Sunday, February 26, 2017

Greedy Wisconsin CEOs and WisGOP politicians work together-and hold our economy back

Dave Zwiefel had an excellent column out today in the Capital Times where he noted that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is part of a new group that is trying to update Wisconsin's image for the 2010s, with the idea of encouraging talent to locate in the state. This is something Zwiefel finds odd, since WMC and the GOP politicians they support have backed policies that have had the exact opposite effect.
Our state government long embraced the "Wisconsin Idea," where the best and brightest at UW shared their expertise with the state to help build the middle class and promote economic and social justice. Coupled with its concern for education and the environment, the state became a magnet for young idealists who wanted to be a part of it.

As we know, that image of Wisconsin has been turned upside down. Where once the state exported ideas aimed at building a more equitable economy and an infrastructure of strong schools and a world-class university, the biggest idea the Scott Walker administration is touting is a textbook plan on how to destroy unions. Instead of inviting university faculty to partner in solving problems, this Legislature demonizes them as pampered left-wingers intent on brainwashing young-adult students.

Environmental regulations have been eviscerated, the state parks have been unfunded and many of our school districts are struggling. This isn't the image that attracts young people hoping to start a career and raise their families.

If Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce really wants to send a message that our state is a welcoming place to locate, perhaps it ought to stop spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on politicians who do their best to prove that it isn't.
The greedy, "profit and power over anything else" mentality of the state's business lobby is equally perplexing to me. It's not like that mentality is leading to good results, as Wisconsin has had the worst economy in the Midwest over the 6 years that the WMC-bought GOP politicians in the Governor's Office and Legislature have been in power.

In addition, the WMC crowd is constantly whining about a "skills gap" at the same time that they have vociferously backed wage-suppression measures like right-to-work (for less) and the recent legislation against Project Labor Agreements, and have backed a governor and Legislature who won't even consider raising the minimum wage above $7.25. In addition, Wisconsin firms continue to pay among the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest, between $3.50 and $5 an hour lower than the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, on the average. It's like these business "leaders" have never taken an introductory Economics course where they mention that shortages in labor require THAT WAGES BE RAISED to encourage more people to want to enter the market.

And the business community's choices in the state school superintendent's race illustrate this foolishness. Instead of backing strong public schools to generate talent and strong, stable communities that businesses can utilize to grow, the state's business community wants to lower the level of public education in exchange for grabbing more money and influence for themselves. Look at how the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce shelled out $10,000 of its members' funds to pro-voucher candidate John "I'll say anything" Humphries, who promptly got 7% of the vote in last week's primary and was laughed out of the race. You know, the same MMAC that has backed Scott Walker for 15 years, have demanded school privatization for longer than that, and whose home area won this "honor" in 2016.
Over the year, nonfarm employment rose in 49 of the 51 metropolitan areas with a 2010 Census population of 1 million or more, and fell in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis. (-0.5 percent), and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.-N.C. (-0.4 percent).
Sticking with the business community and the School Superintendent race, One Wisconsin Now discovered an email from the other voucher whore (and general election candidate), Lowell Holtz. Not only was Holtz using his work email to ask for campaign help last year (a big no-no), but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted that Holtz used that personal account to draft a letter to a "business leader" about advice on how to run his campaign.
The email was dated May 25, 2016, and time stamped at 1:43 p.m., in the middle of the school day. It was sent by Holtz to his wife, Susan, and was a draft of note he wanted to send to a woman named Diane asking "if you would share some of your expertise and advice with our committee."

Holtz added that he wanted to discuss "some of the issues we want to emphasize that align with the Governor's thoughts on career and technical education, business partnerships, common core, state-wide testing, and the expansion of vouchers."

Diane's full name was not used.
Oh, given that Holtz runs in WisGOP circles and previously worked in Beloit, I think we have a good idea who Diane is.


Speaking of Scott Walker and Cruella de Ville Diane Hendricks, I noted this story from recent days.
As the Hendricks CareerTek youth workforce training facility opened its doors to the public for the first time Wednesday, officials welcomed Gov. Scott Walker on an early morning tour of the center, set to bring Beloit businesses closer with middle school and high school students.

