Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wisconsin righties keep failing on outsourcing, wage issue

As each day goes by, the backfire of Scott Walker's desperate anti-Trek ad becomes more obvious. In addition to the idiocy of a pro-free trade governor trying to have it both ways on the outsourcing issue, it has drawn more attention to the corrupt Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the Walker donors who received tax breaks from WEDC, and the increasingly absurd justifications of pro-Walker corporates. WKOW Channel 27 in Madison has been at the forefront of calling out Wisconsin outsourcers and their connections to WEDC, including their bombshell from early this month when they revealed Neenah's Plexus Corporation took millions in WEDC tax credits, and then outsourced over 100 Wisconsin jobs. And oh yeah, Plexus employees also gave tens of thousands of dollars to Walker's campaign. When Plexus tried to talk their way out of it, Channel 27 caught them in numerous lies, and laid the smack down yesterday.

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Here's probably my favorite sequence, where Plexus has already been caught in Lie Number 1, which claims the job losses were due to losing Juniper Networks as a customer (which they did, but it was several months after the layoffs), and they try to explain themselves to Channel 27.
"The reduction of 116 employees you reference in your article was unrelated to the disengagement with our largest customer but was the result of a decrease in production orders for other products. The work associated with this reduction in force remains in Wisconsin," wrote Susan Hanson, Marketing Communications Manager for Plexus.

But the TAA decision from the Department of Labor (DOL) seems to refute that statement. In its decision, DOL points out TAA benefits were ultimately awarded to those 116 former employees because "the workers firm has shifted to a foreign country the production of an article like or directly competitive with the article produced by the workers that contributed importantly to worker group separations at Plexus."...

Plexus announced the layoffs of those 116 workers just one week after releasing a report in which company CEO Dean Foate noted the company's 2012 3rd quarter earnings of $609 million represented a "record revenue level for the company."
Can you imagine if the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel was ever allowed by their corporate masters to call out obvious lies like this? Hey, a guy can dream, right?

But some Wisconsin corporates are still trying to explain that outsourcing is merely a necessary evil, and not an outgrowth of corporate greed. Check out today's press release from CEO Kurt Bauer of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (aka WisGOP's main non-Koch corporate puppetmasters).
...manufacturing production costs in the U.S. are 20 percent higher, excluding labor, than in other industrialized nations, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

If the goal is to reduce the number of outsourced Wisconsin manufacturing jobs, then lower the costs of production for Wisconsin manufacturers, including taxes, regulations, energy, health care and frivolous lawsuits.

The key question not being asked in this outsourcing debate is which candidate for governor supports reducing the costs of production in Wisconsin, like the Manufacturers’ and Agricultural Production Tax Credit that protects literally thousands of Wisconsin factory and farm jobs.”
That's right, WMC says if you don't want any more outsourcing, then reduce wages to $20 a day and allow as much pollution and worker abuse as possible! Just turn Wisconsin and the rest of the US into a third-world country and there won't be a problem! Of course, I'm betting WMC execs don't plan to be among those Wisconsinites that would lower their standards or pay a price in any way shape or form. In fact, they'll likely steal the extra profits to double their salary, just like Plexus's executives did in the last 4 years.

The more these righties talk, the more people wake up to the scam of free trade. So please corporate slime, keep on talking, because it's making the election of Mary Burke and more Wisconsin Dems in the Legislature and Congress all the more likely.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trains are rolling in Wisconsin- if they can find the track

Trains and railways have been in the news in a number of ways in Wisconsin in recent weeks, and it illustrates the many and growing needs regarding rail travel in the state, as well as how Gov Walker's decision to turn away $800 million in high-speed rail funding looks even more absurd, if that's possible.

Let's start from earlier this month when Gov Walker announced that he would use state taxpayer dollars to buy track from the Union Pacific Railroad on lines that connect Madison to Reedsburg and Cottage Grove.
The purchase will cost $30 million with $5 million going toward track improvements and the other $25 million for the land, officials said. The purchase is being made jointly with the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission with funds from the Freight Rail Preservation Program, which provides grants to local units of government, industries and railroads for the purpose of preserving and rehabilitation essential rail lines.

The line will continue to be run by the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad under a lease with the WRRTC, according to the release.

Last year, WSOR transported more than 5,000 cars on the Madison to Reedsburg and Cottage Grove line, serving 23 customers including United Coop, Landmark Ag, Seneca Foods, R.R. Donnelly, Hanke, Greede Foundries and Hydrite Chemical, according to the release. Items transported include grain, chemicals, polymers, paper, food products, lumber, aggregate and metal.
It seems interesting that they’d buy up this track instead of having ton he Union Pacific do their own work on it (a concern brought up in the comments secti, which actually has some good explanations of the issues involved), but if it makes it easier to make sure this needed infrastructure is being maintained, I don’t see it as a big deal. What is noteworthy is that the $30 million is part of the $52 million borrowed in the latest budget under the Freight Rail Preservation Program (as outlined in Page 10 of the DOT Budget), and I do find it noteworthy that this purchase with borrowed money comes at a time when we have a significant Transportation Fund deficit looming for the next budget. In addition, there is major uncertainty about the amount of future funding of transportation coming from the Feds, as today's Senate passage of a bill funding transportation only funds things through December, which means the state might want to hold onto any extra money that it can.

· But there is little doubt that rail maintenance and infrastructure is an issue in Wisconsin that needs to be addressed. State Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale (yes, the guy who joined Russ Decker in selling out Senate Dems in late 2010 on state employee contracts, and promptly got a job with the Walker Administration) admits that rail capacity in the state has been stretched to its limits, and it’s leading to more train-vehicle accidents as well as congestion in places where there hasn’t been in the past. Wisconsin Watch notes that the huge increase in frac sand mining has also helped to cause the unsustainable increase in usage.
Plale estimates that Progressive Rail, a short line which runs from Chippewa Falls north to Cameron, has increased from one train a week to two or three a day — which would be about 15 to 20 times more traffic. A representative from the rail line declined to provide exact numbers but did confirm the growth was due in part to frac sand. The larger Union Pacific railroad has reported that transporting frac sand in Wisconsin has helped it offset a 14 percent decrease in coal shipments...

Professional Logistics Group Inc., a consultant company based in Chicago, found in 2012 that transportation is 58 percent of the cost of frac sand. It is no wonder, then, that companies have begun investing in cheaper modes of moving their goods. And frac sand industry executives say rail is the best mode of transportation available.

“Rail is four times more fuel-efficient than a highway truck,” said Dave Fellon, president of Progressive Rail. “You can move a ton of freight over 425 miles on just one gallon of fuel. That’s an amazing statistic.”
The need for more and better track was also illustrated in a story in today’s La Crosse Tribune, where the Dairyland Power Cooperative says it may have to shut down a plant this winter if it can’t get the supplies it needs to run its operations.
Dairyland Power Cooperative says it could run out of coal at its Genoa generating plant by January if the BNSF railroad doesn’t rapidly accelerate deliveries.

Halfway through the summer shipping season, the coal supply has dwindled to “perilous levels” and is falling further behind each week, according to a memo sent last week to lawmakers.

The La Crosse-based utility, which serves about 250,000 mostly rural customers, relies on coal to generate power at plants in Alma and Genoa. Alma is served directly by a BNSF rail line, while coal is shipped to Genoa on barges loaded at a terminal in southeast Iowa.
And once the river freezes, it has to all come by rail, and the coal isn't going through to Iowa fast enough.

Hmmm, if only there was some kind of federal program that could have paid for maintenance on Wisconsin rail lines and put in new ones for passenger rail (so they don’t have to use the current ones and cause further congestion on the tracks). One that wouldn’t have cost the state a dime in cost-sharing. OH WAIT, THERE WAS.

Former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz hit the mark in an article in Madison’s Isthmus newspaper showing how Scott Walker’s anti-Obama pose against passenger rail in 2010 continues to leave Wisconsin behind, leading to massive state spending with nothing coming back in return.
Walker claimed that he opposed the 100% federally funded train because of the annual operating costs to the state, which amounted to around $7 million. But now the state is on the line for as much as $118 million, for which it will have received nothing at all. In other words, for the dollars the governor has put at risk, the state could have funded the new train operation for about a decade and a half.

Had Walker not been elected governor, the Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison service would have started a year ago. Sleek new trains would have been connecting us and providing economic development opportunities not just in Milwaukee but in other places along the line. A train station near Monona Terrace would be bustling and contributing to a revival of that portion of Madison's downtown. Even more importantly, Wisconsin would have been literally on the map as the first place in the country outside of the northeast corridor to be served by new higher-speed passenger rail.

