Thursday, January 17, 2019

GOP tax cut looks good on paper, but Evers sees through it

With the economy moving along, and being pumped up beyond potential in 2018 due to the GOP Tax Scam, it means that many states have decent finances due to continued job growth and less need for services such as Medicaid and unemployment benefits. And Wisconsin is among that group of states, as they ended Fiscal Year 2018 with $588 million in the bank. This led the Wisconsin GOP to break out their typical strategy when faced with such a situation - cut taxes!
The Republican proposal would use a budget surplus to expand the sliding scale standard deduction for the individual income tax to give "targeted relief to the middle class," said state Rep. Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, in a news conference announcing the plan...

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Republicans introduced the plan on Thursday so the governor could include it in his upcoming State of the State address, scheduled for Jan. 22. Evers has said he will include his tax proposal in the state budget, but Vos said he wants the Republican plan to be passed outside of the budget process.

"What a fantastic chance for (Evers) on Tuesday to say, 'I accept the offer of legislative Republicans to be able to use the surplus they developed' for the tax cut that he wants," Vos said. "Seems like a win-win to me."

Big fish, small ponders unite!

Umm, Robbin', "the surplus [the legislative Republicans] developed"? That money is only available because of years of WisGOP underfunding schools, roads and local government, and as the Wisconsin State Journal's Matt DeFour pointed out today, money in the bank does not mean you have a "surplus".



But let's set aside the debate about what to do with the extra money can be set aside for the time being, and take a look at what the Assembly GOP proposed today. As the Legislative Fiscal Bureau explains, the GOP’s tax cut would cut taxes by lowering the amount of money that is taxed in Wisconsin. For 2020, the LFB estimates this would affect married couples that make less than $155,413, and single people that make less than $127,408.
The proposal would increase the maximum deduction by 20.6% for each filer type, increase the income levels for beginning the deduction phaseout by 17.6%, and modify each of the phaseout percentages so that they are closer together…
After looking at the LFB analysis and this year’s state tax form (it’s line 15, and page 55 of these instructions shows how much the deductions are today), it sounds like a decent idea. It lowers taxes specifically for people in the middle and upper-middle classes, drops the tax burden of some lower-income Wisconsinites to $0, and the rich don’t benefit at all (they would still make too much to get anything from this expanded deduction).

While the changes seem cosmetic, the LFB says it’ll boost take-home pay for most middle-income taxpayers by a few hundred dollars a year. And that adds up to a sizable price tag.
The proposal would reduce individual income tax collections by an estimated $490.2 million in 2020-21, the second year of the upcoming 2019-21 biennium. The proposal would require the Secretary of the Department of Revenue to change withholding tables to reflect the decrease, effective no later than July 1, 2020, resulting in a one-time revenue reduction of $152.1 million in 2020-21. If the Secretary acts before the specified date, some of the one-time effect would occur in 2019-20…..For the 2020 tax year, the decrease is estimated at $338.1 million.

This amount also includes interactive effects related to the state’s itemized deduction credit (see Schedule 1 on your state tax form for more info). Because the calculation of the credit is based, in part, on the claimant’s standard [state] deduction, a higher standard [state] deduction will result in a decrease in tax credits. For tax year 2020, itemized deduction credits are estimated to decrease by $55.0 million, from $3160 million to $261.0 million.
And it’s not just the cost that exposes the trickery to the GOP’s tax cut plan. It’s not slated to start until 2020, and while there might be a minor bump in take-home pay before the 2020 elections (via the lower withholdings), Wisconsinites won’t see most of the benefit from this until they file their taxes in early 2021 – after the next election.

It’s pretty easy to see a scenario where this tax cut is agreed to (and GOPs take credit for it) before the 2020 elections. But after those elections, the tax cut becomes a $676 million hole in the next budget, which would keep Evers from starting new initiatives. If the plan works even better for WisGOP, then this tax cut leads to a budget deficit (as we saw in a similar pre-election surplus giveaway in 2014).


As that cartoon illustrates, a budget deficit would then force Evers to have to raise taxes or propose budget cuts, which would give Republicans something to run against in 2022. And we all know GOPs are better at whining about “libs” than actually telling voters the truth about their disliked and failing policies.

Fortunately, it seems like the Evers Administration recognizes this as the cynical gimmick it is, as spokeswoman Melissa Moore Baldauff came out within a few hours to point out where the GOP’s plan falls short.
The governor’s sustainable plan to cut taxes for middle-class families—which is funded by rolling back tax giveaways for millionaires—would provide relief for 86 percent of taxpayers without adding to the deficit or relying on one-time funds.

In contrast, Speaker Vos’ spending plan continues to grow. Between this unfunded proposal, their refusal to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, and growing legal fees for outside counsel to defend their lameduck laws, Republicans are willing to leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is our hope that legislators who believe in protecting the taxpayers and our state’s bottom line will support the governor’s sustainable tax plan.”
And by the way, we might not have the extra money to blow in the first place. Also on Thursday, the Department of Revenue released the state’s collections for December, and it included this shocking detail.

Adjusted Income Tax collections, Wisconsin
Dec 2018 vs Dec 2017- DOWN 19.8% (-$195.1 million)
First half of FY 2019 vs FY 2018- DOWN 0.04% (-$1.8 million)

Now maybe it’s a weird calendar quirk, as the timing of the end of the year fell on extended weekends in both years. But the Wisconsin DOR seems to be aware of that.
For fiscal years (FY) 2018 and 2019, the adjusted line includes withholding that was received on the first working day of January, rather than the last day of December, which was a weekend or a holiday. The year-to-date amounts were affected for both fiscal years.
That withholding amount on January 2nd was $258.2 million in 2018 and $72.5 million this year, and that’s a lot (but not all) of this difference. But it still doesn’t explain why revenues are flat for the first 6 months of the fiscal year.

The revenue estimates the outgoing Walker Administration made back in November had income taxes going up by 3.99%. If they end up flat, that’s a “miss” of more than $338 million – ironically, the same amount that the tax cut will cost for the first year it’s in effect – and the remaining revenues wouldn’t even make up half the difference as it stands today.

If revenues come in soft for 2018-19 and lowers the $623 million that’s supposed to be carried over, it means there is less money to give away in tax cuts for future years. Now add in the shaky outlook of the US economy over the next 2 years and the unknown effect that the GOP’s Tax Scam from DC will have on how much (or how little) is filed in taxes over the next 3 months, and there are a lot of variables that still have to play out.

Also remember that GOPs already cut income taxes by $60 million a year during the Lame Duck session last month, (with most of it going to the rich). It seems Evers and his administration would be wise to continue to call out this GOP tax cut plan as the cynical scam it is, and say the debate over tax cuts can come during budget deliberations when we know more about how much money we have to play with, and what that money could be invested into instead of giving it away.

Either that, or Evers should throw another gambit. Make the GOPs start the tax cut THIS year, and pay for it by getting rid of the wasteful M&A credit, and have it be both fiscally responsible and with more immediate impact for Wisconsinites. I’d love to see the pretzels Robbin’ Vos and Nygren and the other GOPs turn into as they justify making Wisconsinites wait a year for a tax cut that the WisGOPs can’t wait to put into law.

Shopko joins the list of Wisconsin store closings, which means higher tax bills for homeowners

After the Christmas season often comes a reckoning in the struggling retail sector, and we saw that again yesterday, with a major Wisconsin retailer announcing that they will close stores in large numbers as it can’t keep up with its debt payments.
Shopko has filed for bankruptcy -- and is closing 38 stores as part of its restructuring efforts.

