Thursday, May 25, 2017

A tale of two metros- growing Madison and flatlining Milwaukee

Interesting release from the Census Bureau today, which released its annual estimates of population for cities, towns and villages. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took note of a sizable drop in Wisconsin's largest City, leaving it back at the same level it was at 7 years ago.
For the first part of the decade, the city saw slight annual population increases, growing from 595,188 in 2010 to 600,178 in 2014. Starting with the 2015 population estimates, Milwaukee's numbers started declining, falling by about 1% to 595,047 in 2016.
80 miles down I-94, the story was very different.
Madison's population grew by 3,938 people from 2015 to 2016. Its total population is now 252,551, up 8.1% since 2010.

Mayor Paul Soglin said those figures are a reflection of the area's economy and quality of life.

"We're building an economy that's designed to create a great place where people want to live and raise their families," he said. "Jobs are at the core, but quality of life is way up there."
I'm no fan of the recent takeover and gutting of the Journal-Sentinel, but one the few advantages to Gannett's ownership is that they like to use more charts and databases, and they’ve made one that shows the population changes in the 2010s for every town, city and village in Wisconsin using this updated Census information. Feel free to click around to see what's going on in your neck of the woods.

Most remarkable in Madison’s growth is that the city added more people in 2016 than the whole rest of the state.

Population change, 2015-2016
City of Madison +3,938
Rest of Wisconsin +3,393

This pattern is similar for the state in the entire 2010s, albeit not as extreme. Madison and the rest of Dane County are the source of the largest additions of people, including 4 of the 5 largest-growing cities and villages in Wisconsin.

Population change, 2010-2016
City of Madison +18,920
City of Fitchburg +3,654
City of Sun Prairie +3,196
Village of Hobart +2,374
City of Verona +2,256

Rest of Dane County +15,174
Rest of Wisconsin +46,148

On the flip side, the state’s largest city and county is losing people and its related metro area is stagnant at best.

Population change, 2015-2016
City of Milwaukee -5,008
Rest of Milwaukee Co. -1,279
Waukesha Co. +2,064
Ozaukee Co. +364
Washington Co. +622
TOTAL MKE, WOW Counties -3,237

Population change, 2010-2016
City of Milwaukee +214
Rest of Milwaukee Co. +3,499
Waukesha Co. +8,433
Ozaukee Co. +1,919
Washington Co. +2,409
TOTAL MKE, WOW Counties +16,474

Not surprisingly, this also reflects in the performance of the economies of both areas. The Madison area is booming while the Milwaukee metro is comparatively stuck in neutral. This is especially true in the last year, where Madison keeps growing, even with unemployment below 3%, while Milwaukee has actually lost jobs. But it’s just an acceleration of a larger trend since Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP allegedly made Wisconsin “open for business” starting with the passage of Act 10 in 2011.

Change in all jobs since April 2016
Madison Metro +5,100 (+1.3%)
Milwaukee Metro -4,700 (-0.5%)
Rest of Wisconsin +37,700 (+2.3%)

Change in private sector jobs since April 2016
Madison Metro +4,200 (+1.4%)
Milwaukee Metro –5,100 (-0.7%)
Rest of Wisconsin +30,200 (+1.2%)

Change in all jobs April 2011- April 2017
Madison Metro +42,400 (+11.8%)
Milwaukee Metro +46,500 (+5.7%)
Rest of Wisconsin +124,100 (+7.9%)

Change in private sector jobs April 2011- April 2017
Madison Metro +41,100 (+15.1%)
Milwaukee Metro +48,800 (+6.8%)
Rest of Wisconsin +120,200 (+6.8%)

All this, AND a bunch of smart people? No wonder it's booming.

Maybe the 2010s strategy of the suburban-run WisGOPs of cutting state aid, voucherizing schools and micromanaging Milwaukee isn’t quite working out, is it? And maybe having regressive social legislation and giving money away to corporate oligarchs isn’t how you draw talent to the state’s largest city and economic engine.

I have a better idea on how to get the state’s economy moving for real people. How about taking a page out of Madison’s book, and investing in education, quality of life, and having a progressive outlook on employee wages and benefits? We know the MMAC/WMC “give the store away to the rich and politically-connected” strategy is failure, so why don’t we head in the direction that’s working in the 2010s?

