Saturday, December 15, 2018

Power grab columns shine spotlight on WisGOP schemes and Walker sleaze

I wanted to go over 3 good local articles that discussed the recent moves by the State Legislature to restrict power for the newly-elected Democratic officials in the state, as it is becoming obvious what the state of political play might be in the state for 2019-21.

We’ll start with this column from longtime Capitol reporter Steven Walters, who noted that GOP legislators felt emboldened after their gerrymander held in the 2018 elections, even as Dems won statewide.
Consider this: If you’re a Madison Democrat and mad as hell at the GOP’s power grab, is there any way you can punish a Republican legislator for last week’s power grab? No. Why? The only names on your Madison ballot will be unopposed Democrats in November 2020.

That’s because November 2020 will be the last time Republican legislators run in districts they drew in 2011 – districts that have been very, very good to them. More certain than ever that they will get re-elected in 2020, Republican leaders secretly drafted their package of bills to give the legislative branch more authority at the expense of Evers and Kaul.
In addition, Walters says that the GOP thinks they can weaken Evers and bully him in a way that makes the new Governor lose the public’s support.
..GOP leaders like Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have never considered Evers their political equal in take-no-prisoners Capitol wars. So, they thought he would struggle to offer a quick response to their rewrite of the rules of governing.

After all, Evers had a “Tony too nice” reputation. He served as state superintendent of public instruction since 2009 and, before that, was a school district administrator. Evers didn’t become a Capitol power player until he won the August primary to challenge Walker.
So yeah, don’t count on a lot of harmony and honest problem-solving from the monumental egos of both Vos and Fitz in the next 2 years. Basically, they will be taking a page out of Mitch McConnell playbook from 2009-2012.

Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy then jumped off of Walters’ column to produce some of his own analysis of last week’s Power Grab.
Walker and Vos told Walters they “didn’t include some of the most radical steps they had considered. That not-so-subtle message is: ‘It could have been worse.’”

But that was only because they knew they couldn’t get away with it. They dropped their plan to move the date of the 2010 presidential election only after it came out that would cost taxpayers $6.8 million and after county clerks across the state and the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Board opposed three straight months of elections as practically impossible to administer. As for trying to cut back the governor’s veto, which Republicans say they were too nice to include, there is a long history of court cases in Wisconsin upholding this powerful veto power.

Evers ran on a platform of increasing state funding to K-12 schools, and Vos has already made it clear the legislature won’t approve this. Evers wants to provide more health care coverage, but Republicans will oppose his plan to accept the more than $1 billion in federal Medicaid money Walker rejected. And the lame duck legislation prevents Evers and Kaul from opting out of the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act and its coverage of pre-existing conditions. (the one that a goofy Texass judge just used to strike down the ACA for the short term) Vos would likely work with Evers to increase highway funding, but an increase in such funding will make more funding for schools all the more impossible.

Meanwhile Evers will find it harder to reshape state agencies to serve the public as he sees fit, because they must comply with onerous documentation requirements added by the new legislation. Even should this be accomplished, the law also gives the legislature far more power to block any rules promulgated by state agencies and bars judges from giving deference to agencies’ interpretations of laws when challenged in court.

As for Kaul, the legislation takes away his solicitor general, which leaves him less ability to pursue high profile legal suits, and takes away his power to determine how funds won through court cases are distributed — something attorney generals of both parties have used to win favor with voters. Republicans have done everything they could think of to make it harder to Evers and Kaul to govern effectively and win reelection.

Now that the Power Grab bills have been rammed through by the GOP Legislature, Scott Walker’s inevitable approval of these measures cemented the "our rules don't apply to us" mentality of the Wisconsin GOP. Dom Noth noted earlier this week in his People’s World blog that Walker’s cynical lack of action had the result of leaving the opposition to the bill frustrated, as there were multiple fronts to direct their anger and efforts.
What’s happening instead is anger frozen in midair while even national columnists and past governors from both parties sound the alarm. There is this strange paralysis because the basic question – “what do we do now?” – isn’t quite real yet.

The departing governor is stringing out the possibilities of delay and uncertainty to the bitter end, leaving the public hanging in limbo not sure what to attack and what will remain. Walker is urged by near and not so dear to show his hand, but he seems to enjoy keeping Wisconsin blurry and out of focus.
Until Walker and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was able to give out $28 million in corporate welfare to Kimberly-Clark using unilateral negotiations that Evers won't be able to do under the Lame Duck Bills. Then Scotty was more than happy to sign the bills in their entirety the next day, flying out to Green Bay on short notice in order to duck most Capitol media.

Noth notes that the WisGOP Legislature’s move to take control of the WEDC Board and the selection of its CEO admits the corruption of that slush fund.
Apparently Evers most scared the willies out of them with his pledge, endorsed by the voters, to dissolve the WEDC (the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) and create a better Commerce Department. The new bills treat that as an open threat to the oceans of gimmes and giveaways that have rewarded the Republican top corporate donors through this Walker created shell game, which has been stalked by millions of dollars in scandals.

In the new laws, the CEO for WEDC is nominated by the legislature, not the governor; the board members from the legislature are expanded while quorum level is reduced, and the board can give the CEO broader discretion. The WEDC on its own can lift the current restrictions on deals it makes with companies – in other words the entire legislative approach protects the WEDC and invites corruption. Foxconn has been given looser job assurances to require and the governor’s point-person on Foxconn now reports just to the legislature…

The WEDC protection in these laws is being advertised by the GOP as a testing period for the new governor, suggesting neither he nor the voters had a clue about economic development but that the mighty legislature did. This advertised shakeout cruise imposed on the governor bans him from any meaningful say in the WEDC until after September 1. Examine this from the pragmatic side. The legislature has put itself in charge for most of 2019, defying the governor to make changes to their choice of CEO and operations if he is still unhappy next fall. They are telling the governor and the voters that their opinions about WEDC don’t really matter.
Let me end by noting an ominous last part of Walters’ column, which tells me that we must remain vigilant for even more attempted GOP Power Grabs after January 7.
Republicans also did not attempt to change how new legislative district lines will be drawn after the 2020 Census. Those lines are drawn in a bill that must be approved by the governor.

One rumor: Republicans researched whether new districts could be drawn through a joint resolution the Republican-controlled Legislature would pass – a process that would bypass Evers.
These gerrymandered GOPs in the Legislature will continue sabotaging and making the Evers Administration appear dysfunctional until they (and their donors) personally pay a price for it.

So that price needs to be paid to keep our state moving ahead. To do so, it’s going to require a lot of ReThugs getting slapped back, both rhetorically and politically. That’s true whether the Evers Administration wants to be the bad cop, or if some other groups have to step up to do it.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Scotty fails to veto, and fails on Venn diagrams!

I'd like to say I'm surprised by Walker's amoral hypocrisy in signing the Lame Duck bills without any vetoes, despite the fact that he's vetoed many of the same things when they applied to him. But I'm not. I didn't expect Walker to act like anything but a partisan right-wing lowlife, and he did not disappoint.

But it looks like Scotty is a little off on the concept of Venn diagrams.

This is either remarkable idiocy by our Dropout Grifter Guv, or one of the best ever trolling jobs on a clueless boss. I'm going with the latter, because if you read that diagram properly, it says that the powers for Walker as Governor are separate from the powers Evers will have as Governor. The only thing I'll disagree with is that I'm fairly certain the Governor's veto powers are still the same as they were before November 6 in Wisconsin.

