Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Walker vetoes don't help much. Some take it from bad to worse

Here are a few things I caught from the Governor's 99 budget vetoes, which were released this afternoon.

1. True to what had been rumored as part of the agreement to get the budget out of the Senate, Walker used his veto pen to make for an immediate repeal of prevailing wage requirements on highway projects because Walker claims "I object to making the taxpayers of Wisconsin wait for nearly a year before the can begin to benefit from the cost savings" that result from screwing workers further. Because the real problem in this state is that workers are making too much (slams head on desk).

2. There is a common theme of "gimme what I said I wanted in this budget!" This includes Walker putting a $500,000 limit on awards for the Historic Rehab Tax Credit, despite huge usage throughout the state. It also includes Walker removing 5 positions from the State's Elections Commission (even though the Elections Commission indicated they needed the staff), and Walker getting rid of the Educational Approval Board, which oversees private colleges and universities in the state (a nice check from Betsy DeVos is sure to follow).

3. Walker's vetoes consistenttly remove oversight and reports that the Legislature tried to put upon him. The worst of these involves Walker's veto of a requirement put in by the Joint Finance Committee that required them to be notified of any transfers being made out of the Veterans Homes account to try to fill in budget holes in the Veterans Trust Fund. The Walker Administration has taken tens of millions of dollars out of the Homes in the last few years, and it has become all the more disturbing in light of the deteriorating conditions at King Veterans Home, including water that looked like this.

Walker vetoed the Legislature's desire to at leat OK the transfers before they happen, claiming
I object to the creation of a series of additional mandated reports which are administratively burdensome and redirects valuable staff time away from care for veterans. Further, I believe these requirements encroach on the executive branch's responsibility to manage state agency programs within the statutes and funding levels set by the Legislature.
Actually Scotty, you haven't been able to handle things "within statutes and funding levels," or else you wouldn't be raiding money that was intended to go to the Veterans' Homes to bail out your budget problems.

Walker also removed oversight in topics ranging from refusing to submit reports to illustrate the outcomes of his "pee in a cup" welfare "reforms" and the costs to continue those measures, and he refused to allow additional reports on costs and progress relating to the state's new STAR portal for human resources and finances, as well as information about whether Wisconsinites were being charged excessive fees compared to the cost of services.

4. There's also some pork projects that got stripped out with these vetoes. They include Legislature-added projects such as $1 million for unknown work in the basement of the Capitol, DOT projects enumerating work to expand I-94 in St. Croix County, and Highway 154 in Sauk County. But one other pork project did not get Walker's axe.

Hey, at least Scotty stays bought. You gotta give him that.

5. The worst of the vetoes involves Walker deciding not to give any relief to rural schools. The largest of this set of 3 vetoes is the removal of a provision that would districts limited by low tax bases to spend more money to get closer to parity to the rest of the state. Walker instead is choosing to rely on an election-year talking point of "lower property taxes" over actually helping these schools get by.
I am vetoing this section entirely because the result is a substantial increase in property tax capacity that school districts may exercise without voter input. In several school districts that would be eligible to raise taxes under these sections, referenda to exceed revenue limits already failed within the past two years. An increase in revenue authority from the state in these districts would circumvent purposeful, local actions.

It should also be noted that in some cases, the same districts that would have become eligible to increase their revenues with this adjustment have increased their base revenues at a rate higher than the state average. This brings into question the need for this adjustment and highlights the need for local taxpayer input before a revenue limit adjustment is made.

As a result of this veto, the low revenue adjustment level for school districts will remain at $9,100. School districts across the state will benefit from other significant education investments in this budget, including meaningful increases in per pupil aid. These per pupil increases are equal among all school districts. Additionally, school districts could pursue an increase in their revenue limit through a referendum as is the case under current law. In fact, numerous districts have already done so by asking taxpayers through a referendum. Increases to the low revenue adjustment can be discussed in future state budgets.
That won't help the small schools that are suffering today, and even Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren was unhappy with Walker's veto.