The Ashwaubenon-based retailer announced Wednesday that it has obtained $480 million in financing from lenders led by Wells Fargo to fund and protect its operations while it goes through bankruptcy. Shopko has also asked the federal bankruptcy court in Nebraska to allow it to continue to pay wages, salaries and benefits, and pay vendors and suppliers during the bankruptcy process.

“This decision is a difficult, but necessary one,” CEO Russ Steinhorst said in a news release. “In a challenging retail environment, we have had to make some very tough choices, but we are confident that by operating a smaller and more focused store footprint, we will be able to build a stronger Shopko that will better serve our customers, vendors, employees and other stakeholders through this process.”

Court documents list the company's assets at between $500 million and $1 billion, with liabilities estimated between $1 billion and $10 billion.

Coming to a town near you?

Those 38 store closings are in addition to last month’s announcement of numerous other stores closing, and Shopko selling off its pharmacy business. 16 of those stores are in Wisconsin (you can see the list here), and all are scheduled to be shut in the next 3 months.

Sears is already in bankruptcy, and faced the prospect of a full liquidation with a loss of 45,000 jobs before CEO Eddie Lampert said he would bump up his offer to $5.2 billion. And like Shopko, excessive debt seems to be a main reason.
A creditor group had been calling for its liquidation, saying they would recover more in a wind-down and through lawsuits against ESL for deals it had done with Sears in the past. Lampert has said they were proper.

Sears had believed Lampert’s earlier bids fell short of covering the bills the retailer has racked up since filing for bankruptcy protection in October. A bedrock principle of bankruptcy cases is that those expenses must be fully repaid.

The retailer is one of the highest-profile victims of the financial carnage in retail to date as online shopping on sites including Amazon.com Inc soared in popularity.

Unlike Sears, which plans to remain in business, toy seller Toys “R” Us Inc and department store The Bon-Ton Stores Inc closed down last year after losing the support of debt investors or failing to find a buyer.
I know a lot of this is simple structural change as more people buy things online (I’m as guilty as the rest of you). But it’s going to mean a lot of vacant stores and properties taken off of tax rolls in communities. Which means homeowners will make up the difference in higher property taxes.


Even with stores that survive, there may be an impact on homeowners’ taxes due to the “dark store loophole”, which equates the assessment value of big-box retailers to these empty stores. This lowers the assessments on the retailers, which then moves more of burden onto homeowners.

In addition to those retail issues, let me add that other businesses are benefitting from a repeal of much of the personal property tax in the last state budget. This winter is the first time we saw that effect on our tax bills, although homeowners were somewhat protected due to $74 million in state payments of regular tax dollars that were sent to local communities.

Between the closings, the dark store loophole, and the personal property tax giveaway, it seems like a very good time for Governor Evers to propose some kind of shift back that benefits homeowners. By doing so, Evers would be following the will of voters in all corners of Wisconsin, who want the dark store loophole closed.

That, along with other forms of tax fairness, should be a centerpiece of Evers' first budget, as a way to reverse the one-sided structure put in place during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Gov Dropout gets schooled by AOC (and reality) on taxes

Our Fair ex-Governor continues to audition for a job on the "invited speaker to right-wing oligarchs" circuit, and threw out this ridiculous take yesterday.



This was Walker attempt to riff off of US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "60 Minutes" interview from last week, where she proposed a 70% income tax rate on people making $10 million or more I talked about it and the 70% income tax level in this post).

AOC got word of what ex-Gov Dropout said, and easily brushed him aside.



This is where I remind you that AOC has two things Scott Walker doesn't.

1. Private sector job experience in the last 26 years.
2. A college degree.

Needy adolescent that he is, Walker kept tweeting, and tried to float this line.



Of course, that "crisis of confidence" was because the country had just gone through the disasters of Watergate and Vietnam, and was getting screwed over in an oil crisis caused by actions by OPEC countries. But the job situation under Carter between the end of 1976 and the end of 1979 was very good. The US added 10 million jobs in that 3-year stretch, and the rate of growth in each of those 3 years that was faster than any year we've had since 1999.

In addition, when we had 70%-90% taxes on the rich after World War II, workers received wage growth that matched the productivity they were adding to the economy, unlike the last 40 years when taxes have been cut for the rich.


Going back to AOC’s comments, online publication “The Hill” hooked up with HarrisX to ask people what they thought about what she said, and it turns out a sizable majority of Americans want a high tax rate on the rich.
In the latest The Hill-HarrisX survey — conducted Jan. 12 and 13 after the newly elected congresswoman called for the U.S. to raise its highest tax rate to 70 percent — a sizable majority of registered voters, 59 percent, supports the concept.

Ocasio-Cortez has not introduced any legislation to enact the concept but the survey shows a broad cross-section of Americans supports it, at least presently….

Increasing the highest tax bracket to 70 percent garners a surprising amount of support among Republican voters. In the Hill-HarrisX poll, 45 percent of GOP voters say they favor it while 55 percent are opposed to it.

Independent voters who were contacted backed the tax idea by a 60 to 40 percent margin while Democratic ones favored it, 71 percent to 29 percent.
The poll was specific enough to mention this key fact about Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, that the 70% rate only kicks in on income past $10 million. Which helps to explain why right-wingers like Scott Walker lie and imply it's 70% on ALL income – they’d lose the argument if they told the truth about how the marginal tax rates really work.

Meanwhile, how’s that GOP Tax Scam coming along? You know, the one that lowered tax rates for the rich and (especially) corporations, and one that Scott Walker vociferously backed in 2018? Bloomberg’s Stephen Gandel took a look, and it’s even worse than you thought.
First, the headline number: $600 billion, at least. That’s how much more than expected I estimate the companies in the S&P 500 are on pace to save. It is also how much more the tax cut is likely to add to the national debt if it runs as planned for 10 years. The total savings for all of corporate America will be well into the 13 figures.


In late 2017, soon before Congress passed the tax cut — which reduced the U.S. corporate rate to a flat 21 percent from a previous marginal rate that topped out at 35 percent — the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated it would cost $1.4 trillion over 10 years. White House officials criticized that estimate as being too high. In fact, it wasn’t nearly high enough. My current estimate, now that companies have completed 2018, is nearly $2 trillion, and that’s just for the S&P 500. That’s nearly $400 billion more than I calculated in May. And the actual bill could rise even more while the lasting benefits are still pretty questionable.

Corporate profits for the S&P 500 companies did rise nearly 24 percent in 2018, the biggest jump since late 2010. About half of that income growth came not from an improvement in operations but from lower corporate tax bills, according to my math. That was also more than previously expected. Analysts had thought the tax cut would represent only a third of 2018 profit growth. But it appears the tax cut was either larger than anticipated, didn’t produce as big an economic boost that many said it would, or more likely a combination of the two.
So companies got their taxes cut, and it cosmetically increased their profits and earnings per share, but it didn’t make the average worker any better off. Funny how that happens.

Meanwhile, the deficit seems likely to jump past its already astronomical level, and that’s before accounting for any recession that might hit in the next 2 years as the inevitable hangover from this unneeded stimulus kicks in.