Then again, like with tonight's Obamacare ruling, right-wing a-holes can try to turn laws into anything they want it to mean, I suppose.

Regardless, Scotty's massive FAIL on this Venn diagram and his increasingly lame and absurd explanations of how this isn't a Power Grab is also a great illustration of who he is....and always has been. Always more worried about spin that fact, no matter how stupid it makes him look.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

$375 K an acre? Yet another issue crops up from the Fox-con

I saw this article pass along social media, and I couldn’t help but notice.
One of the largest property owners in Racine County has sold one of its most recognizable parcels of land to the Village of Mount Pleasant.

Borzynski Brothers Properties sold 9.6 acres of land along Highway KR to the village for slightly more than $3.6 million, a sum that includes relocation benefits. The Village Board unanimously approved the purchase on a 6-0 vote on Monday. Trustee Anna Marie Clausen was absent from the meeting.

The land is part of the Foxconn Technology Group development site in the village. The land includes some silos filled with corn along with other farm equipment and structures.
That’s a cool $375,000 an acre. Even more interesting is that the property had a massive silo fire less than a month ago that required the assistance of a dozen local fire departments, so you’d think the land would be somewhat devalued as a result.

As you’d imagine, Ricardo Torres’ story in the Racine Journal-Times says that’s a lot more than your typical land prices.
Using the Mount Pleasant’s metric of $50,000 per acre, that would only account for about $500,000 for the Borzynski land. Village Trustee Gary Feest pointed out the huge amount of relocation costs and asked for some further clarification.

“Nine acres at $50,000 per acre, subtracted by $3.6 million, there’s a lot of money in relocation costs,” Feest said.
Yeah, like $3.15 million dollars! The Foxconn project manager for the Village of Mount Pleasant indicated to Village Board members that crops and machinery have to be moved. But $3.15 million in compensation and the owners keep their land-related assets? REALLY?

Is this worth $3.6 million in the real world?

So how is Mount Pleasant paying for this, as a relatively small community of 26,500 people? By using part of the $764 million TIF district for the Foxconn project, with the plan being that the money is eventually paid back through the added value of property and fees from Foxconn and others once the buildings get constructed.

And sure, Foxconn put up $60 million to help Mount Pleasant and Racine County buy properties and compensate current land owners. But it clearly wasn’t enough, because Racine County had to borrow even more money this May for this boondoggle.
The county plans to borrow $68 million to help finance the land purchases in Area I and II related to the Foxconn Technology Group project in Mount Pleasant. In December, the county borrowed $79.2 million to help buy the land in Area I….

They’re acquiring land at a much faster pace than we originally anticipated,” [FPM Financial Director Dave] Anderson said. “We’re running out (of money), we need the money.”

Anderson said much of the 1,105 acres that have been acquired in Area II has been paid for with $60 million that Foxconn has contributed to the process.
So while Foxconn is being constructed, the current taxpaying residents of Mount Pleasant are paying for what seems to be heavily inflated costs of buying properties, paying for the infrastructure that has to be built out to Foxconn, and the debt costs from the $764 million TIF.

In return, some Mount Pleasant residents have been driven out of their homes via eminent domain, while those who remain have to pay higher taxes and deal with the headaches that result from added construction and traffic in their communities.

And now we know the Foxconn plant won’t make the same products nor hire as many people as what was promised when that $764 million TIF district was created, which means that it’s less likely that Mount Pleasant will ever make their money back on this deal, nor will local people get the opportunities that they were told were going to be available.

It sure seems like the only groups being helped are Foxconn (via taxpayer handouts), well-connected real estate people, and GOP-puppet politicians that get campaign kickbacks from this deal (remember, Foxconn is in Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos’s district). Meanwhile, everyone else in the state will be paying a whole lot more for a Fox-con that’s clearly going to be a whole lot less than what they said it was going to be.

Can someone explain to me why recall petitions aren’t flying all over southern Racine County against the officials who have sold out the rest of us?

Scotty couldn't give Kimberly-Clark "Foxconn 2", so he'll settle for a $28 mil WEDC handout!

And here I thought Scott Walker was delaying his ultimate signature of the Lame Duck bills because he wanted to cowardly bury the news before Christmas. Turns out there was another scheme that intervened.

Sure enough, by this afternoon Walker, Appleton-area Sen. Roger Roth, WEDC CEO Mark Hogan and the Kimberly-Clark bigwigs were announcing a deal. Here’s what Walker’s office released as far as what was in that agreement.
To ensure that Kimberly-Clark remains in Wisconsin, WEDC is awarding the company up to $28 million in state income tax incentives over the next five years. The full amount of credits can be earned if the company retains all of its 388 employees through 2023 and makes at least $200 million in capital investment at the Cold Spring facility over that time. The company can also earn tax credits based upon how much it purchases in goods and services from Wisconsin companies.

The tax incentives are performance-based, which means the company must first carry out the terms of the agreement and provide supporting documentation before it can receive any tax credits.
So AT LEAST an average of $5.6 million a year, and I’d also like to see how the other incentives work, and how much more we might on the hook for in purchases that K-C would likely have made anyway if it stayed open.

The WEDC Board met in a closed-session teleconference this afternoon, and from what I can tell, this deal is not much different from your typical WEDC handout that just needs approval by its right-wing stacked board.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reminded us of how we got here, what could have been lost, and what would remain under this agreement.
Kimberly-Clark officials have said they planned to close facilities in Neenah and Fox Crossing as part of a global restructuring and would change course only if they received state subsidies. As of earlier this year, the company employed 110 people at the Neenah facility and about 500 at the Fox Crossing facility, which is known as the Cold Spring plant.

State officials have said they have seen no way to save the Neenah nonwovens facility but believed an incentive package could preserve the Cold Spring plant.

Under the new plan, the company would keep the Cold Spring plant open and close one in Conway, Ark. In exchange for up to $28 million in taxpayer funds, Kimberly-Clark would invest as much as $200 million in its Cold Spring plant and retain 388 workers there.
So we’re letting Kimberly-Clark close 1 facility, shed more than 200 jobs, AND get $25 million? Gee, can I get a deal like that for that level of "growth"?

Who needs to add jobs and improve your business?

Quick aside – why wasn’t a package like this considered and signed before the election, instead of the failed attempt to give K-C a Foxconn-style deal (well, other than giving a cover for the WisGOP's Power Grab, of course)? I seem to recall some dope mentioning this possibility back in August, when Walker and WEDC handed out a similar $60 million deal to GOP donors at Green Bay Packaging.

As we consider this deal, let me remind you that Kimberly-Clark continues to benefit from corporate tax cuts resulting from the GOP’s Tax Scam in DC. In addition, K-C also is eligible to use the state’s M&A giveaway to manufacturers, which helps explain why the corporation has paid a total of $1 in state income taxes over the last 4 years.

Let me also note that Kimberly-Clark is also going to extract sizable concessions from the unionized workers at these plants, as Maureen Wallenfang of the Appleton Post-Crescent described for us in August. While the employees that are allowed to stay appear to get minor ratification and retention bonuses, many of them will be losing out due to the other wage cuts included in the contract.
A “grandfathered” pay scale, for example, was eliminated for those with the most seniority at the 25-year-old plant.