Instead, Wisconsin now ranks a consistent 37th in job creation under Walker, the Talgo plant and its Milwaukee jobs are gone, the Madison station never happened and the ancillary development around it is on the ropes, our own tax dollars are on their way to build the same kind of system in other states, and we're still on the hook for as much as $118 million. Even if we don't end up paying out that much, every dollar that is lost will be lost completely.
The lack of big-picture planning and fiscal stupidity of Walker rejecting the train money continues to be the “gift” that keeps on giving in this state, isn’t it? And in light of the increases in rail shipments and major interstate projects, having new rail online sure would be handy these days. Maybe the next governor of Wisconsin will care more about improving transportation and moving Wisconsin's economy along instead of caring about what a couple of radio talk show hosts and suburban racists think.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Today in WEDC corruption...

Well, despite the Walker Administration's best attempts to cover up damaging revelations coming from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, we had more bad news from WEDC today. And it comes from the guy who's been all over this story this month- Channel 27's Greg Neumann in Madison.
On the same day Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) proposed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) consider a ban of financial awards for companies that outsource state jobs, 27 News learned at least four more companies that outsourced Wisconsin jobs have benefited from WEDC tax credits.
And look who's now all of a sudden concerned about this.
"It probably should have been done a long time ago, but it makes sense now," Gov. Walker told 27 News. "Our focus is on helping companies add jobs, invest capital and put more people to work here in the state."

In fact, Gov. Walker went a step further, adding to Rep. Barca's idea.

"Outsourcing not just overseas, but frankly I think, even the question of providing assistance to companies that send jobs anywhere outside the state of Wisconsin, whether its to China or Illinois," said Gov. Walker.

The board agreed to draft language that will be voted on at WEDC's September board meeting.
This is a classic case of overreaction to an issue that Walker and WisGOP wanted to dwindle and die, but instead just got bigger, and made WEDC and Walker look worse and worse. "It probably should have been done a long time ago", Scotty? YOU'RE THE CHAIR OF THE WEDC BOARD, AND YOU HAVE BEEN SINCE IT STARTED!

As WEDC's own press release notes, Walker was the guy who copied the ALEC model legislation introduced the concept of WEDC mere days after he took office - even before he "dropped the bomb" with Act 10.
The statutory formation of WEDC was set in motion in January 2011 by Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature with the calling of a Special Session focused on job creation. This session produced 2011 Wisconsin Act 7 – a law which created WEDC as a public-private corporation to replace the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

The Act designated WEDC as the lead economic development organization in the state and charged it with: (1) developing and implementing economic programs to provide business support, expertise, and financial assistance to companies that are investing and creating jobs in Wisconsin; (2) supporting new business startups and business expansion and growth in Wisconsin; and (3) developing and implementing any other programs related to economic development in Wisconsin. (I don't see outsourcing while pocketing taxpayer dollars on this list)

During the strategic planning process that started after adoption of Act 7, WEDC examined the functions of Commerce and developed a transition plan to identify the economic development functions that needed to be retained within the new WEDC and those that needed to be moved to other state agencies. This was done prior to WEDC officially starting operation on July 1, 2011.
But despite years of untracked funds and companies failing to follow through on job creation, it's only now that Walker seems interested in following up on what companies do once they get the WEDC write-offs from taxpayers. Guess those poll numbers must really suck, eh Scotty?

But wait, there's more. The other group that's been all over the WEDC disaster has been One Wisconsin Now, which pointed out that recipients of WEDC assistance have given over $1 million to Walker's campaign, and another $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. And as OWN's Scot Ross pointed out, they've gotten quite a nice payback from their investment.
"Gov. Walker has failed to create the jobs he promised us and given WEDC's incompetence, the public needs to know more than ever the way Gov. Walker is spending our money and that decisions are being based on the merits, not on who's donating to his campaign," said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. "Gov. Walker's donors have received 60 percent of the nearly $1 billion of taxpayer funds given out by WEDC. Gov. Walker sat by while WEDC gave money to companies that then outsourced Wisconsin jobs. And rather than change the culture of cronyism, corruption and incompetence of his administration, Gov. Walker is now trying to deny the public's right to know. It is utter arrogance by Gov. Walker to think the public won't see this for what it is: a desperate reaction to his sagging poll numbers."

A recent report from One Wisconsin Now found that owners or employees of 30 percent of businesses receiving assistance from WEDC contributed to Gov. Walker's campaign or the Republican Governors Association (RGA).
So naturally, the state's largest newspaper has been covering this continuing scandal, right? Well, it's definitely on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's front page, but the story concentrates on the anti-outsourcing proposal put forth today, ignores the fact that more WEDC-funded companies have outsourced, and instead concentrates the second half of the story on another lame anti-Burke ad that Walker made.

Hmm, it's almost like WEDC advertises with JournalComm, and that the newspaper editors and Journal Comm CEOs don't want to lose their ad money by telling the truth and making them look bad. Almost.

I'll let James Rowen at the Political Environment have the last word.
He's presiding over the removal of Wisconsin jobs, and paying his friends to do it, with our money, to boot.

A variation on pay-to-play?

What a scandal.

What a hack.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Obamacare court decisions and how they make WisGOP look even worse

This past week we had a decision by a DC appeals court striking down subsidies for Obamacare's federal health care exchanges, immediately followed by a Virginia appeals court that said the federal subsidies were OK. As for now, the subsidies stay on for those who bought insurance through the federal exchanges, but this is being appealed to higher courts, and seems destined to be decided by US Supreme Court, which is a scary proposition given this crew's recent record.

Wisconsin was one of those states that did not choose to set up a state exchange for insurance (and turned down $38 million dollars from the feds that would have helped set up the exchanges), so let's discuss what would happen if the Supremes do strike down the federal subsidies for the insurance exchanges. Jason Millman of the Washington Post notes that consumers would end up paying much higher costs for insurance, since most people who got insurance through the exchange were counting on the federal subsidies to help them pay for it.
The D.C. appellate court ruling in Halbig v. Burwell, that the federal government isn't authorized to administer insurance subsidies in the 36 states that refused to set up their own health insurance exchanges, is a major blow to the key feature that makes coverage affordable. Of the 5.4 million people who signed up for coverage in the 36 states with a federal exchange, 87 percent of them received federal subsidies to purchase insurance, according to the Obama administration. Those discounts, on average, meant those customers are paying about one-fourth of their actual premium, the Department of Health and Human Services reported.

The consulting firm Avalere Health calculated that those states by 2016 would forfeit about $36 billion in federal subsidies to purchase insurance. The impact would be much larger in some states — Mississippi, one of the poorest states, saw 94 percent of exchange enrollees qualify for subsidies. On average, premiums in these federal exchange states would increase 76 percent as a result of this decision, Avalere said.
You can click here to download the Avalere study, which estimates that Wisconsinites would be paying between 70-74% higher premiums if the Halbig decision were to stand, while neighboring Minnesota (who set up their own exchange) would have no change at all. So due to Gov Walker and WisGOP's TeaBagging of Obamacare, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites stand to see huge increases in what they'd have to pay for insurance, and many would not choose to be insured at all as a result.

And this is where I should note that the Affordable Care Act has been a significant success in places where it is has been fully implemented. A recent Gallup survey showed the uninsured rate has fallen from 18.0% in September 2013 to 13.1% at the end of June. But as the Urban Institute noted, the reduction in people uninsured is significantly more in states which expanded Medicaid and did their own implementation of Obamacare, compared to states like Wisconsin that did not.

But just because we have a Governor and Legislature that's trying to screw up the Affordable Care Act doesn't mean Wisconsinites aren't still seeing benefits from Obamacare. Wisconsinites are getting $2.6 million in rebates in the next week due to Obamacare rules regulating excessive profit and administrative costs by insurance companies. The Appeals Court decision doesn't affect this, but keep it in mind when you hear righties try to denigrate Obamacare, as there are many small things in it that have helped consumers beyond the increased ability to get health care services. Obamacare has also helped to lead to lower health care costs overall, and this is a part of the reason the Medicare trust fund's 100% fully-funded status was extended by another 4 years earlier this month, through 2030.

