Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Marquette Poll shows Wisconsinites ain't buying the GOP

My real life has interfered with going too far into detail on today's Marquette Law School poll, but here are a few quick thoughts.

Obviously, a major headline is Scott Walker's approval rating staying in the toilet, with only 37% approval (and perhaps even worse, 59% disapproval). But take a look at other Walker-related poll questions, and if anything, it looks even worse for him.

Walker favorability
Favorable 36.5%
Unfavorable 56.5%

Scott Walker cares about people like me
Yes 35.3%
No 60.5%

Would you personally want to see Scott Walker seek a third term?
Yes 34.9%
No 62.0%

This is why I don't see Walker recovering, regardless of how the Wisconsin media still tries to throw him softball questions and prop him up. People flat-out don't like him any more, and want him to go away. This feels very much like George Dubya Bush's 2nd-term approval trajectory- once it got upside down, it never came back.

It's bad news in general for Republicans in this poll. The party ID skews slightly more Dem than usual (30 D, 25 R, 43 Ind.), but not much different than you'd see in a pro-Dem year. And the head-to-head matchups in the Marquette Poll indicates it would definitely be a Dem year if the election were held today. Stating with Russ Feingold's boat-racing of (mo)Ron Johnson.

Feingold 50.0, Johnson 36.2

Feingold favorability
Favorable 41.6%
Unfavorable 31.6%
Haven't heard enough 24.3%

Johnson favorability
Favorable 26.8%
Unfavorable 35.5%
Haven't heard enough 33.4%

More people find Johnson unfavorable AND more people don't know enough to have an opinion about him than they do with Russ. And given that Johnson is so far down, all he and his dark-money backers can do is go negative, which will likely drive even more people to dislike (mo)Ron. Plus, it's hard to make better-known person like Russ unfavorable when more people already like him.

And (mo)Ron Johnson wouldn't be the only GOP losing in a statewide race in 2016. Take a look at these presidential head-to-heads.

Clinton 50.5%
Bush 38.1%

Sanders 48.8%
Bush 38.5%

Clinton 48.1%
Rubio 40.3%

Sanders 48.5%
Rubio 36.3%

Clinton 49.8%
Trump 36.4%

Sanders 53.1%
Trump 34.5%

Note that Bernie Sanders does better against Rubio and Trump than Clinton does, and both lead Jeb Bush by double-digits. Marco Rubio does the best in any head-to-head matchup (within 8 points of Clinton), but that seems to be related to Rubio having the highest "unknown" rating out of the three GOPs asked. That's not a good sign for how the GOP brand is being thought of in the state, when the least-known guy is the one who does best.

Sure, it's merely one poll and we're 13 months out, but it sure seems like the typical Wisconsinite isn't buying what the GOP is selling, either on the state or national level. Which makes me wonder why the GOPs think doubling down on their arrogance and bad ideas is a winning strategy (maybe they just don't care at this point and want to grab whatever they can before they lose).

Regardless, this is not the time for Dems to be lame and try to coast in. This is where they need to be standing up stronger and louder and pointing out that they don't stand for the crap the GOP wants to pull, and that if Dems are put in power, THE CRAP WILL END. This is not the time to play nice let these guys off the mat, no matter what the consultant class tries to say is "political reality."

It's Sept. 30, and you know what that means!

Ain't nothing like being on a number of political lists and being hit up for money in email after email. Sorry folks, I've given what I want to give for the time being, and I ain't putting anything else your way.

And no DNC, you didn't get a dime from me, nor will you ever as long as that clown Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is in charge and keeping Americans from tuning in to hear Dem ideas. If I give anything (and it's not like I have a ton lying around to give), it's to individual candidates and causes I believe in. Why deal with the middlemen/women that might screw up what I support and want to see done?

But I definitely want to see what Scott Walker's presidential and governor's campaign funds look like on this next report. Partially to see how broke they truly were, partially to see which suckers threw money down the drain to that dimwit. And I especially want to see if Walker cronies like Jim Villa were pulling in some extra dimes on the Walker '16 payroll, and if so, we have to ask UW President Ray Cross if little Jimmy had permission to do so.

Sit tight, more to come in the 4thQ in these parts.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Civil service "reform" = another WisGOP power grab

As Republicans try to fast track this civil service “reform” bill through the State Legislature, let’s take a look at the actual proposal, and put some details behind all the hype.

The headline proposals to remove civil service exams as part of the application for many state jobs and making it much easier to fire employees are concerning enough, and an obvious invitation to arbitrary hackery in the one area where we shouldn’t have any. But let me point at a couple of other measures that underlie what Gov Walker and the WisGOP Legislature are really up to. The first of which is a provision in the proposed bill that centralizes HR functions throughout state government.
By January 1, 2017, the department of administration shall consult with each agency and develop a plan for assuming responsibility for services relating to human resources. By January 1, 2017, the department of administration shall also consult with the board of commissioners of public lands, the educational communications board, the department of financial institutions, the government accountability board, the higher educational aids board, the state historical society, the public service commission, the department of safety and professional services, the state fair park board, and the department of tourism and develop a plan for assuming responsibility for services related to payroll, finance, budgeting, procurement, and information technology for any agency these agencies. The department of administration shall include in the each plan which services would be provided to each agency, which positions would be deleted or transferred, and the number and type of positions and associated funding that would be provided to the department of administration.
In other words, all hiring goes through the DOA (basically an outgrowth of the Governor’s office), and even relatively independent agencies will have their back office duties slid over under the DOA umbrella. That’s a huge consolidation of power, but par for the course with this crew, in keeping with their goal of diminishing (if not outright eliminating) independence in public service.

These two sections also haven’t gotten as much play (yet), but they will likely cause major problems in trying to get qualified candidates to fill positions.
1. This bill changes the standard probationary period for all original and promotional appointments to permanent and seasonal positions in the classified service from six months to two years with a potential waiver after one year. The bill also changes the probationary period for employees in supervisory or management positions from one year with a potential waiver after six months to two years with a potential waiver after one year.

2. This bill limits reinstatement privileges to permanent employees in the classified service who are on layoff status and reduces the eligibility period for reinstatement privileges to three years following the date of the layoff. Under current law, permanent classified service employees who leave the classified service without any delinquency or misconduct have reinstatement privileges for a five−year period from the date the employee leaves the classified service. The bill eliminates reinstatement privileges for permanent classified service employees who leave the classified service without any delinquency or misconduct for reasons other than layoff. This bill also eliminates reinstatement privileges for an employee who leaves the classified service to fill an elective position. Under the bill, the changes to reinstatement privileges do not apply to classified employees who leave the classified service before the effective date of the bill.
So you could work at a job for two years and still get canned for no good reason? In addition, if you leave a job and realize after a few weeks that your new position isn’t working out (or your boss doesn’t like you), you don’t have the ability to go back to your old job, even if it hasn’t been filled? These are deterrents to any worker who’s not a hack without pride, and this spoils system discourages excellence in these positions. Which is kinda the point, now isn’t it?

Provisions like the ones I have named give away the real game with this proposal, along with the fact that the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity immediately sent out a press release approving of the WisGOP “reforms.” If these moves were merely about modernizing the civil service to make it easier to get people through the pipeline for hiring, and making it easier to fire people for egregious behavior, and that’s all the bill would be limited to? Then it would likely have support from a lot of people throughout the state, and a not-significant amount of members from both parties in the Legislature.

But all of this other crap that limits the few rights that state employees have remaining, combined with the consolidation of hiring at DOA? That tells you that this is yet another Walker/WisGOP power-grab intended to squelch any opposing viewpoints that might go against the party line, and to allow for even more right-wing hacks to be the ones controlling the flow of information and decisions in all levels of state government.

Senate Dem leader Jennifer Shilling accurately summed up the WisGOP mentality today, as part of a press event asking that Gov Walker and WisGOP legislators take the expanded Medicaid in Obamacare.
Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the Democratic minority leader, said Republican priorities are misplaced. She cited the Republican push to overhaul the state elections board to make it more partisan, gut the John Doe law so that such secret investigations can't be used against politicians, ban research on aborted fetal tissue and make the nonpartisan state superintendent a partisan appointee of the governor.

"They have this insatiable appetite for power and they're overreaching," Shilling said. "It seems like they don't get it, like they're taking their eye off the ball about what really matters in this state."
Well Sen. Shilling, that’s because WisGOPs only care about taking control of as much as they can and cashing in as much as they can while they are in control. They do not care about economic growth, fiscal stability, quality of life, what Wisconsin institutions they wreck, or the mess they leave behind after they’re booted out of power.

And that is why this civil service “reform” must be opposed vociferously - to prevent another mess that’ll have to be cleaned up after this group of GOPs are long gone. You can start with a (not-so) public hearing that'll be held at the Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Forget DC, Wisconsin has its own issues on funding roads.

