Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fuck you 2016, and a review of where we are in the Funhouse

As this disastrous year is meeting its end, I wanted to take a look over the last year at the Funhouse and see what it all meant, if it did.

First of all, as much as I joke about there only being 5 people that read what I throw out there, a whole lot of you are checking in here. The middle of 2015 was the first time this blog broke 20,000 pageviews in a month, but only did it 3 times in that year. Since January 2016, there have only been 3 months where there HAVEN'T been 20,000 pageviews, including a record 32,888 in May, and over 31,000 in this month. It blows me away, and knowing that you're out there reading, reacting, passing the word ahead and (hopefully) learning something drives me to keep it going.

I also wanted to go over our 5 most-viewed posts, and I'll follow up with some comments that reflect what we know now.

1. Walker gaffe shows he will deform state employee health care, if given chance. Oct 25, 2016

This is easily the most-viewed post I have had on this blog, with over 5,500 pageviews in the 2 months since I sent it out. I based it off of a story in the La Crosse Tribune which had a story on another of Scotty's taxpayer-funded invite-only "listening sessions" in Sparta, where Walker mentioned that "savings from state employee health plans" would be the way that he could add funding to public education in the next budget.

At the time, I mentioned
What changes are we talking about, Scotty? Notice that he's not saying until after the election (Unintimidated!), but let's go with what we do know on that subject. The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds sent out a Request for Proposal in July looking for the following.
The objective of this RFP is to acquire health benefits administrators to provide Services that will accommodate the current Uniform Benefit plan design and enhance the value of the plan through the following changes: 

Transition to a self-insured health benefit program; 
Regional, statewide, and nationwide networks; 
Consistent administration of health benefits;
Value based plan design; and 
Data sharing and strategic coordination with other Contractors and/or third party administrators, such as the State’s data warehouse, PBM, consulting actuaries, wellness Contractors, etc.
Those proposals had a deadline of September 20, but conveniently will not be opened and shown in public by the Group Insurance Board until November 15- one week after the elections. Selecting one statewide vendor for self-insurance or even choosing a handful of private organizations to cover the various regions would be a major departure from the competitive environment of bidding that happens with state employee health benefits these days. And a new system is far from guaranteed to give savings to taxpayers....unless Walker has already planned to push off costs onto state employees through higher premiums, or by cutting costs through major reductions in covered services for those employees....

What Walker said in Sparta yesterday is the definition of a gaffe- someone telling a truth that they don't want the public to know, and one that makes the speaker look bad. Know that if voters in Wisconsin allow rubber-stamp Republicans to stay in power after November 2016, then this type of screw-job is coming. In a way, I guess we should thank Scotty for being so stupid as to give the game away.
And 2 months later, we still don't know who will win that contract or how state employee health care will change. The state's Group Insurance Board voted to delay a decision until at least January, and there is a lot to sort out.
A broad range of options were presented to the GIB, ranging from maintaining a version of the current program structure with improvements to contracting with one or two statewide vendors on a self-insured basis, as well as various scenarios in between.

Lisa Ellinger, director of the Office of Strategic Health Policy, provided seven scenario options in an open session presentation. The scenarios were based on the priorities communicated by the Board at the November 30 meeting. The scenarios also level-set the projected 2018 cost savings so the Board could focus on the merits and concerns of the proposed scenarios. Segal [Consulting] was available to answer questions about the scenarios.
And oh yeah, the state budget continues to deteriorate, with revenue shortfalls and DOT deficits seeming to grow by the day, so good luck getting enough money to add to public education. Stay tuned for the numbers (and the GOP lies) that are sure to come.

2. Fitz gets caught lying his ass off about John Doe. Sep 23, 2016

This post happened in the wake of The Guardian's revelations on the money-laundering scheme that kept Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP in power during the Wisconsin recalls of 2011 and 2012. WisGOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald claimed that he had no knowledge of how Walker and the Wisconsin GOP allegedly used the "social welfare" organization Wisconsin Club for Growth to funnel unlimited donations and hide donors' names.

I followed up from an article from the Journal-Sentinel's Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, and pointed out how ridiculous Fitz's claim was, including the notorious connection between John Doe money and the protection WisGOP gave to makers of lead paint.
Now do any of you think Fitz DIDN’T end up knowing that, after the millions of dollars that Club for Growth and other RW oligarchs dumped in the Summer of 2011 to allow the GOPs to hang onto their Senate majority through the recalls? Give me a fucking break. Hell, Fitz himself was recalled in 2012 and had to fend off a challenge from Lori Compas, and you think he didn’t ask for a few bits of help from Club for Growth and the rest of the GOP groups helping Walker and other GOPs that year?

After Fitz and Walker were retained in the 2012 recalls, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other GOP front groups dumped large amounts of dark money to regain a GOP majority in the Senate in November 2012. This enabled Fitz to get back to work helping his friends. Marley and Stein’s JS article provides a link to a 2013 document that was discovered as part of a lawsuit against NL Industries and other lead paint makers. That document was sent to Fitzgerald from NL Industries lobbyist Eric Petersen with the words “NL Language” on them, with recommendations on how the language should be phrased to give the paint-makers retroactive immunity from lawsuits. That language was later part of a late-night “999” motion jammed into the budget by the WisGOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee in June 2013 with no prior publication or discussion, a law that was found to be unconstitutional by an Appeals Court the following year.
And even though the Supreme Court of the United States gutlessly failed to take up the John Doe case, I don't think we've heard the last of this one- especially as Attorney General/WisGOP hack Brad Schimel tries to do a one-sided investigation into the leakers of the John Doe documents to the Guardian (but not the Club for Growth oligarchs who lied to right-wing media outlets over what was going on). I bet there's a lot of "follow the money" that we can do in the coming months as the budget gets presented and debated.

3. Walker burned on UW salaries and staffing. But there is this one UW guy who's overpaid. May 13, 2016

This was in the wake of Walker and other GOPs pulling a bunch of BS on how UW faculty were allegedly overpaid and didn't teach classes, a clear case of these guys trying to drive up resentment of "intellectual elites" (and to defray criticism about UW budget cuts). UW-Milwaukee's chapter of the American Association of University Professionals destroyed Walker's claim that UW-Milwaukee professors averaged 6 figures, and noted that Gov Dropout "mistook" full faculty to somehow equal all UW instructors.
The Governor’s cited average salary figure of $101,700 includes only those faculty who have earned the rank of full professor. These are the most accomplished scholars and the top earners, representing approximately 29% of the UWM faculty. This figure may include the salaries of senior administrators who also hold the rank of full professor, such as UWM’s Chancellor, who earns $340,000 (though without access to the dataset used by the Governor’s office, it is impossible to know). [Update, May 12: Pat Schneider at the Capital Times has located the source of the figure cited above. The Governor’s press release linked to the corresponding document from 2003.]