The center will serve as a bridge between students and future career fields, from construction and manufacturing to information and technology development. The center broke ground last year thanks to a grant from the Hendricks Family Foundation to the Stateline Boys and Girls Club. The facility is strategically located in the Ironworks campus on Third Street, next to IronTek, Beloit’s business incubator space, home to expanding technology firms including Comply365 and AccuLynx.

“This center will have a positive impact on the community in terms of helping students get a head start on what their career paths might be,” Walker said. “A place like this really will help students then apply what they learned from those academic career plans and plug it into whatever path they might be on.”
Gotta say this about our Guv. Once he's bought, he stays bought. And Diane Hendricks gets a bunch of tuition money and free labor to make more money off of, with some of that extra money kicked back to Scotty. Win-win, baby!

Of course, the other 99% of us don't win, as our state's economy flounders and talent continues to leave. But the regressive Wisconsin business community and the WisGOP politicians they own don't care, as long as THEY'RE getting paid and doing fine. Had enough of this crap yet?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Public defenders may face big deficits, and Walker's not dealing with it

In addition to lower revenues, one other item that seems likely to throw a wrench into Scott Walker's budget giveaways is the fact that other needs aren't being taken care of. One of these items comes from the area of Public Defenders, which already face a sizable deficit over the last 4 months of this fiscal year, and will likely face more problems in the 2017-19 biennium.

This was reiterated in an update given to the state's Joint Finance Committee this week. This report not only shows the workload and payments that state is making for its own public defenders, but also the costs it has to shell out for private lawyers to take on some of these cases (also known as "private bar attorneys."
Between October 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016, the SPD (Office of the State Public Defender) appointed counsel in 32,652 cases. Of the total cases assigned, 13,030 were assigned to private bar attorneys either on a rotational or contract basis. The total expended this quarter from the private bar appropriation under 20.550(1)(d) was approximately $5.99 million.
And that $2 million a month given out to private attorneys is a problem, because high expenses in that account last year means that there isn't enough to last through the end of this Fiscal Year on June 30.

Private bar appropriation
2015-17 2-year budget $44,097,800
2015-16 Fiscal Year $27,020,146
2016-17 1st Half $9,647,938
2016-17 Remaining 2nd half $7,429,716

If we continued to spend $2 million a month to private attorneys to provide counsel, this would mean we would have a deficit of over $4.5 million by June 30. And if you think we could just have our current staff of State Public Defenders take on more work, that seems unlikely to be a solution. The state's Public Defenders are already adding to their caseload, although somehow they're saving a bit of money by doing so.

State Public Defenders cases, expenses
Caseload, Trial
2015-16 Fiscal Year 79,987
2016-17 First Half 40,567
2016-17 Full-year Pace 81,134

Caseload, Appellate
2015-16 Fiscal Year 1,313
2016-17 First Half 659
2016-17 Full-year Pace 1,318

Combined costs, SPD staff
2015-16 Fiscal Year actual cost $58,083,389
2016-17 First Half $24,814,443
2016-17 Full-Year Pace $49,628,886
2016-17 Full Year budget $58,239,000

So if that $49.6 million figure holds up, that would allow enough savings in the 2016-17 budget for the SPD's office to cover the private bar deficit of $4.5 million. But I also have doubts that the State Public Defenders are handling more cases for much lower cost, so it seems more likely that the "lower" costs reflect delayed billings that are being paid at a future year and then not being credited back to the proper quarter. Bottom line- do not be surprised if some measures have to be taken in the next months to give extra funding to the private attorneys, and possibly the SPD as well.

These shortfalls led the SPD to ask for an added $16 million in funding for the 2017-19 budget, with the overwhelming amount of that money being related to increases to cover private bar payments and related SPD counsel needs. But Governor Walker's budget only has $1.15 million of that increase included. At the same time, Walker's budget allows the SPD board to ask for more staff to handle the bigger workload, but it doesn't set aside money that would pay those people, which seems like absurdly duplicity (but not surprising with this crew). Lastly, Walker's budget consolidates the entire Public Defender appropriations into a block grant, with the private bar and SPD counsel costs no longer being separated. Seems like something you'd want to track and pay for separately, and it makes you wonder the point behind such a move.

