trump calls the media "an enemy" and makes reckless moves on foreign policy. But as Pareene points out, when it comes to actually stepping up to stop Trump, McCain shrinks away.
A more accurate way of phrasing “(ambivalently, agonizingly) taking on the president” might be “not actually taking on the president.” McCain has supported every one of Trump’s nominees besides one: budget director Mick Mulvaney, who lost McCain’s support because he has supported defense budget cuts. McCain’s sole inviolable principle is that we must spend an unlimited amount of money on war with everyone forever.

Ever since his longtime aide and ghostwriter Mark Salter wholly invented McCain’s “maverick” persona from whole cloth in the late 1990s, the sum total of McCain’s record of brave or maverick-y actions consists of “giving good quote to reporters.” That’s it....

Most of the political press is amnesiac and sycophantic enough to fall for it again, but it is obvious at this point in his long career that Senator John McCain is not going to “fight” Trump. He’s going to say various anti-Trump things, on TV and to reporters, while never using his very real power as a senior Republican senator to interrupt the implementation of Trump’s, and his party’s, eschatological agenda.
McCain is especially chickenhearted when you consider that
1. He was just elected a new (7th!) term in 2016, which means he doesn't have to face voters until 2022, when he'd be in his late 80s and Trump would likely be long gone as president.
2. It only takes 3 Republicans in the Senate to stop anything that Trump does with these appointments. If McCain truly cared about this country, it wouldn't take much to put a "shape up or ship out" ultimatum on Trump and grind things to a complete halt. But instead, he (and younger version Marco Rubio, also re-elected in 2016) just speak empty words, allowing this destructive agenda and incompetent, clueless administration to continue.

In the House of Representatives, it's much of the same story, and TBS's Samantha Bee rightfully pointed the finger at an alleged Wisconsinite (who's never held an adult job that wasn't based in DC GOP Bubbleworld) that has been the most gutless wonder. Paul Ryan has publically said he doesn't approve of the racism and protectionism that Trump talks about, but has backed down continually from any chance of standing up to Trump in recent months, which makes him worse than the Donald.


And why are these alleged "GOP Congressmen with a conscience" letting this disgrace go on? So they can live out their Ayn Rand/Grover Norquist fantasies of messing up the country's economy and social contract beyond repair? Sounds like Marge Gunderson needs to give these guys a visit.


No Republicans can be trusted to do the right thing until they actually vote for it. And even then, they deserve no credit until the bad things in Congress ARE ACTUALLY STOPPED. Otherwise, they are making pointless poses that rely on a lazy voting public to keep falling for their act, and they ALL MUST GO as a result.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Bad economy and brain drain = WisGOP winning strategy?

I'm going to give you a few pictures that all point to the same thing- the lagging economy in 2010s rural America is leading to bad electoral results which is leading to states run by GOPs elected by those angry rurals continuing to decline.

The National Association of Counties recently released a report going into detail on the recent economies of all American economies, and comparing it with the election results of 2016. I highly recommend that you click on this and go through the numerous interactive maps that are part of it- you can get a lot of insight about where your area of the state and country shapes up.

One of the most relevant political observations is this.
About 200 counties that voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in both 2008 and 2012 voted Republican in 2016. The majority are in the Midwest, in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. These swing counties are disproportionately mid-sized — with populations between 50,000 and 500,000 residents — and have economies specializing most often in agriculture, forestry and manufacturing. Overall, these 200 counties have weaker job recoveries than county economies overall (See Figure 2). The majority of them (56 percent) did not reach their pre-recession job peaks by 2016, while nationally only 43 percent of county economies fit that pattern. This is the result of their longer and deeper job recessions than county economies overall. They also lag in economic output (GDP) recovery due to deeper economic output (GDP) declines.
And if you look at this map that singles out the counties that shifted from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, this relationship definitely seems to hold up in Wisconsin. This is shown as the counties in red, and the darker ones are counties that have not recovered the jobs lost in the Great Recession.



In addition, most of America saw job growth decline In 2016, which further adds to this feeling that any good economic times that may exist aren't going to last. Wisconsin only had 4 counties see their job growth speed up, and they were in places so small that it could have been a statistical blip of a handful of people.



But it's not just small towns that are seeing economic concerns in Wisconsin. Phil Hands had this excellent cartoon in yesterday's Wisconsin State Journal which illustrates problem on the upper, highly-educated end of the state's economy.