The grandfathered group, estimated to include at least 90 workers, make over $30 an hour. Their pay will slide down to $27.03 per hour with the new agreement. For some, the reduction will slash more than $6 an hour from paychecks, chopping about 20 percent.

Another chart shows that a worker just starting in operations is currently making $22.89 an hour. That pay will decrease more than 12 percent to $20 an hour, and stay there through 2020.

The tentative agreement shows all pay rates will be frozen for three years. Sundays and holidays that are currently paid as double time will instead pay time-and-a-half. Other than Christmas and Christmas Eve, holidays could be mandatory, based on the discretion of the company. Shift differentials were eliminated.
In addition to the general decline of the paper industry, it looks like K-C has other difficulties it's going to have to deal with.

And yet despite all of these tax and wage cuts, and the fact that this recall was putting K-C in a much weaker position, Walker, Roth and WEDC want to throw this corporation ANOTHER $28 million over the next 5 years. And now incoming Guv Tony Evers is going to be stuck with another corporate welfare albatross that takes resources away from other needs.

In light of today’s Kimberly-Clark handout, the northeastern Wisconsin county executive who called for action to help the area’s struggling papermakers asked a legitimate question – where does this “business practice” of taxpayer-backed extortion end?
"This is great news for the workers. Especially this close to Christmas," said Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. "But there are still questions that need to be answered. And I am not the only one asking them. What does this mean for the long term? What does this mean for the rest of the industry? What do we do when the next company threatens to shutter a plant?"
This scam is exactly why the WisGOP Legislature wanted more control over WEDC, to keep the taxpayer-backed slush fund moving along. ENOUGH!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Manufacturing sucks in Wis under "gold standard", and exposes tall tales from Walkerland

I wanted to go back to one particular aspect of this week's release of the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW) - manufacturing. If you go into the manufacturing figures on the handy QCEW web site, you'll see that Wisconsin was one of many states that had a 12-month increase in manufacturing jobs between June 2017 and June 2018. We added 8,604 manufacturing jobs in that time, a 1.8% rate of increase which placed us 28th in the nation.

Kind of disappointing, given that Wisconsin has one of the highest proportion of manufacturing jobs in the country, so you'd think we'd benefit a lot from growth in that sector. But what's worse is when you compare those figures to what Scott Walker’s Administration was saying when they released their jobs estimates for June 2018.
MADISON – Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Ray Allen released the following statement on today's release by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDOL/BLS) showing that Wisconsin's significant addition of 17,600 manufacturing jobs from June 2017 to June 2018 ranked 2nd nationally and 1st in the Midwest, while the addition of 2,600 manufacturing jobs from May 2018 to June 2018 also ranked 2nd nationally and 1st in the Midwest….

"Under the leadership of Governor Walker, businesses across many industries are confident in the direction of the Wisconsin economy, they are adding jobs and Wisconsin workers are reaping the benefits," Secretary Allen said. "More than 3,000 people entered the labor force in Wisconsin from May to June, and it's easy to see why; workers are excited about the great career opportunities available, many of which are being created in Wisconsin's high-paying manufacturing industries."
That alleged 12-month increase in manufacturing jobs was later revised even higher, to 18,700.

Now compare that to what the “gold standard” report said this week. In the QCEW, Wisconsin didn’t even gain HALF the jobs in manufacturing that Walker’s DWD claimed 5 months ago, was 6th out of 7 in the Midwest for job growth in manufacturing. We also didn't even keep up with the growth in the US as a whole.

Manufacturing jobs, Midwest Jun 2017-Jun 2018, QCEW
Iowa +3.3% (+7,202)
Mich +2.6% (+16,289)
Ohio +2.1% (+14,231)
Ind. +2.2% (+11,603)
Ill. +2.0% (+11,386)
U.S. +1.9%
Wis. +1.8% (+8,604)
Minn +0.9% (+2,816)

This is far from the first time Walker’s DWD has overstated the amount of jobs being added by state manufacturers. UW's Menzie Chinn previously produced this chart at the Econbrowser web site that shows revisions from prior years.

Last year's monthly DWD numbers were benchmarked at the start of 2018, so there are few changes there, but once the benchmark period was over, Walker's DWD was back to overestimating growth at the start of this year, a gap that grew to more than 10,000 by June.

How can the Walker DWD continue to “overestimate” job growth in the state’s manufacturing economy this badly? Are Wisconsin manufacturers lying about how many people that are working when they submit the information to Walker’s DWD? Or was Walker’s DWD fudging the numbers that businesses were giving them?

Either way, there should have been an adjustment to account for these consistently too-high jobs numbers. But I bet Ray Allen and company at the highest reaches of the DWD didn’t care to improve accuracy as long as they thought their originally-reported numbers would help their chances of keeping their own jobs via Scott Walker’s re-election.

And let me conclude with another bad trend in Wisconsin manufacturing continued in this report, where Wisconsin still had the worst manufacturing wages in the Midwest, and further behind our neighbors in Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa.

Average weekly manufacturing wage, Midwest June 2018
Ill. $1,284 (+$11)
Mich $1,248 (+$25)
Minn $1,248 (+$31)
Ind. $1,138 (+$9)
Ohio $1,124 (+$16)
Iowa $1,096 (+$26)
Wis. $1,077 (+$23)

Maybe that whole "give manufacturers major tax breaks and wage suppression" strategy of Scott Walker and WisGOP isn't translating into good things. And the latest "gold standard" report gives more proof behind Tony Evers' argument to end the Big Giveaway for manufacturers making $300,000 or more, and use the money for people and programs who will actually do things that might improve our economy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Economic clouds keep gathering

Over the last week, we've seen a number of reports that indicates the sugar high the US economy has been on is wearing off, and things are coming down. It may not be as rash as the 10%+ drops we've seen in the stock market in the last month, but it's still seems like economic storm clouds are gathering.

I'll have a separate report on last week's November jobs report, which had job growth slowing down to 155,000 jobs, although it certainly goes along with this theme. Instead, I'll start with this report from last week, which doesn’t make me confident that America is winning in the trade wars.
The U.S. trade deficit jumped to a 10-year high in October as soybean exports dropped further and imports of consumer goods rose to a record high, suggesting the Trump administration's tariff-related measures to shrink the trade gap likely have been ineffective….

The reports added to weak housing and business spending on equipment data in signaling a slowdown in economic growth. Concerns over the health of the economy have roiled financial markets in recent days.

The Commerce Department said the trade deficit increased 1.7 percent to $55.5 billion, the highest level since October 2008. The trade gap has now widened for five straight months. Data for September was revised to show the deficit rising to $54.6 billion instead of the previously reported $54.0 billion.

The politically sensitive goods trade deficit with China surged 7.1 percent to a record $43.1 billion in October.
In addition, construction spending declined for the 3rd month in a row in October.
Total Construction Construction spending during October 2018 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,308.8 billion, 0.1 percent (±1.5 percent)* below the revised September estimate of $1,310.8 billion. The October figure is 4.9 percent (±1.6 percent) above the October 2017 estimate of $1,247.5 billion. During the first ten months of this year, construction spending amounted to $1,096.4 billion, 5.1 percent (±1.2 percent) above the $1,043.6 billion for the same period in 2017.

