Sunday, May 27, 2018

Yeah WisGOP, I do want Foxconn to fail. It's the best outcome for Wisconsin

When word leaked out this week in the Asian financial media that Foxconn might be changing what types of screens it would make in Wisconsin, and might be reducing the size of its investment in Wisconsin, it caused a mini-firestorm in the state. Naturally, Foxconn tried to walk back that story by saying "Oh no, we're still moving ahead as planned." But let's be real. That word wouldn't have leaked out in the Asian press if there wasn't truth behind it, and it's even understandable that Foxconn would want to switch product lines to better match consumer needs.

However, it also means that Scott Walker and WisGOP were selling something to taxpayers last year that won't be what Foxconn is going to give us in the end. Not in products, and likely not in the amount of jobs (if this thing ever gets built at all). Since the public already hates the Foxconn, the WisGOPs now have to try to talk their way out of this mess for the next 5 1/2 months to avoid getting their asses kicked at the ballot box in elections over it.

Which explains the GOP's new tactic - blaming Democrats for wanting Foxconn to fail for political advantage. Bradley Foundation/WisGOP mouthpiece Christian Schneider illustrated this with a piece of bilge titled "Why Wisconsin Democrats cheering for Foxconn to fail. Hint: his name is Scott Walker. (PS- Don't spend any money the J-S until they fire that lying shill).

It's a tactic straight out of 2006-era GOPs saying "If you don't support the Iraq War, you don't support the troops!", and "You're just Bush-bashing!". It tries to shout down any analysis of whether the GOPs' plans and oversight of the project is worthwhile. As you can see, Schneider was merely doing his job of repeating the lines of top WisGOP politicians.

(Psst, Scotty- there won't be 13,000 jobs. That was a number your consultant made up.)

Of course, this is the same GOP that turned away major tax savings for expanded Medicaid and a 100% federally-funded train project in the early 2010s solely out of spite for the Obama Administration. So of course these guys can't comprehend opposition to something beyond pure politics.

Sorry, but the real reason we hate the Fox-con is that it is costing us billions of dollars to create some temporary jobs, while shortchanging the rest of the state for years to come. It's simply not worth what we're spending, and not worth it to steal resources from so many other parts of the state to do it. A great example came later in the week, within 10 miles of the Foxconn site, as another Racine County community found out it will have to wait to see their Main Street get fixed.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced the planned reconstruction of Highway 20/83 has been delayed until 2019.

In an online post on Wednesday, the village stated, “This one-year push for work by the DOT is due to budgetary constraints related to project work in FY 2018.”...

One of the DOT’s requirements is for municipalities to update their infrastructure before road reconstruction, which is why Waterford is tearing up downtown this summer.

The repavement plan in place assumed the DOT would reconstruct the road a few months later in the fall of 2018. Now it looks like it’ll have to hold up for a year.
Huh, think they might have had money for this project if Walker's DOT hadn't decided to funnel $134 million to upgrade the roads around Foxconn?

The delays in Waterford illustrate the two fundamental dishonesties in Walker's and WisGOP's defense of the Fox-con.

1. That somehow only the Foxconn plant could result in these jobs being added, and that other work projects around the state and work for firms aren't being reduced because so many resources are being sent to the Foxconn-sin region. The delays in the project in Waterford is but one of many examples in both the public and private sector where someone is losing because Foxconnn is getting all of the attention.

2. That governments have infinite amounts of money, and that Foxconn isn't hurting the chances of other priorities being funded. If the DOT is already saying "we now don't have the money to complete Highway 20-83 in Waterford this year," what's going to happen in the next budget, when quite a bit of the $1.35 billion in tax incentives to build the Foxconn plant will have to be paid back? Bob Lang of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau already has said that both the General Fund and the Transportation Fund are facing $1 billion budget deficits for 2019-21, and it defies belief that other programs won't be hurt because of the Fox-con.

Of course, this isn't even taking into account the environmental damage that will occur due to Foxconn's exemptions from state and federal law, the debt that Racine County residents will be paying back for years because of their own local subsidies to Foxconn, and the ugliness of having people driven out of their houses to make way for the needs of one company. Much of this can be reversed and mitigated if Foxconn never comes to Wisconsin.