It sure makes you think if these 2 things are related. Governors like Walker and backwards-ass ALEC legislators put in legislation that injured a state's economy in the 2010s, which led frustrated blue-collars and rurals to blame Obama for their lack of improvement and look to Trump for more and better change (yes its stupid, but that was the mentality). And then the same ALEC crew defunds public education to keep those people stuck in crappy jobs, and drive away the talented young people that would change the electorate enough to vote them out of power.

It makes too much sense to me, which is why I'm inclined to stay here in Wisconsin and not give those regressive GOPs what they want by saying "Fuck you, I'm outta here." At least for now.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dem consultant shows why Dems lose in Wisconsin

Paul Fanlund’s column in the Capital Times is always a good source to get insight into what the financially-comfortable, connected liberal types in Madison are thinking (by the way Paul, that’s not a compliment). And he didn’t disappoint today, where he talked to a DC-based Democratic campaign official with Wisconsin ties about how the party can break out of its slide and get back into power in the state. If you want a clue, the article is titled “We May Also Need Better Voters.”
Anson Kaye is a credentialed Democratic operative. He had a senior role in Hillary Clinton’s paid media operation and in the past worked in Wisconsin for familiar names — Jim Doyle, Shirley Abrahamson and Mary Burke.

Yet his recent column for U.S. News & World Report began with a comparatively nonpartisan suggestion: that voters, current and future, need to better grasp the limitations of their government.

Voters, he wrote, are the only participants in November’s outcomes who have mostly escaped the spotlight. “This is about something bigger” than campaign tactics, he wrote. It is about “how poorly we prepare people to participate in the political process, and how those chickens are coming home to roost in a bigly way.”
And I thought “Great. The people do need to understand civics and checks and balances and the way our system runs.” Any read of one of the many articles written over the last 3 months about rural Western Wisconsin flipping to Trump has as a common theme “We were just hoping he’d make things better for us, and that things would change” without any idea about how the economic policies of Trump or the GOP would reach that goal (hint- it doesn’t).

I figured the article might go into ways that Dems should educate voters about the way people can use the system the same way lobbyists do, to understand which levels of government are responsible for the things that are upsetting these angry voters (hint- it’s likely to be at the state and local level), and lead the average individual to be empowered into taking action against the unacceptable crap that today’s GOP is imposing on the rest of us. This is a big reason why I write this blog, so people can find economic and political information and use that info to gain a better of understanding of issues and recognize the facts (or lack thereof) being trotted out, and identify the games politicians are playing.

But then you read later on in Fanlund’s column, and you realize that Kaye is actually saying “Nope, people shouldn’t expect politicians and government to get them what they want.”
Kaye’s notions may be unsatisfying for many, as when he describes what voting for a Democrat actually means, and what it does not: “It does not mean that if your factory closes tomorrow you will be able to walk across the street the next day and get a job building a wind turbine. But it does mean that we are more likely to shape an economic system in our country where people who may not have the same resources as those at the top are accounted for.

“Voting for a Democrat won’t mean that rich people magically pay more taxes and you get to pay less. But it will mean there are people fighting to shape a more equitable economic system, and to make sure that values other than simply enriching the rich are represented in our free markets.
Boy, that’ll get them fired up, won’t it? “Just be happy if you get a few crumbs and accept that it’s just the way it goes!” That’ll make em pull the D lever, eh?

I’m sorry, but when you’re running a campaign and trying to win hearts and minds, you need to be showing people how things will get better, and how they will be able to get what they want under your party’s policies (or conversely, why bad things will be stopped with your party in office). Sure, the GOP offers bullshit with their regressive, failed policies, but the average day-to-dayer in rural Wisconsin wants their taxes lowered and wants to be able to shoot guns, and some of them feel they’re getting nothing out of their hard work, so they want someone to beat up on.

No matter how unrealistic, racist or flat-out lying GOPs are, at least these individuals think they are getting an answer from them, whereas Dems are shrugging and saying “You know, if you retrain yourself, you might get a slightly better-paying job if some other newer technology comes in to your town.” Or even stating a fact like “hey, this Obamacare is great and more people are getting covered” when Joe Ruralguy was already covered, and now his insurance company is using the excuse of “Obamacare” to continue to jack up his rates or deductibles. That’s not what people want to hear, that’s not relating to their particular situation, and that’s not what they should expect to get as a reply from their elected officials.

