Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is the Wisconsin economy taking off and the U.S. flatlining?

A couple of reports out this week may lead some to think that the trends of the last two years are starting to turn around. In the U.S.'s case, the recent GDP numbers indicate that the recovery from the Great Recession may be slowing down in its 4th year, while in Wisconsin's case, a couple of reports showed signs of life ahead for the first time since the bomb was dropped in March 2011. Are these signs signal, or noise? We'll take a look here.

Let's first talk about the GDP reports, which came out today showing 2nd Quarter growth at 1.7%, but also with a boatload of revisions going back to 1929 (!) due to some new criteria being considered. These revisions don't change the overall picture too much, but it did reduce 1st Quarter growth from 1.5% to 1.1%, and it did modify the historical numbers a bit as well. What we now know is that growth was actually stronger in 2010 than first thought, and after a breather in 2011, there were strong year-over-year gains for 2012. However, it's been starting to stall out in 2013, and year-over-year GDP growth is now at its lowest levels since the end of 2009, under 1-and-a-half percent.

As has been the case over the last 3 years, government cutbacks have reduced overall economic growth. Since the middle of 2010, government cutbacks have taken $200 billion out of real GDP (2009 dollars), and while year-over-year private sector growth is also slowing a bit and also at their lowest levels since 2009, it still remains above 2%. In fact, private sector GDP is now $1.5 trillion above the depths of the recession in 2009's dollars.

So while we need to keep ourselves aware of this economic slowdown leading to stalling and falling, I wouldn't press the panic button quite yet. The job market seems to continue to grow, as evidenced by ADP estimating another 200,000 private sector jobs for the month of July, and the U.S. continues to see year-over-year drops in unemployment claims in the neighborhood of 10% for most weeks. The most recent unemployment claims report shows seasonally-adjusted claims at their lowest levels in several years, with the 4-week average dropping down toward 340,000.

Wisconsin also has been seeing some recent drops in unemployment claims compared to recent years, which as the purple line in this chart shows, is a notable difference from the increases we were seeing at the start of this year. (UPDATE: includes the most recent release as of August 1)

This recent change, along with higher-than-normal seasonal hiring, helps to explain the strong jobs numbers we saw in June (which I broke down here). If this drop in unemployment claims is a signal, we should see another month of job growth for the July numbers (although we don't see jobs added, so it's hard to make too definitive of a judgment). And it wasn't the only piece of good economic news that Wisconsin got this week, as the Philly Fed reversed the poor outlook it gave the state earlier in the year, and now says Wisconsin is poised to have the 2nd-best growth in the U.S. between June and the end of the year.

Not surprisingly, Governor Walker jumped on that report to give an "It's working" press release, and I suppose he can have his day, because we sure ripped the hell out of him when that same survey had Wisconsin's outlook among the worst in the nation a few months ago. Of course what's not mentioned is how much of a hole the state is due to the horrible economic record it's had in the first 2 1/2 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and as you'll see here. Right now, Wisconsin still remains in the cellar in the Midwest for growth since Walker took office in January 2011.

So even if we assume Wisconsin gets the 6% annualized increase in growth for the rest of the year that the Philly Fed projected, we'd STILL BE BELOW THE US RATE for those 3 years. Also worth noting, the collapse the Philly Fed predicts will happen in newly right-to-work Michigan.

Given that August and September should feature a large reduction in seasonal jobs that caused the big June increases in work, I think I'll cast off June's Philly Fed as noise that should be monitored, and not fool myself into thinking anything's turning around long-term in Wisconsin.

But just because I don't see a long-term change yet doesn't mean that the national and state economic indicators aren't telling a slightly different story than they were a couple of months ago. This makes the next couple of months may be more critical than your typical end-of-Summer information.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Solidarity Singers going at it all wrong

So says Tom Breuer, in an awesome column at InBusiness Madison.
But the Solidarity Singers do have options. They can form a multibillion-dollar transnational corporation and use a portion of their hefty profits to buy elections on behalf of candidates who are likely to bend to their will. You know, like a normal American.

All they need to do is funnel their unlimited cash (aka speech) through a Super PAC (maybe call it the Scott Walker Swan Song PAC), find a candidate to support and/or bribe, get him or her elected, and force the Capitol Police to call off the dogs. While they’re at it, they could pollute a watershed or two just for fun.

But until that day, the singers can be legally muzzled. That’s democracy in these United States in the Year of Our Lord 2013. And we should all be very proud of it, now shouldn’t we?
Exactly. You and others expressing yourself for free in a building that's open to the public, and not getting in the way of others? That's illegal. But spending money and keeping others from getting the same access, especially on the limited frequencies of the public airwaves? No problem!

And you wonder why I think things are upside down in this state?

P.S. I see that Dave WHAAA-ska handed out Twinkies at his meagerly-attended Astroturf event inside the Capitol today. Yes, making light of American bankruptcy and thousands of workers being screwed out of earned pensions and negotiated benefits. HILARIOUS! First class act you and Icki and friends have there, Dave. Can't figure out why the GOP is nothing more than a rumor in this county when guys like you represent it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

SHOCKER! WisGOP business owner deceives on Obamacare

Apparently Republican business owners have learned next to nothing from the elections we had 8 months ago, because they're still trying to trot out deceptions about Obamacare and the effects it'll have on their businesses. The latest example comes from a story planted on a Rhinelander TV station where the Trig's grocery chain in the Northwoods claims it would have gone out of business within a year because they would have had to actually offer their employees health insurance.

They reason Trig's said it decided not to hire people full-time because of the "freeloader tax" that Obamacare has for larger businesses, when those businesses have employees who work more than 30 hours a week that aren't currently getting health care benefits. Here's the one-sided story from WFJW.

John Peterson at Democurmudgeon has a good breakdown of Trig's cynical complaint, and why they're using Obamacare as their excuse for driving down wages in the name of maximizing profit. As John notes,
The locals should wonder what kind of community, small town business would screw them over like this. But the public has bought into the idea business can do any lousy thing it wants and get away with it.

It's ironic to hear a business complain about having more of the citizenry being insured outside of a job, because an employee that gets Obamacare keeps the business from having to pay for employees' insurance, which should raise the business's bottom line - well, unless you already are abusing the system like Trig's has been. In fact, many businesses already offload their employees health care benefits onto the taxpayer, as the Wisconsin Department of Health Services notes more than 174,000 Wisconsinites have jobs, but are still on BadgerCare. Walmart is the clear "leader" in this category, but it also includes many of the largest chains in the nation.

Largest number of Wisc. employees on BadgerCare, Q1 2013
Walmart 3,028
McDonald's 1,466
Aurora Health Care 1,030
Menard's 794
Walgreen's 713
UW System 708
Roundy's 706

On a quick tangent, the UW System number is remarkable, because the DHS notes that 5 years ago, in Q2 2008, the UW System was 46th in the same category. You think raising premiums with Act 10 and lowering pay of employees in the last 5 years might have been a reason? (Damn right it is)

Back to Obamacare, now. From the employee side, going using the Affordable Care Act also has its benefits. It can lower insurance premiums to the employee compared to being at the mercy of the private market, which that person should have more money to spend on products at a business instead of having those people's funds going to pay for medical care. It also lessens the chances that employee faces a financial catastrophe from suffering a serious illness while uninsured.

But there's another reason Trig's is complaining about Obamacare, and it's one that Channel 12 in Rhinelander left out, probably due to ignorance and laziness. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's database shows that the head honchos at Trig's (the Solberg family) are big GOP donors that have given tens of thousands of dollars to WisGOP and WisGOP candidates since 2010, including $10,000 to Scott Walker in 2010 and $2,500 more to Walker after Act 10 and the state budget was passed in 2011. These Baggers even gave more than $2,000 each to Northwoods morons like Kim Simac and Tom Tiffany, while not giving a dime to Democrats since 2009.