In other words, on the issue of Public Defenders, our governor is again ignoring the real additional costs of governmental duties that have to be paid for one way or the other, and passes off the responsibility of dealing with this real issue to the State Legislature. The JFC and Legislature now either have to find a source for extra money (good luck doing so in a budget that is facing dwindling revenues and no cushion to begin with), or our neediest defendants are going to have to wait longer for the counsel they are entitled to while the SPD defenders get even more overworked (and underpaid).

Somehow, I'm guessing that screwing over poorer defendants and the lawyers who defend them isn't something that alleged Christian Scott Walker cares much about, but decent people who actually believe in our Constitution probably do. And while the dollar amounts are a relatively small sidelight in this budget, the lack of caring and resources given about the necessities for a democratic society is a symptom of the larger problem that afflicts Scott Walker and today's GOP.

GOP Obamcare bills likely to be a budgetary disaster

The Washington Post had a good rundown of the potential ACA replacement plan being discussed among Congressional Republicans, and it doesn't seem likely to keep the uninusred rate at the decades-low figures that we have today.
Meanwhile, the new plan would eliminate the income-based tax credits given to people who can’t afford insurance on the individual market, to be replaced with tax credits by age. But the Post also reports that the emerging GOP subsidy scheme is getting pushback from budget analysts, who are telling Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee (which is working on the subsidy plan) that it will stint on subsidies to those who need them most, i.e., lower income people:
According to the several people familiar with House leadership’s approach, a central idea under consideration there — new health-care tax credits — hit a snag this week when congressional budget analysts reported privately to the committee that they would cost the government a lot of money and would enable relatively few additional Americans to get insurance.

Those tax credits would replace subsidies the ACA provides people with incomes of up to 400 percent of the poverty level to help them afford health plans through marketplaces created under the law. The credits would be available to everyone who buys coverage on their own, wealthy or poor. But the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the credits, as conceived at the moment, would be too small to help low-income people afford health plans. They also wouldn’t make much difference to affluent people, according to the CBO, since most of them already are insured.
In other words, fewer poor people would be covered under the GOP’s plan and taxpayers would pay more. What a deal!

That reality doesn't really jibe with this statement from an alleged Wisconsinite.



So what’s one way that Republicans could prevent Obamacare repeal from exploding the country’s budget deficit, especially in light of the huge tax cuts on the rich that the ACA bill has in it? Shoving a huge tax increase onto people that are already getting insurance through their job!
As Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has made clear, the party’s real bottom line is that ACA taxes have to go — and the rub isn’t the tax penalty working people pay if they don’t get insurance, either through Obamacare or at work. A possible source of funds being floated for this investor-class tax cut? The $268 billion it costs to make benefits you get at work tax-exempt.

Let’s take the average corporate-sponsored family health plan, which the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates costs $18,142, of which companies pay $12,865. Though this is part of your pay package, you don’t pay taxes on it. Under at least some Obamacare-repeal plans, you would.

For families making between about $55,000 and $86,000, the middle fifth of all incomes, fully-taxed insurance would hike taxes by $1,900 to $3,200, using tax rates of 15% and 25% and assuming no offsetting deductions. The higher figure would also apply to the fourth income quintile, which runs up to about $133,000 in family income.
So instead of just screwing people in the lower classes, the GOP’s plan also screws middle and upper-middle class people who don’t even get their insurance the Obamacare exchanges. What a brilliant strategy!

And then let’s remember another aspect of Obamacare- Medicaid funding. DC publication (and RW troll hangout) The Hill broke down an earlier draft of the GOP’s plans to replace/change the ACA, and that draft indicated that sizable amounts of money would be sent to states to establish certain programs to serve certain high-cost/risk individuals. In addition, the expanded Medicaid funding that a majority of states have taken advantage of (Wisconsin not being one of them) would go away, and instead be replaced by block grants.
The plan also includes $10 billion per year in “state innovation grants,” which are a version of high-risk pools but appear to allow for a broader array of uses for the money by states. The money could be used by states to help sick people get coverage and stabilize premiums.

