Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Oh, so NOW Scotty wants to speed up at Lincoln Hills...kinda

2 weeks after our Fair Governor said that he’d wait until 2019 to do anything to close the troubled youth prison at Lincoln Hills (if the voters of this state are stupid enough to keep him around), he changed his mind over the weekend. Now Scotty wants to see something done about it in this legislative session, which would likely mean some time over the next 2 months.

But if you read the statement from Walker that came out this morning, there’s a lot more space dedicated to discussion about prior moves in the current and past budgets (to cover his ass), but not a lot in there about future actions that he wants. Well, except for speeding up the bidding process to build new facilities, with plans for a design firm to be selected next month (cha-CHING!).

The details on how to treat the underage inmates and finding the money to build the prisons are being left for the State Legislature to figure out. Bad enough, but in Molly Beck’s article in today’s Wisconsin State Journal, the Republicans running the Legislature indicate they may use the Lincoln Hills situation to make a significant change in how youth corrections are handled.
Assembly Corrections Committee chairman Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, said the legislation he is drafting with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would likely allow county governments to have a say in the type of juvenile correctional facility built in their areas.

“I think the goal is to really have DOC out of it, and whether that’s having (the Department of Children and Families) overseeing the program or what ... just so there is uniformity with regard to programming, but really handing it off to the counties,” Schraa said. He said the legislation wouldn’t preclude the state from building the facilities Walker has proposed.

“I think that would definitely be an outcome that could happen — (have the state) spend money up front to build and then let the counties do their thing,” he said,
adding he is seeking support from Democrats and that Assembly Republicans may discuss the proposal Tuesday. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not respond to a request for comment on Walker’s effort or the Assembly Republican proposal
It seems a bit alarming that later in Beck’s story, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Counties Association has said they have not been told of the Assembly GOP’s plan, especially if they might be running these youth facilities and possibly have to deal with funding operations in a time when many counties are struggling just to keep their roads fixed.

Dems in the Legislature are also apparently locked out of these discussions, which gives me an excuse to run this excellent cartoon again.

State Dems (and especially Goyke) asked why the GOP was cobbling this bill for youth corrections in secret, when there was already a plan and a bill that had been formally introduced on the subject.
Goyke in an interview said any legislation to overhaul oversight of juvenile corrections should preserve some state oversight to ensure juvenile offenders are placed in the facilities that best address their needs, even if they’re not close to home.

He also called for a hearing on his own bill and suggested plans sought by Assembly Republicans or other lawmakers could be discussed as amendments to his plan.“I’ve introduced a bill, the bill has bipartisan support (and) it mirrors in substantial form the governor’s plan, so let’s have a hearing on it,” Goyke said. “If there’s something that’s disagreeable about that bill, let’s do it through the legislative process rather than turning it into a partisan redraft.”
But Rep. Goyke, that would imply that today’s Wisconsin GOP actually cares about solving problems and coming with up long-term solutions to legitimate issues, instead of playing political games and demanding to control all aspects of the debate. Sorry Evan, that’s not how they roll.

It’s also intriguing to note that at the same time that Walker and the GOP Legislature were panicking due to low poll numbers speeding up the timetable for action at Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills, the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health was releasing its 2017 annual report to the State Legislature.
There is a lot of data in the Children’s Mental Health report, which looks not only at emotional health, but social conditions and other statistics that may help to identify areas that may require more attention.
One that immediately jumps out was the arrest rate, particularly for younger people, and the number of Wisconsin children with family caregivers behind bars.

Juvenile arrests
US rate 10 per 1,000
Wis rate 32.5 per 1,000

Jailed parent/guardian
US rate 8.2%
Wis rate 9.1%

Interestingly, the report notes that average daily populations at youth correctional facilities are dropping, down from 408 in 2010 to 307 in 2014. This is another part of the concerns at Lincoln Hills, as lower populations make the facility less efficient.

What’s odd is that these higher arrest rates come in the face of lower levels of youth poverty and single-parent households in Wisconsin vs the rest of the nation, which you would think would correlate to higher levels of arrest. So what gives with these conflicting stats?

