Sunday, August 19, 2018

Fox-con water deal seems to soak Racine Co taxpayers even more

As the Fox-con advances, we continue to find all sorts of surprise extra costs cropping up with this scam. The latest was described in a well-detailed article by Ricardo Torres of the Racine Journal-Times on Friday, and describes an agreement where the Village of Mount Pleasant is going to work with the Racine Water Utility to hook up and upgrade water and sewer lines in the village, to handle the larger needs that come with the Foxconn campus and related developments.
Alan Marcuvitz, attorney working with the village on matters related to Foxconn, said funding for the upgrades will be paid for by the tax incremental district (TID) set up in the Foxconn area.

“That’s going to cost approximately $100 million of funds that are being borrowed by the village in order to (pay for the project),” Marcuvitz said. “It’s going to be funded through the TID … it will be recouped through the collection of revenues flowing from the future as a result of development that occurs in the TID area.”

If approved by the city, Marcuvitz said this deal would be completely unique compared to what has been done in the past.

“Normally what has happened in the past is the Racine Water Utility has fronted the money and has recouped the money through REC (residential equivalent connection) fees,” Marcuvitz said. “But in this case, all of the new infrastructure, whether it’s mains or tanks or booster stations or pumper stations, anything to do with this at all is being paid for by the village.”
Uhhh…is that a good thing? That sounds like all of the costs are being dumped on the few taxpayers left in Mount Pleasant, and given that these costs are now being added to the $764 million TID, does that make it an $864 million TID that’ll take even longer to close, since another $100 million is designated for this project? Sure sounds like it (if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me).

Here’s another way it sounds like Mount Pleasant taxpayers are going to be put on the hook. The difference between REC fees and the cost to pay the debt to build the new water infrastructure is going to cost $26.8 million, and Marcuvitz says Mount Pleasant will pay THAT as well.
“The Racine Water Utility is going to go out and finance that $26.8 million, the village is covering any shortage that does not pay for the debt service based on (water) consumption,” Marcuvitz said. “Let’s say two years from now there’s a payment that needs to be made on the debt service and (the city) is short because the revenue is not sufficient to cover it, the village will cover that shortage for that year. (The village) will cover any shortage for any succeeding year.”
As if this isn’t enough of a potential budget-buster, it also looks like any developer of new property in Mount Pleasant is going to get the equivalent of a tax break in the form of lower REC fees.
Currently if a single home needs to connect to the water and sewer lines, it would cost $3,623. If, for example, a business or apartment complex needed 10 connections to those lines, then the fee would be $36,230...

When the agreement is final, the REC fees plan to be $500 to connect to the [Racine] water and sewer lines.
And that lowered fee will stay in place until that $100 million in upgrades is paid off in Mount Pleasant. Not a bad gig if you’re a scummy speculator who bought up land around Foxconn, but it also means the gap that Mount Pleasant has to make up is much larger than it otherwise would be.

And why would you need to cut the fee to build in and around Mount Pleasant in the first place? What happened to “if you build [Foxconn], they will come”?

This water and sewer deal reeks, and the 26,000 people that live[d] in Mount Pleasant and have to pay a large amount of these costs in the next few years, while Foxconn and the new developments will pay next to nothing. With the reality setting in that this Fox-con will lead to far fewer jobs than promised, why would anyone sign away their community’s present and future to take on further risk with this project?

And if you think, "well, that's Mount Pleasant's problem, and won't affect me" - WRONG! Remember that's there a "moral obligation pledge" written into the Foxconn bill to help Mount Pleasant sell all of this debt, and it means state taxpayers have to make up to 40% of the difference in interest and principal if the local communities can't pay back debts related to the Fox-con. As I noted back in January, the LFB estimated that the state could be on the hook for $64 million for a $100 million financing, such as we're seeing with this water deal. So yes, we all should care, beyond the fact that this is a horrible case study of how local communities can get screwed over by these deals.

The rest of the state already recognizes the Fox-con as an absurd, crooked boondoggle. But I’m starting to think there will be recall petitions flying in western Racine County once people start to see the new property tax and water bills that they’re going to have to pay for in order to build up all of the new infrastructure and local tax breaks that are included in this scam.

Zoo Interchange's costs go up due to Walker/WisGOP delays

This article kind of flew under the radar last week, but new reports show the North End of the Milwaukee area's Zoo Interchange is going to cost $30 million more.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation now pegs the cost of completing the Zoo Interchange at $232.6 million, which is up from an estimate of $202.2 million issued in 2017. Critics had warned that a delay could drive up the project’s costs when Republicans were busy adopting a provision barring work on the north leg of the Zoo Interchange during the 2017-2019 biennium.

Michael Pyritz, WisDOT spokesman, said in an email that the higher estimates are the result of inflation and design-cost predictions. He noted that the project is now scheduled to be let in 2021, rather than 2018. He cautioned, however, that the project’s final cost won’t be known until the state receives bids for the work.

“Until the bids are received it is premature to make a statement saying it is higher or lower than estimated,” he wrote.

Most of WisDOT’s increased estimate for the Zoo Interchange is the result of $21.6 million worth of contingency costs. Without those, the agency estimates that the project would cost $211 million, $7.7 million of which would result from expected inflation and $3.1 million from design costs. Pyritz declined to provide details about the cost estimate, saying that such information could influence bid results. He said the latest estimate takes into account seven components of the Zoo Interchange’s north leg.

This is a direct effect of the Walker Administration and WisGOP Legislature refusing to raise enough revenue to finish the Zoo project and other road work in the state. And this decision isn't just extending the time it takes to pay for these projects, but it’ll cost us $30 million more along the way.

As these costs of doing future Wisconsin road projects go up, the money we have available to pay for it continues to stagnate. And WisGOP's costs of inaction continue to hurt our state, and our economic competitiveness.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Strong July jobs report in Wisconsin, but big picture still weak

This week featured another Wisconsin jobs report, and July's figures were very good for our state.
The state added 9,100 private sector jobs and 8,700 total non-farm jobs from June 2018 to July. One-month gains were significant in durable goods [manufacturing] (+2,400) and Health Care and Social Assistance (+2,800).

In brief, the seasonally adjusted estimates show:

• Place of Residence Data: Wisconsin's preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 2.9 percent in July, up slightly from the record low of 2.8 percent experienced in April and May of 2018. Wisconsin's labor force participation rate remained at 68.9 percent in July, 6 percentage points higher than the national rate.

• Place of Work Data: From July 2017 to July 2018, Wisconsin added a statistically significant 38,500 private-sector and 21,300 manufacturing jobs, as defined by BLS. Wisconsin also added 9,100 private-sector jobs, 8,700 total non-farm jobs and 2,500 manufacturing jobs from June 2018 to July.
Pretty good report all around. I continue to be very skeptical of the great gains the Walker Administration keeps reporting in manufacturing (they’ve been revised down numerous times in recent years), but there were also solid gains in the service sectors (+6,200) and June’s jobs numbers were revised up by 1,200 private sector jobs and 200 overall.

Even though the household employment stalled out (down by 2,100), 2.9% is still basically full employment, and maybe the disparities in Wisconsin between in "employment" vs "jobs" in the household and payroll surveys is being smoothed out (both are now in the mid-to-upper 30,000s for the last 12 months).

Given that our Fair Governor is losing in the polls, he needed some good news, and welcomed this strong initial jobs report.

Hold on there, Scotty. It’s not like Wisconsin is pulling away from the pack with these figures. Just cast your eyes across the Saint Croix River, where Minnesota added 11,200 jobs in July, and had its unemployment rate drop to 3.0%. In addition, the newly-released state-by-state comparisons show that Minnesota continues to grow more jobs than Wisconsin over the last 12 months.

