Thursday, October 31, 2013

This week in WisGOP school privatization scams

The war on public education in Wisconsin continues, with more evidence that GOP-led privatization and curriculum control is failing the state. This has shown in 2 different stories that emerged over the last 2 days.

1. The first involves the Department of Public Instruction releasing information on the first group of students included in the expanded voucher program that was part of the budget passed by the GOP-run Legislature, and signed by Governor Walker.
For the 2013-14 school year, there are 512 students receiving a voucher, which totals 499.9 full-time-equivalent (FTE) students. Four-year-old kindergarten students attending partial day programs are counted as 0.5 FTE or 0.6 FTE, depending on the services provided. Of students receiving vouchers this year, 406 (79 percent) did not attend a Wisconsin public school last year. Twenty-one percent of students (106) were from public schools and 73 percent (371) attended a private school during the 2012-13 school year.

Participating Appleton and Green Bay/De Pere private schools have the highest voucher enrollment, each with 53 FTE students. Private schools in Oshkosh are enrolling 49 FTE voucher students for the 2013-14 school year, followed by Wisconsin Rapids with 43 FTE; the Eau Claire/Altoona area with 37 FTE; and Manitowoc with 36 FTE students.
And even those numbers don't give you an indication of the scam that this expanded voucher system is proving to be. When you account for all students that attended ANY type of school in Wisconsin last year, the private school percentage goes up to 75.9%, and another 2.5% were homeschooled. 22 others didn't attend school at all, and many of them also might have been going to private school this year before they received a voucher.

So at least 3/4 of those who got vouchers ALREADY WOULD HAVE GONE TO SCHOOLS LIKE THIS, which means the schools (via the families) are getting nothing short of a taxpayer-funded subsidy for these students, and trading it for any tuition costs. And yes, every one of these schools are Christian-based, with more than 3/4 being Catholic.

So we're giving straight cash to churches, which very likely is going to "other needs" outside of education (and very possibly to things no public school would ever be allowed to get with), while taking money away from every other public school district in the state to pay for this program. And there's no real evidence that these schools do any better in educating students. Even the right-leaning Politico called out the bad performance of voucher schools this month.
In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.

In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools, many of which are rated D or F, state data show.
And speaking of tests and school standards, that was part of the next level of GOP education fail.

2. Wisconsin was one of 45 states to go along with nationalized, Common Core standards in 2010, but the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee inserted a provision into the last budget allowing for reconsideration about the standards. As part of that GOP-approved provision in the budget, the Legislature and DPI have held hearings in various locations of the state to discuss how Common Core would work in Wisconsin, and whether the state should stick with it.

Yesterday, Rep. Christine Sinicki pulled back the curtain on these hearings, saying she would not continue as a Dem reprentative to these Common Core hearings, and denounced them as a GOP-led sham.
It has become painfully clear that this committee and its activities are occurring at the behest of interested parties outside of this Legislature, and even this state. I believe that this SCCCS is primarily a roadshow, in conjunction with the Republican National Committee (RNC) and its April 2013 resolution, to distract from that party’s recent national failures. The general criticisms of the Common Core Standards here in Wisconsin echo the extreme statements coming out of the RNC, which is a campaign organization, and other Republican sources in Washington, D.C. and around the country.

This extremism about common standards, not to mention public education in general, seems to emanate from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. And in turn, they have attracted another extreme and very rich ally in the national John Birch Society (JBS), which is conveniently headquartered here in Wisconsin. Each of the SCCCS’s informational hearings have featured speakers suggested to the SCCCS chairs by the JBS, and whose travel expenses from distant parts of the country have been paid for by the American Opinion Foundation (AOF), a proud arm of the Birch Society. On Wisconsin Eye video of the Eau Claire SCCCS hearing, these invited speakers from other states say, bizarrely, that they don’t know who it was that called and invited them but that, upon arrival, they were handed expense checks issued by AOF (which they then show the committee members). In the meantime, actual Wisconsin educators who have attended the hearings on their own initiative have often been turned away from testifying due to the bulk of attention and time being reserved for invited speakers.

On top of the above, the last straw for me as a Milwaukee legislator has been the omission of Milwaukee Public Schools in the SCCCS’s hearing schedule. MPS is the state’s largest school district and its educators have already spent thousands of hours designing curricula for hundreds of different classrooms under the guidance of the Common Core Standards. These experienced staff should have had the chance to talk about their successful effort with the CCS without having to drive hours away to do so.
Blue Cheddar has more on the John Birch connections, with video of the meeting Rep. Sinicki references. It is also worth mentioning that the Wisconsin public school officials that have testified at these meeting have almost universally said that they want the state to continue to adopt Common Core. If the state would not do so, it would cause districts to have to go back to the drawing board, wasting many hours that have been spent adjusting school curricula and standards, which would likely hurt public schools' performance and morale of staff.

Not surprisingly, that doesn't matter to the bratty kids that define today's WisGOP. And they weren't going to let Sinicki's statement about the Tea Party-led effort to screw up Common Core go quietly. Democurmudgeon does a good job laying out today's low-class insults and borderline misogyny by Waukesha County GOP Sen. Paul Farrow and fellow Bagger Rep. Jeremy (let the homeschoolers play for whoever they want) Thiesfeldt. That might impress the dead-enders that listen to Milwaukee hate radio, but it sure doesn't help our state figure out the best way to teach its K-12 students.

Of course, screwing up public schools isn't something that concerns today's GOP, in fact, they'd probably prefer it, so they could justify cutting further aid to those schools, and sending more money to vouchers, who in turn send the money back to GOP legislators in the form of campaign contributions. Look at how convicted criminal Scooter Jensen is trying to buy the South Milwaukee-area Assembly race for voucher puppet Jessie Rodriguez.

Given that we know that facts and results don't matter to today's WisGOP, only money and power do, it means they won't adjust their thinking on their own. So we have to take these radical haters of public education out of office, and put the failed school privatization movement into the dustbin of Wisconsin history, before we lose any more of one of our state's few economic advantages- strong public schools. With three GOP-leaning-but-winnable Assembly seats being decided in the next 50 days, there's no better time than now to start making these bums pay.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A look inside GOP bubble world - (pt. 2 in Wisconsin)

After looking at the focus groups of 3 Republican groups in part 1 of this look inside GOP bubble-world, let's take this information, and see how it works here in Wisconsin. You'll see why the Wisconsin version the Republicans studied continue to "Stand with Walker", despite all empirical evidence showing the man and his administration to be a corrupt failure, even when Walker often is holding big-government positions in clear contrast to what the GOP groups allegedly believe in.

Let's go back to the main thesis that Democracy Corps has (you can read the entire report here, and it's worth it), which is that many Republicans feel that Democrats are in control in the U.S., and therefore, folks like them don't have a role in the country's future.
Understand that the base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in DC let him get away with it.

We know that Evangelicals are the largest bloc in the base, with the Tea Party very strong as well. For them, President Obama is a “liar” and “manipulator” who has fooled the country. It is hard to miss the deep disdain—they say the president is a socialist, the “worst president in history,” and “anti-American.”...

Evangelicals who feel most threatened by trends embrace the Tea Party because they are the ones who are fighting back..
So when Scott Walker refuses to take Obamacare's expanded Medicaid money and high-speed rail money in Obama's stimulus package, it's a way to play "stick it to 'em" to Obama and the Dems associated with him. As mentioned in my previous post IT DOESN'T MATTER IF THE RESULT OF THAT POLICY HURTS WISCONSIN, because in the mind of these folks, at least someone is standing up for them. Scott Walker knows how to manipulate the bitter emotions of these folks, and he and his handlers know that in right-wing bubbleworld, it's OK to have state go down the drain and accept the lies and corruption that have been endemic to the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, because at least they kept their state in the way that they liked it. It also explains how Scott Walker (whose next "open to the public" event outside of the 262 might be his first) can call himself "Unintimidated", because it plays with the put-upon sense that these people have- a feeling that there's some kind of left-wing cabal in charge of things in the country that's keeping good folks like them down.

The following passage is especially true for the dead-red and extremely white counties around Milwaukee, where the fervent support for Republicans goes hand-in-hand with an anger at "those people" in the inner city.
[What] elicits the most passions among Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans – that big government is meant to create rights and dependency and electoral support from mostly minorities who will reward the Democratic Party with their votes. The Democratic Party exists to create programs and dependency – the food stamp hammock, entitlements, the 47 percent. And on the horizon—comprehensive immigration reform and Obamacare. Citizenship for 12 million illegals and tens of million getting free health care is the end of the road.