The term “full professor” is not synonymous with “full-time professor.” The full-time faculty at UWM are those who hold the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Assistant professors are those on the tenure track; associate professors are those who have earned tenure but not yet earned promotion to full professor.
Bad enough, but Walker was also making those comments at the same that Caroline Levine, the Chair of the UW-Madison English Department was quitting, and wrote an extraordinary kiss-off letter in the process.
I myself am now leaving the University of Wisconsin after 14 years. At my new university in another state, I will have stronger tenure protections than I now have here. I will earn about 50 percent more than my current salary for the same job. And I will be free from the strange crazy-making double-speak that on one hand demands that higher education deliver value like a business, and on the other hand, methodically prevents it from doing so.
And I noted the topper for all of this- that a longtime Walker crony was the one who was the real "overpaid UW taker."
Yes Scotty, I’m talking about your buddy Jim Villa, who was hired at $178,000 a year to be a hatchet man VP for “UW System relations” just 2 years ago. This was despite Villa having no experience working in higher ed or even having a UW degree (he’s part of the Marquette Mafia of College Republicans from the late ‘80s-early ‘90s that includes Walker and Bigoted Becky Bradley). Villa seemed to do nothing in that job other than work with other WisGOPs at the Capitol, greasing the skids for the $250 million cut to the System and eradication of tenure. Which has led professors like Levine to leave for states and universities that make the investments that lead to quality higher-education.

Oh, and did we mention that while Villa was pulling down that huge paycheck from the taxpayers, he was also acting as an “adviser” on the joke that was Walker’s presidential campaign, even being part of the group that was at the Governor’s mansion when Walker decided to pull the plug last September? And now, with his mission to screw up the UW being complete, Villa announced this month that he was leaving that VP spot to return to his prior industry - commercial real estate and "government relations". (gee, wonder if there’s some UW property Villa might have an inside track on?)
Amazing how we forgot all about this one, isn't it? Watch for it to come back in the coming months.

4. UW poverty stats show Wisconsin not so special anymore. Feb 26, 2016

This went off of a study from UW-Madison's Applied Population Laboratory that showed Wisconsin's poverty rate was the highest it had been in 30 years, and that 40% of our counties had significant increases in poverty between 2005-09 and 2010-14.

I broke the Census Bureau's figures down further, and noted that Wisconsin had a poverty rate well below the US when Walker was running for governor in 2010, and the fact that we started from a lower level meant that our poverty rates grew more than all of our Midwestern neighbors.
When you slice the increases in poverty that way, Wisconsin doesn’t look so good. In fact, we get the highest increase in poverty as a percentage of the 2005-09 total than any other state in the Midwest, and quite a bit higher than what the rest of the country saw.

Looking back over these stories, it amazes me how much of this went down the memory hole by the November elections, and how Republicans have not paid a price for their stupid ideas, bad policies and awful results. It illustrates just how bad the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (and their "expert consultants") were when it came to driving this information into the public's attention, and how they didn't stick with the message of "GOP failure" so that even the low-info rubes knew it. Instead, many of these voters fell for the GOP's BS, gave in to resentment of the educated and urbane, and voted for Donald freaking Trump and Republicans out of anger at "elitists" like Hillary Clinton and a desire to change their stagnant/declining fortunes.

I think a big reason 2016 became the worst year this country has had to go through in my 42 years on earth is because of the laziness of much of the American public to deal with reality, and in countering the propaganda of the evil forces that will use any means necessary to ascend to power. Combine that with the many deaths of great artists, and it seems like we are living under a dark cloud. It makes me want to follow John Oliver's advice, and blow it all away at midnight.

PS- And now for a half-serious, self-absorbed add-on to this year-end post.

I think this guy's death in January was what set the world off its axis, and we can follow Ziggy's words to get it back to balance.

JUST GIMME YOUR HANDS! You can do this too. The information is at your fingertips- all you need to know is where to find it. I highly recommend checking The Wheeler Report and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau websites for reports and news from around the state. It's not that hard, but many do not take the initiative to do so. All it takes is a bit of work and an ethic to keep pounding away and remembering enough information so that it doesn't fall down the memory hole.

It seems like those of us in the thinking world are shouting into the wilderness. But then I notice that posts like those above got well over 1,000 page views each, so it's clear SOMEONE is noticing, and passing the word ahead. And giving up at this point allows the bad guys to win, and I'll be damned if I let that happen.

Thanks again to you guys for dropping by the Funhouse, and I'll have more on the other side in 2017.

Wisconsin debt higher than ever under Walker

I'd been waiting over the last couple of weeks to see state reports released on Wisconsin's debt and accounting situation. One of these is the Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report (CAFR), which usually comes out in mid-December, but has been oddly delayed in 2016, and still hasn't been posted to the public. Last year's CAFR revealed the state's financial condition to be worse than portrayed, because it relied on accounting tricks and delayed payments that Scott Walker claimed he would end when he first ran for governor in 2010 (naturally, that promise went by the wayside once Gov Dropout took office). And that condition is likely to be even worse when the CAFR for FY 2016 comes out....if it ever comes out.

But there is another bit of data that dropped on the Friday before Christmas, and was promptly ignored by the state's media. It's the state's Continuing Disclosure Annual Report, and it's information that goes to people who plan to bid on Wisconsin bonds when they offer it to the public, as well as others who want to get a different picture of Wisconsin's financial stability.

Dig into the Continuing Disclosure, particularly this section on "General Obligations", and you find this stat.

Total State Debt, 2010-2016
Dec 2010 $6.82 billion
Dec 2011 $7.38 billion
Dec 2012 $8.01 billion
Dec 2013 $8.03 billion
Dec 2014 $7.86 billion
Dec 2015 $7.99 billion
Dec 2016 $8.07 billion

In other words, Wisconsin debt is at record levels at the end of 2016, and debt has risen by $1.25 billion since Scott Walker took office after 2010.

Sure, it's leveled off since 2012, a result of the Obama Recovery has led to higher job growth and lower unemployment over the last 4 years allowing for a more stable financial situation. Even so, we've added debt in every year during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan except for 2014- which was a year that Walker and the WisGOPs promptly blew a one-time surplus on tax cuts that mostly helped the rich and corporate, and you've seen chronic revenue shortfalls since then, with debt rising by $215 million over the last 2 years.