Private Construction Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $998.7 billion, 0.4 percent (±0.8 percent)* below the revised September estimate of $1,003.0 billion. Residential construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $539.0 billion in October, 0.5 percent (±1.3 percent)* below the revised September estimate of $541.7 billion. Nonresidential construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $459.7 billion in October, 0.3 percent (±0.8 percent)* below the revised September estimate of $461.3 billion.

Public Construction In October, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $310.2 billion, 0.8 percent (±2.6 percent)* above the revised September estimate of $307.8 billion. Educational construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $76.9 billion, 2.6 percent (±2.3 percent)* above the revised September estimate of $75.0 billion. Highway construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $94.6 billion, 0.1 percent (±6.9 percent)* below the revised September estimate of $94.6 billion.
That seems like a problem up ahead.

And this report doesn’t sound good if you work in manufacturing, or many other fields. This productivity report showed that the compensation of many jobs was not keeping up with inflation, even as the economy was growing by 3-4% in the Summer.
In the third quarter of 2018, nonfarm business labor productivity increased 2.3 percent—about the same as the preliminary estimate of 2.2 percent—as both output and hours worked increased at the same rates reported November 1. Unit labor costs were revised down 0.3 percentage point due primarily to a downward revision to hourly compensation. In the manufacturing sector, productivity increased 1.0 percent rather than 0.5 percent as previously reported, as an upward revision to output was greater than an upward revision to hours worked. Unit labor costs were revised from a 0.9-percent increase to a 1.2-percent decline for the third quarter of 2018—the combined effect of the upward revision to productivity and a downward revision to hourly compensation.

In the second quarter of 2018, labor productivity, output, and hours worked were unrevised for the nonfarm business sector. Unit labor costs decreased 2.8 percent, rather than decreasing 1.0 percent as previously reported, due to a downward revision to hourly compensation. Productivity, output, and hours worked were also unrevised in the manufacturing sector. A large downward revision to manufacturing hourly compensation resulted in a similar downward revision to unit labor costs; after revision, unit labor costs fell 6.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018, in contrast to the 0.1 percent increase reported previously. In the nonfinancial corporate sector, productivity decreased 1.9 percent rather than 0.9 percent as reported November 1, due solely to a downward revision to output; hours were unrevised. Because hourly compensation was revised down by more than productivity, unit labor costs increased less than previously reported.
In fact, despite manufacturing workers being more productive, they were losing ground after inflation was taken into account.

Real Hourly Compensation, manufacturing (annual basis)
Q3 2018 -2.2%
Q2 2018 -6.5%
Q3 2018 vs Q3 2017 -2.4%

And while it may be considered good news to find out today that the producer price index only up 0.1% for November. But that “controlled” inflation is largely due to two items. One is a drop in gas and other energy prices that we’ve been seeing at the pump in recent weeks. The other is something that has particularly plagued Wisconsin – certain farm prices that continue to fall, especially at the point of purchase before processing.
Unprocessed goods for intermediate demand: The index for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand moved down 5.3 percent in November, the largest decrease since a 9.7-percent drop in January 2015. Leading the November decline, prices for unprocessed energy materials fell 11.5 percent. The index for unprocessed foodstuffs and feedstuffs decreased 1.0 percent.

In contrast, prices for unprocessed nonfood materials less energy increased 2.4 percent. For the 12 months ended in November, the index for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand moved down 0.7 percent, the first decline since falling 4.4 percent for the 12 months ended October 2016.

Product detail: Leading the November decrease in the index for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand, crude petroleum prices fell 29.5 percent. The indexes for raw milk, slaughter barrows and gilts, fresh fruits and melons, slaughter cows and bulls, and stainless and other alloy steel scrap also moved lower. Conversely, prices for carbon steel scrap climbed 9.5 percent. The indexes for natural gas and corn also rose….

Stage 3 intermediate demand: The index for stage 3 intermediate demand fell 0.8 percent in November following a 1.6-percent increase in October. In November, prices for total goods inputs to stage 3 intermediate demand dropped 2.1 percent. Conversely, the index for total services inputs climbed 0.3 percent. Decreases in the indexes for gasoline; raw milk; primary basic organic chemicals; slaughter barrows and gilts; metals, minerals, and ores wholesaling; and jet fuel outweighed increases in the indexes for machinery and equipment parts and supplies wholesaling, slaughter poultry, and business loans (partial). For the 12 months ended in November, the index for stage 3 intermediate demand rose 3.2 percent.
Now we’ll see if that reality of a lack of inflation for producers along with a softening of the economy in general will keep the Fed from increasing short-term rates in the near future. And will a Fed pause in interest rates even matter, especially if our economy is already slowing down and possibly heading toward recession in the next year or so?

But hey, MAGA and #winning, right?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Fitz alarmed that Tony Evers...might stop Wisconsin's job growth from being lousy?

Over the weekend, GOP Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald went on Mike Gousha’s show to justify his party’s recent power grab. Fitzgerald claimed that a major reason why he and Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos chose to do this (with a wink and nod from Governor Scott Walker) was to protect WisGOP economic policies that Evers has said he would like to change.
Fitzgerald also said he found the governor-elect’s rhetoric on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and some of its projects “alarming.”

Evers has said he wants to get rid of the WEDC and favors a 72-county approach to economic development under the old state Department of Commerce model.

“I’m more concerned about some of the aggressive tone and the posture he’s taken over the last couple of weeks specific to some things that really could derail the economy in Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald said.
“Derail the economy”??? What the hell is Fitz talking about? If you look at today’s full release of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), it’s pretty obvious that Wisconsin’s economy is already off-track.

We got a small hint of this with the topline figures that came out a couple of weeks ago, which showed Wisconsin 32nd in the nation for total job growth. That made for the 29th straight quarter Wisconsin was in the bottom half of the country for job growth - a streak that started in the same month that the WisGOP Legislature passed Scott Walker’s first budget into law in June 2011.

But the full report (and updated figures from the QCEW mapping site), makes Wisconsin fare even worse.

36th in the US for private sector job growth at 22,279. That’s a 0.90% growth rate, which is well below the 1.70% rate for the nation.

27th in the US for manufacturing job growth (+1.82%). In addition, the 8,604 jobs added over the last 12 months measured is nearly 9,000 LESS than the Walker Department of Workforce Development claimed back in July, and in fact, Wisconsin fell below the US manufacturing job growth rate of 1.87%.

31st in average wages for all jobs, at $904 a week.

Also 31st in average weekly private sector wage, at $899 a week.

35th in average weekly manufacturing wages, at $1,077 a week. That’s also the lowest wage in the Midwest, an “honor” Wisconsin has consistently earned over the last few years.

In addition, drawing those totals out to the last 7 years since Walker’s and WisGOP’s first budget went into effect, it becomes obvious how far Wisconsin has been left behind during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. To start with, the state ranks 34th in the US for private sector job growth over that time period, and ends up 5th out of 7 Midwestern states.

In fact, we were adding jobs at a much faster rate when that first Walker/WisGOP budget was passed in June 2011 than we have at any time over the last 2 years. But hey, MAGA!

So what does Scott Fitzgerald find "alarming" about Tony Evers saying that we need a new direction for economic development? Is it the end of the WEDC slush fund for GOP candidates? An end to the tax cuts for corporations that haven't done anything to improve Wisconsin's economy, but has done plenty for the campaign funds of Republicans? Is it fear of Wisconsin workers actually making competitive wages and not having to beg oligarchs for any improvement in their work lives?