Let's go back to the questions about the federal insurance exchanges. We now know that less than 40% of Wisconsinites kicked off of BadgerCare by Walker's policies didn't get coverage through the exchanges, and the Halbig decision would blow that strategy apart even more, leaving nearly 25,000 Wisconsinites in the lurch, as they'd be unlikely to afford the insurance without the subsidies involved. It would also likely raise premiums for other health care recipients, because of lower levels of competition from the exchange and related complications. Of course, Walker's cynical strategy on Obamcare was that people either would get coverage (letting him off the hook for dumping them off of BadgerCare), or that Obamacare wouldn't work, which would allow GOPs a political advantage, and possibly get it removed before too many people got help and ended up liking it.

Now if the Supremes knock down the federal exchanges, you have the worst of all worlds- fewer people in Wisconsin covered, many others thrown into turmoil and uncertainty due to the burden of higher insurance costs, and a higher cost to state taxpayers (because of the refusal to accept expanded Medicaid). There will be demands to do something about it throughout the state, especially in low-income rural areas that are among the highest parts of Wisconsin that are in need of assistance for health care, which is not what Walker and WisGOP had in mind. Or we could elect a governor like Mary Burke, who would take Obamacare's expanded Medicaid funds, and elect Democrats into the Legislature who actually would work to save taxpayer dollars and cover more people, instead of the "more expense for less coverage" strategy that we've seen from WisGOP the last 3 years.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lyin' Ryan- with new and improved flim-flam!

I see another one of our state's righties is back in the news, as Paul Ryan released a new plan to try to deal with poverty, replacing the several other past plans of his that were promptly laughed out of the room. I'll leave it to the great Charlie Pierce to accurately call out why the Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver's new and improved plan is set up to fail. Pierce rightly calls out Purty Mouth Pau-lie as a pathetic poser whose "ideas" are merely stunts intended to raise Ryan's profile, with no chance of actually being workable policy.
There are ideas within the stated plan to which I have no objection: the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, prison reform, etc. There is also one major and insurmountable flaw in the plan, and that is that Paul Ryan is a consummate charlatan, the fact that he has discovered a new formula for snake oil notwithstanding.

One must never forget when discussing anything Paul Ryan says about economics that he fundamentally does not believe that the care of the poor and the sick is a legitimate function of government. This belief is theological. It is the basis for his entire political career. And it has not changed. This is a philosophy he developed while going to high school and college on my dime and yours through Social Security survivor benefits, and you're welcome again, dickhead. Anybody who thinks Paul Ryan has "changed" in any substantive way should not be allowed out in public without a minder. In this recent scam, the tells are scattered everywhere, and they are obvious, and you don't even have to know that the more "compassionate" of his proposals don't have fk all chance of getting through the monkeyhouse Congress in which he is a leader. He knows that, too.

For example, let us look at the tinpot re-branding of block grants as "opportunity grants." (And here we once again must refer to the words of Mr. S. Spade of San Francisco: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.") Ryan says, yes, block grants sucked before, when Saint Ronnie used them as a means to destroy programs he didn't like, but they will work now because - Paul Ryan.
And the especially dangerous part about Ryan's plan is this delegation of programs to the states, as they could easily be misused by some ideological governor and legislature to cut services (like say, Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP) and give large amounts of this money to sketchy, politically connected organizations that don't give one care about the people they serve (like Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP).

Plus, as Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer pointed out, for such a "fiscal conservative", Ryan's plan to have individualized counseling for welfare recipients would be monstrously expensive, and he offers no way to pay for them. Mencimer notes a book by New York Times reporter Jason DeParle that looked into Wisconsin's welfare reform projects that had a similar plan, and they didn't go very well.
DeParle describes caseworkers in the Wisconsin welfare-to-work agencies as utterly overwhelmed, with caseloads double what they should have been because no one wanted to invest the money to hire the number of qualified people it would take to do the job right. Caseworkers like Michael were also inundated with clients who didn't necessarily want the government or private-sector caseworkers all up in their business. Few of Michael's generationally poor clients ended up getting real jobs, but a lot of them ended up losing their benefits. That's one reason why, nationally, in the decade after welfare reform, the number of children in deep poverty—that is, living at below half the federal poverty line—jumped from 1.5 million to 2.2 million between 1995 and 2005.

Customizing federal safety net services, while a laudable ideal, has several major downsides. One big one: It's slow, and someone who desperately needs food stamps to free up money to pay the rent isn't especially well-positioned to spend a lot of time contemplating self-improvement. Jason Perkins-Cohen spent seven years working in the DC Income Maintenance Administration, helping set up the city's welfare-to-work program. Now the executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore, he says focusing on individualization ignores the fact that everyone has the same basic needs.

"So yes, everyone is an individual, but everyone needs to have shelter, food, health assistance, and a job." Right now, he says, people can get expedited food stamps in 15 days, an important feature for desperate people in crisis. "To customize [services], you're going to have to find out a lot more information, and all of this customization will end up slowing down the receipt of benefits."
Of course, screwing up social services beyond all recognition might be Paul Ryan's goal. Because that would enable Koch Boy to then turn around and say "See, helping these people doesn't work and wastes money, so we should cut it and/or pawn off these duties to campaign contributors private organizations." Win-win if you're a connected GOP crony, but it sure sucks for the rest of us.

As someone who still clings to the idea of accountability and that expertise and respect is earned instead of given out based on whose ass you kiss, it's vexing to see Paul Ryan continue to be projected in the DC media as some kind of bright thinker. This guy is a total fraud that doesn't give a care for the people who give him the chance to suckle at the government teat (tellingly, there is no Wisconsin stop on Ryan's book tour), and it's time for Southern Wisconsin to stop sending this self-absorbed dimwit to Congress.

Walker Administration not so "Unintimidated" on WEDC, transparency

Lakeland Times, Sept. 8, 2010
When he says he believes in government transparency, it's not just a campaign slogan, Walker said.

"I don't just say that, I've lived it," he said. "(In Milwaukee County), we have put all government purchases online at no additional cost. Every purchase, everything we enter into our accounting software, automatically in real time goes on to a website that tells the public every purchase by department. Not only a journalist but a citizen journalist or anybody else can track it down."

Well, it ain't 2010 anymore, and it looks like Governor Walker's Administration thinks they have found a way to stop "citizen journalists or anybody else" writing damaging stories about WEDC corruption and bilking taxpayers on out-of-state campaign trips. Hide the information from the public.
Citing security concerns, Gov. Scott Walker’s office is no longer releasing information about where he stays on out-of-state trips in regularly released calendars of his past activities.

Also on the same calendars, Walker’s office is no longer disclosing the names and phone numbers of companies that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is working with on economic incentive packages.

The decision to withhold those two types of information was disclosed Friday with the release of Walker’s daily calendars from June....

The statement noted the governor has had threats to his safety and stalking incidents in the past, and information about where he has stayed “could be used to establish patterns and predict the governor’s overnight location on future trips.”
That's right, taxpayers of Wisconsin. Scott Walker's administration says you have no right to ask how he and his staff are using your taxpayer dollars. This is unbelievably arrogant, and displays what a low opinion Walker and company have of the average Wisconsinite.

Props to the Wisconsin State Journal for exposing how these guys roll, and I know this will shock you, but there isn't a word about this in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, who receives advertising dollars from WEDC. Just like how the J-S has failed to mention that companies which received WEDC tax credits outsourced Wisconsin jobs, and that Walker received $68,500 in PAC donations from companies who outsourced jobs.

Actions speak louder than words, and this administration's actions scream "Corrupt group who knows they're sinking in the polls, and hope they can win on deception and hiding from the public."

EDIT: And it's not just in these departments where the Walker folks aren't being transparent. The Department of Revenue has regularly released tax collections on the fourth Friday of the month, but they didn't release June's yesterday (at least anywhere that I've seen). And they still haven't put the release of May's collections onto their website, let alone June's. Combine that with the hiring of a new Communications Director with major ties to WisGOP Senators, and it makes you wonder if something's up.

Friday, July 25, 2014

WEDC to hold its board meeting at China outsourcer

Here's more on the absurdity of Gov Walker's quickly-backfiring ads against Trek bicycle. Walker's pet "jobs creator" organization, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), has its next Board meeting on Monday, and it's located at the headquarters of Briggs and Stratton Corporation in Wauwatosa.

The choice of Briggs and Stratton is interesting enough, as they recently claimed they were going to move jobs from Georgia into Southeastern Wisconsin. Briggs also said they would discuss giveaways "incentives" that Briggs and they would get as part of this alleged jobs expansion, and I would guess this might be part of this WEDC Board meeting, since WEDC usually hands out these kinds of giveaways incentives.