The Continuing Disclosure also gives a look at how much the state has already committed for paying off debt in future years. And there's already a whole lot committed for the next couple of budgets.

Debt service projections, FY 2017-2021
2017 $828.7 million >
2018 $864.1 million
2019 $835.8 million
2020 $813.8 million
2021 $731.9 million

Some of the debt that's maturing in 2017 and 2018 (paying the $1,000 off on a $1,000 bond) may be pushed off into future years with more Walker Administration debt shuffles (there's one for $523.6 million scheduled for early 2017). But that has its own set of problems, because Wisconsin is already scheduled to pay at least $543 million in debt for each of the next 10 years, so any debt reshuffling merely adds to that future price tag (since you're paying interest on the new bonds in all those years).

Yeah, things haven't gotten fiscally better in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. And with a significant revenue shortfall in this Fiscal Year, and nearly $500 million in borrowing requested for the DOT in its current budget, the outlook is even worse.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

DOT consultant confirms Wis is screwed on roads, tolls

Naturally, the consultant's study on DOT revenue sources drops while I am out of state with family, and only armed with a cell phone.

So let me forward a modified version of a tweet from the Cap Times' Jessie Opien.

Jessie Opoien‏ @jessieopie

So I guess there is no scenario in which the roads get BETTER in this WisDOT study.

Nope, either our Governor continues to be owned by DC Lobbyist Grover Norquist, and gives no added funding for highways, and the roads completely go to shit in the next 10 years.

Or we toll all over the state to fund any new expansions over the next 30 years. And since tolling can't get up and running for 3 years, we still need to raise taxes, majorly borrow, or make massive cuts in this budget just to stay afloat.

Yeah, we're screwed. No wonder why our Governor is running away to Guantanamo at taxpayer expense instead of dealing with the real problems at his actual job.

More on this and other budget messes when I get back from family time later this week.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Out-of-touch Hollywood guy makes social stand

Stupid self-absorbed Hollywood liberals. What do they ever do to help society, as opposed to us "real 'Murricans with real jobs?"

Comedian Jim Gaffigan is famous for his jokes about foods like Hot Pockets, bacon and McDonald's french fries.

But on Tuesday, he and his wife, Jeannie, and their children spent the day making sure those who need food can get it by volunteering at a Milwaukee food pantry — one that is receiving some $70,000 thanks to them.

Gaffigan added an extra Friday performance to his series of New Year's Eve shows at the Pabst Theater, and is donating 100% of the ticket sales from that show to the Riverwest Food Pantry. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Gaffigan's New Year's Eve shows in Milwaukee.

"I consider Milwaukee my hometown-in-law. My wife is from Milwaukee, and I've been coming here for a long time," Gaffigan said while sorting nonperishable food. "And we've been married? 120 years now."
But I'm sure it's all for show and a cheap PR move to make themselves feel better. I'm sure the Gaffigans and their kids will return to LA and forget about the people who were helped at the food pantry.
They also talked about how much their five children have benefitted from volunteering.

"We try to make having a heart for other people a part of their lives, especially at Christmas when it becomes all about "What am I going to get? What am I going to get?," Jeannie Gaffigan said. "It's so important for children to understand that not everybody lives like this."
Sounds like Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan just did more for Milwaukeeans this week than Charlie-tan Sykes and Scott Walker have done in 20 years. Oh, but Chuckles and Scotty and the rest of the Bradley boys and WMC oligarchs are the ones who "understand Wisconsinites and care about their future." Riiiight.

By the way, apparently the charity show on Friday has sold out, as has Jim Gaffigan's other 3 shows this weekend (!), but the Journal-Sentinel says you can still donate to the Riverwest Food Pantry by texting "bacon" to 91999.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What do the red/blue counties in Wisconsin tell us?

I was going back over the statewide totals for both the presidential and US Senate races in Wisconsin, and found some interesting patterns. I think looking at both statewide races are vital, because while there wasn't all that much ticket-splitting, there were enough differences in the two statewide totals to give us some more insight into what happened, and where things might be going.

Among the state's counties, they fall into 5 different areas.

1. Blue counties who went for both Clinton and Feingold by more than 10%
2. Counties that both went for Clinton and Feingold, but at least one of those places had margins under 10%.
3. Counties won by both Feingold and Donald Trump.
4. Counties won by both Trump and Johnson, but at least one of those places had margins under 10%.
5. Red counties who went for both Trump and Johnson by more than 10%.

I'll start with category 5, because a measure of the Dems' failure to connect to rural white Wisconsinites is the fact that more than half of the state's counties fall into this "Red County" category. Among these are traditional GOP places in the eastern half of the state, but also a handful of counties that had voted for Barack Obama in 1 or both of his presidential elections. .

Red Counties that went +10% GOP
Fond du Lac
Green Lake
St. Croix

You may want to consider (or not consider) these places when deciding to where to spend your tourism dollars, although drilling down into the municipal level may provide some noteworthy exceptions to prefer.

Now we'll move to counties that both went for Trump and Johnson, but aren't so dark red.

Less red GOP counties

The vast majority of these places also voted for Obama in '08 and '12, and many are split between the large Dem-voting city in the county, and the red-voting countryside.

I'll now skip over into the "lighter blue" counties that voted for both Clinton and Feingold, but were reasonably close. 4 of these 6 counties are split between "blue city/college town, redder country", and the two counties that aren't (Green and Bayfield) are traditionally Dem-voting places that both gave Feingold double-digit margins while not doing the same for Clinton.

less blue Dem counties
Eau Claire
La Crosse

And then there are 6 blue counties that I highly recommend giving your discretionary dollars to, all of which are traditionally strong Dem areas.

Blue Counties with 10%+ wins for Clinton, Feingold

Lastly, here are the most interesting group of Wisconsin counties to me- the 6 counties that voted for both Russ Feingold and Donald Trump.

"Feingold/Trump" counties

All of these counties are located in the southwest quadrant of the state, are somewhat incubated from Milwaukee-based right-wing hate radio as a result, and are areas that generally leaned Dem over the last 10 years (4 of the 6 voted for Mary Burke over Scott Walker in 2014). And many of these voters are traditionally strong believers in "clean government" and in funding public education.

But they are looking for things to change and improve, and are willing to flip from one side to the other to do so. If Dems aren't drilling theses 6 counties, along with the light red and light blue areas in preparation for 2018 races for Governor and State Legislature, especially given that Republicans are the incumbents in most seats in that area, they are fools. And it needs to be starting NOW, to lay the ground work for people righteous anger to be turned on the GOP governor and Legislature that has caused much of the stagnation that caused many voters in these places to turn Donald freaking Trump in the hopes to "shake things up."