Job change, July 2017- July 2018
All jobs
Minn +43,100 (+1.47%)
Wis. +38,800 (+1.32%)

Private-sector jobs
Minn +38,700 (+1.54%)
Wis. +38,500 (+1.52%)

Total job change, Midwest July 2017-July 2018
Mich +1.52%
Ohio +1.49%
Minn +1.47%
Wis. +1.32%
Iowa +1.21%
Ill. +1.09%
Ind. +0.61%

It’s also funny to see Walker talking up Wisconsin’s recent job gains, given that they are coming after Walker reversed his prior positions in 2017. The reversals include finally adding back some money to public schools, increasing rates of reimbursement for health care providers and nursing homes, and trying to limit the increases in the cost of health care instead of actively sabotaging the ACA. It's almost like these more liberal policies work better in adding jobs than the ALEC austerity that this state was under before 2017.

These pre-election band-aids don’t repair all the damage that happened for the first 7 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. Despite the recently strong numbers, the job losses in April and May in Wisconsin means that there has been little change in the Walker jobs gap for the first 7 months of 2018.

Walker jobs gap
All jobs
Dec 2017 138,900
July 2018 137,600

Private sector jobs
Dec 2017 133,000
July 2018 136,600

There's an even more important jobs report dropping next week – the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW). This report has consistently shown the monthly jobs figures from the Walker Administration to be overestimated, lets us give a more thorough comparison between Wisconsin and the other 50 states, and also includes wage information that the monthly DWD reports does not have.

Interestingly, the Walker Administration’s report did not include the typical “preview” of the QCEW numbers that would be expected this month, and I’m wondering if that’s because those figures aren’t as rosy as the initial reports that came out a few months ago (which would be SOP for this crew). We’ll start to find out next week if my theory is right, and we’ll get more detail in early September as to where those jobs are, and how much they’re (not) paying.

Look, gaining jobs are better than losing jobs, and that shouldn’t be ignored. But I’d prefer my governors not to have to face the pressure of an election to have to do the things that more successful states like Minnesota have been doing all along. And if Tony Evers and other Dems aren’t elected in 80 days to get us back to investing in our resources in all years (not just ones before elections), you can bet that we will see Wisconsin backslide even more on the jobs, wage, and investment fronts in 2019.

Why the Packers (and Wisconsin) suck in 2018

It's the 2nd half of August, and that means it's time to get into football mode. And one of the highlights of this time of the year is Deadspin's Drew Magary putting out his series of "Why Your Team Sucks" for each NFL Club. It's 1/2 ripping on the faults of the team, a nnd about 1/2 ripping on the fans and city/state that the team is located in.

Well, it was the Packers' turn in the barrel this week, and the 2018 picture wasn't pretty.

I grew up in Minnesota but I’m being completely earnest when I tell you that, while I like my home state, I also appreciated its neighbor to the East. I had friends from Wisconsin. I went to camp in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has cheese, beer, and pretty woods. For the bulk of my life, it seemed like a perfectly normal, good little state. But now I know the truth about Wisconsin, and that is that it’s actually a fucking loony bin. The governor is a union-busting turd. The biggest city is more segregated than apartheid-era Cape Town and was run, until very recently, by America’s Most Corrupt Sheriff. Their most prominent congressman will go down as one of the most spineless enablers in human history. The cops beat up a Milwaukee Buck and laughed about it. The citizens have brains and asses made of boiled weisswurst. The entire state is a series of cool cities surrounded by psychotic suburbs in which people have been stifling their racism in the name of politeness for so long that their eyes are now just swirling like cartoon characters. It’s a cut-rate Illinois filled with crackpots, serial killers, and racists. Wisconsin is INSANE.
Why you little Mud-Duck bastard, you are…..pretty correct. This is how we appear to the rest of the country after voting for Donald F’ing Trump for president and a dimwitted college dropout for Governor 3 times (!!!)

Some of the comments by actual Packer fans/Wisconsin residents in the article are also far from endearing.
Fuck this fanbase who would chop their own arm off for Clay “OMG Hair” Matthews and Jordy Nelson, but wouldn’t recognize Mike Daniels or Davante Adams in their own jerseys.

I’m a Canadian who moved to Northeast Wisconsin - holy fuck these people are drunk.

I’m not shocked this state went for Trump. It’s drunk, it’s racist, it puts hunter camo on everything, and it’s absolutely terrified of taking an alternate route to Miller Park.

A buddy was a professor at Marquette and went out cycling when he first moved there. He ended up on MLK. Some white dude pulled over and yelled “get in.” He asked why and the dude said “you’re going to get killed.” Probably someone from Waukesha.

That said, if you are an African-American in a bar in Green Bay you won’t pay for drinks since everyone will think you play for the Packers.

We continually seem to think Scott Walker is an electable human being and not the evil dad in every Nickelodeon movie from the 90s.​

…Michigan and Pennsylvania were always suspect. Wisconsin was not. Wisconsin was the “SUPRISE, WE’RE ASSHOLES” of the 2016 election. Michigan and Pennsylvania are much more like Ohio and Florida, in that they’re inhabited by mostly douchebags already.

And here’s a sadly accurate football take from a commentator.
All it took was one fateful October Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, fucking Minnesota of all places, and an Anthony Fucking Barr sack, to reveal the Packers for what they are: a fraudulent, house of cards organization that was lucky enough to see a cross-bread of Moses and Jesus fall into their laps as their quarterback. Ted Thompson’s defense, entirely built with his 90+ 3rd to 7th round draft picks, looked like the French army in 1940, and Mike McCarthy stuck with a QB who was unable to throw a single TD in Lambeau Field.
You may notice a certain edge to the fans’ letters, and I think a lot of it is the general know-little idiocy that has been allowed to be in control of much of Wisconsin politics starting in 2010 at the state level and Ron Johnson's election to the US Senate, and culminating in the state going for Trump in 2016. I know I have found a lot less humor in seeing some drunken yah-hey-dere dipshit wearing a variation of a Cheesehead chanting “GO PACK GOOOOO!” when he/she comes onto my TV screen since Act 10 and the related culture war was dropped on all of us 7 years ago.

Us in the home state of Titletown have to do better than we’ve been showing to the rest of the country. On the field, in the voting booth, and in our everyday lives. All are very possible, and 2018 could become a memorable year in Wisconsin where things turned back into the greatness that we used to have.

But some people in Wisconsin need to get it together, be honest about what they're seeing, and demand more.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Despite Walker's and WisGOP's efforts, UW System still gives a huge boost to Wisconsin

This didn’t get much notice after the big primary elections, but this week, the University of Wisconsin System had its annual economic impact report released.

It's not necessarily news to hear that an employer of tens of thousands of people has a large economic impact in the state. And indeed, everyday UW operations along with the wages and salaries earned by UW workers account for about half of the $24 billion impact that the study says the UW generates. What’s perhaps more interesting are the other ways the university system adds our state’s economy. Much of it comes from spinoff businesses that use what is learned and produced on the UW to become strong entitites themselves.
The second largest contributor to UW System’s economic impact is UW Hospitals and Clinics, an organization long affiliated with the University of Wisconsin–Madison. UW Hospitals was established as a public authority in 1996 but has deep and continuing ties to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. UW Hospitals accounted for $3.5 billion of UW System’s overall economic impact in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The third largest contributor to UW System’s economic impact is startup companies, many of which are founded by professors and staff conducting research at the UW System. The data in this calculation comes from startups out of UW-Madison. Approximately 350 startups came from UW-Madison (not including those in UW Research Park) in the 2016-17 fiscal year and accounted for $3 billion of the UW System’s overall economic impact.