So yes, it would be much better if we had the fiscal and economic flexibility to have more projects and programs be completed around the state instead of having all the funds be sent down to the southeastern corner of the state. Which means if you value the overall health of the State of Wisconsin, then you should hope that Foxconn pulls out of Racine County, before this crooked boondoggle becomes even more of an albatross around the necks of Wisconsin taxpayers. And before the rest of the state loses even more business as a result of Walker and WisGOP wanting to put all of our eggs in the Fox-con basket.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Send us your huddled masses yearning to be free." 2018 GOP says "Not anymore"

Was hanging at home watching the Brewers and checking the Twitter when I saw the news about this atrocity crossing the wires.

With the crime against humanity going on where ICE agents are separating children from their parents as the parents try to seek asylum in America....AND THEN LOSING TRACK OF THE KIDS, this segment from John Oliver earlier this year seems sadly relevant.

As Oliver notes, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the one in charge of these immigration courts, and can give extra review to cases himself. The Keebler Elf is also responsible for the "zero tolerance policy" that started earlier this month which is resulting in the separation of parents from their children into separate detention centers.

Congress could hold hearings and end this policy tomorrow (or at least make Trump veto it), but Paul Ryan has actively tried to discourage a discharge petition to bring immigration issues to the floor. And why? Because Purty Mouth Pau-lie would rather have Republicans be the only people in Congress that decide issues (locking out 45% of Americans represented by Democrats) and caring more about holding onto the votes of racists rather than follow the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans who want this issue to be dealt with humanely.

This story pissed me off so much I gave some bucks to the Wisconsin ACLU this morning, and recommend that you do the same. And maybe our Dems in Congress can defund the unaccountable ICE in the next budget (which needs to pass before the next election) and this time SHUT IT DOWN AND KEEP IT SHUT DOWN if the GOPs won't do the right thing. And those are the legal measures to take, but I sometimes doubt those will be enough to start to eradicate this evil of Trumpism and the authoritarians that are today's GOP.

Oh, and look who's dropping the ever-so-subtle dog whistle while this is going on.

The bottom line is that the GOP is a party that is fine with racist, xenophobic policies, because they feel it's the most likely way they can win elections. Which makes ALL GOPs complicit, from the donors to the puppet politicians to gutless voters who try to insulate themselves from their complicity by saying "Well, I don't believe that." Silence is acceptance at this point, and all must be outvoted and shunned by the decent people of this state and the country.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the United States is rapidly becoming what we are supposed to despise. We crush the hopes of those who want to make themselves better in a new land, and a class of royalists at the top that think they can impose their will on anyone else while avoiding accountability to the rule of law themselves.


Friday, May 25, 2018

WisGOPs running on their record + Dems turning out to vote = bad news for Fitzwalkerstanis?

A couple of intriguing articles give a hint of how and why Wisconsin Dems could win big in the 2018 elections, and recover a lot of the power they have lost over the last 10 years.

The first article is in the New Yorker from Benjamin Wallace-Wells, is titled “Will the Tea Party Era End Where It Started—In Wisconsin”, and notes how our state has been the prototype of GOP “governance” in the 2010s.

Wallace-Wells notes that this approach doesn’t try for bipartisan consensus to solve real problems, but instead uses tactics and demonization to score political points, and bends rules to grab and retain power by any means necessary. And that approach is something that has distressed many longtime Wisconsinites, including a certain former State Senator who was run out of office in 2014.
At the outset of the twenty-first century, Wisconsin was known for a certain social steadiness. Chilly and saturated with lakes and small towns, it mostly escaped the entropic pressures of exurban sprawl. Its self-identity was not as caught up in industrialization as that of some other Midwestern states, so it was spared some of the psychic pain when manufacturing jobs went overseas. But after the election of the Republican Governor Scott Walker, in 2010, the year of the Tea Party, Wisconsin’s politics grew far more vivid, and bitter. A few weeks into his administration, Walker moved to take away the rights of most public employees to bargain collectively—the notorious Act 10—provoking weeks of enormous rallies at the state capitol and a statewide recall election, which Walker survived. After that, the partisanship only escalated—Walker oversaw a redistricting effort so aggressively gerrymandered that it is now before the United States Supreme Court, a voter-identification law that is said to have disenfranchised two hundred thousand people, and a campaign-finance regime so lax that the current Republican primary for U.S. Senate is widely seen as a proxy war between two billionaire donors. Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, told me, “What Wisconsin gave the nation was the model where you could take a very tiny electoral margin and act as if you had won an overwhelming victory, and the other side had no say at all.” Dale Schultz, a Republican who was formerly a leader in the state senate, told me that the early days of the Walker administration “created a malaise that hangs in the state to this day.”

