Wednesday, September 28, 2011

G'town, Elmbrook slit throats to cut school taxes

I imagine right-wing propaganda, eager to deflect attentions from Walker's continual power-grabs and ongoing corruption probes was trying to prop up the recent school board budget hearings in the Germantown and the Elmbrook districts. Of course, just like Kaukauna, these are false "taxpayer victories" that are based on one-time tricks and unnecessary damage to the school systems. And they're moves that are signing these suburbs' death warrants in the name of low taxes.

In the Germantown situation, their school tax levy will drop by just over 2.5% next year despite a drop of nearly $1.2 million in state aid for next year. How? Well, they "used the tools", cutting insurance costs by $1 million and imposing increased health care contributions on their teachers. However, it isn't as increasing the pre-tax contributions on health insurance that saves G'town money, but instead, it's the payments teachers and their families have to make after they get sick.
...out of pocket costs for employees will go up significantly, something the board actually saw as a plus since it could act as a deterrent to people who may be excessively using their insurance given the relatively low costs.

Deductibles will jump five fold for singles and yearly caps, previously as that $100 level for singles, would jump to $1,700 a year. For family plans, the new cap is $3,500.
HOW DARE my cancer-stricken friend Tricia go to the doctor so that she could get the checkups that got her cancer diagnosed early. And apparently the Germantown School Board finds it optional that she pay another $3,000 for the radiation treatments that are taking care of her disease. On a smaller level, what's the problem with having teachers in a classroom of 30 kids sniffling and sneezing their way through class because they can't afford to pay to get it checked out?

But hey, that $40 a G'towner with a $250K home will save this year is worth it! Even that isn't impressive, because that same homeowner has had their school tax rates go up 16.4% since 2007, which includes the cut this year. And because Germantown schools refinanced $9.5 million in debt last year and now owe $11 million on their borrowing. That's money that'll have to be paid off with higher amounts in future years, bringing the school district back to needing large tax increases, without the tools to offset the cuts from the state. So with a little context, it's obvious that 2011 is a one-time retraction that won't do anything except mark Germantown as unfriendly to the teachers they rely on.

The other district with lower property taxes is Elmbrook Schools, somewhat close to me as I attended school from grades 1-8 in that system. Their numbers seem more impressive than Germantown's with a cut of $5.9 million in property taxes and $7.565 million in total expenses. And much of this is due to Act 10 moves, which allowed the Elmbrook District to play out the end of their teachers' contract, and put the full 5.8% pension/ 12.6% health insurance payments onto the teachers. Nice way to treat your employees, eh? Not surprisingly, there was a run on retirements in the district, which allows for salaries to drop by 2%, as new teachers generally make much less than experienced teachers, but it also means another $1 million in "Employee Benefit Trust Fund Payment Contributions." Basically payments to teachers in retirement, usually for items such as health care. However, there is also more than meets the eye with this one.
Decisions were made on Enrollment Management topics of Chapter 220 (not open additional seats), Open Enrollment (open seats where available), half day four year old kindergarten (defer decision on whether to reinstate), class size (increase within existing guidelines), and school closing (defer decision on whether to close until fall 2011).
• Decisions were made on consolidating middle school electives and implementing a four block high school schedule with teacher assignments of three blocks per school day.
So in other words, offer fewer classes, take fewer of those bussed-in minority Milwaukee kids, and allow more kids with the resources to get transportation to go into Brookfield schools.

And while 4-block schools aren't necessarily bad ideas, as they give you more time to go in-depth on a topic, it also means 90-minute periods for high schoolers, who tend not to be interested in anything that long. So it presents challenges, and may not help performance. And Elmbrook documents indicate it is being done for cost reasons, not to make for better outcomes.

Ultimately, this is the truly damaging part of these "savings." The only reason to live in a place like Germantown or Brookfield or Elm Grove is THE SCHOOLS. It sure ain't the swinging strip mall jobs or drops in home values by 2-3% over the last year. All 3 communities involved in these districts have median home values above $230,000 (Elm Grove's is a whopping $359,700), and that's going to be very hard to maintain that if these communities reduce the take-home pay of many of those who work in the town (teachers) and then discourage others from wanting to take a job in that district.

Not only won't teachers not want to locate there, young families won't choose Brookfield like my parents did 30 years ago. As suburban Boomers become empty nesters and want to downsize their home or retire elsewhere, they're going to have to get rid of their big-lot houses. So that $40 or $60 they save in school taxes this year will probably cost them thousands in home value when they need to cash in their equity 10-20 years down the road.

Then watch those places fall into disrepair and insignificance as they get passed up for somewhere that's better to live in. It's already happening in Elmbrook, where they're talking about closing at least 1 elementary school due to declining enrollment. So this divide and conquer, race-to-the-bottom mentality of low taxes that exists in the 262-area code suburbs who rely on high levels of services may indeed be the source of their own demise.

If they only knew the words of the great Marge Gunderson:

"And for what? All for a little money. There's more things than a little money. Don'tja know that?"