Additional startup and established companies located in UW Research Park in Madison, Wis., accounted for $1.1 billion of the UW System’s impact on Wisconsin’s economy in 2016-17.
2 other big areas that add to the UW’s impact on the state are student spending on everyday items ($2.2 billion) and visitor spending for conferences, college sports, college visits, and other campus tourism-related events ($2.0 billion, visit the beer gardens on Regent Street in 2 weeks if you need an example).

And not only does the UW System’s analysis note that the UW System is responsible for 92,000 jobs itself, and its activities lead and/or support 75,000 other jobs, but that those jobs pay better than the typical Wisconsin job.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s publication “American Fact Finder” reports Wisconsin’s median earnings at $31,195. These are reported earnings without fringe benefits. Adjusting for a fringe benefit rate of 30% would push median labor income to about $40,553, compared to the average overall labor income of jobs generated by UW System economic activity of $55,502.
That better pay and better-educated work force raises tax revenue (to the tune of $1.1 billion in 2016-17), and the study’s author noted that the relatively small amount of money state taxpayers kick in to the UW results in a major bang for the buck.
“The breadth of UW System activity is striking,” said Dr. David J. Ward, CEO of NorthStar Analytics, which conducted the study. “With the state contributing slightly over $1 billion to the university system’s budget in fiscal year 2016-17, Wisconsin taxpayers are realizing a substantial return on their investment in the UW System.”

The 2018 UW System Economic Impact Study by NorthStar Analytics refreshes a 2002 economic impact report prepared for the UW System by the firm then known as NorthStar Economics. The new study shows the UW System’s economic impact measures have more than doubled in the years since. Ward will present the report to the Board of Regents at its next meeting on Aug. 23 in Madison.

“The biggest change since 2002 is the economic development activity the UW System is now involved in,” Ward said. “There is very significant startup activity, and it’s beginning to spread across the state.”
UW System President Ray Cross noted that the overwhelming number of graduates of UW schools stay in the state, which helps Wisconsin employers in particular.
Each year, the UW System confers more than 36,000 degrees, and a very high percentage of recent graduates (more than 80 percent) stay and work in Wisconsin. “This continuing stream of new college graduates helps to replenish the talent base of Wisconsin’s workforce and provides skilled employees for Wisconsin businesses,” Cross said.

Additional data show that UW System graduates with bachelor’s degrees are filling key shortages in health care, science, and engineering fields. In 2016-17, there were 9,716 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates, and 3,460 health-care graduates.
Wow. Sounds like we get a heckuva deal with the UW System. Which leads to my question for President Cross. Why haven’t you done a thing to stop the WisGOPs and Scott Walker’s lackeys on the Board of Regents from trying to turn the UW into a second-rate system?

Throughout Cross’s tenure as president, right-wing haters of independent thought in the State Legislature and Governor’s Office have taken numerous steps to injure the UW. This included defunding the schools (the System gets $20 million less from the state than it did in 2011), eradicating tenure (which hurts its ability to recruit and retain talent), and giving an unfunded mandate to freeze in-state tuition (leading to more budget cuts and non-competitiveness).

In addition, Cross has allowed it to be used as a punching bag in the resentment politics that get regressive WisGOPs elected in non-UW towns across the state. Not only has Cross not spoken out against that or other GOP attacks on the UW, he’s even supported some of their absurdity. That includes Cross giving a full-throated defense of a Fox-con that will likely lead to more reductions in funding to the UW due to the state not having enough money to go around.

Given the clear economic boost that UW gives, why has the “business lobby” of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce not defended something that pays them back in spades? Instead, those greedheads have not only stayed silent, but continue to throw millions of dollars in support of the same Wisconsin GOP politicians that are driving the UW into mediocrity, and they've had hundreds of million of dollars in tax cuts kicked back to them, which have drained the state treasury of available funds.

And with the reduced amount of funds remaining, Walker and WisGOP have chosen to give those scarce dollars to agencies other than the UW. Let me bring back this chart from last week, which shows that we are slated to have the Corrections get over $140 million in Wisconsin taxpayer dollars than the UW will this year, and we will nearly pay as for write-offs in state property taxes (which overwhelmingly go to richer homeowners) as we will for a System that adds $24 billion to the state’s economy.

The burdens and defunding that has been imposed on the UW is what’s makes this economic impact report all the more remarkable. It somehow continues to be a boon to Wisconsin despite the efforts of the jealous WisGOP trash at the Capitol and the dopes who have kept them in office, and is one of the few reasons this state hasn't fully devolved into a cold-weather Mississippi. Can you imagine how good it would be if educator Tony Evers and pro-UW Dems were put in charge, restored the investments to the higher levels of the 20th Century, and restored the respect we used to have for science and college educators?

The crossroads are here for the UW System, and for the state. If you value it, you’d better choose wisely in November.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

New Walker tax proposals laughably desperate, with no money to pay for it

Fresh off of seeing Dems outvote Republicans by more than 8% in this week's primary, our desperate Governor decided to throw out a number of tax cut plans to see if the media would give them free, uncritical publicity.

However, the Wisconsin State Journal's Matt DeFour didn't take the bait, and actually dug into the policies that Walker was proposing. DeFour's article noted that Walker’s “new” ideas are similar to things that Evers called for months ago.
Walker is calling for a new tax credit of up to $5,000 over five years for college graduates who live and work in Wisconsin as a way to reduce student loan debt. Evers has called for a new statewide authority to help college graduates in the state refinance their student loan debt and new tax incentives to help retain college graduates, though he hasn't offered specifics. (Note, there already is a Dem bill that would do the things Evers supports, but the article doesn’t say if what Evers is backing is that exact bill).

Walker also wants to provide a state child care tax credit of up to $6,000 per year per family to match the federal child care tax credit. Democrats introduced a bill that did something similar last session, but it went nowhere. Evers said during the primary he supported a state child care tax credit.
Our Governor sure seems UNINTIMIDATED, doesn’t he? You can tell the guy just got a polling memo back and grabbed for the first thing he could find.

Among the rest of Walker's proposals are items that Walker and WisGOP have done little to take care of since 2011 – until they saw the 2018 Blue Wave rolling in.
Walker also is calling for a tax credit to help senior citizens stay in their homes, though he didn't provide specifics. The state already offers a homestead credit intended to do just that, though Walker and Republicans in the Legislature ended indexing of the credit in his first budget and eliminated it for non-disabled people under age 62 in his most recent budget.

Walker wants to expand youth apprenticeships to students in 7th and 8th grades, a proposal he previously mentioned in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal when he declared himself a "pro-education governor." Walker also plans to increase spending on technical education, though he didn't specify by how much.

And Walker plans to continue the University of Wisconsin System tuition freeze for four more years. Evers, a member of the UW Board of Regents, said Wednesday he supports a tuition freeze if it is offset by additional state aid for higher education.
Notice one big difference between Walker and Evers’ plans? Evers actually recognizes that there needs to be money available to pay for these things, and to maintain quality in education.

Just like with the roads, lifetime grifter Scott Walker apparently feels that available funds will fall from the sky to make all of his big talk work out.

Hey Scotty, we have $2 billion in deficits looming for the 2019-21 because of the unpaid-for tax cuts and borrowing you pulled in previous years. So where’s the money for all this, Scotty?....WHERE’S THE F’ING MONEY????

I can imagine Walker pounding walls and collapsing into Tonette’s arms like this as he sees another poll showing him and the rest of the GOP falling further behind for November. Gov Dropout is losing, he knows it, and is acting like a con man who can’t get his schemes over on anyone anymore.