They'll be shaken up in the near future alright, and not in a good way. Let's make them learn why.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Too many people in this picture

It's a bit British-centric, but this great image from Chris Barker sure works. I hope it doesn't need any more revisions in this puke-bucket of a year.

What magic can Walker pull to pay for all these promises?

Apparently our governor has noticed that internal polling indicates people don't like him and aren't buying his record over the last 6 years. So now he's donning a holiday sweater and trying to show voters that he is "responsible and caring Scott Walker", who will pay for education and turn away from the austerity that has slowed Wisconsin's economy.
Walker said increasing funding for K-12 education is his top priority in the budget.

He said he will increase the state-imposed limits on school district spending and then provide enough additional state aid to cover those increases, in order to keep property taxes lower than they were in 2010. He didn’t specify how much the increase would be, but said it would be lower than the $200 per pupil requested by the Department of Public Instruction.

Walker told the Associated Press public schools would see a “sizable increase” in state aid, and that he is specifically targeting rural schools for more money.

See, I'm one of you and not at all a cynical slimeball

Sounds great if true. But where is this extra money coming from? The Department of Public Instruction asked for $707 million in additional funding and property tax relief, but Walker's Department of Administration says that there are $588 million in requests that will have to be cut, or taxes raised in order to cover everything. And notice Walker's already backtracking on the request for more per-pupil aid, along with saying increases to K-12 education (not necessarily PUBLIC education, mind you) will be based on trying to reduce property taxes, not helping the schools improve services or pay their bills.

We continue with another form of Wisconsin education funding that also seems likely to be distorted, if not outright cut.
The UW System has asked for a $42 million increase in funding, which Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he would like to fund as much as possible. Walker also said he would like to increase funding, and while he didn’t set an amount, he said he would like to tie it to performance measures, similar to what was done with the Wisconsin Technical College System in the previous budget.

Those measures could include, he said, how many students enroll and graduate, how long it takes them to get a degree, and the kinds of jobs they get.
The obvious question is "who decides what those performance measures are?" I'm betting it's not higher ed administrators at the campuses and other academics. And note that research or new business incubators aren't part of Walker's performance measures. They'll likely be based on how they serve the needs of the state's business lobby and other Walker campaign contributors. You know, the same people who have been driving the train on the state's economic strategy the last six the state has badly lagged the rest of the nation and most of our Midwestern neighbors.

It's also telling that Walker was making those statements early last week, before his administration released November's horrid tax revenue figures, which showed Wisconsin was on track to fall over $400 million short of LFB estimates in this fiscal year, and nearly $200 million below the DOA's estimates from last month, Those same estimates that had the $588 million 2017-19 deficit baked in, and given that we start the next budget from a lower amount of revenues, that $588 million gap will likely grow larger.

In addition, Walker also says he will try to include a sales tax holiday in the budget, a stupid gimmick that not only fails to help the economy, but will lower revenues by another $13 million. Walker also said in his round of interviews that he doesn't plan to have more than $500 million of bonding for Transportation, despite an $880 million deficit in the DOT's budget request.

So I wonder what Walker isn't telling the state media about. Where is the source of funding that is going to pay for all these promises, and/or what areas are going to be cut that Walker isn't talking about? Or is he going to count on the Trump Administration and GOP Congress to bail the state out with massive deficit spending? I'd LOVE to hear Scotty justify that move, because Walker said earlier this month that he'd be OK with a new US Constitutional Convention under Article V of the US long it is prevents the type of major federal spending that would bail out states.
"Some have said, 'Well if you do [have a Constitutional convention], doesn’t it open the floodgates to all sorts of wild ideas?' And the answer to that is no," Walker said. "The reason I support that is I believe, like our state and other states, that we should have a requirement to balance the budget that you can’t get around. I think it’s reasonable, particularly in Washington, to have term limits and to do other things that are responsible, and that if the Congress isn’t going to do it, I think it makes sense to have the call for an Article V Convention of the states."
So Walker is going to specifically demand Trump and the GOP Congress not go into a deficit to pay for roads and other infrastructure, right? Or is he going to follow the 21st Century GOP motto of "Our rules don't apply to us," and be cool with more federal money if it allows him to pay for road repairs and/or Medicaid? He can't get both.

There's a second fun sidelight to this- Walker claims that states "have a requirement to balance the budget," but he doesn't mention that if he did DOT-style borrowing at the federal level, THAT WOULD COUNT AS A DEFICIT UNDER FEDERAL ACCOUNTING RULES. So Scotty isn't holding himself to the same standard that he wants to hold the federal government to. Does Governor Dropout not understand this difference, or is he trying to sneak one over on the rubes who still think this WisGOP crew is "fiscally responsible"?

Expect a lot more of this type of pretzel logic from our Governor as he tries to make himself acceptable for a third term. It's up to us to watch over the liars at the Capitol and the media stenographers who don't investigate these things, and remind them of Walker's past statements and the actual NUMBERS that show that Scotty's words won't become reality.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

New Census figures - Minnesota growing, Wisconsin lagging, and Illinois losing

This week featured the new estimates by the US Census Bureau of state populations for 2016. And two states neighboring Wisconsin stood out from the rest of the Midwest for what happened to them in regards to population in 2016 (for this post, I'll add Pennsylvania to the other 7 Midwestern states, given Pennsylvania's "Obama-to-Trump status" in 2016).

Minnesota continued to outpace the rest of the Midwest, adding 37,517 people, nearly twice as much as the next closest Midwestern state, and it nearly matched the 0.70% rate that the rest of the country's population grew at. On the flip side, Illinois lost over 37,500 residents, as people left the state in droves in 2016.

That Illinois figure includes an amazing stat where 114,144 more FIBs left the state to head to another part of America vs the number of Americans who moved into Illinois. All Midwestern states lost in this statistic (not surprising, given the colder weather and generally slower economy compared to the rest of the country), but Illinois lost more than twice as many people as any other state in the Midwest, and only New York lost more nationwide. Minnesota came the closest to breaking even, and it seems noteworthy that Wisconsin lost 7 times as many people last year as our similar-population neighbors to the west.

Net domestic migration 2016
Minn -1,762
Iowa -3,392
Ind. -12,135
Wis. -12,395
Ohio -27,558
Mich -27,839
Penn -45,565
Ill. -114,144

When you look at the Midwest's population changes since the last Census in 2010, a similar pattern emerges where Minnesota is far and away the fastest-growing Midwest state, while Illinois has actually lost people, and Wisconsin is noticeably slower than the US rate as well as the states to our west, but in the middle of the road for our part of the country. And it also seems noteworthy that 2010 is when many of these states elected Republican governors and installed Republican legislatures, which have largely stayed in power since then...with the notable exceptions of Minnesota and Illinois.