They believed there were more things that a little money when I was growing up. I'm not so sure about that anymore. And they will lose as a result.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More math- Wisconsin public employee benefits version

Hidden in all the corruption and immunity stories out of Fitzwalkerstan was a report released by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau illustrating the drops in take-home pay of state employees under WisGOP's union-busting bill. Not surprisingly, the lower-paid workers are hit harder. The study takes family health insurance coverage as its baseline for the employees making $25K, $50K, and $100K, and because that payment is a flat rate (was $89 a month, now $208 a month), that $1,428 a year increase will hit a lower-paid person harder than a higher-paid one.

And that lower-paid person didn't have their mortgage/rent payment go away, nor did their food or gas bills change in any significant way, so how are they going to make up for this? Cutting back on discretionary spending and delaying larger one-time purchases like cars and big appliances. Good luck growing the state's economy when hundreds of thousands of families are doing this at the same time.

And if you try to argue, "Well, taxes will be lowered so it'll make up for it," you would be wrong on 2 counts. 1. The LFB projects property taxes to be up between 1-2% on the average homeowner in each of the next 2 years, and that's if your home drops in value by 2%. If you're one of the fortunate few not to see your home value go down, your taxes will go up even more due to the rising mill rates. Nice deal, huh? 2. The only drop in income taxes state employees and their families will feel are results from the reduced take-home pay (because the health and pension contributions are pre-tax), and that's a tax break that helps higher-income earners more because of the higher tax rates they pay. In fact, the $25K income earner may get a double-whammy, as the Walker budget also cut the state's EITC and Homestead tax credits. So lower-income workers are facing lower take-home pay, higher taxes, and on top of it are scapegoated for a budget problem they didn't cause, while Cindy Archer pulls in 6 figures to sit at home and have other hacks interview for her already-filled job. Don't think we don't notice the different set of circumstances.

And lastly, there's a talking point making the rounds that "public employee pensions are bankrupting governments." And maybe that's true elsewhere, but it is absolutely not true in Wisconsin. The updated financial report of the Wisconsin Retirement System (which covers pretty much all state and local gov't employee benefits for people that don't work in Milwaukee) shows the system is 99.8% funded, meaning practically everyone would get their full, current benefit. (if you want real fun, here's all 161 pages of it) And the only danger to that staying fully funded was Wall Street and D.C. oligarchs screwing around to drop the value of securities that are in the WRS. (oh crap).

So the bottom line is that there is no pension crisis regarding Wisconsin public employees, and this hasn't become more or less stable with Act 10 going in, because the WRS is getting the same amout of money into the system, it's only changed who's paying it (page 2 has the totals, it's the worker and not the government paying the bill). And we know the Walker-claimed fiscal crisis was a complete fraud that did not have the state in such severe danger that people's take-home pay had to be cut by thousands in order to keep the state afloat.

The real state budget crisis may be coming in the next few months, when higher unemployment, Teabagger cuts from the Feds, and reduced state tax revenues are going to translate into a serious in-year budget deficit (watch when the rev numbers come out next month). But the pension and revised budget figures prove that there was nothing close to a serious problem when Scotty, Cindy Archer, and other inner-circle cronies decided to "drop the bomb" this winter. Anyone with a modicom of budget and actuarial knowledge knows this, but as usual, the right-wing noise machine is trying to use other situations natiowide to muddy the Wisconsin situation.

But that's not surprising, because the Walker boys have never been about what happens to Wisconsin and Wisconsinites, but are lapdgos for a Koch-fueled national agenda of corportocracy. And it's one of the biggest reasons why they must go.

H/T Free Wisconsin

Saturday, September 24, 2011

And there is much rejoicing in Brew Town!

I could give a big diatribe about cronyism and corruption, but I won't. Today is a day to step back and acknowledge THESE GUYS.

Yes, I was there. Yes, it was awesome. Yes, I am emotionally hung over and sitting out today's Badger scrimmage.

It's never a bad day to be a Wisconsinite, but some days it's even better. Today is one of those days.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hey Mr. Treasurer: "This isn't class warfare, it's math"

With apologies to the President's needed speech today, there are other examples of right-wingers not doing the math when it comes to making their talking points.

A good example is this absurdity from Wisconsin State Treasurer Kurt Schuller. In today's press release, Schuller reiterates the tired BS about rich people being "job creators" and that it would be harmful to the economy if they got their taxes raised. It's bad enough when someone whose basic job is balancing books and counting the state's money is throwing up this partisan garbage instead of doing his job, but then Schuller tries to give a concrete example, and shows how absurd his comment truly is.
“I am concerned that a plan that is being promoted as a tax on millionaires and billionaires actually affects people who make much less.”
For example, an individual in the 35% bracket with $25,000 annually in tax deductible mortgage interest payments and state and local property taxes could have a maximum tax benefit of $7,000, not $8,750.