And notice which party runs local government in Madison but who isn’t being given the chance to allow Milwaukee’s potential to be unleashed? That’s right, it’s the Dems. The WMC/MMAC oligarchs and their GOP puppets are the biggest reason behind the decline in Milwaukee and the stagnation in the rest of the state, and the Dems should be allowed to take the wheel for a while from these regressive dimwits and get things back on course.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Walker wants to greatly underfund building projects. Will GOP leggies let him?

The Joint Finance Committee comes back tomorrow to discuss a number of items, including the revisiting of the UW System, and building projects for both the UW and the rest of the state. When you look at the capital budget (the official name for building projects), you'll notice that the state has increasing needs, but the Walker budget doesn't want to spend money to deal with it, and that's especially true for the UW.

The Walker budget and the State Building Commission only accepted $223 million of $542 million of requested non-UW building projects. The capital budget information from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has this interesting tidbit on the cost of NOT paying for these projects in the 2017-19 budget.
4. The cost estimating guidelines provided by the Department of Administration's Division of Facilities Development for 2017-19 capital budget requests directed state agencies to use a cost escalator of 2.0% every six months through July, 2021. Using these cost escalators, delaying $319.3 million of project costs by two years would increase these projects' costs by $24.7 million by the beginning of the 2019-21 biennium, assuming that all of these projects would be built.

5. Table 3 compares the total amount of capital projects enumerated for administrative agencies in the five most recent biennial budgets compared to total projects requested by administrative agencies. As shown, the 2017-19 state building program would fund 41.2% of the funding amount requested for major projects, which is the third lowest percentage compared to the previous five biennia. Although the Building Commission recommended the lowest level of new general obligation borrowing for the 2015-17 biennium, the 2015-17 state building program applied previously authorized general obligation borrowing, which comprised the majority of the $186.2 million of total funding for that biennium.
What’s odd about this recent budget is that most of those new buildings that are requested are NOT part of the UW System. In fact, the UW System makes up less than half of the proportion of cost of new facilities in this budget vs the previous 10 years.

UW project enumerations as % of total capital budget
2007-09 $659.0 mil of $900.0 mil (73.2%)
2009-11 $931.0 mil of $1,196.9 mil (77.8%)
2011-13 $420.5 mil of $601.2 mil (69.9%)
2013-15 $703.8 mil of $1,128.9 mil (62.3%)
2015-17 $451.9 mil of $716.3 mil (63.1%)
2017-19 $128.3 mil of $397.8 mil (32.2%)

Flipped on its head, the cost of non-UW capital projects is similar to what we’ve seen over the last decade (it’s 2nd out of the 6 biennia in total cost, but in line with ’07-’09, ’09-’11 and ’15-’17 when adjusted for inflation). By comparison, the cost of enumerated UW projects is 69% to 86% less than ANY biennium...before inflation.

Even stranger is that Walker and the Building Commission don’t even want the UW to be able to use self-generating money for projects. These include facilities like dorms or student unions or athletic facilities that are funded through student fees along with everyday transactions that go on at those facilities (yes, in theory, each beer you have at the Terrace helps pay for the recent remodeling). From 2007-15, at least 80% of these requested projects were okayed by the Building Commission for each biennium, but for 2017-19, only 2 out of 9 were signed off on. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau mentions what the cost is if the Joint Finance Committee wants to allow the remaining 7 requested self-sustaining UW projects to go through.
7. To be more consistent with previous biennia, the Committee could enumerate additional PRSB projects requested by the Board of Regents. The attachment shows the PRSB projects in priority order assigned to them by the Board of Regents. Enumerating the next five PRSB projects in the priority list requested by the Board of Regents would increase total enumerations by $138,366,000 and authorize an additional $118,860,200 PRSB. Enumerating all of the remaining PRSB projects requested by the Board of Regents would increase total enumerations by $177,223,000 and authorize an additional $153,680,200 PRSB.
These requested self-funding projects that were turned down by Walker and the Building Commission include dorm projects at UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Madison and UW-River Falls, a new parking ramp near the UW-MadisonSchool of Veterinary Medicine, a new Fieldhouse at UW-La Crosse, and a new Student Health and Wellness Center at UW-Stevens Point.