Last week, officials at the Wisconsin DOT confirmed that the second phase of the Hwy. 18-151 project connecting Madison to Verona will be delayed into 2021. This (lack of) action is a direct result of the GOP-run Legislature’s decision to cut up to $850 million in highway aids from Gov Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget earlier this year, and other projects such as the proposed I-39/90 widening between Madison and Beloit has also been pushed back as a result of those cuts (click on this post for a more detailed explanation of those issues).

The highway cuts in South Central Wisconsin prompted U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan to go public last week with a demand that Gov Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature step up before the next budget and put together a plan that adequately funds the state’s highways and local roads both now and for the future.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02) urges Gov. Walker to call a special session to address Wisconsin’s crumbling infrastructure after the Department of Transportation announced the Verona Road construction project will be delayed due to transportation funding cuts in the state’s budget. Phase two of construction, previously scheduled for 2016 and 2017, is now delayed until 2019 and 2020; the road will not be completed until 2021. This comes after the July 2015 release of a Department of Transportation State by State Ranking, listing Wisconsin as the third worst state in the nation for highway infrastructure.

“Once again, Governor Walker’s budget fails to provide critical investment in programs that matter most to the people of Wisconsin. Building safe roads is a basic function of good government. Unfortunately, the state of Wisconsin can’t seem to do even that,” said Rep. Pocan. “Wisconsin is rated third worst in the nation for highway infrastructure with a staggering 71 percent of Wisconsin’s roads in poor or mediocre condition. Now important construction projects are being delayed. Cleary, Wisconsin is doing something wrong.
Pocan’s call for action seemed to spark real conversation on the transportation funding issue over the weekend, as three mid-size Wisconsin newspapers published editorials on the subject, and all found three found fault with the policies put into place by Gov Walker and the GOP Legislature.

We’ll start with the conservative editorial page of the Beloit Daily News, who agreed with Rep. Pocan that it is time for a long-term solution on road funding in Wisconsin, as the short-term patchwork gimmicks put together by WisGOPs in the most recent budgets are making things worse.
It’s time for Wisconsin to get serious about finding a sustainable way to pay for necessary infrastructure projects. At least twice the Department of Transportation has delivered sensible policy solutions, only to have the plans summarily tossed in the trash because enhancing revenue does not fit the ideological narrative for the governor and the Republican-controlled legislature.

But badly deteriorating roads do not serve the narrative of a state that’s “open for business.” Whether it’s companies needing to move product or raw materials, or Chicago tourists aiming to drive to Wisconsin destinations, the quality of highways and back roads matters. Arguably, billions of dollars worth of business for Wisconsin could be adversely impacted if the state refuses to find reasonable ways to pay for transportation needs.

Stubbornness may look fiscally wise in the short run, but the long-term costs will only rise.
Let's go a few miles north of Beloit to find a similar slam from the usually-conservative Janesville Gazette editorial page. The Janesvile paper's editorial takes another step, and criticizes the delay in the I-39/90 expansion as a real cost of Gov Walker putting in a "no new taxes" pose for his now-failed presidential campaign.
It's sickening that a funding gap in the biennial budget approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker has prompted transportation officials to release new maps pushing completion back two years….

Rather than swallow new taxes and fees to shore up transportation funding as proposed by his task force, Walker wanted to convince conservatives nationally of his tight fist in preparation for his now-scrapped presidential campaign. So he proposed borrowing $1.3 billion to keep this and other projects on track. Republican lawmakers, likewise balking at higher taxes, couldn't stomach that much borrowing and cut it by one-third.

Delays would only cost more in the long run as material and labor costs climb. Meanwhile, the revised schedule throws plans of construction companies and employees into chaos.

Every Friday in warm months, bumper-to-bumper traffic heads north. It's like a syringe pumping money into the Wisconsin economy. Those drivers want to reach destinations swiftly but safely. Wisconsin should do everything it can to facilitate that.
The La Crosse Tribune also chimed in on the transportation funding issue, as part of an op-ed saying Wisconsinites should be “ashamed” that the state has the third-worst roads in the nation. The Tribune’s editorial notes that while freeway projects may get the major media attention and dollars, the local roads are in need of a lot of investment as well.
The Tribune published a photo of [La Crosse] County Hwy. YY to accompany the story — a 41-year-old stretch of road that officials say has “alligatored.”…

That road won’t be fixed at least until 2020, under the current schedule.

County [H]ighway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain says county roads need $90 million of work — and the budget last year was $5.68 million.

That math doesn’t work. The alligators are winning.
This is the photo the La Crosse Tribune is referencing to, which is its condition before 4 more 5 more Wisconsin winters hit.

As of now, the Wisconsin GOP Legislature and Gov Walker have no plans to put together any revisiting of transportation funding in the current budget, as they seem more interested in pointless social issues and trying to consolidate power any way they can. The only proposal in this session that would modify the current system of funding was put together by rural legislators to allow counties or municipalities to add a 0.5% sales tax and earmark it for road repair. This bill has had a public hearing, but hasn’t been taken up by the respective Transportation Committees in either house of the Legislature.

And by the way, all of these transportation funding discussions assume that the GOP-led Congress ultimately continues to fund highway projects at their expected levels. That is far from a guarantee with federal budget shutdowns being a strong possibility over the next 2 ½ months, but oddly enough the Walker Administration and the WisGOP Legislature seemed to have no concerns over that uncertainty (while claiming that expanded Medicaid funding in Obamacare was too much of a future risk to take on. Funny that).

But even if Congress acts like responsible adults and passes a highway bill for the next 2 years, Wisconsin still has a major problem paying for its many road repair needs, and the people in charge don't seem to be too interested in heeding the calls of many around the state to actually do something about it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A recap of the Walker 2016 implosion

Now that it's been a few days since Scott Walker became Gov Dropout again and quit the 2016 presidential campaign, let's go back and take a look at how this surprising development came to be.

First, here's Stephen Colbert, with an outstanding "Hunger Games Tribute" to the fallen governor, and a reminder of the self-absorption and idiocy that became a trademark of Walker's presidential campaign.

Walker's withdrawal also led to a lot of "what went wrong" articles that were quite entertaining, as it's always fun to see politicos and writers be able to take off the mask and tell you the real truth about someone. The first one I want to point you to was written by the Washington Post's Jenna Johnson, who followed the Walker campaign for the last several months. Johnson's article is titled "9 things I learned about Scott Walker on the campaign trail - and why they mattered," and it has the type of in-depth honesty about Walker's vapidness and hubris that helped to sink Walker's candidacy that you don't see here in Wisconsin.

In addition to mentioning that Walker could never say why he wanted to be president, and seemed to make up his central arguments as he went along (outside of union-busting), here are two of my favorites from Johnson in this article- both of which involve a routine that the Wisconsin media allowed to pass without challenging in 2014, and one which failed miserably in the rest of America in 2015 once it was.
3) For an everyman candidate, his campaign events were often elaborately staged.
In late July, Walker held a town hall at a family-style restaurant in Red Oak, a town with fewer than 6,000 residents in western Iowa. An advance team with a moving van of equipment arrived hours early to hang up flags, set up a sound system and arrange a stage with tiered seating to provide a backdrop of Iowans. Walker arrived with a large entourage: his security detail, campaign manager, personal aide, full-time campaign photographer, two Iowa-based staffers and a horde of low-level employees who handed out brochures. As he spoke for roughly an hour, one man on the stage had to shield his eyes from a bright spotlight.

That's the level of staging that Walker enjoyed during nearly every campaign stop during his first month on the trail — which worried some supporters, who considered the elaborate set-ups a waste of money so early in the campaign. These glitzy events seemed more suited to a candidate who had already locked down the nomination, but they matched Walker's forceful confidence — he truly considered himself a front-runner who could win over most voters in most states....

5) Walker knows how to stay on message — but seems lost when questions keep coming.
Early in the campaign, Walker and his backers would brag about his ability to relentlessly stay on message: He again and again repeated the same campaign speech. He gave reporters the same answers to questions about issues of the day. He memorized his announcement speech and recited it. This often left him sounding robotic and not fully answering the questions he was asked.

But when reporters and cable news show hosts pushed for specifics, Walker would often slip up, making comments that didn't quite make sense or taking stances he didn't mean to take — but then hesitating to take a different position or admit that he had misspoken, perhaps for fear of cementing an image of being a flip-flopper. Instead, he appeared to lack clear stances on a number of issues, including birthright citizenship and the U.S. response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Several supporters exploded with frustration when Walker called building a wall along the Canadian border a "legitimate" idea — and then waited more than a day to make clear that he did not actually want to construct a wall along the 5,252-mile northern border.