My immediate reaction was "What kind of house has $25,000 in mortgage interest?" And using's Wisconsin rates of 4.0% to 4.5%, I found out the answer was "a pretty awesome one." So it's time for a little story problem.

Q: With rates currently at 4.5% on a 30-year mortgage, how much of a new house do you have to buy with a 4.5% mortgage to get to Schuller's $25,000 in expenses?

A: $555,555! Or 4 times the Wisconsin average of $142,700. You're basically talking homes like this 4-bedroom, 4,400 sq-footer in Fitchburg, this 4-bedroom on Lake Drive in Milwaukee, or this lake view cottage in Pewaukee. Not exactly the homes we're paying off.

In addition, Schuller quotes the put-upon married couple making $250K, and the single guy/gal making $200,000. Those people are not the average Wisconsin family, as the $250K couple make 4 times the median household in the richest counties in Wisconsin, and 5 times the median household income of Wisconsin.

So in other words, when Treasurer Schuller is shedding tears for the folks in the top tax brackets, my response is BOO FUCKING HOO! I'd love to have the problems that someone in that financial situation would have, and I'd certainly be shutting the fuck up about how tough it's going to be if I have to pay another nickel in taxes on my last few dollars.

And oh yeah, if you're so concerned about the economy being slowed due to higher taxes, why do you choose to ignore the direct link between lower taxes and lower income growth for the typical American worker? Your vaunted "job creators" have had their chances to create jobs with their lower taxes for the last decade and have failed miserably. So it's time for them to pay into cutting the deficit that their lack of job-creation has caused. Don't want to pay the higher taxes? Then take fewer profits and HIRE FOLKS. Simple choice, eh?

Maybe Kurt Schuller's WisGOP constituency and campaign donor list may be typically in the $200K income/ $555K home category, but his comment are a clear illustration of just how far out of touch the average Republican is with the typical person's situation. And why they deserve to be ignored on any discussion of taxes.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Another month of Walker, another month of Wisconsin losing

Lost in the FBI raids and dousing of ALEC puppets was the release of another report of lost jobs in Wisconsin. 2,300 more jobs went bye-bye in America's Dairyland in August, and a total of 11,600 private sector jobs and 8,700 overall jobs have gone away since the fishy and temporary boost in jobs in June that was revealed just in time for the recall elections against GOP state senators.

So when you take those months together, you see that the last 3 months have been dismal for Wisconsin job creation, 3,200 private sector jobs added and only 2,300 overall. I'm going out on a limb here, but 0.1% job creation over 3 months isn't going to give you 250,000 jobs in 4 years (more like 37,000). And what's even more alarming is it continues the trend of a major slowdown from the last year of Jim Doyle. Let's throw out the first 2 months of Walker's regime and charge that to Doyle and the Dems, give both of them March 2011 as some of Scotty's corporate giveaways were put in place, but Act 10 had been held and the protests we ongoing (so Doyle is Sept. 2010-March 2011, and Walker is February-August 2011). This will allow us 6 months of data since Scotty "dropped the bomb" in February.

Doyle and Dems +31,000 all jobs, +34,600 private
Fitzwalkerstan +14,200 all jobs, +15,300 private

That's right, we were adding jobs twice as fast for the 6 months after Sept. 2010 than we have been the last 6 months. Look at the last 12 months of Doyle and the Dems and compare it to the year-over-year numbers now, and we're still slowing down.

12-month job changes
Doyle and Dems +31,500 all jobs, +29,800 private
Fitzwalkerstan +24,700 all jobs, +26,200 private

Let's also remember that Walker's boys benefit from having some of Jim Doyle's best months at the end of 2010 and January 2011 thrown in. This 6,800 total job gap in jobs (and 14% private sector growth gap) will become larger in the next few months.

But wait, maybe this slowdown is all Obama and D.C.'s fault? Scotty has sure tried that deflection technique, so let's see the BLS reports and see if it holds up.

Last 6 months of regime
Doyle and Dems +1.15% all jobs, +1.14% private
All U.S. jobs +0.70% all jobs, +0.93% private

Fitzwalkerstan +0.52% all jobs, +0.66% private
All U.S. jobs +0.44% all jobs, +0.74% private

So Wisconsin has gone from being well ahead of the U.S. average for creating jobs under Doyle, to below the national average in the private sector in Fitzwalkerstan. In fact, we could be just as likely to say that governors like Walker and the Teabaggers taking over the House is the reason for the U.S. slowdown.

You can also see the Walker boys' effect in how Wisconsin's low unemployment rate is creeping up to the U.S. average as well.

Jan.-Sep 2010 Wis. 9.2%-7.8%, U.S. 9.7%-9.6% (-1.4% vs. -0.1%)
Sep.-Mar 2011 Wis. 7.8%-7.4%, U.S. 9.6%-8.8% (-0.4% vs. -0.8%)
Feb.-Aug 2011 Wis. 7.4%-7.9%, U.S. 8.8%-9.1% (+0.5% vs. +0.3%)

So under Walker, Wisconsin has given away all of the advantage it gained through much of 2010, and then some. Which is one of the biggest untold stories of the declining jobs situation in our state- Wisconsin was kicking the nation's ass in 2010, and we've slid back down since Walker and the WisGOPs took power.