As I mentioned earlier this month, you should be skeptical of Briggs' announcement, and not only because it's similar to the announcements of Wisconsin corporations such as Plexus and and Eaton Corporation earlier in Walker's tenure in office- jobs that not only never were added, but instead ended up being outsourced. You should also be questioning this because Briggs and Stratton's CEO just completed 2 years as the Chairman of the Board of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce - aka the Wisconsin GOP's economic policy puppetmasters-, and Briggs executives have given over $30,000 to Walker throughout the years. The timing of the "jobs expansion" announcement at Briggs happened just as a load of bad jobs news was hitting Wisconsin and damaging Walker's re-election campaign. So yes, the timing of the announcement seems more than a little convenient.

And what's doubly interesting about this WEDC Board meeting being at Briggs and Stratton is that Briggs has also done the same strategy Plexus and Eaton has- outsourcing some of its operations to China, including this move from 2012.
Briggs & Stratton Corp. said Thursday that it plans to cut about 460 jobs and stop selling gardening products through big retailers as demand for its goods shrinks.

The company, which is based in Milwaukee, is shifting some manufacturing work from an Alabama plant to another plant it has in China, or to contractors elsewhere in Southeast Asia, to save costs.

The company has been cutting back because of weaker demand for lawn and garden products in Europe and the U.S. due to the weak housing market of the past several years. The recent economic deterioration in Europe has further hurt demand. The cuts announced Thursday follow Briggs & Stratton's January announcement that it would close a plant in Tennessee and shift the work to Georgia, eliminating about 690 jobs in the U.S. It also said it would close a plant in the Czech Republic, cutting 77 jobs there.
So I'm sure WEDC Board Chair Scott Walker will bring this up in Monday's meeting, given that he's now found religion against the practice of outsourcing. I mean, just look at the new WisGOP billboard that's going up around the state tying Mary Burke to China outsourcing (oh wait, scratch that, WisGOP took that billboard down after 1 day after it was revealed that they used Russian stock photos).

Let's see if the media uses this WEDC Board meeting to finally ask real questions about why these Wisconsin companies are selected for tax credits over others, and to pin down Governor Walker and his administration on whether his anti-Trek ads are a general disagreement with outsourcing. If so, then it'd be quite a turnaround for the guy who took WEDC staff on a weeklong trade trip to China- on the taxpayer dime of course. If not, and he has no real problem with Wisconsin companies outsourcing, then he's just a desperate, hypocritical candidate throwing mud against the wall because he's losing the election.

So Scotty, which is it?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

WisGOP, Walker keeps stepping on their own outsourcing rakes

Instead of talking about the Marquette Law School poll that showed a statistical toss-up on the governor's race (although I might well bring up some interesting figures in it later on), I wanted to go over some of the mega-fail that has been WisGOP's and Gov Walker's strategy to denigrate Mary Burke and Trek Bicycle on outsourcing.

Walker and WisGOP sent out their first ad trying to knock down Burke and Trek a week ago, and the ad was immediately refuted by Burke's brother John, who's Trek's CEO. Not only did John Burke respond to Walker's claim, but he pointed out that Trek currently employs around 1,000 Wisconsinites, and locates in other countries largely to sell bikes in other countries.
"When people make blatantly false accusations about a company you've spent your lifetime building and you have 1,800 employees who are proud about what they do every day, that just isn't right," John Burke said.

Trek was founded in Waterloo in the 1970s by John and Mary Burke's father and is now the second-largest bike manufacturer worldwide. Mary Burke worked as an executive at Trek twice, leaving the company in 2004.

John Burke said all decisions about where to locate jobs were his and not his sister's. Mary Burke worked for Trek as the head of its European division from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1995 until 2004, with her most recent job being director of planning and strategic planning.

John Burke said Trek does not employ children at its overseas plants. He said Trek has manufacturing plants in China, Germany and Holland and they all strictly follow local labor laws.
Walker, being a 21st Century Republican, decided to continue running the ad despite the dishonesty. It was also remarkable to see Walker criticize Trek, as the Walker-created Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation featured John Burke and Trek as a great example of a Wisconsin job creator in a WEDC promotional video in 2012 (well after any outsourcing had happened). Wonder what changed, other than Mary Burke's entrance into the Governor's race?

It's also worth noting that Walker's ads came just days after a report from WKOW Channel 27 showed 2 companies that had received WEDC tax credits for alleged expansion not only failed to create new jobs, but later outsourced the original Wisconsin jobs. And oh yeah, both of those companies had personnel that had donated to the Walker campaign. Which made Walker's ads seem like a classic misdirection play by a struggling campaign to get the topic off of their "dead last in the Midwest for jobs" standing.

And it's not like Walker and his personally-hired CEO of WEDC have a problem with the concept of outsourcing. On the same day John Burke gave his first reply to the ad, WEDC CEO Reed Hall told Madison's WKOW that outsourcing was a fact of life for many corporations these days.
"We are in a global marketplace and some companies, to be successful financially, need to outsource," said Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation CEO Reed Hall.

Hall was responding to questions about a 27 News story from last week, which showed at least two companies that received tax credits from WEDC later outsourced Wisconsin jobs to foreign countries.

A 27 News investigation uncovered that both the Eaton Corporation and Plexus Corporation received financial awards from WEDC, only to later lay off workers whose jobs were taken by employees at the companies' foreign facilities.

"I'm sorry that they temporarily had to outsource some jobs, but I think ultimately over the long-term its gonna be a great win for Wisconsin with both these companies," said Hall.
Walker is now left to spin like a madman to claim the anti-Trek ads aren't related to his beliefs about outsourcing, resulting in word salads that would make Sarah Palin seem coherent.

Guess it's a lot easier on right-wing radio when you can just throw garbage against the wall and not have to explain it and compare it to your record, eh Scotty? This song keeps coming to mind when I think about Walker's act.

John Burke also put his criticism of Walker's anti-Trek ads in print, buying up space in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and other state newspapers on Sunday to give a page-long defense of his company and the philanthropy they take part in. So how did WisGOP respond? By crying like pathetic bitches and filing a complaint with the state's General Accountability Board, claiming John Burke's ad should be treated as an in-kind contribution to his sister's campaign. This is despite the fact that Mary Burke or the Democratic Party aren't even mentioned once in Burke's printed ad, which makes WisGOP's complaint extremely whiny and lame, but that isn't even the best part about why WisGOP's GAB complaint is such a bad move.

No, the REAL FAIL in WisGOP's move is because they've just admitted that the John Doe coordination case against Governor Walker is 100% legitimate. Brandon Fischer at PR Watch points out the insane WisGOP hypocrisy in an excellent article today.
Even if the Trek ad were considered a political expenditure -- rather than a business owner trying to defend his company's reputation -- nothing is stopping Trek from running it independently of the Burke campaign. The U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United struck down laws barring corporations from making independent political expenditures.

"The only way the ad is possibly problematic is if there is coordination" between the campaign and Trek about the ad, [Wisconsin Common Cause Executive Director Jay] Heck said.

Ads coordinated with a candidate can be regarded as in-kind contributions to the campaign, regardless of whether they expressly tell viewers how to vote. The existence of coordination is an indication that an ad is of value to a campaign, and therefore should be treated as an in-kind campaign contribution, subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements.

This legal theory -- which has now been endorsed by the Wisconsin Republican Party -- is the basis of the John Doe criminal probe. Prosecutors allege that the Walker campaign was at the center of a "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate with Wisconsin Club for Growth, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and other independent groups on millions of dollars of ads during the recall elections. What made the alleged conduct “criminal” is the Walker campaign and others misleading Wisconsin voters by knowingly filing campaign finance reports that omitted millions of dollars of in-kind contributions.
Talk about your "D'OH!" moves! WisGOP has now completely undermined Walker and his fellow right-wing oligarchs, by not only admitting that coordination between organizations and candidates should be considered campaign contributions, but also by expanding the definition of "coordination" to include a family member running an ad that doesn't encourage voting for a certain candidate- or even mentioning the election or the candidate that's allegedly being helped!

These absurd, desperate arguments would be embarrassing to Scott Walker and WisGOP, if I believed that these ridiculous lowlifes could feel shame (and I could give you a lot more examples of this silliness, but this article is long enough). But then again, they can't get enough people to actually want to vote FOR them, despite the huge amount of right-wing propaganda that is fed to Wisconsinites every day on the AM radio dials and in the pages of their daily newspapers. So with that in mind, all they can do is go negative and try to keep the majority of Wisconsinites of going to the polls to cast the ballot for Burke.