Lastly, there were also the shots fired within the Walker campaign. Check out this article in Politico, which not only mentions the Monday morning meeting with Walker's inner circle of Milwaukee cronies (including UW System VP Jim Villa, whose sketchy story I mentioned on Thursday), but also features an in-depth interview Walker campaign manager Rick Wiley, who indicates that things were even more of a pathetic shitshow than what was apparent to all of those who jumped off the Walker bandwagon. It also reiterates that Gov Dropout clearly was not ready for the prime time of a presidential campaign, nor could he handle the media accountability that didn't exist in Wisconsin.
Prior to the governor's abrupt exit from the Republican race, his campaign had a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency plan at the ready: Campaign manager Rick Wiley, in a half-hour phone interview with POLITICO on Tuesday night, said he had an “all-in Iowa” plan that would have moved the headquarters from Madison, Wisconsin, to Des Moines and cut the staff from about 85 to 20 as of Thursday. But Walker, floundering in debates and on the stump, was facing such a sudden drought in donations that even those drastic moves wouldn’t have guaranteed solvency.

“We built the machine that we needed to get a governor in just phenomenal shape to take a stage in a presidential debate,” Wiley said. “I think sometimes it's lost on people the largeness of the job. I think people just look at it and say, ‘Wow! Yeah, you know, it's like he's a governor and he was in a recall’ and blah, blah, blah — he’s ready.

“It's just not like that. It is really, really difficult. ... I'm just saying, you know, like it's a f---ing bitch, man. It really is."
And as with most things in WalkerWorld, the ultimate reason to pull the plug on the campaign didn't come necessarily because Walker fell in support to 0.5% of the voters. It was because Walker's puppetmasters were also bailing on Scotty, especially after his buffoonery could not be covered up any longer.
The problems snowballed, all self-inflicted. “The week after the debate, our events fell a little bit flat,” Wiley said. “And so then we roll into the Iowa State Fair, and the ‘birthright citizenship’ [gaffe] came up. And that was another one where the donors were like, ‘What's going on over there?’”

After five weeks, it was clear: Madison, we have a problem. “It culminated with a trip through Texas, the three days leading up to Labor Day weekend, where ... we're supposed to raise half a mil and we brought in $184K,” Wiley said. “That, coupled with we were in the mail with [a] mailing to our donors, and that was the first time that [an internal] file had lost money. ... So, at that point, we can say, ‘OK, we have a huge revenue problem.’”
Huh, overspending and not enough revenues coming in? Sounds like every one of Scotty's many other fiscal issues, both in his job and in his everyday life.

So Scott Walker's now back here in Wisconsin, pretending to actually do the job the taxpayers shell out 6 figures for him to do, but more likely trying to get a couple of last grabs of money and power for his paymasters before quitting as Governor to grab some "real money" as a lobbyist or rubber-chicken speaker on the wingnut welfare circuit. And the lessons of Walker's faceplant on the national stage should ring loud and clear back here in Wisconsin, as all of these flaws were evident before he entered the presidential race, but they were never hammered on with enough consistency by the state's Democrats, and were never followed up on by the paid-off state media.

This sheltered existence Walker got away with in Wisconsin must change and we must do our part to make it change (because the oligarchs and connected inner circle won't fix this mess on their own - they're making too much money in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan). If we do it right, and do remove these cancers that are wasting our state away, it could lead to the major changes in Wisconsin's political landscape in 2016 and 2018. And that might just save this state, and start to restore its reputation as a place that used to attract talent and maintain a high quality of life.

So how do you grow business in Wisconsin?

The Republicans in the Legislature are having a series of "Economic Development Committee listening sessions" around the state with various captains of industry invited to speak their opinions on how to improve Wisconsin economic performance and attractiveness. Of course, representatives of labor aren't being invited to these meetings, but a lot of people connected to the scandal=plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) are, which gives you an idea that much of these meetings have a GOP propaganda element intended to make the state's underperforming economy seem better than it really is.

The first of these meetings took place after the WEDC Board meeting last Thursday in Oak Creek. However, a WisBusiness report indicates that the WisGOP legislators who set up these meetings might not be hearing all of the "it's working" testimonials that they wanted these things to be.
But many expressed frustration at Wisconsin's reputation as a low-tech bastion of football and cheese, saying the Badger state lacks the "cool factor" needed to retain millennials and attract global businesses.

"To attract millennials we need to create an image that's we're a high-tech state," said Lisa Johnson, CEO of Madison-based BIOForward, a professional association for the bioscience, pharmaceutical, medical device and research industries. "We won't have any young people left and it's going to cost us a fortune," said Johnson, "unless we turn to a different message that we're high-tech in water, high-tech in engineering, in energy and bioscience ... if we could start having that image and we're all believing in it and we're all stressing our assets, like our university system, those are selling points."
This is the same Lisa Johnson who used to be WEDC's VP of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and looked at Wisconsin's January 2013 rank of 47th for entrepreneurship and famously said "We suck, we're bad." She then left WEDC 6 months ago to take her current job at BioForward, which makes me wonder what she saw at WEDC, and if she realizes that the corporates in charge of that slush fund really don't care (or don't know) about how to generate true innovation and job creation.

There was one speaker in this "listening session" of this committee meeting that thought the "lower-tax, lower-service lower-wage" trend in Wisconsin is just swell, and needs to continue. And you won't guess where he works!
Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce told lawmakers that surveys of area business leaders consistently show that they want lower taxes and fewer regulations to ignite more development.
The WMC hack was immediately shot down by a real job creator.
But Harald Steltzer of Dohmen Life Science Services said, "I'm happy with the taxes here," adding that tax rates in his hometown of Boston are much higher. Steltzer said word just isn't getting out that Wisconsin is generating high-paying bioscience jobs that spawn "indirect" jobs as well.
Huh? It's almost like attracting talent and having a high quality of life is a better option for economic growth than the WMC model of stealing from workers and giving corporations free reign to screw things up as they please.

There was a great cartoon in Isthmus this week that went over this discussion over what really drives job growth, and how the Wisconsin GOP and their corporate puppetmasters completely ignore the reality around them when it comes to figuring out how to improve the state's lagging economy.

And you can add "screw over the ability for anyone in the middle class to improve their wages" to the corporatists' and WisGOPs' "solution." With 4 straight years in the bottom half of job creation, and Wisconsin's investment in higher education projected to stay at these reduced levels, how can anyone say this mentality is working?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why did the state get so little cash in August?

It’s usually a bland and unnoticed report, but I caught something unusual in the Department of Administration’s release of Wisconsin’s General Fund Cash Forecast on Monday of this week. This featured a new forecast of funds compared to the early August version of this report and it incorporated the results from July and August of this year into the new forecast.

The changes between the two reports are what grabbed my eye, as I compared the July 2015-December 2015 forecast in the August document to the October-December 2015 forecast that is in this current one.

July’s figures were largely spot on, with total receipts $52.2 million above and disbursements $61.3 million above, for a difference of $9.1 million (basically a rounding error). But I noticed this discrepancy between August 5’s predictions of August’s cash activity, and the actual results.

Projected vs Actual Cash activity, Aug 2015
Receipts $2,238.0 million
Expenditures $1,705.3 million

Receipts $1,895.2 million (-$342.8 million)
Disbursements $1,705.3 (-$101.5 million)

That’s not good, and if the lower cash balance is a harbinger of lower tax revenues, (like we saw in late 2013 and early 2014) this would put even more pressure on a budget that needs income taxes to rise by nearly 7.3% this fiscal year, and relies on $1.1 billion in unspecified lapses over the next 2 years. While the cash balance report isn’t an exact match for the General Fund’s actual tax revenues, the overall balance does seem to correspond reasonably well (if it’s better or worse than expected, revenues seem to follow suit). We already know that tax revenues for Fiscal Year 2015 ended up slightly above January’s LFB projections by $71.4 million, but almost all of that was due to an unexpected bump in corporate tax revenues. With the stock market floundering and Wisconsin manufacturers struggling with a stronger dollar, you wonder if that trend reverses in this coming year.

On the flip side, it also makes me wonder if these incoming receipts were merely “held back” because of a later Labor Day, and that we’ll see a bump up in September. Or perhaps there will be a positive number as a result of the consistently warm and sunny weather that the state has seen throughout September. Regardless, that monthly cash report (which will come out in the next 2 weeks) suddenly grows in importance.

This adds to a list of recent state economic data that often has been had mixed and/or contradictory messages, which has made the direction of things hard to decipher. We’ll see things clear up enough in the next month, with the release of the year-end financial report (which will have the year-end cash surplus/deficit for Fiscal Year 2015), the first revenue reports of Fiscal Year 2016, and the jobs figures as Summer and seasonal employment draws to a close. And you wonder if WisGOP’s decision to concentrate on social issues and divisive bills against public employees are a signal that the economic news may not be so good.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Walker crony not a pristine little Villa

This came out last weekend, so maybe you didn't see all of this, but there was yet another story with insight into the systematic corruption and sketchiness that has become part and parcel of any Scott Walker administration, this one dating back to Scotty's time in Milwaukee.
A former aide to Gov. Scott Walker who is now a top University of Wisconsin official was under investigation for several suspected felonies as part of the now-closed John Doe investigation into Walker’s Milwaukee County executive office.