These participants are very conscious of being white and valuing communities that are more likeminded; they freely describe these programs as meant to benefit minorities. This is about a Democratic Party expanding dependency among African Americans and Latinos, with electoral intent. That is why Obama and the Democrats are prevailing nationally and why the future of the Republic is so at risk.

They associate the Democrats with government dependence and talk pointedly about welfare recipients who demand too much and take advantage of the system.
This can be expanded into any group that is doing better than them, and it makes these right-wingers willing to knock down their fellow citizen in order to make sure everyone else feels the same pains and worries that they do. When seen through this lens, hurting public sector unions (and especially teachers) is a way to make sure "those people" get hurt the same way they have in their jobs over the last 10 years. down. The extra bonus is that it gives Walker the latitude to give his campaign contributors an opening to steal away with a whole lotta money in the process.

And if these people start to have doubts, they also know what'll soothe them.
And thank God they have Fox News – and as a consequence they do not feel as embattled as they take on the fight to restore the basics.
If they aren't watching Faux, they can hear talk-show radio hosts like Char-LIE Sykes and Mark Belling and Icki McKenna instead, and those guys are more than willing to play on those resentments and fears to misdirect angry white people from dealing with their own failures in life. \

AM radio misdirection also plays on the desires of Tea Partiers, who want badly to believe that somehow the system will work out for them, as they think it did in the "good old days", and it gives them an aspiration to shoot for, which beats having to admit that some people might actually have to be dependent because of misfortunes that befall them. Of course, the fiscal reality was much different in the good old days (high tax rates on the rich, higher minimum wage, higher unionization), but in the great words of W. Axl Rose- "I've worked too hard for my illusions/ Just to throw them all away." This can explain why lower and middle-class people in southern Wisconsin can still continue to vote for a Wall Street whore like Paul Ryan, because THEY WANT TO BELIEVE THAT WHAT THAT SUCCESSFUL YOUNG MAN SAYS IS TRUE. The fact that Ryan is a millionaire's son whose never held a corporate-sector job is irrelevant, because these guys want to believe they can get the same good life Purty Mouth Paulie has. It's understandable in a way- no one wants to be driving away at a job for 30 years to be told that you've been playing a losing game, and that you've wasted many a vote putting in people who couldn't give a crap about you.

And in Wisconsin, this means the often fact-free hate on AM620 and AM1130. On those stations, the Baggers and the Fundies don't have to deal with any questions about what they believe in, or be laughed at by us smarty-pantses in the outside world. It also allows them to have their crucifixion fetish satisfied, because right-wing radio hosts are all about telling the suckers in their audience how persecuted they are, and that ONLY THEY can be the ones that saves this country.

Now where's the hope with Wisconsin Republicans? It's with the Moderate Republicans, who know in their hearts that Walkerism and "divide and conquer" is a bad way to govern, and that hating immigrants and gays isn't the way to go in the 21st Century.
They believe the party is stuck, not forward-looking, and representative of old ideas. They worry about the Republican Party’s right turn on social and environmental issues—which makes it difficult, especially for young moderates—to view the Republican Party as a modern party.

While they continue to appreciate the GOP’s fiscal conservatism, these fractures make it difficult for educated young people to identify with Republicans. As one man in Colorado said, “I can’t sell my kids on this party.”
That same focus group reports some Moderate women being interested in voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite being fiscally conservative.

You can see these concerns in the consternation that long-time GOP legislators like Dale Schultz, Mike Ellis, and Luther Olsen have when it comes to certain bills, particularly on education, where they seem to have a different approach than the voucher supporters that define conservatism in the 262. But like most Moderate GOPs, they've mostly stayed loyal enough to the party, and have gone along with a lot of the Fitzwalkerstani crap in the process(yes, even Schultz is included, Dale voted for Walker's first budget, and has even voted for some of the goofy abortion bills). So because they and other Moderates have often chosen party over common good, the Walker Era has been allowed to continue in Wisconsin.

But if the Walker forces have one big setback, especially as the GOP's approval is at or near record low approval levels, I can see a scenario where a whole lot of Moderate voters bolt. Because unlike the put-upon confrontation-approving, Evangelicals and Tea Partiers, the Moderates aren't as cynical, and seem to care more about getting things done as opposed to making a symbolic point.
They've been holding every thing up in Congress lately. Like, the Democrats proposed this but Republicans just say no. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

In stark contrast to the conversations among Evangelical and Tea Party adherents, these folks are desperate for “middle ground.”

It’s like you have to be on one side or the other about race. And you have to be on one side or the other about healthcare. And you, like all these other things and I mean it really, it seems like maybe there's some middle ground that it never seems to be that we get to that, as a country it doesn't ever seem like we really get to that kind of middle ground. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
A positive Dem message emphasizing problem-solving and the common values most of us hold seems to be something that would resonate with this group, and a sizable shift in this vote could well lead to a major Dem wave. Here's where I differ with the DPW "wisdom" of having a milquetoast, moderate message, because I believe a positive, pro-education, progressive MESSAGE would be a welcome change from the power-grabbing, fearful types that dominate the other two main voting blocs of Republicans. That's a message that isn't an ideological one, but one that exemplifies a different APPROACH, and is BASED ON OUTCOMES, NOT POSES. See, in Wisconsin, there is nothing to be gained by dealing with a lot of the dopes that make up the elected officials of the GOP, because they were elected by the Evangelicals and Tea Partiers. These politicians and their constituents think they're fighting a battle to save their perverted view of civilization, and want to cripple and deform government is such a way that it becomes nearly impossible to change and adapt to reality. You can't compromise with that.

Instead, I'd play a little "divide and conquer" myself, and would ignore them entirely. I'd also work to damage the credibility of the talk-show hosts and other mouthpieces amplifying their garbage, and encourage Wisconsinites to kick Walkerism to the curb, which would get back to making this a state worth living in again. That would appeal to both Moderates, as well as the Dem base, and lead to a big win in 2014. And yes, this is a rough and somewhat bleak message at its core, but I also believe it would be the most successful one in terms of getting this state back on the right track.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A look inside GOP bubble world - pt. 1, the nationwide view

For a lot of us in the above-ground, fact-based world, the tactics of the Congressional Republicans that continue to try to block, sabotage, and defund Obamacare are a mystery. Why continue to do symbolic, silly measures that damage the GOP brand both short and long-term, and in general act like a 3-year-old child? Well, a group of Democratic pollsters did focus groups of Republicans, and it can help explain this,

The study is called Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and Moderate Republicans, and is one of the more illuminating studies of human behavior you'll find. Read the whole thing, it's really good.

The study split today's GOP into three different groups- Evangelicals, Tea Partiers, and Moderates- and gathered information from all 3. They study found that in GOP world, Obamacare and the shutdown "strategy" is part of a belief that the ACA was not passed to help people or improving our country's economy. Instead they view Obamacare as a political move.
This goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle. They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy—not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.

And while few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.
The projection is strong with those comments, isn't it? Remember, this is a party that illustrates what Charlie Pierce called "The Triumph of the Ratfuckers", where everything's a tactic, and politics is like a sporting event, instead of a discussion on how to meet needs and make for a more perfect union. It goes a long way toward explaining why Facebook righties constantly post items relating to "lazy people on welfare" and "Obama giving people free stuff" instead of having empathy for those who have fallen on hard times- they think Dems and Obama only care about these people for the votes, not out of any sense of decency. Bizarre, but that's who you're dealing with.

Evangelicals are a huge part of the GOP THAT VOTES, which explains their outsized influence in the party, and they are definitely into the fear-filled crucifixion complex that is a mainstay of the 21st Century GOP in Wisconsin.
Evangelicals are a third of the Republican base; they are the biggest and most intense group: four-in-five are “strong” Republicans and straight ticket voters. Over three quarters are married and well over 90 percent are white. Their demographics – white, married, religious, and older – sets up a feeling that they are losing. They talk about how the dominant politics and cultures have encroached on their small towns, schools, and churches. What troubles them when they talk with friends, family, and fellow believers is Obamacare, guns, government encroachment, gay marriage, and “culture rot.”

They sense they are “pretty white” and “didn’t go to Harvard” – and “we’re just not [Obama]” – which means they are becoming a pretty “politically incorrect minority.” The so-called “tolerant” liberals just aren’t very tolerant when it comes to to them.
And because they sense that the "country they knew" has passed them by, they want to have a GOP and a media that fights back against that.
The only ones standing up for them against these forces are the Republican Party, Fox News, and the Tea Party – and the Grand Old Party is doing none too well.