Let me put that choice into focus. Instead of paying their employees at their 5 stores in Northern Wisconsin a slightly better wage or helping to pay for their employees' health care, the Solbergs would rather pay off GOP politicians with their profits, and lower the hours of their current employees just to prove a political point. No wonder they parrot Walker's line about Obamacare being "unworkable", as they've invested a lot of money into trying to elect politicians that will screw up Obamacare's implementation in Wisconsin, and won't tolerate it succeeding, even if it helps their business and their community in the long run.

What WisGOP and their donors are actively pursuing is a strategy that the Washington Post's Greg Sargent accurately describes as "sabotage governing." As Sargent mentions, in 2013, GOPs don't care about the results of policies and legislation, just as long as they get their way. goes well beyond Obamacare implementation and the relentless blockading of Obama nominees for the explicit purpose of preventing democratically-created agencies from functioning. We’ve slowly crossed over into something a bit different. It’s now become accepted as normal that Republicans will threaten explicitly to allow harm to the country to get what they want, and will allow untold numbers of Americans to be hurt rather than even enter into negotiations over the sort of compromises that lie at the heart of basic governing.
This is seditious behavior that should make anyone who practices it unfit for office, but the Solberg CEOs at Trig's and the Walker-type WisGOP politicians they support don't care. These guys want it all, and as part of that philosophy, they will gladly reduce the chances of survival for a large number of people and businesses as long as they think they can grab a few more dollars and consolidate more power. Even if it's a stupid fiscal or business decision (and the WisGOP decision to fight Obamacare certainly is that), in RW bubble-world, it is better to strike the pose than compromise, accept and succeed.

These are the type of fact-free sociopaths we're dealing with on the issue of Obamacare, and Channel 12 in Rhinelander is the type of lazy media that swallows this crap without investigating it. Know this, strike back with facts and force, and do it over, and over, and over. Because Trig's and other pro-GOP businesses will be lying over the next year over....and over....and over.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Which Wis, leggies are vulnerable in 2014? By the numbers

If Wisconsinites want to get their inner Nate Silver on, Daily Kos had a cool link to digest that came out about a week ago. It lists the 2012 election results for both president and U.S. senator by Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly district. It's a really cool treasure trove of info, and can help you ID what it's like in your community (not surprisingly, my near-west side Senate and Assembly district voted for Obama and Baldwin by more than 3-to-1).

What this exercise also can do is help you identify who might be vulnerable to a big swing election in these post-redistricted districts, and who might be relatively safe. What I'm going to do is take a look at the vote for Obama and Baldwin in a given district, and then divide by 2 to get the "general" vote for Dems in that district. Then, I'll compare that number to the statewide average for those two candidates (which was 52.20%), and then see how far it deviated from the rest of the state. Then, I'll use that number to determine a "Wisconsin PVI" to see just how far off those districts are from the state average, and that'll tell you which districts may be most (and least) likely to tip in a statewide wave.

First up is the State Senate, and you'll find some interesting names on the list. As a reminder, a Dem +1 rating would mean that the Republicans would need to win the state by 1% to have an expected tie in a certain race, and likewise, a GOP +1 rating means the Dems would need to win statewide by 1% to have the expected result be a tie.

Most representative Senate districts
Lassa (D) GOP +0.4%
Hansen (D) GOP +1.0%
Vinehout (D) Dem +1.5%
Schultz (R) Dem +2.0%
Jauch (D) Dem +3.4%
Shilling (D) +3.5%
Ellis (R) GOP +4.1%
Gudex (R) GOP +4.2%
Moulton (R) GOP +4.7%
Olsen (R) GOP +5.0%
Petrowski (R) GOP +5.3%
Lassee (R) GOP +5.5%

With the state going Dem +2.2% in 2012, every race ended up as it "should" have, given that Schultz's seat wasn't up for re-election last year. You can see where the GOP's redistricting strategy comes in, as there are a whole lot of 55-45 districts that favor the GOP (and several more that I didn't list that are between GOP +6 and GOP +8) and only 6 of 33 districts in the entire state that are within 4 points of the state average. It's interesting to point out that 5 of the 6 districts that are closest to the average Wisconsin voter are represented by Dems, but the next 6 closest seats are all held by Republicans.

It's also worth adding that Dems only have to defend 2 of these seats in 2014 (Vinehout and Jauch) while the GOP has to hold onto Schultz's, Ellis's, Moulton's, Petrowski's and Lassee's. So there's an argument to be made that if there's a Dem wave that hits in 2014, you could see a major shift in power in the Senate. And Ellis's district being as close as it is helps to explain why State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber announced this week that she was challenging the long-time Senator from the Fox Valley in 2014. It also didn't hurt that old Mike was sporting this look recently.

Moving over to the Assembly, the same pattern repeats, although there are many more closer seats (not surprising, there's 99 seats instead of 33 in the Senate), and there are more crossover seats in general, and GOPs hold almost all of the closest seats.

Most representative Assembly seats
Wright (D) GOP +0.6%
Brooks (R) GOP +0.7%
Bernier (R) GOP +1.6%
Tranel (R) Dem +1.6%
Nerison (R) Dem +1.8%
Doyle (D) GOP +2.0%
Ripp (R) GOP +2.6%
Bies (R) GOP +2.9%
Krug (R) GOP +3.0%
Klenke (R) GOP +3.7%
Vruwink (D) GOP +4.0%
Hintz (D) Dem +4.0%
Riemer (D) Dem +4.2%
Murtha (R) GOP +4.3%
Weininger (R) GOP +4.3%
Larson (R) GOP +4.5%
Smith (D) GOP +4.6%
Honadel (R) GOP +4.7%
Ballweg (R) GOP +4.8%
Marklein (R) Dem +5.0%

So in districts within 5 points of the state average, the total is GOP 14, Dems 6. With that in mind, if you had a year where Dems grabbed 55% of the vote, theoretically that would be enough for the State Assembly to flip, even with the GOPs having 60 seats right now. But even with that in mind, there are only 9 of 99 seats within 3 points of the state average, which helps explain why in a 2012 election that went Dem +2.2%, there was no change in the total composition of the Assembly (although Tranel and Nerison won in western Wisconsin when they technically "shouldn't" have, as did Vruwink and Smith further north).

What these numbers indicate to me is that the GOPs have mostly maxed out what they could get (barring a ridiculous landslide election), but the Dems need a big wave election to gain control of the Legislature in the coming years. That being said, that doesn't mean all hope should be gone if you're a Dem, as it proves again that a strong Dem year could lead to major pickups, especially once you get to Dem advantages of 53-47 and 54-46. This is especially the case to consider when you realize that many of the close seats are in the swingiest areas of Wisconsin, as I pointed out last year that the Milwaukee and Madison areas don't change very much in voting (it's all about turnout there), but the rest of the state can change quite a bit.

Keep this one out as a reference, cause I got a feeling I'll be heading back to it for a number of reasons in the coming 15 months. Plus, you can use it to impress your friends on Wisconsin voting geography, and you won't even have to give me or Daily Kos the credit!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Madison and Milwaukee booming? Or seasonal fluke?

As I was coming back from Vilas County, I saw an interesting stat jump out at me in the latest jobs report for local areas throughout Wisconsin, the most recent edition of which came out today for June 2013.