The more you investigate the tax-related claims of ex-Governor Scott Walker and US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it's pretty obvious that "socialist" new Congresswoman AOC has a lot more of a clue about what really happens with tax policy than Wisconsin's former Governor. Which goes a long way toward explaining why that lifetime grifter politician is now looking for a new job himself these days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Cheddar Revolutionaries" did Trumpism before Trump. Now they're gone

One huge difference in 2019 is how many Wisconsin Republicans have been diminished and taken out of power, after rising throughout much of the 2010s. Then-Governor Scott Walker was a national figure in the mid-2010s, and though he could ride his union-busting and connections to big money to the presidency. Reince Priebus was the head of the Republican National Committee, and later became Donald Trump's first Chief of Staff. And Congressman Paul Ryan was Mitt Romney's 2012 VP candidate, and then became Speaker of the House in 2015.

And now, all 3 are out of any kind of governmental office, either because they couldn't handle being in the Trump White House (Priebus), being scared of facing the voters in the 2018 elections (Ryan), or getting booted out by those voters (Walker). Former UW Professor Don Moynihan took a look at the fall of the “Cheesehead Revolution,” and says Donald Trump plays into its end. But that's because Trump exposed the dark side of what Wisconsin Republicans had run on for years, and as Trump fell out of favor, so did the Wisconsinites.
It is all too tempting to diagnose the end of the cheesehead revolution as a victim of Trumpism. It is also wrong. The reality is more interesting. Priebus, Walker and Ryan saw Trump for who he was, but embraced him regardless. They continue to do so. At the end of the day, there was perhaps more overlap between their views and Trump than any would care to admit….

In all cases, the leaders of the cheesehead revolution served Trump’s wishes, and were careful to avoid criticism even when Trump no longer had power over them. Ryan’s farewell address bemoaned a “broken politics” and U.S. isolationism, but studiously avoided naming the president.

Even if the cheesehead revolution was more spin than reality, its demise is telling. The truth is there was a lot of Trumpism in the cheesehead revolution. The fierce partisan division evoked by attacking public employees. A series of Ryan budget blueprints that preached fiscal discipline but prioritized tax cuts. The willingness to impose work requirements as a condition of welfare. Government support for corporations like Foxconn. Such policies preceded Trump and became the basis for his co-optation of his former critics.

In retrospect, the initial resistance of Priebus, Walker and Ryan to Trump seems to have been about style rather than substance. Trump’s unabashed vulgarity clashed with their studied Midwestern earnestness. Once they saw that Trump’s style was key to his success — and by extension defeating the Democrats they demonized — their reservations melted away. The cheesehead revolution was not a missed opportunity for conservatism. Instead, its epitaph should read that they knew better, but embraced a deeply flawed leader anyway.

Losers all

Let's face it. Is there really much difference between Trump’s demonization of immigrants and lifetime politicians like Walker and Ryan making race-tinged “hammock” references to welfare recipients? Heck, Trump approved of Walker's "reforms" that are forcing work requirements on Medicaid recipients, a policy whose main outcome seems to be a way to create barriers to benefits over trying to help people find work. The Medicaid changes also has a side benefit of giving off an image of making it hard on "THOSE PEOPLE", which appeals to a certain type of mediocre white person.

This GOP two-step is manifesting itself again as the Republicans deal with US Rep. Steve King's history of racism and general regressive idiocy. King was stripped of all committee assignments this week after being quoted in an interview asking "What's wrong with white supremacy"?, and then doubling down on that question on the House floor. But it's far from the first time that King has made statements along these lines, and Esquire’s Charlie Pierce found it interesting that Republicans are just now figuring out that racist statements and policies are a bad idea.

Pierce adds that this week’s reactions by GOP House leadership makes a certain Wisconsinite look worse, if that’s possible.
So Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader of the House, moved on King, which gives us another chance to toss an elbow at former Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from the state of Wisconsin. Ryan was perfectly fine with having an outright white-supremacist in his caucus for more than a decade because Ryan never found the political gumption to bring the wild kingdom there under control.

Many Republicans—including Willard Romney—have now piled on as well. (Ted Cruz, whose Iowa campaign in 2016 King helped run, puffed out some nondescript squid ink over the weekend.) None of them, of course, have addressed the real facts about Steve King—namely, that he was nurtured and produced in the same conservative Republican terrarium as all the rest of them, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy included. King bloomed more lushly and more exotically, but he's of the same genus. Now, they're all required to pretend that they never understood how this lethally poisonous plant sprouted in their midst. I wonder how long the delusion can last. I've been wondering that for three decades now.

Soooo punchable. And weak.

Just like how Mitch McConnell should be fielding much of the blame for the current government shutdown for refusing to put a bill on Donald Trump's desk, so it is the fault of Wisconsin Republicans (and their spokespeople on AM radio) for creating the divisive environment that led to many of the problems in the state and country today.

And just like how the GOP's "Cheddar Revolution" foretold the party's turn to Trumpism, may the 2017 and 2018 falls from power of GOPs in Wisconsin foreshadow the end of the racist and idiotic tenure of Trump and his enablers.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Rural Wisconsin water becomes undrinkable. And their reps let it happen

It's bad enough that Wisconsin is losing dairy farms at an alarming level, but there's a second major threat that's apparent to rural Wisconsin -the megafarms that remain, which continue to cause problems for local drinking water.

This was shown again in a new lawsuit in Central Wisconsin that wants to hold a mega-farm to account for the spoiling of their drinking water over several years.
A civil case listing 81 plaintiffs, all of whom own property in Juneau County, accuses the company of knowingly contaminating groundwater and private well systems and endangering neighbors for at least a decade without warning them.

The lawsuit asks for a Juneau County judge to order the Wysocki Produce Farms and Central Sands Dairy to stop contaminating groundwater, provide drinkable water and a source-based water purification system for homes that need them, pay for ongoing medical monitoring of people affected by the contaminated water and pay for the money lost by property owners because of missed work and reduced property values….

The new lawsuit says Wysocki Produce Farms and Central Sands Dairy's handing of manure — its storage, spreading and disposal, along with the application of fertilizer — is responsible for groundwater contamination. The company contaminated the aquifer that supplies water to the the contaminated wells, according to the court documents.

Before getting a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the company told residents its cropping practices would improve the quality of the soil and water in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin, according to the documents. Wysocki representatives said a manure digester would keep the farm's effect in the neighborhood small, and the smell would be minimal.

At least two properties became uninhabitable because of manure spraying, swarming flies and the infiltration of ammonia odor into the walls of the homes, according to court documents. The dairy bought the properties, the complaint said.

Pristine rural Wisconsin?

This is where I remind you that Juneau County is “represented” by Republicans like State Sen. Howard Marklein who have taken funding from Big Ag groups like the Dairy Business Association, and voted for numerous measures deregulating megafarms, wetland protection, and weakening the DNR’s runoff oversight.

Which makes it remarkable that Juneau County gave Marklein more than 60% of their votes in his tight Senate race this November, and 58% of their votes to Big Ag-supported Tony Kurtz for Assembly. And Juneau County shifted more towards voting for Republican Scott Walker than almost any other county in Wisconsin from the 2014 to 2018 elections.



Did they vote for undrinkable water and uninhabitable land? Because this type of Big Ag pollution will continue as a result of those votes, particularly Marklein, given his position on the Joint Finance Committee.