As an alternative to ObamaCare’s individual mandate, the plan would allow insurers to charge people 30 percent more on their premiums if they had a gap in coverage and then signed up again.

The plan also includes a “per capita cap” for Medicaid, which imposes a per-person cap on federal spending on Medicaid. A lobbyist who reviewed the language said the Medicaid provisions were more generous than expected, based on the growth that is set out for the cap on federal payments.
Ahh, there’s your savings! Reduce the amount of funding many states get for Mediciad, and either leave them holding the bag to have to pay more money themselves, or cut off a large amount of the working poor who have had their situation stabilized due to Medicaid being made available to them.

Obviously there's a caveat in that we there isn't a final bill out there, and the blowback that we're already seeing at GOP Reps holding town hall over any possible changes to the ACA might well lead to more changes. But from the fiscal side, there is little doubt that any move to get rid of Obamacare under Republicans will be expensive, and likely handcuff the rest of the federal budget, which would lead to further cuts in other areas.

That outcome is probably just fine with this group.



These insured, well-connected folks in the Beltway don't need to worry about the backwards steps that will be imposed on tens of millions of Americans. So maybe it's up to us to do things that make them worry.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Janury revenues disappoint, meaning Walker budget may already be impossible

While our Governor was telling the Bubble-Worlders at CPAC to ignore the voters who pay their salary, we got another indication that things aren't as nice in Wisconsin as Walker claims to the clueless outsiders. That came with the release of January’s revenue figures from the Wisconsin DOR. The numbers are a bit wonky because of New Year’s and other start/end-month days falling on weekends in both 2016 and 2017, but when you include the DOR's adjustment for that variable, the numbers were mostly disappointing.

Year-over-year change, Jan 2017 vs Jan 2016, Wisconsin
Income taxes DOWN 0.9%
Sales taxes UP 6.1%
Corporate taxes DOWN 41.7%
Excise taxes DOWN 5.1%
Other taxes UP 17.6%
TOTAL REVENUES UP 0.2%

That 0.2% increase in total revenues is well short of what we need to stay in line with the 2.7% increase in total revenues that was projected by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau for Fiscal Year 2017. For the entire fiscal year, we are only up 2.1% with 7 months completed, but more concerning is the 20.9% drop in corporate taxes for the year. The LFB only projected a decrease of 6.5% for Fiscal Year 2017, so if we continue to have the 20.9% decrease that we currently have in corporate taxes, that’s a shortfall of $138 million.

Fortunately, sales and income taxes are in line for the Fiscal Year estimates so far. However, it is concerning that the Fiscal Bureau indicated in its relatively rosy report that income tax revenues were likely to end up on the low side for the coming months of tax season, because of tax maneuvering.
A lower growth rate in the second half of 2016-17 reflects some taxpayers accelerating estimated payments in December, 2016, as opposed to January, 2017, and an increase in refunds in the Spring months due to law changes. The law changes include increasing the standard deduction for married filers, federalizing exemption amounts under the alternative minimum tax, the final year phase-in of the manufacturing and agriculture credit, and the capital gains exclusion for Wisconsin assets. The capital gains provision was enacted as part of [the 2011-13 state budget], but its initial impact will occur in tax year 2016 due to a five-year holding period requirement.
And January’s decline in income taxes happened before those higher refunds (and lower revenues) were filed and released. Ruh roh.

One other potential shortfall in coming months may come as a result of the record warmth we just had throughout the state. The LFB wasn’t counting on that when it projected this part of the revenue report last month.
Public utility taxes are estimated at $359.7 million in 2016-17, $373.5 million in 2017-18, and $378.2 million in 2018-19. On a year-to-year basis, these estimates represent a decrease of 0.2% in 2016-17, and increases of 3.8% in 2017-18 and 1.3% in 2018-19. The gross revenues tax group comprises almost 70% of estimated collections, and gross revenues taxes are estimated to increase 0.3% in 2016-17, 5.9% in 2017-18, and 1.7% in 2018-19. Private light, heat, and power companies are the largest taxpayer group among gross revenues taxpayers, and collections from these companies are estimated to increase 0.7% in 2016-17, 6.2% in 2017-18, and 1.6% in 2018-19. This pattern is influenced by a mild winter and low natural gas prices in 2016 and a return to more normal weather patterns and some "bounce-back" in natural gas prices beginning in 2017.
Well that just went out the window in the last week, didn’t it? Sure, these are relatively small things in a budget that relies on $15.5 billion in General Fund taxes for this year. But the problem is that any shortfall for Fiscal Year 2016-17 pretty much ends any chances for the state to be able to afford Governor Walker’s cynical handouts and unfunded tax cuts.