No charges were filed against Jim Villa, the UW System’s vice president of university relations. But sworn statements released this week show investigators sought a search warrant for Villa’s home and office. At the time, he was president of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin, and he was previously Walker’s chief of staff.

To justify the warrants, investigators wrote that they suspected Villa had broken several laws, including misconduct in public office and solicitation of public employees to commit misconduct. They presented evidence of Villa’s involvement in both an alleged bid-rigging scheme and a political action committee that Walker aide Tim Russell was suspected of doing work for while on county time....

The September 2011 affidavit were previously sealed under a John Doe secrecy order but were released with the permission of John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim by the defendants in a lawsuit brought by Cindy Archer, another former Walker aide who was also under investigation but never charged.
With that in mind, check out this passage as part of an in-depth Politico article that goes over the death throes of the Walker 2016 campaign, and look who’s in the room helping to make big decisions after Walker does nothing in the second GOP debate.
But the reviews had been brutal. Donors were grousing, and money was drying up. It was a painful turn for Walker, who had quickly vaulted to the top of the Iowa polls, powered by a fiery January speech in Des Moines, only to drop precipitously in the summer amid Donald Trump’s rise. He had gone from front-runner to also-ran in a matter of months.

So on Monday morning, the group of advisers — including veteran Walker hands John Hiller, Bill Eisner, Ed Goeas, and Jim Villa — huddled with Scott and Tonette Walker. The top of the agenda, according to campaign sources: polling and fundraising. And the numbers were bad.

Shortly after the meeting wrapped, Walker arrived at his decision: He was out. It was a shocking and sudden move that blindsided many of Walker’s closest allies, threw the power of super PACs into doubt and opened opportunities for rivals to pick up patrons, staff, and supporters.
This is where I remind you that taxpayers are shelling out $178,000 a year to Villa so he can “work” as VP of University Relations at the UW System, a position that UW System President Ray Cross offered to Villa last year amid numerous concerns about Villa’s background and partisanship. And as part of the application process, Villa got a nice boost from his old bud Scotty.
Villa listed Walker, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and powerful lobbyist and former Thompson administration official Bill McCoshen as his references when applying for the position.

Tony Evers, superintendent of public instruction of Wisconsin and also a member of the board of regents, emailed fellow regent John Drew two days after the appointment was announced to say he was reading “scary” information online about Villa.

Liberal groups also objected to the appointment, noting that the Walker administration has been repeatedly embarrassed by hiring unqualified “cronies” for high-paying jobs.
What did the UW System get out of the allegedly improved relationship with the Governor’s Office that was supposed to come with Villa’s hire? A $250 million cut in state funding and the removal of tenure, along with regressive abortion legislation that threatens to cut off research dollars to the UW and drive talent away from the state. Forget the crookedness of Villa working for the Walker campaign while pulling down a huge state paycheck, this guy should be fired for what he's allowed to happen (or even worse, cleared the way for) to the UW in the time that he’s been on the "job."

But wait, one thing Jim Villa does know is commercial real estate, as a former lobbyist for the Commercial Realtors Association of Wisconsin, and one thing the UW has a lot of is buildings and operations that could go a long way toward filling budget holes. A Walker campaign contributor could get a tidy little profit if they got such a building or operation for pennies on the dollar, if something like UW-Madison’s power plant were put up for sale and some local utilities wanted to buy it and jack up rates to customers. Quite a nice scheme if you’re in the inner circle and get a kickback new business opportunity, but it sure sucks for the user (who likely pays higher rates), the UW (who’d pay more to get a service back that they were previously running themselves), the workers at the plant (who now operate with a new boss under new rules, and likely get fewer benefits), and the state’s taxpayers (who’ll shell out more in future years, without having a public asset to offset it).

And gee, what's the first proposal Scotty throws his support behind when he gets back to Madison to do the actual job taxpayers pay him 6 figures to do? Try to eradicate civil service rules and clear the way for more cronies like Jim Villa to get fat taxpayer-funded paychecks while "analyzing and implementing" policies according to the ALEC handbook. Funny how those things work.

It's pretty obvious to me that there are more shoes to drop in light of Walker’s hasty, panicky exit from the presidential campaign, well past the bleeding of money and support his campaign had (Walker's ducking of questions in that disgraceful “press conference” add to this fishiness). Throw in the recent revelations involving Jim Villa’s role as a Walker 2016 campaign aide and questions about his pay-to-play past, and it seems he might be a key part of things when those shoes start to fall.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sets of Wisconsin jobs data aren't matching up. What gives?

The Wisconsin DWD released the local jobs and unemployment rates for August today, and it had some odd discrepancies that indicate the complete picture on Wisconsin’s current jobs situation is yet to come into focus.

The first item I noted was the jobs by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). If you look at that, the first thing that jumps out is that the growing Madison MSA is not included in the seasonally-adjusted metro numbers because Green County was just added to that MSA last year, so the comparison is not apples-to-apples.

But even in taking Madison out, the figures are very odd in this DWD report.

Change in employment, Aug 2015
Statewide +7,100

All Metro areas – Madison -2,600
Madison MSA + non-metro areas +9,700

And it wasn’t just one metro that dragged down that statistic, as almost all of the metro areas measured either lost jobs, or stayed at the same seasonally-adjusted levels in August vs July.

Change in jobs, Wisconsin MSAs, Aug 2015
Appleton -700
Eau Claire -400
Fond du Lac -100
Green Bay -200
Janesville +300
La Crosse +100
Milwaukee–W.O.W -600
Oshkosh-Neenah -900
Racine 0
Sheboygan -100
Wausau 0

That is very odd, as the non-seasonally adjusted figures have these same non-Madison metro areas only losing 100 jobs in August and the rest of the state only gaining 4,500. How did the metro areas have their jobs deflated on a seasonally-adjusted basis while non-metro areas were inflated

This seasonal vs non-seasonal difference also reveals itself in stats which relate to the state’s alleged drop in its unemployment rate.

Year-over-year change, Wisconsin
Total labor force seasonally-adjusted -27,800
Total labor force non-seasonally adjusted -11,900

Total employment seasonally-adjusted -0
Total employment non-seasonally adjusted +28,600

Total unemployment seasonally-adjusted -27,800
Total unemployment non-seasonally adjusted -40,400

There shouldn’t be a gap like that in year-over-year figures in seasonal vs. non-seasonally adjusted figures, because the season is the same. The same pattern repeats in the non-farm payrolls, with seasonally adjusted totals up 47,600, but the non-seasonally adjusted jobs are up 55,900.

So between a disproportionate amount of jobs being in non-metro areas in Wisconsin, as well as the disparities between seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted jobs figures seems to indicate some adjustment that needs to shake out in the next couple of months as Summer ends and things adjust back into non-tourist season in Wisconsin. The question is which direction are those adjustments going to be made?

I truthfully don’t know this answer, other than to point out that the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW) indicates that these monthly jobs figures will be revised down with benchmarking early next year. But that still doesn’t explain these differences, and it makes the upcoming jobs reports all the more intriguing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

This is NOT the guy who should be promoting WEDC

Saturday’s Wisconsin State Journal featured an editorial by “business owner” and former Mayor of Columbus, Wisconsin, Michael Eisenga, who took time out to talk up the scandal-plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Among the many absurd claims in Eisenga’s columnare these:

1. WEDC is “one of [Gov Scott Walker’s] greatest ideas,” that if anything, needs to be strengthened.

2. Wisconsin's job growth lagged the nation from 1963 to 2008, so WEDC can't be blamed for the fact that the state's job growth is among the worst in the Midwest today. Of course, that's not what Walker and other GOPs claimed at the time, as they were claiming in 2011 WEDC's "flexibilities" would make Wisconsin an economic star. They don't say that today.

3. Eisenga ends the column by saying “Economic development takes time. WEDC will pay enormous dividends. We need to be in the game. And with WEDC, we’re a much stronger player.”

Of course, what that game is and what form those dividends take isn’t mentioned, but I racked my brain regarding why I knew the name of Michael Eisenga. And then I remembered, and it helped explain the game and dividends this guy is really looking for.
Eisenga is the Columbus, Wis., millionaire whose frustration with the $15,000 a month in child support he was required to pay his ex-wife reportedly inspired state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, to draft a bill to cap the amount of child support that can be imposed on the wealthy.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that legislative drafting documents showed that Eisenga's demands played a key role in writing the bill, with a Kleefisch aide requesting specific changes to the wording that would allow Eisenga to seek a previously denied reduction in his payments.

Not only did it look bad for Kleefisch to appear to rewrite a significant portion of family law for the benefit of one voter, but the fact that Eisenga had contributed substantially to the campaigns of Kleefisch and his wife, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, made his efforts appear even fishier.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s given nearly $20,000 to Scott Walker’s campaigns directly (and who knows how much indirectly)? And there's no question Scotty and Oconomowoc Barbie definitely knows who this guy is - he's the meatball with the red vest in this picture.