Or in other words, "Scotty, it ain't Obama and D.C. that's bringing us down, IT'S YOU." Makes you worry about what we'll look like in 6 months, don't it? With that in mind, I'm off to Bob Fest and Willy Street to vent and exchange the facts.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Archer raid illustrates how Walker is scum on LGBT rights

Obviously, I find yesterday's raid of one of Scott Walker's biggest crony advisors quite juicy, and the fact that it was 5 blocks away is an extra-special pump for me. But there's a secondary part of the story that might be even more intriguing and enlightening, because it illustrates the pattern of Scott Walker's duplicity and weasel nature, as well as how badly the average Republican hack is willing to sell themselves out for a few bucks.

If you read Blue Cheddar's report on the raid, you'll notice a couple of paragraphs down that there are references to Cindy Archer and her girlfriend. That's right, Archer is gay, which may strike you as odd when you realize Walker and his family lended their portrait for the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage earlier this year, and vetoed a measure from the Milwaukee County Board in 2009 that would have legalized domestic partner benefits for county workers. And he's kept up the gay bashing as governor, removing Lester Pines as the state attorney fighting the state's anti-gay marriage amendment, and denying gay couples hospital visitation rights. But then you turn around and notice that Walker hired not only Archer as his second-in-command in Milwaukee County, but also hired openly gay Sue Black to head the Parks Department.

So what gives? The answer is sick and obvious: Walker will take any position to kiss up to the right GOP power players and snooker rubes into helping him, even if he doesn't live those values. It probably makes hi worse than the hateful fundies that buy into gay bashing, and it's the worst type of politics, where people take positions they know are wrong because getting elected and getting paid is more important than serving the public. It's the same reasoning behind the WisGOPs putting the anti-gay marriage on the ballot here in 2006, and the same cynical reasoning Minnesota Republicans are thinking of trying now. It's also the reason he decided to take away union bargaining rights and extend those moves to the local governments- because just getting concessions and balancing the budget wouldn't get the headlines and talk-show piublicity an Koch money that busting the unions would. So what if the economy goes into a nosedive and it divides the state in a way that it hasn't in my lifetime? As usual in GOP world, it's all narrow-minded short-term politics without a care for the results of such damaging legislation.

And what do we make of someone like Cindy Archer, who decides to work for someone that would deny her basic human rights for a few extra dollars and votes? (Black gets a pass here, the Parks Department is providing a service and is not a political advisor-type position) It tells you she'll sell herself out for any position that's there, much like her boss, Scotty. I don't care if she's conservative or even Republican (why you'd be a gay Republican is beyond me, but whatever), but I do care that someone would have such low morals to work with someone so willing to allow your group to be treated as second-class citizens. And she's still covering for Scotty after the FBI has carried her computers and papers away, claiming she's "done nothing wrong." Because hey, the FBI just casually drops by and raids east-side Madison homes on a regular basis (I'll get my eyes unrolled now).

Seriously, what makes Republicans turn into Stevie in "Eastbound and Down", blindly clinging to someone else no matter how far that guy drops them down? Is it because the paycheck and power is just that important to them? Is it because they don't have the ability and strength to do the right thing on their own? Is it because they think politics is a goddamn sporting event and not real life? Whatever it is, it's pathetic, and the fact that Cindy Archer would sell out her lifestyle and Scott Walker would sell out his closest advisors for a little money shows how petty and destructive these people are. And why they have to go very far away, sooner than later.

H/T Blue Cheddar

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More on why affirmative action is still needed in Madtown

From UW's own Sara Goldrick-Rab and her fabulous Education Optimists blog, proving how absurd that Koch Brothers' study was regarding "reverse discrimination." It explains the non-quantitative reasons for academic success in a way I couldn't come close to.

Heck, just read all of the posts, including the call for class-based along with race-based affirmative action. It's really good stuff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CEO's belief that white privilege just isn't high enough

As you may have heard, there was a bit of disturbance today around campus when an "educational reform" group that has received $240,000 in Koch money over the years tried to race-bait those UW-Madison liberals with statistics relating to the admission of students from different racial backgrounds. Maybe the counter-protest by the multicultural student group was a bit over the top (bum-rushing the hotel always makes the news) but as you'll see, these people were peddling a false narrative that has to be confronted and countered at every turn, and I don't have a big problem with what they did.

Well, I combed through the report, and it's research that wouldn't get you passed out of an upper-level college course. Sure, it emphasizes that the average and median white and Asian student admitted to UW scores higher on standardized test scores compared to their black and Hispanic counterparts. But why is this a noteworthy stat, especially when put into the context of black vs. white student test scores in Wisconsin, especially in the Milwaukee area?
Racial disparities also remained a problem in the state for the Class of 2011. The average composite score for black students was nearly seven points below that of white students - 16.2 compared with 23.1. Nationwide, the difference between the two groups was 5.4 points.

