Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bad day to be a Wisconsin racist

First, Clippers owner Donald Sterling gets the bomb dropped on him by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. I was pleasantly surprised they dished out the lifetime ban and the $2.5 million fine (though Sterling still seems to be able to obtain the massive profits that will come from selling the Clippers), and you know Silver spent the last few days lining up owner support behind the scenes to make sure there wasn't dissention blocking this move, which I find to be quite bad-ass.

But this doesn't let the NBA (and especially former Commissioner David Stern) off the hook for allowing this scumbucket to control a franchise in the second-largest market for decades and essentially freeload off the work of the other franchises who succeeded in growing the NBA's business and brand name. If these recorded comments were the only evidence of Sterling's racism or generally sickening behavior, I'd think a ban would be an overreaction, but if you look at Sterling's 30-year history of mismanagement and racism, and if anything, this ban came far too late.

The fact that Sterling was kept around well after his sell-by date is no consolation to the racist trash that listen to right-wing radio, who are now trying to make Sterling seem like a victim that's being some kind of victim to "political correctness." But the Sterling ban is small potatoes compared to the big blow to Baggery that was landed this afternoon in a federal courtroom in Milwaukee. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin's voter-ID law, legislation that was long sought after by these same AM radio fans, having been spurred on by years of allegations from talk show hosts of "voter fraud". Naturally those alleged cases of voter fraud brought up on 620 and 1130 seemed to always occur among minority communities in Milwaukee and on college campuses- two areas that heavily vote Democrat (no coincidence they'd mention those people would they? Noooooo of course not).

Well, Judge Adelman actually decided to do something that AM radio talking heads rarely do- look at the evidence, see if there really was voter fraud in Wisconsin, and base some of his decision on that reality. Or as it turned out, lack of reality, as the defendants from J.B. Van Hollen's Attorney General's office couldn't even back up their own claims.
The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past. The only evidence even relating to voter impersonation that the defendants introduced was the testimony of Bruce Landgraf, an Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee County. Landgraf testified that in “major elections,” by which he means gubernatorial and presidential elections, his office is asked to investigate about 10 or 12 cases in which a voter arrives at the polls and is told by the poll worker that he or she has already cast a ballot. Tr. 2056–57. However, his office determined that the vast majority of these cases—approximately 10 each election—have innocent explanations, such as a poll worker’s placing an indication that a person has voted next to the wrong name in the poll book. Tr. 2057. Still, about one or two cases each major election remain unexplained, and the defendants contend that these one or two cases could be instances of voter-impersonation fraud. I suppose that’s possible, but most likely these cases also have innocent explanations and the District Attorney’s office was simply unable to confirm that they did. Moreover, the most Landgraf’s testimony shows is that cases of potential voter-impersonation fraud occur so infrequently that no rational person familiar with the relevant facts could be concerned about them. There are over 660,000 eligible voters in Milwaukee County,6 and if the District Attorney’s office finds two unexplained cases each major election, that means that there is less than one questionable vote cast each major election per 330,000 eligible voters. The rate of potential voter-impersonation fraud is thus exceedingly tiny.

The evidence introduced by the plaintiffs confirms that voter-impersonation fraud does not occur in Wisconsin. The plaintiffs offered the testimony of Lorraine Minnite, a professor at Rutgers University who specializes in the study of the incidence of voter fraud in contemporary American elections. Professor Minnite studied elections in Wisconsin during the years 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2012 to determine whether she could identify any incidents of voter fraud. She consulted a variety of sources of information, including newspaper databases, news releases by the Wisconsin Attorney General, criminal complaints, decisions by state courts, and documents issued by the GAB. From these sources, Minnite was able to identify only one case of voter-impersonation fraud. Tr. 1036–42. And the single case of voter-impersonation fraud did not involve in-person voter impersonation. Rather, that case involved a man who applied for and cast his recently deceased wife’s absentee ballot. Tr. 1041. Thus, from Minnite’s work, it appears that there have been zero incidents of in-person voter-impersonation fraud in Wisconsin during recent elections....

The defendants also contend that even if there currently is no voter impersonation in Wisconsin, the state has an interest in taking steps to prevent voter-impersonation fraud from becoming a problem in the future. In support of this contention, the defendants point out that the Supreme Court has stated that legislatures “should be permitted to respond to potential deficiencies in the electoral process with foresight rather than reactively, provided that the response is reasonable and does not significantly impinge on constitutionally protected rights.” Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189, 195–96 (1986). However, the Supreme Court has also stated that states cannot burden the right to vote in order to address dangers that are remote and only “theoretically imaginable.” Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 33 (1968). In the present case, no evidence suggests that voter-impersonation fraud will become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future. As the plaintiffs’ unrebutted evidence shows, a person would have to be insane to commit voter impersonation fraud. The potential costs of perpetrating the fraud, which include a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment, are extremely high in comparison to the potential benefits, which would be nothing more than one additional vote for a preferred candidate (or one fewer vote for an opposing candidate), a vote which is unlikely to change the election’s outcome. Tr. 1017–19, 1342. Adding to the cost is the fact that, contrary to the defendants’ rhetoric, voter-impersonation fraud is not “easy” to commit. To commit voter impersonation fraud, a person would need to know the name of another person who is registered at a particular polling place, know the address of that person, know that the person has not yet voted, and also know that no one at the polls will realize that the impersonator is not the individual being impersonated. Tr. 1341. The defendants offered no evidence at trial to support the notion that it is easy to obtain this knowledge. Thus, given that a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud, Act 23 cannot be deemed a reasonable response to a potential problem.
Of course, this won't stop the whiny white suburb boys from screeching and demanding that Gov. Walker follow through on his threat to call a special session of the Legislature to pass voter ID legislation, and Speaker Robbin' Vos is already trying to gin up the hysteria on Twitter to do the same. But given that other parts of the Adelman decision describe the large, illegal barriers that Wisconsinites had to go through in order to try to get an ID, it is unlikely they could find a solution that would fit, unless they mailed and gave out IDs to pretty much every voter-age Wisconsinite for free.

But if the racist 262-based Republicans want to continue to waste the people's time and effort to go after this fake issue in order to rig elections, I say BRING IT ON. It's no coincidence that African-Americans had a larger turnout than whites in 2012 after putting up with years of race-baiting against President Obama, and another factor in that was it allowed them to fight back against voter suppression laws. So if WisGOP wants to piss off Dem-leaning constituencies such as minorities and young voters that typically drop off in midterms, and get them fired up to vote out Walker and the other Republicans this November, go for it!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

2014 Wisconsin Legislature elections- not tipping....yet

In the last couple of weeks, we received more information on Wisconsin's electoral geography, and I think it gives a good idea of the state of play for the State Legislature in the 2014 elections. I'll first direct you to the Daily Kos breakdown of Wisconsin's legislative districts. If you look at that post, you'll see dark blue districts that both voted for Obama and have Dem legislators, while the dark red voted for Romney and have Republican legislators. The light pink voted for Obama and have Republican legislators, and the light blue voted for Romney and have Democratic legislators. If you want to do your own analysis, here is the poster's Senate information, and the Assembly breakdown.

I did a similar analysis back in July, combining the Obama vs. Romney votes with the Baldwin vs. Thompson race, and broke down the individual districts by "dissimilarity to Wisconsin." Basically what I was trying to figure is if Wisconsin's overall numbers were a 50-50 tossup between Dems and Republicans, which party would win in each district? In both examples, the GOP's gerrymandering strategy becomes apparent- packing Dems into heavily pro-Dem seats while stretching as many GOPs as possible into seats that are approximately 55-45 to 60-40 GOP.

Now with this in mind, last week's Public Policy Polling survey of Wisconsin showed a generic legislative ballot with Dems up by 4 points among Wisconsin voters (Dem 45, GOP 41). What would that mean if Dems had a uniform 4-point advantage in all legislative elections in November 2014, at 52-48? A quick check shows the following:

Dems pick up 5 seats currently held by GOP
GOP picks up 2 seats currently held by Dems
1 Dem seat is 50-50 toss-up (Doyle)
FINAL RESULT: GOP 57, Dems 41, 1 toss-up

Dems pick up 1 seat (Schultz -open)
GOP picks up 1 seat (Lehman- open)

Seems like GOP gerrymandering will carry the day again at first glance. But look at what happens if there's even a tiny shift further toward the Dems.

5 closest GOP wins in 52-48 Dem year, 2014
Ripp (R-inc.) (50.6%-49.4%)
Bies (R-open) (50.9%-49.1%)
Krug (R-inc.) (51.0%-49.0%)
Klenke (R-open) (51.7%-48.3%)
Vruwink (D-inc.) (52.0%-48.0%)

Ellis (R-open) (52.1%-47.9%)
Moulton (R-inc.) (52.5%-47.5%)
Petrowski (R-inc.) (53.3%-46.7%)
Lassee (R-inc.) (53.5%-46.5%)
Leibham (R-open) (54.2%-45.8%)

So if Dems added another 2% statewide in this scenario, there's another 5 seats that fall their way in the Assembly along with the 1 toss-up, making it 52-47 GOP in that chamber. Maybe that would inspire some GOP Assembly members to grow a backbone and stand up to Robbin' Vos, since only 3 of them defecting could kill legislation, and many more would be endangered in what could be a big Dem year in 2016 (PPP has Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead over all Dems for 2016, including home-staters Scott Walker and Paul Ryan).