Feeling most besieged by what is happening in the country, these strong Republicans need an effective and principled party, but they think many Republican politicians have lost their way. There are too many “RINOs” who cannot stop what is happening.
And Faux News and AM radio hosts tell them that their archaic mentality is fine and acceptable, which is a whole lot better than what the rest of the world seems to be telling them. So that's why they watch and listen to this crap. Tea Partiers say a similar thing about right-wing media, that it emboldens them, saying they're not so wrong for believing what they do.

Tea Partiers are a little over 20% of today's GOP, and have a common thread with the Evangelicals in that they also want to return to a "simpler time."
In both Tea Party groups, the phrase “back to basics” was repeated multiple times. What this means is they want to return to a time when they believe government was small, people lived largely free of the government, and Americans took responsibility for themselves.

This is not those times. Government is catering to those who have not earned their benefits or the freedoms of this country. They freely talk about food stamps, “welfare recipients,” and illegal immigrants. These groups are the most anti-immigrant, anti-food stamps, and anti-Obamacare and its potential beneficiaries of the Republican groups. They are also the most anti-Obama, anti Obama agenda and anti-Obama politics—because these threaten the basics.

Like other Republicans, they hate big government and dependency that are central to the Obama Marixist project, but they are also acutely alarmed at government invasion of their privacy, rights, and freedoms. Freedom is on the line.
Note the apocalyptic nature of their argument. It explains how every little incident can be blown into full-fledged Fauxtrage, and having hours of talk radio to fan the flames of these trivial issues plays right into this mentality.

Of course, they don't really want to go back to the simpler time of the 1950s, when banks were heavily regulated, unions were strong, and the rich were taxed at a 91% marginal rate. In fact, it's quite the opposite- Tea Partiers may idolize "capitalism", but they really back feudalism.
The Tea Party Republicans are staunchly pro-business—to the point of celebrating trickledown economics. While there was some skepticism about Wall Street in the women’s group, for the most part, these participants expressed pro-business, anti tax, anti-regulation attitudes. Even if they were not currently reaping the rewards of the economy, they did not blame business greed, but rather government regulation.

The whole middle-class-up economy format is completely ridiculous. Because who’s going to give the middle class their money? The upper class. The middle class isn’t going to make money coming out of nowhere. They’ve got to get a job. And who gives the jobs? The rich people. So if you take all the rich people’s money, they’re not going to be able to give anybody a job. Just it’s so backwards. [Obama] keeps talking about a strong middle class. I don’t want a strong middle class. I want to make all the middle class rich people, because then you’ve got even more rich people who can give more jobs. It’s like a – it’s just ridiculous. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
Actually, that take is ridiculous, but much like with the evangelicals, the facts and history of policies don't matter, it's the principle that counts.

They also think the GOP needs to get on board with them, and won't bend in order to get things done, which plays right into the shutdown strategy. It's a horrible philosophy to try to govern with (and it's why it's such a failure in states with pro-Bagger governors and legislatures), but when you feel you're a minority standing in the doorway of a steamroller, then you feel that type of "governance" is still worth doing.

In contrast, Moderate Republicans still believe in governance, and don't feel things are going down the drain in the country. And despite their lack of representation in legislatures (as was evident in the DC shutdown, where almost all Republican members of the House went along with the shutdown strategy to begin with, and nearly 2/3 refused to open the government in the final bill), moderates do still make up a sizable portion of the GOP electorate- about 1/4 according to the Dem group doing the study. Moderates have some connection to the other groups in concern over the size of government, but they want government to get things done.
The moderate Republicans were surely concerned about big government. Their first associations with government are negative—it is too big and does not operate well. They associate it with “waste,” “inefficient,” “regulations,” and “red tape.” They believe their taxes are too high and believe government spends too much money on bureaucrats’ salaries and high end offices.

But those views of big government combine with more positive associations—how rights have progressed and how the country has become more free. They honor freedom without the same sense of threat as Tea Party and Evangelical Republicans....

[T]hey stand out for being equally concerned with government dysfunction – and the Republican Party role in national polarization and gridlock.
As one woman in Raleigh said, “I think for me it's a highlight of a lot of division. Everything seems very divided and angry.”
The lessened fear and positive beliefs also explain why moderates have a connection to the reality-based world, where many disapprove of Fox News and the crazies in today's GOP.
Some say they like the small government ideas the Tea Party was putting forward several years ago, but say they have been turned off by the Tea Party’s leaders, who are “unelectable,” “idiots,” “extreme"....

And on Fox News, many moderates outright reject it as a news channel: “It tells about as
much truth as like Jerry Springer does now.”
(Moderate man, Colorado)

Moderates are not so sure about their place in the current Republican Party. They worry about the ability of Republicans in Congress to make government work. They believe the party is stuck, not forward-looking, and representative of old ideas. They worry about the Republican Party’s right turn on social and environmental issues—which makes it difficult, especially for young moderates—to view the Republican Party as a modern party.
The same fizzures show up later in the paper regarding climate change, where Moderates respect science, like scientists, and many think something should be done. But the Evangelicals and the Tea Partiers are skeptical (at best) about scientists, and many think the climate change issue is a reminder of "outsiders" telling them what to do, with Tea Partiers in particular take it a step further, and think it's used as a bridge to regulate businesses. Again, the projection is strong with the Evangelicals and Tea Partiers.

So this study gives a good insight into why the 2010s Republican Party acts as it does- Evangelicals and Tea Partiers have the "with-us-or-against-us" mentality that typified the failures of the George W. Bush presidency, and it explains why these people do not believe in compromise or any semblance of the common good. They don't just view Democrats and President Obama as people with opposing views from them, but instead THEY ARE THE ENEMY encroaching on their way of life, and therefore must be opposed by any and all measures. This is in serious contrast with the Moderates, who still believe in governance, solutions and common ground. Unfortunately for the Moderates, they are outnumbered by the combination of Evangelicals and Tea Partiers, and those two groups especially are likely to vote in low-turnout GOP primaries. So you end up with a party overrun by people who don't believe in governance, think that social programs and scientific studies are politically-motivated plots (because THAT'S WHAT THEY'D DO), and find working with the other party to be a sign of weakness and a lack of commitment to the cause. So my question for the Moderates is- why would you continue to go along with a party that doesn't resemble your beliefs in governing and social issues?

From the opposing side, now that you realize uncompromising, cynical Evangelicals and Tea Partiers are the controlling force in the Republican Party, the best strategy is not to give these people an inch till they decide to play ball- in other words, the exact same strategy Congressional Dems and Obama pulled this month during the shutdown. And you see the results, as Republicans have tanked in polls over the last month. If Dems keep up the pressure, don't cave to these people on any of their budgetary hostage-taking, and continue to expose the Congressional GOP as the unfit-for-office bubble-worlders that they are, they should clean up in elections over the next 12+ months.

Now how does this translate into today's politics in Wisconsin? I'll go over that in a later post.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

GOP Obamacare sabotage continues

One week after the Congressional shutdown ended and the GOP was unable to defund or delay the start of the Affordable Care Act, their efforts have now turned to trying to make sure Obamacare fails. And in states where the GOP is control, it's certainly working worse than in states when Democrats are in control, and that's not by coincidence. Several stories this week illustrate how Republicans continue to try to sabotage the implementation of this program, and injure their constituents in the process.

For example, Bill Lueders and Alison Dirr had an article showing that many Wisconsin agencies that were supposed to have "navigators" in place to help citizens sign up for the federal insurance exchanges were not licensed by the state until after open enrollment in the exchanges began on October 1, and a couple of agencies still haven't been licensed. The navigators were delayed in starting because Gov Scott Walker refused $37 million dollars from the federal government to start work on a state-based exchange that would have connected to the national mainframe, and instead chose to dump Wisconsinites onto the federal exchange with little time for the feds to prepare. In addition, the state then put in an extra step that required navigators to be licensed by the state of Wisconsin, which caused further delays in getting the state up to speed.
"There's a fair amount of blame to go around," said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a Madison public interest law firm. He cited federal delays in getting the program started, followed by additional "hoops and hurdles" for would-be navigators imposed by the state.

The Wisconsin insurance office requires all navigators to go through 16 hours of training, pass a written test and background check, submit to fingerprinting and pay fees. And the groups they work for must register with the state and secure liability coverage for navigator misconduct.