Perhaps there’s a clue later in the report with this statistic.
Wisconsin ranks 42nd in the nation in youth mental health (Mental Health America) Contributing Factors
• High depression rates
• Low treatment for youth with mental illness
Of note: Wisconsin ranks ranked 11th for adult mental health.
The report also notes that while many of Wisconsin’s children are on public assistance for medical care, mental health doesn’t account for much of their treatment.
9% (54,770) of children on Medicaid (around 600,000 throughout 2015) received Medicaid-funded mental health services (therapy, psychiatric hospitalizations, or other treatments); this represents 4% of the Wisconsin child population.3
•An estimated 21% of Wisconsin’s children have any mental illness. Some children receive mental health services through other public systems or through private insurance (~4% of Wisconsin children),4 but there still remains a treatment gap of about 34% of children.5
One other stat from this report is that rural Wisconsin badly lags urban Wisconsin when it comes to available mental health providers.

Ratio of mental health providers, Wisconsin
Urban 19 providers per 100 residents
Rural 11 providers per 100 residents

This may be why there is a bill that has been introduced in the Legislature that writes off student loans if you take a counseling job in a rural part of Wisconsin. This also seem to illustrate that there are mental health needs with Wisconsin youth that are not being met, and some of those unmet needs are manifesting itself in minor crimes resulting in arrest.

This other note may also explain the “high arrest, low incarceration” situation.
Wisconsin meth arrests, charges, and seizures have tripled since 2011, with greatest increases occurring in rural areas.
So instead of going into WisGOP crisis management mode and coming out with a half-baked plan that’s cooked up in private, why don’t we go more big picture, and discuss how to deal with the root causes of these issues in youth (and adult) Corrections? Sure, we can get Lincoln Hills closed and get the ball rolling on getting new places set up that are closer to many of the youthful offenders’ homes, and perhaps we can recognize that we need better training and pay for our correctional staff, as numerous reports keep going back to the union-busting Act 10 as a main reason for these problems of understaffing and abuse.

But shouldn’t we also talk about the investments we are (or aren’t) making for children’s mental health and home situations, and perhaps realize that this is a topic that won’t go away after any desperate pre-election fix by WisGOP is made to get them through 2018? While partisan GOP hacks think Lincoln Hills and juvenile corrections are a political problem (which is the only reason they really care), it is in fact a societal problem, and it should be approached accordingly.

The Fox-con rises to $4.5 billion

Before the Wisconsin State Assembly planned to meet this afternoon, Dem Leader Gordon Hintz decided to remind people of the GOP’s biggest “accomplishment” in this 2017-19 session- a Fox-con giveaway of billions of dollars to a foreign company.

With that in mind, Hintz produced an updated analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau which shows that the costs of the Fox-con continues to climb.

The LFB memo includes the $134 million in state highway funding for Foxconn upgrades that the Walker Administration transferred away from other highway road projects throughout the state (click here for more info on that scam). It also includes the massive amount of additional local subsidies that were not revealed at the time of the State Legislature’s debate on Foxconn.
The Foxconn development will impose additional operating and capital costs on local governments. Some of these costs will result from providing public services directly to the Foxconn facility in the EITM TIF district, and some costs will be indirect, resulting from providing services to people and property outside, but resulting from, the development outside the district. Foxconn will be subject to any fees charged by the municipality or other local governments for services, such as for utilities. Public service costs funded through property taxes will not generally be recouped from Foxconn, since the taxes on property located inside the TIF district will be dedicated to repaying the TIF district's project costs. To the extent property in the TIF district causes those public service costs to increase, the taxes imposed to fund the services will be shifted to other property within that local government's jurisdiction, but outside the TIF district. However, by allowing tax increment expenditures to include the cost of constructing or expanding fire stations, purchasing police and fire equipment, and the cost of general government operating expenses related to providing police and fire protection services, the Act will allow the municipality creating the EITM TIF district to use tax increments from the district to cover such costs incurred outside of the district, which could help mitigate any potential tax increases on properties outside of the district.