CAFOs like Wysocki's were largely given a free ride from Walker's Administration over the last 8 years. But now that Walker's gone from the Capitol, Stevens Point’s Bill Berry says the new Evers Administration offers an opportunity to reverse this trend of declining rural water quality.
While we’re at it, Wisconsin should also beef up its action levels for requiring conservation practices. Minnesota, for instance, requires that farm operations close to municipal wellhead areas take steps to remedy contamination once nitrate levels rise to 5 parts per million in water, half of the federal standard. The program is designed to protect wellhead areas before nitrates and other contaminants reach levels that force municipalities to fund costly treatment options. Let’s remember, too, that contamination of residential wells violates the private property rights of homeowners.

Some will cry “regulation” if our rules are toughened. So be it. Maybe the old standards, or lack of them, worked in another era. But modern agriculture has changed the playing field. In total, Wisconsin farmers are applying more fertilizer and manure these days. Soil erosion has increased, reversing earlier progress. When soil erodes, it carries nutrients and chemicals on its way to ground or surface water.

While we’re at it, Wisconsin should establish a stewardship certification program for farmers, allowing them to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. Once again, our neighbor to the west may provide a worthy model with its Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. Farmers who meet the program’s standards by voluntarily enhancing stewardship practices are recognized as stewards and are guaranteed some measure of regulatory certainty. Nearly 700 farm operations have achieved this status in the four years the program has been in place, and many others are on their way.

A new clean water fund paired with a stewardship certification program would benefit everyone, ushering in a new era of clean water for all.
And today, Berry got some of what he was looking for in a bill proposed by his own State Rep., Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point).
This bill requires the Department of Natural Resources to administer a program to provide grants to counties, cities, villages, towns, and American Indian tribes and bands (local units of government) for the testing of privately owned wells.

The bill also makes changes to the well compensation grant program currently administered by DNR. The bill provides that local units of government may apply for grants once in a fiscal biennium for testing privately owned wells, with an option for a second grant if adequate funding is available. A local unit of government must provide matching funds equal to the amount of the grant and must provide test results to DNR within three months of conducting testing. DNR is required to award grants equitably across the state, giving priority to regions where a significant number of private wells contain nitrate contamination above specified levels and regions where a significant number of wells contain coliform bacteria or other contaminants at a level that exceeds applicable standards for public health.

Under current law, an individual owner or renter of a contaminated private well may apply for a grant from DNR to cover a portion of the costs to treat the water, reconstruct the well, construct a new well, connect to a public water supply, or fill and seal the well. To be eligible for a grant, the well owner or renter's annual family income may not exceed $65,000. In addition, if the well owner or renter's annual family income exceeds $45,000, the amount of the award is reduced by 30 percent of the amount by which the annual family income exceeds $45,000. The bill increases the family income limit to $100,000 and increases the amount of annual family income that triggers a reduction of an award to $65,000.

Under current law, a well that is contaminated only by nitrates is eligible for a grant only if the well is a water supply for livestock, is used at least three months in each year, and contains nitrates in excess of 40 parts per million. The bill eliminates these requirements and requires DNR to prioritize grants for wells with nitrate contamination above specified levels.
It is evident that Republicans are in danger of finally being held to account for their negligence of rural water quality, because Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos (R-Foxconn) felt he had to call a task force on the matter earlier this month, after similar tainted well water was found in Southwestern Wisconsin (also in Marklein's district).

This is another classic example of Republican two-stepping, where they claim to be the party that's in touch with rural Wisconsin, while voting to allow actions that degrade rural Wisconsin. Maybe it'll take a new Wisconsin governor from "liberal Madison" to be the one to work to improve drinking water for people whose local "representatives" have chosen big money corporate donations over helping the constituents that voted them into power.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Vice is really good. I'm just not sure what it's really about

My wife and I went to see Vice last night. I was looking forward to this not just because of the subject matter, but also because it was written and directed by Adam McKay, who did The Big Short 3 years ago, which I loved. Here are a few brief thoughts.

1. As a work of film, Vice is pretty damn good. It's a sprawling story over 50 years, wildly stylized, sometimes funny (although not nearly as much as The Big Short was), and from an art standpoint, is really cool. It's different-looking and feeling than almost anything you'll watch this year, although it will have some looks you recognize if you're familiar with The Big Short.

2. The performances are really good, especially Christian Bale and Amy Adams and Dick and Lynne Cheney. In addition to the visual mannerisms and actual weight gain, the way Bale portrays Cheney as a person and not a cartoon is what makes this remarkable. You can see why this guy would be such a soulless bastard in accumulating power, and Adams is outstanding in playing a smart person who knows how to play the "political climber" game as well as her husband does, while having a personality he does not.

You never think "Oh, this is Amy Adams/Christian Bale playing" the character, because the characters are 3-dimensional and act within what would be rational, which is key in a biopic movie.


3. As for the message of the movie - I liked it, but I thought it was a bit confused as to which direction it wanted to take.

Is it a movie about Dick Cheney as a biography?

Is it a movie about how these men (and they're almost all men) are so mesmerized by power that they become people so amoral that they will cause damage to large amount of people and not care about what results?

Is it a movie about how Republican politicians and other powerful right-wingers conspired over 40 years to change the country in a way that has led to the wreck we are in today? (there's a clip of Ronald Reagan talking in 1980 on how he "will make America great again" which made my wife grab my leg in horror)

Is it a movie that talks about how the US did this to themselves and really doesn't want to make the effort to recognize that fact, and how many of us don't care to do the hard work to get out of this mess?


Basically McKay decided "all of the above", and really goes for it, which is great to see as a goal. But it doesn't always work, as it becomes hard to fit all of these ideas and themes together. Things like the decision to manipulate information going into Iraq and creating the void that led to ISIS flips to the Cheneys having a friendly holiday dinner with their family.

It seems like the film would be great as a 10-part TV series, but as a 2-hour movie, it's a bit messy.

Adam McKay

McKay clearly has a point of view (and if you read interviews, he despises Cheney and the right wing oligarchs that he and Bush and other GOPs worked for), but doesn't really use an outside force acting as "the voice of morality" for the film. McKay seems to want his audience to understand these things on their own, and possibly assumes that the viewers have some kind of background with the Iraq War and the Bush/Cheney presidency.

I appreciate McKay's desire to leave it up to the audience to decide what this all means. I just worry that an extremely creepy scene at the end where Cheney talks to the camera will make some people think the Dick and his fellow neocons had true beliefs and was only doing what he thought was right.

That's not what the,modern GOP is were about. The film mentions the creation of Fox News and how Frank Luntz and the GOP would organize focus groups that are used to sell their toxic BS so that enough people will vote for it. But they don't have Cheney or Rumsfeld or others say "You think the rubes will buy it?", or have some other character say "You guys are awful."

McKay doesn't let Cheney and others in the movie admit to the public that they are power-hungry bastards who wanted to use the US government and presidency to accumulate as much money and power as possible (the law be damned). And that these people have been glad to exploit, abuse and injure many Americans to benefit their small inner circle. McKay expects you to feel that and,be angry about it, but I'm not sure some will.

Bottom line- I'd recommend seeing Vice. It's a really interesting film to experience and view, and there's a lot to digest, especially if you're not as familiar with the rise of these self-interested oligarchs that are now a major part of all facets of our American political system. But I put it in the "good but not great" category because what makes it ambitious is also what keeps it from being amazing.

Why are GOPs in DC sticking with Trump? Because they're also crooked

Is this a bad thing? It seems like a bad thing.