In theory John, you could do something to deal with that. I think they call it an "override". Let's see if the GOP-run Legislature steps up to regain some control over this budget, or if they let Walker continue to enjoy a lack of accountability and continue to allow the schools in their districts to suffer.

Lots more to get to, but I got a Brewers game to wrap up and $1 Old Fashioneds tomorrow. Feel free to dig in and see what else you find.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

WisGOP and RW Regents keep harming Bucky, driving away talent

Wanted to touch on a few recent UW issues, starting with a UW grad and current professor at Clemson using his experience in the Confederacy to sound an alarm this week about what is going on at his alma mater. Thomas Straka wrote a column for Wispolitics that pointed out the new state budget provision making it much easier for non-academics to become chancellors of UW schools goes right in line with the ALEC agenda of corporatizing higher education.
Polices like this are often said to produce unintended consequences. I suspect there may be intended consequences in this case, with the potential to inflict real damage. An Administration Hiring Workgroup, without a UW-Madison member, is now working on recommendations. It shouldn’t be hard work, as the conclusion was pretty much given to the workgroup at the beginning.

[Board of Regents] President Behling called this “the latest trend” in higher education. The trend is really conservative boards destroying liberal universities so they can be remade into vocational schools, best achieved with hand-picked nonacademic leaders. This should be easy to see in Wisconsin as Governor Walker has been demonstrating how to slowly dismantle the liberal university framework.

Cautionary tales of business leaders mangling the leadership of universities are many, like the former tech executive at the University of Missouri who let racial strife devastate the campus last year. Or, former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, who recently orchestrated the acquisition of for-profit Kaplan University to become the online distance education branch of Purdue University. Following the private sector model, it was done in secret and without faculty input. There is no telling how much the Kaplan legacy will do to diminish the Purdue “brand.” But it is bold private sector thinking.

Notice in the example of Purdue University that the president was a former governor. That portends what could happen in Wisconsin. University president or chancellor positions are plum jobs for politicians, with lots of prestige, power, and visibility. It’s what politicians live for. Let me give you a nightmare: former Governor Scott Walker as chancellor of a UW campus! Far-fetched? Read on.
Well said, and stacking the UW Board of Regents with right-wing lackeys is another indication of this GOP endgame of removing critical thinking and independence from the UW, and replacing it with leaders and curricula that bow at the knee of Lord Business.

UW’s chancellor seems to understand the danger involved in this, and is widely quoted in an article in the recent Washington Monthly called “The Looming Decline of the Public Research University”, which discusses the 2010s trend of states defunding their flagship institutions, especially in GOP-run states in the Midwest.

Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been outspoken about the problems facing her institution and others like it. She told the state board of regents in 2015 that budget cuts had hastened Wisconsin’s much-lamented fall out of the top five of the NSF rankings; more reductions, she warned, would further jeopardize the school’s standing as a top research university. (Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget would restore $105 million over the next two years to the University of Wisconsin system, and an additional $35 million to offset money lost from cutting tuition. But that’s still a full $110 million less than what the system lost in the 2015–17 budget.)

Prodded by Walker, Wisconsin’s legislature changed tenure protections to allow for the firing of tenured faculty for reasons other than an imminent threat to the survival of the institution—the threshold in many other systems. The result has been something many other public universities are reluctant to discuss, but that Blank addresses frankly: the raiding of her faculty by better-endowed institutions.

More than 140 Wisconsin faculty members were approached with job offers by other universities, including Harvard and Temple, last year, a third more than the year before. Most of them stayed, thanks in large part to salary increases of as much as 49 percent, plus inducements like new research equipment and teaching and research assistants. All of that cost the already cash-strapped university nearly $24 million. Still, twenty-nine faculty members left, and with each one of them what the university calculates is an average of $271,795 worth of research funding, or nearly $8 million total. That included the award-winning chemist Laura Kiessling and the biochemist Ronald Raines, who both went to MIT.