[State Insurance Commissioner Spokesman J.P.] Wieske said the state needs to protect vulnerable consumers from people who might take advantage of them. But Peterson said the federal government already established strict standards for the agencies receiving navigator funding.
And across the water in Minnesota, there are fewer of these stories about problems in signing up Obamacare exchanges. Over 3,700 Minnesotans reportedly signed up for coverage through Obamacare in the first 2 1/2 weeks of enrollment, 1,800 more are finalizing their choice of plan, and nearly 12,000 total people were covered by mid-October.

Minnesotans are also paying much less than for their Obamacare insurance Wisconsinites are, as Citizen Action of Wisconsin said Cheeseheads are paying between 79% and 99% than 'Sotans are for similar health care plans (before tax credits). And Citizen Action directly faults Walker Administration officials for refusing to take the expanded Medicaid funds, and using cost-containment measures that are part of the ACA
Wisconsin has the opportunity to bring down rates by accepting enhanced federal Medicaid funds and using state powers such as reviewing and rejecting excessive rates to make health insurance more affordable.

Wisconsin’s rejection of a state-based exchange strip policymakers of additional tools for moderating health insurance rates.
And oh yeah, refusing the federally-funded Medicaid costs Wisconsin taxpayers an extra $119 million over the next 2 years, and possibly another $52 million a year on top of that due to lower-than-expected reimbursements from the feds for the Medicaid we do have left.

It isn't just Minnesota that Wisconsin is falling behind. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has been all over the national media telling people how Obamacare is working in his state. Not coincidentally, Dem Gov. Beshear worked with the Kentucky Legislature to set uip the Kentucky-based KY-nect for their insurance exchange, with over 26,000 Kentuckians signing up for coverage as of Thursday, and he says Obamacare opponents "Just aren't paying attention to the facts." (please ignore the ad at the start of the clip)

Now that's a politician who's telling it like it is. Wish we had a lot more Dems like him in DC and Madison telling the truth and standing up for Obamacare, instead of timidly making excuses or worrying about the sky falling 2 months before anyone has to be signed up.

This classic video from nearly 20 years ago illustrates what WisGOP and other Republicans are trying to do with Obamacare, now that they can't defund it. It's also a fitting video because it's
WJJO's "All '90s Weekend", and it's timeless inspiration for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

WEDC fail with a national perspective

Been tied up with things, but I wanted to give you a link to an excellent report from Good Jobs First that's titled Creating Scandals Instead of Jobs: The Failures of State Privatized Economic Development Agencies. As the Executive Summary mentions, organizations like WEDC have been setup throughout the country with Republicans sweeping into power in many states after the 2010 elections, and they have been loaded with fail.
We document here again numerous cases in which the public-private partnerships (PPPs) have become embroiled in scandals involving misuse of taxpayer funds, conflicts of interest, excessive executive pay and bonuses, questionable subsidy awards, exaggerated job-creation claims, lack of public disclosure of key records, and other accountability abuses.

We concluded in 2011, as our title suggested, that the real agenda behind these PPPs was not to make economic development efforts more effective but rather to more tightly concentrate the control over and credit for— job creation events in the hands of governors and their appointees.

Tragically, the history we detailed continues to repeat itself. An examination of the new wave of PPPs shows many of the same problems, especially in Wisconsin and Ohio...
The section on WEDC shouldn't be much of a surprise to those of you that have followed its history of failure on these pages and in other reports. But it's illuminating to have it described from an outside source. For example, here's how they describe the flawed setup of WEDC, and the fiasco involving Skyward, the Stevens Point-based school information system.
Unfortunately, many of the problems with PPPs we cited in our 2011 report came to fruition at the WEDC. It has been revealed that the agency has mismanaged public money, made questionable subsidy awards, lacked adequate transparency, resisted accountability, had conflicts of interest in awarding of subsidies, given management lavish executive pay, and made questionable claims about job creation. While all this was going on, over a fifth of WEDC employees were awarded merit bonuses.

Management of the WEDC has been in a constant state of flux. The first CEO, Paul Jadin, resigned amid two scandals in September 2012, saying he wanted a less public position. The scandals involved a subsidy award to an ineligible company and unauthorized expenditure of federal monies. Prior to the scandals, Jadin claimed the agency had an advantage in its flexibility given to staff in tailoring subsidies to the needs of businesses. He also touted the fact that the WEDC was free from various state rules governing public entities, including procurement rules. But this “flexibility” almost immediately became problematic: the agency awarded a tax break to a company that was simultaneously bidding on a $15 million state contract, a violation of state procurement rules.

Jadin stated publicly that the WEDC legal staff advised him that the offer to the company Skyward, Inc. was legal, because the WEDC was exempt from the state procurement rules. Gov. Walker disagreed with Jadin’s decision, canceled the contract award, and restarted the subsidy award process for the company. This prompted state legislators to begin questioning the transparency of the WEDC. Gov. Walker attempted to rectify the matter by moving his deputy chief of staff, Ryan Murray (a 30-year-old lifetime GOP hack with zero private-sector job experience), into the role of Chief Operating Officer at the WEDC. The WEDC’s Chief Financial Officer, Eric Schroeder, also left the agency.
And from there it gives a concise recollection of WEDC's 32 months of failure, lost funds, and weak record of creating jobs in Wisconsin.

The report also goes over the One Wisconsin Now finding that people who worked for businesses that received WEDC tax credits had given over $600,000 to the campaigns of Scott Walker and the Republican Governor's Association. And with John Doe, Part Deux heating up and seeming to include events after Walker took office in Madison, you have to wonder if WEDC's way of doing business is one of the items being investigated.

As I said before, read the whole Good Jobs Now paper, because it'll also look at states such as Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina and Indiana, and you'll see the same GOP-organized pattern of little to no accountability and oversight, and a whole lot of behavior that seems to be pay-to-play. We can't allow the media to let this issue drop over the next year, because it's symbolic of the cronyism and failed policies that have caused Wisconsin to slide in the 2 1/2 years that WEDC and the Age of Fitzwalkerstan has existed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Scotty fails math again- this time on property taxes

It's already been a bad day for the Guv, given that it's now public that there's "The Son of John Doe", which is looking into corruption done from Madison since Walker took office in 2011. So he tried to deflect from that reality in the best way he knew- deceptive economic stats.

This made my BS detector start screeching, and so I had to look into this claim. First, let's take a look at what the last 4 years of the Jim Doyle era had for property taxes, which the LFB has on Page 3 of its 2013 report on shared revenue and related aid programs, and I'll compare the property taxes that were levied in 2006-2010, which would be payable in 2007 and 2011. I will also use the amount after property tax credits are taken out, reflecting what Wisconsinites actually pay.

Wisconsin property taxes, median-value home 2006-2010
2006- $2,733
2010- $2,963 (+8.415%)

Now let's increase the 2010 amount by the same 8.415%, since that's what Walker's claim indicates, and use that as the 2014 projection under "the trend from Gov. Doyle's last 4 years."

2014- $3,212

So, let's compare to what the LFB now says will happen in 2014, since Walker has signed the property tax giveaway into law.

Projected property taxes 2014- $2,954
Change from "Gov. Doyle trend"- $3,212
Difference- $258

Last I checked, $258 is not $680. It's not even half that. And this argument falls apart even more when you remember the context of the housing boom and bust in Wisconsin. While we didn't get "20%+ in a year" changes you may have seen out West or in Florida from 2004-2012, things were far from flat here.

Wisconsin median home values 2004-2014.

So in fact, a large reason for property taxes not increasing in Wisconsin since Scott Walker took office isn't due to tax cuts or other austerity measures, but instead is because home values have continued to drop. And yes, this trend continued after Act 10 was signed in early 2011. (gee, you think denigrating public schools and cutting funding for services had an effect?)

As a sidelight, it's interesting to note is today's release of the Wisconsin Realtors' home sales report for September 2013. This report says that median home price SALES are going up (by 6.7% in September, 7.8% for the year), but those median sales prices are each in the mid-140s. So something's going to give in the next couple of years- either the strong sales continue, the home values go up, and people will pay higher property taxes than predicted (as assessments rise), or home values stay in the doldrums for existing home owners, and while property taxes are lower, the RATES are higher, and any reduced taxes are more than offset with a loss of wealth.

Pretty much the only people benefitting from Scott Walker's policies are developers and large-value homeowners, who the LFB mentioned would get the lion's share of the $100 million property tax giveaway. And gee, what a surprise, guess who the literate, less-bigoted side of Scott Walker's base is? Rich people and developers! The man knows who pays his bills, give him that.