It almost makes we wonder if the Idiot-in-Chief is doubling down on this stupid shutdown/wall talk because the Russia side is even worse.

Trump's foolishness is a given. However, this shutdown could be stopped in its tracks by a Congress that would shrug its shoulders at the dope in the White House and let government function as normal. But they're not, as Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to hold a vote on the same bill that passed the Senate unanimously less than a month ago, and Republicans in the Senate refuse to push Mitch aside to end the shutdown (as it surely would).

Why? Why does McConnell care so much about what Trump thinks, especially when it's hurting the standing of himself and his fellow Republicans? And why aren't other Republicans in the Senate (the majority of whom will not face election until after 2020) telling McConnell to buzz off, keep government functioning, and deal with immigration and budget issues later?

I think it's related to a story McClatchy first reported on nearly a year ago.
The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said....

The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.

However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.
Who is Alexander Torshin? He's the guy on the left in this picture, with then-presidential candidate Scott Walker.


The person on the right is Maria Butina, now awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty last month for being an agent of Russia while coordinating with the NRA during the 2016 campaign. Where was that picture with Walker taken? At the NRA convention in April 2015.

Know who else was in power after the 2016 elections with help from the NRA, and who infamously covered up for the Russians? This guy.


In addition, we just saw this week that the NRA and certain Republican Senate candidates were using the same company to buy ads and perform media strategy for the same candidate in this November's elections. The Citizens United decision said that candidates and the NRA had to act separate from each other, but they clearly are not doing that, and the story showed that the media buyer even created a fake front group to make the buys for the NRA.

Know who else benefitted from Russian-NRA assistance in 2016 and knew about it before that election? Wisconsin's own Dumb Senator, Ron Johnson. And here was (mo)Ron this morning, trying to blow off the allegations that Trump is hiding what he and Putin have spoken about.


You'd think the Chair of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee might care about a president who is hiding information that world leaders told him from his advisors and Congress. Why doesn't he care? Because it's pretty obvious that RoJo, his boss Mitch, and many other GOPs are tied up in Trump-Russia as well, and they are too compromised to throw Trump to the side without it blowing back on them. He goes down, they go down.

The real story here is that today's Republican Party, from Donald Trump, through Mitch McConnell, to Ron Johnson, to Scott Walker, is completely AMORAL. They don't care about anything other than power, and accumulating the means to get and (ab)use that power. Some of that is through money, some of that is through hardball tactics and appealing the lowest tactics and policies if it stirs up votes. And if it means getting help from the Russians and covering up for illegal and sickening acts, so be it.

They are ALL guilty until proven otherwise. None should be treated as "one of the good ones."

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"Conservative" Robbin' Vos loves to bill taxpayers for GOP hackery

Here's a great example of how today's GOP really practices "fiscal conservatism." It's not a method of cutting expenses and having smaller, more efficient government, but instead is a method of directing tax dollars to themselves and their donors.

Note this story from this week that talks about Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos adding several positions to his staff at the Capitol.
Vos has used the new positions to hire: former state Rep. Joe Handrick, who served as consultant to Republicans as they redrew legislative lines in 2011; Heather Smith, whose experience includes serving as Walker’s Medicaid director; and Evan Bradtke, who worked as a senior policy adviser.
In fairness, Handrick drew up those maps so well that Tony Evers could only win 36 of 99 districts while he was winning the Governor's election statewide. So maybe he deserves some kind of payback for his role in keeping Vos' Republicans in charge of the State Legislature.

The rest of the new staff also comes at a high price.
Smith is classified as an administrative officer, a designation often used for legislative chiefs of staff. That position comes with a maximum salary of $104,316, which is what Smith is being paid, according to the numbers from [Dem Assembly Leader Gordon] Hintz’s office. Meanwhile, Vos created a speaker’s chief of staff designation that comes with a maximum salary of $126,720. Vos chief of staff Jenny Toftness is currently at $123,432.

Vos said Toftness’ salary is now more in line with what the guv’s chief of staff makes.

Altogether, Vos’ office payroll is now more than $800,000 even with the two positions left to fill. That works out to an average salary of $73,149.
Does this guy represent you? 'Cause you're paying for him.

That’s $800,000 in staff to work for ONE legislator. And Vos's reasoning for this expense? That he deserves this extra staff because Governor Evers has large amounts of staff.
Vos also rebuffed concerns he’s consolidating staff in his office to create a shadow caucus in an effort to counterbalance the Evers administration, noting that Gov. Tony Evers gets more than 250 direct appointments, while Vos is filling five vacant positions.
I didn't realize that Robbin' Vos represented more than 1 of the 99 districts in the State Assembly, nor did I know that the Assembly was in charge of day-to-day implementation of state policy (in case you're wondering, they're not).

This guy thinks that his role as Speaker means that he is the only person that matters in the Assembly, and that he and the “State Assembly” are the exact same entity. This bloated sense of self-worth is absurd enough, but it is especially a rich mentality because Vos and his fellow Republicans have constantly denigrated urban, Democratic-voting parts of the state as second-class citizens, and they have no interest in helping or governing those wide swaths of the state.
Assembly Speaker Vos seemed outraged at the nerve of Madison and Milwaukee for stealing the election. According to the Journal Sentinel, he complained that:
If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority. We would have all five constitutional officers and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.
….
The anti-urban campaign continued when Governor-elect Tony Evers began announcing his appointees. Because the first four were from Milwaukee, Vos renewed his attack, complaining, according to the Journal Sentinel, that “Gov.-elect Evers’ outreach plan to take applications from across the state was cause for optimism, which is why I’m so greatly disappointed that his top four appointments were from Milwaukee.”
And Vos continues to use state taxpayers as his and WisGOP's personal piggy bank. State Rep. Mark Spreitzer said that Vos sent a request this week to allow the GOP to use tax dollars to defend their gerrymandered maps. But naturally Robbin’ didn’t want this discussion or vote to happen in public.


These litigation expenses would be on top of the $850,000+ that taxpayers have shelled out to private lawyers to help WisGOP defend their 2011 gerrymander in court. And it could be more, but Vos' office refuses to release the contract to the public, claiming the public that's paying for this lawsuit has no right to know what they're paying for.

Wee Wobbin' Vos really needs to get over himself. Governor Evers should use his state budget to specify funding for the staffs for the majority and minority parties in the Legislature, and cut off the Legislature from using contingency funds in order to fund their partisan and arrogant legal actions. Make Little Napoleon defend his imperial, unaccountable acts to the Wisconsin taxpayers.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Right wing front groups whine and lie about Blue Ribbon School Commission

As a follow-up from this week's release of the recommendations from Wisconsin's Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding (click here for the full document), it seems that an item of concern in WisGOP Land is the Commission's finding that more "school funding" should actually go into school classrooms instead of being earmarked for property tax relief.

As that report sunk into the media and the public awareness, the GOP lobbying group of “Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc.” complaining about the Commission’s findings.
“Our group applauds the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding for their work on one of the most complicated policy objectives in our state- school funding,” said Mike Marsch, the organization’s president. “Schools are a source of pride for every local community in Wisconsin, and a strong education is undoubtedly the key to future success.

“But telling families, small businesses, and farmers that they are not contributing enough is not the way to go,” he added. “While historic dollar levels were invested in education in the last budget, we believe that the state’s schools would be better served by additional increases in state aid while allowing property tax caps to remain intact, freeing up more local revenues for infrastructure and other priorities.