Change in jobs, May-June 2013
Milwaukee Metro- +4,400 seasonally-adjusted, +9,800 non-seasonally adjusted
Madison Metro- +5,000 s.a., +5,100 n.s.a

A couple of things jump out. First is the fact that the two biggest metro areas in Wisconsin added a combined 9,400 seasonally-adjusted jobs in June. That's more than half of the 17,500 added in the state, and goes against a hypothesis I had that many of the job gains might be in rural areas heavily-reliant on tourism. The second item is the fact that Milwaukee's numbers are deflated by 5,400 to reflect seasonal adjustments, but Madison's is only dropped by 100. Is there something odd going on here, and is this related to the UW calendar?

I decided to take a look at the May numbers for these places, and see if there was a similar correlation.

Change in jobs, April-May 2013
Milwaukee Metro- +3,900 s.a., +9,600 n.s.a.
Madison Metro- -5,000 s.a., +900 n.s.a

This time both Madison and Milwaukee have a major seasonal deflator, Milwaukee's is 5,700 and Madison's is 5,900. It also means that the Milwaukee area has added 8,300 jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis for the last 2 months, while Madison has added 0. So Madison's "good" numbers in June could indeed reflect the later end of the UW-Madison school year, meaning Summer jobs started after the May survey was done, explaining the "loss" in May and "gain" in June compared to most years.

So is the Milwaukee Metro area all of a sudden taking off in jobs? And what is Madison's trend? Doesn't appear that way according to year-over-year numbers.

Year-over-year change in jobs
Milwaukee Metro- +8,500 s.a., +9,000 n.s.a.
Madison Metro- -500 s.a., +2,200 n.s.a.

This now means practically all of Milwaukee's added jobs in the last 12 months has happened in May and June (on a seasonally-adjusted basis), and Madison's also basically stagnated. It's also interesting to note that the non-seasonally adjusted number is higher than the seasonally adjusted one, which indicates seasonal jobs are more likely to be added than non-seasonal ones who don't get deflated in the seasonal adjustment.

This is especially true when you look at the state figures for the last 2 months.

Year-over-year change in jobs
Wisconsin May 2013- +5,400 s.a., +5,600 n.s.a.
Wisconsin June 2013- +24,600 s.a., +36,400 n.s.a.

Now here's an interesting difference. Both seasonal and non-seasonal adjusted jobs have big increases in the year-over-year number, but look at how the seasonal deflator expands from 200 in May to 11,800 in June. That same deflator was only 4,900 in June 2012. It tells you that a lot of the recent jobs increase is in seasonally-sensitive areas, and do not show underlying economic strength.

What it also means is that the real test is yet to come when it comes to figuring out if Milwaukee and Wisconsin's recent job increases are legit, because the jobs reports from July through September would see these seasonally-adjusted jobs go away as tourism season ends and students go back to school. If the jobs in other areas don't pick up you'll see the year-over-year jobs figures drop as larger-than-normal Summer job increase goes away.

And I do worry about how this plays out, because my Aunt and Uncle were mentioning that plenty of the folks up North were saying that the tourist season had been the slowest they'd seen in the last 3 years. Granted, this area could have had a slow start due to the cold, rainy weather in April and May that delayed seasonal hiring and could have also delayed tourists from heading that way. But it's worth keeping an eye on this area in the next couple of months, because a bad Summer season there could level off hiring when May and June 2014 comes around, and cause reported job "drops" in a time when Governor Walker won't want to see that kind of news.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Heading up North

Going on a 3-day sojourn to my family reunion in Vilas County this week, so instead of doing some blogging, I'll be looking at this for a few days.

And yes, scenery like this is the best economic stimulator that part of the state has, because who wouldn't want to visit a place like that? Look at the water in that second picture- you can see all the way to the bottom. This stuff MATTERS, folks.

I'll be back later in the week to talk about more of the numbers that will have popped up.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Great moments in Fitzwalkerstani corruption, continued

Not that we already didn't know that the Walker Administration is quite responsive to the desires of its donors, but we had another great example of it be exposed this week.

The AP's Scott Bauer had an excellent article on Thursday revealing failed GOP Senate candidate, mega-donor and Madison developer Terrence Wall called the Walker Administration with a business proposition.
Terrence Wall offered his cellphone number in the letter, urging that the “appropriate person” call him to discuss possible deals for properties including the state crime lab, records obtained by The Associated Press show. Wall also offered his support for the change in the bidding process, an idea that originated with Walker.

Wall sent the letter on June 10. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed 11 days later to allow no-bid sales of state properties over the objection of Democrats, who argued that it opened the door for political cronies to be cut special deals.
This isn't T.Wall's first run-in with sketchiness. His lame attempt to run for Senate in 2010 was put down for good soon after One Wisconsin Now revealed first that Wall dodged $34,000 in property taxes by claiming development land he bought in Middleton was being used for "agriculture", and later showed that Wall paid zero state income taxes for 9 out of 10 years between 1999 and 2008, despite accumulating tens of millions in assets in that time.

So to believe T.Wall and Scott Walker would be involved in behind-the-scenes deal-making to put big money into their pockets at taxpayer expense isn't exactly far-fetched. The same apparently goes for Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren.
But Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said lawmakers would seriously consider any proposal.

“If he stepped up and made an offer we couldn’t refuse, we’d have to take a look,” Nygren said of Wall’s proposal.

Campaign finance records maintained by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show that Wall has donated $77,220 since 1993 to mostly Republican candidates, including $8,854 to Walker between 2005 and 2012.
Wall's donation history sure puts a new spin on the concept of "Offer you can't refuse," eh? Then again, these guys do kinda operate like the mob (with less class).

But that's not the only pay-for-play story that hit the news in the last couple of days. Bill Lueders was out today telling us that the Walker Administration has ended its no-bid contract with Michael, Best and Friedrich after giving MBF nearly $1 million to help the Administration defend Act 10 from lawsuits.
Michael Best was originally hired by Walker on Feb. 7, 2011, four days before he announced plans to impose sweeping changes to the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The original contract was for $50,000, and set a rate of reimbursement of up to $300 per hour.

The contract has since been amended several times to increase its duration and maximum payment amount. Prior to the recent amendment, the last revision was in March 2012, when the amount was raised to $850,000. The per hour fee has not changed.

Michael Best has long been state Republicans’ go-to law firm for outside representation. The firm has represented Republican lawmakers on legislative redistricting (including housing GOP staff at its Madison offices to try to get around open records laws while doing redistricting work) and has received $368,879 for legal services from Walker’s campaign, state records show.

Walker’s contract for representation over collective bargaining challenges was signed by Michael Best attorney Raymond Taffora, formerly chief legal counsel for Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. Taffora worked for the state Department of Justice until January 2011, shortly before the first contract.
Ah yes, Ray Taffora, who I mentioned nearly 2 years ago after it was revealed he donated $4,000 to Attorney General JB Van Hollen's campaign, then left to go to MBF and land the Act 10 contract because the DOJ allegedly lacked the manpower and expertise to fight for Act 10 on its own. It's a classic example of "you pay me, and I'll pay you back" that has been a hallmark of the way this administration has operated from day 1.

And oh yeah, let's also point out that before he left the DOJ Taffora talked with Milwaukee County D-A John Chisholm in November 2010 about the John Doe investigation into Scott Walker's doings in Milwaukee County. Sure makes you wonder what ol' Ray talked about with his new client Scott Walker two months later, doesn't it?

It brings to mind this great speech from the sorely missed George Carlin on how corporate interests like T.Wall Enterprises and Michael Best and Friedrich get great insider deals at the expense of the rest of us.

"It's a big club, and we ain't in it."