Another source of capital funding can be through what’s called “All Agency” funds, which is generally used as a catch-all for non-specific projects that are needed over the course of two years. The LFB describes the low amount of funding that is proposed for these All Agency projects, and the increasing costs that will result if this type of maintenance and “as-needed” funding is delayed.
7.The majority of the total general obligation borrowing included in the Building Commission's recommended 2017-19 state building program is GPR-supported borrowing. Table 4 compares the recommended "All Agency" GPR-supported borrowing to the total GPR-supported borrowing included in state building programs over past biennia. As Table 4 shows, the Building Commission's recommended "All Agency" GPR-supported borrowing for the 2017-19 state building program comprises the largest percent of total GPR-supported borrowing compared to the five previous biennia.

8. However, the growth in the "All Agency" portion of the total recommended GPR-supported borrowing for the 2017-19 state building program would be offset by the reduced size of GPR-supported borrowing as a percent of total GPR-supported borrowing for the specifically enumerated projects under the Commission's recommendations. As shown in Table 4, the total $320.5 million of GPR-supported borrowing recommended for the 2017-19 state building program would be the second lowest amount provided for a biennial state building program compared to the five previous biennia.

9. Currently, DFD does not have a database that tracks facility maintenance and repair needs for state agencies. Biennially, DFD requests that state agencies determine the maintenance and repair needs of their facilities. For the 2017-19 biennium, agencies estimated total maintenance and repair needs of $535.7 million. Of that amount, agencies requested that $372.2 million (69.5%) be funded by GPR supported borrowing. The Building Commission's recommended GPR-supported borrowing amount for the "All Agency" program under the 2017-19 state building program comprises 48.8% ($181.7 million / $372.2 million) of the amount requested by agencies….

11. The cost estimating guidelines provided by DFD for 2017-19 capital budget requests directed state agencies to use a cost escalator of 0.9% for the six months between July, 2015, and January, 2016, and 2.0% for every six months thereafter through July, 2021. Using these cost escalators, delaying $190.5 million ($372.2 million-$181.7 million) of project costs by two years would increase these projects' costs by $15.7 million by the beginning of the 2019-21 biennium, assuming that all of these projects would otherwise be implemented in the 2017-19 biennium.
And why is all of this needed maintenance being deferred? Because Scott Walker wants to avoid raising taxes and maintain some stupid talking point about a low amount of borrowing? It's pathetic and irresponsible, and I would hope the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee recognize that there are needs that have to be funded and paid for.

But I'm not betting on it, especially the negligence at the UW. Let's see if I'm surprised tomorrow.

Whether it's the UW or in helping recovery, don't trust RW donors

You bet I think that there is serious bullshit going on with yesterday’s announcement of plans for a new Tommy Thompson Center for Alternative Facts on Public Leadership at UW-Madison. I’ve recently written a few things on this pattern of increasing privatization and the desire of right-wingers trying to direct the UW toward an agenda that steers away from revealing truths that might be inconvenient to WisGOP’s agenda. It also involves using right-wing GOP-perganda and fake stink tanks to blur reality for the average Wisconsinite.

While UW Chancellor Becky Blank and some UW faculty insist that the Thompson Center was their own idea, and will function as a non-partisan outlet, comments from the WisGOP Speaker of the Assembly seemed to indicate otherwise.
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the center has “no agenda,” but also indicated he sees it as a counter to left-leaning research organizations on campus.

“It’s not a conservative think tank,” Vos said. “Hopefully it will be able to offset some of the liberal thinking so that we at least have somebody who is bipartisan.

“Far too many of the organizations … (have) a left-of-center thought” at UW-Madison, Vos added. “This is just hoping that we can have a balance of thought on campus.”

Vos joined Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and others Tuesday to announce their plans to fund the center with $3 million of public money in the 2017-19 state budget. The center would also seek private funding.

Becky, what are you doing with these slugs?

Ok Robbin’, the Thompson Center will have “no agenda”, but it’s intended to “offset some of the liberal thinking.” Gotcha. And who is the center looking at as a “private funder”? Can we say “Bradley Foundation” or "Koch ‘philanthropy’”? I bet we will.