Schultz retired from politics three years ago—when I reached him, he was in his home town of Richland Center, in southwestern Wisconsin, helping a friend paint a house for rent on Airbnb—and I called him because I was trying to understand the sped-up pace of elections in the state. Already, three months before the primaries and six before the general election, the airwaves in the state are full of partisan invective. “Elections in Wisconsin now are over in June,” Schultz said; it was a function, in his view, of the way campaign-finance laws and norms had changed in the Walker era. Schultz said that ordinary state-senate races now regularly receive the same level of campaign contributions as races for governor did at the beginning of his political career. “All that money comes in early, and it all goes to negative advertising about your opponent, and so by the end of June the election’s over.” Even in state-senate races, where only fifteen thousand total votes might be cast, Schultz said, it has become common for three-quarters of the spending to come from independent groups. The effect has been to turn a politician’s attention to the early competition for outside money and big donors’ favor. “Now you don’t go around your district until after Labor Day, and that’s for show,” Schultz said.

Schultz’s sense of abandonment was broad. He told me that, under Walker, the state’s Republican Party had (in its embrace of vote-suppressing voter-identification measures, in its comfort with deficits and third-party campaign spending, in its passage of budgets that eroded institutions in rural parts of the state, in its unembarrassed partisanship) lost any claim to being either Republican or conservative. “What you have is a bunch of nationalist know-nothing anarchists,” he said.

"We'll just divide and conquer. And you will give me big money."

Wells-Wallace notes that there are some signs that the GOP’s “Cheddar Revolution” of the 2010s is crumbling, as the fallout from having know-nothings and the puppets of oligarchs in charge of the government is becoming evident.
…In May, Paul Ryan, one of Walker’s chief political allies—who, as Speaker of the House, has done more than anyone to channel the spirit of 2010 into a more or less organized politics—announced he was retiring, at only forty-eight years old. When I called conservatives in Madison recently, I heard a general trepidation. “The energy on the Democratic side, especially among women, that’s real,” one senior adviser to a statewide Republican campaign told me. “There are Republicans who think that Walker will save them, that they can play the same tune again, but they don’t realize how jammed up they are.” Others have more existential concerns. “The Tea Party energy is more or less gone,” a longtime conservative insider in Madison told me. In January, a Democrat won a state senate election in a Trump district; in April, another Democrat won a statewide election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by twelve points. The conservative insider told me that Ryan’s retirement was a sign that the jig was up. “These political movements usually come and go in decade-long cycles,” he said.
Wells-Wallace also talk to newly elected Dem Senator Patty Schachtner and Dem guv candidate Tony Evers, and both noted that the Fitzwalkerstanis’ underfunding of services such as health, schools and roads over the last 7 years are really hitting home for people in many parts of the state.

Dems are also fired up to vote these GOPs out, which means that it might be difficult for the GOPs in power to duplicate the combination of voter suppression and Dem apathy that lowered turnout in Dem-leaning cities, and allowed Donald Trump, Ron Johnson and other GOPs to pull off surprising wins in 2016.

As Michael Leon notes in In These Times, officials in many of those larger Wisconsin cities are now going around the GOP's roadblocks to help people find a way to cast their ballots, and it likely helped to improve turnout in this April's Supreme Court race.
Madison’s pioneering voter outreach effort began in 2012, after state Republicans passed the first of dozens of voter suppression laws. Designated “ambassadors” from the City Clerk’s office train voting rights workers for groups such as the Dane County Voter ID Coalition who reach out to seniors, students and civil rights groups….

Madison has seen high turnouts since 2016, when the One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen federal court decision swept away much of the Republican voter-obstruction legislation, including the mandate that cities have only one early voting site. The ruling applied statewide, but Madison has done the most to expand voter outreach, increasing early-voting sites to a state-record 15 stations.

“It appears that all of this proactivity paid off,” notes Barry Burden, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In November 2016, Madison saw high voter participation while overall state turnout declined. This April, Madison’s turnout roughly doubled that of the state at large, helping to propel progressive Rebecca Dallet to a landslide victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.