Lastly, the lack of population growth in the Midwest likely means that our part of the country is going to lose more representation in Congress and in the Electoral College in a few years. Kimball Brace at Election Data Services has a neat set of projections for the 2020 Census, and the reapportionments that would happen as a result. There are 3 pictures shown, 1 as it stands today in 2016, and then 2 using the 1-year and 6-year trends we see above, and the upshot is that states like Texas, Florida, Colorado and Oregon are poised to gain seats (in fact, Brace says Texas might gain as many as 4 seats after 2020), while most of the Midwest is projected to lose.

Projected losses in 2022 House for Midwest, using 2010-2016 rate
Mich -1
Minn -1
Ohio -1
Penn -1
Ill. -2

Given Minnesota's relatively strong population growth, it looks odd to see them potentially losing a seat in Congress. But that's because Minnesota barely hung onto their 8th seat in the last Census, and enough states have grown faster to move ahead of them on the "list" that determines which states gets seats. By comparison, Wisconsin is projected to barely hang onto their 8th seat in 2020, but obviously there are 4 years left to go before the Census happens, and Brace says it wouldn't take much of a change in trend to see Wisconsin end up losing in a few years.
Wisconsin – The long-term trend methodology shows Wisconsin keeping it’s 8th congressional district, but with only 72,639 people to spare. It captured seat #433, just two away from the 435 cut-off point.
That means that if other states grow even faster, or Wisconsin slows down even more, then we could well lose out. And with regressive social policy, a lagging economy and cold weather driving people away from Fitzwalkerstan, the possibility of Wisconsin losing Congressional representation is in play.

And there is also an economic problem with Wisconsin's low growth- it's hard to have an economy grow when people are leaving and/or aging and not being replaced. We're not a full-fledged disaster like Illinois, but we are clearly being lapped by the rest of the country as a destination for talent to locate in, and that's not a trend I see changing as long as Gov Dropout is in charge.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Need more money for defenders and DERP in Wisconsin

In what is starting to become an ongoing series, here are two more recent examples of what seems to be insignificant state reports showing an underlying problem that will likely result in more budget troubles for Wisconsin.

The first involves what the state’s Office of Public Defender, and the amount of money that has to be paid to help people be adequately represented in court. As the “Private Bar Report,” mentions in a little over 40% of appointments, the state will contract with private public defenders instead of using its own OPD staff. Not a big deal on its own, but the problem results from the fact that the state didn’t set aside enough funds for the caseload.

Costs for Private Bar defenders, FY 2016
Budgeted $22,887,400
Actual costs $27,020,146
DIFFERENCE $4,136,746

All of the $27 million in claims from last fiscal year were paid, because the Private Bar appropriations are biennial, meaning it has a combined 2-year budget. But that also means that overspending in year 1 means that there are fewer funds available for year 2. And given that the report says the Office of the Public Defender “is currently paying (and expects to continue paying) over $1.75 million per month through the end of the biennium,” there’s a looming shortfall.

Costs for Private Bar defenders, FY 2017
Remaining Funds $17,077,654
Projected costs at $1.75 mil per month $21,000,000
SHORTFALL $3,922,356

That’s not good in itself, but theoretically it could be covered by reducing other sources within the Public Defender’s Office. Problem is that the Public Defender’s Office is also running low on funds from the large number of cases they handle. That same report shows that the staff expenses for FY 2016 went slightly over the $57.8 million set aside for representation at trials and appeals, and the OPD lawyers are expected to take on slightly more cases in the next year, while somehow only increasing expenses by less than 0.3% (well below the rate of inflation).

So it seems likely that at least $4 million is going to have to be found in the next 6 months to pay for these added caseloads, or some kind of rights-limiting “savings” are going to have to be found. And given the revenue picture in this Fiscal Year, it may be difficult to find $4 million to send over to take care of this.

Another place that seems to be in need of added money and/or changes in law is the Dry Cleaning Environmental Response Program (or DERP). The Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Council (yes, there is such a thing) sent a report to the Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday laying out their situation and their difficulties, and it involves issues in being able to clean up contamination from dry cleaning operations.
The 5-year Program Evaluation addresses current and future funding of the program. Over the last 17 years, the Fund has provided more than $20 million to begin investigation and cleanup at 230 dry cleaner facilities. More than 100 of those facilities have completed cleanup and are now closed.

Currently, DERP is experiencing a revenue shortfall due to the contraction of the dry cleaning industry. Revenues no longer cover cleanup expenses and there is a backlog of more than three years to pay current claims. This backlog is expected to worsen in the future.
In fact, the Dry Cleaners’ Council says that the number of licensed dry cleaners in Wisconsin have declined by 55% since DERP began in 1999, with “societal changes in personal lifestyle, professional work attire, and clothing perferences,” combining with a slower economy to lessen the need for these services. As a result, revenues for the DERP went down from $1.36 million in Fiscal Year 2000 to $732,161 in FY 2016, but the needs to pay dry cleaners for the work they’ve done hasn’t gone away.

So in 2009, the State Legislature allowed the DNR’s Environmental Improvement Fund to loan up to $6.2 million to the DERP to stabilize it. Those funds were loaned out between 2010 and 2014, and allowed for over $9 million of reimbursements to dry cleaners in those years. But annual revenues to the DERP fund have fallen by 30% since 2009 because of the “societal changes” mentioned above, and the backlog of payments has gotten to the point that 20% of the remaining 130 sites haven’t even started work on clean up.

The DERP Fund is supposed to go through 2032, but the Dry Cleaning Council says they’ll need to come up with more money to get all of the cleanup finished in the next 16 years.
…The revenues to the Fund are projected to be $600,000 per year to pay on claims and $300,000 per year to administer DERP. An estimated $1.1 million per year is needed to cleanup contaimination on the 130 open sites. At this rate, by the June 30, 2032 sunset date, DERP will owe $12.6 million in reimbursements to dry cleaner owner/operators.

In addition to the projected shortfall in revenue to pay reimbursement claims, DERP will also owe money to [the Environmental Improvement Fund]. The Memorandum of Agreement between DOA and DNR requires that the $6.2 million plus accrued interest be repaid to EIF by the DERP sunset date. Based on current projections, the Fund will be unable to pay the loan.
Put the $12.6 million together with $6.2 million loan, then add the interest, and the total tab will likely exceed $20 million by 2032.