“Some have argued that communities having a say in whether or not to raise their property taxes is a bad thing. But do the residents of every Wisconsin community not know their communities’ needs best? We believe they do, and urge caution when considering any type of automatic tax increase that remove residents’ voices from the process.”


Are these guys saying that they'd rather have numerous referendums and have schools be put in peril as a result instead of allowing locally-elected school boards have more latitude to make decisions on how their schools should be funded? That's how I'm reading that absurdity.

Look righties - allowing for revenue limits to rise gives local communities more of a chance to “know their communities’ needs best”. Because then the local school board have more of a chance to choose the level of funding and taxation that they deem appropriate, and that could be above OR BELOW what they have now. I thought you guys were all about

(Quick aside- the whole "Republicans are the only people who work and pay property taxes” meme needs to be taken out and buried. This liberal (and many other liberals like me) work and pay more than most of you “real Wisconsinites," because we choose to locate in places that are worth a damn. Get over yourselves.)

Let me back up and re-show this chart, which shows that dollars for property tax relief rose significantly in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, while funding for the classroom and school services didn't. In particular, the Blue Ribbon Commission mirrored now-Gov Tony Evers budget request which asked that further state tax dollars for K-12 not go to the School Levy property tax credit, and instead go to the districts themselves.


Also complaining about the Blue Ribbon Commission's call for higher revenue limits are the oligarchs at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. WMC voiced concerns over the prospect of actually having to spending more money on schools that develop the work force that they are counting on in the future.
Last week, a bipartisan commission of legislators – led by Republicans Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Joel Kitchens – released a report calling for significant increases in government spending and automatic annual property tax increases on Wisconsinites. The recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding would increase already high costs for Wisconsin taxpayers.

After the report was released, WMC Senior Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley released the following statement:

“The proposal to weaken property tax caps with automatic annual increases is a bad idea that will hurt Wisconsin families and businesses. Despite the progress made holding the line on property taxes over the last eight years, Wisconsinites continue to face the fifth-highest property tax burden in the nation.

“This proposal will make a difficult situation even worse by returning to the days of automatic property tax increases. The current system protects taxpayers by requiring government to obtain taxpayer approval before raising taxes. Lawmakers must continue to ensure this vital taxpayer protection remains in place, and reject the proposal for guaranteed annual property tax hikes.”
This isn’t anywhere close to true. Do the WMC dimwits know that the revenue limits that the Blue Ribbon Commission wants to raise reflect the combined state aids and property taxes involved? And the “increases in government spending” that WMC whines about is done IN ORDER TO TAKE PRESSURE OFF OF THE PROPERTY TAX as a means of funding schools. There’s no “automatic increase” in property taxes, and as I've mentioned, if state aids are sufficient, property taxes would be the same or lower in many places around Wisconsin.

Does WMC really think that continuing the failing system that strangles public schools by keeping revenue limits at the same levels they were 5 years ago is a good strategy? You know, the one that currently forces many districts into a cycle of referendum and/or school closings every 2-3 years? And that’s in times without a recession that would further limit available funds.

Side note, what kind of “Chamber of Commerce” actively campaigns against investing in local public schools? Who wants to live in a place with declining/crappy schools? And who would locate their business in an area where the work force is less-educated and skilled?

No, what WMC fears is that their free ride of WEDC handouts and corporate tax cuts are coming to an end under Governor Evers, who will instead choose to invest in schools and other initiatives that improve quality of life in Wisconsin. They care more about rent-seeking and rigging our state’s economy in their favor than they do about making Wisconsin a great place for business and everyday life. They would rather spend millions to put right-wing judges on our Supreme Court than spend a dime on making their (and our) communities better.

Anyone who supports these greedheads should be mocked and shunned. They do have a list of the newly-elected officials from the Chamber of Commerce side, but WMC continues to hide the names of the CEOs that make up their Board of Directors. Fortuantely, the Internet is forever, and now seems like a good time to bring back the WMC LIST OF SHAME.

WMC OFFICERS
CHAIR
JAY L. SMITH, Chairman & CEO
Teel Plastics, Inc., Baraboo

VICE CHAIR
STEPHEN D. LOEHR, Vice President
Kwik Trip, Inc., La Crosse

PRESIDENT/CEO
KURT R. BAUER
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), Madison

SECRETARY
TOD B. LINSTROTH, Senior Partner & Past Member & Chair of Management Committee
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Madison

TREASURER
GINA A. PETER, Executive Vice President, Commercial Banking Division Manager
Wells Fargo Bank, Milwaukee

WMC BOARD OF DIRECTORS
DARYL ADEL, Business President
Kerry, Beloit

SIDNEY H. BLISS, President & CEO
Bliss Communications, Inc., Janesville

DAMOND WILLIAMS BOATWRIGHT, Regional President – Operations
SSM Health Care of Wisconsin, Madison

STEVEN G. BOOTH, President/CEO
Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc., Milwaukee

DAVID H. BRETTING, President & CEO
C.G. Bretting Manufacturing Company, Inc., Ashland

THOMAS A. BURKE, President & CEO
Modine Manufacturing Company, Racine

NATE CUNNIFF, Senior Vice President – Business Banking
BMO Harris Bank, Brookfield

DANIEL DEFNET, Executive Vice President, Commercial Banking
Johnson Financial Group, Racine

BRAD W. DENOYER, CPA, Partner
Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, Madison

JOHN N. DYKEMA, President/Owner
Campbell Wrapper Corporation; Circle Packaging Machinery, Inc., De Pere

PHILIP B. FLYNN, President & CEO
Associated Banc-Corp, Green Bay

JEFF T. FRENCH, National Managing Partner, Consumer & Industrial Products
Grant Thornton, LLP, Appleton

PHILIP C. FRITSCHE, SR., President
Beaver Dam Area Chamber of Commerce, Beaver Dam

LOUIS P. GENTINE II, CEO
Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth

ROBERT GERBITZ, President & CEO
Hendricks Commercial Properties, Beloit

MICHAEL F. HAMERLIK, President & CEO
WPS Health Solutions, Madison

STEVEN H. JOHNSON, Factory Manager
John Deere Horicon Works, Horicon

WILSON R. JONES, President & CEO
Oshkosh Corporation, Oshkosh

PATRICIA LEONARD KAMPLING, Chairman & CEO
Alliant Energy Corporation, Madison

ROBERT L. KELLER, Chairman
J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc., Neenah

SUZANNE KELLEY, President & CEO
Waukesha County Business Alliance, Waukesha

CLIFFORD J. KING, CEO
Skyward, Inc., Stevens Point

JAMES M. LEEF, President & CEO
ITU AbsorbTech, Inc., New Berlin

ALLEN L. LEVERETT, President
WEC Energy Group, Milwaukee

SCOTT A. MAYER, Chairman & CEO
QPS Employment Group, Brookfield

JAMES J. McINTYRE, President and CEO
The Greenheck Group, Schofield

J. R. MENARD, Executive Vice President & Treasurer
Menard, Inc., Eau Claire

ROSALIE F. MORGAN, President
EMCS, Inc., Milwaukee

ROBERT MOSES, President & CEO
Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce, Prairie du Chien

BARBARA NICK, President & CEO
Dairyland Power Cooperative, La Crosse

MICHAEL NIKOLAI, President, COO & CEO
Waupaca Foundry Inc., Waupaca

JAMES J. OSTROM, President & CEO
Milk Source LLC, Kaukauna

These guys have gotten deregulation and tax cuts at the state and federal levels several times over the last 8 years. And they always want more, and never want to do anything to pay back the society that they take so much from. ENOUGH!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Blue Ribbon Commission says Evers, not WisGOP, is on the right track for school funding

Hidden in the news during Tony Evers' Inauguration was the fact that the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding gave their final report over the weekend. Wisconsin Public Radio took a look at the findings, and a central part of those findings is an admission that the Wisconsin GOP’s strategy of limiting property taxes over funding schools isn’t working.
One of the recommendations regards adjusting revenue limits, which would allow school districts to raise money through local property taxes. Lawmakers would be able to offset increases in local property tax through increases in state aid.