And this guy is such a moocher and user of the system that he put his children on BadgerCare to pay for their medical needs, despite having millions of dollars to his name.

But where else do I know Eisenga’s name from?... Oh yeah! This story.
Nevada state records show Kelly Rindfleisch as affiliated with National Lending Solutions, a business with a Columbus address, between December 2011 and March 2012.

Milwaukee County's district attorney has charged Rindfleisch with misconduct in public office for allegedly doing campaign work while on-the-job as deputy chief of staff for then-Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker. Rindfleisch was criminally charged at the same time she was listed as the business reservation holder in Nevada.

The business address for National Lending Solutions is identical to the address of American Lending Solutions, formerly First American Funding Company, owned by Michael Eisenga of Columbus.

In a settlement of a state complaint against First American Funding for allegedly contacting more than one million consumers on the state's No-Call List with mortgage solicitations, First American was required to pay $144,000, and provide quarterly summaries of all its calls to ensure no additional pattern of No-Call violations.
Of course, Rindfleisch was later convicted for campaigning on the public dime and sentenced to prison. However, even though strong evidence connected Walker to at least knowing about Rindfleisch’s illegal acts (if not outright ordering them), Walker ended up not being charged, perhaps because Rindfleisch wouldn’t give up information showing prosecutors what her boss did and why he might have done it.

So how coincidental that as this investigation was going on, Rindfleisch landed this gig with a connected Walker donor like Michael Eisenga while Scotty was being investigated in John Doe I for shenangians that happened during Rindfleisch’s tenure under Scotty! It’s almost like she was being taken care of in exchange for favors that could be repaid later to Mr. Eisenga. Almost....

And this cronyist creep is the guy trotted out by Walker supporters in an attempt to prop up the corrupt slush fund known as WEDC, and say it’s the way we should do economic development in this state? Talk about damning with praise, and giving the game away!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bucks, Packer stadiums both get big votes this week

This will likely get lost in the fallout from Scott Walker being Gov Dropout again, but tomorrow’s a big day for the Milwaukee Common Council. As part of their regular meeting, they get to vote on the city’s funding plans for the Bucks arena and the nighlife district around that facility. To review, the arena is slated to be built just north of the current Bradley Center, which will then be demolished and made room for arena-related development and pedestrian areas. This would be the final piece of the puzzle that would allow construction to start, along with the changes to the city landscape in that portion of downtown Milwaukee.

However, those changes may not happen as fast as originally thought, as Bucks officials mentioned last week that the team may not be playing in the arena as early as expected. The Milwaukee Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen interviewed Bucks part-owner Mike Fascitelli, who said it was unlikely that construction would begin on the project until next Spring, which means it’s probable that balls wouldn’t be bouncing on the new arena’s floor until the 2018-19 season.
"We want to be in there and play and open up the 2018 season in that arena," Fascitelli said in response to a question on when construction will start and when the arena will open. "So that’s October of ‘18. So we’ve got to get everything ready and start construction."

Until Fascitelli’s remarks Tuesday, Bucks executives had maintained the team still planned to break ground this year on the $500 million project. Fascitelli says the arena will take about two years to build.

“We’re shooting for the ‘17-’18 season but I’m telling you the reality is we’re going to get it in for the ‘18 (through spring 2019) season,” Fascitelli said. “Practically speaking with everything we have to get done it’s going to be difficult."
Kirchen’s article goes on to say the delay is due to team officials waiting on the City of Milwaukee to agree on its part of the project, and then having to finalize the arena’s design. The Bucks also have to work out a development and lease agreement with Wisconsin Center District

A big loser from a one-year delay in the arena might be Milwaukee County, who is taking on shared revenue reductions of $4 million a year from the state to comprise its "contribution" toward the Bucks arena. If the new arena doesn’t open till 2018-19, that means the county will be losing this $4 million for the better part of 3 years before this building opens, and the county would conceivably start to have added sales tax revenues as a result of more people visiting and spending money to attend events at the new arena. It also means the Wisconsin Center District and State of Wisconsin will lose out for a year on their respective portions of the $2 million to be generated by a $2 ticket tax (item Number 1 in the LFB summary of changes to the Bucks bill from July), and this would place an extra burden on the WCD in particular, as they are taking on much of the debt involved in this facility.

And just because the arena project is heading toward likely passage in the Milwaukee Common Council tomorrow, that doesn’t mean city alders aren’t asking questions and asking for some modifications to the team’s plan. In the City’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee, alder Bob Bauman expressed concern over the lack of specific detail Bucks owners were giving about the team’s plans for the “live block” near the arena, and got a handful of amendments approved which changed some specifics on the development part, while still allowing the arena to be constructed.

One of these would keep 4th Street open to traffic between Juneau and Highland on non-game days, which is something the Bucks wanted closed off and turned into a full-time pedestrian block. The Milwaukee Business Journal explains the others.
In addition to the Fourth Street amendment, the amendments include a requirement to hire 40 percent of arena-related construction workers from the city of Milwaukee and shifting any naming rights revenue from a new parking garage to the city from the Bucks.
Building that new parking garage is part of the city’s $47 million in contributions toward the project, and (from what I can tell) the Bucks still stand to split all parking revenue from that garage with the City on a 50-50 basis.

The lone opposing vote on the amended Bucks arena project in both the Zoning and Finance Committees came from Alder Nik Kovac. Kovac is a massive fan of the publically-owned Packers who hosts a weekly Packer talk show on Riverwest Radio, (disclaimer: I consider Nik a friend and have appeared a couple of times on this show), and has connected the Packers’ ownership model and sports together frequently on “Packerverse”. Ald. Kovac used the word “charity” in describing the form of the City’s contribution to the Bucks arena, and argued that the city should share in any profits that the Bucks will get from the facility as a return on the city’s subsidy for the project.
Kovac opposed the funding package, saying he believes the agreement should include a requirement that taxpayers receive a payment from the Bucks if the team’s value increases.

“I’m rooting for them — I want (the Bucks) to increase in value,” Kovac said. “I want Milwaukee to have successful businesses. But I would like there to be some mechanism...for not just the city but the county, the (Wisconsin) Center District and the state to potentially get paid back. That way we would be actual investors.”
Kovac’s comments are especially interesting to note when you compare the Bucks legislation with the bill that’s making its way through the State Legislature on another pro sports facility- the Lambeau Field renovations and the 0.5% sales tax that was instituted in Brown County to help pay for it.

Senate Bill 233 has to do with the 0.5% sales tax that’s been levied on Brown County"since 2001 to pay for renovations to Lambeau Field and the nearby Brown County Arena. The debt for those projects has now been paid off, and there are sufficient reserves to end the sales tax at the end of this month.

With that in mind, much of the Green Bay-area GOP contingent in the Legislature proposed a bill that would take this extra money and give it to the numerous local communities in the county. As the bill explains, the estimated $17.6 million that this would entail gets split up as follows.
1. Twenty−five percent of such taxes to Brown County.

2. Seventy−five percent of such taxes to the cities, villages, and towns in Brown County in proportion to the population of each such city, village, and town in the county compared to the county’s entire population (for example, this means the City of Green Bay would get nearly $5.46 million, De Pere $1.26 million, all the way down to the Town of Glenmore, who gets just over $58,000) ….

(b)1. Brown County shall deposit the revenue received under par. (a) 1 into a segregated account established and controlled by the county to use only for the purpose of redeveloping the Brown County arena and land on which the arena is located. The county may not make expenditures from the segregated account unless the county board adopts a resolution specifying the purpose for which the revenues will be spent and the amount of the revenues to be spent for that purpose.

2. Each municipality that receives revenue under par. (a) 2. shall deposit the revenue into a segregated account established and controlled by the municipality to use only for the purpose of providing property tax relief, tax levy supported debt relief, or economic development. A municipality may not make expenditures from the segregated account unless the municipality’ s governing body adopts a resolution specifying the purpose for which the revenues will be spent and the amount of the revenues to be spent for that purpose.
So it’s not really a block grant for the municipalities, but instead has to held to those specific needs. That being said, there’s nothing stopping these communities from using funds that would have been used to pay off debt or TIFs to instead be used for other purposes, so that’s probably not as restrictive as it sounds.

This bill made it to the State Senate floor this week, where some Senate Dems (including GB Senator Dave Hansen) proposed an amendment to this payout into a tax rebate for the citizens of Brown County that was estimated at $70 a person or $135 a couple. That amendment was denied, with the Senate then agreeing 31-0 to pass the bill in its original form, giving the $17.6 million to Brown County local governments.

The bill now goes to the Assembly, where the Ways and Means Committee will hear it on Thursday. If that passes, it’ll head to the full Assembly, perhaps later this month, and if it goes through there, there should be plenty of time for the money to go out in November and be included in 2016 local budgets.