You need to reach into people’s lives, and give them hope that there will be a reward to their hard work. They can see that corporate slimeballs and rich donors take more and more while the blue-collars work as hard as ever and fall further behind, so why don’t Dems STEP UP AND SAY “THIS SITUATION IS WRONG AND UNACCEPTABLE”?

Also, why aren’t Dems telling rural Wisconsin that the reward to investing taxes into public schools is because it makes for a better community that their kids would want to stick around in and raise their new families in. Instead, Republicans rob those schools of funding to funnel money into unaccountable voucher schools in big cities and suburbs, to subsidize schools that those parents are already sending their kids to. Maybe we should point out that being a decent person who pays their bills and believes in honest and clean government is an ethos that still has value in the 2010s, and that politicians should reward those values when they get into office.

Instead, the Anson Kayes and the rest of the suit-wearing consultant class say “Well, that’s not going to happen. big Big money is just the way the system is these days. Sorry about that, try this subpar option, since us urban educated types know the better way for you to succeed.” And you wonder why this party keeps losing when party hacks like that continue to pull fat paychecks from candidates as “experts”?

DEAR GOD Dems, clean house and throw these losers out!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

GET THE HOOK FOR THIS GUY!

Among many other things that were screwy with our President today, he failed math and recent history....bigly.



"Shit, that's what I was told. Sounded good. What more do I need?" Not really the words of someone in touch with reality, is it?

The real problem with this is not that Drumpf is rambling and saying this foolishness while corruption runs rampant and national security is compromised (though that's awful in itself). No, the real problem is that THE REPUBLICANS AREN'T DOING THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY TO STOP DRUMPF. The great Charlie Pierce summed up this dilemma well today, and reminded us what a bunch of self-absorbed, spineless, unpatriotic scum that makes up today's Koch-owned GOP Congress.
By the end of Thursday's press conference, at which the president*'s trolley left the tracks far behind, Jake Tapper of CNN was saying that he'd gotten a text from a "Republican senator" who'd observed that what the president was evincing was behavior best left to a psychiatric clinic with very soft walls. Of course, this senator remains anonymous because, contrary to Hamilton's giddy optimism, they have no interest in taking the wheel from Toonces the Driving Cat until they get their tax cuts and their deregulation and their privatization and, if the car goes plunging off the cliff altogether, it's a small price to pay....

The leaks are real but the news is fake.

This is nuts.

There is no manual for dealing with this situation if the congressional majorities decline to write one. But the President* of the United States is showing his arse on worldwide television a couple of times a week now, and judicious people are now regularly speculating if he's utterly unstrung. How long can this go on? Nobody ever asked that question before, either.
That reality of the president being a clueless, senile, and dangerous fool made this Tweet from yesterday absurd and outdated from the moment it came out.



That picture right there helps explain why Sean from the Real World isn't running for Senator. Because any picture of GOPs supporting Trump is already political poison. How's that whole "change agent that'll drain the swamp" thing working out for you rural folk? Embarrassed yet?

I'd love to see what the real polling is saying in those Obama-to-Trump counties around now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The only Trump Boom so far is in prices, as we fall further behind

They’re trying really hard in greedhead land to convince people that the economy is going gangbusters now that Republicans run the show in DC. Take a look at the lengths being taken in this article by Myles Udland at Yahoo! Finance to try to convince the average dope that we’re already seeing a Trump Boom.
A mix of hopes for lower taxes, less regulation, and increased fiscal spending, boosted both business leaders and consumers alike. Like the election, however, these surveys showed — particularly at the consumer level — a nation divided.

And so it was an open question about whether there’d really be any follow-through from positive surveys, called “soft data” by economists, into actual hard data like increased spending. On Wednesday, it appears the early answer is that stronger soft data is leading to better hard data.

A report out Wednesday from the Census Bureau showed that retail sales in January rose 0.4% over the prior month, more than expected by economists. This is also notable considering that it came against a December report that was revised significantly higher — to 1% sales growth from 0.6% originally….

