Sunday, June 24, 2018

In addition to the issues at the border, keep your eye on the GOP's budget mess in DC

While many in the country are rightfully giving lots of attention to the separation of families trying to get into the US to escape atrocities in their home countries, other parts of US politics and policy continue as well. And "Budget Guy" Stan Collender notes that the GOPs that control Congress also are failing to do their job when it comes to figuring out what to do with the federal budget.

As he recounts what he calls "The Worst Week EVER for GOP Federal Budget Nonsense", Collender notes that Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP-run Senate is so scared of losing their slim majority that they won't even follow the House in voting to rescind $15 billion in previously authorized spending, even though the money will never be spent anyway. In addition, the Trump Administration is throwing out ideas that are electoral albatrosses, and will never be passed anyway.
The GOP Senate majority rejected the Trump rescission even though it would have mostly cut previously enacted appropriations that were never going to be spent anyway.

Of course, it could be the federal government consolidation plan that [Trump OMB Director] Mulvaney announced (and made sure he himself got credit for developing) but which at this point in the congressional session has little-to-no chance of being considered and even less of being adopted.
And yes, the issue of separating children from immigrating parents and putting them into concentration camps is part of this budget mismanagement. Collender points out this observation from MSNBC's Chris Hayes, who noted that there isn't any money designated for these crimes against humanity operations.

In addition to not explaining where that money is coming from in a time a trillion-dollar budget deficits, Collender notes that Trump has threatened to shut down the government 1 months before the November elections if he doesn't get $25 billion a year to build his beloved wall on the Mexican border. Seems like that politically unpopular bluff should be called, especially if you're a Dem.
There was also the House Budget Committee’s approval of a fiscal 2019 budget resolution that was adopted more than two months after the statutory deadline for Congress as a whole — not just a committee — to agree on something.

But missing the deadline by two-plus months was actually far less ludicrous than the fact that the committee-approved budget resolution includes $5.4 trillion in politically unacceptable cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatory programs that may never be voted on by the full House and won’t be considered by the Senate.

In other words, the House Budget Committee was both very late and doing something that was incredibly superfluous. Saying that it was “symbolic” is giving it way to much credit.
So not only are the Republicans tying themsleves to a policies that most Americans hate, they''re proposing these cuts to deal with a deficit that is the result of a Tax Scam that already is going to be (rightfully) used against them this November.

The acceptance of racism and xenophobia in the 2010s GOP is awful enough, as is its refusal to hold their own party members accountable for illegalities and sickening behavior. But it's also the incompetence of GOP leadership in Congress along with the recklessness and cruelty of their own fiscal policies that should get them blown out of power at all levels of government this year.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Weekend reading - Walker has never cared about how "others" are treated

Great stuff from One Wisconsin Now's Savion Castro in Madison 365 today. In an article titled "Scott Walker's Cowardice on Trump Border Policy 25 Years in the Making," Castro discusses on Scott Walker's history of indifference to the suffering of anyone that's not part of "his people," including Walker's refusal this week to say or do anything about the separation of families seeking asylum in the United States, and these individuals being put into concentration camps and relocated around the country.
Scott Walker offered something worse than deafening silence on Donald Trump’s unconscionable policy of tearing infants, toddlers, and children from their parents and placing them in 21st-century internment camps when he said he wouldn’t comment on a “federal” issue.

Forty-eight hours later, when Gov. Walker traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Trump, he still felt no obligation to speak out against the human rights violation occurring on our border against children. Instead, he has been fundraising, through Facebook ads, on the need to build the border wall and sending Wisconsin National Guard troops to the border.
Dem gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys rightfully called Walker out for this two-step, a form of dog-whistling that Scotty has pulled for his entire career.

Castro notes that Walker also looked the other way and ducked the issue when young Wisconsinites were being mistreated at the state's juvenile correctional facilities, allowing things to get worse for both staff and inmates.
Before Walker stood with Trump on indefinitely detaining immigrant children and their families fleeing violence, we must not forget that he codified the separation of young men and women from their families, and failed to speak against the cruel and immensely unjust of separation of children from their families, among the nearly decade-long saga of cruelty at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. In his tenure as Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker has unequivocally failed to be a steward to the children less privileged than his.

Six years ago, Scott Walker received a letter from a Racine County judge detailing the horrific conditions at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. Governor Walker did not act. As details continued to pour out, and the traumatic experiences in the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities continued to pile up, Governor Walker did nothing until the crisis came to a head during an election year.

When a news broke that a 16-year-old inmate had his arm broken by a guard, and was left naked in his cell for hours, and then waited a week for proper medical treatment, Scott Walker was silent. When three institutional psychologists left the institution for malpractice, Scott Walker was silent. And, when inmates at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake told former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Wall that “They’re hurting us. They’re harming us,” Scott Walker was silent. Eventually, Walker’s hand was forced by a federal investigation from DOJ and a lawsuit from the ACLU.
That history of neglect is what makes Tony Evers' latest ad ring true. In that ad, former Walker Corrections Secretary Ed Wall claims that he was ordered by Walker's Chief of Staff to cover up atrocities at Lincoln and Copper Hills because it was hurting Walker's fundraising prospects, and that Walker's Administration had few other considerations other than crass, political calculation.

Our media almost never directly calls out Walker and his administration's malicious negligence of our most vulnerable people (with a few notable exceptions, particularly Katelyn Ferral on the mistreatment of residents at the King Veterans Home). So it takes Dems and everyday citizens to say it directly and KEEP SAYING IT, so the media won't let these awful developments fade away.

With that in mind, I'm heading downtown to watch soccer 1st, and then be one of numerous others to express our disgust with what's being done in our name at the border. The silent majority who are disgusted by these amoral GOP slugs need to stop being silent, and allowing these atrocities to slip by and continue.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Once again, Walker Admin using your tax dollars to spread propaganda...about bad performance

Here is a good example of rampant, everyday sketchiness/corruption that happens in the Walker Administration.

Sounds pretty good, right? But why is the taxpayer-funded Wisconsin Department of Revenue using their account to tweet it out? That doesn't have anything to do with helping collect taxes from Wisconsinites or give them information about refunds.

And the bigger tell is the @ symbols. A whole lot of right-wing GOPper-ganda outlets in Wisconsin and other paid liars. It's clearly done to cause a "Human Centipede" situation where this GOPper-ganda is catapulted forward into social media and other outlets that those groups are associated with. Then if things go right (wing), the "legitimate" media might report it without any context, and the average dope might believe Wisconsin is doing well, which should help Scott Walker in the November elections.

The strategy is cynical enough, but here's the bigger prpblem. Wisconsin didn't do well in income growth in the 1st Quarter of 2018.

If you look at Thursday's report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Wisconsin's 4.0% annualized growth for the 1st QUarter of 2018 isn't all that special.

That 4.3% places Wisconsin 30th in the US out of the 50 states, and is a decline from the Q1 2017 increase in Wisconsin of 8.1% (Q1 often has large one-time increases because of COLAs and other Jan 1 adjustments, which are multiplied by 4 for Q1 because it's an ANNUAL rate of change).

Also, notice that the states around Wisconsin have bigger numbers than us? It means we ended up 6th out of the 7 Midwestern states for Jan-March 2018 when it came to income growth.

Midwestern income growth Q1 2018 (annual rate)
Ind. +5.5%
Mich +5.4%
Iowa +5.0%
Ill. +4.9%
Ohio +4.7%
Wis. +4.3%
Minn +4.0%

And if I may pick a cherry, that stat looks even worse if you look at the last 2 quarters. I'm not going to annualize this, so double it up if you want to get an approximation for that.

Midwestern income growth, Q3 2017- Q1 2018 (total change)
Minn +2.96%
Ind. +2.57%
Mich +2.39%
Iowa +2.34%
Ill. +1.62%
Ohio +1.60%
Wis. +1.41%

This is the context that the Walker Administration doesn't want you to know when they send out that tweet, they just want to you nod and stupidly accept that "it's working." In reality, it means we are falling behind our neighbors in another economic stat, and given that we lost more jobs than any other state in the nation in the first 2 months of Q2 2018, do you think we're going to look much better when this report next comes out in Septemnber?