In the Senate, it's even closer. A 2% shift to the Dems turn the open Ellis and Moulton seats into toss-ups, and Dems would control the Senate if they won both of those. Add in the fact that the Leibham seat is now open and Lassee is a lunkhead who wanted teachers to have guns in school, and once adorned his website with a quote from Adolph Hitler, and the path to a Dem majority isn't as far off as you'd think.

What's also interesting is the geographic mix of these vulnerable GOP seats. Many are in and around the Appleton/Green Bay area or in western Wisconsin- two swingy areas that Dems need to do well in if they want to win in statewide elections this November.

Hmm, seems like the electoral map has stated where the prime pick-up territories are for the Dems this November. So GET TO WORK, instead of wasting time talking to us in Madison, where we don't need any convincing to turn out and take out Scott Walker and the rest of this GOP wrecking crew.

Good Sunday reading from "Save our Bucks" on arena

It's a crappy, rainy week setting up, so you'll have time to read this, and I recommend you do. It's a very deep dive from the "Save our Bucks" blog on the arena issue and NBA economics in general. Not surprisingly, a blog named "Save our Bucks" is pro-arena, but the issues are examined very well, and I agree with this take that the "NBA buyback" clause in 2017 makes it more likely the Bucks would stay instead of not.
The buyback clause was put into the deal specifically to PROTECT Milwaukee from having the new owners make a half-hearted attempt at a new arena and then move the team or flip the franchise to buyers from Seattle or another market. The League and Senator Kohl wanted to make sure the Bucks avoided the Sonics debacle that took place when the Seattle franchise was sold, and their new owner Clay Bennett made a half-hearted attempt to stay before quickly moving the team to Oklahoma City. In contrast, Lasry and Edens now have every incentive to make an arena deal work in Milwaukee — or risk having to sell the team back to the league for a much smaller return.

Certain people around Milwaukee were not familiar with any of these issues, and evidently just assumed that once the Bucks were sold to new owners, the concept of a new arena was “optional” and that the team could remain in the Milwaukee forever, playing in an aging Bradley Center. This was never the case.
That last point is very true- the league can't have non-competitive franchises with apathetic fanbases dragging it down if they want to maximize their profitability for all teams. There are enough of them as it is, which is a reason they changed the revenue-sharing mix in 2011 to give smaller markets a better chance of succeeding (and because the image of players refusing to play in certain small-market, cold-weather cities isn't one the league wants).

The "Save our Bucks" blog also said the team should be considered like any other major Milwaukee employer, and much like how Northwestern Mutual Life got a huge TIF to build their new tower near the lakefront downtown, the city and state should try to hang onto the team because of its significant economic impact.
- What business will replace the $60+ million in annual taxable income created by NBA players competing in Milwaukee at least 41 nights per year? Player salaries annually account for $4+ million in potential income tax revenue that would not be replaced should the Bucks leave Milwaukee, and it’s a number that figures to grow by well over the rate of GDP over the coming decade. And that tax revenue doesn’t include income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes paid by all the other front office employees of the team and people working at a new arena.

Last year Forbes estimated the Bucks revenues at approximately $109 million. Of that, only $21 million was from local ticket revenue. Sure, if the Bucks leave, that $21 million in ticket revenue gets spent elsewhere, maybe at movies and bars. But much of the other revenue, now coming from national and global league sources, will leave Wisconsin for good. That out of State money right now is used to fund payrolls, jobs and taxes here in the State of Wisconsin.
As said before, give it a read. I don't necessarily agree with all of the arguments, but I do agree that losing the Bucks would have a legitimate impact on downtown Milwaukee- the question is who should pay to help prevent that loss (private investors, Super-TIF, general taxpayer?), and whether shelling out to make up for that loss leaves bigger deficiencies for the city and the region that should be taken care of first.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

2014 revenues slipping in Wisconsin BEFORE the new tax cuts

Late Friday afternoon, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released the state's revenue collections for March 2014. And it showed that these numbers stayed sluggish as the 1st quarter of the year ended, as adjusted income tax revenues were only up 1.0% vs. March 2013, sales and use taxes were up 2.6% (a deceptively high number as it includes a boost from Amazon.com now collecting sales taxes), and corporate taxes were down 14.5%. The previous months were also slow, as the 1st 3 months of 2014 weren't much better than the start of 2013, and in some measures, worse.

Change in revenues, Wis. Jan-March 2014 vs. Jan-March 2013
Income taxes- DOWN 6.9%
Sales taxes- UP 1.8%
Corporate taxes- DOWN 8.4%
Excise taxes- UP 1.5%

Now compare this to the projected revenues by LFB that they released in January 2014, before the second round of tax cuts were passed. For the first six months of 2014, they anticipated increases in sales taxes of 3.3%, for corporate taxes to go up 11.1% (instead of down 8.4%), and excise taxes to go up 0.9%. Income taxes were expected to be down 10.4%, so at first glance, being down only 6.9% seems ahead of the game. But April-June is traditionally the largest quarter for income tax collections, partly due to the fact that people who owe taxes often won't file until they absolutely have to, and because of an increase in people working due to Summer jobs starting up. So a smaller percentage amount may be a large dollar dropoff, and if the state's income tax collections are down 6.9% from April-June like they were for January-March, the state will fall $30 million short of their projected total for Fiscal Year 2014.

The same applies for sales taxes, as staying up 1.8% instead of the 3.3% LFB projection for the next 3 months is another $30 million shortfall, and if corporate taxes are down 8.4% in the next 3 months, it'd be a miss of $125 million! Excise taxes look to be about a million up or so, but the other three misses mean a projected revenue shortfall of $184 million.

Now there's still time to recover, as the fact that April-June makes for higher numbers of revenues also could mean that there are more revenues coming in that bring the numbers into balance. But it's also worth mentioning that April was the month that withholding tables were adjusted as a result of the second round of tax cuts passed earlier this year, in a transparent attempt by the Walker Administration to give Wisconsinites a higher paycheck ahead of the November 2014 elections. This means less tax will be taken out, which the LFB has measured at an impact of $156 million, but we won't exactly know just how much impact that change will have until we see the April and especially May numbers. But unless a bunch of people bought Badger Final Four gear or Hank the Dog gear, or if they spent out much more than the $25 extra they're getting in their pockets every month, there won't likely be a corresponding snapback in sales taxes for the April figures.

A good sign for revenues is that unlike earlier this year, unemployment claims are coming in 10-15% below last year's numbers so far in April. But even that's not as great as it first sounds, because last April was also a month where the state lost 7,300 jobs, so lower claims might not necessarily translate into big job growth. We will see the U.S. job numbers for April this upcoming week and the state follows in mid-May, so that should give a harbinger of whether we're getting our revenue trends back on track.

Maybe as the weather warms in Wisconsin (okay, IF the weather warms), we'll see some increased hiring and sales that makes up for the delays we had due to the polar vortex winter. There are indications this is the case for the nationwide economy, so it's logical to think Wisconsin might see some growth as well. But as March's revenue figures show, we have a sizable revenue gap to make up. If that gap isn't made up, we might have a deficit to fill before we even start taking steps to get rid of the $650 million General Fund Deficit and $1 billion in unmet Transportation needs for 2015-17. And it would blow apart much of what Scott Walker is banking his 2014 re-election campaign on.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Bucks arena pt. 3- who gets the money, who handles the money?

I wanted to end up my series on the Bucks arena question by going over the issues surrounding who would get any public funding surrounding a replacement for the Bradley Center, and how that funding would be organized. Bruce Murphy's article in Urban Milwaukee goes through many of the political and financial questions surrounding a new Bucks arena. He has 10 overall questions, all of which are good, but I want to focus in on a few in particular.
Getting Regional Help: The long-running dog and pony show led by [MMAC President Tim] Sheehy, complete with a huge regional task force considering ways to support attractions like the Milwaukee Art Museum, Marcus Center and (the real point of it all) a new NBA arena, has also triggered a couple deathlessly sober studies from the Public Policy Forum pondering the financial issues involved. Meanwhile, every surrounding county board from here to (almost) Illinois has passed resolutions saying nyet, not one kopeck for those grasping urbanites in Milwaukee. This won’t be an easy sell, either.

Finding a Stealth Tax: If you can’t convince voters to tax themselves for millionaire owners and ballplayers, you have several possible ways to snooker them. Have state legislators who live outside the area pass a local tax, as was done for the five-county Miller Park plan (call this taxation with almost no representation); that won’t fly this time as Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington Counties oppose it and have too much clout in the legislature. Or grab a tax outsiders will pay, like a car rental or hotel tax (but it can’t raise enough revenue). Or find a tax no one understands, like the proposed “Super TIF,” which takes the complicated scheme of a property tax incremental financing plan and somehow layers on sales and income taxes. Since this will require legislative approval, it will probably be shrouded in technical jargon, ideally resembling a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, to match Churchill’s description of Soviet Russia.
Allow me to jump back in there. What's hinted at by Murphy above, is that unlike the 1990s when the Miller Park tax was being debated, our state government is now run by TeaBaggers from the 262 who team up with right-wing JournalComm radio stations. This is not to the Bucks' benefit if there has to be action taken in Madison (although we can hope some of this changes in the next term starting in January 2015), and not only due to the fact that WisGOP generally isn't interested in helping the city of Milwaukee. It's also because the new owners have something in common with the Bucks' former owner.
Avoiding Partisan Debate: Uh oh, it turns out new owner Marc Lasry is a flaming Democrat who has done fundraisers for Barack Obama, even holding one in his Upper East Side Manhattan home. Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators don’t even tolerate moderate members of their own party and their lap dog Charlie Sykes has already written a story slapping at Lasry (which like everything published at Right Wisconsin cannot be read by mere mortals). Given how hard it is to pass legislation the voters hate (see Miller Park), how hard will it be to help a friend of your enemy?