In a note to clients following Wednesday’s retail sales report, Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics wrote that, “The upshot is that the improvement in consumer confidence since President Donald Trump’s election victory now appears to be feeding through into stronger gains in actual spending.”
And the year-over-year increase in retail sales clocked in at an increase of 4.9%. Sounds great, and consumer spending has indeed stayed strong as 2016 has turned into 2017, so there wasn't a "fear factor" for consumers of a Trump presidency, which might have made them want to shut down (of course, Trump hadn’t taken office for much of January, and some people still believed there wouldn’t be the tire fire of incompetence and instability that’s happened since).

But if you looked at the actual retail sales report from the Census Bureau, you wouldn’t be breaking out the party hats at this time. Because the figures show that a good part of the recent increases aren’t coming from brick-and-mortar stores or from selling cars, but instead are coming from gas stations and online retailers like Amazon.

Retail sales change Jan 2016- Jan 2017
Total change +4.9%
Gasoline stations +13.9%
Non-store retailers +14.5%
All other retail +2.2%

Retail sales change Nov 2016-Jan 2017
Total change +1.3%
Gasoline stations +5.6%
Non-store retailers +1.9%
All other retail +0.8%

Not so impressive when you look at it that way. Seems like the continuance of a solid but not great expansion, however I could excuse the Wall Street types as merely being a little overenthusiastic, as they’re all about confidence games to begin with.

But then I looked at another big economic report that dropped today, and those increases in sales became even less to talk about- because they’re literally worth less.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The January increase was the largest seasonally adjusted all items increase since February 2013. A sharp rise in the gasoline index accounted for nearly half the increase, and advances in the indexes for shelter, apparel, and new vehicles also were major contributors.

The energy index increased 4.0 percent in January as the gasoline index advanced 7.8 percent and the index for natural gas also increased. The food index, which had been unchanged for 6 consecutive months, increased 0.1 percent. The food at home index was unchanged, while the index for food away from home rose 0.4 percent.
Well, there’s most of your retail sales “rise”, isn’t it? In fact, a 0.4% increase in retail sales while prices are going up 0.6% means a real loss in total sales. Yes, this varies by which area of retail we are talking about, but that certainly doesn’t seem as rosy as the folks at Yahoo! Finance wanted you to believe, was it?

In fact, the 12-month inflation rate is at its highest point in nearly 5 years (March 2012), and the rise in 1-month and 12-month inflation hasn’t been accompanied by a similar rise in wages. In fact, the real wages report (which is released concurrently with the CPI report) shows that American workers fell behind in the first month of 2017, and haven’t gotten ahead at all over the last year.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees decreased 0.5 percent from December to January, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This result stems from a 0.1-percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.6-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

Real average weekly earnings decreased 0.4 percent over the month due to the decrease in real average hourly earnings combined with no change in the average workweek.

Real average hourly earnings were unchanged, seasonally adjusted, from January 2016 to January 2017. No change in real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.6-percent decrease in the average workweek resulted in a 0.6-percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.
Interestingly, the 12-month nominal increase of 2.5% in hourly wages is no different than we had a year ago, but because inflation has gone from 1.4% to 2.5%, the real wage “gains” that economic reporters were crowing about for much of 2016 have now gone away.

Oh, but I’m sure wages will increase any time now, with ALEC-owned state legislatures like Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin planning to pass more wage suppression measures in the near future (if they haven’t already), and a Koch-fueled Congress ready to take that mentality nationwide. Riiight. And all those downscale white guys in the Midwest rolled the dice with Trump because they were frustrated thought their wages and job security would improve by “putting America first?” SUCKERS!

And remember, this retail sales survey was done before the reality of the Trumpian disaster started to take hold. Now that high-level advisors are quitting and Cabinet appointees are bailing, (take our Governor…PLEASE!) when do people and businesses start to back off on their big-spending plans and wait for all of this absurdity to stop?

So like most things, the Wall Streeters and greedheads shouldn’t be confusing the stupid Trump Rally on Wall Street with an improving economy in the real world. Even the “great” retail sales report looks pretty bad when you realize that the gains aren’t because of more buying, but because of higher prices. And with workers' pay falling further behind, why would we expect these “strong” numbers to improve in the near future?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ron Johnson - a track record of covering up for Trump and the Russians

Last night's resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is alarming enough, given that it is pretty evident that Flynn was dealing with the Russian government and forming policy with them before President Trump took office, and because it opens up a number of questions as to how deeply Flynn or other members of this administration are compromised (if not flat-out OWNED) by Vladimir Putin and company. In addition, if you think Flynn did all this on his own without someone knowing about and/or signing off on these meetings and promises with the Russians, you are a FOOL.