P.S. Poster/Twitterer Gnarlytrombone reminds me that Taffora was also the guy who asked the Governor's office to have the state sue Madison-Kipp Corporation as a way to head off a federal lawsuit that could potential make Kipp liable for more damages as a result of contaminating the ground water of homes on the east side of Madison. Coincidentally, Kipp just signed an agreement this week to pay $7.2 million to homeowners due to their polluting.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A good June jobs report makes it a mediocre quarter

The Wisconsin DWD reported a strong June jobs report, with 17,500 jobs gained on a seasonally-adjusted basis for the month and 13,800 in the private sector. And despite my opinions about Scott Walker's policies, there's no doubting that these are pretty good numbers, most notably in manufacturing, where the state gained 1,500 jobs while the nation was losing 6,000 in the same sector (so for all the BS about a "skills gap", someone was hiring Wisconsinites in these positions).

Outside of the manufacturing boost, a lot of the hiring was similar to the nation's not-as-good-as-it-seemed report for June, with lots of jobs in the seasonal, low-wage "Leisure and Hospitality" and "Trade" sectors (9,700 of the 13,800 private sector jobs added were in these two sectors). We'll have to see if these jobs hold on through September or October, or if we'll have higher-than-normal seasonal layoffs to match the higher-than-normal seasonal hiring in these areas. But for the time being, let's take it as a good economic sign.

The strong June digs Wisconsin out of the hole it fell into with the horrible March and April jobs reports, which tells me that some of the delayed hiring due to the bad Spring weather has been unwound over the last two months. As a result, the state is back on a positive jobs track, but the Walker jobs gap is still in the neighborhood of 50,000 jobs.

I also have a third chart which illustrates that even with the good numbers in May and June, April was so awful that it still was the slowest quarter for Wisconsin private-sector hiring since Q3 2012, and 4 of the last 5 quarters have averaged less than 2,000 jobs a month. Also worth noting is that the best 3 quarters for hiring in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan were BEFORE Walker was retained in the recall elections during June 2012 - so keep it in mind the next time Scotty tries to pull the "uncertainty" excuse (which no doubt will come up again).

So while it's a good sign that more jobs were added in Wisconsin as the temperatures heated up in June, let's wait until football starts kicking off before we even consider that we're pulling ourselves out of the massive hole we were in before the last two months.

EDIT-Here's a related post by the Institute for Wisconsin Future's Jack Norman, titled "Wisconsin sees a surge in bad jobs," and it features the following statistic.
The bad news: Most of the growth—7,200 jobs—was in the “leisure and hospitality”
sector, where average weekly pay was only $284 last year. That’s barely one-third the
overall average wage in Wisconsin of $803.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Professor Warren takes CNBC losers to school

I try to avoid watching too much CNBC, because they're right-wing Wall Street suckups masquerading as journalists (as best shown by Jon Stewart's epic takedown of them in 2009). But I do tune in to them in the mornings before I go to work because I like to see a quick financial market picture, and because many economic reports come out around 7:30.

Much to my surprise on Monday, I tuned in around 7:23 to see Senator Elizabeth Warren on there promoting her new bill to reinstate Glass-Steagal regulations, and I immediately decided to stay on CNBC for a while. Then when I saw 3 white guys and a British bubblehead around a table at the studio, headed up by lead CNBC right-wing toolbox Joe Kernan, I knew Professor Warren was about to school these folks in a quite entertaining way. I was not disappointed.

Hilarious how the 3 men on "Squawk Box" thought that they could teach a lesson on how things "really work" to a Harvard Professor who has studied bankruptcy law for more than 40 years and has basically been correct about every step of the financial crisis. The hubris of these douchebags is just remarkable (apparently they think it's still the '60s and we live in "Mad Men" world where women are seen and not heard), which is what makes it all the more fun to see them reduced to "AHHHHH...Continental Illinois...ERRRR...regulation bad....UMMM??" after 2 minutes of Elizabeth Warren's brilliance.

EDIT: Holy crap! CNBC was so embarrassed by Liz's destruction of their talking heads that they took down the video! What wimps!
As usual, Charlie Pierce describes this rhetorical beatdown perfectly.
My god, this is a kicking of the ass. Sooner or later, they're going to realize that you really do have to bring the A-game on this stuff to the Senior Senator, or she is going to smile her Okie smile and the hook is going to come off the jab and, as the great Jimmy Breslin once put it, you will leave the ring in a blanket. She does mean business. Someone should start to believe that.
Yes, she does mean business, and more Dems should talk business like Sen. Warren does.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Transportation Fund deficit- worse than you know

A place that isn't brought up when discussing Wisconsin's budget situation is the Transportation Fund, which is separate from the state's General Fund (which is where talk of "surplus" and "deficit" often come from). And if you look at the future numbers and trends in both Wisconsin and nationwide, you can see where a funding crisis for the Transportation Fund is on its way, and while the Walker Administration tried to kick the can down the road in this latest budget, they may not get their wish, as a deficit could well appear before the 2014 elections.

This budget's Transportation Fund started with a $63.5 million deficit that had to be repaired, in no small part because the Walker Administration estimated gas tax receipts much higher than reality indicated. So how was this deficit closed without raising the state's gas tax our adding a lot of new fees for drivers and vehicle owners? By doing the same kind of accounting tricks and one-time fixes that Scott Walker promised voters in 2010 that he wouldn't do.

The Wisconsin Budget Project discusses how Republicans large amounts of general tax money and other non-transportation fees, and moved those funds into the Transportation Fund. This includes more than $71 million in General Fund taxes (put in place starting in 2011), another one-time shift of $133 million from the General Fund, and $44 million from the Petroleum Inspection Fund. So that's $248 million thrown into the Transportation Fund, and it doesn't count another $200 million of General Fund borrowing that's also going to pay for Transportation Fund projects over these next 2 years.

And as Matt Pommer wrote this week, even with all of these fund shifts, the state's Transportation Fund is looking at serious financial difficulties for the near future, especially if the state wants to finish all the projects it plans on.
State officials opted to borrow in order to maintain and increase the level of highway spending. Highway-linked debt service reached $306.9 million in 2012, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance noted in a recent report.

"Rising debt-service costs mean fewer dollars available for highway construction and repair or for other transportation needs," the Alliance report noted.

It's going to get worse.

The gubernatorial transportation finance commission has warned that debt service could claim nearly 25 percent of transportation revenues in a decade. The gap will continue to grow.

"Existing transportation taxes and fees are expected to generate $25 billion over the next 10 years," the Alliance said. To maintain current levels of service the state would need $30.8 billion in the next decade. In January the Transportation [Finance and Policy] Commission suggested spending $31.8 billion in the next 10 years.
So where do we stand for the next 2 years and beyond? The LFB says that gas consumption in Wisconsin is projected to grow a tiny 0.2% in this fiscal year, and 1% for 2014-2015. But that would seem to fly in the face of the most recent projections of the Energy Information Administration, which have slight drops in U.S. gasoline consumption for 2013 and 2014. If that's true, then the Transportation Fund is already looking at an $8 million deficit. Now $8 million is a small amount that can be easily be fixed, but the reduced consumption also comes with the EIA projection saying gas prices should stay level over the next two years. Let's say we get some kind of gas spike or even a steady rise of 10-20 cents a year for these next two years. Well, we got a bigger deficit that has to be filled.

And then that doesn't go into the problems that loom for 2013-2015. There's a projected increase in projects in order to keep up with the state's delayed infrastructure needs(remember, some of these projects were put off to balance this budget). In addition, there are $175 million in one-time General Fund and Petroleum Fund transfers that are unlikely to continue, since the General Fund already has a $500 million+ deficit staring at it for the next budget (due to the Koo-Koo Tax cuts and related mismanagement). Lastly, there has been a huge increase in borrowing for projects in this budget, which in itself will raise debt service costs for future budgets. But those assumptions were done at a time when the 10-year Treasury Note was at 1.6%, not the 2.6% that it's at now. It's still pretty low and worth borrowing for, but it'll certainly raise those costs in the current and future budget.

