Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015's ending thoughts- and a 2016 preview

Seems odd that 2015 is already ending, but it'll be in the books in less than 12 hours, as I start to write this post. This place is still serving as a great outlet for reflecting on the horrors I find to be happening to my state, and keeping my (somewhat) sane.

I want to thank all of you who take time to read my ramblings in this hobby of mine. This site is consistently getting between 15,000 and 21,000 pageviews a month, from a wide variety of places (you know who you are), and I greatly appreciate your work in spreading the word ahead. Maybe it's a little hopeful on my part, but part of the reason I write these things are to try to show how small, seemingly arcane policy issues and economic numbers lead in to give a more complete picture about the way things are going in the nation, and especially in Wisconsin (and in Wisconsin, they're not going well). Once people learn the numbers and the context of the numbers, I'm of the belief that it can lead to movements and changes which start small, and then grow into something bigger. Sooner or later, the facts seep through to enough people - if the facts are able to get through.

That's where I hope me and many other bloggers and writers who do it better than I do can help, and change the conversation. It does seem that our state's media has improved somewhat in its covering of these issues in the last year, and has finally begun to be critical of Scott Walker now that he has been exposed as a loser on the national stage (which exposed our state's corporate media as losers as well), although they still seem to give Scotty the benefit of the doubt when he says something, instead of immediately calling "BULLSHIT!" But we still need to keep watching the watchmen of our state's corporate media, and a good example of why was shown in yesterday's Shepherd Express article, which rightfully calls out the Journal-Sentinel Politi-"fact" for its arbitrary and biased rulings.

I also wanted to reflect on this blog's most-read posts from the last year.

3. "As predicted, Wisconsin jobs numbers revised way down." March 5.

This was written on the date that the January Wisconsin jobs report came out, and more importantly, the benchmark revisions for most of 2014. And those revisions were large and negative.

Revisions to December 2014's total jobs numbers, Wis.
Private sector jobs -25,800
Total jobs -30,300

I also hammered on the Journal-Sentinel's ignoring of these revisions, and instead being a stenographer to the "Wisconsin is growing" propaganda from Scott Walker's Department of Workforce Development. This was while Walker was starting to ramp up his disaster of a 2016 presidential campaign, and the J-S was still in the role of willing accomplice to that campaign, wanting the clicks on their website as Walker was being built up nationally (yes, this was a long time ago). It's interesting how both Walker and his J-S cheerleaders would be exposed as frauds in the next 6 months, and now both have had to sheepishly try to save face after having their act be called out on the big stage. But we can't forget what both these groups have caused, and can't let them off the mat next year.

By the way, if the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages is any indication, we will likely see another downward revision when the next benchmarking happens in a little over 2 months, although it'll likely be smaller than the 30,000 jobs that were reported away in March 2015.

2. "WisGOP trying to bankrupt local gov't through pension "reform"." September 7

This was written on Labor Day to draw attention to a horrible ALEC bill that was getting a hearing that week in the State Legislature, and the bill is clearly intended to mess with post-retirement benefits for public employees at the local level in Wisconsin. As noted in the Legislative Reference Bureau's write-up of the bill, it would
prohibit a local government from providing health care benefits to any employee hired on or after January 1, 2016, for use upon the employee’s retirement, including compensated absences but excluding the implicit rate subsidy, unless the cost of the benefit is fully funded in a segregated account, based on an actuarial study conducted at least once every four years or other method that complies with generally accepted accounting principles. The bill also provides that, if a local government dissolves a segregated account established for the purpose of providing such health care benefits, the local government must provide for the equitable distribution of the proceeds among the beneficiaries.
In addition to being yet another example of WisGOP overriding local control, it sets the stage for many a budget crisis at the local level, where they will be forced to choose between offering post-retirement benefits, and everyday services like snow plowing and police protection.