And in reality, THAT'S what this recent Walker/WisGOP strategy is all about- making the electorate turned off and cyncial, which allows just enough votes from hard-right, angry white guys to carry them to a 51-49 victory. Then the righties can claim a "mandate" that they can steamroll over the other 75% of Wisconsinites that didn't vote for them (the 24% who voted for Burke, and the 51% who didn't vote at all).

Or we can say "Enough!", and kick these adolescent fools to the curb this November. Seems like a better idea to me.

Happy Hump Day!

I was trying to get some items done yesterday (especially in light of the Obamacare decisions), but a family outing intervened. And then this happened later in the evening (they have both the TV and radio broadcasts. Ueck's call starts just after 1:00)

If Luke doesn't watch it, he just might win the MVP. A few more of those makes him an even more serious candidate than he already is.

EDIT: Here's ESPN's Jim Caple getting on the "Luke for MVP" bandwagon.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New home sales show a struggling 262

Today featured the release of the Wisconsin Realtors' Association's monthly sales report, and at first glance it seemed like June was a decent rebound, as the state finally had a year-over-year increase in home sales.
Existing home sales in Wisconsin saw positive gains for the first time this year, and median home prices were up slightly according to the most recent housing market report released by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). June home sales rose 4.5 percent compared to June 2013, and median prices were stable, rising 0.6 percent to $159,900 over the same period.

“This is a welcome sign since June is our most important month for sales,” said Steve Lane, chairman of the WRA board of directors. “In a typical year, Wisconsin sells approximately 11.5 percent of its homes in June, which is more than any other month of the year, so strong sales in June is important,” said Lane.
Seems like maybe we're bouncing back. Except that we were in such a hole from the first 5 months of the year that we're still well behind where we should be. I'm also going to leave out the absurd pro- Scott Walker happy talk from the Realtors, as we know the state's economy is badly lagging and just ended its worst 6 months of job growth in the 3 1/2 years Walker has been governor.
However, given the harsh winter, Lane cautioned that even a solid showing in June won’t completely erase the weaker winter and spring sales. He noted that during the first half of the year, sales were down 4.9 percent compared to the first six months of 2013. All regions saw positive gains in sales in June with the double-digit growth in the West and the Central regions, up 15.6 percent and 10.1 percent respectively. Home sales in June were up between 3 and 6 percent in three regions — the South central, North and Northeast regions; and sales in the Southeast region were up slightly at 0.2 percent....

Median prices stabilized in June, with prices up just 0.6 percent to $159,900 for the month compared to the same month last year. Year-to-date, the median price has increased 3.6 percent to $145,000 compared to the median price seen for the first six months of 2013. “Fortunately our price increases have moderated compared to late last year and early in 2014,” said WRA President and CEO Michael Theo. The annual pace of median price growth was 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, followed by 4.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, and a more sustainable 1.7 percent increase in the second quarter of 2014 relative to that same quarter in 2013.
So the price increases are slowing down as well as sales being slow. And there are few places that have done worse in Wisconsin than the 3 counties around Milwaukee that greatly support Scott Walker. Take a look at how badly the WOW Counties have fared so far in 2014.

Change in home sales Jan-June 2013 vs Jan-June 2014
Ozaukee Co. -6.2%
Washington Co. -12.0%
Waukesha Co. -9.2%

Change in median home sales price Jan-June 2013 vs Jan-June 2014
Ozaukee Co. +0.8%
Washington Co. -4.1%
Waukesha Co. +1.7%

Both of these stats are well below the statewide figures of sales being down 4.9% and prices up 3.6%. And these areas kept sliding in June while the state as a whole was up.

Change in home sales June 2013 vs June 2014
Ozaukee Co. -8.3%
Washington Co. -10.3%
Waukesha Co -2.3%

Yes, the sample size is still somewhat small, but you gotta start wondering if people are simply not choosing to live in areas that stood with Walker at rates between 71 and 76 percent in the June 2012 recall election. By comparison, Milwaukee County was up 0.9% for sales in June, their 5.8% decline in sales for the year is less than any of WOW Counties, and median sales prices in Milwaukee County are up 9.0% for the first 5 months of 2014 (granted, at a lower price point). Maybe new Milwaukee-area home buyers are choosing not to live in areas that choose to live in fear and don't believe in transit and walkable communities. That sure seemed to be a theory from officials in Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Denver in a recent MMAC discussion - a belief that must have alarmed the MMAC's pro-Walker oligarchs, knowing how much their guy disinvested in transit in Brew Town.

I happened to head into Milwaukee this weekend for a family event, and was detoured off of I-94 due to the Zoo Interchange Closure. So we traveled through Brookfield and Pewaukee as part of our detours, and especially along Bluemound Road it was startling to see the amount of vacant store and office space. It's an extremely rare site to see "For Lease" signs every 2 or 3 buildings in Madison like I saw in the 262, and you couldn't ignore the outdated strip malls that seem to have moved downscale from the times 30 years ago when Brookfield and Elm Grove were the suburbs that young families wanted to locate in.

So with the idyllic image of sprawling, safe suburbs collapsing around them, and it bein obvious those places aren't getting ahead in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, it makes you wonder if at least 35% of the voters in those areas won't want to make a change in leadership this November. And if that happens, there is very little chance Walker can win.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

PBS discusses the divided Milwaukee

Here is an intriguing report from last night's PBS New Hour. It's former presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill heading to Milwaukee to discuss the huge amounts of red vs. blue polarization that defines the metro area.

A few thoughts.

1. The report itself is relatively even-handed, but outside of Mayor Barrett's mention, avoids discussion of the poisonous role of Milwaukee talk radio and the Bradley-backed right-wing propaganda machine that causes both sides to head to their respective corners, and not trust the other. I also love the interview with the Boomer-aged woman with the Polish name that claimed to be a former Democrat, but now lives in the suburbs and votes Republican. When Ifill asks her why this happened, she says "Because of liberalism," but won't say what about liberalism turned her off. Then again, maybe she doesn't have to say it. racism and AM radio lies

2. Oconomowoc Barbie (aka Lt. Gov Kleefisch) made a comment about how the division "makes for a stronger Wisconsin," which is even more stomach-churning than her usual tripe. Apparently she didn't catch the references made by officials from other cities at a recent Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce roundtable. The goal of the meeting was to pump up support for a new Bucks arena (which the MMAC oligarchs are all about), but instead backfired into an analysis of one of the Milwaukee area's biggest failures.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, had the most straight-forward quote of the day. Speaking about millenials she said “this generation wants transit, they want amenities. They want it all downtown.”

The leaders from Denver and Oklahoma City began their remarks by noting all the lists they’re on, and how those two cities are similar. Joseph Roman, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, had a different message though. He noted multiple times how Milwaukee and Cleveland are peer cities, and appear on the same lists (he didn’t mention any specifically, but his attitude indicated they weren’t the same rosy ones Denver and Oklahoma City are on).

Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, noted that in Oklahoma City “we all followed Richard Florida.” But he mentioned for a long time most of them didn’t believe in Florida’s creative class gospel. He noted that they’ve now changed their mind and when it comes to attracting millennials, it is all about place. Williams said Oklahoma City has 130,000 college students in the region, and has managed to increase from a graduate retention rate that was below 50 percent to its current rate of 90 percent. He, too, emphasized that young people want transit and amenities, and Oklahoma City has been able to figure that out with their MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) program.

Following a question about doing projects mainly downtown, Williams offered a line he says his mayor often uses: “you can’t be a suburb of nothing.” Noting that the health of its downtown is good for a region as a whole, Roman said “downtowns are what makes our regions thrive.”
Compare that to the situation in Wisconsin, where the Lt. Gov/Oconomowoc Barbie won the 2010 GOP primary by running ads that claimed Wisconsin didn't need high-speed rail and transit because she could take her kids around in her mini-van. Suburban Milwaukee legislators (like Barbie's fool of a husband) do everything in their power to weaken the city of Milwaukee, tying the city's hands through shared revenue cuts and unfunded mandates. And you wonder why brain drain from the area seems to be speeding up, especially to more open-minded and transit-oriented areas like Madison, the Twin Cities and Chicago?

3. Having Dimwitted David Brooks comment on anything is worthless. This is especially true when he tries to state that the polarization has to do with "diminishing resources, including pensions." Obviously, Dimwitted Dave didn't check the fact that Wisconsin's pension system is fully funded, making it Number 1 in the nation. And that situation had nothing to do with Scott Walker's Act 10 "reforms", because Act 10 merely changed how much public employees paid into the pensions vs all taxpayers - "savings" that were later used to give rich people tax breaks. The result in 2014? Wisconsin has lost jobs in 4 of the first 6 months of the year, and now has revenue shortfalls that will lead to massive budget deficits over the next 3 years.