But apparently our esteemed US Senator didn't care about those national security concerns. Instead Ron Johnson reacted by whining about the fact that Flynn's compromising positions ever became public.
The resignation of Michael Flynn as President Donald Trump's national security adviser shows the challenges that the president faces in dealing with a bureaucracy that does not support his agenda, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Tuesday.

"That's something that this president is going to have to come to grips with," Johnson said during an appearance on Fox News.

He said that leaks to the press about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office were troublesome. "Leaks of this nature are incredibly damaging to the United States," Johnson said. He stopped short of saying they were illegal.

"You've got an agency that's not supportive, loyal to the president of the United States," he said, also expressing concern about staffers within the State Department who are "hostile" to Trump's agenda.
I found Johnson's response sickening, and not just because of he seemed to value loyalty to Donald freaking Trump over loyalty to the Constitution and the independence of the United States. But also because I remembered an article from January by Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee. Murphy connected the dots, and showed that Johnson lied to the Wisconsin people before the 2016 elections about what he knew regarding Russian propaganda, and their attempts to manipulate our elections.
The details of the mid-September meeting are in a story by the Washington Post, which reported that President Barack Obama had dispatched his counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to make the pitch for a ‘show of solidarity and bipartisan unity’ against Russian interference in the election,” as a senior administration official told the Post.

As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson was one the so-called “Gang of 12,” the top 12 congressional leaders, who were invited to the meeting. (House Speaker Paul Ryan also attended the meeting.) Johnson later confirmed to Politico that he participated in the briefing...

Worse, he has engaged in his own pattern of misinformation on the subject. After the CIA publicly released a report in January concluding that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election, Johnson issued a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal saying he would “would need more definitive information before drawing further conclusions.” Johnson did not reveal that he had been informed back in September this was happening.

Johnson went on to complain to CNBC that the CIA refused to brief him on Russian hacking, saying “I have not seen the evidence that it actually was Russia,” while failing to note the CIA report’s echoed the briefing he’d received from other intelligence leaders in September.

Johnson also complained that Obama had failed to confront the Russia government with strength, even though the Obama administration had proposed a strong stand on cyber hacking which Johnson declined to join.

Think they sent valentines to each other today?

If there is a member of Congress who should know as well as anyone what is going on with the Russians and their attempts to influence US policy, it is Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson. And yet, not only is Johnson not calling for a federal investigation to get to the bottom of what is going on, and to either remove the conflicts or restore confidence in Donald Trump's presidential debate claim that he's "not a puppet" of Putin, (mo)Ron is whining about the leakers that got the truth out to the public. Much like how Mitch McConnell notoriously convinced the Obama Administration not to go public in September with what they knew about Russian interference, because McConnell claimed that he would scream Obama was "playing politics" before the election.

The correct term for this act is COVER-UP, and if Ron Johnson thinks the 6-year term that he lied and deceived his way into last November makes him immune from consequence in his complicity in this disgrace, let's make him sadly mistaken.

Fuck this guy, and fuck anyone who voted for this amoral scumbucket on November 8.

GOPs at Capitol flat-out stealing from Milwaukee

A common meme in on AM WisGOP radio is that the City of Milwaukee is a giant vacuum that sucks up money from the rest of the state, and that the (Dem-voting, majority-minority) city is a declining hellhole that doesn’t deserve added investment. This sounds nice to the mediocre white people that tune in hear that statement, as it makes them feel a little better about the nowhere life that they lead.

But there’s a big problem with that WisGOP meme of “Milwaukee is a taker.” It’s not true. Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee reports on a study done by City officials using data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and it shows that while that talk(ing) show point may have had some legitimacy at the height of the Great Recession, it is dead wrong 8 years later. In fact, the City of Milwaukee lost almost $500 million dollars to the Capitol compared to what it took back from Madison 2 years ago.
…[A]s recently as 2009, when the city was getting more total state aid than taxes it sent to Madison: Milwaukee was getting $1.07 from the state for every dollar in taxes it paid. But by 2011 the city was a net contributor to the state and that net outflow has increased every year until by 2015 the city was paying nearly $1.4 billion in total taxes to the state and getting back just over $912 million in state aid. That’s a return of just 66 cents from the state for every dollar in taxes paid. If that trend continues, and all signs suggest it will, that figure will drop further in 2016 and even further in 2017….