And of course property taxes will also be lower for people when property values go down, or at least it will if the property tax RATE stays the same. While tax rates did indeed fall during the bubble years of the mid-2000s (while Doyle was governor), the rates are now higher than they were 8 years ago. This trend of rising tax rates has continued in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and is projected to continue in the next 2 years.

Because of these rising property tax rates, rough math indicates that even if a home value went up by 1.77% between 2010 and 2014, you'd have a property tax increase that would match the 8.415% increase that happened in the last 4 years of the Doyle Administration. So by taking credit for "lower" property tax increases vs. the Doyle years, what Scott Walker is really promoting is a drop in home values of more than $10,000 for his first term in office!

So not only is Scott Walker's claim of "lower property taxes" a lie that falls apart when given even a modicom of investigation, it also is a damning indictment of the failure of his policies, as it illustrates lower property values that result from deteriorating services, low job growth, and a quality of life that doesn't attract people.

But you can bet Scotty will keep trying to throw this type of shit against the wall for the next year, in the hopes that you don't look too deeply. Too bad for him that plenty of us will.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Righties still trying to sabotage Obamacare

In the last 3 weeks, we've seen the rollout of Obamacare's online signup program and the end of the TeaBagger-led shutdown, guaranteeing that the program will continue for the near future. But that still hasn't stopped dishonest right-wingers from trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, both nationwide and in Wisconsin.

Right-wing propaganda such as Fox News continues to lie and deceive about Obamacare, and its effects on people's lives. One such example was spectacularly exposed this week, when Eric Stern followed up on a recent Shawn Hannity program's claims about Obamacare. You really need to read the whole thing in, and share with your friends, because it is a great debunking.

How did Stern (a former adviser to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer) show Hannity and Faux to be full of shit? By performing a rare act of journalism - following up with the Faux News "guests" that were allegedly hurt by Obamacare. Here's an example of what he found.
...I called Allison Denijs. She’d told Hannity that she pays over $13,000 a year in premiums. Like the other guests, she said she had recently gotten a letter from Blue Cross saying that her policy was being terminated and a new, ACA-compliant policy would take its place. She says this shows that Obama lied when he promised Americans that we could keep our existing policies.

Allison’s husband left his job a few years ago, one with benefits at a big company, to start his own business. Since then they’ve been buying insurance on the open market, and are now paying around $1,100 a month for a policy with a $2,500 deductible per family member, with hefty annual premium hikes. One of their two children is not covered under the policy. She has a preexisting condition that would require purchasing additional coverage for $600 a month, which would bring the family’s grand total to around $20,000 a year.

I asked Allison if she’d shopped on the exchange, to see what a plan might cost under the new law. She said she hadn’t done so because she’d heard the website was not working. Would she try it out when it’s up and running? Perhaps, she said. She told me she has long opposed Obamacare, and that the president should have focused on tort reform as a solution to bringing down the price of healthcare.

I tried an experiment and shopped on the exchange for Allison and Kurt. Assuming they don’t smoke and have a household income too high to be eligible for subsidies, I found that they would be able to get a plan for around $7,600, which would include coverage for their uninsured daughter. This would be about a 60 percent reduction from what they would have to pay on the pre-Obamacare market.

Allison also told me that the letter she received from Blue Cross said that in addition to the policy change for ACA compliance, in the new policy her physician network size might be reduced. That’s something insurance companies do to save money, with or without Obamacare on the horizon, just as they raise premiums with or without Obamacare coming.
Other examples include a business owner who tries to blame Obamacare for rate increases and his company not expanding...except he only has 4 employees and Obamacare doesn't sink in until you have 50 or more. And there's the "Christian youth motivational speaker" who could have gotten a reduction in premiums of 63%, but since he and his family don't want to deal with anything from the Kenyan Socialist in the White House, they won't do it. Which makes it a you problem, Mr. Evangelist, not an Obamacare one.

Now let's take a look at how Wisconsin's rollout of Obamacare is going. Democurmudgeon says he's already been able to enroll in the federal Obamacare exchanges, but can't get a list of Wisconsin providers. That's probably due in no small part to the Walker Administration choosing to turn down millions of dollars in federal aid, deciding to dump Wisconsinites onto the federal exchanges in an attempt to overload the system instead of developing their own exchange program. So as a result, Wisconsin is lagging behind other states when it comes to getting people signed up for coverage under the ACA. Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel (last seen failing to show his work sfter claiming Obamacare would lead to insurance increases in Wisconsin) is back claiming that very few Wisconsinites had been able to sign up through the exchanges, and that the Walker folks are disappointed with that. However, our neighbors to the west don't seem to be having as much difficulty.
Federal officials have so far refused to provide data showing just how few, but Wisconsin officials did their own survey and Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel says fewer than 50 people were able to sign up through during the first week.

By comparison, in Minnesota, which is not relying on the federal website, some 5,500 people applied for coverage through its state website during the first two weeks, officials there said.

Nickel said problems with the federal site could jeopardize efforts in Wisconsin to shift 95,000 people off Medicaid and help the estimated 500,000 uninsured in the state get covered by the Dec. 15 deadline to sign up for coverage starting Jan. 1.
Hmmm, what's the missing ingredient here? Could it be that Minnesota accepted the money to set up its own Obamacare exchange and Walker decided to TeaBag it in favor of his idiotic "Work Makes You Free" plan, which does the double-whammy of covering tens of thousands fewer people while costing Wisconsin taxpayers at least $122 million more? Why yes, yes it is.

It's not like Minnesota and Wisconsin have largely differing needs when it comes to insuring its citizens. In fact, Minnesota is the only state in the Midwest with a LOWER amount of unininsured than Wisconsin, so if anything, they should have fewer needs than we do. But instead, they're getting their folks signed up and ready to go for January 1, while Wisconsinites struggle to get the best insurance options they could get. That's the separator between having a governor and a state legislature that cares about good outcomes for its citizens (in Minnesota) versus one that only cares about petty politics and tactics (in Wisconsin).

That's the way today's GOP rolls. Righties have a vested interest in having Obamacare fail, or be perceived as a failure, because having it work for citizens and improve our country's quality of life would doubtlessly help Democrats in the future, (since only Dems voted in favor of the ACA). And when you're the party that represents the Triumph of the Ratfuckers (as Charlie Pierce so accurately put it), political success is the most important measure, and it trumps all other statistics.

Therefore, in GOP-world, having Obamacare be successful is not an acceptable option, and it must be prevented by any and all means. This explains why Faux News and the Walker Administration continue to go out of their way to try to screw up implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and they don't care how many Americans and Wisconsinites get hurt in the process. It is seditious, soziopathic behavior, and it needs to be called out in the most severe terms.

P.S.- By the way, the online setup of was done almost entirely by contractors, many of whom had cozy connections to government officials. Isn't that the method that righties want most things done? If GOPs complain about the shoddy sign-up program, aren't they indicting the whole right-wing philosophy of "the private sector should be the ones running all government functions"?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WisDems play hardball, and offer real property tax relief

Now this is the way Dems should play ball. Instead of lamely going along with Gov Walker's and WisGOP's tepid, deficit-increasing "property tax relief" bill, State Reps Peter Barca, Jon Richards, and other Dems upped the ante today. They proposed a counter-package that not only would have given Wisconsinites a real tax break for next year, but also was more fiscally responsible in the process.

If you look at the LFB's analysis of the Dem proposal, you'll see it would have been an improvement over the Walker/WisGOP plan in a number of ways.

1. Tax cut is larger, especially for lower and middle-income Wisconsinites that qualify. The way this would have been done is by changing the $100 million from being increased funding for school aids, and instead adding it to the state's First Dollar property tax credit. LFB explains:
The first dollar credit is extended to each taxable parcel of real estate on which improvements are located.
Then, the amount of the credit is based on the school tax rate for the area. The LFB estimated that all qualified recipients of the First Dollar credit would get a write-off of $45 on both their 2013 and 2014 property taxes, compared to a drop of $13 in 2013 and $20 more in 2014 under the Walker/WisGOP plan.

In addition, the $45 would go to ANY parcel of property that has had improvements, regardless of the value of it. This is worth noting as LFB's analysis shows that high-value properties stand to get tax cuts of hundreds of dollars under the Walker/WisGOP plan, but a $100,000 home is only looking at a $9 reduction this year under the same plan. Granted, a drawback is that unimproved properties in the state wouldn't get anything under this, but a significant amount of properties in the state would be affected, as evidenced by the credit already being at $150 million, with the Dem bill expanding it to $250 million.