“We lost some of our very best people,” Blank said. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

There’s equal concern about attracting top new faculty. “Reputations matter here,” Blank said. “If you’ve been a university people have wanted to be coming to for twenty-five years, and suddenly they don’t, that will be very deadly.” Private and better-funded public universities can continue to offer talented new professors not only more money, but also more stability—and they can continue to treat midwestern universities like candy stores, shopping there for star faculty who may be ready to jump ship.
And the budget that’s sitting on Governor Walker’s desk only allows for a little less than $30 million in additional tax dollars to the UW vs the 2017 base, well below the $105 million mentioned in the article. In addition, 10% of that increase is going to the Thompson Center for Alternative Facts (another example of creeping right-wing BS going on campus). And the remaining tax dollar increase is for performance funding, and the measures are set not by the academics, but by the right-wing, “corporate-first” legislators and Regents.
Instead, establish the following goals for the UW System: (a) grow and ensure student access; (b) improve and excel at student progress and completion; (c) expand contributions to the workforce; and (d) enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness. Require the Board of Regents to identify at least four metrics to measure progress towards meeting each of the four goals established by the Legislature. Specify that the Board of Regents could identify different metrics for the UW-Extension where appropriate. Specify that each institution would select one metric identified for each goal on which the institution would improve and one metric identified for each goal on which the institution would maintain excellence.

Require the Board of Regents to submit an outcomes-based funding formula to the Joint Committee on Finance by February 15, 2018, for approval, or modification and approval, through a 14-day passive review process. Require the Joint Finance Committee to consult with the appropriate standing committee in each house (chaired by anti-UW nutjobs, by the way) prior to approving, or modifying and approving, the outcomes-based funding formula. Specify that no more than 30% of the funding distributed through the outcomes-based funding formula could be distributed to institutions for maintaining excellence on the selected metrics. Specify that the $26,250,000 of funding provided in 2018-19 be distributed using the outcomes-based funding formula developed by the Board of Regents and approved by the Joint Committee on Finance.
In addition, even though tuition revenues are slated to go up by nearly $168 million (mostly due to higher out-of-state and graduate tuition, as well as enrollment increases) the total amount of spending allocated to the UW actually goes DOWN another $11 million, due to the loss of $298 million in projected Federal assistance over the next 2 years, which goes directly to what is referenced above.

This reality made Governor Walker’s choice of wardrobe for the Fox-con signing yesterday all the more disgusting.

Governor Dropout is wearing A FUCKING BADGER SHIRT! This is sickening when you realize that UW will be one of the first places that Walker and WisGOP would hit with additional budget cuts if/when the Fox-con ends up costing more than it brings in for jobs. After all the damage this guy has done to the UW (and the future damage he will inflict if the voters of this state are stupid enough to keep this amoral fool in charge), he uses the UW’s good name in a photo op? Fuck you, Scotty.

And while Chancellor Blank talks a good game in the Washington Monthly column, she was seen on the day of the Fox-con announcement near Walker, and mouthed platitudes about how UW could work with Foxconn on research opportunities and a generator of their talent.

This is backwards. Becky Blank should be promoting UW-Madison as a great reason to come to Wisconsin IN SPITE OF the regressive dipshits who are trying to turn it into UW-Tech. Bucky is bigger and more improtant than Gov Dropout or any other anti-education Koch/Bradley puppet that may be at the Capitol, and Blank should be actively demanding that these regressives give the UW the respect and resources it deserves as the best economic engine of the state in the one city that’s actually thriving while the rest of the state is flailing.

As a Badger alum, it sickens me to see this great institution take a back seat to anyone or anything, but I’m especially enraged that they are under the thumb of these mediocre, backwards GOP slugs who love to take all of the talent that the UW produces, but refuses to invest in one of the few great things this state has/had going. This has to be ended, both in having the great UW-Madison be subject to these small-time, jealous lowlifes, and in the state being run into the ground by these bought-off regressives.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Robin Hood in reverse continues in Wisconsin, for health and taxes

With Sen (mo)Ron Johnson heading the list of GOP regressives trying yet again to wreck people’s health care and protections, I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of recent reports from the Wisconsin Budget Project which illustrates how low-income people in our state continue to get hurt by the GOP politicians that are allegedly elected to “represent” them.