Indirect costs will result from other development related to the Foxconn project. That development will include business suppliers to Foxconn, housing for Foxconn employees, and businesses serving those employees, and the development that will occur within the jurisdiction of the local governments hosting the EITM zone and in adjacent municipalities, counties, and states. The incremental public costs related to the development may be small initially, but they could increase as local governments are required to increase capacity, either by adding employees or infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and other buildings.

In Wisconsin, the property tax is the largest component of own-source revenue raised by local governments and will be used as the primary source for funding the costs described above. Counties, municipalities, technical college districts, and school districts are subject to fiscal controls designed to limit the annual change in property taxes.

So enjoy THAT, if you’re living in southern Racine County, as you’ll be paying for those extra costs and infrastructure. Oh, and local taxpayers will also be paying for the lawyers’ fees associated with lawsuits that result from running people off of their homes through eminent domain and other takings for the plant.

They didn't tell you about those extras, did they?

Another cost will be the $140 million that ratepayers will have to shell out for in extra electricity costs to take care of new systems that have to be put in due to Foxconn. While the LFB says the cost will be low among individual ratepayers and spread out over numerous years, couldn’t you say that about anything else? And most government spending isn’t on something that’s going to help one specific company.
Recently, it was reported that the American Transmission Company will seek state approval for a $140 million transmission line project to provide electrical power to the Foxconn manufacturing development. While it is not yet known, the transmission line project would affect the rates of residential and other electric customers. However, the cost would be spread over a large number of consumers for up to 40 years, so the impact on individual ratepayers is not expected to be significant. Further, the Act modifies current law provisions regarding public utility market-based rates to require an electric public utility providing service to an EITM zone [the Foxconn TIF enterprise zone) to file with the PSC, no later than January 1, 2020, tariffs that include market-based pricing and options that allow a new retail customer within the EITM zone to receive market benefits and take market risks for some or all of the customer's purchases of capacity and energy, provided that the PSC determines that the customer is eligible for an EITM zone credit.
That last part is intriguing as well. Does that mean Foxconn and related companies might be eligible for extra rate breaks from electric suppliers due to the fact that they’re a heavy user? Sure seems like it.

Hintz added up the price tags of these state and local subsidies, and here’s what he found as a maximum cost.

State Tax Credits $2.85 billion (combined total for jobs added and the facility being built)

Local Govt Assistance $764 million
Expedited I-94 Project (plus debt service) 408.3 million
Utility Costs $140 million
Sales and Use Tax Exemption $139 million
State and Local Road Improvements $134 million
DWD Worker Training and Employment $20 million
Grants to Local Governments $15 million
Economic Development Liaison $400,000
Total $4.4705 billion

And one other potential large cost didn’t even make it into Hintz’s list. That’s the possibility that state taxpayers may have to bail out the locals in Racine County if the Fox-con goes belly-up. Known as a “moral obligation” pledge, the State of Wisconsin has promised it will back up 40% of the potential losses, to keep local communities from being bankrupted.
The Village of Mount Pleasant has created a TIF district within the Foxconn EITM zone and anticipates the issuance of TIF revenue bonds to be backed by the state's moral obligation pledge. However, the exact size and the terms of the revenue bond debt to be issued to finance costs related to development occurring in or for the benefit of an EITM zone are not entirely known. Therefore, the potential state fiscal impact of the moral obligation pledge cannot currently be determined, and would depend on the amount of revenue bonds the DOA Secretary designates for the pledge. As an example, for every $100 million in debt issued by a local governmental unit that is covered by the pledge, and assuming an interest rate of 5% and a flat, 20-year repayment schedule, total principal and interest payments would equal $160.5 million. Assuming that no revenues from the underlying project are available to service 40% of the debt, then the Legislature could be called on to appropriate up to $64.2 million for the repayment of 40% of principal and interest costs under the moral obligation pledge.
Using that calculation, the $764 million in the Mount Pleasant TIF district would mean that Wisconsin taxpayers could owe up to another $490 million.

Granted, if the Fox-con works in creating jobs and all of the tax incentives are paid out, that $490 million bailout won’t have to be paid. But that also means the full $4.47 billion may also be out the door, tying the hands of the state financially for years. This state is screwed either way by this gimmick, and given the resources that are being diverted to the Fox-con vs other areas, it likely won’t add much more jobs compared to investments that would be far less costly.