So you tell me how the next governor (or God Forbid, Scott Walker) is going to be able to fill in all of these needs without raising gas taxes or fees on driver's licenses? They can't, unless they massively cut back on local road or transit aids or needed highway projects- both of which are already well behind the maintenance levels they were at 5 years ago.

Keep your eye on this, especially if we have a slow tourist season this Summer, which is a huge source of the state's gas tax revenues. We certainly will have a Transportation Fund deficit, the only question is if it blows up before the 2014 elections, or right after it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

WisGOP math $650 million tax cuts > $7.6 million to disabled

Story came out today illustrating how the WisGOP/Walker regime's "tax cuts over anything else" mentality continues to hurt Wisconsinites.

A report over the weekend from the Wisconsin Center for Independent Journalism pointed out that the state is passing up millions of dollars in federal aid that would go toward helping people with disabilities find work. The excellent article from Tegan Wendland goes into detail on what the Department of Workforce Development's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) does, and why there is a long waiting list for the disabled to receive these services today.
DVR currently serves about 17,000 people, while an additional 4,077 are on its waiting list. Last year the agency found jobs for 3,200 people.

The agency has been cited for poor performance in the past. In 2000, a state audit criticized DVR for long wait times that are similar to the current delay in accessing services.

DVR officials, however, say they are pleased with their success in bringing the length of the wait list down from its peak of about 13,000 in 2009. (Yeah, when we were in the middle of the worst collapse in the U.S. economy in 75 years. You get no prize for lowering it from that level.)

Cathy Steffke, advocacy specialist with Disability Rights Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that underfunding of DVR is “one of the biggest barriers to employment in the state.”

In the new fiscal year, Wisconsin will receive $55.6 million in federal funds to run its employment programs for people with disabilities, and spend $15.1 million in state funds. That is the minimum amount the state can spend on the $71-million-a-year program without being subject to federal penalties.

Wisconsin could get an additional $14.2 million in federal funds if it were to come up with a $3.9 million match to cover funding for the next two years, which DVR officials acknowledge would allow them to serve more people.

“If we did receive our full state match we could work with another 3,000 individuals,” DVR administrator Mike Greco said.
Naturally, Walker's DWD came out with their excuse list today as to why they haven't ponied up the money to end the waiting list, but the reasons make their decisions seem all the more pathetic. Here are the two biggest ones.
• Eliminating the DVR’s wait list immediately would require $3.7 million in additional state dollars over the biennium beyond the $3.9 million in additional state matching dollars to deliver services and hire additional staff to accommodate the increased volume of cases, for a total additional commitment of approximately $7.6 million in state funds.

• The full match of federal dollars to eliminate the waiting list in Wisconsin will not be available as long as across-the-board limits in federal spending remain in place due to the sequester.
So on one hand, they're complaining about "uncertainty" relating to the sequester at the federal level (supported by Walker's fellow Baggers), but at the same time, they have no problem taking the $55.6 million in federal aid to run the program at its current level. Ridiculous on its face.

Even more than that is the fact that this administration claims it can't afford $7.6 million for this program over the next 2 years. Hmmm, if only there was some way we could come up with that revenue....Oh wait! I know! We could have knocked off JUST OVER 1% of the Koo-Koo Tax Cuts, and have more than 4,000 disabled people get services. Naw, can't do that. Gotta have that full $647 million cut be put into law, with nearly half going to people making more than $100,000 (who probably aren't needing the services of the DVR).

Cool priorities, they have at WisGOP, isn't it? This has to be hit again and again. If the Republicans only intended to use the savings of Act 10 and the cuts to local government as a one-shot deal in Walker's first budget, they'd be responding by raising services at the state level and/or increasing aids to local governments and school districts in this budget (both of which can take pressure off of the property tax). They chose not to do that, and instead have blown this one-time surplus on tax cuts that have the largest savings go the richest Wisconsinites. And because of the lowered revenues and $500 million+ structural deficit that goes into the next budget, it'll be very hard to add spending in future years to take care of any backlog that may persist in 2015. Of course, tying the hands of the state for the 2015-17 budget is the intelligence of WisGOP's tax-cut design, much like how Bush's huge deficits tied the hands of Obama and the Democrats when they took over in 2009. (Walker is quite Dubya-esque on a lot of levels, isn't he?)

The amount of state spending to remove the waiting list for the DWD's assistance program for people with disabilities is a drop in the bucket compared to the tax cuts that were installed for this budget. Heck, the tax break given to parents who send their kids to private K-12 schools is 4 times bigger than the $7.6 million it would have cost to help 4,000 disabled Wisconsinites. And the investment in getting the disabled these services would pay off fiscally as more of the disabled would be likely to get employment, instead of being unemployed and/or on disability, which increases state spending. That seems to be a much better bang for the buck to me than subsidizing a millionaire in Mequon to send their kids to University School.

But improving the quality of life for the disabled is not why this administration and the WisGOP was given millions of dollars in campaign cash, and instead of questioning those priorities when an article like this one comes out, the WisGOPs will probably try again to boot the WCIJ off of the UW Campus again for telling the truth. Sickening.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Honesty of Will McAvoy- Needed More Than Ever

Tonight marks the return of The Newsroom on HBO. It seems especially fitting that one day after George Zimmerman gets no jail time for stalking and eventually killing a 17-year-old who wandered into his neighborhood, we get the return of Will McAvoy. This speech feels more true than ever today.

"So when you ask, "what makes us the greatest country in the world?" I don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Yosemite?

We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn't belittle it, it didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election. And we didn't...we didn't scare so easy."
The common good and common decency in this country has been replaced by fear and greed, and the Zimmerman trial and its result lays that truth bare.

Zimmerman was able to get over largely due to the ALEC-approved "stand your ground" law, which gutless Florida politicians passed not because it was good policy for security, but because it curried favor with the NRA. Similar laws have sprouted up in other states as part of ALEC's "one size fits all" model of increasing the power of right-wing organizations in any fashion possible, including in Wisconsin's ALEC-infested Legislature, which passed a "Castle doctrine" law that later enabled a Washington County man to avoid being charged for fatally shooting another young black man last year.

The media circus surrounding Zimmerman's trial was fanned by race-baiting from right-wing media that cares much more about gaining money and ratings by stirring up the weak-minded white men that listen to their crap than informing those same men and improving the country they live in. And a treasonous Republican Party roots this divisive right-wing media on because they care more about accumulating money and power for themselves and their campaign contributors than they do in improving the quality of life for the state or the country they live in.

In fact, the GOPs and their puppetmasters seem to want to leave the rest of us outside that club as destitute as possible, so that we are at their mercy. They do it by limiting voting rights for certain individuals and taking advantage of one lucky 2010 election to rig electoral districts throughout the country. They want those of us so paralyzed by fear of the "other" than the justice can only properly be served at the end of guns like George Zimmerman's, so the outsiders "know their place." And they do it by demanding that we accept the menial crumbs of wages that our employers distribute to us, after they grab a large part of the profits for themselves and the politicians they pay off.

Once again, Will McAvoy summed up the situation well at the end of season 1 of The Newsroom, by going into detail on ALEC-approved voter suppression, and describing the 21st Century GOP as accurately as any real newscasters ever will (but won't dare to, in fear of losing access).

Welcome back Will. And keep making the "real journalists" tremble in fear, as they get exposed of allowing the spin and lies of political leaders to go unchallenged, which has allowed American society to deteriorate to the point where George Zimmerman can get off scot-free.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fed data shows low wages cause Wis "skills gap"

I find it remarkable how this meme of a "worker skills gap" continues to find its way into discussions about Wisconsin's manufacturing economy. Here's the latest example from the Fox Valley's "New North Business to Business." And the complaints by business owners should sound familiar.
This “skills gap” – the difference between the increasing number of available positions with New North region employers and the comparably small number of job applicants qualified to fill those roles – is a growing concern as unemployment creeps downward and our skills-based economy demands more workers with associate’s degree technical training, or the leadership and strategic management knowledge that’s often regarded with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Add to that a number of veteran employees in mid- to highly-skilled jobs looking toward retirement in a few years, and the skills gap becomes all the more dire.