It’s pathetic, and if the need to get this dishonest dimwit out of office wasn’t so big, I’d be laughing my ass off at how Scotty is flopping about.

Primary turnout points to WisDems being in good shape for November

I mentioned before yesterday's statewide primary that the turnout numbers would likely be more noteworthy to me than who won or lost, or how much they won or lost by.

Sure enough, that's the case, especially on the Democratic side, where even though Tony Evers fell short of 50%, he was still 25 points ahead of his nearest challenger. Leah Vukmir's 6-point victory in the GOP's primary for US Senate was intriguing, but more because of what she DIDN'T do versus the fact that Vukmir got more votes than Kevin Nicholson.

For some reason, Republicans cast more votes in the noncompetitive for Governor than they did in the close race for Senate, so I'll use the Governor's amount as the GOP total from yesterday.

Total votes and share, Governor primary
Dem 537,719 (54.1%)
GOP 455,966 (45.9%)

While Evers grabbed a smaller share of the vote in the Dem Governor’s race than Vukmir grabbed in the GOP Senate race, it shouldn't be confused with Evers being in a weak position nor Vukmir in a strong one. That's because Evers ended up having more people vote for him, as Democrats had notably higher turnout than Republicans last night.

Total vote share of race
Vukmir, GOP Senate 49.04%
Nicholson, GOP Senate 43.04%
Evers, Dem Governor 41.75%

Total votes
Evers 224,502
Vukmir 217,023
Nicholson 190,840

Which makes the CEO of ULine Corporation the biggest loser from last night, since we know Dick Uihlein blew at least $10.7 million on Nicholson. So that guy’s “investment” cost $56 a vote, with no win. Hope that was worth it, Dick. If I was a worker or shareholder at ULine, I would be PISSED at how much my CEO is wasting on politics instead of giving it back to my workers and stockholders.

The GOP Senate primary had some odd numbers in general. If you look at the map showing who won which counties in the primary, and you were told that Nicholson was in red and Vukmir in orange, you’d think Nicholson would have won big.

Vukmir lost more than ¾ of the counties in the state (57 of 72), and won ONE county west of I-39/US 51. So how did we get stuck having to hear the screeches of the Crazed Queen of ALEC for the next 12 weeks? Because the talk radio-listening Republican sheep in the 262 and 414 area codes voted for her in large margins, and also made up a disproportionate share of the GOP electorate.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the chart I had from my “primary preview” post which showed the share different counties got in the presidential primaries of April 2016, and compare it to what we had on Tuesday in the GOP’s Senate primary. I have separated the City of Milwaukee from the rest of Miwaukee County in the 2018 figures, and you'll see why in a bit.

In April 2016, the 3 WOW Counties accounted for less than 21% of the total GOP vote, while nearly 25% of yesterday's Senate vote came from those 3 places. And Vukmir received between 61 and 67% of the vote in all 3 of those counties.

But that's not something that will translate into November success. “Talk radio land” has a second side to it, where the area is drifting away from Trump and the GOP AS A WHOLE. Sure, Vukmir got a lot of the sheep who stayed with the Republicans, but that area is bleeding GOP votes in general. That is particularly true if you look at the Dem vs. GOP figures in suburban Milwaukee County and in Ozaukee County.

GOP vs Dem vote share of primary electorate
Suburban Milwaukee Co.
April 2016 50.9% GOP, 49.1% Dem (GOP +1.8%)
August 2018 60.5% Dem, 39.5% GOP (Dem +21.0%, 22.8% change)

Ozaukee County
April 2016 GOP 67.6%, Dem 32.4% (GOP +35.2%)
August 2018 GOP 61.0%, Dem 39.0% (GOP +22%, 13.2% change)

Yes, maybe some of that “Milwaukee County burbs” number for Democrats is skewed higher by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s race (congrats to Earnell Lucas and to Milwaukee County in getting its first Sheriff in 17 years to give a damn about them). But it also indicates that quite a few of the burbs that were driven away by Trumpism in November 2016 are not coming back to WisGOP.

And it wasn’t just the Milwaukee burbs that had major shifts to Dems in turnout yesterday. Take a look at this chart from the incomparable J. Miles Coleman at Decision Desk HQ.

Look at all that blue in Western Wisconsin, and compare it to the red-blue county map from the last two presidential elections in Wisconsin.

Yesterday looks a lot more like 2012 (Obama wins by 6) than 2016 (Trump by less than 1%). And that’s especially bad news for GOPs Howard Marklein and Kathy Bernier, as they try to hold onto GOP-held Senate seats in the middle of that field of Western Wisconsin blue.

Another area that turned toward Dems vs 2016 are two areas that already favor Dems- Dane and Rock counties in South Central Wisconsin. The turnout disparity is so extreme that it has to be pointed out.

Dane County
April 2016 70.4% Dem, 29.6% GOP (Dem +40.8%)
August 2018 84.9% Dem, 15.1% GOP (Dem +69.8%, +29.0% change)

Rock County
April 2016 53.7% Dem, 46.3% GOP (Dem +7.4%)
August 2018 69.8% Dem, 30.2% GOP (Dem +39.6%, +32.2% change)

You wonder why Mark Pocan is unopposed in November in Wisconsin’s 2nd district? And why we don't see many political ads in the Madison media market as you might see in a place like Green Bay? The GOP is in real danger of slipping out of existence in a fast-growing part of the state, and putting themselves in a massive hole to have to dig out of in the rest of the state.

Lastly, Evers’ strong showing in the Dem primary outstate (he consistently beat 50% in most rural counties outside of “Vinehout land” near the Mississippi River) might portend well in keeping an area that Walker has won big in for his past elections.

Remember, Walker has never pulled more than 53% in a Governor’s elections to begin with, even in GOP years like 2010 and 2014. Now you get these double-digit changes around Milwaukee and Madison combined with Evers being able to hold his own in rural areas, and Scotty is DONE.

And doesn’t Scotty know it. Look at this loser talk from yesterday.

Except that Dems haven't pulled 48% in any of Walker's 3 elections, and both Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton coukdn't get to 47% in 2016. So it sounds like the 2018 version of Scott Walker is already less liked than previous ones, and that the 2018 Dems are in a much better spot.

It reminds me that I may hate the 21st Century GOP’s whining more than any other attribute of those jerkoffs. And if Tuesday’s turnout figures are any indication of what we’ll see in November, expect to hear a lot more bitching from the Republicans as things drift away from them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On day of primary, more proof of Walker/WisGOP failures on road funding

No matter who wins tonight's Democratic primary for Governor, one thing that candidate needs to talk about is the handcuffing of local government, how it's led to the state's roads falling apart, and connecting it to the decisions made by Scott Walker and other Wisconsin Republicans in the last 7 1/2 years.

This was shown again with the recent release of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities' State of Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages. As the LWM's document noted, Walker's DOT did not help localities fund their roads in the most recent year measured, either through the regular amount of general shared revenues, or in specific road aids.
State Aids Stagnant. The slowdown in total revenue growth was largely due to stagnant state aid, which rose just 0.1% in 2016. The largest aid to cities and villages, shared revenues, was unchanged, while road aids declined 2.3%. The drop in road aids resulted from a nearly 50% decline in funding for the local road improvement program (LRIP), which pays up to half of eligible costs for repairing “seriously deteriorating” roads. Relatively few projects are funded each year. LRIP funding nearly doubled in 2015, and in 2016 it returned to its 2014 level.
This is related to the decision by Walker and his GOP lackeys in the Legislature to follow the orders of DC lobbyist Grover Norquist in refusing to raise gas taxes or most registration fees. And it's getting worse, as Wisconsin Public Radio recently reported on a DOT move designed to stretch the state's limited dollars in the Tranportation Fund, but in reality lets WisDOT skimp on its share of highway projects.
After years of bridge replacement delays due to a lack of state funding, the DOT has rolled out a new program called "Replace-In-Kind." It directs local governments applying for state bridge aid to design replacements to minimum state engineering standards based on current traffic. If the application qualifies, the state promises to pay for 80 percent of the replacement cost with local governments picking up the rest.