The first involves the rate of people without health insurance, which continued to decline in 2016. But as the Budget Project points out, Wisconsin’s decline in uninsured is less than our neighbors (all of whom have taken some version of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion).

The graph illustrates that although Wisconsin has had an impressive drop in the percentage of people lacking insurance, the four states on our borders have seen more rapid declines. In each of those states the number of people who are uninsured has dropped by at least 47%, compared to 42% in Wisconsin. If we keep moving forward and reach the Minnesota rate, there would be about 68,000 fewer uninsured Wisconsinites!

But don’t bet on Wisconsin following Minnesota’s lead and expanding Medicaid with this crew in charge. In fact, Governor Walker has been one of the loudest voices asking for the current “screw up Obamacare” bill, because of its ability to offer “flexibility” to states via a block grant with few strings attached on exactly who or what can or should be covered.

Bad enough to hear if you’re a low-income Wisconsinite, but the Budget Project notes that there’s even more bad news for you put inside of the state budget which awaits Governor Walker’s signature. That’s because two key tax credits that benefit lower-income Wisconsinites are set to be taken away and/or diminished for many individuals.

This removal of tax writeoffs for the poor continues a trend that began in 2011, when Walker’s first budget stopped the income thresholds for the Homestead Credit from rising with inflation. The Budget Project explains that this has yanked the Homestead Credit for tens of thousands of Wisconsinsites in the last 6 years.

As inflation gradually raises incomes, more people exceed the income eligibility ceiling, which since 2011 has been frozen at $24,680. That’s an important reason why the number of households getting the credit fell by about 49,000 from 2010 to 2015, a drop of 24%. In addition, the sliding scale structure of the credit means that as incomes gradually rise, those who remain eligible receive smaller amounts.

A more immediate factor that will boost property taxes for low-income Wisconsinites is a provision in the budget bill that makes non-elderly, non-disabled people ineligible for the Homestead Credit if they have no earned income from employment. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, that change will mean that about 11,400 households will lose $7 million during the second year of the budget period, or an average of $614 each.

This provision radically changes the Homestead Credit, which formerly provided the most property tax relief to people with annual income between zero and about $8,000. It will be a harsh economic blow to many Wisconsinites who have lost their jobs or who face barriers to work. For example, someone who gives up their job to care full-time for a sick relative is likely to lose their Homestead Credit.

The Joint Finance Committee amended the Governor’s Homestead Tax proposals in two respects. The committee narrowed the scope of the cut in the credit for people with little or no earned income, so it cuts property tax relief for those low-income households by $7 million per year, instead of $12 million. Unfortunately, JFC rejected the Governor’s proposal to adjust the credit for inflation each year for seniors and people with disabilities. As a result, inflation will continue to fuel the decline in this property tax assistance, which is illustrated in the graph.

In other bad news for low-income Wisconsinites, the Finance Committee rejected the Governor’s proposal to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by about $20 million for 130,000 low-income working families. That proposal would have gotten funding for the EITC back to roughly where it was before Governor Walker and the legislature cut the credit in 2011.
Meanwhile, the same GOPs on the Joint Finance Committee repealed the Alternative Minimum Tax, a tax cut that overwhelmingly helps the richest Wisconsinites, and they gave corporations a $74 million property tax break. And oh yeah, we’re now literally giving billions in bags of cash to a foreign corporation in the HOPE that they will hire Wisconsinites and retain the jobs for more than 2 years.

Pretty obvious what side those GOP-puppets are on at the Capitol. It’s also pretty obvious from the lousy job creation stats that this trickle-down mentality has failed the state miserably, and kept it behind in the 2010s. So why would anyone other than a selfish, rich jackwagon vote for these regressive slimeballs?