Remember, Walker’s budget relies on $453 million being in the bank on June 30, and then it promptly takes more than $371 million out of the bank over the next 2 years. Add in reserve requirements of $75 million, and there is less than $7 million of breathing room in this budget.

It illustrates just how tenuous Walker's budget is, and combine the disappointing revenues with a whole lot of uncertainty regarding how much money will be flowing down from DC (and in what parts), and anyone who thinks Walker’s budget is going to largely remain intact is a complete SUCKER. The only question is how much patchwork is the Legislature going to have to do in the coming months.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Roads and state buildings keep crumbling in Fitwalkerstan


Today's big story at the Capitol was a hearing that followed up on the brutal audit released last month by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Scott Bauer of the Associated Press will remind you of what that audit showed, as well as what might be done to try to fix the problems.
The audit found that 19 major highway projects completed in the past decade cost a total of $1.5 billion — twice as much as the $772 million original price tag. It also said the cost of 16 ongoing major highway projects more than doubled to a total of $5.8 billion — increasing by a staggering $3.1 billion — from the time they were approved through August 2016.

Failing to account for inflation was a major driver of the cost overruns, but the audit recommended a number of other cost-saving steps.

The Audit Committee's bill would require DOT to account for inflation in its original cost estimates, report on changes annually to the Legislature, explain any changes, give an update on when the project is expected to be completed and offer an opinion on whether the work will be done on time under the original budget....

The audit found that Wisconsin's roads have consistently deteriorated over the past five years and are in "considerably" worse shape than roads in six other Midwestern states. The proportion of state highways in good condition decreased from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41.0 percent in 2015, the audit said.
New DOT Secretary Dave Ross and the Republicans on the Audit Committee indicated that they hoped to find new ways to make the DOT more "performance-based", and possibly save money through that and other methods (like wage suppression).

But doesn't the fact that these highway projects are running well over budget, as well as the fact that roads are falling apart in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, indicate that more investment is needed, or at least getting more local projects done as opposed to shelling out big money for a few choice developments? And State Senator Kathleen Vinehout pointed out that maybe it's better to have the Legislature use some of its power to demand information, and use their power of the purse to say "Yea or Nay" to any major changes and additions to these projects.



While the Audit Committee was discussing one type of construction today, Gov Walker released his plans for another type of construction- one that deals with the state's buildings and facilities. That was shown as part of Governor Walker's Capital Budget, which was released today and will be voted on by the State Building Commission next month.

The Capital Budget gives information not only on the projects Governor Walker wants to see funded, but the ones that state agencies requested and didn't have Walker sign off on. Here are the topline figures. The state media makes the $803 million in projected Capital costs for the 2017-19 seem like a lot, but it would be the smallest amount of total building costs of Walker's 4 budgets (although the amount of new borrowing does go up from $101.2 million to $449.9 million). In fact, the last 2 Walker budgets have been significantly lower for spending on buildings and upkeep.

Total Capital Budget expenses
2011-13 $967.0 million
2013-15 $1,454.8 million
2015-17 $848.7 million
2017-19 (proposed) $803.5 million

And one area in particular that is losing Capital funding is the University of Wisconsin System. The UW System asked for nearly $635 million in specific capital improvements across all of its campuses and offices, and Walker's office only signed off on $128 million of those requests, including ZERO going to UW-Madison.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz from Oshkosh (another UW campus shut out by the Governor) noticed the horrid double-whammy of lower spending along with higher debt for both the state's roads, and had an apt picture to go along with his press release- a falling house of cards.
Governor Walker’s inability to effectively govern on transportation infrastructure funding is now causing problems for the state’s crumbling building infrastructure. For the fourth straight budget, Governor Walker has failed to address Wisconsin’s transportation funding crisis, choosing to instead rely on increased borrowing and delaying scheduled highway projects, despite the state’s sorry status of having the third worst roads in the country. Under Governor Walker, debt service as a percent of transportation revenue has nearly doubled, and Wisconsin now spends over 20 cents of every dollar of transportation revenues paying debt.