Wait a second....those are the items that Fitz, Vos and the rest of the ALEC Crew don't want to see "derailed." No wonder why they're trying to handcuff Evers from having an economy that works for the rest of us!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Absentee ballot tricks in NC...and shades of some in Wisconsin?

One of the few post-election stories that might be crazier than the lame duck shenanigans in Wisconsin is this story in North Carolina, where certain GOP tricks have caused one last House race from being called.
As North Carolina officials investigate allegations that absentee ballots were tampered with in a tight congressional race, a review of some of those ballots revealed many were signed by the same small group of people -- some of whom are connected to a longtime operative working for the Republican candidate's campaign.

North Carolina requires witnesses to sign absentee ballots. Usually, those witnesses are family members or friends.

But a set of 161 absentee ballots for the 9th Congressional District obtained by CNN on Monday showed that the same nine people signed at least 10 absentee ballots each.

Many of those nine people who signed ballots seem to know each other, checks of public records and their social media accounts showed. Some are also associates of Leslie McCrae Dowless, a longtime North Carolina operative who worked for the campaign of Mark Harris, the Republican who leads the race by 905 votes.

A CNN review found three witnesses signed more than 40 ballots each, another signed 30, and three other people signed more than 10 apiece. North Carolina election law states only the voter or a near relative can hand in an absentee ballot.

Joe Bruno of WSOC in Charlotte has had a series of reports on the scandal, and got a woman to admit on camera what they did as part of the scheme. She didn't know she was doing anything wrong or illegal - she was just doing a job and picking up ballots to give to Dowless, who apparently did whatever he wanted with them.

As I've heard the details emerge about the GOP's fraud in NC-9, I was reminded of this interview from Greg Palast in October 2012, as he was promoting his book “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.” Palast told of a eerily similar story in Wisconsin during the recall election of 2012.
…The secret is called Themis. Themis is the Koch Brother’s magical vote munching machine. It’s a data mining operation. It does two things. It’s capable first of something that’s creepy but legal. They fill out ballots for their own voters, mail them and tell them to sign it. It’s all perfect so they’re beyond challenge. So their voters are all taken care of basically, they’ve already been voted for if they sign.

Then, the Themis machine is capable of doing all the caging, all the challenging, the purging, and the blocking at the polls to keep away the voters. For example, if I went by the Brennan Center numbers, and these are experts and therefore no one listens to them, but if you do listen to the screaming, screeching, buried experts, 97,000 Wisconsinites, almost all of them students, were barred from voting because they lacked state ID. Even though they had state student ID, that’s not state ID.

But that wasn’t enough for the Themis machine. The Koch Operation, Americans for Prosperity, had its Chief set up a front called United Sportsmen of Wisconsin. United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, which appeared and then instantly vanished after the recall vote, using the Themis machine, were able to identify likely Democratic absentee voters in key recall areas. Because there were also votes, by the way, on legislatures. The Themis machine was able to get the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin to identify Democratic voters, send them letters saying here’s where you mail in your ballot, and here’s the deadline. The address was a phony, it was their own, and the date was after the legal date for submitting an absentee ballot. So, either way, you were fucked like a duck. The Sportsmen basically were hunting Democrats. That’s how it worked. And again, as Bobby Kennedy says – he’s Dean of Law School at Pace University – this is a crime. And it’s a double crime when you add in the fact that most of this is racially targeted.
And if you didn’t fill in the blanks on that absentee ballot, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that someone in Koch-land might fill in the right(-wing) ones in for you.

Sure makes you wonder if the “great WisGOP turnout machine” might be related to this tactic, doesn’t it? I’d love to find out how many GOP operatives comb Wisconsin nursing homes and other residences trying to “help” seniors and others in certain areas vote. And you’re damn right I’m going there.

Vos and Fitz continue ignoring, mocking the majority of Wisconsin voters.

It's been absurd to see how WisGOP's Legislative leaders try to justify their Power Grab from this week. Especially awful has been Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos, who has been consistently indicating that some voters are more worthy than others.

This is well stated. Republicans write off major swaths of Wisconsin's population all the time, they refused to run an Assembly candidate in nearly 1/3 of the districts in the state, and actively denigrate the largest cities and academic centers in the state. And then they whine when people in those population and academic don't vote for them? That's a YOU problem, Robbin'.

As this map from Decision Desk HQ's J. Miles Coleman shows, it wasn't just Milwaukee and Madison that turned toward Democrats in 2018. Take a look at La Crosse, Eau Claire, and even the WOW Counties and the Twin Cities exurbs.

Guess what parts of the state are growing? Mostly ones that are blue on this map.

By the way, Robbin', Leah Vukmir just tried this type of "us and them" statewide campaign, where her supporters ran ads saying how she stood up to "union thugs", said Tammy Baldwin was on "Team Terrorist" for not supporting torture-enabler Gina Haspell for CIA director, and constantly claimed Madison native Baldwin had "San Francisco" and "Brooklyn" values.

So what was the result of this "us vs them" campaign from Vukmir? The biggest loss in a decade by any major-party candidate in a statewide Wisconsin election.

And as Marquette Law's Charles Franklin noted, that 9.7% difference in margin between the Senate and Governor's races translated into "tipping points" in many of the state's gerrymandered Assembly districts.

That would be enough to flip the Assembly to Dem if repeated downticket. So please proceed with the divisive hate talk, WisGOPs. See what happens when state voters realize their local legislator is voting in lockstep with ALEC trash like you, Robbin', and they react accordingly in 2020.

Vos's Senate counterpart is also ramping up the rhetoric after they jammed through their disliked Power Grab ahead of Evers' inauguration.

Let's think about what Evers is saying that Fitz might find "alarming." Is it more oversight for WEDC and Foxconn? Stopping the free ride for corporations who have gotten numerous tax cuts and wage suppression measures put into law over the last 8 years? Adding funding to our public schools? Making it easier for people to vote?

As former UW professor Don Moynihan notes, it seems like Fitz's concern is that....Evers might take actions to follow through on what he was saying during the campaign.

And if the GOP's Lame Duck bills were "innocuous", why did they have to be shoved through in 3 days during a lame duck session? Why not just wait until Evers took office, pass it early in the sessions, and dare Evers to veto the changes in powers if you think the people will support you? To ask the question is to answer it.

It's one thing to be dishonest and inflammatory in public statements, but what makes the act of Fitz, Vos and the rest of the WisGOPs so insulting is that they suck at it. They seem to think that the Wisconsinites that gets their "facts" from Faux News TV and Am hate radio represents the thoughts of the voters of the state as a whole. November's election shows that they are wrong.

Got a secret for you guys - getting 50-55% of the votes in a gerrymandered district does not = a mandate to run roughshod over the rest of the state. And our newly-elected Governor and Attorney General should repeat that reality loudly and frequently.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Walker would be a hypocrite to sign Lame Duck bills. But that reality won't stop him

I had the ideas and basic groundwork for a post ready to go, and then State Rep. Peter Barca beats me to it.
Governor Walker had previously vetoed a number of identical or essentially identical provisions earlier this session when he was presented with the state budget. His own veto message notes his substantial concerns with some of these provisions. It states that Governor Walker would ‘object to the limitations created,’ that he believes ‘these requirements will infringe on’ state agencies’ abilities to negotiate, and that he would ‘object to the creation of unnecessary and burdensome reporting requirements.’