Getting Media Support: The Journal Sentinel and conservative radio squawkers Sykes and Mark Belling pulled out all the stops to browbeat us into supporting the subsidy of Miller Park. (The Journal company even lobbied legislators to support the plan.) So far the Journal Sentinel has played along by burying the story about Golden State Warriors’ arena plan (though someone may need to stifle Stingl’s sly comments). JS sports writer Michael Hunt is once again writing articles offering his contempt for the “obstructionists” who would dare ask questions about any proposed deal. (Don’t they understand Hunt might lose his job if there’s no NBA team to cover?) But do the white suburban listeners of Sykes and Belling care as much about NBA basketball as Major League Baseball — much less when the team is co-owned by a dastardly Democrat?
Pretty good questions from Mr. Murphy, although Sykes says nothing without a wink and a nod from the Milwaukee oligarch community who wants this arena to be built, and WTMJ certainly would like to keep the Bucks on their winter night telecasts so their daytime hate radio shows can benefit from some of those listeners (especially with the Badgers leaving the station). So it could be fun to see what mental gymnastics Char-LIE will try to pull as this issue develops.

One other point on the Super-TIF issue, which is also brought up on the Murphy article. The NBA's Golden State Warriors announced this week that they were going to build their new arena in downtown San Francisco without any direct taxpayer assistance. Instead, the Warriors' arena will use a combination of private investment and city-state infrastructure to revitalize a pier area next to San Francisco Bay. Obviously, Milwaukee doesn't have the money or size of the Bay Area, but this type of model will certainly be pointed to by people who are wary of using taxpayer dollars to directly fund a new Bucks arena.

I also want to expound on Murphy's other questions. Who would run a new Bucks arena, and administer any Bucks arena tax? Does it go through the Wisconsin Center District (whose governance I described last month when March Madness visited the Bradley Center). That would be the current mechanism and wouldn't require much in terms of legislation to put a new arena under their control (if it was in that area). But the Wisconsin Center District would be unlikely to make up enough money to adequately support a new Bucks arena with its current sales tax, as Chairman Franklyn Gimbel noted last June, and the District is spending $18 million a year just to pay off its debt. Obviously, a new arena would add to that number unless they could find a buyer for the U.S. Cellular Arena and/or Milwaukee Theatre.

With that in mind, the Milwaukee Business Journal asked a very legitimate question this week- "Is it time to rethink the Wisconsin Center District?" in light of the new Bucks arena issue? If it's not the Wisconsin Center District, is it another board administering the funds if there's a designated sales tax, like we have with the Miller Park and Packer taxes, and is that board appointed (like the Wisconsin Center) or is it elected? Or do you go through the city as a Super-TIF project, which would remove the need for new legislation at the state level (just the city one), although if it's in an already-developed area, like near Wisconsin Avenue by the U.S. Cellular Arena, is that a proper use of TIF funds?

Lastly, if you did the public funding in the form of a sales tax, there's the initial concern of getting it through the State Legislature and the Governor's Office, regardless of who controls those bodies in 2015 or 2016 when this issue would come up. And also which area would collect the tax? Is it the Wisconsin Center District, the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, or even the Miller Park tax area (that last one's unlikely)? And should the people of that area be able to vote on the tax (as they did with the Packer tax in Brown County), or does it only need to be passed through the State Legislature (like the Miller Park tax was)?

And should this sales tax only be for the arena, or should it go to fund other items? Sheehy has mentioned a "cultural tax" that would fund items like the Milwaukee Art Museum and Public Museum along with a Bucks arena. On the other hand, Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan has floated the idea of putting a non-binding, referendum on the November ballot asking voters if they'd approve of any new sales tax be put in toward a new Bucks arena (Weishan's intent was to show the answer was "No", and that other priorities would be needed). The County Board sent that idea back to committee yesterday, with Supervisor Jim "Luigi" Schmitt saying the measure was unnecessary because the County would clearly vote such a measure down This strikes me as an interesting reason not to have it (why not find out with a vote and be on more definitive ground when the Legislature takes it up?), but I'm betting that move has more to do with not wanting it to be an issue in November's election for governor.

So you can see there are many facets and details that are far from hammered out regarding a potential new Bucks arena and/or development area. And all of them can either work together, or be a monkey wrench that threatens the entire project. Right now, there isn't nearly enough information to see which way this is going to fall.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Give em hell, Leo!

Heard this on the way home from work on Sly's show, and this is a rare opinion allowed out in the corporate media. United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard was bringing it on Ed Schultz's show regarding steel dumping and the damage it does to American workers. Leo gets rolling around 2:40.

Unrestricted trade DOES NOT WORK when there is a large discrepancy in wages and work conditions, as there has been between the U.S. and Mexico, China, and the countries involved in the TPP. The only people that are helped are the corporate CEOs that grab great profits at the expense of pretty much everybody else.

Any Dem that favors these unequal trade deals has to be taken to task and perhaps primaried out. IT.DOES.NOT.WORK. And yes, that message should be sent loud and clear to President Obama. Maybe Barack is getting that message, as his Department of Commerce is planning to slap duties on steel coming from Turkey and Mexico for dumping that product in the U.S., and for having the Turkish government help the dumping by subsidizing their steel producers. We need a whole lot more of it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Walker gaffes show lagging economy, Transportation deficit

Our fair governor gave a couple of taxpayer-funded campaign stops trips around the state to discuss the state's economy yesterday, and managed to drop serious gaffes along the way. And in this case, it really is the definition of "gaffe", where the person is actually telling the truth, but it makes him look idiotic and awful while doing it.

1. The first incident was in La Crosse, where Walker said the big reason for the state's skills gap was because blue-collar jobs aren't thought of as cool.
Governor Scott Walker said eliminating some of the stigma surrounding certain careers, like manufacturing, will help grow a skilled workforce.

The Governor made that statement Tuesday morning at a 7 Rivers Region economic breakfast at the UW-La Crosse Cartwright Center. Governor Walker said in all clusters of industry throughout the state, employers seek a common goal.

"One of the things they're looking for whether it's in Holmen, West Salem, Prairie du Chien or right here in La Crosse is employees," said Walker. "They need to have good, hardworking employees that are well-trained, well-prepared."
And does Scotty say they'll get rewarded with good pay for being a well-trained, well-prepared employee? Of course not! In fact, Wisconsin continues to be near the bottom for lowest weekly manufacturing wages in the Midwest, at $976 a week. You think if Wisconsin employers paid an average weekly wage that was $150- $200 higher, like they do in Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois, they might get a few more employees that want to take those jobs? You wanna blame someone, Scotty? Why don't you blame the CEOs you hang around with for being such cheap-asses.

Unfortunately for Scotty, he made these comments on the same stage with someone from the reality-based community in La Crosse, and Walker sounded extremely foolish as a result.
Walker, who is campaigning for re-election, didn’t arrive at the forum until after [UW-La Crosse Economics Professor Taggert] Brooks’ presentation. Brooks agreed with the governor that the state’s economy is on a “slow but positive” trend and said his research shows improvements in housing, lending and employment.

But some of Brooks’ data tempered the optimism. Wisconsin’s median annual income of $52,627 is about $6,500 less than the median income in Minnesota. In Wisconsin, 26.4 percent of residents have a college education, compared with 32.2 percent of Minnesotans.

Taking a humorous tone, Brooks acknowledged his wife is from Minnesota.

“Minnesotans are richer, younger, prettier, more educated,” Brooks said. “There — I said it.”
Hmmm, and Minnesota has marriage equality, light rail, a higher minimum wage, and an openness to entrepreneurism and outsiders in their business community. They've also added nearly 50% more jobs than Wisconsin has in the last 2 years. Interesting how those things are correlated, aren't they?

2. Walker's next gaffe when he was taking part in a WEDC Board meeting in Janesville, and admitted something I've been talking about for 3 months- the state is facing a massive shortfall in its Transportation Fund, and Walker is now looking for ways to fix it.
Gov. Scott Walker is looking for new ways to fund a state transportation budget that is projected to fall short by as much as $700 million by 2017.....

The Republican governor says a project to widen Interstate 90 from the Illinois border to Madison is still a priority despite the projected shortfall.

But Department of Transportation Secretary [Mark] Gottlieb says it is possible the $950 million project could be delayed if funding isn’t found soon.