The Dry Cleaning Council floats options such as making extra effort to make sure all cleaners are paying their license fees (and not allowing them to get materials if they aren’t) and having the Legislature write off the loan. But it also seems likely that there will need to be some kind of bailout required to continue to clean up these facilities, and it’ll probably be discussed in this next Legislative session.

Combine these two deficits with other expense headaches, growing revenue shortfalls, and pressure to stop using extra money from the State’s Veterans Homes to plug budget holes, to actually improve the unacceptable conditions the vets are dealing with, and you can see where the state’s budget crunch is worse than the topline numbers suggest.

These problems have lurked for years, with action deferred to give away tax cuts and make Walker's and WisGOP's numbers add up in previous years, and now some of the reckoning will be part of this next budget.

Just in time for Christmas- another budget Ho-Ho-Hole!

With it being Friday and the start of a holiday weekend looming, those of us who follow the news know to keep our eyes peeled for info to get dumped that those in power don't want to have people now about. And sure enough, Governor Walker's Administration sent out the November revenue figures for Wisconsin late this afternoon. And they did suck.

Wisconsin General Fund tax revenues, Nov 2016 vs. Nov 2015
Income taxes- DOWN 3.2%
Sales taxes- UP 1.1%
Corporate taxes- DOWN 216.7% (!)
Excise taxes UP 4.0%
Other taxes DOWN 0.6%

These are horrible numbers overall, and the corporate ones are shocking. Wisconsin actually paid more in corporate tax refunds that they collected from corporations in November. I understand that most corporations pay taxes quarterly, but there is still no excuse for the state to actually lose money in corporate taxes in any month. And it's not like those corporations were creating jobs, as the state lost 5,200 private sector jobs last month.

November's loss of tax revenue adds to the significant revenue shortfall we were projecting last month. Remember that the state needs revenues to grow 3.7% just to meet the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's already-reduced projections, and then Walker's Department of Administration came out last month and projected that our tax revenues would fall $215.5 million short of that.

Now add in this brutal report, and we're on track to lose fall even farther behind.

Wisconsin revenues, FY 2017 pace vs DOA projections
Income taxes DOWN $6.8 million
Sales taxes DOWN $54.8 million
Corporate taxes DOWN $137.1 million
Excise taxes UP $3.1 million
Other taxes EVEN

In addition, the DOA said last month that other General Fund revenues would fall short of LFB estimates by $28.5 million, which would make the total miss nearly $440 million for this fiscal year. Also, the DOA said the state had only $104.8 million of breathing room left in the budget, so the $195.6 million tax shortfall be a situation that would trigger a budget repair bill, or yet another skipping of a debt payment, which we've seen in each of the last 2 years.

If these revenues stay this short, it also puts the state even further behind the 8-ball for this upcoming budget, one where we are already $588 million short in General Fund, $880 million short in the Transportation Fund, and likely with millions in other needs that are going to have to be addressed (like paying for weather disasters, bailing out the broke Local Government Property Fund, and not being able to raid the Veterans Trust Fund).

You can bet the Walker folks are praying for a Christmas (shopping) miracle at this point, because that seems like the only way that we will see enough revenues in the near future that would prevent serious budget deficit from opening up when the LFB updates its revenue figures next month. And if that happens, it will prove all of Walker's sweater-wearing "we'll increase education funding" happy talk to be an even emptier pile of BS than it usually is.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Republicans do not work in good faith- are WisDems finally getting it?

At least on one issue, it’s nice to see some left-leaning political folks in this state make statements that seem to finally recognize the type of slime that they are dealing with from the other side. And that today’s Republicans can’t be trusted with any procedure that they might abuse to further their power and interests. I generated both of these thoughts based on this week’s filings in the Wisconsin gerrymandering lawsuit, and the resulting reactions.

To review, last month a federal court panel said WisGOP illegally gerrymandered State Assembly (and by proxy, State Senate) districts, and required both the pro-Dem plaintiffs and the WisGOP defendants (aka Brad Schimel’s Wisconsin Department of “Justice”) to file briefs saying how they would like to see the state’s district map re-drawn. And I know this will shock you, but Wisconsin’s hack of an Attorney General wants to give the GOP-run Legislature another chance to re-rig draw the maps.
Schimel is asking the court to keep the map in place for now and wait until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a ruling on the issue. If it decides the map needs to be replaced, it should direct the Legislature redraw it to comply with its ruling, according to his brief.

"The Legislature, the Court, and the parties should not expend resources drawing and debating a plan that is merely a placeholder until the Supreme Court rules on the issue," Schimel wrote.

In their brief, the plaintiffs argue that the judges' November ruling means that the process for creating new maps should begin immediately and the current map should be eliminated…

In one proposal, the plaintiffs suggest an April 1, 2017, deadline for the Legislature to create and approve a new map, and an October 1, 2017, deadline for the court to approve or reject what the Legislature passes and create an alternative.

That proposal "leaves ample time for Wisconsin’s elected branches to enact a remedial plan: 130 days from the Court’s liability ruling, or nearly 50 percent longer than it took for the Current Plan to be designed and passed in 2011," the plaintiffs wrote.
This whole “trust us” routine by the Republicans mirrors the way they slow-walked remedies to their illegal voter ID scheme, culminating in little being done to prevent Wisconsinites from being disenfranchised before November’s elections. That along with other voter suppression methods in Dem-leaning cities played a key role in allowing Donald Trump and Ron Johnson to slip by in the statewide elections, so “Mission Accomplished” in WisGOP world.

And if you’ve been paying attention to this week’s disgrace in North Carolina, it shows how foolish Democrats and judges end up looking when they trust Republicans to “do the right thing.”
The special session was set in motion this week when Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper successfully lobbied the Charlotte City Council to gut a local nondiscrimination ordinance that Republicans had blamed for necessitating the statewide law.

For months, Republicans had said if Charlotte repealed its ordinance, the legislature would consider repealing HB2.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory called a special session Wednesday, but the deal fell apart when the GOP added a six-month moratorium on cities passing nondiscrimination ordinances for LGBT people. That caused Democrats to back away, calling it only a partial repeal.

The sticking point was a measure in the Senate that would have barred from local governments from passing ordinances that expanded non-discrimination protections until next summer.
To review, the City of Charlotte gets rid of their non-discrimination ordinance, expecting the gerrymandered NC GOP Legislature to then repeal the anti-LGBT statewide bill, then the NCGOP plays games and keeps the anti-gay law in place anyway! The scum that makes up the ALEC whores in the NC GOP were probably high-fiving in the back rooms and snickering “Got those stupid Dems again!”