But it's good to see the national media give attention to this unsustainable level of polarity (the J-S's Craig Gilbert notes the only other place you see something like this is in the South). They beat around the bush on the racial angle (unlike Alec MacGillis' excellent article in the New Republic on Walker's "toxic racial politics"), but it doesn't take a genius to watch that piece and see it's a significant factor. And as the old "white flight" Archie Bunker-like racists die out, the 262 trailer trash and their boy Scotty get shriller, dumber, and angrier, probably because they know their time is starting to run out.

Now here's the question. Will JournalComm care more about its community, see the damage it is causing, and clean up their act in both their newspaper and their broadcast stations. Or will they care about the millions in ad money that might come in from a heated and closely-contested Walker-Burke race, even if it makes the Milwaukee area decline into a hateful area that no one wants to move to? We need to watch them, and keep the dollar signs from blinding them to the reality that's right in from of their faces.

Friday, July 18, 2014

National numbers make Wisconsin's June loss even worse

As mentioned, I wanted to take a look at the state-by-state monthly jobs report to follow up on yesterday's news of more Wisconsin private sector job losses.

And the nationwide numbers make Wisconsin's report look even worse. When combined with May's job losses (which were revised up to 900 in yesterday's report), it makes Wisconsin the only state in the Midwest to lose private-sector jobs in both months. In fact, Wisconsin was at least 15,000 JOBS BEHIND 4 of our 6 Midwestern neighbors, as we thawed out from the polar vortex winter.

Private sector job change, April-June 2014
Mich +34,300
Ind. +17,200
Minn +13,500
Ohio +12,900
Iowa +3,000
Ill. +2,800
Wis. -2,100

But these horrible stats didn't mean the Walker Administration has given up trying to convince people that somehow "It's Working" in Wisconsin. Which means it's time to destroy yet another lame pro-Walker cheerleading attempt by DWD Secretary Reggie Newson. I'll start off with the DWD spin, and respond with the context and reality in italics.
Highlights of today's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report of state-by-state employment and unemployment estimates include:

Wisconsin's unemployment rate had a statistically significant decrease between June 2013 and June 2014. (2014 5.7% v. 2013 6.8%). Wisconsin's unemployment rate has not risen for 19 months.
So freaking what? The US rate has only gone up one time in the last 18 months, and has dropped from 7.5% to 6.1% in the last year - a bigger drop than Wisconsin’s (1.4% vs. 1.1%). In the Midwest, 4 of the 6 other states had statistically significant drops in unemployment, and their drops were between 1.4% and 2.1%. In addition, the 2 states that didn’t make the “statistically significant list” (Iowa and Minnesota) already had unemployment down to 4.8% and 5.1% in June 2013, and currently are even lower than that today.

This claim actually makes Wisconsin look worse, not better.

Wisconsin has a statistically significant private-sector job (Current Employment Statistics) increase between June 2013 and June 2014 at 33,800, which ranked 23rd nationally.
This is damning with praise again. Wisconsin is 20th among all the states in population, so being 23rd in total job increase means if anything, we’re underachieving.

Wisconsin had a statistically significant total nonfarm job (CES) increase between June 2013 and June 2014 at 45,400, which ranked 16th nationally.
This sounds good on the surface, but leaves out the 2 ½ years of bottom-third suckitude before this, and leaves out the fact that over ¼ of these jobs are in GOVERNMENT. (So much for “small government conservative Scott Walker.”)

Wisconsin had a statistically significant manufacturing job (CES) increase between June 2013 and June 2014 at 8,300, which ranked 5th nationally and above Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.
Again, so what? We’re just behind Indiana for Number 1 in the U.S. when it comes to the highest percentage of jobs in manufacturing. It would be like if Wisconsin bars took credit for selling the most brandy per capita in the nation. Of course we’d do well in this stat when manufacturing employment is growing in America.

No matter how they try to dress it up, the Walker Administration can't hide from the fact that Wisconsin is still worst in the Midwest for job creation. This statement is true both in the first 3 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan (as shown by the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages report), and in the 2 months since the grass started to grow. I understand that a Common Core opponent like Walker might find math to be a liberal plot, but it doesn't change the fact that this state has badly lagged since his radical policies were put in place, and there is little evidence this will change until new leadership is installed.

P.S. For more information, please check out UW-Madison professor Menzie Chinn's recent post on Econbrowser, where he contrasts the failure of ALEC states like Kansas and Wisconsin with growing, Dem-led states like California and Minnesota. Worth noting- those Dem-led states have more jobs now than they did before the Great Recession hit, while Kansas and Wisconsin still have yet to get back to that level.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

With bad June jobs report, Wisconsin completes worst 6 months (so far) under Walker

With the June Wisconsin jobs report looming for release today, I wondered if that was playing a role in Scott Walker's sudden desire to deflect and distract the media with lame anti-Mary Burke ads that are now being called false by Trek's president, and constant (taxpayer-funded) trips to campaign contributors to announce "future expansions." And it turns out I was right to be suspicious.

Turns out that the state lost 1,200 private sector jobs in June, and May was revised to show an extra 500 jobs lost in that month. This now means Wisconsin has lost private sector jobs in 4 of the 6 months of 2014- a time period that the US as a whole GAINED 1.33 MILLION private sector jobs. The only reason Wisconsin's unemployment stayed even at 5.7% was because 7,400 people dropped out of the workforce, and now Wisconsin is only 0.4% below the US rate of 6.1% (it was 1.4% below when Walker took office in January 2011).

With the bad June report coming while the rest of the country was thriving (263,000 private sector jobs added, and 288,000 overall), the Walker jobs gap has jumped quite a bit higher. Wisconsin is now nearly 66,000 private sector jobs below what we'd have if we'd kept up with the US pace, and 56,000 jobs in the hole overall.

Remarkably, while most of the rest of the country seems to be adding jobs at the best pace in years, Wisconsin is getting worse the longer Walker stays in office. The paltry 8,500 private sector jobs added in the first 6 months of 2014 is the lowest half-year total in Scotty's 3 1/2 years in office, and it shows that the strong end of 2013 numbers were a fluke that didn't break the state out of its Walker-led doldrums.

It's also worth mentioning that this 2014 job failure has come in a year where two rounds of income tax cuts have taken effect. Do you need any more proof you need that tax cuts don't create jobs, and that Scott Walker's corporate cronysim and "austerity for those outside of the inner circle" policy isn't the way to go? Well, it shouldn't, but I supposed it won't stop some paid-off hacks and gutless fools from claiming "the jury is still out."

Soryy guys, the jury's back, and this debate doesn't take too long among honest folks. The trickle-down, anti-education Fitzwalkerstanis have failed, and I bet tomorrow's state-by-state jobs report will make them look even worse, if possible.

DHS finally releases Obamacare numbers, and it magnifies the #Walkerfail

1. After weeks of delay, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services finally released numbers showing what happened to the near-poverty group that was thrown off Badgercare as part of Gov Walker's 2013 decision to try to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). And contrary to what the Walker Administration claimed last year, most of these people didn't end up getting medical coverage from the exchanges.
The data match that the Department completed with data received from CMS determined how many BadgerCare Plus members who needed to transition into the federal Health Insurance Marketplace because they no longer met program rules as of April 1, 2014 chose to select a qualified health plan through the Marketplace for their private health insurance coverage and were eligible to receive an Advanced Premium Tax Credit.

When CMS and the Department of Health Services finalized Wisconsin’s approach to operationalizing the Affordable Care Act in December 2013, both agencies agreed to establish a way to track the number of people who made the transition to securing coverage through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. This data match fulfills this requirement.

Below is a summary of the 62,776 transitioning BadgerCare Plus members included in the data match:

24,660 selected a qualified health plan through the Marketplace as of June 13, 2014 or are now eligible for BadgerCare Plus or Medicaid.

18,801 selected a qualified health plan through the Marketplace.

4,867 are on BadgerCare Plus or Medicaid.

992 were flagged as being on BadgerCare Plus/Medicaid and selecting a qualified health plan.
In other words, more than 60% of those parents and caretakers that were kicked off of Badgercare did not get covered by Medicaid or the Obamacare exchanges. That's not a good ratio, if you ask me.