Dan Rossmiller, government relations director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said revenue limits have been frozen since the 2014-15 school year, which has been challenging for districts.

"One of the big problems for school districts is revenue limits and a number of the key recommendations addressed revenue limits and the amount of money that schools have available to them to spend, particularly to meet the needs of special populations of students," said Rossmiller.
Those frozen revenue limits are why there have been so many school referenda in Wisconsin in recent years, because schools can't make it under these artificial ceilings.

And the type of district that has been especially damaged due to the Walker/WisGOP startegy of (de)funding education has been in areas of the state where the student (and adult) population is stagnant or in decline. The Blue Ribbon Commission had some ideas as to how to deal with this situation.
Under current law revenue limits for districts are calculated based on a three-year average of pupil enrollment. If a district’s enrollment in a given year is less than that average, it loses 100 percent of the funding for each student that leaves. The commission recommends using a five-year average instead or modifying the formula so that districts receive 90 percent of the funding for each student that leaves.

State Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Barron, said the proposal would be a great help for districts in northern, central and western Wisconsin who have lost state aid through declining enrollment.
If you examine the Blue Ribbon Commission report further, you'll see a couple of items that would be significantly different from what WisGOP has been doing, starting with putting actually putting new school funding into the classroom.
General school aids and the school levy tax credit are two of the main methods of state support for school districts. A major objective of the general aid formula is tax base equalization. The formula operates under the principle of equal tax rate for equal per pupil expenditures. Districts with lower per pupil property values receive a larger share of their costs through the formula than districts with higher per pupil property values.

Recommendation: The Commission recommends that the Legislature provide future increases in state support through the general school aid formula rather than through school levy tax credit.
WisGOP used a lot of their added funding for schools to go into this school levy credit instead of sending them to the schools. By comparison, when now-Governor Tony Evers submitted his last budget request as Superintendent of Schools, he wanted the $1.09 billion we spend on the levy credit to go toward general school aids.

Trust the teacher on this one.

The Blue Ribbon Commission also follows along with Evers’ plan to increase Special Education aids. Currently, the state pays for less than 1/4 of special education costs in public schools, and the Commission gave a variety of funding levels, including Evers’ proposal of more than $600 million in addition money to Special Ed, in order to get the level of funding up to 60% from the current 24.5%.

The Commission's paper has another list of options as to how to add money for smaller, rural districts through the state's sparsity aid program. Currently, the program only applies to schools less than 745 pupils and with 10 pupils per square mile in the district. The Blue Ribbon Commission lists a variety of ways that
1. Create an additional tier of aid under which school districts could qualify for $100 per pupil if they meet the current density criteria and have an enrollment in the prior year of between 746 and 1,000 pupils. Provide an additional $3.4 million GPR annually to fully fund the proposal.

( A quick aside, I checked the 2017-18 aid and enrollment figures for school districts across Wisconsin, and the 750-1,000-member districts that seem likely to benefit from that tier of sparsity aid are places like Bonduel, Crivitz, Darlington, Fennimore, Grantsburg, Howards Grove, Markesan, Mishicot, Osseo-Fairchild, Phillips, Rosendale-Brandon, Stratford, Valders, Waterloo, and Wisconsin Heights.)

2. Use an approach similar to that recommended by the Rural Schools Task Force in 2013, under which districts with a membership of less than 1,000 and population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile would qualify for the current aid payment and districts with a membership of between 1,001 and 2,700 and a population density of less than seven pupils per square mile would qualify for a payment of $100 per pupil. Provide an additional $16.5 million GPR annually to fully fund the proposal.

3. Increase the enrollment limit to 1,500 pupils, and maintain the current law population density limit of 10 pupils per square mile and the current law payment of $400 per pupil for eligible districts. Provide an additional $27.9 million GPR annually to fully fund the proposal.

4. Eliminate the enrollment limit, but maintain the current law population density limit of 10 pupils per square mile and the current law payment of $400 per pupil for eligible districts. Provide an additional $40.2 million GPR annually to fully fund the proposal.
I don't see much relating to vouchers in my original glance at the Blue Ribbon report, but WPR looked at Evers' plans for that along with other budget issues. Evers admits that vouchers will not be reduced to $0 in his first budget, because it would leave many students that receive vouchers in a difficult situation. But Evers does plan to let people know how much vouchers affect people's property taxes and local public school funding, by putting a line item on people's bills next December.
"At some point in time as a state, we have to figure out whether we can afford two or three separate allocations of public schools," Evers said in an interview Wednesday. "People in Wisconsin don't know how much school districts are losing because of vouchers and how much is being deducted from their aid. They need to know that so that we can as a state have a good discussion about what's involved with the voucher program."

On the flip side, many of the WisGOPs in the Legislature got major donor help from Betsy DeVos, Scott Jensen and the voucher crowd, and few have advocated for throwing money into vouchers more than Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos. So that's going to be a significant flashpoint in the upcoming State Budget, and it'll be interesting to see how hard Evers goes when it comes to limiting and exposing vouchers.

But the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission allows Evers some ammunition for that battle, as it seems to back the methods and ideas that he has already proposed. And given that even Republicans were adding funding to public schools ahead of the 2018 election because they knew voters were tired of their schools being starved, it seems to be a good time to go big on reordering priorities in K-12 education, and reinvesting in this bedrock service for our communities.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

With 1 year of the Tax Scam in the books, the deficit is blowing up as predicted

As 2018 ended, we found out that the GOP Tax Scam still wasn't paying for itself. That came courtesy of the December 2018 budget statement from CBO.
The federal budget deficit was $317 billion for the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, $92 billion more than the deficit recorded during the same period last year. Revenues were about the same and outlays were $93 billion (9 percent) higher than during the first quarter of 2018.

Because January 1 is a holiday, outlays this year and last year were boosted by the shift of certain payments from January to December. However, last year’s outlays for the quarter were reduced, on net, because of additional payment shifts from October 2017 (fiscal year 2018) into September 2017 (fiscal year 2017). (October 1, 2017, the first day of fiscal year 2018, fell on a weekend.) If not for those timing shifts, outlays so far this year would have been $49 billion, or 5 percent, larger than those in the same period last year, and the deficit would have risen by $47 billion.
If you dig into the revenue picture for the first 3 months of the 2019 Federal Fiscal Year, you’ll see that the GOP’s Tax Scam is reducing what government gets from individuals and corporations, but the Trump tariffs and other GOP actions has allowed Uncle Sam to get a little bit of that back.