Other Wisconsin municipalities contacted the Madison Clerk’s Office to use the city as a model. Kenosha, the state’s fourth-most populous city, adopted a similar voter ambassador project in 2017 and recorded a 26 percent turnout in April, almost doubling the April 2017 turnout.

Milwaukee is opening 20 voter registration kiosks at public libraries across the city, and will increase its early-voting sites from three to eight for the general election.
Face it, if Wisconsin Republicans really thought their agenda was something that most voters agreed with, they’d welcome the chance to expand voting access, so they’d have a legitimate mandate with buy-in from more Wisconsin voters.

Instead, Wisconsin has become a notorious spot for voter suppression measures in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. That tells you the GOP puppetmasters know in their hearts that Wisconsinites really don’t approve of what they stand for, so they have to resort to tricks and “divide and conquer” deceptions.

Let’s finish up by returning to Wallace-Wells’ final paragraph, where he notes that what might do in Walker and other WisGOPs in 2018 are the same things that brought them to power in 2010 – that things don’t seem to be getting better with these guys in control. Combine that with general personal dislike for the people in charge (both in DC and in Madison), and you can see why these guys are in big trouble.
The resistance taking shape to Walker and to Trump has two modes, civic and partisan, which, though they often overlap, are nevertheless distinct. The main innovation of the Walker era has been in its partisan extremity, and yet this aspect of his administration looks to be on the ballot this year only indirectly. The final judgment on the Walker era may turn not on the ways in which it has changed the tenor of politics but on the more quotidian matter of the ways it has underfunded the gravel appropriation for Wisconsin’s rural roads. And yet the Democratic opportunity is obvious: this situation allows them to ask voters to judge the Walker years without demanding that they admit to having made a mistake. Driving back from the northwest, in between calls to donors, Evers mentioned some political road signs he’d seen near Wausau that attacked Walker for pothole-ridden roads. “They’re calling them Scott-holes,” the liberal said, with some evident pleasure. He was imagining the most basic of political arguments—that the other guys held power, and there was still so much that was wrong.
If the articles from Mike Leon and Benjamin Wallace-Wells are any indication, it may be that the jig is up on the GOP’s grift in Wisconsin, resulting in blow back in the upcoming elections in this state for what they and other Republicans have done (and/or failed to do). Let’s make it so.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Minnesota passes Wisconsin for jobs. No righties, this isn't working

For some reason, I had missed that the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (aka, the more thorough, “gold standard” job report) started pre-releasing their overall figures a couple of weeks ahead of their main report, beginning with their year-end 2017 totals this week.

Which explains why the following headline from Wisconsin Public Radio snuck up on me, and I didn’t see it until this morning. “Minnesota passes Wisconsin in total jobs, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.”
University of Michigan Labor Economist Donald Grimes said what stuck out to him was that Minnesota had added more jobs than Wisconsin every year since 2010.

"The fact that it's every year is somewhat remarkable," Grimes said.

The numbers show that in 2017, Wisconsin added a total of 28,696 jobs. That translated to a growth rate of about 1 percent, which ranked 27th in the nation.

Minnesota, by contrast, added 35,925 jobs in 2017 for a growth rate of 1.3 percent, which ranked 18th.
What’s sad is that Wisconsin’s 27th place standing in rate of job growth is an improvement over the rankings in the 30s that have been the rule during Scott Walker’s Reign of Error. But it’s not anything to be proud of, not only because it makes for 26 straight quarters of job growth in the bottom half of the US, but also because 2017 continued a trend of lower job growth in Wisconsin that started in early 2016.

The most amazing part about that chart to me is that the fastest rate of job growth was reached in March 2011 – the month that Act 10 was jammed through the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

There isn’t a breakdown into various sectors of jobs, like public sector vs private sector or manufacturing (that’ll come in a couple of weeks), but we can certainly evaluate the change in total jobs between the two states. And Minnesota has lapped Wisconsin in that stat since Walker and Dayton took office.

Total job growth, Dec 2010-Dec 2017
Minn +292,976 (+11.34%)
Wis. +202,554 (+7.59%)

In addition to the gap of more than 90,000 jobs, this stat means that Minnesota has a rate of job growth that’s more than 50% faster than Wisconsin over these 7 years.