The state has been reducing shared revenue to the city for many years, going back to the mid-1990s, as I have reported, and that has continued under Walker. Meanwhile, Walker and the Republican legislature have also watered down the equalization formula in state school aid that had long awarded proportionately more money to districts with more poor students, with the result that Milwaukee gets an ever smaller portion of the state educational pie.
Sure, some of this could be muddied because of funds which go to Milwaukee County and are mostly used in the City of Milwaukee (Murphy’s report doesn’t go into detail on the numbers) , but at the same time, a sizable amount of suburban spending (and suburban existence) is based on having the amenities of a city like Milwaukee nearby, so it may be a wash anyway.


Can't get this in New Berlin, can ya?

The reason the City is so reliant on the state to send back the money the City generates is because of a 100-year-old state law that placed much of the power to distribute funds into the hands of politicians at the Capitol. Unfortunately, Murphy notes that politicians at the Capitol have been refusing to keep up their end of the bargain in helping the state’s largest city.
This could be a good news story except the city is prevented from benefitting from its own success, because under state law it cannot levy its own sales tax or income tax. “The revenue sources that are growing the most from our economy, the income and sales taxes, we are shut out from,” [Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett laments.

Most cities in America have the ability to levy a sales or income or gas tax. Not cities in Wisconsin. That law goes back to 1911, when Wisconsin created the first state income tax in America. The legislature also wrote a law preventing cities from levying an income tax — to prevent some cities from gaining an advantage over others. Instead, the legislature committed to returning a significant portion of the state income tax revenue to cities through state shared aid.

But the legislature began retreating on that century-old grand bargain in the 1990s. Result: In 1995, 53 percent of Milwaukee’s general purpose budget was paid for by shared revenue, but that dropped to just 39 percent by 2012. Today, it’s down to 36 percent.
So that means the City has to find other methods to come up with the funding to fix its roads and to staff its police department, such as its $20 wheel tax, parking costs, license fees, and other homeowner fees tacked onto the property tax.

Suburba-GOPs like to sneer about those user fees that the City has to put in, as some kind of proof of the inferiority of Milwaukee. But there’s an easy solution to that situation doesn’t require a cent of extra state spending going to the Brew City, which is to LET MILWAUKEE RAISE ITS OWN REVENUES. Allow the City to have a local sales and/or income tax, and while local residents and visitors might pay a slight bit more, it might reduce the need for all those fees that are paid, while paving the way for better services and a higher quality of life inside the city. The economu improves in the area, more people want to live in southeastern Wisconsin, and everyone wins.

But then that would require those folks in the 262 to demand more out of their elected officials and have to step up and improve their own lot in life instead of kicking at “those people” in MKE. And that’s an effort far too few people in the cultural cesspool of the burbs want to make, so instead they keep beating up on the state's best economic engine, and we get stats like this one from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From December 2015 to December 2016, nonfarm employment rose in 49 of the 51 metropolitan areas with a 2010 Census population of 1 million or more, and fell in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin (−0.5 percent), and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia-North Carolina (−0.4 percent).
That’s a loss of 4,700 jobs in the Milwaukee metro area over the last year, and that’s not confined to the City. It is the logical outcome when you have a state where the Governor and Legislature are run by suburban-based GOPs who have decided that the political pose of hammering on the big city is the best way to stay in power, more than truly making Wisconsin “open for business.”

You know things are going when even right-wing oligarch and MMAC President Tim Sheehy admits in Murphy's article that “We are all in this together,” and claims to want more regional cooperation in southeast Wisconsin. Of course, if he really means it, then why is he and other business oligarchs at WMC continuing to back these anti-urban, regressive GOP politicians? Put up or shut up, Timmy.

Oh that’s right, Tim Sheehy and the rest of the backwards Milwaukee business community are more concerned with still being able to show up at the exclusive events at the Pfister and the Milwaukee Athletic Club instead of demanding the regional teamwork and investment in quality of life improvements that would truly take Milwaukee to the next level as a place where talent chooses to locate. And there’s no reason to think this losing attitude will change as long as the WisGOPs and the welfare-sucking suburbs remain in control of state government, and the oligarchs continue to get their free rides off of their puppets.