This is part of a disturbing trend where right-wing oligarchs and their puppet GOP politicians try to micro-manage and redirect public research universities from coming up with statements of fact that counteract their BS claims and policies. I saw the documentary “Starving the Beast” 2 years ago at the Wisconsin Film Festival (UW-Madison and Walker's "reforms" are a part of the film) and it was ahead of the curve in recognizing the ALEC-based mentality at the center of these attempted right-wing takeovers of universities, with false claims of “balance” and "modernization".

This mentality is why I don’t trust right-wing organizations to have any intentions of improving society when they give a donation or try to “reform” some kind of social good like public education. These people don’t believe in public goods and view independent research and analysis as a threat (after all, reality does have a liberal bias, as Stephen Colbert famously told us in 2006). These oligarchs want to mess up and delegitimize these institutions, not help them, and they want to control the message while doing so. They pony up money and use the lawmaking process to bully their way into a seat at the table, no matter whether they have merited it.

Even when the purpose is good, I think certain people deserve to have their donations be given a second look. That thought was triggered with me when I read about this “good deed” in light of last week’s devastating tornadoes in the state.
Rice Lake native Foster Friess has donated $1 million for a "Challenge Grant" with Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake for a relief fund in the wake of last week's tornadoes and severe weather which claimed one life, injured multiple people, and caused an estimated $10 million in damage in Northwestern Wisconsin. Mr. Friess says his family will double every amount sent to Red Cedar Church.

"Please dig deeply to help these people, who in less than an hour’s time, life was changed so dramatically for them," Foster Friess said. "Many of them have nothing but the clothes on their back. Their car is damaged, their home gone, including all the contents blown into the next county. My eagerness to issue the challenge grant to you was inspired when I saw how touched Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was as he met the people, hugged them, and encouraged them."
There are a lot of people who need help in Northwestern Wisconsin, and it’s likely that Friess still has ties to and affection for Barron County (he grew up there and graduated from Rice Lake High School), and he wants to help it recover from this devastation. This is definitely a good thing on the balance. But why funnel the money through a favored church, instead of either giving it through the state or local emergency management department? Or why didn’t Friess set up a separate organization to handle the relief efforts?

That may seem like I’m being harsh on a guy doing a good thing. But it’s because the name Foster Friess maes me VERY suspicious. Remember this quote from the 2012 GOP primary, when Friess was propping up cynical “Christian” nutjob Rick Santorum with millions of dollars?
“Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed. We have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture," [Friess] said. "We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are.”

He went on: “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive,” he added. “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
Santorum is far from the only GOP politician that Friess has given big money to if they are willing to follow his fundie edicts, and his donations include $100,000 sent to Scott Walker during his recall election in 2012, do you find it coincidental that Walker's office was the one helping to publicize Friess's recovery gift? How can I not believe there’s going to be a “thank-you” coming from Scotty to this guy in the near future, along with a public PR event and a further campaign kickback? Yes, that’s dark and cynical, but the 2010s have taught me to always look for the strings and eventual kickbacks when it comes to “charity” from right-wingers.

You can see where these things tie together. Among rich right-wing oligarchs, if you donate to university’s research or set up your own relief fund or give some other kind of philanthropy, this means that you get to control what that organization does and what form the assistance or other outcomes are. Taking it out of the purview of government means that there is no overarching purpose of charities or scientific research outside of whatever you want to have done….or not have done.

These guys (with an occasional Diane Hendricks thrown in) really do see themselves as the Masters of the Universe, with the ultimate goal making the other 99% of us the peons that depend on them for wages, knowledge, rights, and pretty much anything else. You need to know that if you ever start to be tricked into thinking that people like Foster Friess or the Kochs or members of the Bradley Foundation give a damn about improving services like education, or anything else that involves the lives of anyone they do not personally know.

It’s not much different than the mentality of these guys.

No matter how benevolent and decent their donations may be, the Kochs and Bradleys and Friesses and other right-wing "philanthropists" are not to be trusted.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump/Ryan Medicaid cuts would destroy Wisconsin budget

There are two huge releases in DC relating to health care policy and spending. The first will be the Congressional Budget Office's release of the updated Trump-Ryancare bill, which was blasted through the House of Representatives without an analysis of how many people would lose health care under the amended bill, or even an indication of what it would do to the US budget. In fact, there is a real possibility that the CBO score will show that so many people will take subsidies for crap insurance under the new bill that it would add to the deficit, which may require Paul Ryan to take the bill back and not officially send it over to the Senate.