“If Governor Walker believed these provisions would have unduly or unnecessarily constrained the operations of his office and administration, how could he support their inclusion in these proposals now?” Representative Barca asked. “It would be the height of hypocrisy for Walker to say that he believes these requirements should not apply to him, but should apply to the successor that defeated him.”

Governor Walker clearly understands the ramifications of this situation, as during his transition into office, he sent a letter to Governor Doyle imploring the outgoing administration not to take a number of executive actions during the post-election, lame duck period. “I call on Governor Walker to show integrity and decency and to be consistent regarding these lame duck proposals,” Barca said.

“As we are just going through the wonderful memorial ceremonies for President Bush it was prominently detailed how gracious he was to his successor, President Clinton, and history has been kind to him because of the type of character he demonstrated throughout his life. Governor Walker should veto these bills. He should do it for the voters of this state. He should do it for his own legacy. And he should do it because that is the way gracious leaders of character conduct themselves."

And then Rep. Barca includes a list of items Walker has vetoed in the past when they applied to him, and would apply to Evers under the Lame Duck bills.

Let me point out a few of my personal favorites, starting with the Lame Duck bills' attempt to prevent Governor Evers' DOT from moving federal and state moneys around to various highwat projects on an as-needed basis. Just over a year ago, Walker vetoed this out of the budget, claiming that it was inefficient.
I am partially vetoing these provisions because I object to the limitations created in this budget on the allocation of segregated funds among highway projects. The limitations placed on the amounts provided for the southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects and the major highway projects, in particular, will inhibit the department’s ability to allocate funds in the most advantageous manner especially in light of the I-94 north-south corridor project funding provided for in separate legislation.

As a result of my partial vetoes of these sections, the department will be able to make dollar for dollar reallocations among all state and local road and highway projects – including the southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects. My veto will ensure that the state can maximize the use of federal matching dollars and begin to implement state efforts to reduce local government’s costs immediately. While no overall increase in spending will be permitted by my partial vetoes, critical reallocations, especially to advance the southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects will be enabled. None of these reallocations, however, will hinder my earlier commitment to keep all major projects on schedule to the highest degree possible within the overall funding provided under the budget bill.
The next item I want to point out involves the state's STAR project, which was supposed to be a "one-stop shop" for human resources and other back-office functions, but has turned into a major headache, with cost overruns and delays. The Legislature wanted to have Walker's Department of Administration send a report to the Joint Finance Committee each year detailing how operations were going, along with how many tax dollars it was costing various agencies to be part of STAR.

Walker vetoed the measure last year, basically because that requirement it hurt his fee-fees.
I am vetoing this section to remove the reporting requirement because I believe that it encroaches on the executive branch's responsibility to manage state agency programs within the statutes and funding levels set by the Legislature. In the Executive Budget, the department requested the conversion of the self-funded portal appropriation from annual to continuing, which would have given the department more flexibility in managing the appropriation and expanding the number of e-projects based on existing fee revenue available. As part of this request, the department was directed to report to the Legislature on these projects. Given that the Joint Committee on Finance elected to reject this proposal, it will be involved directly in any expenditure authority increase and can request any additional information it would like at that time.

The last one on Barca's list that I want to go into relates to Walker's and WisGOP plans to make people jump through more hoops in order to get Medicaid. Part of the budget that the Legislature passed in September 2017 wanted to make the Walker Administration send a report on how they planned to implement this program, as well as have the Joint Finance Committee sign off on any waivers to Feds that might be required to make sure the plan followed the law.

Again, Walker said that the Joint Finance Committee doesn't get that veto power over the Department of Health Services.
I am vetoing this section because I believe these requirements will infringe on the Department of Health Services' ability to negotiate a successful waiver with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Further, I object to the creation of unnecessary and burdensome reporting requirements that could delay approval of the waiver, jeopardizing these reforms from being implemented.
Naturally, the Lame Duck bills have resurrected this idea of making JFC sign off on any waivers, and it goes further in having the Legislature micro-manage most waivers by DHS under Evers, and puts up even stricter requirements for the "welfare reform" plans.

So if Walker allows these extra reporting and restrictions in the Lame Duck bills to be put onto Evers, after he vetoing such measures when they applied to himself and his administration, it leads to a simple question. “Why is it different for Tony, Scotty?”

"We're going to screw with the next guy and the state. You with us, Scott?"

Let me conclude by noting that the vetoes by Walker could have been overridden by 2/3 of the State Legislature, and given that these measures passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Joint Finance Committee, and because they weren't taken out of the budget when debated in the Legislature, it is likely that the 2/3 override would have happened. But Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos and Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald chose not to do so, so apparently they didn't think it was vital to get this oversight into law...until Tony Evers was elected last month.

Let’s see the Republicans in Capitol in all offices explain their cowardly, hypocritical act, especially if Walker signs those bills without vetoing the same things he struck down 15 months ago. And I thoroughly expect Scotty to sign it, since that guy has been an amoral partisan GOP hack his entire career - why would he change now?

Walker, WisGOP have done plenty to prevent Evers from cutting off WEDC slush fund

If you thought that the Lame Duck bills couldn’t get worse after they were introduced, you underestimate the abilities of the WisGOP Legislature. I found out about one of these add-ons yesterday from Wisconsin State Journal editor (and former statehouse reporter) Matt DeFour.

DeFour is referencing an article from Kelly Meyerhoffer in Friday’s State Journal, which says the following.
The summaries [of the bill] include at least one provision not previously disclosed. It would remove a statutory requirement that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. annually verify information submitted by tax credit recipients before a company can obtain the tax credit. Under the new bill, WEDC would annually verify only a sample of tax credit claimant information and rely on signed statements from other companies that they had created the required jobs.

The agency has previously had trouble complying with the state requirement that it verify job numbers.
So because WEDC was having a problem taking the steps needed to make sure handout recipients were following the law and making sure taxpayer dollars aren't being wasted, the WisGOP Legislature simply got rid of the requirement that WEDC would verify that the companies were creating the jobs. PROBLEM SOLVED!

Absurd enough, but add in this information from Meyerhoffer that complements the Lame Duck bills' moves to give the WisGOP Legislature more control over the WEDC Board, instead of incoming Dem Governor Evers.
Another provision specifies that the WEDC board has the power to appoint and supervise the point person acting on behalf of the state for the $10 billion Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing campus being built in Racine County. Currently, the person works within the Department of Administration.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Vos and Fitz(through their control of the WEDC Board) can put a GOP flunky in charge of making sure Foxconn is fulfilling their terms of the bargain that they struck with the state? You can be sure that person won’t ask too many questions that might make the Fox-con look even worse than the boondoggle it’s already appearing to be, just like you can be sure that WEDC won't be looking too hard at how many jobs were actually created through their taxpayer-backed slush fund.

WEDC used all day to mull how to react to the State Journal's report, and decided to push back on it.

Nice weasel words. In no way does WEDC deny that they now AREN"T REQUIRED to verify all of those tax credit rewards. And given their horrid track record, they WON'T verify all of those records, especially if they go to some GOP donor's company.