Look, the GOP hacks in charge of these Twitter accounts are desperate to keep their phoney-baloney jobs (remember, Walker changed all these gigs to appointed positions). But that doesn't make it OK to spread campaign propaganda on our tax time. Especially when it tries to dress up bad news as good news.

Farm bill cuts of SNAP another example of GOP cruelty, And economic stupidity

After many weeks of debate and an embarrassing defeat in May, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives finally got a Farm Bill passed this week (it went through by the bare minimum, 213-211, with 4 members not voting). Notably, the bill includes new restrictions on people who want to receive food stamps.
The measure restricts who is eligible to receive aid and also requires millions of Americans who receive food through government assistance to work 20 hours per week, enroll in job training programs or be cut off from those benefits.

Democrats have been relentless in their opposition to the changes to SNAP, arguing the new provisions are cruel and will cause food insecurity for millions of Americans…

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called it "a big deal" in a statement, adding:

"This bill includes critical reforms to nutrition benefits that close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and encourage people to move from welfare to work, so more Americans have the opportunity to tap into the economic prosperity we're seeing right now."

Sooo punchable. Like this guy's ever had a real job

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have followed this farm bill as it has tried to worm its way through Congress, and notes that Ryan’s claims are absurd, as many of the people harmed by this farm bill are children and people WHO ARE ALREADY WORKING.
Among those likely to lose food assistance are a considerable number of working people — including parents and older workers — who have low-wage jobs such as home health aides or cashiers and often face fluctuating hours and bouts of temporary unemployment that could put their SNAP benefits at risk. In addition, substantial numbers of people with serious physical or mental health conditions, as well as many caregivers, may struggle either to meet the monthly work-hours requirement or to provide sufficient documentation to prove they qualify for an exemption — and, consequently, may be at risk of losing nutrition assistance.

While the requirements focus on adults, children, too, will be harmed, because when parents lose SNAP, there are fewer resources available for food for the family. Going forward with policies that reduce food assistance to poor children flies in the face of research showing that SNAP not only reduces short-term hardship but has a positive effect on children’s long-term health and educational outcomes.

Though the bill’s proponents say they want to encourage work among more SNAP recipients, the bill is likely to leave many people who face substantial barriers to work with neither earnings nor food assistance. Most people who participate in SNAP are workers — most work while receiving SNAP, while many others are between jobs. The large majority of those who aren’t working are caring for someone else, suffering from a disability or chronic health condition that limits their ability to work, or going to school
Because the upper limits of SNAP assistance get cut off for most families at 130% of poverty in the bill, and because it doesn’t allow states to go above those limits, it becomes an especially harsh hit in Wisconsin. The state currently offers benefits up to 200% of poverty (which equates to an annual income of just over $24,000 a year for a single person, or a little less than $41,000 for a single parent with two children).

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo from last month showed that over 75,000 Wisconsinites would lose SNAP benefits under this Farm Bill, including more than 23,000 children. Even more notable are the areas who would have the largest percentage of SNAP recipients losing their benefits – HINT, it’s not large cities filled with THOSE PEOPLE. I’ll also include the member of Congress who “represents” those counties.

Wis counties with largest percentage of recipients losing SNAP under bill
Green Co. 17.59% (Pocan)
Price Co. 16.63% (Duffy)
Pepin Co. 16.61% (Kind)
Lafayette Co. 16.35% (Pocan)
Ozaukee Co. 16.23% (Grothman)
Waukesha Co. 15.97% (Sensenbrenner, Ryan)
Washington Co. 15.70% (Sensenbrenner)
Kewaunee Co. 15.59% (Gallagher)

In addition, as the CBPP noted, having such strict work requirements limits the options of many individuals, and forces them to choose between spending more time taking care of their family members (either children or vulnerable adults) and losing benefits, or being stuck at a menial job for more hours of the week.

The Wisconsin Budget Project added at the time that having such a strict cut-off at 130% of poverty to receive benefits flies in the face of “reforms” that the Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP promoted last year.

Wisconsin Republicans have been especially vocal about the importance of structuring public benefits so they phase out gradually, rather than creating benefit cliffs that can penalize low-wage workers who get a raise or increase their hours. Although most benefit programs have long been designed to avoid benefit cliffs, conservative Wisconsin lawmakers have nonetheless been using the potential problem as a rationale for redesigning public assistance. With that in mind, it’s hard to comprehend why Republican lawmakers wrote a Farm Bill that changes SNAP from a program that in most states gradually phases down assistance into a program with a substantial benefit cliff.
Yet EVERY SINGLE WISCONSIN GOP CONGRESSMAN VOTED FOR A FARM BILL THAT DOES JUST THAT, and I haven’t seen a note from one Wisconsin GOP legislator opposing this bill.

Heck, our Fair Governor was just in DC yesterday to hang out with his buddy President Trump. Why didn’t he use the opportunity to ask to get those cliffs out of the Farm Bill, and talk up the “Wisconsin Way”? (answer: because those “reforms” were always poll-tested talking points, and Scotty doesn’t really care about helping the working poor in Wisconsin)

As the recently-released Wisconsin Poverty report showed, SNAP is one the biggest ways that child poverty is reduced in Wisconsin. And likewise, pushing individuals into the work force more can have raise poverty if those individuals have to pay for child care or other work-related expenses.

All the more reason that it is bad policy to cut off SNAP from the working poor, like the GOP House just did.

The cruel House Farm Bill is far from becoming law, it needs to be reconciled with a Senate bill that doesn’t have these changes to SNAP and then have the compromise bill passed by both houses. But even if these cuts to SNAP don’t happen, never forget that there were plenty of House Republicans that were more than happy to cut off millions of American families from food assistance without any way to make higher wages or improve stability that would lead to the self-sufficiency that Paul Ryan and other GOPs claim they want to see.

And make them all pay a price in November. And that should especially be true for the rural and suburban parts of Wisconsin that are “represented” by these amoral slime, since many of those places would be the ones hurt the most by the cuts in this farm bill. If these Republi-clowns think it’s so easy to live on the edge and be forced to work in a crappy job, maybe they need to see what it’s like for themselves.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Foxconn exec: Why don't the little people in Wisconsin appreciate what we're doing?

Apparently Foxconn executive Louis Woo thinks that I and the majority of Wisconsinites who question his company’s project should be a little more grateful.
From where Woo sits, Foxconn is bringing to Wisconsin high-paying jobs, billions of dollars in investment, transforming the economic structure in Wisconsin, and attracting other global business.

"No matter how we look at it, it should be a good thing. In fact, an extremely good thing. And I would imagine when I walk down the street of Wisconsin, people should be rushing to me and patting my back and saying, 'Thank you, Mr. Foxconn. You guys are really helping us out doing the right thing,'" Woo said.

Yet the flat screen plant has come under harsh criticism for the state's agreement to use government funds for Foxconn incentives in exchange for job creation.

"I just don't understand -- because I thought the economy would go beyond politics. What is good is good regardless of who proposes it. Regardless of who's doing it. Fortunately, we are a global company. We are not a Republican company or a Democratic company. We are a global company," Woo said.

Why aren't the Cheesheaded subjects more loyal?

That’s right you peons. Don’t ask why billions of your tax dollars are flowing down to the corner of the state to pay for a major multi-national corporation to set up shop. Don’t be upset that your roads and schools are falling apart and that we face years of budget deficits because all the money is being sent to Foxconn. Just be glad they’re providing jobs at all, dammit!

And this whole “transforming the economic structure” argument? I’m a bit skeptical on that claim, given that Foxconn is already changing what they plan to make at the facility in Racine. Woo admitted this week that the Foxconn plant isn’t going to produce the screens they originally claimed they would. That also means there won’t be another company setting up a glass factory nearby, as was originally promised with the Fox-con.
Woo said the change in plans is about producing a wider variety of screen sizes and is still the latest technology. A Gen 6 plant would allow Foxconn to produce screens for items ranging from a notebook computer to a central display in an autonomous vehicle to an 80- or 90-inch television.