Walker called the current method of relying on gas taxes for revenue unsustainable because cars are becoming more fuel efficient. He says his administration is looking at tax reforms to fund the department going forward.
Not relying so much on the gas tax is a sensible conclusion, because fewer miles driven and better gas mileage diminishes what'll be coming in, so it's better to find a steadier and possibly growing source. But one of the main options Scotty discussed in tackling the shortfall is to trade sales tax increases for income tax cuts (good luck on that, as we have a $600 million structural deficit in that fund as well), and then use some of the sales tax money for roads. You also know toll roads are on the table to pay for that Janesville project as well as others (and Mary Burke and the Dems should be screaming this. HINT!).

In addition, the admission by Walker blows away the argument that we had a surplus when we cut taxes earlier this year, because this Transportation shortfall offset it. And instead of responsibly paying for that shortfall with the one-time surplus, or reducing borrowing and debt expenses in future years, Walker took a page out of the George W. Bush school and blew it on tax cuts that are doing little to raise demand and the state's overall economy (they've already taken effect, in case you didn't know). Now the Walker Administration and the State of Wisconsin is stuck due to that reality-free decision, and we're going to be paying to make up the difference. Or we'll be dodging even more potholes than we this Spring. One of the two.

EDIT: Here's Rock County-based Lou Kaye with a righteous post pointing out that Walker's oligarch friends at Forward Janesville were all about the tax cuts and other giveaways when it benefitted them, but now that it's THEIR project being endangered by cuts, they want us all to pony up and "share the sacrifice." Classy, aren't they?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bucks arena pt. 2? How to pay for it? (EDIT: with more info 7:40pm)

1. $200 million for Bucks arena, but other funding will be needed. Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy talked about the arena issue on Mike Gousha's show this weekend. New owners Mark Lasry and Wayne Enders committed to putting up $100 million toward a new arena, and former owner and U.S. Senator Herb Kohl said he'd contribute another $100 million. But more than half of the money for a new arena will likely have to come from public sources.
The cost of a new arena is estimated at $400 million to $500 million. Sheehy said more work remains in courting private investors and said he anticipates the project will need public funding. He said a tax incremental financing [TIF] district that would include retail and restaurants could help the investment pay off for the new owners as well as downtown Milwaukee.

Sheehy said taxpayers would need to take an interest in the funding in order to maintain the basketball franchise long term, adding there are cultural assets that need to be a priority as well, such as the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Sheehy hopes the city and county work together to push for funding on the state level if it is required.
But Sheehy also told Gousha that getting an acceptable package to build a new arena would be "challenging", and a hint to the discussion that's to come was showcased in an article that the Milwaukee Business Times printed last week. In that article, Milwaukee Ald. Nik Kovac made it clear where he stood.
"The NBA has been printing free money for 20 years. I'm not asking them not to make money. I'm just asking them to cover the capital investment that allows them to make money. I'm an old-fashioned guy; I still like capitalism," said Kovac, who represents Milwaukee Third District. "I don't believe in Vladimir Putin-style corporate socialism, which is what the NBA believes in. And you can quote me on that."

Kovac added, "The talk of contribution to me should be off the table – any public contribution that does not involve a direct return on investment. I will loan them money, I will bond them money, but in my opinion, we shouldn't be giving them a dime. It's a private business."

Kovac said taxpayer funding could be better spent on other priorities.

"Will I be glad [the Bucks] didn't leave? Yes," Kovac said. "Do I want to spend $200 million on you not leaving when I could have spent $200 million on public transit, on public education, on stabilizing our housing stock? It's not even close. When you actually look at the things the public expects you to invest money in, this is not one of them. (Owners of professional sports teams) have managed to create, frankly, an extortion racket, in which the public pays them or else. And they do that through a legal monopoly, which shouldn't be legal in my opinion, especially given that they're extorting municipalities that clearly have other needs."
And it's not like Ald. Kovac is an anti-sports TeaBagger. He has a weekly podcast called "Packerverse" (click here to listen) that Michael Horne has described as "the only Socialist-themed sports talk show in the nation." (Disclaimer: I have actually been a guest on Packerverse) I disagree with the socialist part (as evidenced by Kovac's comments above where he doesn't begrudge the profitability of an NBA franchise), but his type of opposition to a straight public subsidy of a business worth $550 million to a new Bucks arena is certainly significant and will have to be addressed.

Kovac did say he was open to the idea of a city-backed loan or TIF district, which ultimately means that the Bucks owners would be paying back funds to the city. Which leads to these questions when it comes to funding a new Bucks arena.

1. Do you do it through some kind of loan or TIF, as is often done for other private-sector business developments, and have it be a city-only project? This would be an internal, Milwaukee-only measure, and would likely be linked to where the site of the new arena would be. I'd favor a spot around vacant land around the Park East Corridor (currently owned by Milwaukee County), which is within a few blocks of the current Bradley Center site, and an area that could be connected into the already-built area on the northwest side of downtown Milwaukee. But both of the site and funding issues would be a combined deal if you did a TIF or loan?

2. Do you look at new sales taxes as the method of public funding, as was done with the 0.1% Miller Park tax and 0.5% Brown County tax that helped pay for Lambeau Field renovations in the 2000s (that Packer tax may be going away next year, by the way). Another option would be a ticket tax, as is used in Nashville for the Predators' hockey arena, as well as other cities.

Which leads to what I'll discuss in the third part of this arena issue. Which government entity would be overseeing this new arena, and who will get to vote to approve this deal, or could block it and turn it down? Lotta sides to look at here, and with the spectre of the NBA taking over the Bucks from Lasry and Edens if there's no arena deal in place in 3 years, this thing's going to heat up faster than either candidate for guv or most other elected officials want to admit.

EDIT: And if your response is "Why not just keep the BC as it is?", Don Walker of the Journal-Sentinel has your answer. He interviews Bradley Center CEO Steve Costello, who says $100 million is a realistic figure that will be needed to run the BC over the next decade.
The short list of needs includes the roof; new technology demands; its heating, ventilation and air conditioning units; seat replacement; and work on the arena's parking structure adjacent to the building. All of those issues will need to be addressed over the next 10 or 12 years, he said.

Second, there is debt. "Three or four years from now when our lease with the Bucks ends, we will still be sitting on $15 million worth of debt," he said. "Over a decade or two we can manage that, but there won't be an immediate plan to pay off that debt."

Third, there is the potential loss of corporate support if the Bucks leave the building and go to a new arena, or elsewhere. The Champions of the Community program, in which major corporations committed financial support to the BMO Harris Bradley Center, provides about $3 million a year, Costello said
Costello also notes that losing the Bucks would likely mean many fewer corporations wanting to shell out funds to sponsor, and would jeopardize events such as March Madness returning to the Bradley Center. So it's certainly a cheaper option to keep the BC vs. build a new arena, but it also carries a real risk of losing a lot of revenue for the area, especially if the Bucks are taken over and/or leave.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Bucks sale pt. 1- Is the price tag worth it?

As someone who grew up in the Milwaukee area and a big sports fan, the recent sale of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks from former Sen. Herb Kohl to two hedge fund billionaires is intriguing to me on many levels. The first thing that jumps out is the $550 million price tag, a whole lot more than the $18 million Herb bought the team for in the '80s. Why would someone pay so much for the team with the worst record and attendance in the NBA? ESPN's Bill Simmons (who had broken the news earlier this month that Kohl and the investors were working on a deal) discussed why the price tag for NBA franchises is skyrocketing in a great column for the Grantland site.

In addition to a booming economy among the rich people who can afford to buy big-price NBA tickets and sponsorships and a more favorable collective bargaining agreement that gives a better split of revenues to the owners and lessens the amount of bad long-term contracts that tie teams' hands (and hurts quality of play due to players who don't give a shit), Simmons also mentions that the spectre of people wanting to bring the NBA back to Seattle means that the value of every franchise goes up due to higher demand.
Remember, 30 months ago nobody on the planet wanted [to buy] New Orleans. This month, we had multiple bidders chasing the league’s worst team — as many as six, according to my sources — with the winners prevailing thanks to deep pockets and a pledge to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee (even earmarking an extra $100 million towards a new arena). So the league flipped its supply-and-demand situation: Right now, it has a slew of potential buyers and nobody for sale. This has never, ever, EVER happened before.

In general, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots seems to be closing fast. Milwaukee fetched $100 million more than Golden State four years ago. The belatedly appreciated Spurs drew a 10.4 rating for 2013’s Finals against Miami, comparable to Lakers-Celtics in 2010 (10.6) and nearly 150 percent higher than Cavs-Spurs in 2007. And what about Dwight Howard jumping from the Lakers to the Rockets? Would that have ever happened 10 years ago? It doesn’t matter where you play anymore. Stars are more likely to gravitate toward great owners and great situations than great cities. That’s a good thing.