It's along the same lines as the stupid proposed constitutional amendment that would require the Wisconsin budget to be balanced under GAAP accounting, which seems to be a needless and reckless move when WisGOP policies drove up the GAAP deficit by 28% last year, to $1.8 billion, and that number will likely go higher under gimmicks in this budget. The local gov't post-retirement benefits bill has not advanced past the hearing stage as of this time, but the GAAP amendment passed a Senate Committee 3-2 earlier this month, and could be taken up by the full Senate in the near future.

And keep your eye open for any session-ending shenanigans in the next few months, because if WisGOP realizes they're going to lose control of the Capitol (either in the Legislature or in the Governor's Office), they may well put in handcuffs like this to screw over the Democrats who will try to clean up the budgetary mess WisGOP left behind. Vigilance will be needed with these backdoor maneuvers to put even more ALEC legislation into Wisconsin law, especially with the approval of Gov Walker and the State Legislature going down the tubes.

1. "Slight Uptick in Wisconsin Revenues Doesn't Fix Wisconsin's Budget Mess." August 26.

I wrote this in reflection to the release of the year-end revenues for Fiscal Year 2014-15, which showed the state ended up $71.4 million ahead of the (lowered) estimates that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau had released earlier in the year. This was being trumpeted by WisGOP and ignorant media as some kind of "success" for Scott Walker's policies, but any honest look at the figures in context showed that it was the result of merely being subpar instead of awful. In fact, Wisconsin's revenue growth for the last fiscal year was less than half the growth rate in revenues seen with the federal government, indicating that the Obama Recovery dragged Wisconsin's revenues into positive levels, and that if anything, Walker/WisGOP policies held our growth down.

I ended with these observations and a future warning.
The income tax falling short should be a major concern, as that reflects the lack of jobs and wage increases (perhaps at the expense of higher corporate profits?). Because income tax makes up more than half of the state’s overall tax revenues, this puts us a bit further behind the 8-ball for this fiscal year. Walker’s budget already counted on income taxes going up by 6.7% in 2015-16 before this income tax shortfall, and now it has to go up 7.1% just to stay on track…or nearly twice the increase we had for this fiscal year.

So my topline conclusion from today’s revenue release is that we’re slightly better off than we could have been, mostly due to the Obama Recovery continuing through June 2015. But we are still in a ditch when it comes to paying for future needs, and if the recent dive in the stock market translates into economic weakness (or even a drop in collections due to write-offs of stock losses), a budget that already relies on $1.1 billion in lapses will have even more cuts and adjustments that will need to be made. And that is the last thing Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP want to deal with ahead of the 2016 primary and general elections.
And Walker and WisGOP likely will have to deal with a looming budget crisis as a 2016 election issue, as income tax revenues continue to lag in the first half of FY16, which means any cushion that was put into the budget from this slight uptick in revenues would be gone by this June. With new revenue projections coming out in the next month from the LFB, we may see action need to be taken much sooner than Walker and WisGOP would like, and that's on top of $740 million in lapses that are already built into year 2 of the budget.

Interestingly, the corrupt slush fund of WEDC didn't make this list of top 3 posts, but you can bet there will be more of that to read about in 2016. Especially since Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos is insisting that WEDC is running just fine, and doesn't plan to work on major changes in the next year, except for possible giving even MORE taxpayer money to WEDC. Although in fairness, WEDC was set up to be taxpayer-funded boodle for WisGOP campaign contributors instead of something that actually improved our state's economy, so maybe Vos is being more truthful than the WisGOP puppetmasters would like him to be.

So as we turn the clock over to 2016, let's see if we can reverse the downward course this once-great state is in next year, and turn it back to somewhere that people want to relocate to, instead of a place where talent seems to be fleeing right and left. It can be done, we just have to choose the leaders and polciies that make it happen (i.e.- the complete opposite of what we have today).

I wanted to thank you once again for reading, and there will be more to hear from me (and hopefully you) in the next year. And yes, it seems fitting to bring this one back, and return this tune to its original, darker intent.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all of your work--best blog going! And while my blog doesn't bring in those numbers, what you do here really does inform my perspective in what I write. Happy New Year, and here's to better times.