“The Gen 6 would give us a lot of versatility,” Woo said.

He said a rapidly-evolving high tech industry and shifting supply and demand characteristics drive the change in plans. Building the first thin-film-transistor or TFT-Fab in the U.S. will give the company the opportunity to explore new display technologies or other semiconductor processing technology on glass…

Bob O’Brien, a partner at Display Supply Chain Consultants, told BizTimes in May a Gen 6 plant produces roughly 5 foot by 6 foot panels while a Gen 10.5 plant produces 10 foot by 11 foot panels. He also said a $10 billion investment makes sense for a Gen 10.5 plant, but a Gen 6 plant would require a $2 billion to $3 billion investment.

The second phase of what Foxconn calls the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park could include a Gen 10.5 plant, Woo said, and adding a glass plant would likely be a necessity at that point.
Oh, and there will also be fewer workers inside the Foxconn plant, as they are likely to be relying more on automation. That was revealed by Foxconn executive Alan Yeung in an address to the Greater Milwaukee Committee last week.
“I think what that means is more robotics,” he said, noting much of the work has focused on advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 techniques.

He said that would result in an increased reliance on highly trained workers.

“Many of the workers or our personnel down there will no longer be your old-fashioned, blue-collar workers, many of them will be knowledge workers, developers, engineers (and) professionals,” he told the GMC audience.
Sounds like cool stuff, but it wasn’t what was sold to the public by Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP when they signed off on the multi-billion dollar Fox-con package 9 months ago. And that “robotics” line should especially raise red flags, because that means there will be a lot less than the “13,000” BS that Scott Walker still tries to trot out in his taxpayer-funded junkets.

While it’s a good thing that Foxconn has officially closed on a downtown Milwaukee building for its North American headquarters, even that has its sketchiness. The building was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life, whose employees have given Scott Walker over $246,000 over the years, and the transaction sure seems like a nice way for NML to get out from under a failing asset. And they get to sell it to a business in Foxconn that will have plenty of taxpayer subsidies to offset that cost, and free PR from the Foxconn-cheerleading corporate media in Milwaukee. Win-win-win!

I even reserve a sideways look about Foxconn’s announcement that they will install a $30 million system to treat and reuse water at their (15% subsidized) facility in Racine. This would lessen the amount of Lake Michigan water they plan to use from 6 million gallons a day to 2.5 million.

Funny that they just reveal this now, a week after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources granted a hearing to contest Racine’s planned diversion of millions of gallons of Lake Michigan water using public resources to solely help a private corporation. It seems like an obvious motivation is to assuage citizen anger about that fact, but it also seems to be leading toward a better outcome for everybody. That’s not a bad thing…other than the fact that Wisconsin taxpayers will be paying $4.5 million of that $30 million system in tax credits (and you thought this Koched up WisGOP crew didn't encourage sustainability!).

Here is what Mr. Woo needs to understand. The problem so many of us have with the Fox-con isn’t that there’s a new business being built in Southeastern Wisconsin. It’s that we’re giving you billions of tax dollars in subsidies and infrastructure improvements to do so, along with taking people’s homes, and eradicating our environmental laws.

And Mr. Woo, you need to understand that the rest of the state is seeing a decline in roads, schools and other services because we allegedly don’t have enough money to afford it. Now throw in the fact that your Foxconn factory won’t bring anything close to the jobs that you and Scott Walker claimed it would, but you will still get the same improved highways, property tax abatements, and improved infrastructure.

You see why we might be a little touchy, and why a lot of us would be happier if you just packed up and went away before we throw more money down the hole of the Fox-con? That interview on Fox 6 was a “Let Them Eat Cake” moment, and it just made the already-deep hole that you guys were in even deeper.

Even with GOP-stacked Marquette Poll, Walker barely above water. And voters don't support his policies

Yesterday featured the release of the first Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin politics in a few months. Despite pollster Charles Franklin’s sketchy ties to the Bradley Foundation, the Marquette Poll can give good insights into Wisconsinites’ thoughts. It’s also important because our state’s media can’t resist a good “Marquette poll” story (hey, it beats doing real reporting!), so it guides a lot of coverage and public interest.

But when I saw this tidbit leak out on the Twitters just after 12, I gave a “COME ON!”

What convenient timing for Scott Walker to have his first net-positive approval rating in 3 1/2 years, in the Summer before his re-election!

In addition to that, Walker had modest-to-decent leads on all potential Dem challengers.
The poll asked all voters about a match-up between Walker and Evers and also between Walker and former Rep. Kelda Roys, who won the straw poll at the Democratic Party state convention earlier this month. All other candidate match-up questions were posed to half of the respondents, and thus carry a one-and-a-half point higher margin of error.

Walker led in the head-to-head match-ups by margins ranging from 44 percent to 42 percent against McCabe to 49 percent to 36 percent against corporate attorney Josh Pade.

Walker led Evers 48 percent to 44 percent and he topped Roys 48 percent to 40 percent.

“We have a moderately close race, one that in most of those cases is inside the margin of error or close to it, but with the governor a little bit ahead,” Franklin said.
Any of those numbers will narrow even more as Dems get their candidate finalized in the next 7 ½ weeks. But they still didn’t ring true to me, so I chose to take a look at the topline results for myself, and also looked at the always-useful crosstabs.

Sure enough, the poll had a lot of Republicans answering it.

Party ID, June 2018 Marquette Law Poll
Republicans 29
Democrats 27
Independents 44

Party ID with leaners, June 2018 Marquette Law Poll
Republicans 47
Democrats 44
Independents 8

Now compare that with the last time Walker ran for office, with the Election Day exit poll from 2014.

Party ID, 2014 Wisconsin Governor’s Election
Republicans 37
Democrats 36
Independents 27

It’s-2% more Republican in 2018? Despite the fact that Democrats have already flipped two formerly GOP-held Senate seats in areas that went heavily for Donald Trump in 2016? And despite more-liberal Rebecca Dallet destroying Scott Walker’s hand-picked choice for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court by double digits?

Also note that Franklin’s own poll showed Democrats being more motivated to vote in November than Republicans (71-67), and this story from Mpother Jones which looked at findings from Pew Surveys and others which indicate that the 4-point enthusiasm gap for Dems in Wisconsin is understating what they're seeing nationwide.

It defies belief that the combination of election results so far in 2018 along with higher Dem enthusiasm for November would translate into them being LESS of the Wisconsin electorate this November. But that’s what Franklin is assuming in this poll. Makes me wonder who made that flawed decision – Chucky, or the oligarchs that pay the Marquette Law School for him to put these polls out.

Even with that slanted poll group, the MU Poll showed two major Walker initiatives are in disfavor with Wisconsinites that were asked.
On Foxconn, the mostly negative reviews continued. The Marquette survey of 800 registered voters found 46 percent of respondents believe the multi-billion-dollar state incentives package for Foxconn isn't worth it, while only 40 percent said the aid will pay off.

Nearly two-thirds of voters polled around Wisconsin predicted their local businesses won't benefit. However, a majority said the Foxconn project will help the Milwaukee-area economy.

On Act 10, the poll showed a change of public opinion.

Forty-seven percent favor a return to more collective bargaining, while 43 percent back Act 10. Franklin said that's a reversal from several Marquette surveys over the last few years, including one in March. He said the governor's race may be why.

"The one thing that is different is there's maybe a little more conversation going on about Act 10 and collective bargaining from the Democratic candidates in the last few months, as relatively unknown as (the candidates) are," Franklin said. "But nevertheless, it's a little more on the table for discussion than perhaps it has been for the last few years.
The Act 10 result surprised me. I personally think it badly hurt the state and we would be better if it was gone, but I also think of it as a dead issue for the time being, especially in the political arena.

I also think Mr. Franklin (and his benefactors) don’t want to admit another part of these results in public. People are recognizing that everyone who works for a living is getting the short end of the stick these days in favor of oligarchs and corporations. It explains why the teacher strikes that we have seen in several states this year getting the public support they did, followed by most of the strikes ending after concessions from state and local elected officials.