So it's interesting to see the contrast in these two bills, where the Green Bay-area legislators want to return the tax funding to the local areas for redistribution, but there are no such provisions in the allegedly socialist/liberal Milwaukee for the Bucks arena. Let's see how these two bills proceed in this week, and if these bills stay as-is.

Gov "Unintimidated" QUITS

I can't stop smirking and laughing from this news. My immediate reaction to Walker dropping out 4 1/2 months before the first vote is cast?

And this also comes to mind.

In all seriousness, I want to find out what really caused Walker to bail on this thing so early, and so suddenly. Doesn't game theory indicate you at least try to raise money and stay in through the Iowa caucuses just to hang around and end with something resembling respect? To pull the plug tells me something else is about to drop. And it's time to hammer on what that reason really is, and why this buffoon failed.

I just watched this guy's dropout speech, and he may even look worse! He took less than 5 minutes, played victim, claimed he was acting for the "good of the party", whined about the tone of people like Donald Trump, and walked off the podium and out the door without taking questions. What a total loser.

Now, it's not time to let up, but get after this jagbag with even more fervor and truth. Just because he's off the national stage in disgrace it doesn't mean the story is over. In fact, it's now onto the next level- the eradication of this Reign of Error and the restoration of our state as a place worth living in. Time to work even harder on putting this creep into the annals of Joe McCarthy-style "embarrassing Wisconsin history."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Too much weekend

Between two sparkling weather days, major Badger tailgating, and the Willy Street fair, haven't had enough time or interest to do much in-depth. And now I'm holding my breath as the Pack starts the 2nd half against Seattle. It feels a lot more tenuous than the 10-point lead would indicate, and with no Eddie Lacy, no Jordy Nelson and no,Bryan Bulaga, it won't be easy to expand that lead.

More to type in the work week, especially with the corruption never seeming to end in Fitzwalkerstan

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wisconsin's "improved" jobs picture still is pretty lousy

In addition to the monthly Wisconsin jobs numbers that came out (click here for that post), Thursday also featured the release of the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages. As usual, I recommend that you take a look at the excellent QCEW map to see how Wisconsin fares compared to other states in the country, as well as break down the county-by-county figures within the state.

The topline figures show general improvement from the dreadful numbers of past QCEW reports, with Wisconsin gaining just under 40,000 private-sector and overall jobs in the 12 months from March 2014-March 2015. The 1.47% overall and 1.72% private-sector increase in jobs is a slight bump up from the 1.38% (overall) and 1.55% (private) increase for 2014, and it placed Wisconsin 30th in the nation for its rate of job growth, up from 38th in the last report. It also got Wisconsin into the middle of the pack among its Midwestern neighbors, after languishing at or near the bottom in most of these quarterly surveys for the last 3 ½ years.

While I guess being near the middle is better than being toward the bottom of this list, it’s sort of like how it’s nice that the Brewers are ahead of the Reds (well, as of the start of play tonight), and therefore are staying out of last place in the NL Central – it doesn’t make the season successful. This chart from a data-filled and well-balanced article from the JS’s Tom Daykin and Kevin Crowe shows that the “improvement” still leaves us well below the national average when it comes to adding jobs, as we have been throughout the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

By the way, notice where we were at the point the chart begins, in Q1 2011? That quarter ended in March 2011, which is also the month that Act 10 was jammed through the State Legislature, reducing take-home pay and bargaining rights for public employees. You see that Wisconsin hasn’t made it back to that level of job growth since that time, while the U.S. has consistently surpassed that mark. I’m not going to say correlation = causation, but I don’t find it coincidental either.

And this brings me to another stat in the most recent QCEW report, relating to wages. The overall private sector wage picture in Wisconsin seems very good at first glance, as average weekly private sector wages grew by 2.8% in this time period, making Wisconsin 8th in the nation, and 3rd in the Midwest. Wages have been a laggard in this state (we were bottom 10 in this metric at times last year), and so this is good news for workers who have been jacked around a lot in this state.

But that number masks a downside, as Wisconsin will still only 30th in the nation for private-sector weekly wages, at $879 a week, and was the 3rd lowest in the Midwest (only Iowa and Indiana are lower). Also interesting to note is that the Number 1 private sector wage gainer in America for this time period was those Dem-voting socialists across the St. Croix in Minnesota, whose raise of 4.4% made its average wage more than $220 a week higher than Wisconsin’s.

This lower-wage trend is especially pronounced in manufacturing, and that figure is especially intriguing because (right-to) work-for-less legislation in Wisconsin was signed by Governor Walker in March 2015, with the argument that union-negotiated higher wages were restricting the ability of businesses to expand. Except that Wisconsin wasn’t paying high wages to manufacturing workers to begin with, and those workers had barely received any raises at all in the 12 months before work-for-less was signed.

Change in average weekly manufacturing wage, Mar 2014- Mar 2015
Minn +2.1%
Ill. +1.9%
Iowa +1.2%
Ind. +0.6%
Wis. +0.4%
Ohio -0.2%
Mich -0.5%

Average weekly manufacturing wage, Midwest March 2015
Ill. $1,393
Mich $1,294
Minn $1,242
Ind. $1,205
Ohio $1,135
Wis. 1,068
Iowa $1,043

That $1,068 a week average wage was 38th out of the 50 states, by the way. It proves what a lie it was to think that spiraling, high wages in manufacturing were an economic concern in Wisconsin. And that was BEFORE (right-to) work for les was signed. In recent months, hiring in manufacturing in Wisconsin has stopped, unlike the good trends we’d seen in the months leading up to the signing of work-for-less legislation. Which is the exact opposite of what the WMC honks and other right-wing greedheads claimed would happen.

Manufacturing employment change, Wisconsin 2013-2015
Aug 2013- Dec 2013 +3,300
Dec 2013- April 2014 +3,800
April 2014- Aug 2014 +2,000
Aug 2014- Dec 2014 +4,000
Dec 2014- April 2015 +4,300
April 2015- Aug 2015 -1,100

Now yes, maybe some of that reflects the tough times we’ve seen the manufacturing sector in recent months with a stronger dollar and other trends. But if (right-to) work-for-less was the magical cure to unlocking economic stagnation that the righties claimed it was, then it would have counteracted those problems, and led to continued hiring in that sector in recent months. That clearly isn’t happening. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite- low wages are leading qualified candidates to seek employment in other states where wages are higher and unions are respected.

So while the QCEW report shows Wisconsin had a slight pickup in hiring and in the national ratings in the early part of 2015, it doesn’t come close to counteracting the dire situation the state was in beforehand, in no small part due to policies passed in the first 4 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. And these QCEW figures show a time period before more regressive policies took effect, such as (right-to) work-for-less and the cuts to education implemented in the state budget. Combine that with mediocre income tax revenue figures and bad monthly jobs reports this Spring, and it seems likely that this "improvement" is a one-time blip, with the state returning to the well-below par status that it has consistently been in since Scott Walker took power in 2011.

Good August jobs, but watch for later revisions

I would have written about this yesterday, but the Old Fashioned's annual $1 old fashioned day got in the way, along with this thing called work on Friday. But I wanted to talk about a couple of big jobs releases from yesterday that gave a picture of how things look in Wisconsin, and I'll note that the past history that one shows leads me to think the one for the more recent time period might be revised at a future date, and not to the upside.

The first release to discuss involves the August jobs numbers in Wisconsin. Overall this looks very good, and for once, the usually-absurd pro-Walker cheerleading from the Department of Workforce Development seems to be mostly warranted.
Place of work data: Wisconsin added 7,200 private-sector jobs from July 2015 to August 2015, and a statistically significant 47,800 private sector jobs and 47,600 total non-farm jobs from August 2014 to August 2015 (seasonally adjusted). Wisconsin also realized significant year-over-year gains of 7,200 jobs in manufacturing, 5,400 jobs in financial activities and 12,800 jobs in education and health services.

•Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in August 2015, down from 4.6 percent in July 2015. The 4.5 percent rate is below the national unemployment rate of 5.1 percent for the month and below the state's rate of 5.3 percent in August 2014. Additionally, the state's labor force participation rate of 67.4 percent in August outpaced the national rate of 62.6 percent.
Of course, contributing to that drop in the unemployment is yet another reduction in the state’s labor force (this time by 1,200), making for a total of 49,100 labor force dropouts since January. But that’s a rare spot of dimness in an otherwise strong August report, and I also should point out that July’s total was also revised up by 1,900 total jobs and 900 private sector jobs, making for back-to-back total job gains in the last two months of 21,300 total jobs, and 16,300 private sector jobs. Those are very good figures.