2. It would take the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. And it does so by expanding Medicaid eligibility to adults that make 133% of the poverty income level (vs. 100% of the poverty line under Walker's "Work Makes you Free" plan). In addition to the tens of thousands of additional Wisconsinites that would be covered, the LFB says this provision would SAVE $119 million for state taxpayers in the next 2 years, due to the feds covering more of the costs under Obamacare.

3. It returns indexing to the Homestead Credit. This removal of indexing was a back-door tax increase put in by Walker and WisGOP in Scotty's first budget, and this would reverse that move. In the process, it would save lower-income taxpayers $17.6 million over the next 2 years.

4. It adds to the rainy day fund, and lowers the budget deficit. The Dem plan also would move $40 million in year 1 and $60 million in year 2 to the state's Budget Stabilization Fund, so it's set aside in case of a downturn in the next couple of years. The LFB also says that the structural deficit for the 2015-17 budget would be $672 million, or $53 million LESS than the Walker/WisGOP plan would have. It also bulks up the rainy day fund to improve the chances of dealing with any in-year deficits that might show up.

So in short, the property tax relief is larger for many Wisconsinites, the structural deficit is less, and more Wisconsinites get health insurance. Sounds like a win-win-win, doesn't it?

Naturally, the "fiscally responsible" Republicans killed the proposed Dem law, and went ahead and passed their miniscule property tax relief bill. It passed overwhelmingly (82-12), mostly because some relief is better than nothing for most politicians, but that didn't stop Rep. Barca from rightfully ripping WisGOP's silly effort.
“There are two irrefutable facts: One, Republican legislators and Gov. Walker raised property taxes in their budget. Two, today Republicans voted against a plan that would actually cut property taxes for all property taxpayers, instead passing a plan that simply offers a lower tax hike for some taxpayers.

“Days after Gov. Walker got a strong election opponent, documents show he rushed to draft a bill as a political stunt to distract from his failures on job creation and his budget that raised property taxes.
I sure hope Mary Burke and other Dems take the hint from Rep. Barca, because THIS is how Dems need to act for the next 13 months. Not only in developing creative solutions that direct any tax cuts toward the middle and lower classes while being fiscally responsible, but in mincing no words when it comes to exposing the games and meaningless actions that are the S-O-P for today's WisGOP.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

(Pre-shutdown) Jobs numbers tomorrow!

Quick reminder that tomorrow should feature the release of Wisconsin's job numbers for September. My instinct is that they'll be pretty good, because unemployment claims are at their lowest levels in several years in Wisconsin.

But let's not confuse that with giving credit to Walker/WisGOP policies, because the U.S. also had its lowest amount of unemployment claims since the time before the Great Recession. At least until the shutdown hit at the start of October. As this chart shows, Wisconsin's year-over-year decline in unemployment claims is no different than the rest of the country, as evidenced by the purple line creeping back above 0% the last 2 weeks.

Interestingly, the shutdown has kept the U.S's jobs report for September from being released, so it'll be slightly difficult to put the state's numbers into context. But if the Baggers in Congress don't screw things up even more tonight, the shutdown will officially be over, and we'll be able to run those reports soon enough once the feds get back online.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yep, property tax "relief" expands budget deficit

I knew there the WisGOPs were trying to rush this property tax "relief" through for a reason. And it looks like my instincts were right, as the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed that passing the $100 million giveaway and the rest of Gov Walker's tepid "jobs package" will end up increasing the structural deficit in the next budget to $725 million. This figure also includes the "super expanded 2013 surplus" the was part of the DOA report released yesterday, and reflects a few items that can be laid directly at actions done since the November 2012 elections.

1. The Koo-Koo tax cuts are a big factor. Basically Walker and WisGOP have decided to blow this one-time surplus (which LFB pointed out was due in large part to a booming stock market, and not due to job or wage growth) on $648 million in tax cuts. If this sounds familiar, it should, because in 2001 another Dubya did the same strategy in D.C., and another Scott (McCallum) blew a big surplus on one-time fixes and spending in Wisconsin. The result? A major deficit blew up once the economy turned south later that year. And given how the Baggers are trying to blow up the country's credit rating with their dumb antics in D.C., does anyone else get a sense of deja vu coming along, in a lot of bad ways?

2. The Walker Administration refused to follow the advice of the state's Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, and did not raise the gas tax or other related fees in the latest budget. Instead, the Walker folks borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars for a road-building binge, and transferred $216 million from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund to help pay for public transit on a one-time basis (the raise in funding was relatively small, but the money for it essentially got paid out of the General Fund). The LFB assumes this transfer will not continue, which means the Transportation Fund faces a major deficit in the next budget as well, since it'll have to come up with that extra money somewhere. In addition, if that transfer to the Transportation Fund DOES continue, then it raises the deficit another $216 million, to $941 million. It is a classic "kick the can down the road" strategy that really puts the state up against the wall for the next budget.

3. Now there's this $100 million giveaway to make schools reduce property taxes, along with some smaller symbolic measures to close the alleged "skills gap" for certain jobs (something I have pointed out is largely due to employers refusing to pay Wisconsin workers a competitive wage over having unskilled workers). I'll leave out the debate about whether property tax relief is the right strategy as opposed to meeting other needs, and instead make the following point about how this alleged relief is being carried out.

If your goal is to give Wisconsin property owners a noticeable tax break, you wouldn't give a tepid tax cut phased in over 2 years, where $40 million is added in year 1 (and can pretty much only be used for tax relief) and $60 million more is added in year 2 (and can conceivably be used for other means along with tax relief). What you'd do instead is throw all $100 million of tax relief into year 1, and allow year 2 to stay as it is in the budget. This would do the following 3 things.

A. Gives a much bigger property tax break to Wisconsinites for year 1. Instead, LFB anticipates that overall school property taxes will still go up for 2014, even with this cut, so most people won't notice it, and will rightfully be skeptical when Walker tries to claim "I cut property taxes" in the 2014 campaign.

B. Total state funding for schools would face a minor drop of less than 1% for 2015, but that would be easy to absorb, coming on the heels of a major increase in state aid for this year. All Districts would do is use more state funding to make up for expenses in 2014-15, as opposed to only going for property tax relief, and it would give a full year for districts to make that adjustment, perhaps allowing for a smooth transition from year-to-year. Instead, this current plan will do nothing for increasing the level of services in public schools in either this year OR next year.

C. Putting all $100 million in year 1 would not increase the structural deficit, as year 2 totals would not change. Instead, the $60 million in added funds for year 2 under the current bill now becomes assumed in the budget for future years, which drives up the structural deficit, and means there has to be a place to cut or raise taxes to take care of those extra funds.

In other words, the school "relief" bill doesn't give enough bang for the buck, it doesn't improve education in Wisconsin, and it's fiscally stupid because it drives up our deficit for the next budget.

So why do it? Because Walker and WisGOP care a whole lot more about talking points than better outcomes, and because it allows things to be screwed up even more long-term, tying the hands of the governor that follows Walker, much like how Bush's idiotic fiscal policies left Obama in a major bind for deficits and debt, and encouraged more austerity-based policies. And if it's screwed up enough, then Wisconsin will have little choice but to sell off needed services to investors and other campaign contributors.

Which is just the way these d-bags like it. Yep, this silly $100 million giveaway is straight out of the "starve the beast" textbook.

Monday, October 14, 2013

More on the silly property tax giveaway

Now that I'm back at home, I have a little more time to reflect on WisGOP's relatively meaningless attempt to reduce property taxes on schools. And others have, too.

First is the revelation from One Wisconsin Now that shows this bill was only drafted last week, after Mary Burke entered the Governor's race. Heck, it still doesn't have an official bill number (just a drafting number), and it indicates to me that this bill was rushed in a lame attempt to grab headlines and get a talking point. Then again, "Ready! Fire! aim!" and picking politics over developing policies that work is kind of a Walker trademark, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by such a silly move.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau still has yet to say what the effect of giving away $40 million this year and $60 million next year will have on this budget, and the next one. As it stands, this $100 million would put the state into a deficit by the end of 2015, which would be illegal under state rules, although it is possible that the Walker Administration is correct that the year-end surplus for 2013 will be higher than previously predicted, so they'd technically be able to get away with it. But if this is true, there's another conversation to have, because we need to back up and see if this is the proper way to take advantage of this one-time upside budget number.