So, are 30 franchises enough? The NBA could command $800 million easily for Seattle’s expansion team — awarding about $27 million to each owner — but there’s concern within Adam Silver’s circles that there isn’t quite enough talent to support a 31st team. Did you follow Tankapalooza 2014? If you watched the Lakers defend pick-and-rolls with Bob Sacre and Kendall Marshall, or you ever uttered the words, “I kind of like Henry Sims,” you know what I mean. We don’t need MORE basketball teams, at least anytime soon. That means Seattle will remain Extortion Ground Zero for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of Silver, I liked how he handled a legitimately complicated situation. Within two weeks of becoming commissioner, Silver pressured the Bucks to settle its arena situation by 2017. But these weren’t the same life-or-death stakes like in Sacramento: Without the Kings, Sacramento would have transformed into Just Another City In California; without the Bucks, everyone in Milwaukee would move on to the Packers, Brewers and Marquette basketball without blinking. That’s a big difference. Silver also had the Seattle kajillionaires lurking, and he never knew if the 79-year-old Kohl might change his mind. Remember, Kohl splurged for O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Gary Neal last summer. All bets are off with that guy.
The point Simmons makes about "it doesn't matter where you play anymore" in order to be a big name in basketball and paid accordingly is an interesting one. I'm not sure that's entirely true, as Milwaukee has some of the worst in-season weather of any NBA team, and isn't the only game in town in Wisconsin like the Thunder are in OKC or the Blazers are in Portland (for example). But the league is grabbing enough domestic and international media money that I don't think the Bucks have the same "small market/ lack of revenue" worries that the Brewers had when Miller Park was being debated nearly 20 years ago, and I certainly think that with the right GM moves and a few fortunate draft picks, the Bucks could be the type of contender that a team like the OKC Thunder or Indiana Pacers are. And the fans would care and show up to see them, as they did in 2001, when the Bucks got within 1 game of the Finals.

But certainly the question about the Bradley Center's future is the next step in determining the Bucks future, because it'll determine if they do stay in Milwaukee after 2017, where a new arena would be, and if that would help their competitiveness in the league. Sen. Kohl promised to put up $100 million toward the new arena, and the new owners pledged $100 million more, but that's not going to be all a new arena would cost, so the rest of the funding for a new arena would have to come from somewhere. I'll discuss the funding situation and options in a future post, but there is certainly a question as to what can be done with the already-sizable number of sports and entertainment facilities in downtown Milwaukee. UWM is still playing home basketball games at the U.S. Cellular Arena, a facility that is slated for $3 million in seating and scoreboard upgrades (it also hosts the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team was, but the Wave may be folding). If the Bradley Center isn't going to be the home of the Bucks and Marquette in coming years, and there are fewer events in downtown in general, is that an expense that should be made, or might the Arena/MECCA site be part of the project for the new arena? These are the questions Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy is now asking, and he wants those upgrades at the Cell put on hold till the Bucks question can be decided.

And what becomes of the Bradley Center site itself? Will it be demolished in favor of new development if the new Bucks arena is located nearby (much as County Stadium was knocked down when Miller Park was built in its parking lot)? Is it still used for concerts and the Admirals and the many non-Bucks events that it holds each year, even if there is a new Bucks arena? And what do you do with it if there isn't a new Bucks arena, and the Bucks stay? Can the Bradley Center be modernized, or is it already obsolete after 25 years, and does that turn the Bucks into a less valuable, uncompetitive franchise? I don't think the Bucks would automatically be second-rate (again, they'd have to have a lot of things fall their way), and given my experience in watching the BC rock with Badger fans at March Madness this year, it still can be made into a great in-game experience for fans.

Lastly, if the Bucks do leave, what ends up replacing them as an entertainment option in Winter and Spring in Milwaukee? It would be unlikely a market like Milwaukee would land another NBA team if the Bucks ever left, but would it open up the option of an NHL team locating in Milwaukee (there's even a website promoting the idea of an NHL team in Wisconsin). I would guess the Chicago Blackhawks would have some say on a potential Milwaukee expansion team, given its closeness to Milwaukee would allow them to claim that the Milwaukee market is already part of their territory and that a new team would eat into their profitability. But the BC was originally built with the idea of having the NHL in town, so it would be interesting if the potential loss of the Bucks would lead to that.

Of course, maybe the Milwaukee market is already saturated with high-cost big-time sports and doesn't have enough fan following to support the Brewers, a sizable amount of the Packers (including 3 home games reserved to ticket holders from the County Stadium days), Marquette basketball, UWM basketball, and a lot of following for Madison's Badgers. That's not a question a lot of Milwaukee boosters want to ask themselves, because they view Milwaukee as a big-league town on the level of a Twin Cities, Cleveland, or St. Louis. But maybe they're more like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, or Kansas City- Midwestern cities who only have 2 franchises in the major team sports. And is that necessarily a bad thing if that's who they are, if it means the Milwaukee area can use resources in another fashion to make it a desirable, destination city?

I'll look into the funding and governmental role that's coming up for the Bucks arena question in the near future, but it's pretty obvious that with the recent sale of Milwaukee's NBA team, the discussion of the Bucks' future plans just got greatly accelerated, regardless of whether they land the top pick in next month's Draft Lottery.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

More on March jobs- with nationwide comparisons

Yesterday had the monthly state-by-state jobs release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it had a number of interesting data points that show us where Wisconsin is at.

First, let's go with the Walker Administration's spin on things. Not surprisingly, Walker campaign worker DWD Secretary Reggie Newson was out with another "it's working" news release, which failed to mention the downward revision of 3,700 jobs for February.
Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Reggie Newson today issued the following statement on today's U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. The report shows Wisconsin had statistically significant growth year-over-year in private-sector and total non-farm jobs and the state's unemployment rate fell to 5.9%, the lowest rate since November 2008:

"The release today of the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Wisconsin has added tens of thousands of private-sector jobs, while Wisconsin's unemployment rate continues to decrease with a 'statistically significant' drop between March 2013 and March 2014," Secretary Newson said. "With Wisconsin's unemployment rate at a five-year low, Wisconsin is well-positioned to increase opportunities for working families."
That makes it look like Wisconsin is some kind of standout, but a look at the state-by-state report shows we're not very special at all. It shows half of the states in America had a "statistically significant" drop in unemployment rates the last 12 months, and that doesn't even include places like Minnesota and Iowa that already had unemployment at an extremely low rate last year, so it couldn't fall much further. 26 of the 50 states had a "statistically significant" increase in jobs, and Wisconsin's case is especially noteworthy because the BLS was counting the 8,500 GOVERNMENT jobs added in Wisconsin over the last 12 months (the same government jobs that used to be evil and wasteful in 2011 Fitzwakerstan but apparently are OK now).

When private sector job growth for the last 12 months is compared to the rest of the Midwest and especially the nation as a whole, Wisconsin's numbers for the last year look quite mediocre.

Private sector job growth, Midwest and U.S., Mar 2013- Mar 2014
U.S. 1.99%
Ind. +1.83%
Minn +1.77%
Ohio +1.35%
Wis. +1.24%
Iowa +1.19%
Mich +0.67%
Ill. +0.61%

It's an equally subpar performance when you look at Wisconsin's track record in job creation the last 2 years.

Private sector job growth, Midwest and U.S., Mar 2012- Mar 2014
U.S. 3.91%
Minn +3.77%
Mich +3.20%
Ind. +2.85%
Ohio +2.51%
Wis. +2.40%
Iowa +2.23%
Ill. +1.59%

In fact, Wisconsin's March-to-March job growth for each of the last 2 years is worse than the rate we had from March 2010 to March 2011- which happens be 12 months leading up to Act 10.

Private sector job growth, March 2010-March 2013
March 2010-March 2011 +1.50%
March 2011-March 2012 +1.89%
March 2012-March 2013 +1.14%
March 2013-March 2014 +1.24%

So much for the ideas that Act 10 and retaining Walker in the 2012 recall election removed "uncertainty" and caused job growth to take off. In fact, it looks like it did the exact opposite, making us stagnate instead of continuing to grow.

Now if there's a bright spot for the Fitzwalkerstanis, it's that Wisconsin wasn't the only state whose job numbers suffered from the polar vortex winter. The tepid job private sector job growth of 900 total jobs in Q1 2014 don't look so bad when you realize only 2 of other 6 Midwestern states added jobs over that same time period (Ohio and Minnesota). Maybe all of this pent-up demand gets unlocked as Spring finally appears in these parts (unless you live north of Hwy. 29), and then job growth bounces back accordingly. But I also see that Wisconsin had over 10,000 new unemployment claims in the last week listed, and only 7 other states had more. That's not a good stat when you're 20th in population.

Bottom line is that the Walker campaign is trying to spin that Wisconsin's economy is turning around and going in the right direction. I see no evidence of that from the recent jobs reports, and in fact, any job growth seems to continue to be a product of the Obama Recovery dragging us ahead IN SPITE of Walker/WisGOP policies, not because of them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quick March jobs analysis

Today's Wisconsin jobs report in a nutshell.

Jobs up 6,400 in private sector for March.

BUT jobs revised DOWN 3,700 in February, which means net is +2,700 jobs, which is below the national rate, and the Walker jobs gap grows by another 1,000.

And only 900 private sector jobs added for the first 3 months of 2014. Flat-out awful.

BUT household survey shows 21,500 more Wisconsinites are working, which is how the unemployment rate can fall from. 6.3% to 5.9% in those 3 months.

Which means either pretty much every job a Wisconsinite got since the start of the year was in the Twin Cities or Chicago, or one of these surveys are wrong.