In the AP story on the Medicaid numbers, DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades and Deputy Secretary Kevin Moore mention that many of the 38,000 others may not be uninsured, but instead could have ended up on other health insurance coverage through work and/or a spouse, and there's some truth to that statement. It's why I'm going to be very interested in the Census Bureau's annual release of uninsured figures, which usually happens around September. Those figures only run through the end of December 2013, so it won't account for the full effect of receiving coverage in 2014 under Obamacare, but we can at least see how we were shaping up before then.

That being said, even if those parents and caretakers were able to get coverage through their work or spouse, it doesn't mention the added out-of-pocket costs that will result from kicking them off of BadgerCare, and the extra strain and reduced spending that causes to other parts of the state's economy.

And the Rhoades and Moore claim that they parents and caretakers with incomes between 133-200% of poverty HAD to be thrown off of BadgerCare isn't quite true. If you look at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's paper from February 2013 that described options available to the state for health insurance under the ACA, you'll notice that BadgerCare Plus (which most parents and caretakers were covered under) was not affected by the ACA, only the BadgerCare Plus CORE plan, which is for childless adults with incomes between 100-200% of the poverty line- it's a separate program.

The BadgerCare Plus plan was just fine under the ACA, as long as the state chose to pay their share of it. In fact, the LFB paper shows the state would have spent less money if they would have taken the expanded Medicaid funding in the ACA, and continued to cover the 133-200% group of caretakers under BadgerCare Plus, compared to the costs of Walker's plan. Let's use the LFB projections that were made in February 2013, and use Option 4B as the base, because that assumed the highest number of people being covered under the ACA, and therefore the highest state costs for maintaining BadgerCare Plus.

Comparative state costs of Medicaid plans

Option 1- Take expanded Medicaid, cover parents/ caretakers with incomes 133-200% of poverty

FY 2014 $15.5 million
FY 2015 $32.3 million
FY 2016 $33.6 million
FY 2017 $35.1 million

Option 2- Walker plan, don't take expanded Medicaid, don't cover parents/caretakers with incomes 133-200% of poverty

FY 2014 $2.0 million (a low estimate, as we found out)
FY 2015 $56.2 million
FY 2016 $70.6 million
FY 2017 $73.3 million

Difference in costs of taking Option 2 vs Option 1
FY 2014 -$13.5 million
FY 2015 +$23.9 million
FY 2016 +$37.0 million
FY 2017 +$38.2 million
TOTAL +$85.6 million more expensive under Walker plan

So we would have been covering many more people for a lower cost to Wisconsin taxpayers, and without those individuals having to go through the disruption of being kicked off of BadgerCare and having to search for insurance through other means. It is yet more proof that Walker's decision to TeaBag Obamacare is a massive failure on both a fiscal and humanitarian basis, and reason enough to remove this guy from power this November (leaving out all the corruption and the "worst job growth in the Midwest" thing).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back from up North

Naturally, the day we left Vilas County is the day the clouds started clearing and the temps started to climb above 60, but it's still great to get away for a few days and see some family along with the scenery. Here are a few thoughts.

1. The bad weather probably was a boon to the local businesses on Monday and Tuesday, because people weren't in the mood for outdoor activities. For example, we had to wait 45 minutes for breakfast on Monday at the Wolf Pack Cafe in Saint Germain (I highly recommend it if you're in the area), but today we were able to come right in and get a table. Same held on Tuesday when we were in Minocqua, as the line outside of Paul Bunyan's was nearly out the door by 9:15 am, and Dan's Minocqua Fudge was also packed later that afternoon. The weather may have kept a handful of people from coming up on those days, but I bet that economic loss was more than offset by the captive visitors who headed to the shops.

2. And this area could use the economic help, as they've had a slow start when it comes to the real estate market in 2014. Recently-released numbers from the Wisconsin Realtors Association shows that this area lagged behind the 2013 numbers for Springtime when it comes to home sales. Especially Vilas County.

Home sales, 2nd Quarter 2014 vs. 2013
Oneida County, Q2 2013- 173 sales
Oneida County Q2 2014- 154 sales (-11.0%)

Vilas County Q2 2013- 125 sales
Vilas County Q2 2014- 107 sales (-14.4%)

Oneida County, 1st Half 2014 -3.5% vs 1st Half 2014
Vilas County, 1st Half 2014 -25.1% vs 1st Half 2014

And given the fact that these counties are looking at huge property tax increases because many of the area's school districts are facing significant cuts in state aid for the next year (Northland Pines, Lakeland and Rhinelander are all being cut more than 15%), I have a hard time believing the real estate market will snap back there in the near future.

3. Which makes me think that the Towns of Minocqua and Saint Germain may be good candidates to join other tourist-related Wisconsin communities that can levy a premier resort tax. This is an extra sales tax that can be put onto products sold in these communities, and the Vilas County City of Eagle River has already put a 0.5% premier resort tax in place to transfer some of the tax burden from the local property tax owners onto the tourists. From a quick observation of the area, it would seem that both Minocqua and Saint Germain (and perhaps even the Town of Woodruff) could qualify.
Which municipalities may adopt the premier resort area tax?

A sponsoring municipality or other political subdivision that has at least 40% of its equalized assessed property values used by tourism-related retailers (see the business codes listed in Question 3) may enact an ordinance which puts this tax into effect.
Exception: The cities of Bayfield and Eagle River and the villages of Ephraim, Sister Bay, and Stockholm may, by ordinance, impose the 0.5% premier resort area tax even if less than 40% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property within those cities or villages is used by tourism-related retailers.
Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells (the original communities that levied this extra sales tax in 1998) just increased their tax from 1.0% to 1.25% at the start of this month, and the Pepin County village of Stockholm will become the 5th Wisconsin community that will add the premier resort tax on October 1. Given the increased cuts to local schools and government in the age of Fitzwalkerstan, local taxes and fees have become a more common solution to solve the budget issues that result, and with a slow state economy not allowing for the tax base to grow, expect this issue to come up in many places this Fall as communities and districts try to keep their property tax rates from going through the roof for 2015.

So now I'm back in the Mad City and getting back to the world of work tomorrow. But it's always illuminating to take the 4-hour trip North, reduce my scanning of the sources such as the Wheeler Report and Wisconsin newspapers and documents, and see what life looks like outside of the big town. Given the headlines from the last couple of days, it sure appears that a lot of issues are in the process of blowing up in the coming days and weeks that I have to read up on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Greetings from Fall in the Northwoods!

Current temperature- 52 and rainy, just like yesterday. I'll be back to writing when I'm back in the big city and it's back to being Summer. The only economic positive of this is that the line was out the door at Paul Bunyan's in Minocqua today, because people aren't hitting the lakes this morning.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Killing zombie lies before I head up North

Heading up North tomorrow to Vilas County for a 3-day family reunion....just in time for the Summer Polar Vortex to hit (strangely, this may help some tourist places up there, since hanging at the lake will get replaced by going to bars, shopping and buying stuff).

But before I go, I wanted to show this excellent New Rule from Bill Maher, especially the ender (which starts at 2:12). While Maher wrongfully tries to take credit with coining the term "zombie lies" (I've heard Krugman use this and similar phrases for years), he rightfully points out that pretty much all Republicans have these days are chanting lies that have been disproven outside of right-wing bubble world. Maher focuses on Obamacare, but it also goes into the fallacies of trickle-down economics and similar GOP faith-based garbage that should get them kicked out of any legitimate Green Room, but for some reason does not.

I had a Twitter exchange with some idiot TeaBag from the 262 today who claimed that Minnesota's surplus (noted in this previous post) was proof that they "were taxing too much" and that tax cuts were the solution to this "problem." After slamming my head on my desk, I reminded the person that this approach of blowing surpluses on tax cuts has been tried (examples include Bush 2001, Walker 2013-14), and it has failed miserably, resulting in subpar job growth and budget deficits, and that perhaps saving funds for a rainy day was a wiser choice.

But somehow these idiots keep beLIEving that if taxes get cut, somehow their lottery ticket will come in, or that they'll be chosen to become part of the "inner circle", and they'll live happily ever after. And they cling to those zombie lies and fantasies despite nearly 35 years of proof that cutting taxes on the rich and corporate just encourages hoarding of profits and productivity, and has been a main driver of the Gilded Age-levels of inequality that we see today. What a bunch of suckers.

Meanwhile, across the Saint Croix

Interesting tidbit from Minnesota at the end of this week, and I didn't see this news make its way too far east.
MINNEAPOLIS — State tax collections beat expectations for the final three months of the fiscal year, and Minnesota is now expected to finish the fiscal year with $168 million more in revenues than projected in February, state finance officials said Thursday...