“People just don’t understand what the real problem is and just how close we are to crisis,” said John Petak, one of the co-owners of Oshkosh-based industrial saw producer Marvel Manufacturing Co., during a mid-July workforce summit conducted by Competitive Wisconsin Inc. in Oshkosh. Petak indicated his own company is anticipating 25 percent of its workforce will retire in the next five years, and despite proactive measure to hire replacements before those veteran employees leave, Marvel is having trouble finding qualified job candidates. It’s not alone....

The above-mentioned job candidate shortage for machine operators pales in comparison to the needs of the transportation industry. In Wisconsin alone, there is a need for 8,000 to 10,000 truck drivers and more than 400 diesel technicians annually, according to the Wisconsin Trucking Consortium, a statewide industry group that’s actively looking to tackle the worker shortage.
As a former Econ teacher, I can tell you that a shortage comes from more demand than supply. And this alleged worker shortage can be solved in 1 of 2 ways- reducing demand for these workers (unlikely given what the article describes), or increasing the supply.

A quick look to the manufacturing stats in the recently-released Quarterly Census on Wages and Employment gives some of the answers to why there's a worker "shortage" in Wisconsin.

Average weekly manufacturing wage, Midwest
Ill. $1,284
Mich $1,278
Minn $1,158
Ohio $1,119
Ind. $1,099
Iowa $1,090
Wis. $1,079

Kinda hard to get the candidates you want when you pay the least of all of the states in your region, isn't it? Econ 101 tells you that raising wages would help Wisconsin employers lower this skills gap, and encourage more people to enter the work force.

Now there was some progress made in 2012 on the wage stats, as Wisconsin's 4.3% increase was only behind Illinois for the best weekly wage increases in the Midwest. But even that number is misleading, as it's on the heels of a major drop in wages during Year 1 in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, which was something that didn't happen even during the worst years of the Great Recession.

Average manufacturing wage, Wisconsin Q4 2008-2012
2008 $973 (+2.4%)
2009 $1,007 (+3.5%)
2010 $1,074 (+6.7%)
2011 $1,035 (-3.6%)
2012 $1,079 (+4.3%)

And manufacturers only added 8,000 jobs in Wisconsin manufacturing in 2012, the lowest increase in the 3 years the state has added jobs since the end of the Recession, so it's clear that employers are choosing to squeeze out more hours of their current workers in exchange for mild raises.

So instead of the WMCs and Competitive Wisconsins of the world whining about the tech schools and the employees being produced, maybe they should step up to the plate, and pay these people what they're worth. I imagine a lot of their problems would disappear if they'd pay on a scale closer to Minnesota and Illinois than to Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Basically, the business community complaining about the "skills gap," is like the Bucks whining about Dwight Howard playing for the Houston Rockets instead of wanting to be in Milwaukee, when the Rockets are the ones offering top dollar. The corporate media wants to keep the zombie lie of a skills gap alive as long as possible, and it's up to us to debunk it at every turn.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Once again, it's the US, not Wisconsin's causing "surplus"

I was interested to see the Wisconsin DOR release its June 2013 numbers this week, and not just because I'm a geek. In the first two years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, June numbers had been combined into the end-of-the-fiscal year figures that get released around Labor Day, so I wondered if there was some kind of angle going on here (particularly when combined with the Guv's many closed-door media events trying to prop up this budget).

The numbers themselves are mainly in line with what the LFB predicted in May, which gives us a year-end cash surplus between $550 and $670 million. As I've mentioned before, a lot of this is due to a huge runup in capital gains and related taxes resulting from a booming stock market.

Interestingly, these Wisconsin numbers just happened to come out the same week that the CBO reported the U.S. government ran a surprising $116.5 billion surplus in June, and that the total deficit for the federal fiscal year was down by nearly $400 million compared to June of 2012.

What caused this development? Well, some of it is due to $66 billion in dividends paid back by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the government, as part of the feds bailing Fannie and Freddie out in 2008, (which makes the June surplus a bit fluky). Some of the lower deficit is due to lower spending due to an improving economy and the sequester and related moves in 2013 (outlays are down about 4% vs. this time last year). But the biggest reason is higher tax revenues.
Individual income taxes and social insurance (payroll) taxes together increased by $224 billion (or 15 percent).

Taxes withheld from workers’ paychecks rose by $130 billion (or 10 percent), mainly because of higher wages and salaries, the expiration of the payroll tax cut in January 2013, and increases (beginning in January) in tax rates on income above certain thresholds.

Nonwithheld receipts rose by $89 billion (or 27 percent); $66 billion of that increase occurred during the tax-filing season (February through April). The increase during the filing season largely reflects the fact that final payments for the 2012 tax year were much larger than the final payments for 2011 that were made last year. Some of the increase in nonwithheld receipts also reflects an increase in estimated payments for the 2013 tax year and some payments for the 2012 tax year made earlier (such as quarterly estimated payments in January).
When you drill down further, you see that federal income taxes are up 18% compared to this time last year, which sort of makes the state of Wisconsin's 6.7% year-over-year increase in income tax revenues look kinda lame, doesn't it? And the 10% increase in U.S. corporate tax revenues vs. June 2012 are in stark contrast to Wisconsin's 14.1% month-over-month DECLINE in corporate tax income, and our lame 0.7% full-year increase in corporate taxes in a time of record profits.

So just like as we've seen with the Walker Administration's claims of "lower unemployment claims" or "gaining jobs", it's fairly evident that the credit for Wisconsin's increased tax revenues aren't due to anything being done by Scott Walker or the GOP Legislature, but instead are a result of the Obama Recovery continuing, and the easy money policy that's allowed another Wall Street bubble to inflate.

The question becomes, what happens when that stock market bubble and the real estate bubbles pop as interest rates go up? (note that the 10-year note has gone from 1.6% to 2.6% since the start of May) There's nothing being done in Fitzwalkerstan that has sustainable wage and job growth that'll allow our budget to weather any kind of fiscal disruption that could come along, and the Koo-Koo tax cuts signed into law with this budget will only make the situation worse for the state's balance sheet.

Scotty's just hoping he can snag re-election in November 2014 before that fiscal crash happens, which would allow him to skip town to "make some real money" in the only job he seems qualified to do- professional grifter and groveler- while we are left to pick up the pieces from this wreck.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Back from the North- didn't meet any GTac goobers

Took a trip up by Hayward earlier this week to do some work, saw some great scenery, made an excellent stop at the Angry Minnow Brewpub, and got to see the Moccasin Bar's colorful wildlife display. Oh, and I was fortunate not to run into these guys.

As you may have heard, these guys work for Bulletproof Securities in Arizona, and were hired by Gogebic Taconite to provide "security" for the area around their proposed open-pit mine in northern Wisconsin. The Blue Cheddar blog was among the first to reveal this story over the weekend, and has done an excellent job staying on top of the developments throughout this week. The Blue Cheddar article also relays this quote from a GTac CEO-sucking d-bag spokesman.
Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz laughed at the suggestion that the company would remove the guard detail, which he said was hidden in the forest photographing illegal campers before they were noticed at a test drill site recently. The campers were believed to be potential vandals, Seitz said.