That act in North Carolina and the WisGOP’s past history in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan should tell you never to trust a GOP to do anything honorable until they actually act by force of legislation or law. And to my pleasant surprise, both of Wisconsin’s Dem leaders in the Legislature came out today saying the same thing, at least when it came to fixing the illegal gerrymandering.

First off was Senate Dem leader Jen Shilling.
“The court already determined that Republican politicians broke the law when they rigged elections in their favor. It’s unbelievable that Attorney General Schimel wants to rely on that same broken system that Republicans abused rather than standing up for Wisconsin citizens and their constitutional rights.

“Democrats believe every voter deserves to have their voice heard. It’s time we reform our broken redistricting process to take politics out of the equation, empower citizens and create more competitive district maps.”
And soon after, Assembly Dem Leader Peter Barca finally got out of his “nice guy” crouch and called out the GOP’s scumminess.
“Wisconsin Republicans passed a map that has been called one of the worst examples of partisan gerrymandering in modern history. The federal court confirmed that this political power grab was so egregious that it violated the U.S. Constitution.

“Our government is predicated on the right of voters to choose their elected leaders. The court found Republicans went out of their way to draw a blatantly partisan map and undermine the representational rights of many state voters.

How can these same politicians be trusted to create a legal map now? “Action should be taken as soon as possible to begin the process of developing constitutional district maps so that voters can choose their political leaders and not have politicians choose their voters.”
There you go! Now get that message over to a larger audience outstate (HINT: Billboards, letters to local newspapers and radio ads), and STICK WITH IT, and I might start to think the Dem leaders in this state are finally beginning to get a clue as to how to properly respond to this GOP garbage.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hey WisGOPs- wanna stop worrying about "The Problem of Whiteness"? Then FREE BUCKY

You may have heard about a recent kerfuffle involving my alma mater and a certain course that’s being offered next semester. I imagine it’s playing big on hate radio (including some Badger sports affiliates) and the right-wing Bubble World, complete with complaints about “that lib’rul indoctrination mill at Madison.”

But the difference is that in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, today’s Wisconsin GOP feels emboldened to use state tax dollars as a way to censor what is being taught at UW schools.
A Republican lawmaker called for UW-Madison to cancel a planned course on racism and fire its professor for posting tweets the legislator said condoned violence against police officers, warning Tuesday that the class could affect the university’s funding in the next state budget.

State Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said he believes the course in the university’s African Cultural Studies department called “The Problem of Whiteness” is inappropriate and a waste of money. Murphy joined Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, in saying that how the university handles the controversy over the spring 2017 course could have ramifications for its request for new state funding in the 2017-19 budget….

Murphy said [Damon] Sajnani should be fired for the “vile” tweets.

“If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison,” Murphy said.

Sajnani, an assistant professor in his first year at UW-Madison, declined an interview request Tuesday, citing “the preponderance of white supremacist backlash against myself and the UW community.”
Umm, excuse me Rep. Murphy. I’m a taxpayer who pays more taxes because my UW-Madison education helped me to get a higher salary, and you bet your ass I stand behind the school (and I’m so sick of that framing, where righties think that white guys in private sector jobs are the only ones who pay taxes and/or own homes). And to their credit, both UW-Madison Administration and the UW-Madison chapter of the American Association of University Professors said they had Sajnani's back, and warned against legislators trying to bully UW professors on the content of their classes.

But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, Rep. Murphy. Maybe the concept of highly educated people working hard, paying taxes and having the existing paradigm questioned confuses SOMEONE WHO LACKS A 4-YEAR COLLEGE DEGREE LIKE YOURSELF. Your background is being a “big fish, small ponder”, yucking it up with other old white guys at the Greenville Lions Club, so deep thoughts on race in our society probably doesn't seep in much back in G'ville, other than to complain about "those people in the cities."

I have a second thought on the “Problem of Whiteness” course faux-tro-versy. Given how a whole lot of white guys have reacted to the economic and social changes of the 21st Century, and have lashed out by supporting race-baiting regressives like Donald Trump and Scott Walker who say they’ll “make America/Wisconsin great again,” isn’t it worthy to have a course that looks into why so many of these white guys feel entitled to a better position in life? I know GOPs aren’t too keen on learning from history, but believe me, it has a value, and maybe it can help all of us understand why the last 20-30 years have been so emotionally damaging for these white guys. Maybe GOPs don't want people to find that out, so they can keep driving up resentment with the "divide and conquer" game while they keep on robbing those same working-class people with their economic policies.

It's noteworthy that while Murphy and nASS are whining about what’s going on in Madison, Wisconsin Public Radio was reporting that another UW school has needed bailouts from the rest of the UW System in recent years just to stay open, and now won’t be able to get that help going forward.
The University of Wisconsin System provided roughly $3 million over the course of three fiscal years to the University of Wisconsin-Superior to offset budget cuts, tuition freezes and fewer students, but that assistance ended this year.

UW-Superior had to save $2 million by June this year as a condition of UW System’s conditional support. The university was facing a $4.5 million shortfall. Earlier this year, UW-Superior Chancellor Renee Wachter said the university cut the deficit by more than half to roughly $2 million. But, she said they’re hopeful they won’t have to make further cuts.

"UW System and President (Ray) Cross and his team have been very supportive of the campus and have indicated that they’ll continue to be supportive," Wachter said. "A lot, of course, always depends on ... what happens with the biennial budget. Right now, nobody really knows. We’d like to be optimistic and hope for the best, but we won’t know obviously for several months."
And it’s the smaller UW System schools like Superior that have the biggest need for state taxpayer support, because of their lower donor base and because of the lack of research grants and other outside sources of funding. The article notes that Superior finally had an enrollment increase for this year after 6 straight years of declines, but given the shrinking population of the area and the fact that students could attend a better-funded University of Minnesota-Duluth nearby, counting on rising enrollment at UWS shouldn’t be expected as a solution for their funding woes.

What dimwits like Sen. nASS and Rep. Murphy need to understand is that if they cut funding to the UW System to get even with “those Madison liberals”, UW-Madison won’t be the institution that feels the most pain. It will be lower-enrollment campuses like Superior, Green Bay, River Falls and Parkside, which handle a large amount of commuter students and in many cases are the only public 4-year campus in a 40-mile radius (or more, in the case of Superior).

Which goes back to my solution for the UW System that should be the best of both worlds- FREE BUCKY BY SPINNING OFF MADISON FROM THE REST OF THE SYSTEM. Madison has the donors, the research, the large number of prospective applicants, and the self-supporting operations to “go it alone”. This cuts the cord entirely, allows the other UW Institutions to be better funded by shifting much of Madison’s state money to them, and then big-mouths like Rep. Murphy and Sen. nASS don’t need to worry about what UW-Madison is teaching, because taxpayers aren’t supporting it anyway.