If counties or municipalities want to design bridges that go beyond the minimum standards, the "Replace-In-Kind" policy lets them do it but on their own dime.
See if you can spot the flaw in this thinking, beyond just having the money-strapped local governments have to pay with increasingly scarce funds.

The key words are “based on current traffic,” and let’s have Price County Highway Commissioner Don Grande explain why.
"Once this bridge is replaced, this bridge will serve PCA, the paper company over in Tomahawk, as a direct route off of Highway 8," said Grande. "The traffic volumes will increase once the bridge is replaced and the weight limits come off. We’re concerned that we’re going to under-size or under-design that bridge just to be able [to get] the funding.

There won't be more traffic here at some point, will there?

And if Price County thinks there will be more traffic coming across that bridge once it's fully re-opened, it has to pay for any capacity increases under the Walker DOT’s “rightsizing” program, and many Wisconsin places are struggling to come up with the money to do so.
While the DOT and the governor have celebrated "Replace-In-Kind" for helping the state approve 183 bridge replacements, Wisconsin County Highway Association Executive Director Dan Fedderly said the real test will be how many local governments can afford to build them.

"So all we're doing is shifting the cost to a place where you can’t fund them," said Fedderly. "And without a comprehensive, sustainable, long-term revenue at the state level we will only be talking about this over and over and we’re at the point where there is no ability to shift those costs."
And it's not just the bridges. Let's go back to the LWM report, where it clearly shows that local roads have deteriorated in recent years,
Every two years, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) collects information from cities and villages on street quality. The 2017 data is self-reported by municipal officials using a standardized DOT rating system for road segments. (See box on page 13.) The rated streets account for about 87% of the 49,100 total miles in these cities and villages. The share of road miles with ratings has remained relatively constant over the past three years and we focus our analysis on these street segments.

“Good” or Better. Statewide, 2017 saw a drop in the share of city and village roads that local officials rated as “good,” “very good,” or “excellent.” The percentage fell to 67.7% from 68.8% in 2016 and is now 4.3 percentage points below the 2011 mark of 72%. (See Figure 2.8, page 12.) Despite these declines, more than two-thirds of municipal roads require little or no repair. Streets rated “good” or better need relatively minor maintenance, such as coating pavement with a sealer or filling cracks, but not major rehabilitation or new construction. The decrease this year in the reported number of high-quality streets was driven by a decline in the percentage of streets rated “excellent” and “very good.” In 2017, 14.7% of streets were rated “excellent” and 15.5% were rated “very good,” down 0.6 and 1.5 percentage points respectively from the previous year.

“Fair” or Worse. With a lower percentage of streets rated “good” or better by city and village officials, the percentage rated “fair” or worse inevitably increased. In 2016, 31.2% of streets were rated “fair,” “poor,” “very poor,” or “failed,” but in 2017, that share increased to 32.3%. The reported increase in lower-quality streets was driven mostly by an increase in roads rated “fair” and “very poor,” up 1 and 0.2 percentage points respectively.

And the LWM says this is especially true in the smaller Wisconsin communities, who have also suffered from declining tax bases and populations.
By Population Group. The smallest cities and villages had the biggest declines in road quality. (See Table 2.4.) Communities of fewer than 15,000 people reported the largest drops in the share of streets rated “good” or better and the largest increases in roads rated “poor” or worse. In spite of this change, cities and villages with between 1,000 and 15,000 residents generally have better quality roads than larger municipalities. But in 2017, the gap in road quality narrowed between these communities and the largest urban areas.

And yet Scott Walker and WisGOP Legislators, who have owed a lot of victories to winning in rural areas, seem to have absolutely no plan to stop local roads from falling apart. Walker continues to spout Koched-up goobledygook about "no net tax increase", which isn't going to pay the bills when we have deficits of $1 billion looming in both the General and Transportation funds.

The other problem with Walker's and WisGOP's assed policies on state aids is that they have consistently decided to make local communities adhere to strict property tax limits so they can have an increasingly out-of-favor talking point. As a result, local communities have few options they have left under state law, which helps explain all of the wheel taxes that have been cropping up in Wisconsin over the last 5 years. The latest area looking at a new registration fee is in La Crosse, who are looking at a fee between $25 and $56 a year.

Like a lot of other things in this state, it'll take electing Democrats to stop this decline, and to free up local communities to take in the money that they need to keep more Scottholes from appearing. And what got us in this mess is the intentional buck-passing and outright failure to keep up the roads by Walker and other WisGOPs, and it should be something hit on constantly for the next 12 weeks by whoever is able to win the Dem primary tonight.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Yes, this site looks different

I am experimenting with a new look,for the In-house. Yes, the green and blue background had its low-tech kitsch, but I'll go with a more buttoned-down look from here.

Time to buckle down these next 12 weeks.

Even Walker's campaign admits more K-12 funding is a pre-election stunt

File this story in the “you knew it was coming” category.
A tiny Oneida County school district has banned political activity by officials during school hours after a board member, two teachers and a student appeared in a television ad paid for by Gov. Scott Walker's re-election campaign — surprising parents and school officials.

Walker is airing a campaign ad on television stations statewide featuring the Three Lakes School District and its work implementing the state's first school-based fabrication laboratory, known as Fab Labs, which teaches engineering and materials processing and allows students to apply textbook physics and math to real-world projects.
Gee, who could not have guessed that Scott Walker would use students and teachers as props to promote his own campaign? Well, apparently the pro-GOP superintendent of Three Lakes.
"I know for a fact they (the school board) weren’t thinking about an ad and I know I wasn’t thinking about an ad, a campaign ad,” (Superintendent George) Karling told the newspaper. “My idea was it was good for him (Walker) to see our Fab Lab because we were teaching other districts on that day. And that’s what it was.”

Karling, who has donated to Republicans in the past, told the News-Review the matter was a "lapse" on his part. He said the district got involved in the filming after Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) asked him if he could find some within the district who "might thank the governor for sparsity aid and direct per-pupil aid."

You mean he might not be doing this all for the kids?

Hey George! Why do you think a sleaze like Toxic Tommy Tiffany might have asked you that leading question? Do you really think Tiffany or Walker have any kind of natural curiosity about how things work, when the last several years has shown they don’t? Sounds like another episode of one of my favorite Republican shows : “LYING OR STUPID?”

The Walker campaign responded in its typical classy style, choosing “STUPID” for Mr. Karling, and claiming that the Three Lakes district should have known better.
Brian Reisinger, spokesman for Walker's campaign, supplied the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with a July 15 email from the campaign to Karling with an attached form on campaign letterhead for film participants to allow the footage to be used for commercial broadcasting purposes, among other things.

The form features Walker's name on the letterhead and says the footage can be used for any broadcast purpose, but does not explicitly mention campaign ads.
Which means the Walker campaign is admitting that when Walker went to these schools, he was doing it as a campaign photo op, and not as part of his job as Governor. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, as most of us could figure out that this pre-election funding of schools was solely to try to cover up Walker’s attacks on public education over the previous 6 years.