Another big story is today's release of the austerity-driven Trump budget for the Fiscal Year that begins on October 1. This features massive cuts to domestic programs, with some of the largest declines coming in Medicaid.
The Trump administration's 2018 budget proposal released Tuesday included massive cuts to Medicaid, the government-run health program that provides insurance primarily to pregnant women, single parents, people with disabilities, and seniors with low incomes.

The plan calls for cuts amounting to $627 billion over the next 10 years.

That number does not include the roughly $880 billion in proposed cuts to the program through the American Health Care Act, the GOP leadership's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which the administration supports.

The plan has already received near-universal pushback in Congress, as even members of President Donald Trump's own party expressed skepticism over its provisions. The drastic cuts to Medicaid, among other programs, have drawn blowback from lawmakers in districts whose constituents would stand to be affected by the slashes.
Interestingly, the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the Medicaid budget in their meeting on Thursday. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says that lower-than-expected enrollments and costs for Medicaid will give over $95 million in breathing room for Governor Walker's 2017-19 budget, but that cushion may be put at major risk if Trump-Ryancare or the proposed Trump budget ever becomes law.
Another significant risk is potential changes in federal policy as it relates to Medicaid or broader healthcare policy. A potential decision to not renew CHIP allocations was already mentioned, but other changes to federal policy could also affect the state's MA spending. Discussions in Congress on the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act are ongoing. The elimination of or reduction to income-based premium tax credits for the purchase of health insurance could reduce opportunities to obtain coverage for households near the poverty line, which may push some, who would otherwise purchase commercial insurance with these subsidies, to seek or retain MA coverage.
And today, Wisconsin's Survival Coalition sent a letter to Wisconsin's Joint Finance Committee, laying out the major problems the state might face in funding Medicaid if Trumpcare becomes law.
As you are aware, the federal government currently funds about 60% of Wisconsin’s Medicaid costs, bringing roughly $5 billion to Wisconsin. These federal matching funds are the largest funding source for Wisconsin’s Medicaid programs and help to ensure that state GPR can be used for other essential purposes.

In March the Congressional Budget Office projected impacts on states that would be forced to operate undera per capita cap or block grant: “With less federal reimbursement for Medicaid, states would need to decide whether to commit more of their own resources to finance the program at current-law levels or whether to reduce spending by cutting payments to health care providers and health plans, eliminating optional services, restricting eligibility for enrollment, or (to the extent feasible) arriving at more efficient methods for delivering services.”

Our analysis of the proposed cuts shows it will be difficult for Wisconsin to meet current and future enrollment needs in a block grant or per capita cap scenario. Wisconsin has already achieved significant cost savings compared to other states, specifically related to long-term care populations which are among the most expensive to serve. The clear majority of long-term care participants are enrolled in managed care while other states are just now making the switch from fee-for-service to managed care. This shift alone has already resulted in savings of approximately $300 million per year compared to the legacy waiver programs it replaced.

Rough estimates provided by the Urban Institute project a $1 billion loss in Medicaid funds for Wisconsin under the AHCA.
And that $1 billion would have to be made up with a sizable increase in state spending using money that we don't have available in the state budget. The other option is having tens of thousands of Wisconsinites cut off of medical assistance and losing stability, with our economy suffering from the inevitable trade-offs that would result.

It makes me wonder if the Joint Finance Committee might want to take a step back on the Medicaid budget for a bit, to get an idea about how much federal funding they can count on (or not count on). At the very least, perhaps some additional money should be set aside as a hedge against Congressional action, even if that makes other Wisconsin budget initiatives impossible. Because if that doesn't happen, and if some kind of GOP health care bill ever goes through that cuts Medicaid funding from DC, then the state ends up at significant risk of having to have a repair bill to fill in the massive holes in the health services budget that would result.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not just the UW budget- financial aid and UW salaries are also underfunded

There are a number of items at tomorrow's Joint Finance Committee that deal with financial aid for higher education, UW tuition for the next 2 years, and potential UW pay raises. I wanted to rapid fire them, and explain the price tags involved, because all 3 items are going to require more money than Governor Walker set aside in the 2017-19 budget.