This leads to an obvious question- "Why couldn’t Tony Evers put $0 for WEDC funding in his budget for the next 2 years and have it go away by that method?" Because it’s not that simple, as WEDC gets money for its handouts from a variety of sources beyond general taxpayer dollars (aka “GPR”). The Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s summary of WEDC’s budget for 2017-19 talks about two of these sources, which come directly from other segregated funds.
Brownfield site assessment grants (SEG). Under current law, WEDC has a biennial SEG appropriation from the environmental fund of $1,000,000 annually for brownfield site assessment grants. The Governor recommends maintaining base funding for this appropriation.

Economic development fund; operations and programs (SEG). Under current law, WEDC has a continuing SEG appropriation from the economic development fund equal to the amounts identified in the appropriation schedule ($21,776,000 annually), which funds its operations and economic development programs. The revenue source for the economic development fund is the WISCONSIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION economic development surcharge imposed on C-corporations and S-corporations. (Basically a fee that ranges from $25 to $9,800, depending on the size of the business). The Governor recommends converting this appropriation to an all moneys received appropriation equal to deposits of economic development surcharge revenues, interest, and penalties collected in the economic development fund after (as under current law) deducting amounts appropriated to the Department of Revenue for administration of the surcharge. Under the Governor's recommendation, WEDC could use all monies received from the economic development fund and would not be limited to the amounts provided in the appropriation schedule.
And then there is also this change in the last budget, which converted the general tax amount from a limited total to a “sum-sufficient” one, which means the amount that could be used for these type of tax credits could be higher than what is budgeted.
The Governor recommends converting this appropriation to a sum sufficient appropriation equal to the amount obtained by subtracting from $35,250,700 in 2017-18 and $41,550,700 in 2018-19 the amounts expended from WEDC's two SEG appropriations described above. However, this appropriation would also be limited to no more than $12,747,000 in 2017-18 and $18,774,000 in 2018-19 and annually thereafter. In addition, no monies could be expended from the GPR appropriation unless the balance in the SEG appropriation for operations and programs is zero.
In addition, the LFB noted in a different part of its summary of the 2017-19 budget that WEDC may continue giving back tax dollars for jobs created under contracts that already exist.
As previously noted, the refundable jobs tax credit and the nonrefundable economic development tax credit were consolidated into the refundable business development tax credit beginning in tax year 2016. Pursuant to 2015 Wisconsin Act 55, WEDC may allocate business development tax credits of $17 million in 2016 and $22 million in 2017 and annually thereafter. Any unused allocation authority during a calendar year may be carried forward for use in future years. In addition, WEDC may reallocate any nonrefundable angel and early stage seed tax credits that are unused in a calendar year to the business development tax credit under a 14-day passive review of the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC). JFC approved such a request from WEDC on June 13, 2016, to reallocate $8 million in angel and early stage seed investment tax credits. The increase of $37.75 million GPR over the base amount during the 2017-19 biennium reflects estimated increases in state expenditures associated with the phasing in of the new credit, as well as actions by JFC to increase WEDC's allocation authority for 2016.
That certainly opens the door for the current Walker/WEDC Administration to hand out a lot of tax credits to their buddies on their way out the door (including a deal for Kimberly-Clark now that the Foxconn 2 package imploded?), which will tie the hands of Evers in future budgets.

So the Evers Administration would have to take many steps beyond merely cutting off the WEDC slush fund of money in 2019. They would have to also adjust where this Economic Development surcharge goes, deal with the Brownfields money in some way (maybe toward something like cleanup?), and start limiting how much can be handed out for tax credits on already-signed contracts for a given year. Given how the GOP Legislature just went out of their way to shield Foxconn and the WEDC Board from Evers' control in order to keep the gravy train moving, it seems difficult to believe that a lot of this could get through into law over the next 2 years.

So it looks like public embarrassment and heavier oversight is going to be the best option left for Evers to deal with the WEDC slush fund in the short term. And Evers must his bully pulpit to draw attention to WEDC mishaps and cronyism at every step, to ramp up the pressure on others to stop this wasteful policies that give handouts for Wisconsin's lazy corporations and kickbacks to the crooked puppet politicians that front for them, while the rest of us get an underperforming economy that's last in the USA for entrepreneurship. Which is the intelligence of WEDC' design, when you think of it.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Shocker headlines from the evening!

Wow! This just came out, and I am shocked.

Ok, he's not going to contribute much and is a throw-in as part of a bigger deal between the Bucks and Cavs. But Sam Dekker is back in Wisconsin, baby!

Oh, did something else happen late this afternoon?

Mueller's got the receipts, and just has to show us which names go in the blanks of this story.

Maybe we need to stop talking about "who will face Trump in 2020" for a while. Between the Mueller probe and an economy that is already slowing, I wouldn't guarantee that "Individual 1" being on the GOP ticket in 2020.

Now it's just a matter of seeing who gave what order and what was expected in return. And if the Russian/NRA laundromat was involved and who knew about that.

Sounds like Senate Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson and our Fair Governor might need to answer a few questions themselves as this deepens.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

America's finest news source reports on Lame Duck Madness

The Onion never forgets the state where they came from.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

WisGOP - choice of the mapmakers, not the people

This is a remarkable plot from UW PoliSci Professor Barry Burden.

Look at all those red-outlined dots between 50 and 60%, and all of the Dem dots at 0%. That is exactly how gerrymandering is supposed to work - "packing" Wisconsinites into seats so blue it isn't worth it for Republicans to even contest the seat (hence, all the blue 0% numbers). But you then "crack" the Republican votes in a way that those voters are spread over a number of seats, meaning it will take a massive Dem wave to get those seats to fall out of GOP hands.

On a related note, Marquette Professor and pollster Charles Franklin notes that even though Tony Evers got nearly 30,000 more votes than Scott Walker in the November election, Evers only won 2 of the 63 Assembly districts that elected Republicans. And only 1 Republican Senator sits in an Evers-won seat.

And then let's go back to how those Assembly districts split during the 2016 presidential election, where Donald Trump won by less than 1% statewide.

Which means the MVP for the Wisconsin GOP for the November 2018 elections is....GOP operative Joe Handrick and the lawyers at Michael Best and Friedrich that drew up the district maps! Great work guys!

So no Robbin' Vos, you don't get to say "the people of Wisconsin chose us." Your map makers were able to choose numerous areas where 50-55% of voters could choose Republicans. But that gives you NO authority to ignore the 45% of voters in those districts who didn't want you, and it especially doesn't give you any authority over the Silenced Majority of the state that voted for Dems.

The closeness of those 2018 Republican wins in the Assembly and Senate makes me wonder if these guys (and they're almost all guys) in the GOP Assembly and Senate caucuses realize that their margin for pissing off constituents is very small, no matter how tough Robbin' Vos and Scott Fitzgerald talk.

This is especially if the Trump Administration is in complete implosion mode by November 2020, because this last tweet tells you what the Assembly results could be if Dems win by double digits in 2020 - like how Tammy Baldwin did last month.

Lame Duck Madness, and the laughably dishonest takes from WisGOP that result

As the Lame Duck goofiness goes on, it's nice to finally see some Journal-Sentinel reporters throwing serious shade when the WisGOPs try to BS them. It's almost like they sense the national media's eyes going onto them.