Hintz rightfully connected the rising costs of the Fox-con to the damage that will happen to other state services in future years as a result.
“The costs of this project should alarm every Wisconsin family. This memo shows a 50% increase from the initially reported state investment. We will be pay for this now and long into the future, both in the direct costs and opportunity costs in cuts to K-12 education and the UW System in upcoming budgets.”
Hey rurals! If you follow the Politics of Resentment and complain about resources and jobs being sent to certain areas of the state vs others, you might want to know that it's not Madison and Milwaukee that are sucking you dry. It’s taxpayer-funded GOP cronyism like the Fox-con.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ready to land back in reality

Unpacking my brain at McCarrann Airport. I
I did OK, likely around $50 down, bet-wise, and that was more than made up with the free drinks.

Of course, if the Saints tackle Stefon Diggs in-bounds, I'd have another $88 coming back with me (had the Saints +5 and on the money line). The possibility of being in the Twin Cities the weekend of a Vikings Super Bowl looms quite obnoxiously.

Still a great weekend to be around great people. And since I hit a wall of Day 3 post-football exhaustion and had an early bedtime, I actually feel alright.

And despite the snow that seems to keep falling in southern Wisconsin, looks like we are still slated to get in on time. The 90 miles back to Madison from MKE might not be so easy, however. If only we had a regular train or flight-convenient bus service connecting those two places...

Anyway, back to reality tomorrow. But it was nice to get away from the gritty bleakness and escape for the weekend.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Live from above the Strip

I am out on my annual Vegas trip with some friends. Money is a bit shorter today but the drinks got paid for and life is good.

Don't have much more to say about our resident's "shithole" comments, other than it really illustrates how far down into the gutter today's GOP trash are.

Apparently "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" doesn't count in TrumpWorld if those people are of color. Duly noted, and how bought off are the GOP CongressCritters that they can't say "Fuck this senile nut job" and throw him overboard.

This has to be ended in 2018. But not by me, not this weekend anyway. I got legitimate bets to win here on the Strip (unlike the rigged casino on Wall Street, which is,being pumped up by some very funny money).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Walker/WisGOP trying to delay Lincoln Hills action, but reality keeps creeping in

This is good stuff from Alan Talaga and Jon Lyons in the Isthmus.

And Scotty's about-face might also have been related to the fact that he knew of yet another bad incident at Lincoln Hills, which was made public yesterday.
Federal prosecutors are investigating an incident in which prison guards allegedly stormed into a disruptive 16-year-old inmate’s cell, broke his arm, strip searched him, left him naked for hours and didn’t get him to a doctor for more than a week.

Details of the March 2014 encounter at Lincoln Hills School for Boys emerged in interviews with the inmate and his mother, state records and a civil rights lawsuit the inmate filed last month, just after prosecutors notified two former guards they could be indicted.

“I told him, ‘You’re breaking my arm, you’re breaking my arm,’ and he kept pulling it harder,” Jacob Bailey said of his treatment from one guard.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and prison officials reviewed the incident at the time and determined little had gone wrong. Federal prosecutors are taking a different view.
Hmm, doesn't seem like Walker's promise of future action at some point is going to make these Lincoln Hills stories go away. And given that juvenile corrections had a $3.2 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2017, I'm going to reiterate my call for Dems on the Joint Finance Committee to file a formal objection to force a hearing on that and other state overdrafts.

We should know the price tag of these changes and to see if we can get a jump start on getting things on getting these problem in juveile corrections fixed in THIS budget cycle. I think that's a better idea than going with the Walker/WisGOP of sweeping the problems under the rug, and promising to do something in mid-2019...maybe.

A few more layoffs in Wis and the US recently. Don't panic...for now

While Wal-Mart may have gotten some nice PR by announcing they were going to boost its starting wage to $11 an hour (WOO-HOO! Benefits not included) and give some year-end bonuses to staff, you knew there had to be a catch. That catch was revealed later in the day.
Walmart is closing 63 Sam's Club stores across the US, the company told Business Insider.