First of all, in order to fully fund Governor Walker's plans to expand veterans remission to children and the spouses of deceased or disabled Veterans. This will allow UW students to claim remissions as long as those people have lived in the state for at least 5 straight years (not necessarily a “resident” when that person entered the service, but the problem is that the funding is insufficient in the budget bill, and so $6.47 million is needed the full pay for the remissions for children and spouses of deceased or disabled Veterans, ).

Side note, the amount budgeted for remissions hasn’t been changed since 2009, just under $6.5 million a year.

Second, Turns out that Gov Walker's proposed 5% cut of tuition is more costly than what Scotty anticipated.
2.The Governor's budget would provide $35 million GPR in 2018-19 to fund the proposed tuition reduction. Based on data provided by the UW System, it is estimated that a 1% reduction in resident undergraduate tuition could result in a decrease in tuition revenues of $8.4 million. Based on this estimate, a 5% reduction in resident undergraduate tuition in 2018-19 could reduce UW System tuition revenues by $42 million in that year.

3. If the Committee approves the reduction in resident undergraduate tuition and wishes to fully fund that reduction, the Committee could increase the GPR funding provided to the UW System in 2018-19 by $7.5 million. Alternatively, the Committee could reduce the amount by which resident undergraduate tuition would be decreased such that it would be fully funded by the $35 million provided in the bill. It is estimated that $35 million would offset the estimated decrease in tuition revenues resulting from a 4.2% reduction in resident undergraduate tuition.
Also, remember that Walker's self-insurance scheme was going to get so much savings that it would pay for much of a 2% increase for UW employees in 2018 and 2019. Now that the Joint Finance Committee has indicated they won't go along with self-insurance, there needs to be nearly $30 million added to the budget to make up the difference.
DOA has estimated that the GPR-funded fringe benefit costs for UW employees could increase by $9,979,500 in 2017-18 and $15,429,300 in 2018-19. In addition, the Governor has proposed providing 2% salary increases for all state employees, including UW System employees, on September 30, 2018, and May 26, 2019. It is estimated that the GPR portion of these salary increases for UW System employees would total $15,794,500 in 2018-19. The bill would specify that the Board of Regents could not request any funds from the state's compensation reserve during the 2017-19 biennium to fund compensation and fringe benefit costs. Instead, the bill would provide $126,500 GPR in 2017-18 and $11,517,900 GPR in 2018-19 through the UW System's GPR general program operations appropriation to fund these costs. These amounts are equal to the estimated cost of the GPR portion of salary and fringe benefit increases less the estimated GPR savings to the UW System of the state self-insuring for employee health benefits ($9,853,000 in 2017-18 and $19,705,900 in 2018-19).
Seems like a sensible trade to get rid of the $35 mil (under)budgeted for the 5% tuition decrease and pay for the proposed UW salary increases, doesn’t it? Let's see if that's carried out.

And lastly, state grants for financial aid are also underfunded. Walker wants a minor increase, but it’s not enough. The LFB says that increasing the Wisconsin Grants back to 2009 levels would be an increase of $2.76 million above the budget. And if the Joint Finance Committee turnsdown the 5% tuition decrease and then puts in the difference to Wisconsin Grants, that’s $9.72 million.

Keep an eye on a number of these items tomorrow, in addition to the regular UW budget. Looks like we need to find some place for extra money, or we will see more students left out.

Why improve the state when you can save $26, right Scotty?

It’s obvious that Governor Walker is in full-on campaign mode with his latest PR assault- trying to portray himself as a tax-cutting champion that’s made Wisconsin better off (your reality may vary). This culminated in another Twitter meltdown that included Walker threatening to throw the whole state budget out the window.
Gov. Scott Walker, in another sign of escalating tension with fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, vowed Monday to take the unprecedented step of vetoing the entire $76 billion state budget if it raises property taxes on homeowners.