A related question from the Marquette Poll shows people want to invest in their public schools by wide margins.

Which is more important to you: reduce property taxes or increase spending on public schools?
Increase spending 59%
Cut property taxes 35%

Party ID with Leaners
Republicans 56-36 cut property taxes
Democrats 83-13 increase spending
Independents 63-33 increase spending

So even in this GOP-heavy poll, meaning the GOP Bubble Worlders get disproportionate weight, Wisconsinites are favoring the more liberal/Dem policy choices.

The disconnection between the attitudes on public schools and Foxconn the relatively good results for Scott Walker makes the poll all the more perplexing to me. Are that many people being fooled by Walker’s taxpayer-funded campaign stops at businesses and public schools claiming everything is going great in Wisconsin? Are that many people ignoring that their local public schools are still closing and underfunded, and that Foxconn is an increasingly obvious boondoggle that won’t come close to being the “game-changer” that was it was originally sold as?

See, that’s what initially depressed me about the Marquette poll. It’s not as much that the numbers are Bradley-funded, pro-WisGOP bullshit, but because it’s another brick in the wall of shameless GOP-perganda that the people of this state are barraged with. This GOPper-ganda ranges from the daily “Walker photo op at a campaign contributor”, to the absurd spin on each jobs report from Walker’s Department of Workforce Development, to some BS TV ad where Walker calls himself “the education governor”, to Bradley/Koch-funded fake studies and polls (hi, Noah Williams!) that are intended to blur facts and put false narratives into the public.

Add in a media that never takes a critical eye to any of this garbage, and never asks a follow-up question to Walker or other Republicans calling out their BS spin WITH FACTS, and this type of crap floats out in the air over unsuspecting, busy Wisconsinites who are just trying to get through their day-to-day. And I fear that’s some of what we saw in this week’s Marquette Poll (in addition, a lot of those people simply aren’t tuned into the elections yet).

Why the Democratic Party of Wisconsin doesn’t get that mass communications and polls can be used as psy-ops that influence opinions and elections 4 ½ months before voters go to the polls, this Marquette Poll gave the GOP a bump that didn’t exist in the real world until Chucky Franklin came onstage in Milwaukee this week (HEY WISDEMS, CAN YOU START FIGHTING IN THIS INFO WAR?).

Once we get a poll that actually deals with the pro-Dem electorate that’ll vote in 2018, Walker’s “above water” approval level and head-to-head leads will likely disappear. But that false narrative of “Walker leads” still has its effects in some low-info voters, and now has to be overcome. And that pisses me off.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Job creator" Ariens closing down in Janesville, thousands of others in Wisconsin also losing work

For every tax-funded photo op that our Fair Governor makes at a campaign contributor "expanding business in Wisconsin," there are a number of job stories that don't get attention in the state. And sometimes there's good news and bad news at the same Wisconsin company.

For example, here's Ariens Company claiming some good news last week.
Outdoor power equipment company Ariens will be closing a plant in Nebraska, and moving the work to Wisconsin.

Ariens announced Thursday that nearly 200 employees at its Auburn, Nebraska plant will be affected.

Production will be moved to the company headquarters in Brillion, Wisconsin, as a way to hold down costs.

Workers in Nebraska can apply for positions at the Wisconsin plant, with the assistance of a relocation bonus.
Of course, it doesn’t say that there will actually be jobs added at the Ariens facility, just that they’ll be moving the work to Brillion. But it SOUNDS good and it SOUNDS like a Wisconsin business is expanding, which was the intent of the press release.

The bad news from Ariens came a few days later.
Ariens, a Brillion-based maker of garden tractors and snow throwers, said it is closing its Janesville facility, which includes a large distribution center, as it leaves the direct marketing field. The company got into direct marketing with its January 2014 purchase from W.W. Grainger Inc. of three brands providing equipment and supplies to niche professional markets.

Ariens said it has agreed to sell two of the three brands to separate buyers who will move the operations out of Wisconsin. The company said it “continues to explore options” to divest the third brand, Gempler’s, which sells equipment for agriculture, horticulture and grounds maintenance.

Ariens expects to begin cutting jobs by August 31 and finish by March 31, 2019.
And here’s the kicker for those two stories. Ariens CEO Dan Ariens is a former WEDC Board member and was just elected the Chairman of the Board at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce last December. And look at the sloppy wet kiss Mr. Ariens gave to the trickle-down policies of Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP at the time.
“I know that Governor Walker and pro-growth lawmakers are committed to improving our business climate and WMC will play a leading role in developing and advocating polices that create jobs,” Ariens said. “WMC members can provide the day-to-day economic reality of what’s happening in the towns and cities and workplace across Wisconsin, one job at a time.”
6 months later, I’d say the “job creators” at Ariens sure don’t seem to be doing so well on that front these days, given the announced layoffs of nearly 350 people at these plants in Nebraska and Janesville over the past week.

But Ariens isn’t the only Wisconsin company laying off these days. A quick look at the list of Wisconsin’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notices shows two other Wisconsin businesses gave public notice of layoffs on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Roche will be closing its facility on the west side of Madison over the next 2 years, laying off 79 employees, with many of them being scientists and software engineers.

A DHL trucking facility is closing in Mequon, resulting in 59 workers losing their jobs in August, most of whom are forklift drivers.

In addition, there were WARN notices associated with 2 Wisconsin grocery stores that came out this week. The disruptions involve the Sentry on Janesville’s east side and the Piggly Wiggly in Menasha. In both cases, the WARN notices say that the new owners plan to keep the grocery stores operating at the site, and that seems better than the alternative. But come August, 49 people will still be laid off in Janesville and 69 in Menasha, and forced to reapply if they want to keep working at that store.

Also worth noting from the WARN page - a number of retail store closings and related major layoffs have happened or will happen this month. They include:

Bon-Ton Stores in 11 cities, and Milwaukee headquarters – 2,255 jobs

The JC Penney distribution center in Wauwatosa – 520 jobs

Final winding down at 8 Toys R’ Us stores – 326 jobs

American Girl facility in Wilmot – 185 jobs

That’s nearly 3,300 jobs in all, and while there are often other stores opening to replace some of these positions, I want to see what effect this’ll have on retail employment in the state for June and July. Especially given that seasonally-adjusted reports assume lots of Summer hiring, 3,300 layoffs in that sector will be a double-whammy for the jobs numbers.

Between this and the largest job losses in America for April and May, and it seems like things are getting shaky in the Wisconsin economy these days. That seems to be a bigger story that the state's low unemployment rate (a byproduct of people leaving the state and not being replaced), and no amount of press releases from WMC or photo ops from corporate puppets like Scott Walker changes that reality. I just wonder when the reality of our economic shakiness will hit the average voter in the face.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Walker is now the "education governor"? So why are rural schools closing and cutting?

Oh, now Scott Walker is now rebranding himself as the “education governor”?
Walker on Tuesday will release a statewide television ad following the style of several others released since the launch of his re-election campaign: a testimony from someone else, followed by a message from the governor.

The latest ad features an elementary school special education teacher from Racine named Anita.

"I can tell you one size does not fit all when it comes to our kids. And Gov. Walker gets it. He gave schools flexibility to put money where it matters most, in our classroom. And his latest budget adds $200 more per year for every student," the teacher says in the ad.

The flexibility the teacher references is Walker's signature Act 10 legislation, which eliminated most public employees' collective bargaining rights and required them to pay more into their pensions and health insurance premiums.
Naturally, the Walker campaign doesn’t tell you that the teacher in the ad is a Tea Party nut who’s made a living off of wingnut welfare. So Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now had to tell us instead.

That dishonesty aside, there’s the bigger issue of “adding more money to schools.” It’s a nice one-time measure of a two-year increase in per-pupil aids ($200 in year 1, $204 more in year 2), but that is all that Wisconsin schools are getting, and that’s not nearly enough to make up for the billions in cuts that those schools sustained in the 6 years before then.