The percentage of 2011 graduates prepared for college-level core subject areas also varied greatly by race, with 36% of white students in Wisconsin considered ready for college classes compared with only 4% of black students......

In Milwaukee Public Schools, where all students now take the test during their junior year of high school, the predominantly minority school system's average composite score was 16....Meanwhile, students in the wealthier, suburban Whitefish Bay School District averaged 26.6 on the ACT, with about 90% of the class of 2011 taking the test.

With that in mind, the 5-6 point gap the study cites between black and white UW admittees in 2007 and 2008 is a whole lot smaller than the MPS vs. suburban difference. The statewide ACT numbers also show that Hispanics rate 4 points lower than whites in Wisconsin, and Asians interestingly are 3 points lower than whites (the report doesn't seem to show an International Asian vs. Asian-American breaksdown, so this can explain the higher UW admittee scores). So when you see the inflammatory stat in the CEO report showing that half of in-state white students would be turned down with median black admittee scores, keep the fact that the white student is actually well below the normal white advantage in scores.

And let's zoom back out a bit, because we need to realize that today's release on U.S. poverty numbers shows that blacks and Latinos have poverty rates twice that of whites, and the disparity is much wider in the Milwaukee area, as over 80% of MPS students qualify for free and reduced lunch. That's a rate as much as 4-11 times that of the high ACT-scoring districts in the suburbs. Think the low-income backgground and lack of positive reinforcement and opportunities that comes from that life has something to do with the score disparities in majority-minority MPS and the rest of the area?

Educational achievement in America is still a two-tier system between races as well, as whites are nearly 60% more likely to have a college degree than blacks, and twice as likely as Latinos. (Asians are even more likely to have a degree than whites) So when you realize that whites and Asians are more likely to come from homes with higher incomes, lower rates of poverty, and higher educational acheivement, is it any surprise that they score much higher on college tests and academic achievement in general? They have a much smaller hill to climb than the average back or Latino student, and so for a minority student to even get close to the white/Asian level indicates that ceteris paribus they performed a much higher level than their peers compared to the average white prospective UW student. If you were evaluating two candidates where they were largely similar on paper, but one clearly had overcome more to reach their destination, wouldn't you give the nod to the one that worked to get where they were at?

Being taken away from the peer group you grew up in is a serious culture shock for many minority American students when they go to a school that has 6 out of 7 students be either white or International, and while the NCAA may tout studies that show disproportionately minority athletes outperform non-athletes of all races, that makes sense as well when you think about it, because athletes are around a cohort of people with similar backgrounds and frames of reference (other athletes), and often have Athletic Department support in academic fields.

While I appreciate the time constraints and efforts that athletes put in academically (and what they do is quite an accomplishment, and a testament to a work ethic that probably went a long way toward landing them in NCAA athletics), I don't think showing up at Fall practice in August is as strange an adjustment for a minority student as a non-athlete minority may feel when he or she checks into Witte and English 207 after coming from a majority-minority school in a low-income neighborhood. Sure, the CEO types may whine about the lower retention rates, but throw those D.C. oligarchs into an inner-city company that actually requires work and proof for a living, and see if they make it, or if they pack it in and try something else. It goes much further than the whole "minorities fail because they didn't deserve to be there" argument, and the older I have gotten, the more I appreciate the breaks I got in being born to a white family that appreciated education and always laid out a pathway to success. It allowed me the chance to struggle, screw up and find my way through that many low-income and minority students never can recover from. But unlike the average 262 suburban, I am grateful for the break, and am determined to take advantage of the strong hand I've been dealt, instead of being fearful that I'll lose it or that someone else will get a good hand as well.

So these Koch whores at their Virginia think tank got rightfully reamed out of the Doubletree. These fake scholars know the real answers to solving these disparities in education don't come from whipping up resentment by whites and Asians who have enjoyed many advantages their black and Latino counterparts had. Nor is it through school vouchers that allow a select few to run away from a local school district (vouchers don't really improve outcomes anyway). Instead, it's acknowledging the two-tier society that still exists, but doing so would require the Koch whores to demand real solutions that deal with poverty and this country's obscene inequality of wealth, and that's the LAST thing those guys want angry white slugs to think about. Better to play the "affirmative action" and "crucified white guys" card, and keep 'em distracted than do anything that might cost their corporate benefactors another dime in a potential income stream.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Walker Admin. hacks- the real story of the voter ID blowup

While the voter ID fiasco in Wisconsin is reason enough to want to blow this corrupt, voter-suppressing administration out the door, there's a bigger story related to this. And that story involves the hackery and political favortism of Walker appointees at the highest levels of Wisconsin government.