According to the quarterly update, state revenues for April, May and June were $235 million more than forecast. That followed a few months of disappointing figures.

Minnesota Management and Budget said the state raised $181 million more in individual income taxes than expected during the quarter. Most of that was because Minnesotans paid more in 2013 income taxes than expected, and tax refunds were below estimates.

Sales tax revenues also exceeded forecasts. While corporate tax collections were $53 million less than expected, officials say big swings in corporate taxes are not unusual.
By contrast, us in Wisconsin didn't get surging income tax revenues, and are now around $200 million in the hole, with a real possiblity of that number growing higher (if blog groupie GeoffT's numbers bear out).

Of course, Minnesota also didn't blow their 2013 budget surplus on Koo-Koo tax cuts, and it let them remain fiscally sound through a polar vortex winter and the country's decline in 1st Quarter GDP. By comparison, us in Wisconsin have $2 billion in deficits projected for 2015, and a few hundred million that'll likely have to be filled just to pay the bills early next year. But we apparently do have enough around to triple the amount of money spent on our "Unintimidated" Governor's security detail and have Walker cronies get jobs they have no formal experience in, and get paid 31% above the previous person that had the job.

Minnesota is run entirely by Dems, and Wisconsin is run entirely by Republicans. Any questions?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Journal-Sentinel covers up WEDC story to curry right-wing business favor, $$$

A bombshell of a story broke this week involving the increasingly failed and sketchy Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). We'll let WKOW Channel 27 in Madison give you the details with the video below. Basically it shows that not only have WEDC tax credits been handed out like candy while the state has the worst job record in the Midwest over the last 3 years, but in some cases, those companies end up outsourcing jobs from Wisconsin, while keeping the tax write-offs.

WKOW later added information showing executives from Plexus had given significant donations to the Walker campaign in recent years, with Eaton being less involved in the quid pro quo .
Members of the board of directors for two companies that outsourced Wisconsin jobs after accepting financial incentives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation have donated close to $20,000 to Gov. Scott Walker's campaigns since 2005.

Wisconsin campaign finance records show Plexus Corp. board members David Drury and Ralf Boer have each made donations to Walker's campaign. Boer, an attorney and partner in the Foley and Lardner law firm in Milwaukee, has donated a total of $2,300 to the Walker campaign since 2006. Drury, the CEO of Poblocki Sign Company in Milwaukee, has donated $15,800 to Walker's campaign since 2005.

One board member for the Eaton Corp., Gregory Page, an executive with Cargill in Minnesota, made a single donation of $1,000 to the Governor's campaign in 2013.
Amazingly, while the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and several smaller Wisconsin community newspapers have carried the story, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and have yet to say a word on it, despite it being nearly 2 full days since WKOW in Madison went on the air with this revelation.

And there’s an extra layer to this sickening story, with added relevance due to the events of this week. In May 2012, 3 weeks before he faced the voters in a recall election, Governor Walker made an appearance at Plexus Corporation to announce that the company was going to add jobs in the Neenah area, with the help of WEDC tax credits. Doubly interesting is the fact that the Walker website has been scrubbed of this announcement, but Blogging Blue still has their post from 2012 about it, as well as the failure to add those jobs later on.
Plexus Corp., Neenah, is planning to create up to 350 jobs related to the company’s decision to establish a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Neenah. The company is eligible for $15 million in enterprise zone tax credits through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

“This is a tremendous job creation investment being made by Plexus Corp. with the support of the state and city of Neenah," said Governor Scott Walker. “The decision by Plexus to do this major expansion and cement its operations in Neenah reflects the positive direction Wisconsin is heading.”

Plexus Corp.’s proposed 410,000 square foot manufacturing facility will be the showcase for U.S. operations and provide for the increased space needed for future manufacturing requirements. The facility will cement the Fox Cities as the company’s Americas Epicenter.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, now did it? Also worth noting, the July 2012 J-S story about Plexus’s layoffs didn’t mention the Walker visit or the WEDC tax credits, but it had no problem running the lie of “Plexus is creating jobs” before the election. So that move ended up being a “win” for Team Walker as well as for the Plexus stockholders and executives who got $4.7 million of those tax credits. But it’s a massive loss for everyone else.

As for the other outsourcer, Eaton Corp was back this February playing the same game, throwing out a press release and media event, complete with quotes by Walker and WEDC CEO Reed Hall, claiming that business was booming with WEDC’s help.
MADISON, WI. February 10, 2014 – Power management company Eaton today announced a $54 million investment in its Waukesha-based Cooper Power Systems business. The project, which calls for expanding one facility and renovating two others, will help Eaton meet growing demand for its utility, commercial and industrial power distribution products and solutions.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is providing up to $1.36 million in tax credits for the project that could create as many as 200 jobs in the region over the next two years.

“There is no question that energy is a vital and growing component of Wisconsin’s economy, and power management is an important part of that sector,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “This project not only solidifies Eaton’s commitment to Wisconsin, but also is an indication that the company is continuing to look toward the future.”
Hmmm, given that Eaton sent Wisconsin jobs to Mexico after getting its last round of tax credits ($190,000, according to WKOW), I guess we can count on the next outsourcing to be around 2015 or 2016? Or will they just add no one after the video cameras have gone away and the votes have been cast?

The actions of Eaton and Plexus makes me extremely skeptical about Briggs and Stratton’s announcement this week that they were planning to add as many as 370 jobs at their plant in Wauwatosa. I’m especially cynical about this because Todd Teske, Briggs and Stratton’s CEO, just ended a two-year tenure as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (aka one of the biggest front groups for Scott Walker and WisGOP). Add in the fact that Briggs and Stratton employees have overwhelmingly given to Republicans over the years, including over $30,000 to Scott Walker, and you can’t help but think these guys might want to claim they’ll create jobs ahead of an election in order to help out Walker’s flailing campaign.

And what has the flailing governor promised Briggs and Stratton in return? Looks like we might find out shortly, as the Milwaukee Business Journal is now reporting that maybe there are a few tax breaks coming the company’s way. In fact, Briggs and Stratton officials are basically admitting they’ll be getting some kind of write-off, and went out of their way to claim Walker tax giveaways as a reason they’ll shift jobs from right-to-work Georgia.
“We’ve been part of the Milwaukee community for 106 years and we had the capacity to move the production to Wauwatosa,” [VP of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Laura] Timm said. “We also saw an improved business climate. We don’t want to go into a lot of details about it, but from a tax, business climate and employee base -- it made sense to bring the work here."

A portion of the 475 employee-workforce from the Georgia facility are moving to the Wauwatosa plant, Timm said.

Company officials are also in preliminary discussions with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the city of Wauwatosa to see what financial incentives Briggs might be able to receive in connection with the move.
If they’re actually going to move the jobs to Wisconsin (and it's a big “if”), I bet those discussions are not “preliminary”. More like “decided, but we don’t want to let you know how much taxpayers will have to pick up.”

Of course, the J-S part of JournalComm ignored that issue entirely, dutifully running the Briggs and Stratton job announcement, burying the tax credit talk well down into the article, and never asking if the jobs would actually ever appear. They just blasted the “jobs are coming” headline within hours of the Briggs and Stratton announcement, and used a quote from Dan Ariens of Ariens Manufacturing, without mentioning that Ariens had just succeeded Teske as WMC’s Chairman of the Board. At the same, (coincidentally I’m sure), the J-S is still failing to mention the outsourcing scandals and empty promises from previous WEDC recipients Plexus and Eaton Corp., and asking WEDC CEO Reed Hall if any type of safeguards might be included to keep the same thing from happening at Briggs and Stratton.

I was able to put together this information in a matter of a couple of hours using the Internet and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's database, so why can't reporters with a background in this stuff not do the same? I fear it has a whole lot to do with the J-S seeing the $7.6 million cash on hand that Walker has, and wanting to make sure their company gets a sizable portion of that money. Which means they have a natural conflict of interest when it comes to how they cover Walker and his business allies at places like Briggs and Stratton.

Which is why we must keep drawing attention to the failures of the J-S and their fellow media outlets, exposing those failures to the public, and we must make these people and the corporations they work for pay a high price for their dereliction of duty. Because these jobs stories (and the type of coverage they do or do not get) have shown yet again that JournalComm cannot be expected to play it straight when it comes to telling the full story about the corruption and subpar results of their boy Scotty.

Angry yet?