Which is why they all must be booted out of power, and why MILWAUKEE MUST BE FREED to raise the funding that they have earned.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Little ways to #resist with your wallet and taxes

With many of us filing our taxes in the near future and organizing our plans for 2017 travels, here are a few things you can do with your taxes and spending habits that can give a nice kick to this corrupt and regressive state and federal government. If done right, it will both feel good and hurt the fiscal numbers, which might waken enough bystanders out of their slumber to put these slimeballs out of business.



1. Adjust your withholding. Maybe you take 1 or 2 more allowances than you need to on your W-4 check, and maybe you ask for extra money to be taken out, in the hopes that you'll get a large refund when you file. Well, why give Scott Walker and Donald Trump the extra funds before you have to? Drop down to 1 allowance (or even 0) and remove that extra withholding to put it in your pocket. I stepped up and did this a few weeks ago, and am glad to take home an extra $20 - $30 a paycheck for the time being. Since we're already in tax year 2017, there won't be any effect on what you get for more than a year, and if enough people do this, it'll lower income tax collections for Fiscal Year 2017 (which closes in June on the state side, and September for the feds). If there was a shortfall in income taxes, it would cause significant complications for the tax-cutting and spending plans for both Walker and Trump, which wouldn't be such a bad thing.

2. Use your FSA and other reimbursements. This is obviously an "if" if you work at a job that only allows you to sign up for these pre-tax deductions once a year, but if you can adjust things throughout the year, this could be a good spot to do it. Spending more money than expected with parking? Up the allowance! Deductibles screwing you over with a new health plan? Take out more in your FSA. Ride the bus to work? Get your expenses paid back! And if you're really cool, maybe front-load your deductions for the first half of the year, so less is being taken out before the end of the June 30 Fiscal Year, and then you make it up on the back end by reducing the pre-tax deductions.

3. Keep track of your "charity" donations. Did you get pissed after the election and threw money to non-profit news organizations like the Center for Media and Democracy or ProPublica, or gave to Planned Parenthood to preserve needed services or gave to the ACLU to fight these regressives in court? Or did you thank the One Wisconsin Institute for reinstating early voting? Find that email and keep those receipts, because you can write off most if not all of those donations on your taxes. And it creates a nice second way to stick it to these Thugs- robbing their government of your tax money. Why not? The Kochs and Bradleys do it with fake charities and stink tanks all the time. The least you can do is follow suit by giving money to the good guys who need it and will use it to help society as oppose to wreck it. Also track what you've given this year, and tank FY 2018 collections as well.

4. Cut your spending. If you can, even a small decrease in what you spend could add up to a lot if others follow suit. Maybe bank the extra money you're pulling down from your paycheck from using Option 1, or use the money to pay off debt. Those moves don't create any new economic activity, and if done right, would also speed the inevitable deficit and economic slowdown that will occur. A recession or even lack of a Trump Boom in the next 2 years would likely be the coup de gras for both Trump and Walker, who are relying on Bubble-driven growth to carry them through to 2018. Why not help to make it so?

5. Change where you spend your money This map by UW-Eau Claire's Ryan Weichelt is a good guide if you feel particularly vengeful about this election.



A lot of those places in red need our tourism dollars, and rely on the great natural scenery of their areas, but they just voted to screw this state and this country. Why not let them feel some consequence for their foolishness? For several years, I've decided to avoid spending cash in the stupidly-red WOW Counties around Milwaukee, and support the blue-voting Milwaukee instead. Sure, in the big picture it probably does little more than give me a small grin and clear conscience, but if enough people step up and divert their spending to places that deserve it, or take one fewer trip to the cabin up North? Let's see if they might have to howl when they need to replace that revenue.

In addition, note the many blue cities on the map. This includes places like Green Bay, Appleton, Sheboygan, Oshkosh, Wauwatosa, Racine, Kenosha, Baraboo, Viroqua and Sturgeon Bay. These are communities that did their part on Election Day, and so if you have to spend money in those red-voing areas, maybe concentrate your spending there as opposed to other parts of the red-voting county.