As a result of the increased debt issued to fund transportation, Governor Walker has decimated the state’s building infrastructure programs for the UW System and other state agencies. In October, 2016, the UW Board of Regents indicated that the backlog of needed repairs in the University of Wisconsin System has grown to an estimated cost of $2 billion. Governor Walker’s 2017-19 Capital Budget proposal funds just more than 50 percent (53.5%) of the level in the 2009-11 budget.

“Nothing says 21st century economy like 1970s university facilities. Governor Walker is intentionally holding up capital projects as a way to cover up his increased borrowing for roads. Our state – whether it be our roads or state buildings or universities – is literally falling apart,” said Rep. Hintz, “Meanwhile, as projects and repairs are ignored, the costs to maintain our infrastructure is steadily increasing. What family or business makes decisions like that?”
I know who makes decisions like that, Gordon.Someone who doesn't care what happens to the state after he's out of power, and someone who wants someone else to clean up the messes he has caused. And everyone in Milwaukee County is nodding their heads- they've seen these borrow-and-defer tricks from Scotty before.

No, this Walker gimmickry and "governance" ain't working.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Yes, the record warmth is great...unless you need cold-weather tourism

Hey, not that I’m going to complain about 60-degree days and being able to get in some Terrace time in February. It was awesome to be out and about this early in the year, and we got to see wacky scenes like this one all around southern Wisconsin.



but the tourist industry in Hayward likely isn’t as pleased about the recent warmup.
In light of the recent above average temperatures, along with continued warm weather conditions and rain forecast for today, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has announced that an adjustment to the overall race course for Birkie Week events is required.

After this weekend’s warm weather, Lake Hayward is no longer a viable option for race week. As part of a normal race, skiers would ski across Lake Hayward before entering downtown Hayward. Without Lake Hayward, there is no longer a possibility of finishing races in downtown Hayward. Given this decision, the International Bridge that normally spans Highway 63, will not be installed for Birkie week events this year. While snow is in the forecast for later this week, a downtown finish is no longer a feasible option for 2017 events.

As always, the safety of participants is first and foremost in mind for the entire ABSF staff and board, followed by their goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision the ABSF makes.


Won't look like this for Birke 2017

And as the Climate Wisconsin site notes, these type of weather-related changes may become more common with the Berkie in coming years.
According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison between 1950 and 2006 the Sawyer County area winter average temperature has warmed around 3 to 4.5 °F. They also found: a 4.5 °F increase in winter average daily low temperatures, a 4-10% reduction in the number of days with a high temperature below 20 °F, and a 15 to 18% reduction in the number of days with nighttime low’s below 0 °F. Interestingly, spring is coming earlier by 3 to 9 days. In general, Sawyer County has seen warmer winters, with higher high and even higher low temperatures.