However, we’ve also seen really good Wisconsin jobs figures in the past turn out to be not so good upon further evidence. Let me direct you to the news release that came out with the March 2015 Wisconsin jobs report a few months ago.
Place of work data: The state added a statistically significant 53,200 total non-farm jobs and 48,200 private sector jobs from March 2014 to March 2015 (seasonally adjusted). Other statistically significant changes include a year-over-year gain of 8000 jobs in construction, 8,600 jobs in manufacturing, and 4,700 jobs in financial activities. Wisconsin's private-sector job totals remain above pre-recession levels.
Now let’s compare what was reported there with the QCEW figures that came out on Thursday for that same March 2014-March 2015 time period (more on that report in a later post). I grabbed these figures from the always-awesome QCEW interactive map site.

Statistics for March 2014-March 2015 period
Total jobs gained
DWD: 53,200
QCEW: 39,583 (-12,617, -23.7%)

Private-sector jobs
DWD: 48,200
QCEW: 39,624 (-8,536, -17.7%)

DWD: 8,000
QCEW: 6,021 (-1,979, -24.7%)

DWD: 8,600
QCEW: 6,265 (-2,335 -27.2%)

Financial Activities
DWD: 4,700
QCEW: 1,146 (-3,554, -75.6%)

So don’t be surprised if you see a similar “oops, we really didn’t gain that much” reality come forth in the coming months about these supposedly strong jobs figures that makes the seeming boom in Summer 2015 not such a big bang.

On the flip side, it’s possible that these “increases” in the monthly report are simply revisions to the mean, as the same place-of-work survey indicated the state lost jobs in 3 of the 4 months between February and June. So even with the good numbers of July and August, the state still has only added 24,200 private sector jobs in 2015 based on these surveys, which is barely more than 3,000 a month, or a yearly pace of around 36,500. That would be quite mediocre in a time of major job growth in the country as a whole, and basically the same levels that we saw in 2014, when Wisconsin finished 38th in the nation in private sector job growth. So maybe these numbers are legit. :P

In short, even though I have skepticism about the year-long figures, it seems that there have been a good couple months to lift the gloom of an awful first half of 2015 for Wisconsin’s economy. But it doesn’t reflect the changes in the classrooms as schools started in September, nor does it show how the tourist season ended, and I would think both of those statistics will show in reports that come out in the next month that give us an indication of what to expect as the weather cools and winter sets in.

PS- UW Professor Menzie Chinn goes over these August jobs numbers in more detail at Econbrowser if you want an added way to slice and dice the data, in particular the continued declines in the Wisconsin labor force.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wisconsin boomed in 2014? Guess you missed it

Today featured the Census Bureau's annual release of figures on incomes, poverty, and health insurance. The big headline is the drop in the uninisured nationwide, in the first year that Obamacare exchanges and expanded Medicaid were in full effect, and feel free to click on that report to break down the numbers further.
The uninsured rate decreased between 2013 and 2014 by 2.9 percentage points.4 In 2014, the percentage of people without health insurance coverage for the entire calendar year was 10.4 percent, or 33.0 million, lower than the rate and number of uninsured in 2013 (13.3 percent or 41.8 million).
In addition, you also can look at the state-by-state data to see how Wisconsin measured up, as well as all the other states. We had the smallest drop in uninsured in 2014 in the Midwest (1.8 percentage points), but our uninsured rate is still 7th lowest in the U.S., at 7.3%. We'll see if that comes up at tonight's GOP debate.

But I want to look at the income part of that report, because those numbers were intriguing, especially in Wisconsin's case. First of all, the country's real median household income continued to stagnate, showing that while more people are working in the U.S. compared to the start of the decade, it doesn't mean they're making all that much more.
Median household income was $53,657 in 2014, not statistically different in real terms from the 2013 median of $54,462 (Figure 1 and Table 1). This is the third consecutive year that the annual change was not statistically significant, following two consecutive years of annual declines in median household income.
Interestingly, this official figure was bumped up in 2013 as part of a new survey that the Census Bureau created, as shown in the footnotes.
The 2014 CPS ASEC included redesigned questions for income and health insurance coverage . All of the approximately 98,000 addresses were eligible to receive the redesigned set of health insurance coverage questions . The redesigned income questions were implemented to a subsample of these 98,000 addresses using a probability split panel design . Approximately 68,000 addresses were eligible to receive a set of income questions similar to those used in the 2013 CPS ASEC and the remaining 30,000 addresses were eligible to receive the redesigned income questions . The source of data for this table is the portion of the CPS ASEC sample which received the redesigned income questions, approximately 30,000 addresses.
This resulted in 2013's median household income rising in 2013 of $52,789 for those who answered the old survey, compared to $54,462 in the new one (with a higher margin of error, due to the lower amount of people surveyed). But this is the higher base that 2014 was compared to, hence the small drop in income.

This change in survey resulted in some wide differences in incomes among the states in 2013, and Wisconsin was no different, looking much poorer than previously thought.

Wisconsin 2013 real median household income
2013 old survey $56,162
2013 new survey $52,572

But by the same token, this means that Wisconsin had one of the largest increases in median household incomes in 2014, because last year's number is compared to the "new survey" in 2013.

Wisconsin '13 vs '14 real median household income
2013 new survey $52,572
2014 survey $58,080 (+10.5%)

10.5% increase in median income! Holy crap! Scott Walker and his spokespeople on AM radio must be right! It's really working!

Or not. I'm more than a bit skeptical of that figure (it is a sample, after all), and while the increase of more than $5,500 is enough to be statistically significant, it's not translating into most other economic measures, including Wisconsin ranking 38th in the nation for private sector job growth in 2014, and overall tax revenue having a massive shortfall in Fiscal Year 2014, and income tax revenues continuing to lag in Fiscal Year 2015. If we were really having increases in income of more than 10%, we'd likely see that reflected in strong job growth and robust income tax revenue growth- neither of which happened in Wisconsin in 2014.

And if Scott Walker tries to talk up these allegedly great numbers on Wisconsin income growth in 2014 at tonight's debate, he also should be forced to answer why Wisconsin was by far the worst in the Midwest in the same statistic in the first 3 years of his tenure in office. Especially in contrast to who was Number 1.

Change in real median household income, 2010-2013
Minn +15.07%
Iowa +14.87%
Mich +14.47%
Ohio +3.52%
U.S. +1.78%
Ind. +0.33%
Ill. -0.48%
Wis. -3.66%

Take a look at how Wisconsin (in red) shoots up in stark contrast to everyone else in 2014. That leads me to think this number is an outlier that won't hold up. Also, I've put the old and new surveys for 2013 incomes, so you can see how those changed (and in many cases, it changed quite a bit).

So why were we so badly beaten by our two neighbors to the west in the previous 3 years when it came to income growth? This especially should be asked in the case of Iowa, since Scott Walker is trying to convince voters in that state to follow the Wisconsin Way (and failing miserably).

Seems like something that might be worth investigating even more, but I'm betting Mr. Unintimidated won't want to talk about it. Like a lot of issues that he can't give a good answer for, come to think of it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

National media beats Wisconsin media, this time on Wisconsin jobs

The Washington Post has been using its Politi-fact space to look into claims by various presidential candidates. Today they turned their gaze to our fair Guv, and a topic we've discussed numerous times on this blog- Wisconsin's job creation in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. They look into Gov Walker's claims about 140,000 new jobs in Wisconsin and unemployment and labor participation rates being over the national average, and let's see what they have to say.
Walker says Wisconsin’s rates {of participation and unemployment] are “far higher” and “far lower” than the national average. The state’s unemployment rate is 0.7 percent lower than the national rate, and its labor force participation rate is 4.8 percentage points higher than the national rate. The numbers are not as dramatic as he makes them sound.
The Post also notes something I've pointed out a few times in recent months, that Wisconsin's labor force participation rate has plummeted, going from 68.6% to 67.4% since January, allowing the state's unemployment rate to stay artificially low. In addition, the Post mentions that Walker deserves little to no credit for the seemingly positive stats that he tries to sell on the campaign trail.
BLS officials warn against comparing state averages to national averages. For one, state averages are seasonally adjusted individually on the state level, so the numbers do not add up to the national level. Each region may have unique factors that affect employment and labor force participation trends. Wisconsin was among the lowest-ranking Midwestern states in its percentage growth of private sector jobs in 2014.

Wisconsin traditionally has had a lower unemployment rate than national average, and a comparable or higher labor participation rate than the national average. Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was higher than the national average even before Walker became governor. And the Wisconsin unemployment rate consistently has been lower than the national average since 1985. So while Walker touts the figures as a success, it is not a trend out of the ordinary or unique to his term.
This is something UW professor Menzie Chinn has pointed out numerous times on the Econbrowser blog. Dr. Chinn brings this up again in his post today on that site, and notes that Wisconsin "advantage" of lower unemployment vs the rest of the U.S. has generally shrunk during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, as the country dragged itself out of the wreckage of the Great Recession.