But as a Wisconsinite, Reisinger’s admission does make me ask a question – “Has Scott Walker’s campaign paid for the travel and security related to these school photo ops, or have you dumped that onto taxpayers like me?” Sure seems like it’s time to file an Open Records request and find out if this lifetime grifter has found another way to leech off of the “hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin.”

This cynical garbage is exactly why this is the Scott Walker 2018 theme song.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The vote totals to look for in Tuesday's primary

Ahead of Tuesday's Wisconsin primary elections, I wanted to look back at the last time this state had contested statewide primaries on both the GOP and Dem sides, to have a few benchmarks on what to look for in 2 days, and to give an indication of possible voter engagement for November.

Here's a look at the Dem vs. GOP totals in the 2016 presidential primary in the counties that cast the most votes in the state, and what it looked like in the smaller counties in the rest of the state. Over 2.1 million votes were cast in the April 2016 primaries, a number similar to what we see in midterm elections in Wisconsin.

As you can see, a little over 58% of the total votes were in 11 counties, and over 1/3 were in 3 counties - Milwaukee, Dane and Waukesha. But that doesn't mean the outstate vote is insignificant - about 900,000 votes in all.

Then you dig down within the 2 parties' primaries, and the distribution looks very different. As shown here, the WOW Counties and Racine County took up a disproportionate amount of the GOP primary electorate in April 2016, but so did the Appleton-Green Bay area, and outstate Wisconsin.

Given that Leah Vukmir is the "Eastern Wisconsin AM radio Bubble" candidate and Nicholson is running as the "independent Republican outsider" (HAH!) candidate, this is an interesting cross-current.

On the Dem side, not surprisingly, the counties that have Milwaukee and Madison in them are an even bigger part of the vote (more than 36%), but the 262 is a much less significant part of the electorate, and 2 of them are replaced by the Western Wisconsin counties of Eau Claire and La Crosse as counties with the most votes. (note that Milwaukee is in green on this chart)

A big thing to look at from the Dems side is if Milwaukee County turns out as strong as Dane County will (note that Dane County had more votes than Milwaukee County in April's Supreme Court race), and how that distribution of votes affects the outcome. It's also worth noting to see if Kathleen Vinehout and/or Mike McCabe will be helped or hurt by being the two candidates left from Western Wisconsin.

Lastly, given that Wisconsin has an open primary, voters decide on Election Day which party's primary they will take part in. In 2016, this breakdown seemed to portend what we'd see in November of that year, especially in the Fox Cities area, and in Racine and Kenosha. Those areas shifted toward Donald Trump and Ron Johnson to help put those two over the top, along with the GOP shift outstate.

That's why I think it's important to look at the turnout figures in Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin. That might have an even bigger indication which party wins and loses than the candidates themselves, because if Dem voters are coming out more than Republican ones in those swingier areas, it would be another indication of stronger engagement that would make it more likely that Scott Walker will lose in November, and that Tammy Baldwin might have an easier race.

Likewise, if we more Republican voters than Democratic voters, like we saw in April 2016 (by a 52-48 margin), then it shows Republicans are still engaged and/or Dems in some areas still are not (I'm looking at you, Milwaukee), and it may mean the recent momentum that Dems have seemed to have in Wisconsin may be fading.

Bottom line, VOTE ON TUESDAY, and make it count. Not only does it matter in selecting your candidates for these races, but it also will give plenty of tea leaves for those in the national news and donor class to read.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Budget deficit keeps growing, GOP's gutlessness keeps showing

"Budget Guy" Stan Collender is back with another column illustrating the weak act that Republicans in DC are pulling as the US's budget deficit continues to grow after their Tax Scam was passed in late December.

Collender notes that the Republicans that run Congress have been ducking any action on dealing with the deficit, even though the Federal Fiscal Year runs out in 50 days. But Collender adds that this tactic will backfire on Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell before the midterm elections.
House and Senate Republicans so far have been able to avoid talking about the deficit by making a complete mockery of the Congressional Budget Act. Even though Congress is required by federal law to adopt an annual budget resolution (the only legislation all year that compares total revenues with total spending and forces representatives and senators to vote on the deficit), the GOP leadership decided early in 2018 to prevent that from happening.

No budget resolution meant no budget debate. No debate meant no media coverage. No coverage meant Republicans wouldn’t be asked to explain their votes in favor of trillion-dollar deficits when they had previously and emphatically demanded that the federal budget be balanced.

This cleverness will end when Treasury and CBO issue their reports this October in the final days of a fierce election. That will put the GOP’s breach of faith with its fiscal past on full display for all to see, report on, criticize and make snarky 280 character comments about.
And with Friday's Treasury statement for August, it's obvious that the GOP's Tax Scam is blowing up the deficit - just like anyone outside of GOP Bubble World would have predicted.

U.S. budget deficit through July
FY 2017 $566.03 billion
FY 2018 $683.97 billion (+20.8%)

And the reason why is lower revenues, due to the lower tax rates that have been in effect for several months now. On the individual income tax side, the lower withholdings began in Feburary, which means that we have 6 months under these new rates. And we see that, contrary to the claims of Larry Kudlow and other Trump Admin dimwits, the tax cuts are not paying for themselves.

Individual income tax withholdings
Jan-July 2017 $660.78 billion
Jan-July 2018 $642.48 billion (-2.8%)

An even bigger gap is showing up on the corporate side, where tax revenues have tanked since the start of the year due to the huge cut in rates. And as we also found out yesterday, those extra funds being kept by corporations haven't helped wage growth ONE BIT, and they aren't even keeping up with inflation any more.

Corporate tax receipts
CY 2017 through July $146.563 billion
CY 2018 through July $103.953 billion (-29.1%)

Those declines aren't going to change in the last 2 months of this fiscal year. With that in mind, the Trump Administration is supposed to release the year-end budget figures for 2018 in October, as has been done for decades, but they likely won't want to. And while Collender acknowledges that it would be SOP for the Trumpists to hide the report or lie about it, he also thinks Wall Street would bite back and tank the markets. And besides, the CBO will put out their own figures in October that will confirm the large increase in the deficit.
But while it’s possible that the White House could concoct a reason to order the report be held until after the election, Treasury’s Monthly Treasury Statement is expected, used and relied on by Wall Street. Delaying it for obvious political reasons may be a theoretical option but just isn’t likely.

In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has shown no willingness whatsoever to knuckle under to political pressure and so will almost certainly release its own Monthly Budget Review this October no matter what the Republican leadership demands it to do.
Not that there aren't plenty of reasons to boot the Republicans out of power at all levels this November, but their fiscal fraudulence should be near the top of the list.

It's truly amazing how our media refuses to ask the simple question of Wisconsin's alleged budget wonk "Hey Pau-lie, what's going to get cut to pay for your Tax Scam?" They could ask it of every other GOP as well, while they're at it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Yet again - inflation outpacing wages. But even worse, it's uneven.

With trade wars looming over the cost of production, (this week’s) Producer Price Index and Consumer Price Index reports was a bit more intriguing than normal, to see if inflation was creeping up, or if deflation from surpluses were hitting certain goods.

While the headlines indicated producer inflation softened in July, CBS Marketwatch’s Greg Robb said it was really more of a mixed bag.
The producer price index was flat in July, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was below the MarketWatch forecast of a 0.2% gain.

Another measure preferred by economists, known as core PPI, rose 0.3% for the second straight month. The core rate strips out food, energy and trade margins.

The flat PPI reading pulled the 12-month rate of wholesale inflation down to 3.3%. The 12-month rate of core PPI advanced 2.8% in July, just below the record high of 2.9% reached in March.
Why the disparity? Because energy prices stopped going up this Summer, and declined by 0.5% on the producer side last month.