Researchers have also downscaled global climate models using local historical climate data to generate fine-scale climate change predictions state wide. For Sawyer County they project that from 1980 to 2055 there will be: 21 fewer nights below 0 °F, fewer average annual freezing days, 16 to 18 fewer days with high temperatures below 20 °F, and 7.5 to 10 days earlier onset of spring. Moreover, the average annual winter temperature is projected to increase 9 °F, and the daily high and daily low are also expected to increase 6.3 and 9.0 °F, respectively. Additionally, for Ashland, WI, northeast of Hayward, researchers projected a decrease in the probability of frozen precipitation (e.g. snow, sleet), especially early and late in the winter. Since Ashland is slightly buffered from climate change by Lake Superior we can expect an even greater reduction in the probability of frozen precipitation for the Hayward area, which is further inland. Furthermore, a group of researchers from the Universities of Wisconsin and Iowa project that by the mid 21st century there will be a 25 to 40 cm reduction in snowfall and a 5 to 20 cm reduction in mean snow depth (on March 15th) for Sawyer County. In summary, by 2055, warmer winters, with warmer nights, a lower probability of snow fall, shallower snow pack, less snow cover, and an earlier onset of spring are expected. Considering the fact that the Birkie trail covers over 50 km of ground we can expect to see more adaptations to the event as warmer winter temperatures and less snow create unsafe race conditions.
With snow cover pretty much gone from most parts of Northern Wisconsin, I gotta wonder if that cut into festivities and snowmobiling activities over the Presidents’ Day weekend (especially when you consider everyone in Illinois is off today). Now, maybe that was offset statewide by all of us that wanted to get out and take advantage of the record warmth in recent days (I know campus and downtown Madison was jumping over the weekend), but I’m going to be intrigued to see what sales tax collections look like up North for these winter months, especially if there is a limited or canceled Birke to go along with no ice caves on the Apostle Islands this year.

But hey, you folks in the 715 wouldn’t need to worry about climate change reducing outdoor winter activities into something that's increasingly common, would ya? Nah, that’s just something us latte-sipping elitsts in Madison only worry about. So you keep on voting for Koch-owned climate deniers like Sean Duffy and Tom Tiffany, and don't whine to me when people stop coming up your way.

Trump and Walker Admin tricks will try to hide major budget holes

I’m usually not one to suggest reading Forbes magazine, due to its corporate, oligarchical bent. But they do have a good columnist when it comes to discussing Congressional budget issues and related taxing-and-spending topics, and Stan Collender did not disappoint this weekend.

Collender says that we can count on the Trump administration and the GOP Congress to try to peddle absurd fantasies of economic growth in order to claim that their tax-cutting budgets are responsible.
The Wall Street Journal’s ace economy reporter Nick Timiraos had the story this past Friday: The Trump administration is planning to use unrealistically optimistic assumptions about how fast GDP will grow to make it look like its spending and tax policies don’t increase the deficit.

To say the least, this first set of economic assumptions and the resulting phony deficit will be fake news – lies, in other words – from Trump. Most other credible economists – including from Wall Street, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve – either will disagree with Trump outright or, to be diplomatic, will say that what the White House is assuming is in the extreme upper range of what’s acceptable….

We’ve known since the campaign that the Trump promises of tax cuts, increases in military spending and a new $1 trillion infrastructure program would result in a big increase the federal deficit and national debt unless they were matched with similarly large tax hikes and spending cuts. But with Congress almost certain to reject tax increases unless they’re used to pay for corporate rate reductions, Social Security and Medicare cuts possible but not likely, interest rates and federal interest payments rising in the coming years and not enough other domestic spending left to be a complete offset, economic occult from Trump was a virtual certainty.

That’s why the triumphant return of “Rosy Scenario,” which hasn’t been seen much since David Stockman used overly optimistic economic assumptions to understate the deficit in Ronald Reagan’s first budget more than 3 decades ago, was always so likely.

Rosy scenario won’t be Trump’s only gimmick. Among other things, expect a new version of Reagan’s “magic asterisk” that says substantial spending cuts will be proposed in the future but doesn’t specify what they will be, tax cuts that are assumed to expire at some point after the end of the Trump administration so the long-term deficit and debt magically appear to be lower and an excessive use of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Fund to spend more than the cap on military spending.
In other words, Trump and his economic team will be saying , it'll be great(Trump voice) “Things will be fine and growth will be terrific, just terrific. And the deficit and debt will go away. It'll be gone. Just believe me, it'll be an outstanding economy!”

As mentioned by Collender, this is a longtime GOP ruse done to try to keep the public from realizing the true cost of GOP tax cuts, along with the increased deficits and budget cuts and deficits that follow. It is along the same lines of “dynamic scoring”, a measure that allows tax cuts to "pay for themselves” with higher growth, regardless of the evidence and history of corporate and consumer behavior when tax cuts happen. House Speaker and alleged Wisconsinite Paul Ryan insisted that the Congressional Budget Office change its standard to dynamic scoring in 2015, to try to minimize the actual fiscal damage that GOP tax cuts would cause.