For its conclusion, the Washington Post's Politi-fact differs greatly in how it treats Walker's claims than the suck-up at the J-S's Wisconsin Politi-"fact" would do. It actually uses context and marks down Walker for intentional deception in his statements, instead of isolating the words and parsing in an effort to grade Walker on a favorable curve (as they always do at Wisconsin Politi-crap).
Walker cites figures from BLS data on the number of new jobs created, and the rate of unemployment and labor force participation. However, the context in which he uses these figures exaggerate the progress under his term and deflect from his failure to keep a major campaign promise.

This shift in rhetoric is important. Anyone who followed Walker’s campaign for governor will remember his “250,000” jobs promise. Now, on the campaign trail, Walker instead focuses on the decreased unemployment rate and increased labor participation rate compared to the national level.

His characterization that the Wisconsin unemployment rate is “far lower” and the labor force participation rate is “far higher” than national rate is misleading. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is not quite one percentage point lower than the national average (0.7% as of July) , and labor force participation rate is roughly five percentage points higher than the national average. Even if state-versus-national comparisons were kosher — and they are not, according to BLS — the trends Walker highlights are not unique to his term as governor. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was lower than national, and its labor force participation rate was higher than national, since before he took office.

Three Pinocchios
Now that's a real analysis of Walker's record on jobs, much deeper than most of the "he said, she said" crap we see in the local media.

But they left out one key stat at the Post. THE WALKER JOBS GAP, which is now over 97,000 private sector jobs (as of the last state report in July), and 88,000 jobs overall, and we need another 3,000 jobs added in this week's August jobs report just to keep pace with the rest of the country.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Walker fails spin on CNN...and fails math!

With our Guv plummeting at 2% in the polls, he'll take any air time he can, which is why he landed on Jake Tapper's show on CNN on Sunday trying to give his "I was persecuted by left-wingers/unions crap." Apparently the "tough guy who hates unions" is the latest persona Scotty is going with these days (well, until he stays at 2% going into October).

Unfortunately for Scotty, Jake Tapper isn't as paid off as the Wisconsin media, and he actually tried to call out Walker on his spin. Here's the video (h/t to Democurmudgeon) , and if you can avoid vomiting from the obvious lies and decpetions, check out how "Mr. Unintimidated" won't answer the question about the Kochs, when Tapper asked if Scotty ever took on any right-wing "special interests."

Tapper: "But aren’t the Koch brothers special interests too? Can you give me an example of one time you took on a conservative special interest?"

Walker: "I raised 80 million in three and a half years, 70 percent of it came from people who gave me $75 or less. We’ve raised from over 300,000 donors in all 50 states."
In addition to the obvious evasion by Slippery Scott, there are two mathematical problems with that statement from Gov Dropout. First of all, Walker tries to claim he was somehow outspent by "the left" in his three elections (pulling a figure of $100 million that seems to have come from his ass), and ignores the fact that Walker had a lot of help from allegedly independent expenditures as well. Our friends at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign say Walker and pro-Walker groups spent nearly $59 million during the recall election of 2012, and then followed that up with another $36.4 million spent on Walker's behalf in 2014. That's over $95 million in 2012 and 2014 alone, and doesn't even count the tens of milions invested in 2010 to get Walker installed as Governor in the first place.

Second, Walker says that he raised 70 percent of his "$80 million" from donors who gave $75 or less, and that he had a "grassroots" backing of over 300,000 donors. Well, 70% of $80 million is $56 million, so let's give Walker some extreme benefit of the doubt, and assume 300,000 donors shelled out $75 apiece.

300,000 donors x $75 per donor = $22.5 million.

That ain't $56 million. That ain't even close. It's one thing to be a dishonest liar. It's a whole 'nother thing to be so wrong at the basic numbers involved in the lie.

Then again, righties think that math is a liberal plot, which is why they suck so badly at budgeting and economic policy in general. And Walker has proven to be one of the worst of an awful lot when it comes to that "skill."

Labor being stolen from, so Walker wants more of it!

With Scott Walker announcing his plan to take his union-busting policies nationwide today, it seems like a good time to go over a paper released this month by Josh Bivens and (UW Ph.D) Lawrence Mishel for the Economic Policy Institute. I discovered this article through a post by Laura Clawson at Daily Kos (thank you Laura), and it illustrates just how the last 15 years of low taxes for the wealthy combined with 40 years of anti-worker economic changes have led to a massive increase in inequality, with gains in worker productivity being taken by the capital class.

Bivens explains the topline finding, which should infuriate any of you that aren’t greedheads and/or psychopaths.
Between 2000 and the second quarter of 2015, the share of income generated by corporations that went to workers’ wages (instead of going to capital incomes like profits) declined from 82.3 percent to 75.5 percent, as the figure shows. This 6.8 percentage-point decline in labor’s share of corporate income might not seem like a lot, but if labor’s share had not fallen this much, employees in the corporate sector would have $535 billion more in their paychecks today. If this amount was spread over the entire labor force (not just corporate sector employees) this would translate into a $3,770 raise for each worker.

Notice that the only time this number spikes up since 2000 is when the stock market was crashing during the financial crisis and recession of 2008-2009, which gave a heavy hit corporate profits and capital incomes. Once the markets and corporate profits started to recover in the middle of 2009, you see how this number falls back down to the levels of Bush's second term.

Bivens and Mishel add that all levels of the workforce have taken advantage of better technology and attained better skills, which have increased productivity at their jobs. But that hasn’t translated into better wages for most of those worker segments.
Because one of the most widespread versions of our pay–productivity analysis tracks the pay of a subset (though a large majority) of American workers (private production and nonsupervisory workers, as in Figure A), critics have sometimes asked how we know that the productivity gains of recent years have not been driven nearly entirely by the much-smaller group of workers who are seeing well-above-average gains. Essentially, they are claiming that the productivity of the typical worker has stagnated….

However, the circumstantial evidence seems quite convincing that the pay–productivity gap is not driven by actual returns to individual productivity. Consider the following. Pay for the vast majority of workers and average net productivity tracked each other quite closely for decades before decoupling. Further, about 40 percent of all measured productivity growth in the post-1979 period was due simply to “capital deepening”—workers having more and better capital equipment to undertake production. This capital-deepening seems widespread across most workers in the economy. Highly credentialed workers today work with better capital than their predecessors did (lawyers and doctors now have Internet databases and imaging machines, for example), but so do less-credentialed workers (cashiers and construction workers have bar-code scanners and prefabricated materials to work with). Unless evidence is marshaled to show capital deepening was more pronounced among certain types of workers, one should imagine capital deepening alone should have broadly boosted productivity in recent decades.

Given the boost from capital deepening, if the decoupling of pay and productivity were driven by stagnation in the underlying productivity of the vast majority of American workers, one would expect fingerprints of this to show up as a stagnation of educational attainment or labor market experience of this group (the two observable characteristics of workers most associated with productivity). But the age and education of typical American workers did not stagnate or reverse in the post-1973 period. In fact, the BLS measure of “labor quality,” reflecting changes in experience and education levels, grew more quickly each year between 1973 and 2014 (0.33 percent) than it did from 1947 to 1973 (0.27 percent) (Fernald 2014). This improvement in labor quality did not occur just for the top 20 percent of the workforce. Among low-wage workers, for example, the median age rose from 32.4 to 35.1 between 1979 and 2014, and the share with at least some college attendance rose from 24.6 percent to 45.0 percent (Bucknor 2015). Similarly, the median worker went from having no college experience in 1979 to having at least some college experience by 2000 (Mishel et al. 2012).
So workers are more educated and better skilled than they were 40 years ago, can produce more due to better machines, but aren’t reaping the wages and benefits from these improvements.

What’s also remarkable in this Bivens and Mishel paper is that while some of the unhinging of productivity gains to wage gains is due to what they define a general “rising inequality of compensation (more wage and salary income accumulating at the very top of the pay scale),” in the last 15 years, just as much of this gap is due to capital being advantaged over labor. This is in sharp contrast to what we saw before 2000, as inequality of compensation used to be the overwhelming factor in any gaps that may have existed.

Contribution to gap between productivity and wages
Inequality of Compensation 50.4%
Loss of labor share of income 17.1%

Inequality of Compensation 39.5%
Loss of labor share of income 40.4%

Bivens’ and Mishel’s data note that while there was also a gap between productivity and wage gains from 1973-2000, “inequality of compensation” usually accounted for 4-5 times of that gap compared to labor’s share of that income, reflecting a general structural change in the economy that rewarded the richest Americans at the expense of most everyone else. Of course, preferring capital over labor also does this, as the 1%ers are much more likely to have money in stocks and assets compared to the poorer classes.

So a big reason why these wage-productivity gaps continue becomes obvious- the gains of workers’ increased efficiency are being taken from them by CEOs, and these CEOs are empowered by puppet politicians who promote policies that prefer capital over labor. And to solve this economic problem, Scott Walker wants to put the screws to labor even more, and give up even more of a share of the pie, without asking corporations or the wealthy to do the same (likely resulting in the rich and the corporate to steal even more)?

You wonder why we have one of the worst economies in the Midwest with this guy and his mentality in charge?