What also grabs you about the Producer inflation report is how some areas are having major price pressures, while others are having prices decline, likely in part due to the trade restrictions leading to surpluses back here in America.
The index for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand moved up 2.7 percent in July, the largest rise since a 3.6-percent advance in January 2017. The July increase can be traced to prices for unprocessed energy materials, which jumped 8.6 percent. In contrast, the indexes for unprocessed foodstuffs and feedstuffs and for unprocessed nonfood materials less energy fell 2.0 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. For the 12 months ended in July, prices for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand rose 8.2 percent, the largest advance since an 11.0-percent increase in November 2017.

…Leading the July increase in the index for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand, crude petroleum prices advanced 14.1 percent. The indexes for natural gas, fresh fruits and melons, slaughter steers and heifers, corrugated wastepaper, and coal also moved up. Conversely, prices for hay, hayseeds, and oilseeds dropped 14.0 percent. The indexes for corn and nonferrous scrap also moved lower.
Oilseeds are better known as soybeans and related seeds, and of course, soybeans have been a target of countermeasures to Trump’s tariffs, and unprocessed wheat, corn and hogs all have had drops in intermediate prices between 11.9% and 13.0% in the last year. And farm futures don’t make it seem like things will get better for farmers in the coming months.

On the flip side, final demand products like plywood (+22.5%) softwood (+19.5%) and “building paper and boards” (+14.0%) all have had sizable price increases in the last 12 months, which has to be bringing up the price of construction sooner than later. Also, note that tariff-affected products like aluminum mill shapes (+17.8%) and steel mill products (+12.4%) have had big price increases in the year before any tariffs from overseas hit.

For these products, the questions now become “who eats it”? The assembling factories, the stores (who will have their profit margins cut), or the consumer (who ends up paying more)?

The answer seems to be "both stores and consumers" so far, as today's CPI report showed another increase in July, but a relatively small one outside of the cost of shelter, which keeps straining home affordability in 2018.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in July on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.1 percent in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.9 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The index for shelter rose 0.3 percent in July and accounted for nearly 60 percent of the seasonally adjusted monthly increase in the all items index. The food index rose slightly in July, with major grocery store food group indexes mixed. The energy index fell 0.5 percent, as all the major component indexes declined.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in July, the same increase as in May and June. Along with the shelter index, the indexes for used cars and trucks, airline fares, new vehicles, household furnishings and operations, and recreation all increased. The indexes for medical care and for apparel both declined in July.
By itself, the increase doesn't seem like much, but it continues a trend where prices over the last 12 months keep increasing at a faster rate. And that's true for both total CPI, and the "core index", which hit its highest point in nearly 10 years at 2.4%.

And some of those price pressures we saw in the PPI hit in the CPI as well. Dairy prices dropped by 0.6% overall in July, with milk down 0.8% and cheese down 1.0%. Pork prices have dropped in each of the last 3 months, including 0.3% last month, and are down 1.3% for the last year. These drops in certain food prices have kept inflation from going even higher, as the CPI outside of food is up 3.2% since July 2017.

On the flip side, tariffs seemed to start to hit major household appliances (up 3.5% in July, 8.5% for the last 12 months), but haven't hit new cars and trucks much (+0.3% in July, +0.2% for the year). It's hard to tell if the increase in building materials are having much effect yet, since housing costs were steadily rising before the tariffs, but it's worth keeping an eye on as things move through the supply chain.

Something that's not keeping up with the rate of inflation is wages, and that was shown again today in the Real Earnings report.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees were unchanged from June to July, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This result stems from a 0.3-percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.2-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

Real average weekly earnings decreased 0.2 percent over the month due to no change in real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.3-percent decrease in the average workweek....

From July 2017 to July 2018, real average hourly earnings decreased 0.4 percent, seasonally adjusted. Combining the change in real average hourly earnings with a 0.3-percent increase in the average workweek resulted in a 0.1-percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.
Same story we've seen for pretty much all of 2018, inflation rising, and nominal wages are not, which means workers fall behind.

Which continues the paradox that we're in of "low unemployment, low wage growth, and rising inflation." At least one of these has to change soon, and the story of the 2nd half of 2018 and 2019 will be which one does change.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Vinehout shows how local governments are being starved in Fitzwalkerstan

I wanted to forward a good recent column from State Senator and Dem gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Vinehout discussing how Wisconsin local governments have been increasingly handcuffed in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

In Wisconsin, local governments rely largely on aid from the state and federal governments for operations, as only counties can generally levy a sales tax, and the property tax and other fees are the main ways to raise the rest of the money. A problem with that system is that shared revenues were cut soon after Walker and WisGOP took power in 2011, and has been basically kept at that lower level in the 7 years since then.

In addition, Walker and WisGOP have decided to make limiting property taxes as a priority. Vinehout notes that the problem with this is that it makes it hard for local governments to keep the same level of services.
State law limits local governments’ ability to raise revenue from property taxes by imposing levy caps. The combination of levy caps and decreased shared revenue from the state leaves local officials asking ‘What do we cut?’

On this one-way street where the state makes the rules, limits what local government can spend, and doesn’t share increasing revenue, local folks are stuck paying more of the cost and have few options to get extra money.

As usual, she's right.

This manufactured budget crunch helps to explain why we have seen so many new local "wheel taxes" get imposed onto state drivers in the last few years, because that is one of the few options that Vinehout alludes to. The wheel taxes help communities fix their streets and take care of other transportation needs, which frees up a bit of money that can be used for other needs and services.

The City of Green Bay and Eau Claire County are among the newest places that have turned to a wheel tax to deal with their funding issues, and it puts the lie to Scott Walker's pose of "I haven't raised your taxes." If I'm looking at my figures correctly, over half of Wisconsin's population will be paying an additional vehicle registration fee by the start of next year, and mostly as a direct result of underfunding of aids for roads and local governments by Walker and his WisGOP buddies in the Legislature.

But wheel taxes only deal with one area of a local government's budget. Vinehout notes that the Act 10-exempt areas of public safety requires an ongoing investment, and that reality takes away from the already-strapped other services under the current local government funding system.
As discretionary programs are eliminated, more of local government budgets are taken up by public safety. Police and fire protection costs are increasing. But neither the levy cap nor the state shared revenue payments cover the increase.

Local officials are forced to choose whether to cut: public safety, repairing the roads, and/or community mental health and drug addiction programs.
Vinehout recently mentioned at a Dem gubernatorial candidate forum that she would like to raise shared revenues by $450 million if she was elected governor, and she expounds on that situation in this column by noting that these increases would simply restore much of the value that has been lost in the last decade and a half.
In a memo I requested from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, shared revenue would need to increase by about 30% just to keep up with inflation since 2004. That would require an investment of $415 million in the next state budget.
It’s not like the money isn’t there, as Vinehout notes that the LFB estimates that $464 million is scheduled to be sent to Foxconn in the 2019-21 budget. Sure, some of the Fox-con's costs are supposed to be paid back in the form of added economic activity, but that doesn’t mention the economic activity that will go away due to the additional service cuts that are likely to be forced onto local governments over the next 2 years if nothing is changed.

I also want to go back to a version of the chart I showed yesterday, where I used information from the state's Annual Fiscal Report and the 2017-19 budget to show the change in tax funding of certain parts of state government. What you'll see here is that when Walker and WisGOP came to power, there were slightly more tax dollars going to shared revenues than there were to property tax credits. It's not that way today.