Several stores were abruptly closed Thursday. In some cases, employees were not informed of the closures prior to showing up to work on Thursday.
Instead, they learned that their store would be closing when they found the store's doors locked and a notice announcing the closure, according to reports.

Ten of the affected stores will be turned into ecommerce distribution centres, and employees of those stores will have the opportunity to reapply for positions at those locations, a Walmart official said.

The remaining stores will stay open for several weeks before closing permanently. All of the affected stores were scrubbed from Sam's Club's website Thursday morning.

PR pay raises don't matter if there's no store

Included in that list are Wisconsin stores in Madison and West Allis. And the bad news kept coming as another notable Wisconsin retailer announced layoffs Thursday.
Middleton-based American Girl said Thursday it is cutting staff. Fifty-seven employees are losing their jobs, 21 of them in Wisconsin, effective immediately.

That amounts to a 3.2 percent work force reduction in Wisconsin, and 2.9 percent companywide.

"American Girl has been facing some major headwinds for the past several quarters," spokeswoman Julie Parks said. "The measures today were part of American Girl's ongoing efforts to truly control costs, align workforce with demand, and improve efficiencies where and when we can."

In the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, American Girl revenue was down 30 percent from the 2016 third quarter.
Many retailers announcing earnings and post-Christmas changes in the coming weeks, and given that the structural change from brick-and-mortar to online shopping seems to be accelerating, let’s see if there are more stories like this breaking in the near future.

Nationwide, the US reported the largest number of initial jobless claims in more than 3 months and the fourth straight week of increases, although at a seasonally-adjusted 261,000 claims, the number is still historically low. However, it was a bit concerning to see Wisconsin contribute to these recent increases, particular in the week before.
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending December 30 were in New Jersey (+9,507), Pennsylvania (+6,850), Michigan (+5,920), Ohio (+5,773), and Wisconsin (+5,274), while the largest decreases were in California (-9,876), Kentucky (-5,485), Texas (-4,219), Oklahoma (-1,737), and Florida (-1,528).
Obviously with that being the “dead week” between Christmas and New Year’s, there’s not a whole lot to draw out of the one-week increase into a fuller picture of the economy. Further on in the jobless claims report, it says that Wisconsin’s big jump in claims was due to “layoffs in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing industries,” which also seems weather and holiday-related.

But the advance initial claims for Wisconsin for the first week of January jumped another 1,908 claims from the higher amount of the previous week, and only 9 states had a higher increase for that week. It could be just a seasonal blip, but it may be worth keeping an eye on for the short-term.

There have also been a few other stories about companies cutting back in Wisconsin in the last few days. The most damaging one is likely what happened up in Price County late last week.
Layoffs at Flambeau River Papers surprised and shocked the community of Park Falls on Friday. The history of industrial papermaking in the city goes back more than a century.

Eighty-two people are now out of a job at one of the city's biggest employers.

Nearly 300 people were employed at the mill before the layoff. In a town of just about 2,300 people, it's a big change. Executives say it was a financial decision to make the mill more viable in the long run, but for the people who lost their jobs, they're just trying to find out what to do now.
It's been rough in the paper industry in general recently in Wisconsin, as over 500 people at the Appleton Coated plant are still out of work while that facility is being offered up to buyers, and Appvion announced in November it was laying off 200 people at its plant in Appleton and moving some operations out of state. Apparently right-to-work didn't save those jobs...

It still looks like the economy is growing decently despite these recent layoff notices, and I don't see anything yet that would cause any major drop in growth or cause the unemployment rate to go up much. But it also tells me things aren't as sunny as the still-rising stock market would indicate, and that there may be a few clouds rolling in soon despite the image that our GOP leaders are trying to have us believe exists in January 2018.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Unlike the rest of Walker's Wisconsin, Madison is a 2010s success story,

To pick up from my last post, let's go back to a tweet from our Fair Governor.

"Businesses have left and murders have gone up"? Let's go to the numbers!

Start with jobs, and let's begin our comparison in June 2011, as it allows us to look at how the state and the Madison area has performed since Act 10 and Walker’s first state budget were signed into law.

Based on figures from the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW), Dane County has outperformed the rest of the state in private sector job growth for every June-June period in each of the last 6 years, doubling up the state’s growth level in two of those years, and growing 4 times as fast in the 2015-16 period.