Walker issued the unusual warning publicly on Twitter in one of a series of messages defending his budget priorities. Republicans are considering breaking with Walker in several key areas on the budget, including property taxes, as they continue to debate changes to his two-year spending plan.
Of course, Walker's act has little to do with good governance and everything to do with Walker posing for voters ahead of his inevitable 2018 campaign for re-election (along with trying to stay in the good graces of DC lobbyist Grover Norquist). While Walker's claim that he's reduced property taxes on the typical homeowner is generally true, as the LFB says the property tax bill on the average Wisconsin home would drop from $2,943 in 2013 to $2,831 in 2019 under Walker’s proposed budget (again, your reality may vary), that has come at a great price to Wisconsinites and has hamstrung the state budget.

Much of that reduction in property taxes is the result of Act 10 benefit cuts that took thousands of dollars out of the pockets of many Wisconsin workers (and has not been made up over time), or is because of gimmicks like a $406 million increase in aid to the state’s Technical Colleges which has never been offset with taxes to pay for it, nor has the money been allowed to be used in the classroom. And Scotty's latest pre-election year stunt to lower property taxes is to remove the state portion of the property tax, which is goes directly to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to fund Forestry operations. Instead, Walker wants to use general tax dollars to pay for that, which has a price tag of just over $180 million in this budget.
The Governor recommends repealing the state-levied portion of the property tax beginning with the 2017-18 property tax year. The Governor also recommends creating a GPR sum sufficient appropriation equal to 0.1697 mills multiplied by the total state equalized value that will be transferred to the forestry account in the conservation fund. The amount of this appropriation is projected to be $88,759,300 in FY18 and $91,695,600 in FY19.
The idea of replacing property taxes with General Fund money might seem OK on the surface as a structural change, but many people who care about the state’s environment see the problems that will happen in the future from getting rid of a dedicated funding source for conservation services.
"This would mean that forestry would have to line up with schools and with transportation and with health care and all the other important needs that are funded with general revenue," said (former State Rep.) Fred Clark, executive director of the Forest Stewards Guild.

The programs are fully funded in the 2017-19 proposal from the governor, but Clark expressed concern they could be cut in future budgets.

"There's no guarantee that the level of funding that's provided today would be sustained," Clark said.
Given the $1 billion shortfall we are already looking at in 2019-21 if this proposed budget goes through, I think Fred has a point. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this new money that’s supposed to go to Forestry would be one of the first targets to cut to fill in a future Walker-caused budget hole.

In addition to the conservation angle, why would any responsible legislator choose a $26 property tax cut gimmick over $180 million that could be used to reduce that future deficit, and/or fix the pothole-covered roads in Fitzwalkerstan without borrowing ourselves into oblivion? Yes, this is a tight budget, but a big reason it is such a mess is because Walker designed it as a Christmas tree filled with pre-election talking points.

And it goes to a bigger theme. In WalkerWorld, there’s no concept of caring about what happens to Wisconsin after 2018, because Scotty’s onto the next grift after that anyway (especially if we’re looking at a different GOP president by then). He just thinks the average Wisconsin voter is so shallow that all he/she cares about is paying $1 a week less on their taxes and the ability to knock down “others” that they resent, instead of demanding better wages, a higher quality of life and a state that people want to live in for the rest of their lives.

Sadly, Scotty's been able to get 52-53% of voters to fall for it in past elections, but after a certain point, the jig is up and the bills need to be paid. This property tax gimmick should be shot down and the $180 million used for a better purpose- whether that’s savings from current and future budget cuts, or better investments like roads, schools and maintaining local services.

Yet again, the wisdom of Marge Gunderson comes through.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Numbers showing that WisGOP gerrymander getting worse over time

Bruce Thompson's Data Wonk column in Urban Milwaukee is back with another excellent analysis, this time about the Wisconsin GOP's gerrymandering of the State Assembly. To review, this gerrymander was ruled to be illegally one-sided by an Appeals Court in November, and that court came back in January and ordered the maps to be redrawn.

GOP hack/Attorney General Brad Schimel has appealed the case to the US Supreme Court to try to maintain the GOP's electoral advantage, but unless SCOTUS rules in the GOP's favor and overturns the Appeals Court, the State Legislature will need to draw new maps and have them in place in November 2017. One of the arguments that WisGOPs and Bradley Foundation front groups have argued is that Wisconsin has a unique electoral population where Democrats are heavily concentrated into urban areas, and so there will be a "natural gerrymander" that favors Republicans no matter how you draw the maps.