I'm not the only one asking for legislators to take a step back and look at the big picture. The Wisconsin Budget Project points out that there are a lot of other directions that the Walker Administration and the Legislature could take, but aren't.
•What is the source of the increased revenue? Is it from a sustained upturn in revenue projections, or primarily from a one-time surplus?

•Will this proposal increase the state’s structural deficit? If it will, would it make more sense to use the revenue for fiscally responsible purposes, such as reducing bonding or increasing the required minimum balance (which lawmakers have promised to do in the statutes, but every two years they postpone for two more years)?

•If the larger surplus results in part from reduced spending, do those spending projections take into account the probable $52 million reduction in the federal share of Medicaid spending?
And as I mentioned earlier today, this measure won't do anything when it comes to helping schools meet the cost and space constraints in their system, because while there is an added $100 million in state spending being proposed, there is ZERO being added to the districts' revenue limits, which means they can't spend another dime in this year, and are extremely limited in doing so next year.

The lack of increased revenue for schools is one of the many points brought up by State Senator (and hopefully future candidate for Governor) Kathleen Vinehout.
Schools are limited in what they can spend by state imposed revenue limits. Many frugal school boards don’t tax to the extent they are allowed. But as state money shrinks, board members are left with few options.

Local school boards are now preparing budgets for the next school year. Many members told me the “tools” the Governor gave the districts are not working. Costs are increasing faster than boards can make cuts. Especially hard hit are rural schools. Many districts have combined classrooms, cut electives, have multi-certified teachers, share staff with neighboring districts, share sports teams and long ago got rid of much support and administrative staff.

School boards now have no choice but to levy to the maximum allowed by law. Meaning possible big property tax increases for residents.

Enter the Governor’s new “property tax relief”.
And as Sen. Vinehout brings up, this added $100 million and the previously-approved small increase that was already in the budget for 2013-15 still doesn't come close to recovering the $800 million a year that was cut out of school aids in Gov. Walker's first budget. We are not better off econimically, our property taxes are still going up, and we've had an entirely unnecessary 3 years of teacher-bashing and anger as a result of Walker's and WisGOP's horrible education policies.

So while I severely doubt this will happen, I'd encourage the State Legislature to take the time to discuss if a one-time, minimal property tax limitation is the proper way to handle this $100 million. I certainly don't see a need to have it be part of a special legislative session, especially since we're already in a regular Legislative session, and slamming this through and making school boards and DPI staff have go through a large amount of adjustments and extra work in the next 3 weeks seems to be unnecessary. Why not let things play out for the 2013-'14 school year, and if the budget battle and debt limit is decided in the next week or two, THEN come back and propose the ntire $100 million of relief for the next school year? Or use the surplus funds to make decisions on meeting other priorities.

But wait, that would entail responsible governing and not playing cheap, cynical games. And God knows Scott Walker would never choose good governance over talk-show type stunts designed to get a short-term bump from low-information voters. Which explains why we have this silly, symbolic move being brought up.

LATE EDIT: The Department of Administration released its year-end fiscal report, and it says the projected cash surplus ended up at $759 million, which is $89 million above the previous projection. That pretty much pays for the $100 million giveaway, but still leaves the $545 million structural deficit in the next budget....and possibly higher if revenues don't pick up like people project it to.

That $100 million won't go far

Still unpacking and working, so not much time to talk yet, but here are a few quick thoughts on the WisGOP property tax plan.

The LFB has released its analysis of the proposed property tax relief bill, and I'd highly recommend that you not plan any major purchases around your extra funds.
The bill would increase general school aids funding by $40 million GPR in 2013-14 and $60 million GPR in 2014-15. Under the bill, general school aids funding would increase from $4,293,658,000 in the 2012-13 base year to $4,381,594,600 in 2013-14 and $4,475,960,500 in 2014-15. Compared to the base [of 2012-13 funds], the general aids appropriation would increase by $87,936,600 in 2013-14 and $182,302,500 in 2014-15 under the bill.

Because the additional general aid funding under the bill would be subject to revenue limits, it is estimated that the statewide school district levy would be reduced under the bill by $40 million in 2013-14 and $60 million in 2014-15 from current law. As a result, the projected school district levy would be reduced by an estimated 0.8% in 2013-14 from the level projected at the time Act 20 was enacted (from an estimated $4,735 million under Act 20 to an estimated $4,695 million under the bill), and by an estimated 1.2% in 2014-15 (from an estimated $4,797 million under Act 20 to an estimated $4,737 million under the bill). The actual school levy in 2012-13 was $4,656.1 million.
So while property taxes will be reduced FROM WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN for the next 2 years, they're still going to be up $39 million vs. today in 2014, and up $81 million from today in 2015.

I'll forward you to the Wisconsin Soapbox blog for more analysis. Andy rightfully calls out this as symbolic BS that does little to nothing to reduce class sizes or improve public education in any sort of way. It's just a shift of funding from property taxes to general state taxes- not a bad thing on its face if you feel that's where the burdens should fall, but also not intended to change outcomes.

The Soapbox article also links to this report from the LFB that dropped late last week, which says property taxes might not be so high in 2014 for a different reason- dropping property values. In fact, the LFB now predicts that the median-valued home in Wisconsin DROPPED MORE THAN $3,000, from $151,148 in 2012, to $148,000 in 2013. Now your community's standards may differ, but that seems to indicate that any property tax "cut" you might be getting this year is more than offset from the loss of home value you're going to have.

So how's that "cutting of teacher take-home pay and demonizing public employees" strategy working out for us? I'll have more later this week after I unpack more boxes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moving on up

My wife and I are in the process of moving to a bigger place on the west side, so that's why I've been quiet here recently.

But I'm keeping my eyes opened, and among the things I've spied include the Wisconsin Budget Project showing that Wisconsin may have to spend $52 million more in Medicaid funds .

Gov Walker's decision to TeaBag the expanded Medicaid funding that was part of Obamacare looks dumber by the day, doesn't it?

I'll be back next week to talk some more, and we might even have some data to go with it once the shutdown ends.

Monday, October 7, 2013

2014- 1 in, 1 out, 1 to come?

After surviving a trip to Michelle Bachmann-land to take part in a wedding this weekend, it was back to work today. And quite an interesting day in Wisconsin politics it is.

1. Mary Burke is in for Gov. No real surprise here, since Burke's name had been floated by insiders for months, and that she had been working behind the scenes. She's even got her own little bio to introduce yourself to her.

I'm a bit skeptical of a Burke candidacy, but it's more because of a perception that DPW Chair Mike Tate has been trying to promote her candidacy behind the scenes and push other candidates out of the race. Unlike most blogging types in this state, I've actually seen Mary Burke in a public job, at a candidate forum when she ran for Madison School Board in 2012, and I liked what I heard, as she clearly understands that poverty is the key predictor of student achievement). She also does favor union and school board control of charter schools (a key concern I'd have), although she's not as good on teacher unions and pay as I'd like.

But while Burke is knowledgeable on economic issues and education, she also comes off as very milquetoast, and I have my doubts on how head-on she'll be willing to take on the failed Walker Administration, which she will need to do if she is to win. She also needs to step out, define what she stands for more (or else the right-wing lie machine will do it for her), and MEET WITH THE VOTERS. It seems that the Dem grassroots was the one DPW group Burke hasn't spent a lot of time with, and that'll have to change if she is to get my support in August 2014. I'm keeping an open mind on Burke, and anything's better than Walker in November 2014 (and I will vehemently support the Dem opponent), but I also am looking for more at this point from the Dems' candidate. Maybe Burke will bring it, or maybe someone else will (see below)

2. JB Van Hollen is OUT for Attorney General. This announcement surprised me, and I don't think it was because this partisan hack wanted to rain on Mary Burke's parade. There's something going on here, but I can't figure out what it is. Is Van Hollen scared of some kind of TeaBag challenge (hilarious because Van Hollen has covered for pretty much every sickening Walker agenda item, including his recent defense of ALEC and Leah Vukmir against open records requests), or is it because he knows something's about to come down and he doesn't want to have to face the voters as it happens? One Wisconsin Now has been all over Van Hollen asking for an investigation into the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin shenanigans, and Van Hollen doing nothing in that fiasco would look like an obvious cover-up. Maybe he will do something, and not running keeps the Sykesists and other GOP dimwits from primarying him out of office next August (I kid...kinda).