Adding up the last 6 years we find that the rate of private sector Dane County job growth has nearly doubled the rest of Wisconsin, at more than 15% compared to a statewide growth rate of 7.76%. And Dane County has outpaced the country while the rest of the state has fallen significantly behind.

As for Scotty’s knock on Madison crime? Even the AP’s Scott Bauer had to call BS on that, and noted that murders are up by 2/3 statewide since Gov Dropout took office.

And writer Chris Walker went deeper, noting that violent crime was down in Madison between 2011 and 2016 (2017 definitely had a rise, we'll see if it is a pattern or a blip). Meanwhile, Wisconsin hasn't been as lucky.
From the time Walker took over the governorship in 2011, and for the remainder of his tenure until the end of 2016, crime went up across the state — and not just in the city centers. The total statewide violent crime rate went up by 29.1 percent. In nonmetropolitan counties, violent crime went up by an even higher rate of 38.2 percent.

In Madison, from 2011 to 2016 the opposite holds true. Violent crime actually went down during that time, dropping by a rate of about 5 percent.

It’s not a huge drop, but it runs counter to what Walker’s claims were in his tweet on Thursday. Crime is not going “up” under Soglin’s watch — just the opposite. Crime is DOWN under Soglin, and UP across the rest of the state.
As a sidelight to this, the Assembly’s Jobs and Economy Committee had a hearing today where Scott Walker and other state agencies want to use $6.8 million in taxpayer dollars in a campaign to attract potential workers to relocate to Wisconsin. Why? Because as Walker himself admitted “We need more bodies” as low population growth has made the talent pool non-existent for employers in many parts of the state.

You know one of the few places in Wisconsin getting those bodies? The City of Madison and Dane County.

In fact, Dane County is responsible for more than half of the population growth in Wisconsin between 2011 and 2016. And the City of Madison was nearly 45% of that growth in Dane county, meaning Soglin's city has accounted for nearly 1/4 of the state’s added "bodies" by itself.

For the record, I’m someone who lists Paul Soglin near the bottom of my choice of candidates in the large Dem field for Governor, and I think this is a useless vanity project for the old guy. But in terms of ways to attack him, “Madison is crime-ridden and declining” is literally the last approach that anyone should take.

Look, I know Mr. "Divide and Conquer" is pulling a lame resentment play for the rubes because he thinks that tactic is still an electoral winner. But it seems very stupid for Walker to have a campaign that tries to claim things are going great in Wisconsin, and then be denigrating the one part of the state that actually is doing well in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. Even more amazing is that Walker ripped on the Capitol City one day after it was revealed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is having the Madison area as a centerpiece of a separate $1 million marketing campaign to encourage Illinois residents to seek a better life in Wisconsin.

The mixed messages led State Rep. Chris Taylor to rightfully give Walker’s act a “WTF?”
“We’re spending $1 million on ads telling Chicago residents what a great place Madison is to live, while at the same time, Governor Walker is taking to Twitter to attack it,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “The Governor can’t have it both ways. The fact of the matter is, Madison and Dane County are economic drivers for our state. You would think that a Governor who has failed to jumpstart Wisconsin’s economy or raise stagnate wages would be bragging about the thriving Dane County region. Why such hostility towards a proven economic driver of our state’s economy?” …

“It is important to recognize that jobs follow people. People increasingly want to live where there are good schools, strong transportation infrastructure and public amenities such as attractive parks. After learning last week Wisconsin is a top 10 state for people moving away, it’s time for the Governor to stop playing election year politics, and start acting in the best interest of our state.”

I’ll also forward you to the observations of John Peterson at DemoCurmudgeon. John not only calls out Walker for the absurd and scared Tweets, but Peterson also noted that if you want to talk about someone who mismanaged a major metro area in Wisconsin, look no further than Walker’s awful 8 years as Milwaukee County Executive before he became governor.

As I’ve said numerous times in the last few years, maybe Wisconsin “needs more Madison”, and to learn from the economic success that has happened here. It seems a better strategy than trying to knock down one of the few areas in the state that people want to live and work in.