The “gold standard” report also showed that Wisconsin didn’t gain as many jobs as the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development claimed it did when it originally reported their December 2017 figures back in January.
Based on preliminary data, Wisconsin added a significant 40,200 total non-farm jobs and 43,500 private sector jobs from December 2016 to December 2017, including a significant 11,500 manufacturing jobs. The state also gained 1,300 private sector jobs from November 2017 to December 2017, including 1,200 construction jobs. November private sector jobs gains were also revised up by 2,100, showing that Wisconsin gained a total of 4,900 private sector jobs from October 2017 to November 2017.
That’s a whole lot more than the nearly 28,700 jobs that the QCEW report is saying for 2017, and it continues a disturbing trend of Scott Walker’s Department of Workforce Development overestimating job and labor force growth in recent years.

The last thing that grabbed my attention was the job growth in the 6 largest Wisconsin counties, which was in this report. Milwaukee County had its best growth in 2017 out of any year in the 2010s (+4,233), but that’s damning with faint praise, as Milwaukee County’s 2017 growth rate of 0.9% was still well below the US rate of 1.5%, and came on the heels of losing nearly 1,500 jobs in 2016.

Over the last 7 years, Milwaukee County added jobs at less than half the rate of the rest of the state, which helps explain the Milwaukee metro’s lack of growth in income in recent years (as I mentioned last week). By comparison, those crazy hippies in Dane County have set the pace with Minnesota-like job growth in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Job growth, largest Wis counties, Dec 2010-Dec 2017
Dane County +11.73%
Waukesha Co. +9.75%
Brown County +8.44%
Wisconsin state +7.59%
Outagamie Co. +7.15%
Winnebago Co. +5.10%
Milwaukee Co. +3.73%

By comparison, the 13.54% job growth in Hennepin County, Minnesota (where Minneapolis is located) even outpaces the boom going on in Madison, and the Twin Cities exurb of Washington County is even faster- at 16.41%. As the labor economist notes in WPR’s article, Wisconsin’s largest metro area is underperforming Minnesota’s largest one, and maybe it’s time to learn something from it.
"You need to focus on why Milwaukee is doing so much worse than Minneapolis-St. Paul and how you can be more like Minneapolis-St. Paul," Grimes said.
Might it have something to do with a State Legislature in Minnesota that doesn’t try to handcuff the state’s largest metro area and economic engine, and actually invests in 21st Century transit and quality of life instead of beating up on the Cities in the name of “divide and conquer” politics that stir up the rubes? Naaahh, that’s just crazy talk.

One other suggestion- maybe Wisconsin’s big cities could try to pay the big-league wages that are given to workers in the Twin Cities and the Chicago area.

Average weekly wage, December 2017
Hennepin Co., MN $1,335 (+3.0% vs Dec 2016)
Ramsey Co., (St. Paul) MN $1,202 (+3.8%)

Lake County, IL $1,411 (+1.0%)
Cook County, IL $1,283 (+2.6%)

Waukesha Co. $1,082 (+0.8%)
Dane County, Wis $1,070 (+3.5%)
Milwaukee Co. $1,056 (+1.5%)

Walker and his media flacks may try to spin these numbers away, but there’s no way you can ignore that Minnesota chose a very different path than we did, and we have fallen behind as a result. I’ll repeat a common theme of mine – you would never accept 7 years of the Packers being a 6-10, 7-9 team that always finished behind the Vikings, so why would we accept it in something more important like economic performance?

Not that we shouldn’t have figured it out before, but those numbers give even stronger proof that it’s time for a change in leadership Wisconsin.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

WIsconsin Policy Forum notes explosion in wheel taxes under Walker

Jason Stein recently left the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to join the Wisconsin Policy Forum - a newly-merged organization consisting of the organizations that used to be known as the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Public Policy Forum. Yesterday, Stein and the rest of the Policy Forum produced a brief on the increasing use of wheel taxes throughout the state, and it received quite a bit of media attention.

The policy brief notes that only 4 Wisconsin communities had wheel taxes in 2011 (when Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power), but by the end of 2017, that number was up to 27, with local wheel tax revenues rising from $7.1 million to $20.7 million in that time.