And what is Van Hollen's future endgame with this move? He's got a political future, but if you're a GOP, things are kind of blocked in the next year. There's no Senate race in 2014 and Ron Johnson is the incumbent for 2016. If Walker does run for governor, DB-VH certainly won't run there. Is he waiting for 2018, when Tammy Baldwin would be up for re-election in the Senate and it would be unlikely that Walker would be in the picture for Governor then (either because Walker lost in 2014, or he'd be on the verge of leaving for "real money")? And perhaps 2018 is enough of a break to allow Van Hollen to resurface from the ashes if WisGOP does get their ass kicked in 2014 (not out of the realm of possibility, especially with the Republican brand going into the toilet due to DC Baggers and Walker's failures). The A-G jockeying for both parties might be more interesting than the Guv doings in the next few months.

3. Who else gets in? For Guv, I am fairly certain Mary Burke will not be the only major candidate. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout has been making all the indications of someone going for the guv job, and has been actively going to several meet-and-greets and other types of fundraisers outside of her Western Wisconsin district. The Vinehout campaign release sure sounded like someone who wasn't backing off going for the gold.
I wish Mary Burke the best. Politics is fun, exhilarating and important. Running for office is a great education. Everybody should do it at least once.
I've made no secret about being a big Vinehout fan- how can I not like a candidate who writes weekly wonky blogs? And she exposes GOP BS in places that many don't look, like when Vinehout humiliated State Sen. Alberta Darling in a Senate Education Committee meeting on charter schools last week, showing how SB 76 removes local control of charters, and funnels money away from public schools.

If Vinehout officially gets in the guv's race (she's said she won't announce till after January, though the Burke announcement might make her want to speed that up), the Dem primary will be festive and have a positive energy and type of debate that I think would help whoever came out of that August election, both in name recognition, and in making that candidate more battle-tested.

There's plenty of time between now and August, but with today's developments, that August election is all of a sudden looking like an election that will have plenty in play. And it feels like a lot of other developments will hit in the meantime in Wisconsin- both before and after the Baggers finish having their temper-tantrum in DC.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

United Sportsmen scandal- where we are, where it's going

The last couple of days for the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin scandal have had some amazing developments, on top of the sordid things we already knew (check out Part 1 if you need a refresher). The Republican spin job to try to get out of this includes another GOP rep resigning his seat to cash in (the 3rd in recent weeks), and some ridiculous attempts to excuse and deflect the issue.

Let's start with yesterday, when an emboldened Democratic contingent put together their own bill for outdoors grants, and asked for all applicants for this grant to be 501-(c)3 non-profits (the non-political type that United Sportsmen couldn't prove it was eligible to be).

GOP Legislators were peeved that they had to deal with this issue- when they drop the always-classy "Democrat proposal" line in the title of their press release, you know they're annoyed. Not surprising that they'd be defensive, but what made this notable is that the first release came from Senate Natural Resources Chair Neal Kedzie, who spit out the following.
However, I certainly hope the authors are sincere in their intent and not simply looking to score political points with some of the inflammatory rhetoric and sniping expressed earlier today. If the authors can truly put their politics aside, as they mentioned at the press conference, then perhaps we can have an honest dialogue in the weeks to come.
"Honest dialogue," Sen. Kedzie? That's rich, since you were publically claiming your son got beat up by "liberals" 2 weeks before the last November election, without any evidence to back your claim up. And given that your boy later asked for the investigation to be dropped (after the election, of course), it seems to indicate he actually got his drunk ass kicked in a bartime fight that had nothing to do with politics. But you weren't about toning down the rhetoric with "honest dialogue" then, were ya Neal?

But I digress, and back to the Wisconsin Sportsmen scandal. It's quite clear that WisGOP wants this issue to go away, and isn't taking any steps to investigate the grant or what Scott Suder, Gov Walker, or DNR officials knew and when they knew it. However, the near-daily articles in the Journal-Sentinel and other outlets was making that impossible, so today WisGOP tried another strategy. They announced that Suder was conveniently leaving the $94,000 position at the Public Service Commission that he was going to start on Monday, and instead was going to be a lobbyist for Wisconsin's paper industry. And of course, a main player in Wisconsin's paper industry is Koch-owned Georgia Pacific Industries, who have 6 facilities in the state. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

So what happens to the job Suder would have had at the Public Service Commission. Well, looks like Scott Walker already had someone picked out.
Today, Chairperson Phil Montgomery announced that Representative Jeff Stone has accepted the position of Division Administrator for the Division of Water, Compliance, and Consumer Affairs. This transition will take place once Representative Stone has vacated his position within the Assembly.

"Jeff will be a tremendous addition to the Public Service Commission, his service to the state as a legislator whom has served on a number of important committees will be a great asset to Wisconsin's future" said Public Service Commission Chairperson Phil Montgomery. "Jeff is a solid voice of reason in the State Assembly and will bring that 'Wisconsin First' mentality to the Public Service Commission."
Of course, among that "Wisconsin First" mentality that Rep. Stone has had is his unflagging backing of voter ID and other forms of election rigging. Stone also was a co-sponsor and strong supporter of the Mining Bill, and he will have some oversight over mining issues and the related water quality regulations that may be part of it.

The justifications from the Walker Administration on the Suder-for-Stone trade are laughable. Take a look at this from the summary of today's events.
“During Scott Suder’s initial discussions with PSC, he mentioned this other opportunity may present itself, and it did,” said Walker spokeswoman Julie Lund. “We wish him well in his new position in the private sector.”

Oh, so this opportunity just happened to be out there, and Scott Suder changed his mind, leaving the public sector to be a paper industry lobbyist. And Jeff Stone was all ready to take the PSC job when it popped open, and he'll leave the Assembly in 10 days. It's amazing how easily that all worked out, especially as Walker was starting to receive major heat for hiring Suder under these iffy circumstances.

Fortunately, Assembly Dem leader Peter Barca was having none of it.
“The fact that the Republicans are engaged in a game of musical chairs indicates they know there are serious problems with the $500,000 grant Republicans directed to political allies under the guise of a hunting education grant and further proves Republicans knew that their budget measure would fleece taxpayers.

“This does not resolve the many questions swirling around the broad, scandalous betrayal of hunters and taxpayers. And this should be a huge red flag to the public and hunters that there is very likely far more fire behind all this smoke.
And I think Rep. Barca is showing where this scandal is heading. Rep. Stone is going to have to be formally confirmed to the PSC job, and I think it might be a good time for Dems to raise the question when his confirmation comes up. A few Open Records requests to see how Walker and the DOA handled the hire seem to be in order, determining whether Suder really did have his eye on being a paper lobbyist, and to see why this job wasn't opened back up to the general public once Suder was pushed out resigned the appointment.

It makes you wonder going on at this PSC Division that a qualified public servant can't know about and administer over? Neither Suder nor Stone (a printing shop owner) have overwhelming expertise on the subject, so I think we need to find out just what made Jeff Stone such a great fit for this job. The fact that an important gig dealing with water quality and related regulations was kept in the extremely partisan GOP family should make anyone suspicious.

It's also not normal when 5% of the Assembly GOP contingent all pull the plug on their political careers in the middle of a session. Especially when Suder, Stone and Mark Honadel were all major supporters and sponsors of the Mining Bill- a bill that United Sportsmen of Wisconsin actively supported and lobbied for. If Gov Walker's Administration thinks removing Scott Suder and replacing him with Jeff Stone will cause the United Sportsmen issue to go away from people's minds when they go to the polls in 13 months and 1 day, I think they've got another thing coming.

See, the pattern of corruption and cronyism with WisGOP runs deep, with United Sportsmen just being the latest in a long line of transgressions. It's up to us and the Dems to make sure they aren't allowed to get off the hook for cheating the people of Wisconsin by funneling funds and power among their little GOP boys' and girls' club. Between the potential money-laundering and the mining bill connections to the WisGOP reps that are stepping through the revolving door, there is plenty of corruption angles to investigate with the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin issue. Our media needs to take the final step to connect the dots that they've done well to expose in this disgusting case.

We can't trust the GOP-run Legislature to honestly look into these issues, since revelations that may come from it could hurt their chances in next year's elections (and it already looks tough enough in 2014 if you're a GOP). Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is too busy covering up for Leah Vukmir and ALEC, and refused to help the FBI during the John Doe investigation in Milwaukee so he can't be trusted to do the right thing. Therefore, it is time to demand Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne and federal investigators take over to look into this Madison-based sketchiness. And unlike Milwaukee's John Chisholm, I wouldn't expect Ozanne or the feds to chicken out when it comes time to connect the final dots- to the guy in the Governor's Office, and to the corporates pulling his strings.