It’s telling that another form of Walker's “increased school spending” is actually an $87 million increase in the School Levy property tax credit, which doesn’t go into the classroom at all. And schools with declining students and tax bases are still badly hurting, particularly since this year there was no meaningful increase in general school aids (intended to help low tax-base schools), and strict limits on property tax increases didn’t allow for further investment. And general aids barely increase for this next school year (1.6%, well below the rate of inflation).

Julie Bosman recently focused on the funding woes in rural Wisconsin schools in an article for the New York Times. In this long, in-depth feature, it shows a disturbing trend of small towns in Wisconsin continuing to lose their schools, staff, and their communities.

This is happening 7 years after Act 10 was supposed to make things better. So why is it happening? A lack of opportunity in small towns means that younger people leave, school enrollments continue to fall, with no chance to make up the difference.
Over five school years, ending with the spring of 2016, 71 percent of rural districts in the state saw a drop in enrollment, said Sarah Kemp, a school demographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In Potosi, a town in western Wisconsin, Ronald S. Saari, the district administrator, said his district was down to 320 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, all housed in one building. Nothing is left to cut, he said....

About 15 years ago, the graduating classes in the River Valley School District, then a relatively robust 160 students, began to shrink.

Administrators were faced with several choices, none appealing: Get more money from taxpayers through a referendum; reduce costs by closing elementary schools and eliminating staff positions; or cut more programs, like electives at the middle school and Advanced Placement classes in the high school.

The Arena school, which had 94 students in its final months, tried remaking itself into a public charter school with a STEM focus in 2014, receiving grants of more than $350,000 for new iPads and laptops, teacher training and consultants. But it was not nearly enough. Thomas R. Wermuth, the district administrator, studied enrollment projections and saw that the student shortage was not going to turn around. The state doles out aid partly based on head count; the new law to aid thinly populated districts wouldn’t help River Valley, which has too many students overall to qualify.
This is where we need to remember that the per-pupil aid increases that Walker constantly talks up don’t help districts like River Valley much, because of these stagnant and/or declining enrollments. The same issue afflicted the district that Walker graduated high school in, at Delavan-Darien, where an April referendum failed and led to the closing of Darien Elementary, with more than 1/5 of the district’s teachers being laid off.

Simple electoral math tells you that Scott Walker is already hated in Madison and Milwaukee, and you’d think more people would be fired up to vote in “Blue Wave Year 2018” to add volume along with the 3-1 margin that’ll be against Gov Dropout in those cities. Which means rural areas are places where Scott (“52%”) Walker can’t afford to lose any support in if he wants to stay in office, and seeing the schools close and deteriorate is a sure way to lose low-info and/or independent rural voters.

Which helps explain why this desperate grifter is now flying around at taxpayer expense and crashing into classrooms trying to claim he’s a “pro-education” governor to keep from bleeding any more votes. Good luck in thinking those empty words are going to convince average Wisconsinites to ignore the declining reality that they see every day.

But it does remind me of the theme song of the Walker 2018 campaign.

Monday, June 18, 2018

It sucks that Wisconsin is still gerrymandered All the more reason to take out Walker

We waited months to find out whether Wisconsin's maps were illegally gerrymanderd. And we ended up with....this?

Basically, SCOTUS punted on having to answer the question as to whether the Wisconsin GOP's maps should be struck down. Instead, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that the individuals had to prove that their right to representation and/or voting was prevented by such a gerrymander, instead of having a group of people (Democrats) be the ones claiming discrimination and injury.
Under normal circumstances, Roberts wrote, "we usually direct the dismissal" of the case. He added, "This is not the usual case."

The court opted instead to send the case back to the lower court so the challengers might have another chance to "prove concrete and particularized injuries" by showing there had been a burden on their individual votes. That showing, in turn, would allow the challengers to proceed to the merits of the case....

Roberts stressed that "we express no view on the merits of the plaintiffs' case." But he also cautioned that such challenges might be hard to bring down the road.

He noted that how the challengers bring these cases is key.

"It is a case about group political interests, not individual legal rights," he wrote. "But the Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences. The Court's constitutionally prescribed role is to vindicate the individual rights of the people before it."
Law professor Rick Hasen is always a great read on laws related to voting and elections, and he wrote a piece breaking down the (non)-decision for Slate. Hasen says while all 9 justices agreed not to strike down Wisconsin's map (for now), and 7 agreed that it was still an open question whether one-sided gerrymandering could be struck down, an ultimate decision will come down to whether Anthony Kennedy goes with right-wing John Roberts, or left-wing Elena Kagen. Notably, both justices authored opinions in the case.
Roberts’ opinion is deceptively minimalist, as is his style. All the court decided was that these questions need to be assessed on a district-by-district level. The court explicitly said it was saying nothing about whether there were standards to separate permissible from impermissible use of partisan information in drawing district lines. Indeed, it would be perfectly consistent with Roberts’ opinion for the court to say, in a few years when the case comes back: Sorry, you’ve met the standing requirements, but you have no injury. Case closed.

Justice Kagan signed onto that majority opinion but did two things in a separate concurring opinion for herself and the other liberal justices. First, she said it should be relatively easy to meet the standing requirements in a district-by-district claim, regardless of whether one sits in a district that is “packed” (cram lots of people of one party into a single district) or “cracked” (spread voters from one party around). She suggested that if the substantive standard for proving partisan gerrymandering is bad partisan intent, it will be pretty easy to prove injury in these districts.

Second, and more to the point of enticing Justice Hamlet [Kennedy], Justice Kagan glommed onto Justice Kennedy’s favorite theory for what’s wrong with partisan gerrymandering: It is a First Amendment associational injury. In Justice Kennedy’s thinking, partisan gerrymandering might be unconstitutional if people are suffering in their political representation solely because they are members of one party or another. Justice Kagan not only fleshed out and endorsed that theory (the beauty pageant again). She also tried to prebut any standing objections, suggesting that state political parties would be in an excellent legal position to assert a First Amendment injury across an entire state when the state has engaged in egregious redistricting.

It’s a nice theory, but it only works with Justice Kennedy coming along. And Kennedy did not come along for the ride Monday with Justice Kagan. He didn’t reject it either, leaving him where he’s been since 2004, in the middle, watching the action around him.
Today's (in)decision was a pathetic bailout by SCOTUS, to be sure. But it also leaves one sure-fire way to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin starting in 4 years - booting out Scott Walker this November. Flipping the State Senate or even the Assembly in 2020 also would guarantee fair maps, but you can't gerrymander a statewide vote, and any governor can veto maps no matter who is on charge.

And that's why I wonder if the GOP "winning" this redistricting case might hurt them more than it helps them, at least at the ballot box in November. Because one of the last things independent voters support is gerrymandering and related election-rigging. Related to that, WisDems should think "Challenge Accepted", and have extra motivation to win this Fall.

Now Wisconsin Dems can tell the voters "We are the only party that will end gerrymandering in Wisconsin." And they'd better say it early and often for the next 4 1/2 months.

Wisconsin floods expose bad Walker/WisGOP choices on roads, Nat'l Guard

I may have been roasting in 95-degree heat and humidity this week, but that wasn’t the case for northwest Wisconsin this weekend. They got hammered with catastrophic rainstorms and flooding that seem to have become all too common in recent years up there.
Heavy rains over the past several days have caused flooding in northern Wisconsin that has caused at least two deaths and resulted in a number of closures and washouts to roads including U.S. highways 53, 63 and 2. The rainfall is expected to cause high waters in some areas similar to flooding that occurred in June 2012, according to the National Weather Service….

At least half a dozen people needed to be rescued on Sunday due to flooding, according to Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka.

"It's been really difficult. Often times it takes so much longer than normal because we have to take alternate routes to get around," he said. "We're finding washed out roads as we try to respond to calls because we haven't gotten reports on obviously every road yet."

Susienka said the flooding in Bayfield County seems worse than the deluge that occurred two years ago because the damage to roads is more widespread. U.S. Highway 2 near Ino has been washed out between County Highway G and Tomich Road. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said the damage will mean a long-term closure, according to Jessica Felix, the agency's northwest region deputy director…

However, Felix said it was unknown at this time how long repairs may take. U.S. 63 was closed in Bayfield County for about a month after flooding in July 2016. Felix added that the department is suspending all oversize/overweight permits in Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties. In addition, southbound traffic on U.S. Highway 53 has been redirected to the northbound lane by Bennett and Solon Springs.