After that gimmick was introduced, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained last July how the magic of dynamic scoring was used to keep a tax proposal from Ryan and other House Republicans from blowing a massive hole in the deficit- even though it would in the real world.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and the House Republicans just released a new tax plan that the D.C.-based Tax Foundation (TF) scored as losing $2.4 trillion over 10 years, mostly to benefit wealthy households and multinational corporations. Based on our aging population alone, which will require more spending on Social Security and Medicare, that’s really reckless budgeting. But when TF revs up its magic dynamic scoring machine, that $2.4 trillion loss falls to $191 billion (I would have rounded to $190 billion, but these guys have a sense of humor).

How does the GOP tax cut pay for 92 percent of itself? Good question, sort of. That is, we can try to get into the guts of the model and figure out what they did to get it to spit out such huge offset effects, but before that, it’s really important to stop and do a reality check. Perhaps I lack imagination, but based on other analyses I’ve seen on the macroeconomic effects of tax cuts, common sense, and the history of such promises around supply-side tax cuts like this, I find the magnitude of this estimate inconceivable.

On that last point alone (past supply-side claims), how many times do we have to go through this foolishness? The Reagan and Bush tax cuts hemorrhaged revenue, and the Clinton and Obama tax increases on rich folks raised billions. I’ve looked under every rock I could find for correlations of supply-side effects, and I come up empty. Ever since some waiter made the mistake of giving Art Laffer a napkin to draw on, this supply-side crowd has been wrong. The most recent exhibit is ongoing in Kansas, where, after Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation predicted that tax cuts would provide an “immediate and lasting boost” to the economy, those cuts blew a massive hole in the state budget, a hole accompanied by none of the advertised growth effects.
That’s the same Kansas that is so messed up now that the GOP-controlled State Legislature just approved of tax hikes to try to close budget deficits between 2017 and 2019 that are more than $1 billion.

We’re seeing a similar type of supply-side failure in our state, where tax cuts passed by the WisGOP State Legislature and signed by Scott Walker have led to revenue being below budget in each of the last 3 fiscal years. One of the biggest reasons behind these shortfalls is the Manufacturers and Agriculture tax credit, a giveaway to the rich and corporate that was only supposed to lower revenues by $617 million in the first 7 years after it took effect, but now is projected to cost the state’s budget a total that exceeds $1.4 BILLION.

It’s not just supply-side failures that lead me to worry about BS and fiscal failures at the state level. And a tweet from today is symptomatic of why I’m concerned. In recent months, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has joined several other state agencies in using their social media accounts to send out propaganda supporting Governor Scott Walker. Here’s an example from today.



Call me crazy, but shouldn’t the DOR be giving tax tips to the public this time of year instead of trying to sell Governor Walker’s budget? But there’s a deeper problem here, which is that the Department of Revenue is also in charge of releasing the monthly revenue figures to the public, which the Legislative Fiscal Bureau uses to make revenue projections that can make or break the state budget, and lead to numerous policy decisions as that budget is debated. If the Department of Revenue is releasing good revenue figures in coming months, why would we automatically believe that to be true, given the pro-Walker propaganda they are sending out these days?

And if those revenue figures, and Walker Administration data in general, are being given their own “rosy scenarios”, then it greatly raises the possibility of the wrong choices being made, and increased damage and more drastic adjustments having to be made later as a result. That’s why the only data I would trust from the Wisconsin DOR over the next few months would be if it said that revenue data was disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll report revenue figures that are good and try to analyze the options that might come from that, but I would be VERY skeptical that they would be real.

The fact that we are immediately skeptical of what a GOP government might give to the public when it comes to economic and fiscal data is a bad thing, but typical of what the GOP wants in an era of “post-truth politics.” And it’s why they want to eradicate public employee unions and civil service protections for government employees, so people who aren’t elected hacks aren’t allowed to call “BULLSHIT” on their statements, or at least not to let the truth come out until after the votes are cast and there’s little that can be done to fix the wreckage.