I'll have more analysis when I have the time, but them's the numbers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Right direction" Wisconsin? Part II

I see our fair governor is going to try a "Morning in Wisconsin" theme, based on the script of his latest ads (I won't try to watch that crap, as I value my digestive system too much). Well, that ad should prompt you to ask "Are we really going the right direction under this guy?" And stories out this week indicate the answer continues to be an emphatic NO.

1. Let's go with one of the claims of that ad to start.
Families are planning vacations and more are going to sleep knowing they have access to health care.
As proof of that claim, the Walker campaign claims that his "work makes you free" health care plan extended access to all people making the poverty line or below. But of course what isn't mentioned is the fact that BadgerCare was also cut back for families that were barely above the poverty line, with Walker choosing to throw those people onto the federal Obamacare exchanges, in the hopes that it would cause so much chaos and overloading of that type of coverage that he and his fellow GOPs could show Obamacare "wasn't working."

Well, that strategy has backfired on two fronts, and proven the Walker ad to be lying. The first is that the number of Wisconsinites that are uninsured have at best stayed the same, if not gone up. As this picture shows, the Census Bureau listed Wisconsin as the only state in the Midwest that had an increase in the percentage of people that were uninsured between 2010 and 2012, illustrating the BadgerCare cuts that Walker and the WisGOPs signed off on in their first 2-year budget. Wisconsin is the light red line near the bottom.

% of population uninsured, 2010 vs. 2012

And if there was any cut in the uninsured rate in 2013, it sure wasn't due to anything Scotty and WisGOP did. In fact, a Gallup poll released today showed that states which took the expanded Medicaid funding in Obamacare did much better in reducing the amount of uninsured than states that decided to TeaBag the expanded Medicaid (such as Wisconsin).

Uninsured rate, Gallup poll April 2014
Took Medicaid funding 16.1% in 2013, 13.6% in 2014 (-2.5%)
Didn't take Medicaid funding 18.7% in 2013, 17.9% in 2014 (-0.8%)

And oh yeah, Wisconsinites are paying higher taxes as a result as well, since the state is picking up 42% of the Medicaid costs instead of having the Feds pick up those costs for us. It's a lose-lose situation all around, and won't get better as long as a bubble-worlder like Walker is in office.

2. If Wisconsin families are planning vacations, as the Walker ad says, we should be seeing it with increased travel out of the state's largest airport. But instead we saw a report released this week say the exact opposite.
The 13-percent drop in traffic at General Mitchell International Airport in 2013 was the steepest drop for any of the top 50 U.S. airports.

That’s according to an analysis of Airports Council International data in the most recent issue of Airline Weekly.

Of the 50 largest airports, 17 had declines in passenger traffic in 2013. The next steepest drop came at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which lost 6 percent of its traffic.

Two factors contributed to Milwaukee’s traffic drop, said Seth Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly: the major loss of flights from Frontier Airlines, which finished a series of cutbacks in Milwaukee in mid-2012, and the merger of Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways. The combined Southwest/AirTran saw a 12 percent decrease in passenger traffic at Mitchell between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013, according to Southwest.
So Mitchell Field's drop was more than DOUBLE anywhere else among the top 50 airports in the U.S. Doesn't exactly reflect a lot of consumer or business confidence, now does it? The actions of real Wisconsinites should speak louder than Governor Walker's campaign.

3. The NOAA just released the climactic data for March, and it showed that Wisconsin just went through its coldest January-March stretch in over 100 years (that polar vortex wasn't fucking around!). Along with major snowstorms in Northern Wisconsin (with another foot falling today), there have been massive heating and road maintenance expenses that state and local governments have had to take on that are well past what they would have budgeted. But instead of holding off on tax cuts in favor of seeing what the fallout from this extraordinary winter would be, Walker and the WisGOPs plowed full-speed ahead and handcuffed the state's finances for the future. They didn't even add to the rainy (or snowy) day fund, in order to cosmetically cut the structural deficit in the 2015-17 budget to only $658 million.

And of course, this doesn't include count the $1 billion in Transportation Fund needs that also haven't been paid for by the Fitzwalkerstanis, and even though Walker won't talk about it, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb and staff are meeting with the public to discuss which taxes to change and/or raise to deal with this shortfall (they're in Wausau in 2 weeks, and Green Bay and Oshkosh the week after that). With the winter we just had, those $1 billion in needs probably got higher, but you won't hear Walker talk about that on the campaign trail, as it's too much of an inconvenient truth of his "steal, borrow and spend" mentality.

4. Oh, and we have another jobs report for Wisconsin due out tomorrow. We've already lost 1,800 private sector jobs in the first two months of the year while the country continued its slow and steady growth of jobs, so the Walker jobs gap has ballooned to 55,000 private sector jobs. If we fall short of 4,000 jobs added in March, that gap will grow more, although I'll predict these numbers will be OK, as unemployment claims weren't THAT bad last month. But so far in April the unemployment claims have stayed high and there is little landscaping or other Spring weather jobs to be done, so I anticipate that one to be slow, at least as it stands now.

So despite the sunny talk from Scott Walker and the WisGOPs on the campaign trail, the real Wisconsin continues to fall behind the pace of the rest of the nation, and our state's fiscal picture is getting darker with fewer options available to fix it (WisGOP have already shot their bullets with Act 10 and shared-revenue cuts). So as I asked earlier this month, are we going in the right direction, or just the right-WING one?

Monday, April 14, 2014

DOT funding questions continue

I see that DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb was interviewed by Mike Gousha over the weekend, discussing the meetings the DOT is holding around the state to discuss transportation needs and funding for the future. I've mentioned that the $1 billion Transportation Fund deficit is a huge lurking issue that hasn't been talked a lot about in this election cycle so far, and I credit Gottlieb with doing the interview and raising awareness of it. It's also worth noting in the story that the Secretary mentions added General Fund money as an option for finding more Transportation funding.

The problem with grabbing more General Fund dollars is 1. We already have a $650 million General Fund deficit for the next budget, so any additional money being sent over drives up the deficit further and 2. This assumes General Fund dollars will be there to be taken. With two rounds if tax cuts kicking in and a decent possibility of another recession and/or stock market drop in the next 3 years, revenues already look to be very limited.

In addition, the 9 inches of snow forecast up North this week remind us yet again of the larger-than normal costs that state and local governments have had to take on from this winter. The tab from this has yet to be made. apparent, but it could limit any carryover or cushion that might have existed. So barring the release of federal disaster funds to help pay for the high costs of this long winter, there are going to be higher-than expected expenses beyond any new construction projects and highway expansions.

So with that in mind, is it possible that RTAs, wheel taxes or some other locally-based tax is the solution to this issue of underfunded roads and transit? This would be a very Walker-like move, shoving off the extra borrowing and needed costs onto the local communities, and not having to raise gas taxes or other state fees as a result.

Regardless, this is becoming a very big issue outside of the political world, and as we spend this Spring dodging potholes and construction barrels, many will be asking "Can we get these things fixed, and can we afford to?" We should start looking at the numbers, looking at the options, and seeing how we can. Before our revenues are so constrained that we can't.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Could be a slowdown at the Funhouse

7 beeps on a laptop is usually not a good sign, so it's time to get it looked at. Don't worry, I can still post in and react to stuff. Pictures might be a bit tough, however. No big whoop.

Are our latest bubbles bursting?

Recent information and events of the first two weeks of April may have some ominous signs for our economic present, and future. This is true in both Wisconsin and nationwide.

If you pay attention to the numbers of Wall Street, you know that this month has not been a good one for stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average is down 500 points since April 1, and after a runup earlier last week, it dumped 266 points on Thursday and 143 more points on Friday. Now this could be just a correction after the Dow gained nearly 4,000 points from mid-November 2012 to the end of March 2014, but this article by Reuters via Yahoo Finance says there may be more to it.
First-quarter earnings estimates have fallen sharply as many companies have blamed the brutal winter for weak outlooks.

With high-valuation stocks under pressure, earnings could be subjected to even more investor scrutiny than usual.

"There's skepticism among investors about the outlook, and we're getting into the first-quarter earnings season, so you're going to see some positioning," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

Profit growth for Standard & Poor's 500 companies now is expected to have increased just 0.9 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, down from a January 1 forecast for 6.5 percent growth, Thomson Reuters data showed.
While a slowing in profits isn't a terrible thing in the real world (I'd argue that companies hoarding excessive profits over job and wage growth is one of the things that has kept a lid on the country's growth for the last 4 years), it also means that the big cocaine party stock market bubble we've had in the 2010s may be starting to pop. The same Reuters article notes that NASDAQ biotech companies have had price-to-earnings ratios of more than 34 to 1, which sounds a whole lot like the conditions that predated the dot-com bust of 2000-2001. Tellingly, the NASDAQ closed under 4,000 points on Friday, and is down over 8% in the 6 weeks and 6.5% in the last 10 days. If the NASDAQ drops another 5 points, it'll be at its lowest point since before Thanksgiving. With options expiring at the end of next week, it could be a quite interesting time on Wall Street.