This means the state is going to have to get more aid from FEMA and the FHWA to get the washed-away roads from this weekend back into functional shape, and it could take a significant amount of time to do so. This is awful for the region, as the height of tourist season looming in these areas.

And the timing is even more tragic because it came just days after the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee chose to direct less than 10% of more than $67 million in new federal funding toward highways such as 53, 63, and 2. Meanwhile, the I-94 South project near the Foxconn development got nearly 3 times as much as the rest of the state did, despite the fact that the I-94 project already got a $160 million earmark from the US DOT earlier this month.

Yes, the GOPs on the JFC agreed to send an extra $38.6 million to repair bridges around the state in the same project, and that will help somewhat. But a preliminary list of projects from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s summary of the plans for the new bridge projects shows that only one bridge project is in the four counties most affected by this weekend’s storms. Which means there will need to be extra money taken away from other projects in the state to make up for these now-urgent repairs.

But there’s only $5.3 million available for the Transportation fund to pay for such disasters in this current budget, even though 2015-17 had $6.5 million in payments. Walker and WisGOP tried to roll the dice, and gamble that there would be fewer disasters to pay for in the next two years. Now there’s going to have to be some way to pay for this in the next fiscal year that we likely don’t have the funds to pay for, which means an already-low cushion of funds (because of pre-election Walker/WisGOP giveaways) just got smaller.

It’s worth noting that we’re barely 2 months removed from northern Wisconsin finally getting federal aid to repair roads and reimburse costs related to damage from major storms in each of the prior two years.
The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration with most of it slated for federal road repairs in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and on the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians Reservation. Just more than $10 million will go to the U.S. Forest Service to rebuild roads that have been washed out since 2016.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest spokeswoman Hilary Markin said the money will be used to help fund permanent repairs.

"We actually have eight portions of roads that were closed where emergency repairs were not possible given the size and scope of damage," Markin said. "We do have a closure order in place for those roads."…

Nearly $5 million in federal highway funds will be spread among 22 counties.

Parts of northern and western Wisconsin were declared federal disaster areas after storms quickly dropped more than 10 inches of rain in both 2016 and 2017.

Same area, different flood

It sure sounds like Wisconsin is going to need to start allocating more money to defray weather-related disasters, because these things seem to be happening more, and at higher costs (the point that WisGOP is so Koched up in climate change denial that they don’t want to admit this almost goes without saying).

Also, we’d usually see the Wisconsin National Guard trying to help these communities deal with the flooding and ultimate cleanup, but instead we have word today that troops in the Wisconsin Guard are heading southwest to help the State of Arizona “secure the border” with Mexico. Yes, the feds are going to pay for the Guard’s run to the border, but someone in our media might want to ask Our Fair Governor if that’s a good use of our limited resources while multiple parts of the state are flooded out.

Floods like these are tragic and inconvenient at any time, but having it come at a time when highway repair funds are already unacceptably short and right before the 4th of July make it especially devastating for northwest Wisconsin. And maybe we need to have people in charge at the Capitol that are prepared to deal with this disasters and have the money and personnel to adequately offer assistance.

Because Scott Walker and the rest of the WisGOP crew seem to care more about getting headlines from throwing more tax dollars down to Foxconn-sin while pandering for campaign donations from the Kochs and other oil oligarchs. We also could use a governor that doesn’t choose to send our National Guard members out of state to give winks and nods to xenophobic bigots over helping the Wisconsinites that pay their salaries.

And given the multiple inches of rain that fell in Central Wisconsin today, and big storms slated to hit throughout Southern Wisconsin today and tonight, I have bad fears these misplaced priorities will be laid bare a few more times before this Summer is out.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thoughts from a hot time in SW Tennessee

A few quick observations on the things I've noticed in Memphis over the weekend.

1. The city is trying to make a comeback, with the typical gentrification of certain run-down areas and local brewpub/eateries. Given the cultural/musical/food history of the place, it fits reasonably well, even though the overall metro area is economically stagnant with high levels of crime and poverty. It's worth the trip.

2. Memphis Summer heat is not like the few hot days you get in the Upper Midwest. It's been 95 all weekend with an unforgiving, higher sun, and no wind. Very occasionally a pop-up storm hits for a few minutes, and then it starts all over. And unlike Wisconsin, every day is like this for 3-4 months. No thanks.

3. The "sales tax on food" thing is a real difference when you go to a grocery store. Or even when you go to a local Farmers Market, where everyone has to give change since the 7.75% tax is thrown in on everything.

And you can bet Wacko Macco and Koo-Koo Kooyenga would try to do some version of "broadening" the sales tax to food under the guise of "tax reform" should the voters of Wisconsin be stupid enough to keep the GOP in power past November. Gotta pay for more income tax cuts to donors in some way, right?

4. There are yard signs and ads everywhere for state/Congress primaries and county elections. I figured this meant they were happening in the next week or two. No, they don't vote until August 2, less than 2 weeks before we vote in Wisconsin.

Governor, Senate, and House races are all open seats in these parts for November, so there are a lot of people running, especially on the GOP side. Almost all the ads you see are GOP ads, and almost all of them consist of some version of these themes.

1. I hate abortion (cue picture of baby)

2. I hate illegal immigrants (sometimes the "illegal" part is left out).

3. I'm a businessman/woman who has conservative values/Jesus in my life. With 1 and 2 hinted at as well.

You know what you don't hear? One thing about policy on any other issue. This includes the GOP Tax Scam, which is doubly odd because Tennessee comes out great in that one because they have no state income tax, so they don't get screwed by the SALT changes. Tells you how hated that Tax Scam really is.

It also shows that the typical 2018 GOP HAS NOTHING TO OFFER other than the hates, fears, and self-superiority of mediocre white people. And it's sickening that so much of our politics is held hostage by this fraction of a fraction of a fraction. They really need to be put out of power and sent to the wilderness for a while.

Back to more serious manners when I get back to the North and back to work tomorrow. And a Happy Father's Day for those of you that are in such a status.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Now we know Wisconsin's Spring job losses are the worst in the US

Thursday's news of 5,300 private sector jobs (and 4,700 overall) being lost in Wisconsin in May and April's losses being revised up to 5,600 was bad enough. But then the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the jobs numbers for all 50 states, and Wisconsin ended up at the bottom of a number of stats.

States with total job loss, May 2018
La. -200
Okla -200
Miss. -300
Ver. -500
Wyo. -500
Nev. -700
Wis. -4,700

We also "stand out" for the worst performance since March

States with job loss, March-May 2018
Miss. -900
Mont. -800
N.J. -2,300
Wis. -9,600

And we also are badly underperforming our Midwestern neighbors, as most states in our part of the country had notable job gains in May.

Job change, Midwest, May 2018
Ohio +22,600
Mich +11,800
Minn +10,200
Ill. +8,600
Ind. +4,000
Iowa +3,300
Wis. -4,700

In addition, the BLS says 34 of 50 states nationwide and 6 out if 7 Midwestern states had statistically significant job gains over the last 12 months. The only Midwestern state left out? Wisconsin.

Job change, Midwest, May 2017 - May 2018
Ohio +1.38%
Mich +1.32%
Iowa +1.09%
Ind. +1.07%
Minn +1.03%
Ill. +0.995%
Wis. +0.69%

This horrid underperformance should get any political leader removed, let alone a crooked, incompetent fool like Gov Dropout. Can you explain to me how our bought-off media isnt putting these facts on the front page of their newspapers and broadcasts?

Also, if the Wisconsin Dems aren't doing major media events and RUNNING ADS AND BILLBOARDS highlighting this "dead last" status (so media and casual citizens aren't allowed to ignore it), they need tp be replaced with people who can hammer that reality into people's heads.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Low wages and no people coming to state = Wis jobs tank in May

FYI, I'm down South to see my Dad, so I'm not as able to do stuff as quickly this weekend. So it may be a bit brief on the blog for a few days.