There's another way you can affect things economically- cook out and eat at home when you visit these areas instead of going out, and bring your beer/booze with you. This means you won't be adding to the sales tax revenues that these areas rely on even more than most parts of Wisconsin, and as we saw in Wood County this last year, when an area sees a drop in sales tax revenue, it frequently means significant property tax increases and a decline in services. Many of these Walker/Trump voting places won't learn the lesson till they feel the pain themselves, so again, why not speed that along?

Sure, these are relatively mean-spirited and it may not be possible for you to follow some or any of these recommendations, given your specific situation. But if you have the chance, and you can convince a group of others to follow suit in a way that could help drive eventual change, wouldn't it seem like a worthy sacrifice?

Scared, lazy WIsconsin business community holding state back

Another recent article confirms that Wisconsin keeps falling behind in startup activity in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) noted that fewer new businesseses have been getting established in most parts of the nation during the 2010s, but Wisconsin has done even worse than most places, and that more Wisconsin businesses closed than opened between 2010 and 2014.
John Lettieri, EIG cofounder and senior director for policy and strategy, said the number of new companies formed in the state lagged behind those that closed, even as figures like employment and GDP began to rebound.

"Wisconsin has a really low startup rate – in fact it has the 48th lowest startup rate in the country over the course of the recovery," Lettieri said. "That’s a concerning starting point. It gets worse when you look at the closure rate, the death rate of firms."

Madison and Eau Claire were the only metro areas in Wisconsin with higher numbers of new businesses than closures during the period, according to Governing Magazine.

The greater Milwaukee-area saw the second-largest decline in the number of firms of any city in the United States, falling by 627 firms.
But why should we be surprised by this. The economic strategy of Scott Walker, the Wisconsin GOP, and their puppetmasters at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Koch Industries has been to give the most assistance to established, old-economy campaign donors businesses. The mediocre oligarchs in the WMC world don’t want to make an effort to excel and improve their product, but merely want to grab more profits off of their workers and gobble up market share from potential new competitors.

This attitude is even worse in the Milwaukee area, where the pro-Walker Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce consistently whines about “skills shortages.” Let's go back to this article from 4 years ago, and given Wisconsin’s consistent standing near the bottom of manufacturing wages for Midwestern states (according to the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages), I have little reason to believe this attitude is much different today among many CEOs.
Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour….

In retrospect, the post-World War II industrial model did a remarkably good job of supporting a system in which an 18-year-old had access to on-the-job training that was nearly certain to pay off over a long career. That system had its flaws — especially a shared complacency that left manufacturers and laborers unprepared for global trade and technological change. Manufacturers, of course, have responded over the past 20 years by dismantling it. Yet Isbister’s complaint suggests some hope — that there’s a lack of skilled workers; that factory layoffs overshot, and now need a reversal. As we talked, it became clear that Isbister’s problem is part of a larger one. Isbister told me that he’s ready to offer training to high-school graduates, some of whom, he says, will eventually make good money. The problem, he finds, is that far too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete. As he spoke, I realized that this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.
So does Isbister demanding more investment into K-12 public schools or tech colleges, or is he raising wages to try to attract post-HS and college workers with the skills he wants? OF COURSE NOT, he just wants to pay poverty wages to people who rightfully won’t accept being driven into poverty after using their education to learn and perfect a skill.

And instead of being laughed out of town and GenMet closing its doors for being so poorly run, Isbister’s wife is still on the MMAC Board as the President of GenMet, which tells you that Tim Sheehy and the other right-wingers in that oligarch org are more than OK with such a regressive attitude. And these are the type of “manufacturers” that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP insist are in need of a tax break, despite refusing to create jobs or get competitive with the reality of the 2017 economy.

Maybe these business oligarchs need to start paying up, both in wages and taxes, since they’re clearly not doing anything productive with the giveaways and wage suppression they’ve been given by their WisGOP puppet politicians. And maybe we should be instead concentrating on making Wisconsin a place where new businesses and people with brains want to locate in, and get paid decently in.

Oh, but that might mean clowns like Eric Isbister may have to shape up and try to improve instead of backing thousands of dollars of dark money behind WisGOP candidates. It's much easier to be lazy and pay guys off when you're a member of Wisconsin's connected corporate community. And that attitude is why the suggested "remedies" from those mediocrities should be ignored by anyone who truly wants this state's economy to be something that might attract talent and be something other than a joke.