Stein says one of the culprits is that state aids have failed to keep up with the costs for local communities to fix their roads. state funding for the two aids programs rose 15.5% from 2007-17, from $412.0 million to $475.7 million... When adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), however, spending for the two programs declined 2.3%, or $11.3 million in real dollars... (A recent legislative audit noted that, in general, state highway costs have tended to rise more rapidly than the CPI.)
What's not mentioned is that all of that funding increase was under Jim Doyle between 2007 and 2011. Since Walker took over, those local aids were $5.3 million lower in 2017 vs 2011, and $46.5 million less when adjusted for inflation (-9.25%).

The Policy Forum notes that one of the reasons for those cuts was because there were limited dollars to go around in the Transportation Fund, as the Walker Administration and WisGOP Legislature have refused to raise state gas taxes or most registration fees over their time in office. In addition, Stein adds that other state-imposed tax restrictions on local governments have meant that road spending often have had to take a back seat to public safety concerns.
Meanwhile, local governments in Wisconsin have few local revenue options other than the property tax, which has been tightly restricted since 2011. Though local governments are allowed to raise property tax levies only for new construction, there are exemptions for debt service and a few other circumstances.

One of the consequences of the tighter revenues appears to be less spending on local streets and roads. When we surveyed officials from nearly 500 cities and villages for our League of Wisconsin Municipalities report, The State of Wisconsin Cities and Villages 2017, many said they had shifted their spending priorities away from street maintenance to police and fire services since the start of the 2007-09 recession.
That led to a lot more of this across the state.

So local officials had few other options but to impose the wheel tax to fill in those needs. Stein ends the policy brief by noting that these wheel taxes may become even more common in future years, given the lack of revenue options that local governments have, along with the lack of money that they are getting from the state.
As wheel taxes become more common, policymakers may want to consider whether they are the ideal tax source to support local roads. It may be argued that by taxing vehicle owners, the wheel tax links the costs of local roads to users. Conversely, some might argue that road users also include commuters and visitors and a consumption tax (such as a sales tax) might be more appropriate. Such a debate cannot occur because state law does not permit municipalities to levy sales taxes, and most counties already have implemented the optional 0.5% sales tax.

As more local governments consider the wheel tax, some state officials have already suggested additional limits on it may be needed. In the meantime, however, its use may grow as long as local revenues are limited and demand for local road maintenance and improvements expands.
Note that Stein mentions that a local sales tax may be a way to make those who use the roads be more likely to pay towards those roads. What's interesting is that a few Wisconsin communities do get the chance to levy their own sales tax to pay for the extra services that come from tourism, in the form of a premier resort tax. This enables some communities to get around the tight revenue limits by using the proceeds of that sales tax to use for roads, police and other services that they otherwise would not have the tax base to support.

It seems timely to mention this as Memorial Day weekend and its related tourism looms, as the list of places with this premier resort tax are some of the first places you'd think of when it comes to "Wisconsin tourist towns."
The Village of Sister Bay: 0.5% (effective July 1, 2018)
The City of Rhinelander: 0.5%
The Village of Stockholm: 0.5%
The City of Eagle River: 0.5%
The City of Bayfield: 0.5%
The City of Wisconsin Dells: 1.25%
The Village of Lake Delton: 1.25%
My question is- why do only the small towns get the ability to raise taxes on tourists? If we're not going to give significant increases in state aids to make up for the cuts that have happened in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and we're not keen on seeing more potholes and more wheel taxes, then why don't we give local communities the freedom to impose their own sales taxes to make up the difference?

For example, Milwaukee County attracts the largest amount of tourism dollars in the state, with nearly $2 billion in direct spending last year. Wouldn't it be nice if they could use a part of that spending and not have to put in a $30 wheel tax on its residents (with another $20 paid by people who live in the City of Milwaukee)?

Maybe the voters of this state will be smart enough to elect a new governor that has a better plan than the deterioration we've seen during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. But no matter the outcome in November's elections, something different needs to be done, because as Jason Stein's report for the Wisconsin Policy Forum reiterated, the current method of funding local roads isn't cutting it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A date with some Queens

Sometimes more important event take precedence over a daily rant. Tonight, we have one of those events.

With the temperature nearing 80 starting tomorrow, it's time to start thinking about Summer. And about feeling good.

And about nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Esctasy and alcohol.....

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sure, Wisconsin incomes have risen in the 2010s. We're still losing

Here's an example of something that sounds pretty good, especially if you don't have any context.

Wow, a 16% increase in income! Things must really be thriving in Wisconsin!