Given that our Fair Guv has been jetting around the state for numerous "job announcement" photo ops that just happen to be at campaign contributors, I had an inkling that yesterday's Wisconsin jobs report may be bad.

Then I read the headline of Walker's DWD mentioning "around 45,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010" (a relatively meaningless stat, given the Obama Recovery), and I said, "Yep, it's bad."

But I opened the link to the report, and it was even worse than I suspected.

Wisconsin jobs, May 2018

All jobs -4,700
Private sector jobs -5,300

April revisions
All jobs -3,900
Private sector jobs -2,500

And given that April already reported minor job losses, this means that for the last two months, Wisconsin has lost 10,900 private sector jobs and 9,600 jobs overall.

Many of these job "losses" reflect lower-than-average seasonal hiring at sectors like bars, hotels, and retail. And maybe that's a reflection of the low unemployment rate in the state. But maybe it's also a reflection of the fact that a $7.25 minimum wage and reduced food stamp and medical benefits for those workers in poverty aren't cutting it these days.

The household report keeps unemployment at 2.8%, and claims more Wisconsinites are "working." I find the same report's claim of 4,000 more "employed" to be suspicious at best (where are all these people "working"? Uber? At home? Minnesota? Illinois?). And given that it becomes a Walker/WISGOP talking point that too much state media chooses to emphasize over the job losses, I really would like to see who is called on that household survey.

When combined with reporting 10,200 more jobs in May, it is obvious that Wisconsin fell far behind in May, and our low wages and regressive GOP policies are not attracting the people we need to keep up with the competition. That has to be changed, and this Fall's elections are a great way to stop the losing.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Special elections still showing WisDem gains.

Wanted to give a quick look back at Tuesday's special elections in Wisconsin. Let's start with the State Senate race, where Dems got another GOP-held seat to flip, as Caleb Frostman beat Andre ("The Handmaid's Tale") Jacque.

As usual, J Miles Coleman of Decision Desk HQ had great charts which broke down the votes in these two races. In the Senate race, the key to the 2.8% victory for Frostman came from his home area of Door County, which has overwhlemingly turned blue in the last 2 statewide races.

Even though the Appleton eastern suburbs are a small part of the district, they have decent population. And these areas also went for Frostman.

Dallet also won these areas in April, and if those areas and others around Appleton stay blue in November, there is little way Scott Walker to win a third term for governor. And don't think Scotty doesn't know it, which helps explain why he was in the area on Tuesday throwing out $60 million in WEDC funds to help a campaign donor Green Bay Packaging expand.

Moving over to the Assembly race, the Republicans held onto the seat, with John Plumer beating Ann Groves Lloyd 53-45. As Coleman notes, this was still a 6 point shift to the Dems from November 2016, but it also removed about half of the gain Dallet got in April.

You can see that Plumer held his own in Columbia County, actually edging out Lloyd overall, and then ran up the score in the absurdly red eastern part of the district to get the win. Which led to the following analysis from former GOP Rep. Joe Handrick.

But hey, that's just the way you drew it up, isn't it Joe? You know, when you and the GOP leadership went Off the Square and illegally gerrymandered the state in 2011?

Overall, it's another step forward for Dems and the "Blue Wave 2018" theme, which keeps some on the bandwagon, and encourages more to get on. There's still plenty of work to do in the next 5 months, but only having to flip 2 GOP seats to win the Senate is a lot better than having to flip 3 this Fall. And if even half of the shift to the Dems that we've seen in these special elections holds up, Scott Walker and any other GOP running statewide is in BIG trouble.

Lastly, never forget that the only reason these elections were happening this week is because Scott Walker wanted to cancel them entirely and had to be dragged to court to be forced to follow state law. These races would have happened at the same time as the Supreme Court race in April, at no extra expense to the local communities, had Scotty simply done his damn job and scheduled them when he hired the two GOP legislators that decided to cash in. But he chose not to.

Scotty pulled those shenanigans because Gov "Unintimidated" thought GOPs would lose and be in a weaker position for November, and in Senate District 1, he was proven correct. Those facts can't be allowed to slip down the memory hole for the next 21 weeks.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Walker DOT wants to blow extra highway $$$ on Foxconn, letting rest of the state crumble

I admit to being surprised to see the Joint Finance Committee planning to take up discussion tomorrow about what to do with the added amount of money that the state DOT has received from Uncle Sam. And in between some interesting money-shuffling and a one-time needed boost to fix bridges, Most will go to build up I-94 near Foxconn (and what a coincidence, Donald Trump is coming to Wisconsin for a photo op and fundraiser later this month!), and it'll go beyond the Trump Administration's earmark.

Interestingly, Scott Walker’s DOT was required to send a plan over the JFC, but not due to the $160 million grant given for I-94 work near Foxconn and the rest of the southeastern corner of Wisconsin (we’ll talk about that in a bit). Instead, it's because the state will get $67.4 million above what was state budgeted for its “regular” highway aid. JFC co-chairs John Nygren and Alberta Darling figured they would handle both issues all at once, and that’s why they’re meeting tomorrow.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau explains the extra money and the plan as follows.
…The $67.4 million includes (a) $7.9 million in additional federal formula aid; (b) $37.5 million in additional approved in the federal Transportation Appropriations Act, which became law on March 23, 2018; and (c) additional federal redistribution aid of $22.0 million, for a total federal redistribution aid for 2017-18 $66.4 million (the amounts shown in Table 1 includes an estimated $44.4 in federal redistribution aid, which is any unobligated or unallocated federal aid that is authorized to be appropriated for federal aid highway programs for given a year that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is required to redistribute to the states). The state has until September 30, 2018 to use the $7.9 million in additional federal formula aid, until September 30, 2021 to use the $37.5 million in approved in the federal Transportation Appropriations Act, and until the end of the 2017-18 state fiscal year to use the $22.0 million in federal redistribution aid.
So the additional $67.4 million will be used in the following manner.
1. $37.4 million to I-94 South by Foxconn
2. $30 million for other highway projects in the state
WHICH REPLACES $30 million of state funding for other hwy projects (net effect on state highways- $0)
3. That $30 million in state funding becomes added funds for bridge replacement.

More money to help clear a backlog on bridge work is a very good thing, and will be a welcome relief to local communities that haven’t been able to pay for those repairs themselves. But the flip side to that is that the underfunded State Highway Rehabilitation (SHR) program for non-SE Wisconsin projects doesn’t get any help from these extra funds, and the LFB points out that this may be an issue.
…during 2017-19 budget deliberations, DOT prepared several highway condition analyses, one of which showed that over a 10-year period, the biennial funding level recommended by the Governor ($1,701.6 million), with no inflationary increases, would result a decline in highways rated at fair and above to 61.7% (by the end of 2027-28). If the $1,619.4 million in SHR funding provided under Act 59 (4.8% less than the Governor's recommendations and 4.6% less than the 2015-17 biennium), were held constant over time, an even greater decline state highway conditions could be expected to occur over the same 10-year period. Given these demands on both state transportation infrastructure and the limited state resources currently available to meet those needs, one policy concern that the Committee may want to consider in reviewing this request is whether the state can afford to again increase funding for a local bridge improvement assistance program at a time when the state is having difficulty funding the state's transportation infrastructure needs.
Yeah, that’s a legitimate question, but the bigger one to me is why the Walker Administration wants to use $37.4 mil of these extra funds to finish off I-94 South, which is already getting extra help with that $160 million grant. Even more bizarre is that the Walker Administration claims that not using that $37.4 mil (less than 2% of the $2 billion project) would delay I-94 South by another 2 years! (cough-BULLSHIT)

If you don't live near Foxconn, this won't change anytime soon

So that’s about half of the $86 million gap that still existed after the federal grant was announced last week. How else is the Walker Administration going to get all of I-94 South’s lanes open by Summer 2020? The answer lies in a scheme that “cashes in” some money left over from borrowing less than what was in the budget.
The residual bonding resulted from DOA issuing less revenue obligation debt in 2017 than was anticipated during the 2017-19 budget deliberations, which resulted in a larger than anticipated amount of bonding authority being carried into the 2017-19 biennium. In most biennia, a certain amount of "unbudgeted" or "un-programmed" bonding is carried over to the subsequent biennia, so it can be available to be issued in order to provide funding continuity for the major highway development program funding during the construction months in the event of a delay in the passage of the budget. During the 2017-19 budget deliberations it was anticipated that approximately $38.1 million of this bonding authority would be carried over into the 2017-19 budget, and would be available for issue in the event the 2019-21 budget would be delayed. However, due to the slower than anticipated bonding issues to close out the 2015-17 biennium, approximately $86.3 million of this bonding authority was carried into the 2017-19 biennium. DOT, using its current law authority can request DOA to increase its SEG-S, all monies received continuing appropriation (an appropriation that expends the bond proceeds) in the majors program in order to expend any bond proceeds available in the transportation revenue bond program that have not already been appropriated.
This basically reduces the amount that can be borrowed, and allows $48.6 to be paid in “cash” instead. Sounds good, but the drawback is that it means more will have to be taxed or borrowed at a later point to make up this difference.