Take the two DOT officials at the head of the voter ID story. The writer of the memo asking DMV employees not to mention free IDs to customers is Steve Krieser, a "recently-promoted" executive assistant. Krieser is a former GOP operative and Capitol staffer that clearly used those connections to land his current gig. Then, when a grunt worker sent an email saying that people could get free IDs and that the word should go out to others, did the DMV reward him for providing quality customer service and saving taxpayers some money? Hell no, they fired him, and the person who concocted a cover story about "documented rule violations" is another high-ranking DOT guy named John Murray.

And who is John Murray? Another former Capitol staffer who got a second job when he was elected this year as the Mayor of Sun Prairie. A Wisconsin State Journal article noted last month that Murray has worked with right-wing City Council allies to have both his City Administrator and No.2 person leave in the last 2 weeks in one of Wisconsin's fastest-growing cities. Also in the article is a point about how an unnamend source says "The people running the city now absolutely hate government and want it completely open for business." And by open for business, we know that means "unregulated growth and tax giveaways to companies."

So here are two former GOP staffers getting appointed by a GOP governor and are in charge of the implementation of a major change in state policy. Now, do you believe they will work for the taxpayers that pay their salary, or the elected officials they owe their careers to? EXACTLY. And this is what was one of the most dangerous parts of the "budget repair" bill was- turning numerous civil service positions into appointed positions. Allowing a key spot in state government to be left up to the whims of elected officials and the intersts who pay for their elections means any disloyal or overly honest employee can be replaced by a yes man/woman who will be working for the Fitzwalkerstanis, and not the people that they're supposed to serve (and get paid by).

But hiring unqualified/ corrupt hacks is the WisGOP way. Walker couldn't have pulled a lot of his union-busting ploys if the Legislature had gone along with $100 million in concessions from state workers in December. One of the guys who held that up, outgoing Sen. Jeff Plale, who was rewarded for his "no" vote by first getting a high-level DOA job and then being promoted to Railroad Commissioner last month.

And Plale's hardly the only one. Remember Randy Hopper mistress Valerie Cass using Hopper's pull to land her prime gig? How about Spalding Smails...ERRR.....Brian Deschane? Remember him, the 2-time DUI college dropout who just so happened to be the son of the head of the Road Builders and parlayed that connection into an $80K job? There's also Rich in Retail, the slimy POS who secretly recorded a union official outside of a Milwaukee bar and now has a good gig for the state? Apparently his deeds were duly noted by the Walker boys.

And we're not even going into the recently-departed Cindy Archer and Tom Nardelli, who went along with Walker from Milwaukee to Madison, only to take leave of their 6-figure jobs within a few months due to the always- sketchy "personal reasons".

The point is that the voter ID absurdity isn't just a voter suppression story, it's a "GOP hackery" story. Which really isn't surprising, because if you don't believe that government does things right, isn't it in your interest to put people in charge that will cheat and screw it up to "prove" your point? This is what happens when you elect Republicans to high levels of office in the 2010s- kissing the right ass and helping people politically matters much more to people than providing results and quality serivce to the taxpayers.

And now you know what I meant 6 months ago when I said that public sector unions are needed now more than ever. There needs to be that independent line of defense from elected and appointed hacks that serve Wisconsinites first, and politics second. In Walker World, that isn't happening, and that's as big a reason as any to recall these bums.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Health reform and Steve and Tracy, 1 year later

You may recall a couple of items on this blog discussing my friends Steve and Tracy and the hell insurance companies put them through as they battled serious ailments. Well, Steve got a chance to tell some of his story this week, as Rep. Jon Richards and Sen. Jon Erpenbach introduced a Wisconsin "Patients Bill of Rights", and they even give Steve a bit of face time in the process. (He's got some funny stories about how he had to shorten up his speech and how the other 2 guests weren't exactly as hard-pressed, which I might bring up later on the subject of Capitol hackery).

They concentrate more on their constant battles with the insurance companies to keep Tracy insured as she deals with Stage 4 cancer (which she's greatly improved against over the last 12 months, I'm happy to say), but Steve's story in having to get spinal fusion surgery overseas because they couldn't get the surgery here is no less disgusting to me.

And that's nowhere near as disgusting as DHS head and Heritage Foundation hack Dennis Smith's lies and deceptions in an attempt to funnel more blood money to insurance companies. As a former Milwaukee East Sider, I'm very happy to see Richards be the one co-sponsoring the bill, and seeing Erpenbach's name attached to it is also interesting, especially given how he stepped to the forefront this week in the smoking gun on how voter ID is nothing more than a voter-suppressing poll tax. With these two big moves and with Reps Roys and Pocan annuncing they will run for Congress, anyone else sense "Erpenbach for Governor" momentum building?