“That’s why none of those (guards) was visible, is because they have been monitoring people on our lands,” Seitz said. “I’m not very concerned about what (weapons) a security firm selects. They have to provide a safe workplace for their people, too.”
Yes, apparently a 26-year-old enviro-protestor wearing a mask is someone that could jeopardize the entire operation, and must be responded to with the potential lethal force. Dear God, these people are afraid of their own shadow. They and Walker are supposed to be the "Unintimidated" ones?

And referring to the Gogebic site as "Our lands," Bob? That might come as news to a lot of the Indian tribes in the area, who have hunting, fishing and harvesting rights in these lands that have been affirmed by treaties for 2 centuries. It also may come as news to the many campers and hikers traversing public lands in this area. See, you guys at Gogebic had to pay thousands of dollars to corrupt GOPs in the state legislature because this area is NOT private land, and is subject to state regulation and management. Here's how the original mining bill explains it.
Managed Forest Law Withdrawal Fees and Taxes. It appears that much of the private land in the area where mining activity is likely to occur, which may initially be located in the towns of Morse in Ashland County and Anderson in Iron County, is currently enrolled in the managed forest law (MFL) program under multiple MFL orders. In lieu of general property taxes, owners of land enrolled in the MFL program are required to make annual acreage share payments to municipalities in amounts determined by the date the land was entered into the program (79¢ per acre for land entered through 2004 and $2.14 per acre for lands entered after 2004) as well as pay an annual yield tax or severance fee of 5% of the timber harvested on the land (based on the average price of species harvested). The municipality retains 80% of these payments and sends 20% to the county. In addition, under the MFL program, a landowner has the option of closing a maximum of 160 acres per municipality to public access if an additional fee is paid for each acre closed (currently $1.08 per acre entered through 2004, and $8.54 per acre after 2004). These closed acreage fees are deposited in the forestry account of the segregated conservation fund. However, DNR staff indicates that most of the affected acres are in the open program.
And while it took the Journal-Sentinel 3 days to say something about this story (24 hours after Charlie Pierce mentioned it in a nationwide outlet, apparently the J-S REALLY didn't want to talk about this), Jason Stein had a good report pointing out that the mining bill allowed for public access of the lands in return for a large lowering of property taxes, meaning everyday citizens could be hiking or camping in the area, and then come across our masked buddies from Bulletproof.

But today is the even more fun part, as apparently Gogebic forgot to license their little Blackwater-style outfit, and were illegally carrying weapons without the proper permit from the state's Department of Safety and Professional Services. Oops.
Bulletproof Securities President Tom Parrella said Wednesday that his firm, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., holds a number of federal and out-of-state licenses for its experienced staff and has applied for the Wisconsin license. Parrella said Wednesday that Bulletproof had been hired with little notice and had not expected the public attention that has focused on the firm's role in the proposed mine site in Iron County.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Safety and Professional Services, which licenses security firms, said in an email that Bulletproof "has indicated its intention to submit a license application" to the agency and that the state would provide an update "if any new licenses are issued."

You got papers, son?

To his credit, Northwoods State Sen. Bob Jauch spared no words in letting these corporate thugs have it.
These actions demonstrate that GTAC has no respect for the public and no regard for the law. Had GTAC not been in such a hurry to hire a militia that’s armed more for war than defense of property, they could have hired a legally licensed Wisconsin firm and provided Wisconsin workers the opportunity to provide a safe working environment at the job site.

GTAC continually plays the victim but in fact they have no one to blame but themselves for hiring a security firm that has not complied with Wisconsin law.
Any reason we're not considering this guy for Gov in 2014? That's the kind of fight this state needs and deserves.

And to finish, I'll point you to James Rowen's excellent post on this, because it's not like this skirting of the law has been abnormal behavior for GTac, or Republicans in general. These guys clearly believe rules only exist in order to impose restrictions on the other guys, and are not something to be followed by them. They think they can lie, cheat, and conceal their way into huge amounts of power and money, and it took undercover journalism outside of the mainstream papers to uncover this Pinkerton-style setup.

This incident is a damning indictment of GTac, and not just because of the strong-arm tactics. Between the incompetence of not having your security properly licensed, and being such lousy business people that they had to resort to shelling out big bucks to hire lobbyists that wrote the mining bill for the GOPs. Like a lot of the "job creator" braggers, apparently GTac isn't not good enough to make it if they have to play by the same rules and pay the same taxes as everyone else. No wonder they fit right in with the WMC crowd- a bunch of bullying oligarchs who can't stand the light of transparency, and don't have the game to win in a fair fight.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Don't break out party hats yet on jobs

At first glance, yesterday's U.S. jobs report looks to be really good, both for the month of June as well as the two months prior to it.
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 195,000 in June, in line with the average monthly gain of 182,000 over the prior 12 months. In June, job growth occurred in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, health care, and financial activities...

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged in June at 34.5 hours. In manufacturing, the workweek increased by 0.1 hour to 40.9 hours, and overtime was unchanged at 3.3 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 33.7 hours.

In June, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 10 cents to $24.01. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 51 cents, or 2.2 percent. In June, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 5 cents to $20.14.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for April was revised from +149,000 to +199,000, and the change for May was revised from +175,000 to +195,000. With these revisions, employment gains in April and May combined were 70,000 higher than previously reported.
So 265,000 more jobs than first known, 2.35 million private sector jobs added in the last year, and wages still going up. Even the labor force is up by a seasonally-adjusted 600,000 people, which is the only thing keeping the unemployment rate at 7.6%. Seems like a really good report that continues the consistent job growth of the last 3+ years.

So why am I not so thrilled by it? Well, take a look at the following stat on Page 26 (table A-15).

U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons,
March 2013 13.8%
April 2013 13.9%
May 2013 13.8%
June 2013 14.3%

Why's there such a bug jump in the U-6 numbers for June? The BLS report has a clue earlier in the report.
The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) increased by 322,000 to 8.2 million in June. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.
In fact, this "involuntary part-time worker" number is up by a seasonally-adjusted 588,000 since March, and it's also reflected in the sectors that had the largest increases in jobs for June, as these positions often have part-time and/or seasonal workers.

Job increases, June 2013
Food services/drinking establishments +51,700
Retail trade +37,100
Administrative/ Support services +35,900
Health care/ Social Assistance +23,500

Take these four areas out, and we only had an another 47,000 jobs for every other area of the economy. And health care is the only area of these four that would be conducive to permanent full-time jobs and growth (it's added over 355,000 jobs the last 12 months). The retail and food service and admin job numbers are seasonally-adjusted- the BLS counts on a certain amount of added hiring for Summer, but what happened in June is well above what is typical Summer additions to the staff. Makes you wonder if we see a large "decline" around September as these students go back to school and the other part-timers aren't needed as much for touristy-related jobs.

On the flip side, manufacturing dropped by another 6,000 jobs, and is down 24,000 on a seasonally-adjusted basis since February. Democurmudgeon has more on this, and he is even more alarmed than I am, as he sees it as a turn toward even lower wages.

So while the top-line numbers look very good from this jobs report, a lot of it seems to be due to higher-than-normal seasonal hiring, which makes me wonder if the underlying strength isn't that big. It may bump up the numbers for a couple of months, but we need more growth in sectors with permanent jobs before I start saying we're in a new phase beyond the slow and steady recovery we've had the last 3+ years.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th, all!

What I'd have to say on my own might skew dark, and it's a nice day to celebrate our Independence. So instead I'll give you these two items to chew on.

1. Here's the reason we're off work today- the Declaration of Independence. READ IT, and realize what a radical call to arms it is.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--
These are words to live by, and not to settle on, as far too many Americans are content to do.