Not really, and not just because Walker was using nominal and not inflation-adjusted dollars. A report that came out a few days after Governor Walker released this piece of cherry-picking showed how that increase in income for Wisconsin isn't really anything to brag about.

Let me direct you to the Bureau of Economic Analysis' report for state and metro incomes. This report now goes through the end of 2016, and what’s interesting about this report compared to the state personal income reports that were released earlier this month is that it adjusts for the cost of living in certain areas of the country, using a statistic called Regional Price Parities (RPPs).
The RPPs are calculated using price quotes for a wide array of items from the CPI, which are aggregated into broader expenditure categories (such as food, transportation or education).

Data on rents are obtained separately from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The expenditure weights for each category are constructed using CPI expenditure weights, BEA’s personal consumption expenditures, and ACS rents expenditures. The broader categories and the data on rents are combined with the expenditure weights using a multilateral aggregation method that expresses a region’s price level relative to the U.S.

For example, if the RPP for area A is 120 and for area B is 90, then on average, prices are 20 percent higher and 10 percent lower than the U.S. average for A and B, respectively. If the personal income for area A is $12,000 and for area B is $9,000, then RPP-adjusted incomes are $10,000 (or $12,000/1.20) and $10,000 (or $9,000/0.90), respectively. In other words, the purchasing power of the two incomes is equivalent when adjusted by their respective RPPs.
That adjustement helps Wisconsin in these rankings, as Wisconsin’s RPP of 92.8 means that incomes in our state goes further in this survey than it does for the US as a whole. And our low population growth moves us up compared to many other parts of the country when it comes to figuring out income growth per capita, even if low population growth is a limiting item when it comes to job growth or other economic measures of well-being.

Wisconsin performed fairly well by this standard in 2016, having their inflation-adjusted incomes rise by 1.3% vs 1.1% for the US as a whole. But we badly lagged the country in the 4 years before, which correspond to when Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP came to power in 2011, Wisconsin ranks a subpar 5th in the Midwest for both real income growth, and real income growth per capita in that time. We also trail the figures for the US in general.

So yet again, THANKS OBAMA for helping us along.

Worse is what things look like at the local level, especially in Wisconsin’s largest metro area of Milwaukee. Between 2011 and 2016, real per capita income in the Milwaukee metro area barely grew at a rate of 1% a year, far behind other Midwestern metropolitan areas, and the US as a whole.

By comparison, Madison and the Twin Cities had incomes grow nearly twice as fast as Milwaukee (even with both metros increasing their populations at a faster rate), and the “declining” Chicago metro area had per-capita income growth nearly 3 times as fast as Milwaukee – even after taking into account the higher costs to live in Chitown.

The disparity in income growth means that both Madison and the Twin Cities has zoomed past the Milwaukee metro area for income per person during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and Chicago has nearly caught the Brew Town area as well. And if you’re wondering about the cities in the rest of Wisconsin, they pay even less than Madison and Milwaukee. While most grew during the Obama Recovery/Age of Fitzwalkerstan, the gap in per-capita income for all mid-size Wisconsin metros (other than Sheboygan!) is still between $2,200-$9,700 from the big 2 of Milwaukee and Madison.

The last item to note in this report is that much like the rest of rural America, the non-metro Wisconsin lagged when it came to income growth compared to what was going on in the bigger cities. To begin with, incomes were already less in rural Wisconsin in 2011, even with the lower cost of living. But the gap widened from $3,000 in 2011 to $3,700 by 2016.

One positive note is that while rural Wisconsin had income growth below the state average and the US as a whole, they did outpace the “forgotten people” in other parts of rural America, particularly in 2015 and 2016.

But the only type of person that would promote these income figures as proof that Walker’s and WisGOP’s policies are making Wisconsin prosperous would be someone who thinks the average citizen is too stupid and sheltered to recognize that most of the Midwest and the nation were rebounding better than we were. That goes double for the pro-Walker oligarchs at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), who continue to give big money for a corporatist agenda that is leaving Milwaukee in the dust for both incomes and for job growth.

As usual, the only saving grace for these income figures is the growth that continues in Madison, where education and wage levels are higher, and there is a quality of life that encourages more talent to come there. You’d think we’d try to emulate that successful liberal town, and kick the right-wingers out that have been holding back the rest of the state.