And the other Fed-helped bubble in the States might also be deflating- this one in housing. Black Knight Financial Services does a monthly report on the amount of new mortgages, and last week they reported that new mortgages in February were at their lowest levels in at least 14 years. This is blamed on tighter lending standards, higher interest rates, and more people paying in cash to buy homes. But new home sales aren't hot either, as seasonally-adjusted sales for February were at their lowest levels in more than a year. Some of that may have been artificially low due to the polar vortex, but that doesn't mean it isn't going to eat into the real estate economy, and put pressure on coming months.

Wisconsin also had a dismal start to 2014 when it came to home sales, as the Wisconsin Realtors Association reported late last week. Home sales were down 11.5% for the 1st Quarter of 2014 vs. Q1 in 2013, and were closer to 2012's levels of 11,074 than 2013's 12,378. Again, this was an extraordinarily cold winter, but it's not like 2013 had record-warmth, especially with a miserable February and March, so you have to wonder if there's something more going on. When the Legislative Fiscal Bureau made its revenue estimates in January 2014, they based their estimates on home sales INCREASING by nearly 5%, and corporate profit growth being up closer to 6% than the 0.9% mentioned by Reuters. This rosy outlook led to the projected surpluses that led Scott Walker and the GOP-run Legislature to throw in additional tax cuts, but if these positive scenarios don't play out, it makes it much more likely that a deficit will appear, with less flexibility available to fix it.

That being said, job numbers are staying reasonably strong in the U.S. (albeit less so in Wisconsin), and I don't see the economy as a whole falling into recession. But there are definitely some warning signs of slowdown ahead, and unless things heat up with the Spring and Summer weather, the economy may not look as smooth as many were predicting when 2014 began. And that could trickle its way into a worsening fiscal picture for Fitzwalkerstan.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Voucher mob tries to take over the 920, MPS, and anywhere else they can

Yesterday was obviously a big day in Wisconsin politics, as two long-time Fox Valley Republicans decided not to run for re-election after being pressured by extreme right-wingers in their own party. I can talk about the retirement of U.S. Rep. Tom Petri at a different time, because I want to concentrate on what a certain State Senator's retirement means, and how it illustrates just how a very specific interest group has come to take over much of the education policy and discussion in our once-strong education state.

State Senate President Mike Ellis quit yesterday after a "hidden video" recording surfaced, which caught Ellis explaining how he was planning to set up his own SuperPAC with Appleton-area oligarchs. But the real story to me with the "Ellis tape" is that it came from Breitbart Boy/Ratfucker James O'Keefe, most infamous for making racist, deceptive videos about ACORN and for being convicted in 2010 for trying to break into a Dem Senator's office in New Orleans and tamper with her phone.

So what was a right-wing scumbag like O'Keefe doing to try to take out a Republican like Ellis, who had voted for Act 10, both Walker budgets, heinous abortion bills and other ridiculous WisGOP bills the last 3 years? The answer seems to be related to billboards that a pro-voucher group put out last June, after Ellis slowed an expansion of taxpayers funding voucher schools in Wisconsin.
A tea party group in Ellis’ district recently erected a billboard depicting the veteran senator as an Egyptian pharaoh. Accompanying the ancient monarch is a baby meant to resemble the baby in E-Trade ads.

The board’s call to action: “Set our children free!”....

“There’s not a direct connection when you think of the children of our time and the Jewish children (of ancient Egypt), but from the standpoint of freedom of choice and ‘let my people go,’ that’s the key phrase that we think has some application here,” explains Ed Perkins, president of the Fox Valley Initiative, the tea party political action committee responsible for the ads.

Perkins used to sit on the board of the Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative in Milwaukee, an association of Lutheran schools that participate in that city’s voucher program.
And we know that the oligarchs that give "dirty work" money to people like James O'Keefe would love to dismantle public education, rob teachers' unions of bargaining power, and grab taxpayer dollars and profits off of voucher schools for themselves. It's a logical connection. Ellis admitted as much in his resignation letter.
Instead of being criticized from our opponents, independent thought is attacked in our own backyard. Like my dear friends Tim Cullen, Bob Jauch and Dale Schultz, I see that compromise is not valued in today's Capitol environment, and that means I don't fit in anymore. Special interests hold too much sway, instead of the voice of the people. I'm a senator from a different era, and I value my integrity too much to compromise it any more.
Of course, a lot of us wish Ellis hadn't spent the last 3 years compromising his integrity on a whole lot of the Walker agenda (for example, Ellis gave the "Wisconsin 14" some extra time to leave the State Senate in 2011 before informing others, knowing that Act 10 would be as divisive and wrong as it was. But he ended up voting for it anyway). But let's see if the old guy grows a pair over the last 7 months and reveals where the bodies are buried. With over 20% of the State Assembly not running for re-election in 2014 and at least 5 of the 17 State Senators doing the same (assuming Joe Leibham jumps into the now-open 6th-district Congressional seat), there's definitely something going on behind the scenes at the Capitol that a lot of people don't want to be part of.

And the voucher lobby isn't going to slow down, despite the release this week showing that voucher schools underperform the public schools they "compete" against in Milwaukee and Racine when it comes to standardized test scores. That's the reality and results-based world, and that's not something the voucher lobby cares about- they just want cash and power. Erin Richards in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports about how these people are trying to "train" the next generation of voucher supporters to get into office.
On Saturday in Milwaukee, the pro-school voucher group American Federation for Children is hosting a training session for would-be candidates for state legislature, school board, mayor or city council.

The training is co-hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Democrats for Education Reform, and aimed at advocates for "educational choice" — the general term for voucher and charter schools. The federation supports the expansion of school voucher programs that send public funds to private, mostly religious schools.

Brian Pleva, AFC's Wisconsin government affairs associate, said the candidate training school was bipartisan, and would be more focused on the nuts and bolts of running for office, such as understanding campaign finance, campaign strategy and communication and fundraising.

"We believe in ensuring that all children see increased educational outcomes," Pleva said. "But this is a nonpartisan campaign school with bipartisan presenters, so people getting riled up is puzzling to me."

One person riled up is Milwaukee School Board Member Larry Miller.

He suspects the AFC and MMAC are gearing up to groom candidates in favor of more charter and voucher schools who could run against Milwaukee School Board members in elections one year from now.
And isn't it nice that the MMAC have their hands in this- the same pro-Walker group of oligarchs that Journal Communication's CEO Steven Smith sits on? Note also the mention of the quickly-dying "Democrats for School Choice" (a group who got swept out of the Legislature in several Milwaukee-area Dem primaries in 2012), as AFC tries to keep up the fa├žade that voucherizing education is somehow a bipartisan issue in 2014. After 20+ years of this experiment in Milwaukee with the outcomes getting worse and worse, a lot of us know better than to buy into the failed idea of "school choice," but make no mistake, these guys won't stop trying to grab power and funnel money to themselves and their buddies in Wisconsin until they and their allies are buried and destroyed as a political force. At which point they'll head to some other place where they can find more suckers to buy into their scam.

And as the forced retirement of Mike Ellis and the expansions of vouchers since 2011 in Wisconsin show, that time is no time soon. In fact, the last 3 GOP Assembly Speakers are all lobbyists for the voucher folks, with convicted criminal Scott Jensen in particular being a big player in selecting candidates and policies to give these people even more power (and you'll note that the DA who agreed to plea out Jensen's case in Waukesha County is the lead GOP candidate for Attorney General in Wisconsin- no quid pro quo there, eh?). If the Dems in Wisconsin had any brains at all, they'd be exposing the voucher lobby as money grubbers that want nothing more than to destroy the fabric of Wisconsin communities and schools in the name of a few bucks, and they'd better do it NOW, while there's still a semblance of a quality public education system left to save in Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Right" direction, Wisconsin?

It's consistently remarkable that despite all the strife and scandal that has surrounded the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, a majority of Wisconsinites continue to say the state is going in the right direction. Even in the most recent Marquette Law poll that had Scott Walker's net approval rating dropping 9 points in 2 months, 54% of those asked said Wisconsin was "going in the right direction" and only 42% said "wrong direction."

Now take a look at headlines from the last few days.

1. In the last 24 hours, Wisconsin businesses announced over 1,000 jobs will be lost in mass layoffs. This includes the estimated 760 jobs that will be lost at Oshkosh Corp. due to military cutbacks, and another 280 jobs going away due to plant closings in Appleton, Kimberly and Waunakee.

2. The Ewing Kaufmann Foundation released a survey this week Wisconsin was in the bottom 8 in the nation for lowest levels of entrepreneurship, and the Milwaukee area was next-to-last out of 18 "similar" metro areas surveyed.
In Wisconsin, 170 businesses were created for every 100,000 adults, the report said. The state saw a 0.08 percentage point decline in entrepreneurial activity in the three years through 2013 vs. the three years through 2003 — one of the worst declines in the country, it said.

The Kauffman report is based on broad surveys, so its numbers are driven by start-ups in the construction, restaurant and health care areas, said Tom Hefty, former top executive at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Wisconsin.

"The dismal start-up numbers are in these mom and pop industries," Hefty said. The state would perform better in such measures if businesses were diversified beyond its traditional industries, he said.
Huh, you mean that allowing WMC to write influence economic policy toward them and their fellow corporate oligarchs is shutting out others from getting in and stifling the state's economic potential? You don't say....

Or as one of WEDC's top officer in charge of entrepreneurship put it last year "We suck. We're bad." And we haven't gotten any better.