What this illustrates is that the starving of local government in Wisconsin has been a conscious choice by Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP over the last 7 years. And as Kathleen Vinehout writes, it's a situation that can be reversed, if we choose to put new people in charge.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Walker "own goals" again- exposing failed and expensive Corrections policies

Trailing in the polls, our Fair Governor went to what will likely be the default tactic of many Republicans over these next 3 months - race-baiting and authoritarianism.

Niiice, bring out the union chief of a Police Department that's being sued for jumping Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in a parking lot, and last month made taxpayers shell out $3.4 million for unlawfully profiling people of color at traffic stops over several years.

Disgusting enough, but then Scotty openened up his mouth even more.

In addition to the obvious dog-whistle from Walker that implies people in prison are subhuman and not worthy of attention, it's also a major dereliction of duty. Because an allegedly "frugal, fiscal conservative" like Walker should care deeply about what's happening at the prisons, and not just because the state had to settle a lawsuit of their own for nearly $19 million earlier this year due to negligence at the Copper Hills juvenile facility.

Even reporters in the state's usually pro-Walker media gave Walker's "no value" response a "WTF?"

To be precise, Wisconsin's Corrections system will cost state taxpayers more than $1.2 billion in this fiscal year. It's truly amazing that Walker doesn't seem to care about what's going on in a department that big. And if you look at information in the state's Annual Fiscal Report and the amounts allocated for similar programs in the 2017-19 state budget, you'll see that the amount spent on corrections keeps going up. To the point that what Wisconsin taxpayers pay for our prisons is now significantly more than what we pay for the UW System.

Also notice that what we pay for a handful of property credits also has surpassed the taxpayer investment in the UW System. Nice priorities, ain't it?

And instead of dragging down Democratic candidates with his stunt today, Walker seemed to unite them and give them a chance to call out Walker's expensive and failed policies in Corrections.

And perhaps this statement sums it up best.

Yep, and today's epically failed attempt at a fear-mongering dog whistle is the mark of a losing GOP candidate like Scott Walker in 2018.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Tariffs for revenue? More Trump illiteracy

I wanted to mention this silliness that came out this weekend.

One look at the most recent US Treasury statement shows how ridiculous Trump’s statement is. Here’s what the statement says US took in for “Customs Duties” (where tariffs fall under) for June 2018.

Customs Duties $3.51 billion month, $28.32 billion for first 9 months of Fiscal Year.

Now granted, that’s up 12% vs 2017 at the end of June, so we’ve added nearly $3.1 billion in duties for the Fiscal Year to this point.

The problem is that with the Trump Administration estimating $40.44 billion in Customs Duties for Fiscal Year 2018, that only accounts for 1.2% of the receipts for the US Government. And even if you doubled those amounts of tariffs to over $80 billion for Fiscal Year 2019, that’s going to do next to nothing to cut into a deficit projected to be near if not above $1 trillion.

In addition, the economic disruptions that are likely to occur because of the recklessness of the Trump tariffs can slow the economy (lowering tax revenues), and/or increase the costs for government services. In addition, those economic disruptions may cause a need for further spending to lessen the political problems that will result, such as Trump's proposed $12 billion bailout of farmers who are caught up in the crossfire of this trade war.

The again, maybe Donnie is thinking of a time when tariffs actually were a main source of revenue, and that it could happen again. The problem is that Drumpf is thinking of a time more than 100 years ago, before the federal income tax existed.

That was back in the Gilded Age, when corporate robber barons and crooked politicians worked together to control most things in politics at the expense of the other 99% of underpaid workers and farmers. Hey, wait a minute…

High Wisconsin health care costs proving a big burden

There’s a new report out today from WalletHub, who is listing the “2018’s best & Worst States for Health Care.”

WalletHub worked with a number of health policy academics to determine how all 50 states and the District of Columbia fared when it came to health care services. Here’s what they came up with for Wisconsin.

Wisconsin ranking, WalletHub health care survey
Health Outcomes 9th
Health Care Access 13th
Health Care Costs 47th
Total Health Care Ranking 23rd

Source: WalletHub

47th out of 51 in costs! That seems like a big deal. How is that number determined?

Here’s what WalletHub says.
Cost – Total Points: 33.33
Cost of Medical Visit: Full Weight (~6.67 Points)
Cost of Dental Visit: Full Weight (~6.67 Points)
Average Monthly Insurance Premium: Full Weight (~6.67 Points)
Share of High Out-of-Pocket Medical Spending: Full Weight (~6.67 Points)
Note: This metric measures the percentage of the population aged 64 and younger with high out-of-pocket medical spending relative to their annual income.

Share of Adults with No Doctor Visits Due to Cost: Full Weight (~6.67 Points)
So it's basically 1/5 premiums, 2/5 the cost of the services rendered, and 2/5 out-of-pocket expenses and visits avoided due to costs.

Under these metrics, Wisconsin’s health care costs are by far the highest in the Midwest. In fact, 4 Midwest states are in the top 11 for lowest costs, and all Midwestern states outside of Wisconsin are in the top 20 for low costs. The high costs are the main reason why WalletHub ranks Wisconsin is 5th out of 7 Midwestern states for health care overall (only beating Illinois and Indiana. Minnesota is Number 1 in our region and 4th in the US).

It looks like Wisconsin has fallen from 21st to 23rd in these health care rankings vs where they were last year. What’s odd about it is that the state actually moved up in 2 of the 3 categories listed – Access (16th to 13th) and a notable increase in Outcomes (22nd to 9th).

But the cost element overrode those improvements, as Wisconsin fell from 25th to 47th for this year. It also was a main reason Ohio and Michigan passed Wisconsin in this survey (this is soothed a bit by Illinois falling behind us, due to the FIBs dropping from 29th to 31st in outcomes).

This is where I recall something that Citizen Action Wisconsin have harped over the 7 years that Scott Walker and the GOP Legislature have been in power in this state. The “regulators” of the insurance industry in Wisconsin have refused to step in and control how much insurance rates have gone up.

What Citizen Action said here in 2015 hasn’t really changed 3 years later.
As Citizen Action of Wisconsin has repeatedly pointed out, Governor Walker’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) has been exceptionally lax in its implementation of rate review. Since 2011, 46 Wisconsin insurance plans have increased their rates by more than 10%, yet OCI has not found a single rate increase excessive. This includes a 43% increase by Humana in 2013, a 37% increase by Unity Health Plan in 2014, and a 21% increase by WPS in 2014.

OCI has also failed to hold a single public hearing on a major insurance company rate increase. In 2012, the Walker Administration went as far as to request a waiver from the rate review provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which was denied.
States such as Minnesota have effectively used rate review to reduce the prices of health insurance plans.

“Thousands of Wisconsin consumers have seen excessive premium increases because of the Walker Administration’s refusal to police the health insurance industry,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It’s long over due for the Walker Administration to side with consumers across Wisconsin who need access to affordable health coverage that can never be taken away. A great first step would be to hold public hearings on the largest proposed premium increases.”
And why the Walker Administration didn't step up to stop those cost increases is obvious – It was a cynical attempt to claim that “Obamacare is failing” and turn Wisconsinites against the Democrats.

Note it took the combination of the Black man no longer being in the White House and the strong possibility of a Blue Wave in the midterms for Walker to try something to hold down what people may pay for health care. Even then, it’s in the form of a tax-funded bailout to insurance companies in the hope that they might play nice and keep a lid on premiums before the 2018 elections.

Wisconsin used to be a leader when it came to offering health care at a reasonable price, and keeping its citizens covered. We have slipped badly in both categories in recent years, and now we resemble a middling, red state where citizens and businesses are having to pay a lot more than our neighbors do for the same services.

The only way this cycle of non-competitiveness changes is if we change the leaders in power. Know this.