2. Not surprisingly, a Brit best can tell us former colonists the way things appear in this country today. Here's an excellent montage of "USA!USA!" items from John Oliver of The Daily Show

Have a great Fourth, and it's back to the business of getting things right in this country tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sometimes they make it too easy

Was cruising around the Internets today, and caught this nugget from the Governor's Office, which of course, the Walker-endorsing Journal-Sentinel ran with like the mindless stenographers that they are.
Wisconsin Jumps 29 Spots in Leading Economic Indicator
April ranking revised up 9 spots

Madison— Wisconsin jumped to 20th in the nation this month, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s leading index.
First of all, if April was revised from a horrible 49th-place outlook to a still-bad 40th, and then you go to 20th, that's not a 29-spot improvement. 40 - 20 = 20. No wonder this administration is failing....and absurdly cynical.

And yeah, I'd looked at the report earlier in the day, and I wouldn't be bragging if I was the Walker boys if I was them. That great outlook they're trying to prop up says that Wisconsin is projected to have its economy grow a tepid 1.11% the next 6 months, which puts it below the rate of U.S. growth for the same time period, and middle of the pack for the Midwest. And even when you include this sunnier outlook, Wisconsin would still be well below all of its Midwestern neighbors in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, 12 months away from the 2014 elections. (I'll link to the actual report once its website is back and running).

It's also telling that Wisconsin is the only state in the Midwest that still hasn't had its economic index come back to the levels it was at in December 2008- a time that has had the U.S. grow by more than 5%, and several Midwestern states grow by more than that. And note the main part of that lag started in December 2010.

The context-free blatant cynicism of the Walker Admin taking the time to do a press release on one barely favorable outlook tells me 2 things.

1. They really do think the media and their supporters are so stupid that they'll accept these things at face value without looking into them (given the record of the last 3 years, that's a good bet).

2. They're really desperate for any good economic news, which tells me that the reality of Walker's failures is getting through to the public, and taking its toll in the polls. They're leaking oil, they know it, and they're just hoping to sneak that fact by the clueless bystanders the next election. Then they can let the state REALLY go to hell with their deficit laden budget and lack of options to fix it.

Which is why people like me have to keep writing things like this, so they're not allowed to get away with their failures. And despite the Walker boys' spin, they're still failing big-time.

Monday, July 1, 2013

School aid shockers- 2013 version

The DPI came out with their initial estimates of state aids for school districts for 2013 today (you can check your district here). As usual, there were some places that got huge decreases in K-12 aid from the state, and will face major increases in property taxes or massive cuts coming in the next year.

The Wisconsin State Journal's Matthew DeFour gives a good rundown on the district facing the largest cut in state aid- Madison's.
The Madison School District stands to lose $8.8 million in general state aid this fall -- the maximum amount allowed under state law -- primarily because spending grew faster than in other districts, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

District officials had anticipated the reduction when coming up with a preliminary budget for 2013-14, which calls for a 6.8 percent property tax increase on the December tax bill. Lower state aid generally means the ability to raise higher property taxes under state revenue limits.

State law caps the amount a district can lose at about 15 percent of the previous year's aid. Madison's total aid is projected to be $49.6 million next year.
And a big reason Madison's "spending increased"? It added 4-year-old kindergarten last year, which requires more teachers per student compared to what you'd have in a high school, and it's in stark contrast to last year, when the MMSD got a big bump in state aid, and kept its taxes down as a result.
Madison's aid amount is about the same as it was in 2010-11. The district received a $15 million boost in aid last year mostly because 4-year-old kindergarten enrollment added about 2,000 students.

The Madison School Board taxed the maximum amount allowed last year, resulting in a 1.75 percent property tax increase. That amount was low compared to previous years because of the state aid increase. The additional funds allowed the district to spend more on building maintenance and a plan to raise low-income and minority student achievement.
Madison was far from the only place to take a school aid hit. Despite a 1.11% increase in overall state aid, 54% of the state's districts will lose money compared to last year, and approximately a fifth will lose 10% or more in state aid vs. what they got last year. Here are some of the other larger districts looking at big property tax increases for next year.

State school aid losses, 2013-2014
Kettle Moraine -$1,401,334 -15.07%
Menomonee Falls -$1,250,590 -15.07%
Ashwaubenon -$1,176,394 -15.07%
Waterford Graded -$956,085 -13.94%
Grafton $657,312 -11.76%
Whitewater $748,731 -10.50%
Cedarburg $725,255 -8.09%
La Crosse -$2,497,015 -8.01%
Monona Grove -$796,354 -7.54%
Merrill Area $1,249,711 -6.72%
Milwaukee -$1,407,778 -0.27%

When you compare with the rundown of last year's school aid losers, and special congrats are in order to the pro-Walker communities of Kettle Moraine, Menomonee Falls, Ashwaubenon, Grafton and Cedarburg, as you are BACK-TO-BACK LOSERS in Walker school budgets! Hope it' paying off for you.

Another sidelight of the school aid numbers are the huge amounts of small rural districts facing aid losses. They're a large amount of the districts getting the max loss of 15%, and many of these places don't have a lot of valuable parcels that'll make up the difference. For example, I'm betting my Aunt and Uncle who have a place in Vilas County are going to be less than pleased when they see their tax bill next year, given the decline the Lakeland District is facing. And a lot of these communities also backed Walker in June 2012. You wanted these aid cuts and property tax increases, so now you get them. Enjoy!

Yes, there are some winners as well, including a very intriguing district to end up Number 1. Remember, 1.11% is the overall state aid increase, so if you're under that, you aren't keeping up with the rest of the state.

State school aid increases, 2013-2014
Beloit +$1,928,367 +3.37%
Green Bay Area +$4,919,267 +3.85%
Sheboygan +$3,001,627 +4.50%
Eau Claire +$3,032,393 +5.48%
Waukesha +$3,078,988 +6.75%
Racine +$11,286,945 +9.23% (most in the state)
West Allis +$3,858,111 +9.76%
Sun Prairie +$3,820,528 +10.98%
Hudson +$3,040,935 +12.92%
Verona +$3,275,018 +16.18%
Oconomowoc $1,825,249 +35.54%

You'll notice a lot of districts that were originally part of the limited-voucher plan that was in Walker's original budget (and later expanded to potentially go statewide). It's almost like they don't want people to remember big property tax increases resulting from vouchers when they go to the polls in November 2014. Almost...

The Oconomowoc figure should raise some eyebrows, as not only is it a Baggerific Walkershaw County exurb (voted over 70% for Walker last year), but it's also the hometown of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and her multiple-voting husband, Rep. Joel Kleefisch. But DeFour says it's really a reflection of Cooney's property values going down the tubes more than GOP favoritism.
Oconomowoc is projected to receive a 35 percent increase in aid, the largest statewide.

Like Madison, Oconomowoc has high property values per student, but that amount dropped 7.1 percent last year, compared to a statewide average of 3.4 percent. Madison's property value per student dropped 2.4 percent. Also, Oconomowoc's spending per student grew 2 percent, below the state average.
In addition, Oconomowoc had their school aids drop for the 2012-2013 school year by more than 15%, so they're up less than a million compared to where they were in 2011, so this becomes easier to digest as a Madisonian. I also have to smirk at the loss in land values in Oconomowoc over the last year- you think denigrating teachers and cutting school aids would make properties less desirable in far-out suburbs? NO WAAAAYY!!!

So while Walker is making photo-op appearances at camapaign contributors while signing his budget, many of Wisconsin's communities will be seeing their property taxes go way up as a result of that budget, and the bad results of the prior one. You know the WisGOPs are going to try to cynically pass off these inevitable tax hikes as the fault of local government over the next 16 months, instead of admitting that the hikes are in no small because of their decision to pass Koo-Koo tax cuts instead of adequately use state tax dollars to fund public schools. So it's our job to show these facts and make sure the average citizen knows the shell game that Walker and company are trying to play.