What Thompson points out in the article is that any "Big Sort" that may cluster Democrats together doesn't explain the distortion of Wisconsin's results, where a near-even split of votes for the Legislature has resulted in Republicans having overwhelming majorities in the State Assembly throughout the 2010s. A central argument behind the case that got WisGOP's gerrymander overrules was the usage of statistic called the "efficiency gap", where it was calculated how far away the results of the State Assembly's elections differed from what a fair map would have given.

Thompson includes the following graphic to show just badly this was skewed in 2016, where Donald Trump only got 47% of the state's presidential votes, but Republicans won 64 or the 99 Assembly races. In fact, Thompson notes that an already-bad gerrymander in 2012 has gotten increasingly worse as the decade has gone on.

Now compare that figure to 2008's outcome, which were under maps drawn by a federal court. In this instance, a 50-50 split would give the Republicans an advantage in about 52 Assembly seats, not 64.

Thompson also brings up the work of University of Michigan political scientist Jowei Chen, who did 200 computer simulations drawing up Wisconsin's 99 Assembly districts, and overlayed it with Wisconsin's 2012 vote. What he found was that the GOP's gerrymander created an efficiency gap well beyond anything that could be explained by "The Big Sort." In his analysis, a - number indicates districting that favors Republicans, and a + indicates districting that favors Democrats.
Figure 3 reveals that the simulated districting plans are reasonably neutral with respect to electoral bias. About 72% of the simulated plans exhibit an efficiency gap within 3% of zero, indicating de minimis electoral bias in favor of either party. In fact, 23% of the simulations produce an efficiency gap between -1.0% and +1.0%. These patterns illustrate that a non-partisan districting process following traditional criteria very commonly produces a neutral Assembly plan in Wisconsin with minimal electoral bias.

It is important to note that the simulations produce plans with both positive and negative efficiency gaps. Although the efficiency gap of every simulated plan is relatively small in magnitude, 90% of plans exhibit a negative efficiency gap, indicating slightly more wasted Democratic votes than wasted Republican votes. But 10% of the plans exhibit a positive efficiency gap, reflecting more wasted Republican votes. Hence, it is not extraordinary for Wisconsin’s political geography, combined with traditional redistricting criteria, to naturally produce a districting plan that somewhat favors Republicans.

The blue star in the lower left corner of Figure 3 represents the Assembly plan enacted by Act 43. (I can't figure out how to link the picture fromm the PDF, sorry.) This blue star depicts the enacted plan’s efficiency gap of -15.1%, reflecting significantly more wasted Democratic votes than wasted Republican votes. Thus, the level of electoral bias in the Act 43 Assembly plan is not only entirely outside of the range produced by the simulated plans, the enacted plan’s efficiency gap is well over twice as biased as the most biased of the two-hundred simulated plans. The improbable nature of the Act 43 efficiency gap allows us to conclude with high statistical certainty that neutral, non-partisan districting criteria, combined with Wisconsin’s natural political geography, would not have produced a districting plan as electorally skewed as the Act 43 Assembly plan.
One of the ways Chen notes that GOPs pulled as part of their extreme gerrymander was to split up counties that didn't have to be split up. Only 14 counties are kept together in one district under the current WisGOP maps, while Chen's computer simulations kept between 18 and 25 counties intact, which could make for more uniform interests in a district and likely less skewed outcomes.

Given the unpopularity of Republicans in DC along with a lagging economy in Wisconsin, it seems possible a Dem wave will hit in 2018. And if so, no wonder why Republicans in Wisconsin want to keep their rigged maps to give themselves as much of a cushion against such a wave, and get a free pass on backing legislation that a majority of Wisconsinites disapprove of. What Chen's and Thompson's work shows is that the lengths that WisGOP have gone to protect themselves from the will of the people is obscene, and should be ruled illegal based on the numbers.

Just because WisGOPs have rigged the maps, it doesn't mean that Wisconsin Dems don't have a lot of problems of their own to fix, as evidenced by the large amount of rural counties that flipped from Barack Obama to Donald Trump in 2016. But banning the gerrymander might be an important first step that would alert the average Wisconsin voter to how badly WisGOPs have acted, and lead them to understand a big reason why their elected officials seem to be doing things in Madison that the voters back home didn't ask for.