Walker/WisGOP failure on jobs got worse this Summer. Fox-con won't fix it

On a day when Governor Walker and Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos and other WisGOP hacks try to claim the Foxconn package becoming law in Wisconsin will be some kind of “game changer”, I wanted to go more into why these guys felt the need to do such a drastic move in the first place. The state’s jobs numbers have taken another downturn in recent months, capped off by the release last week that showed 8,800 jobs were lost in Wisconsin in August.

Now that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has followed with the state-by-state jobs figures for August, we can get a clearer picture of just where Wisconsin measures up with the rest of the country. And it’s not good. While the August job numbers do seem have some goofiness going on in regards to seasonal adjustments and vacations (something that has led to lower-than-reality initial reports for the US’s August figures in recent years), Wisconsin still stands out as notably bad.

Largest job losses, Aug 2017
Ore. -9,500
Wis. -8,800
Cal. -8,200
Penn -8,000
Ark. -7,200

But states like Oregon and California had solid growth before August’s figures, with 1-year growth rates over 2% in Oregon and over 1.5% in Cali, even including the August losses. By contrast, Wisconsin has been flailing for several months when it comes to recent job growth, with 7,000 jobs lost in the private sector since April, and more than 12,000 jobs overall.

And that lagging trend has gotten even worse in the last year, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

Private sector job growth, Aug 2016-Aug 2017
U.S. +1.71%
Minn +1.62%
Iowa +1.46%
Ohio +1.30%
Mich +1.26%
Ind. +0.96%
Wis. +0.80%
Ill. +0.51%

Total job growth
Minn +1.52%
U.S. +1.45%
Mich +1.40%
Iowa +1.09%
Ohio +1.04%
Ind. +1.02%
Wis. +0.65%
Ill. +0.40%

The lousy August numbers led UW’s Menzie Chinn to update his charts at Econbrowser. It reiterates just how badly the state has been left in the dust by our neighbors to the west, and the nation as a whole, during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

These stats, along with Gov Walker’s approval going back down to the low 40s, are the real reasons that Walker and his WEDC lackeys came up with the desperate Fox-con scam. They know there is nothing coming in this budget that will help the average Wisconsinite or encourage others to move into Wisconsin for better opportunities or a higher quality of life, so they have to try to promise that something better is around the corner, and hope the rubes fall for it.

But it won’t get better in Wisconsin than the already lousy situation we have in Wisconsin late Summer 2017, either fiscally or job-wise. And there has to be a price paid by the Governor and other GOP-puppets who have continued to double down on the same trickle-down/wage suppression failures despite years of proof that this shit ain’t working.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How far we have fallen. "From Farm Aid to 'f*** you'.

This is a tremendous article by Steven Hyden. Hyden is a music critic raised in Appleton with a degree from UW-Eau Claire, and while the article's title is about "Heartland Rock" and how it has changed and declined in the last 30 years, he may as well be talking about the blue-collar Midwest itself.

Hyden compares the work of two Midwestern rockers - John Mellencamp and Kid Rock- and says that the difference in their outlook is sadly reflective of what's happened to people in our part of the country.
At heart, Mellencamp and Kid Rock are political firebrands with a disdain for the political system. But that disdain took them to radically different places, and this shift has greater significance beyond just their respective careers. From the '80s to the '10s, Heartland rock has gone from Farm Aid to "fuck you." How in the hell did that happen?
Hyden notes that Mellencamp's songs of the '80s distrusted elites, but it came from a Woody Guthrie type tradition of community, giving a voice to the voiceless, and helping your neighbor that had fallen on hard times.

Kid Rock? He's flying a Confederate flag, waving his middle finger in the air, and voting for Donald Trump to "stick it to those smarty-pantses." There is no sense of community, it's all self-absorbed, and the Detroit-based Rock has even demeaned unions because of the idiotic trope about "protecting the lazy one" instead of recognizing that it helps EVERYONE.