Likewise, the Transportation Fund has an extra $51.4 million that is usually designated for paying off and reducing debt in the future, and the LFB says the Walker Administration may use that as a source of funds for the rest of I-94 South. The answer why goes back to the “bond teeter-totter” concept you should have learned about in high school.
In addition, the administration also indicates that approximately $51.4 million in excess bond proceeds associated with the two most recent transportation revenue bond issues also exists. These proceeds are associated the premiums received on those bond issues. Over the past decade or more, the state sold bonds with coupon rates that are above market rates at the time of the sale. In return for having to repay the bonds at the higher coupon rate, the state receives upfront funds (premiums) that are deposited along with bond proceeds into the transportation revenue obligation fund. Despite the above market coupon rates, when factoring in the up-front premiums, the state's true interest cost associated with the borrowing is still less than if the state issued bonds with market rate coupons. If that were not the case, the state could simply issue bonds at the market rate. Similar to the appropriation of bond proceeds from the issuance of the $86.3 million in authorized but unissued bonding, DOT can request that DOA increase the same majors program, SEG-S, all monies received, continuing appropriation in order to expend these available bond proceeds in the majors program.
Of course, cashing in those bond premiums means these funds can’t be used to pay off those higher interest payments that the Transportation fund has to pay off in coming years. In both cases, the Walker Administration seems to be trying to scrape together one-time sources of money to pay bills now, and will worry about taking care of future needs at a later date.

That may not necessarily be a wrong approach, but it does seem telling. And the bigger question is “Why is even more money being sent down to I-94 in the Foxconn-sin region?” Meanwhile, main highways in every other part of the state are crumbling and local governments are struggling to fix their own streets because of the Legislature’s strict property tax limits (although the bridge money will help some, as noted above).

The LFB also reminds us that the Walker Administration has already taken away highway funds from the rest of the state to bulk up roads near Foxconn, and that the already-bad situation for outstate highways is set to get even worse as a result.
Subsequently, this office determined that let savings on SHR project bids to date in the biennium could replace $32 million of the estimated $102.0 to $122.0 million in SHR funding to be used to reconstruct state and (previously) local roads near the Foxconn development. Therefore, after accounting for SHR program let savings, the previously unscheduled Foxconn-related roadwork is likely to reduce the amount of SHR program funding for previously anticipated SHR projects throughout the state by $70 million ($102.0 million -$32 million) to $90 million ($122.0 million -$32 million) in the biennium.

The use of any SHR program funding for previously unscheduled Foxconn-related local and state highway work will also impact the overall backlog of SHR roadwork, which can be measured by the estimated decline in the condition of state highways. As noted earlier, even at the higher amount of biennial rehabilitation program funding initially proposed by the Governor ($1,701.6 million), state highway conditions would be expected to decline substantially over a ten-year period, assuming a constant funding level. Estimates by the Department during 2017-19 budget deliberations indicated that funding in excess of $2.4 billion per biennium would be needed over a 10-year period to maintain (prevent a decline in) current state highway conditions. Given the expected deterioration of state highway conditions, this use of SHR funding for completing work on roads that were previously under local jurisdiction or for advancing state highway work related to the Foxconn development has further limited the SHR funding available to make needed improvements to state highways throughout the state.
Let’s see if the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee rubber-stamp the Walker Administration’s plans to use all of these one-time sources to give even more money to the Foxconn-sin region, or if they modify the plan to actually have the Wisconsin DOT deal with transportation for the entire state of Wisconsin. If they do go along with this DOT plan to send almost all of the extra money to Foxconn, and want to wear that albatross proudly, I’ll gladly let them.

And no matter what is decided tomorrow, it’s obvious that Walker and WisGOP are trying to keep our road funding (and our roads) together with glue and baling wire, instead of shoring up the foundation with stable revenues and adequate funding to take care of our many needs. And it’s a big reason why Thursday’s meeting needs to be one of the last requests the Walker Administration is able to make to a GOP-dominated Joint Finance Committee.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Govt says prices up in May, but up even more in the real world. With real wages now falling

Today featured an anticipated update on the Consumer Price Index for May. I figured that it may feature a sizable increase due to the runup in gas prices last month and home prices continuing to gain. So I was a bit surprised to see the following figures come out today.
The consumer price index increased 0.2% in May, the government said Tuesday, in line with Wall Street’s forecast. The report came out one day before a Federal Reserve meeting in Washington that’s expected to result in another increase in U.S. interest rates.

A more closely followed measure that strips out food and energy also rose 0.2% last month. It’s known as the core rate of inflation.

The consumer price index has risen 2.8% in the past 12 months, up from 2.5% in April. That’s the fastest rate since early 2012.

The yearly increase in the core rate edged up to 2.2%.
Yes, that's the highest inflation in 6 years, but I predicted last month that inflation would be at or above 3% year-over-year. So what happened? Well, if you go into the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here’s a big reason why.
The energy index rose 0.9 percent in May after rising 1.4 percent in April. The gasoline index rose 1.7 percent following a 3.0-percent increase in April. (Before seasonal adjustment, gasoline prices increased 5.9 percent in May.)
Gas only went up 1.7%? The prices that I saw at the pump sure went up a lot more than that. What gives?

The “seasonal adjustment” part is key, because it means that the BLS expects gas to go up by around 4 % every May, and they build that into the CPI. A quick check of last June’s report indicates that a rise in gas prices in that month also gets deflated down.

But there’s always a flip side to this, and it means that gas prices get inflated on a seasonally-adjusted basis for months like July, August and September. Given that June and July had a combined CPI increase by 0.1% total in 2017, that 3% inflation figure should be coming soon enough.

Even with inflation staying relatively lower than you’d think, the 2.8% year-over-year increase is still the most in 6 years. When you combine it with the tepid 2.7% increase in average hourly wages in the same time period, it means that real wages are now falling.

So much winning! Can't you feel the difference from the end of 2016? (you know, other than prices going up faster)

One thing that has kept inflation from being even higher is the fact that food prices have barely changed at all in the last year, especially when it comes to buying food at the grocery store to be used at home.

Over the last 12 months, the index for food away from home increased 2.7 percent, and the food at home index rose 0.1 percent. The index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs increased 2.3 percent over the last year; the only one of the six major grocery store food group indexes to increase. The remaining indexes declined over the last 12 months.
Which is nice if you’re shopping, but it’s not so good if you’re a farmer trying to get a decent price for your product. And getting into a trade war with Canada that results in even more dairy and other ag products staying in America will likely drive those prices down further in the near future. Not a good sign when you recall that Western Wisconsin led the nation in farm bankruptcies last year.

Food prices aside, I think it is safe to say that we are now at a place where inflation will be at or above an annual rate of 2-3% for the foreseeable future. The story now is whether wages will keep up with that (as it is starting not to), or if interest rates rise and/or the economy stalls out, which might help to pop the mini-Bubble in housing and lower inflation. As with other statistics, it feels like some other shoe is about to drop that leads to higher wages, or a slowdown. Things can't continue to stay as they are.