In the meantime, it's up to Dem politicians to keep the struggles of people like Steve and Tracy in the spotlight and highlight just how little the average Republican values profit over decency If they do so, I think a lot of GOPs will be losing their government-sponsored health care over the next 16 months.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day- needed in Wisconsin more than ever

Want even more evidence of how low taxes on the rich and union busting = an increasing unequal system? I checked out the corporate profits from 3Q 1996- 2Q 1997 (good times with big growth), 3Q 2000- 2Q 2001 (leading into recession and shrinking profits), and 3Q 2010- 2Q 2011 for today. As you'll see, despite the fact that we're in a similar GDP situation to early 2001 with a stalling expansion, the amount of profits compared to the overall economy has boomed since the Bush tax cuts.

corporate profits as % of U.S. GDP
1997 10.41%
2001 7.77%
2011 12.64%

So the share of corporate profits is 20% higher now than in 1997. And that hasn't gone over into total compensation to workers with the same stat, and has dropped in the same time period.

employee compensation as % of U.S. GDP
1997 56.06%
2001 57.64%
2011 54.85%

Now check out to how that translates in Wisconsin for the same time period, and how much these entities are taxed here. For this case, we'll look at how income taxes compare to corporate taxes as a share of Wisconsin revenues for the following fiscal years, which fall in the same time periods (3Q-2Q). (Good historical stuff from the LFB here on the subject)

1997 51.69% income, 7.30% corporate
2001 51.24% income, 5.34% corporate
2011 51.90% income, 6.61% corporate

And lastly, let's combine these two stats from above, and create an index to see if we're proportionally taxing corporations and individuals at the same amounts that they make. (% of Wisc. revenues/ % of overall income vs. GDP * 100) If there is equal taxation, this index should remain constant, as corporations will pay more taxes as they make higher profits, and it'll even out.

1997- 92.22 income, 70.12 corporate
2001- 88.90 income, 68.73 corporate
2011- 94.62 income, 52.29 corporate

Yeah, not so equal. The share real workers pay has gone up, while corporations' index is DOWN BY MORE THAN A QUARTER. And we're not even talking about the many property tax exemptions and TIF districts corporations pull compared to everyday homeowners.

Now do you see why I think we need to get up, and take the fight back to those who have STOLEN so much from us? Let's make the unproductive fat cats feel the fist over the next 14 months, frequently and fiercely. And make anyone pay who supports the oligarchs who have robbed this country of the middle class that made this country the greatest on earth.

Labor Day- needed more than ever in America

The attempts to downplay Labor Day and the need and importance of unions (as illustrated by this J-S article today) ignore the simple truth in this country. As we have deindustrialized, deunionized, and cut taxes for the rich, the average American worker has had their money taken from them, and sent upward.

First of all, workers produce more than ever over the last 20+ years, and have gotten nothing for it. Check out this picture.

In other words, productivity has gone up 3 times the amount of wages. So much for that Econ 101 theory that people are paid increased real wages at the same amount that they increase productivity.

This is one of the many findings in an excellent article from the Economic Policy Institute earlier this year. Here are the two real kicker parts.
This two decades worth of low pay growth is part of an even longer trend of wage stagnation for the typical worker: median hourly wages only grew 10.1% in real terms from 1979 to 2009, even though productivity grew 80% in those 30 years. Since virtually all of this real wage growth occurred in the six years from 1996 to 2002, reflecting the wage momentum of the strong economic recovery in the late-1990s, it is fair to say that there has been no real wage growth for the typical worker for most of the last 30 years. Analyses of total compensation that factor in the value of employee benefits yield the same result because nonwage benefits as a share of total compensation also have failed to grow since 1979, meaning benefits did not grow faster than wages....

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also has recently noted the failure of compensation to keep pace with productivity (they grew in tandem from 1947-73). That productivity-pay gap is the bigger story here than any public-private pay gap: The ability of the economy to produce more goods and services has not translated into greater compensation for workers.

Hmmm, why did things change in the last 30+ years vs. the post-World War II period? You know, the period where a huge amount of Americans joined the middle class, had millions of "first generation in college" members, and America became the Western world's clear economic and military superpower.

Think it might have something to do with the fact that the top income tax rates from 1947-1973 were between 70 and 91 percent while they were dropped from 70% to 50% in 1981, and have been between 28% and 39.6% since 1988 (the time shown on the graph)? And as the EPI article brings up, the only time we've had real wage growth is in 1996 to 2002- a time that had the highest tax rates on the rich over the last 25 years.

Know what else we had back then? High levels of unionization. In post-World War II America, unionization was between 25 and 30 percent until the early 1970s, and stayed over 20% until Reagan. (See figure 1) Not coincidentally, as real wages have slacked productivity in the last 3 decades union membership has fallen from 20.1 % to 11.9% since 1983. Amazing how not having a voice in the workplace allows you to have the worth of your work stolen from you and given to the owners, isn't it?