The piece is brilliant, and a great parable for how the rural Midwest has declined and redeemed in the last 30 years. Read it and share it.

Friday, September 15, 2017

I can see the failure from 1000 miles away

Been out East with my wife for a great long weekend, which is why I haven't said much about recent budget shenanigans. But I did want to point to a bit of news that slipped out while the Fix-con and the budget was being debated. And that was the August Wisconsin jobs report.

The result?

Total jobs DOWN 8,800
Private sector jobs DOWN 5,200
Unemployment rate UP 3.4%

Maybe some of that is seasonal, since August is a bit flunky. But job growth of well below 1% in last 12 months is well behind the US rate, so no wonder Walker and WISGOP are desperate to deflect from the present-day suckiness of this state's economy.

Back to vacationing, but feel free to let others know

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

WisGOP budget another exercise gimmicks and can-kicking

As the Assembly votes on the 2017-19 budget today, it’s noteworthy to look at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s update on what the Joint Finance-approved budget looked like.

First of all, the state’s General Fund is project to spend more than it takes in for each of the 2 years of this budget. Only a sizable carryover (mostly due to lower Medicaid enrollments) allows this to happen.

Projected cash balance, General Fund
2017-18 Start +$467.1 million
2017-18 End +$443.5 million (-$23.6 million)
2018-19 End +$196.9 million (-$246.6 million)

That $246.6 million deficit for 2018-19 is $35 million more than what the LFB estimated in March, when it was included as part of the $1 billion General Fund structural deficit for 2019-21. On a related note, the LFB released its updated projections for that 2019-21 structural deficit using the budget that passed out of Joint Finance.

The main differences between the two is that the JFC-approved budget is projected to carry over $109 million more into 2019 than Walker’s original budget did, but it “makes up” for nearly half of that difference by having larger shortfalls over each of the next 2 years.

So no real improvement there, and with the GOP Legislature deciding to cut the taxes of the rich and corporate while eliminating proposed increases in the EITC for the working poor while trying to eliminate prevailing wage on state construction projects, the JFC budget is even worse for most Wisconsinites.

A similar story holds for the deficit-ridden Transportation Fund. Not only was highway spending cut from Walker’s already-reduced amounts, but we still end up spending more money than we’re taking in to the Transportation Fund – much more if you include borrowing.

Projected cash balance, Transportation Fund
2017-18 Start +$145.4 million
2017-18 End +$78.1 million (-$67.3 million)
2018-19 End +$14.7 million (-$63.4 million)

Plus borrowing $402.4 million

That’s $533 million AFTER the cuts that were made in this budget (enjoy the slowed-down work on the Zoo Interchange, suburbanites!). And the needs for fixing roads will be larger in the next budget (since we cut spending on highway projects in this one), so you can bet that will be another $1 billion+ deficit we have to deal with in 2019.

So put the two funds together, and we are more than $800 million above expenses between now and 2019, with a gap of $2 billion or so to close. That’s not even taking into account any possible cuts from the Trump/Ryan clown show in DC that would require the state to take up more of the costs just to keep things as they are in the current budget.

And the AssGOPs had the nerve to complain about the Dems putting out multi-part amendments for the budget today? Sure, many of them weren’t going to be considered (because GOPs would rather the state fall to pieces vs giving Democrats any kind of say), but because WisGOP isn’t serious about dealing with the state’s real problems of a stagnant economy and an increasingly messed-up budget, why shouldn't the Dems resort to cheap "gotcha" moves? There are a lot of fiscal and policy issues in this budget that have not come close to being dealt with by the GOP, which means an even bigger mess will have to be cleaned up by whoever takes over after the 2018 elections.

We deserve so much more than this crap. But gimmicks and can-kicking haven't hurt the amoral slime and dimwits that make up today's Wisconsin GOP for 6 years, so they won't change until they get booted. Which is why the electeds must be changed.