3. The state has lost private sector jobs in each of the first two months of the year, is 55,000 private jobs below what it would have had if it merely kept up with the rate of growth in the rest of the nation during Scott Walker's 3 years in office, and is still having nearly 10,000 people file new unemployment claims each week (which places it in the top 10 for new claims among all states). And these stats are BEFORE the stores at American TV and JC Penney close in the next month and another 1,400 or so lose their retail jobs.

4. The Assembly's Majority Leader is facing felony charges for sexual assault, and one of our current U.S. Senators as well as other politicians are accused of covering it up. The No. 2 guy in the State Senate just got caught on tape trying to illegally coordinate with 3rd-party right-wing organizations and oligarchs ...and this was a guy who has previously decried money influencing politics. So the fact that Mike Ellis sold out into this game shows how pervasive and soiled our state's politics have become.

Oh, and have we mentioned that John Doe Deux continues, with scores of emails showing the contempt Scott Walker's staff has for the constituents that pay their salaries, and Walker and his out-of-state oligarchs doing everything in their power to try to bias the investigation and pursuing every legal trick and bought-off judge they can instead of trusting the public and coming clean? This sounds like the kind of state we used to make fun of in Wisconsin, and say "Well, we'll never be losers like the guys in those places." Here we are.

5. Lastly, the main voices we get on talk radio to discuss these topics elevate the discussion by saying classy things like this.

4 months later, that no-talent still has talk shows in the 2 largest markets in Wisconsin, and there's 6 other hours of similar hate on numerous stations in Wisconsin, with no countering voices on the air to hold these people accountable for their lies and debasing behavior.

And 54% said last month we were heading in the "right direction"? In a right-WING direction maybe, but definitely not a "positive" one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More on the #voucherfail

Only have a few minutes to bang out this info, but wanted to follow up from the DPI's release on test scores, which gave information for both the public schools in the state, and the 3 different voucher programs.

John Peterson at Democurmudgeon has a good rundown of the results and I'll also include this graphic from the Journal-Sentinel which gives the Cliff's notes version.

It's worth noting that not all (or even most) voucher students may fall under the DPI definition of "economically disadvantaged/ low income", because the income limits for free and reduced lunch are well below the limits that allow students to be part in any of the three voucher programs. And I'll also point out that many of those voucher students in Racine and the statewide WPCP program already were going to these schools to begin with. Not surprisingly, the statewide program is the one that had the largest percentage of students "opting out" of the tests, so their results (for good or bad) are not measured. Let's see if that trend continues in year 2, as more "fly-by-night" voucher schools join the Racine and statewide programs (the Milwaukee ones are consistently the ones with the sub-10% proficiencies).

But in looking at these numbers, there is no debate that voucher schools underperformed the public schools in Milwaukee and Racine on these tests, and Milwaukee's voucher schools has if anything gotten worse over the 20+ years it has been in existence. This policy is failing Wisconsin, accountably stealing money from taxpayers and public schools, and denigrating the many strong teachers that produce our future learners, workers and inventors. This #voucherfail needs to be put into the dustbin of history for good. NOW.

DOT hearings on Transportation future start up (extra info added 5:35pm)

Quick PSA here, as the Wisconsin DOT is having hearings throughout the state on how to fund this state's many needs. It's called Transportation Moves Wisconsin, and there will be a series of town hall meetings this month led by DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb that (unlike a Scott Walker "business appearance") the public is invited to attend.

Among the meetings coming up are

Today (April 9)- DOT SW Region office, Madison 5-6:30
Tuesday, April 15- WisDOT NW region office, Superior 5-6:30
Wednesday, April 16- UW-Eau Claire campus, Centennial Hall 5-6:30

Given the fact that this state has over $1 billion of unfunded projects in the next state budget that the current governor didn't take any steps to pay for, it might be worth it to check it out. And that $1 billion was before the tab from this polar vortex winter came due, including massive amounts of water main breaks and potholes that run up local expenses above what was budgeted.

It's one of the biggest issues lurking that the people who care about policy and outcomes in state government (which includes Gottlieb) know has to be addressed, but none of the politicians seem to want to touch. Stay tuned to see if something drops out of this in the coming months.

EDIT: And here's another example of the extra needs that cash-strapped local governments are facing from this winter, courtesy of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.
Twenty-one Wisconsin cities with populations greater than 10,000 responded to a survey conducted by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. Those cities alone estimated total additional costs caused by this past winter to exceed $5.1 million.

“The leaders of Wisconsin’s cities and villages have had to make tough decisions based on variables that are as changing as a Wisconsin winter,” said Curt Witynski, assistant director for the League. “Some municipalities haven’t factored in additional paving and pothole costs yet, and they still have to plan for November and December when the cold returns.”

For some cities, their overtime budgets for 2014 are already exhausted, and most note that they spent between 30 and 50 percent more on snow and ice control activity than in previous years. Water main breaks have been more than twice what they are in a typical year, with several public works departments noting that they haven’t seen the last of the breaks, given how deep the frost line is.
May I remind you that the only assistance our "surplus-rich" state has given for these extraordinary expenses is $43 million to speed up work on state highways- not a dime for local road repairs.

You can read all of the responses on the extra winter road maintenance by clicking right here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

#Voucherfail continued in Milwaukee

We already knew that school vouchers weren't delivering better educational outcomes in Milwaukee, despite being in effect for more than 20 years. But a report released this month by the Public Policy Forum showed that vouchers not only don't make things better, but instead the students in voucher schools do much WORSE than students that stay in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Vouchers have been greatly expanded since Scott Walker and the Republicans took power over state government in 2011, with income limits raised and schools outside of the Milwaukee area have also become able to join in the voucher game. But the Public Policy Forum report notes that this expansion hasn't led to new schools and approaches in Milwaukee, but has instead added students (and the taxpayer dollars that come with them) to schools that already had voucher students. And many of those students who get vouchers don't stay in the same schools for their entire K-12 careers, leading to greater disruptions in that student's life.
In Chart 2, we show how each of those factors contributed to overall MPCP [aka voucher] student increases and decreases from the 2009-10 school year to the present. For example, in the 2013-14 school year, the number of MPCP pupils grew by 813 students, but this was the net effect of 2,212 students joining the ranks of already-certified schools, 363 pupils enrolling in new schools, 988 students leaving existing schools, and a 744 student loss associated with schools no longer in the voucher program.

As might have been predicted by our discussion of school participation above, voucher student growth clearly is being driven much more by the expansion of already-certified choice schools than from schools new to the MPCP. If a goal of the 2011-13 budget changes was to see the variety of schooling opportunities expanded, then the question of why the roster of new schools is not expanding at a
faster rate may need to be examined.

A closer look at where student gains and losses occur over time also suggests that the MPCP experiences a significant amount of student mobility—that is, students moving between schools....Pupil increases in existing and new MPCP schools are, to a large extent, offset by losses from existing and closed schools. This offset means that the net growth of MPCP students is much less than would be predicted just by looking at the number of new voucher students in existing and new schools.
And it isn't just that students are coming in and out of voucher schools without innovation being expanded, but the students in voucher schools don't do as well as those who stay in MPS.

2012-13 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination scores, all grades
Rates of proficiency
Math- 20.5% MPS schools, 13.1% Voucher schools
Reading- 15.0% MPS schools, 11.1% Voucher schools

Bad enough, but the Public Policy Forum notes that if a private school has an increasing percentage of voucher students, it actually does worse.
When we correlate these data—test scores and voucher concentration— the analysis suggests that for every 1% rise in voucher student concentration, the percentage of students who are proficient or advanced in reading drops by .8%, and drops by .7% for math (significant at the .01 level).

On the surface, there is no reason to believe there is a material difference in terms of academic potential between choice students in schools with high concentrations of choice pupils and choice students in schools with low concentrations of choice pupils. Consequently, it is logical to ask why voucher students in schools with higher percentages of voucher students perform comparatively poorly.
So instead of being a magic pill that will drive up student performance, the Public Policy Forum notes that taking vouchers have a NEGATIVE affect on a school's performance, and schools that are reliant on vouchers to survive perform especially bad (one place called "Destiny High School" had nothing but voucher students, and scored a 0% for Reading proficiency, and 1.4% for math, and another all-voucher school "Ceria M. Travis Academy, Inc.", had a 0% for Reading and 0.5% for Math).

Racine voucher schools did slightly better than Milwaukee, at 18.5% in Reading proficiency and 24.4% in Math. But it's also worth mentioning that the Racine voucher program didn't start until 2011, so many of these students started their academic careers either in Racine public schools, or already were attending these schools without the vouchers. If the Milwaukee experience is any indication, this could be a high-water mark, instead of something where they're "getting the kinks out" and will score better on in the future.

But of course, the WisGOPs that put the vouchers into law didn't really care about improving school performance in Wisconsin, but instead passed these laws to divert taxpayer dollars out of the public schools and into the pockets of the voucher school operators. And as the public schools are robbed of resources and chances to succeed, with teacher pay continuing to drop and the profession being devalued, they can continue the cycle of defunding the publics while moving money to their campaign contributors. And the fact that the voucher schools are underperforming public schools in Milwaukee isn't a matter of concern to these guys. Getting paid and staying in power is.