Change in Federal Revenues, Oct-Dec 2018 vs Oct-Dec 2017
Income tax -$17 billion (-4%)
Payroll taxes (Medicare, Soc Security) +$15 billion (+6%)
Corporate taxes -$9 billion (-15%)
Excise taxes +9 billion (+46%)
Tariffs +$8 billion (+83%)
Payments to Treasury from Fed Reserve -$5 billion (-26%)
TOTAL CHANGE +$2 billion (+0.2%)

And don’t count on that increase in excise taxes happening in the future, because it’s the result of a GOP modification to the ACA where health insurance providers have to pay a fee in 2018 that they didn’t have to pay in 2017, and won’t pay in 2019.

While revenues flatlined in the US, spending by the Federal Government kept rising in the last 3 months of 2018.
Outlays for the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 were $1,088 billion, $93 billion higher than they were during the same period last year, CBO estimates. If not for the shift of certain payments, that year-to-year increase would be much smaller—$49 billion rather than $93 billion.
Change in Federal Spending (with timing shift), Oct-Dec 2018 vs Oct-Dec 2017
Social Security Benefits +$12 billion (+5%)
Medicare +$3 billion (+1.7%)
Medicaid +$2 billion (+1.6%)
Military/Defense +$9 billion (+5.8%)
Interest on the Debt +$16 billion (+19.4%)
Other spending +$7 billion (+2.3%)
TOTAL CHANGE +$49 billion (+4.8%)

This is going pretty much as predicted, where the CBO's full-year projections from last month indicated a slight increase in revenues for 2019 (which is likely to happen when you start seeing year-over-year comparisons with the lower tax brackets starting in February), and decent-sized spending increases.


As for December itself, the same pattern held, with income tax withholdings and corporate taxes down, tariffs up, and the deficit up.
The federal government incurred a deficit of $11 billion in December 2018, CBO estimates—$12 billion less than the deficit in December 2017. As was the case last year, outlays in December were affected by shifts in the timing of certain federal payments that otherwise would have been due on January 1, a holiday; those shifts increased December outlays by about $20 billion in both years. However, because December 1, 2018, fell on a weekend, certain payments shifted from December to November; those shifts lowered outlays this December by $45 billion. If not for those shifts, the deficit for the month would have been $36 billion—$32 billion more than the deficit in December 2017.

CBO estimates that receipts in December 2018 totaled $312 billion—$13 billion (or 4 percent) less than those in the same month last year. Withholding of individual income and payroll taxes declined by $2 billion (or 1 percent) and corporate income tax receipts declined by $14 billion (or 23 percent). Excise taxes and customs duties increased by $1 billion and $2 billion, respectively.
So despite good jobs and GDP numbers for 2018, the GOP Tax Scam is failing to "pay for itself", as the Trump Administration promised us.

And now 2019 will give us the payback for those tax cuts. Not just in the form of higher expenses due to added interest on the debt, but also due to the checks many of us will be writing to the IRS in the next 3 months due to the smaller deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), which will make taking many types of deductions worthless.

You've been warned.

Two Guvs - one who works, and one who grifts

Yep, it's a new day in Wisconsin.



We'll leave Matt LaFleur out of it for now (I am cautiously optimistic), and instead let's discuss what our new Governor said when he was sworn in yesterday. I'll start with this analysis from Capitol reporter Steven Walters, who noted that Evers struck a conciliatory and universalist tone.
The 67-year-old former teacher, principal and state school superintendent didn’t indict Republicans for dozens of conservative changes enacted since 2011 or blame them for new limits to his powers passed in December’s “lame duck” session.

But, he said, “We’ve become paralyzed by polarity and we’ve become content with division. We’ve been indifferent to resentment and governing by retribution."....

He said his top three campaign issues — funding K-12 schools, college and universities; making sure more middle-income residents have health care, and fixing the state’ s highway system — got him elected.

“But today is bigger than these issues that we all care about,” he added. “We cannot fix these problems unless people come before politics.”
I also liked these parts of the speech (you can read the whole thing here), which continued the theme of shared Wisconsin values, but also contrasted with the acrimony we have dealt with in recent years.
170 years ago, our forefathers charged us with being industrious and innovative – they gave us a mandate to go forward. We face that calling here today. We must turn the page on the tired politics of the past, and we must lead by example. It’s time to remake and repair our state and to reclaim our better history.

The people of Wisconsin demanded a change this November, and that change is coming. But that change won’t happen without all of us. So, that hard work begins here today....

Finally, it begins in these marble halls where, as elected officials, we are reminded that our obligation and our allegiance are to the people of this state, not any political leader or party. That is the promise and the spirit of our service. May we dare to transcend divisiveness and party line. May we have courage in our conscience. And may we be willing to do what’s best for the next generation rather than the next election.
That'd be a far cry from the act of the guy Evers beat in November. Scott Walker infamously told one of his billionaire supporters that he would use “divide and conquer” as a method of governing, and then did so for the next 8 years. It not only poisoned the atmosphere of a state that used to pride itself on decency and a high quality of life, while the state fell further behind the economic recovery in the rest of the nation.

Speaking of our now ex-Gov Dropout, he gave a preview of the bilge he plans to dish out in the coming years, through this idiotic take on US Sen./Dem presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.


As Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy notes in am,article titled "The Eternal Campaign of Scott Walker", why is this lifetime politician giving this take? Especially when Walker clearly is planning on drawing paychecks from the government in the future.
...few in Wisconsin have gotten more from the clumsy hand of government than Walker. One Wisconsin Now added the totals and found Walker has earned $2,263,058 in salary since 1993 from his jobs in state and county government. To maximize his compensation from the taxpayers, Walker sold his home in Wauwatosa and lived exclusively in the governor’s mansion, the only Wisconsin governor in memory to do this.

It’s hard to think of anyone who better fits the conservative complaint about citizens who “who suck endlessly on the government’s teat.” Walker has done it for nearly his entire adult life.

And whatever money he earns in the next few years while preparing to run will be from special interests, conservative groups looking to get policies they favor passed. He will simply be cashing in yet again on his career as a politician.
Murphy adds that the recent revelation of Walker moving into a high-priced home in Milwaukee (odd enough, Walker campaigned in 2012 saying "We don't want Wisconsin to become like Milwaukee.") means that there are even more opportunities for corruption. Particularly because Scotty hardly has enough money lying around to afford that place on his own.
Walker is not wealthy, as [AP Reporter Scott] Bauer has reported: “Based on his most recent statement of economic interests, he has two retirement accounts each worth less than $50,000. He has three other funds valued between $15,000 and $150,000, total. He’s carrying more than $100,000 in student loan debt and credit card debt between $15,000 and $150,000.” That statement shows he hadn’t paid off his student debt, which goes back 28 years.

Which makes you wonder how he can afford a downtown condo in Milwaukee, if he found it onerous to pay for his modest Tosa home. Apparently Walker has already been guaranteed a steady income for giving speeches and advocating for conservative causes. Is he getting paid by billionaire Diane Hendricks or perhaps the Koch Brothers? Now that he’s not in government, Walker won’t have to disclose who is helping support him.

Grifter’s gonna grift, you know. Thank God he's not doing it at our expense anymore.

In the meantime, us in Wisconsin finally have a Governor that actually cares about an outcome other than the next poll, fundraising figures and political advantage. And unlike the last 7 1/2 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, maybe we'll actually end up in the top half for job growth as a result.