Nice "plausible deniability" act, Governor. I imagine this was also done all on the phone and with in-person meetings to duck records as well. No wonder why this guy ducked the media after choosing today for the annual "lighting the Capitol Christmas Tree" photo op.

Gotta love how Fitz keeps giving away the game. Kind of like his most famous gaffe, which happened after another attempted sneak attack bill in early 2011 (with a special guest appearance by Megyn Kelly!).

And let's not leave out the other GOP Legislative leader in the "BS and secrecy" parade.

Lastly, let's give you another one from our Grifter Guv, who I just saw on video (Channel 27 in Madison) say the lame-duck session was fine because "the Legislature was elected in a term that ends in January, just like my term ends in January."

March 2018 Scott Walker would like a word.

Wonder what changed?

The level of cynicism from these guys is beyond insulting. And if you're going to be cynical, can't you pathetic WisGOPs at least try to be good at it? We have the Google and the Twitter, you know!

EDIT- Add Wisconsin State Journal editor Matt DeFour to the list of "media throwing shade at WISGOP."

Walker Admin planned for more Scottholes, and Lame Duck bills may have made it worse

This article from the Daily Reporter reminded me of something I and many others had let slide – the updated WisDOT budget request.

The Daily Reporter article mentioned that one part of that request is that WisDOT wanted to be able to borrow for more types of projects around the state.
In its 2020-2021 biennial budget request, WisDOT proposes changing Wisconsin law to allow so-called Transportation Revenue Bonds to be used for its State Highway Rehabilitation program, which pays for highway and bridge improvements. State law now prevents these sorts of transportation bonds, which are backed by registration and other vehicle-related fees in the state’s transportation fund, from being used for anything other than the agency’s Major Highway Development program. That program deals with costly and complex projects such as the ongoing reconstruction of Interstate 39/90 between Madison and the Illinois state line….

WisDOT’s budget request calls for changing state law to expand the department’s borrowing powers to allow debt to be used for rehabilitation projects. The plan proposes using $26.4 million worth of transportation-revenue bonds in the 2020-2021 budget period to make up for a expected shortfall of transportation revenue and cutting the amount of bonding allowed for the major highway development program by $34.8 million.
It’s a relatively cosmetic change, if you think that “all DOT money is green” and that revenues shouldn’t be segregated much based on what the project is. But the expansion of what projects canbe borrowed for masks a bigger story that appears inside the updated budget request (which you can read by clicking here). And it also is in the Daily Reporter article.
The budget, meanwhile, proposes cutting $198 million from the state’s major highway program and adding $153.5 million to its highway rehabilitation program. Such a change would be in line with how Walker said he’d pay for infrastructure projects if he won re-election this year — by placing a priority on highway maintenance and repairs rather than large interstate projects and giving local governments more cash for roads.
Read that again – Walker’s DOT wanted to cut $198 million from projects such as Madison’s Beltline, I-39/90 south of Madison, Highway 15 in Outagamie County, Highway 23 between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac, and Highway 50 west of Kenosha. It also would come on top of a cut of $77 million in the current 2017-19 budget, which means we would fall even further behind over the 2019-21 biennium for these projects, as well as new needs that may come up.

More coming without changes

But it's even worse than that. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau just released their "Plainer English" summary of the budget requests, and it mentions that borrowing is also reduced in the 2019-21 DOT budget request.

Highway borrowing, FY 2019 vs 2019-21 budget request
2018-19 base $192.8 million
2019-20 request $62.7 million
2020-21 request $62.1 million

In addition, the budget request expects a cut from the deficit-wracked Federal government of $15 million over the next 2 years. Put it together, and the 2019-21 WisDOT budget requests cuts overall spending on highways each year by at least $150 million compared to what we're spending now. And what we're spending now is a decline of $173 million compared to what we spent in 2017-18 (which granted, is inflated due to a $160 million grant to pay for I-94 improvements near Foxconn). Major freeway projects are projected to have significant reductions throughout the state.

Let me remind you that these figures are before we inflation, which seems especially concerning with material costs increasing.

So did Wisconsin Republicans use this lame duck session to possibly send more money to highway projects and put the finances on a better footing going into the next budget? OF COURSE NOT. Instead they installed handcuffs on what Tony Evers’ DOT might spend money on. This provision in the Lame Duck Bills is an example.
Limitation on the Use of Federal Funds on State Highway Project Types. For those projects on which the Department expends federal moneys, require DOT to expend federal moneys on not less than 70% of the aggregate project components eligible for federal funding each fiscal year for the following project types: (a) southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects; (b) major highway development projects; and (c) state highway rehabilitation (SHR) projects with a total cost of less than $10 million. This provision would limit the use of federal funds for these project types to not less than 70% of the aggregate federally eligible project components.

Specify that if the Department determines that it cannot meet this requirement or if it could make more effective and efficient use of federal moneys, DOT would be able to submit a proposed alternate funding plan to the Joint Committee on Finance. Provide that if the Co-Chairs of the Committee do not notify the Department within 14 working days after the date of DOT's submittal that the Committee has scheduled a meeting for the purpose of reviewing the proposed plan, the Department would be able to expend moneys as proposed in the plan. Specify that if within 14 working days after the date of the submittal, the Co-Chairs of the Committee notify the Department that the Committee has scheduled a meeting for the purpose of reviewing the proposed plan, DOT would be able to expend moneys as proposed in the plan only upon approval of the Committee.
The LFB went on to add that such a restriction on where federal money could go might lower the amount of redistribution aid the state gets from the Feds (basically money left over from prior projects nationwide), because there are fewer projects that WisDOT can use that money on. And yes, this is the same redistribution money that Scott Walker once claimed would be a way to fill WisDOT’s budget holes.

This plan didn't quite work out.

In addition to the hands-tying when it comes to federal money, “small government” GOPs on the Joint Finance added on to the lame duck DOT bill Monday night that would have put further restrictions and requirements on local road construction projects, but it didn’t make the cut the next day.
The Joint Finance Committee amended the bill to add a prohibition on local governments from using their own workforce or contracting with another political subdivision for a local road or bridge project funded, in whole or in part, with state money. The provision also says local governments would have to bid out any local road or bridge project funded with state money.

But that piece of the bill was removed Tuesday as GOP Sen. Duey Stroebel, who authored the amendment, said the JFC change wasn’t meant to prohibit local governments from doing their own road work.
Oh NOOOO, WisGOP didn’t want to cut the need for local government employees and funnel more business to road construction contractors (and donors). NOOOOO, total coincidence!

That goes into the other reason this provision was jammed into the Lame Duck bills as opposed to the regular budget. Because it is an attempt to have more highway projects be funded entirely by state dollars, which allows contractors to avoid prevailing wages and other Federal work rules, making for another nice anti-worker provision to shove through before a Governor Evers could veto it.

The DOT budget request also reminds us that while the major highway projects are being cut, and new debt is projected to be cut, paying off all versions of previous DOT debt will cost the Transportation Fund $38 million more than the base amount going into 2019. And while there are reductions in the total borrowing, it's still over $133 million more that we'd put on the credit card, and that'll have to be paid back with interest at a later point as well.

So the the Walker Administration was planning to continue their spiral of more money for debt along with less money spent to fix the roads that have so many Scottholes in this state already. Fortunately, they won't be around to screw things up further, but it illustrates just what a mess that mentality has put us in, as the Evers Administration takes over in a month.