And in this case, I will say correlation = causation. 65 years of correlation isn't an anomaly, because it isn't very worthwhile to hoard profits and pay CEO's and executives absurd salaries at the detriment of your workers if you're going to be taxed at high rates for doing so. This is what happened in America in the 1940s to the 1970s, when we had mobility that 95% of us can only dream of nowadays. And unless we have a real labor movement and a government willing to counteract the power of corporations and big-money greed, we will never get it back.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Walker budget already working- people paying more, corporates less, deficit coming

Those end of the fiscal year revenue numbers finally came out on Friday, conveniently dumped before a holiday weekend. This only shows the numbers through the end of June, but we're already seeing the effects of the Fitzwalkerstani takeover seeping in. As the report notes, one group paid more, and another paid less than expected in May.
Revenues from the individual income tax and the sales and use tax were higher than the estimates by $10.6 million and $19.0 million, respectively. These increases were offset by lower than anticipated revenues from the corporate income and franchise tax ($27.1 million) and the cigarette tax ($15.2 million). The remaining tax sources had smaller variances.
Seems even when put that way, and the FY2011 revenues only came up $12.8 million short of the new and improved revenue numbers revealed last May. (These were the estimates which showed how huge a lie Walker made when he claimed the state was "broke", as $636 million in new revenues for FY2011, 2012 and 2013 were revealed as the result of an improved situation due to the budget passed by Jim Doyle and the Dems in 2009)

Now, the $27 million in lower corporate taxes basically cancels the higher amount of income and sales taxes, but here's the kicker. That $27 million is 3% less than what the LFB expected in May, so apparently companies are more than willing to grab a piece of those tax breaks Walker signed in his first month in office. You know, right before he "dropped the bomb" and claimed that public employees had to sacrifice for a state that had an impossible deficit over the next 2 years? All workers in Wisconsin certainly paid a lot more in over the last fiscal year than corporations, as income taxes went up 10% over FY 2010, and sales taxes went up 4.2% while the state only got 2.2% more out of corporations.

Then you look at the 6 months of the Fitzwalkerstan regime, and the skewing toward workers and away from corporations is even worse. I'll compare January to June figures for the last 2 years.

Inco. tax $3.076B $3.554B +15.5%
Sales tax $2.293B $2.373B +3.5% (slowdown vs. 1st half of FY)
Corp. tax $0.505B $0.489B -3.3%

And the worse part with those lower corporate taxes is that U.S. corporate profits were UP 8.5% over the same time period, and Wisconsin personal income was only up 5.7% Year-over-Year in the first 3 months of 2011 (2nd Q 2011 isn't up yet for Wisconsin.) So either Wisconsin companies are inept, or Walker gave away the farm at the expense of people that actually work, and the workers ended up paying the taxes.

Of course, worse-than-expected employment numbers for 2011 and a falling economy would drop a lot of these revenue numbers. And remember what happened in month 1 of FY 2012? That's right, 8,200 jobs lost on a seasonally-adjusted basis. The allegedly "balanced" budget for 2011-2012 had $14.058 billion in revenues, but this included an $86 million carryover balance, with lower revenues already cutting $12.8 from that (the carryover would be even less if expenses go up above expectations). So let's throw in the $12.8 million drop in FY2011 revenues, and we run the numbers and we find that in order to meet FY 2012's budgeted revenue numbers, the Walker boys need revenues to go up 8.3% for the next 12 months. By comparison, last year's upside surprise netted a 6.4% increase in revenues. Somehow, when you're already losing jobs, seeing a massive increase in public employee retirements and reducing the take-home pay of those left with pre-tax deductions on pensions and health care, I don't think they're making those numbers. And even if they get half that increase at 4.2%, they still miss by over half a billion dollars. That is well over the 0.5% 2-year budget mark to trigger a budget repair bill.

And Friday also revealed ZERO job growth in the U.S. for August, the worst performance in 11 months overall, and with lower revisions to previous months, only 872,000 jobs added for the entire year. The LFB figured there'd be 1.6 million jobs created in 2011, so unless 182,000 a jobs a month are created for the rest of this year (With the Baggers in Congress and teachers not being rehired? HAH!), those numbers will fall short. Nor do I see us hitting 2.7% GDP growth when we've been muddling around 1.5% for the last year and 0.7% in the last 6 months.

So in other words, not only has the worker class gotten the short end of the stick in having to pay taxes under Scott Walker, his "tools" and tax moves aren't going to balance the budget, like his talk radio lackeys like to say it will. And the best part about all this? The first 3 months of revenues will come out from the DOR in late October....about 10 days before Walker's recall petitions can start circulating. There's going to be even more ammo to stock up on to back those petitions up once that budget deficit starts to open up in late 2011.

Friday, September 2, 2011

On the road again

Off to Indiana for the weekend to see a good friend get married on Saturday (an outdoor ceremony at 93 degrees, hoo boy). I'll see if I notice anything from the state that has this feather in its cap.

Over the year, 24 states experienced statistically significant changes in employment, 23 of which were increases....The only
state with an over-the-year statistically significant decrease was Indiana (-28,300).
Nice to know that Mitch Daniels' "privatize everything and hoard $1 billion surpluses" strategy is working so well. You know, the one that Scott Walker wants to follow here.

I got the weekend off to a good start last night by watching Bucky roll up UNLV. Sure, it was a bit steamy, but nowhere near as hot as this offense looked last night. If the Brewers start taking this pennant race seriously again, Fall could be an epic season in Wisconsin sports history. Good times.