I’d much prefer this solution than to see UW-Superior or River Falls or UWGB have to close because it becomes an inefficient operation due to continual cuts to funding and quality. Plus, that’s a lot of jobs to lose in certain parts of the state, and I don’t think that’s something anyone wants to see. So again, let’s use this faux-tro-versy about “The Problem of Whiteness” as the final straw, and FREE BUCKY in the 2017-19 budget.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A rant on why so many of us feel so lousy these days

It's hard to have an IQ over 80 and anything resembling a sense of decency, and not feel that there is a dark cloud hanging over this state and this country these days. The election of Trump showed just how many weak-minded, uncaring Wisconsinites we have, and that independent facts don't seem to matter to a large number of people. And the steamroller of fascism and the selling out of the American people that the Republicans are gearing up to unleash is far beyond the "typical change of power" attitude that I see all over the media. There's an MSNBC promo that sums up the arrogance and cluelessness of the Acela corridor media, which treats this as some kind of reality TV show, and "let's figure this out."

NO, MSNBC, NO! Tens of millions of people are going to see their rights and abilities to choose their own destiny to go away, and that is not what the vast majority of Americans voted for. Paul Ryan's plans to privatize Social Security and Trump appointing people to break government agencies and make them dysfunctional is not what people voted for. And then it trickles down to the state level, where our pathetic governor is now shooting his mouth off about a new Constitutional convention, an idea WHICH VIRTUALLY NO ONE IN WISCONSIN VOTED FOR THIS NOVEMBER. Oh, and lifetime politician and deficit-grower Scott Walker calling for a balanced budget amendment and term limits? That's a nice extra touch.

This garbage is unchallenged by "legitimate" Wisconsin media and gets catapulted by the paid liars on AM radio and the Internet who allow this Bubble of Bullshit among 25% of the population to grow higher and higher. The tributes that have been sent from Governor Dropout and Paul Ryan and other right-wingers to Charlie Sykes adds to my despair, because it reveals how intertwined the WisGOP machine and right-wing media is in Wisconsin- who knows where one ends and the other begins?- and how one-sided the flow of political information has become in this state. It is telling that right-wing hack Brian Fraley wrote a column today on "Wisconsin Talk Radio After Sykes" that floats the typical right-wing lie that "the marketplace" has determined right-wing talk should dominate the AM dials (Call me when Packer/Brewer flagship WTMJ or Clear Channel's WISN ever puts a left-wing show on to test that hypothesis), but also shows just how important AM radio GOP-perganda is to Wisconsin Republicans' agenda, both in floating new ideas without having their politicians be the ones talking about it, and in tricking the weak-minded fuckheads who listen to that crap.
What makes conservative talk work, and why is it so impactful in Wisconsin? It starts with provocative and insightful hosts who can speak their GOP-provided talking points with conviction do their homework and are willing to engage the audience. Lawmakers and opinion leaders help boost these shows by appearing on them and providing the hosts with news leaks and their own insight, because they recognize the importance of their audiences (especially their gullibility and racist leanings) . Finally, audience engagement is key. Amen corner shows are boring and only serve to feed the ego of a host. When callers can bring their own perspective and engage the host in an honest-to-goodness dialogue and debate, these shows are at their entertaining and informative best (if you live in a Bubble of Bullshit or are a racist moron). The intimacy of radio provides a great opportunity to establish a relationship with the suckers audience.
By the way, Charlie-tan's vomit-inducing act where he says "I don't get why right-wingers live in an alt-reality" is another reason for my disgust. Why are right-wingers like Sykes and Walker never held accountable for their constant lies and cynicism, and why aren't they made to own the wreck of today's Wisconsin that they have caused?

The lack of forceful pushback from most Democrats adds to this, from President Obama's "cut it out" act when it comes to Putin's interference in our elections, down to ineffectual state Dem "leaders" like Peter Barca, who seems to think a few words and policy statements will grab the average person's attention. I can't believe these guys don't seem to understand that THESE ARE NOT NORMAL TIMES, and Republicans have not and will not played by the rules of fairness and law. So why are we pretending that "the system will work itself out" and using convention methods? THAT IS NOT SUCCEEDING THESE DAYS. Sometimes you need to understand that the circumstances and rules have changed, and sometimes you need to get your hands dirty and say and do some not-so-pretty things if you're ever going to get things back to lawfulness and respectability. And you need to invade the Bubble of Bullshit that exists in most of lower-info/right-wing Wisconsin- press releases aren't something they're going to see or pay attention to.

I admit I am part of this problem. I have a nice job and a nice existence, and I have a hard time trying to figure out a proper response to all the madness. Should I ditch work and march to the Capitol and maybe break the law to make GOPs feel real pain for the damage they are doing (and maybe that pain has to be literal, if that's what it takes to get through to those psychopaths)? Doesn't seem like that would accomplish much, and the vermin infecting the Capitol aren't really worth throwing my life away for. In addition, blowing up my frustration by screaming at right-wing trolls on this forum or other sites just gives those dead-end losers the attention they need (though I admit it can be fun to make them a laughingstock in front of the other readers).

But I also believe in the Edmund Burke statement of "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." To stand by as my state and this country are FUBARed and thrown down the drain isn't something I can accept either. The GOPs want us to be demoralized and shocked and to throw our hands up and let them get away with their plunder. And I'll be damned if I give those scumbags the reaction they want.

I do have a sort of idealism where I believe that there can be a serious reversal where the average dope realizes that corporate slime and GOP-puppet politicians are the ones who have been wrecking this state and this country, and there is a mass uprising that tosses all of them out and into the dustbin of history. However, 6 years of waiting for that moment has grown me past the point of patience, especially with the backstop of the Federal Government going away with Orange Mussolini and his Band of Vandals.

I've been trying to be wise with my spending and only giving to eateries and businesses that are socially worthy of my money, which clears my conscience some, but it doesn't seem to stop the greed of the John Menard types, and far too many people are willing to nod their heads and go on with things as long as they aren't touched by the destruction. I don't want to be preachy and want to enjoy life, so I'm not inclined to get too heavy into convincing others to change their ways and sacrifice for the common good. But I'm also not enjoying a lot of what I see outside of my own personal situation, and the moral emptiness, limited vision, and greed that far too many of my fellow white men have chosen to impose on the rest of America makes me ill.

I really don't know what the proper response to all of this is, and I imagine many of you feel the same. I think a lot of the pit in my stomach that exists today is because I fear that the legal, proper ways of appealing to reason and common decency don't go far enough in 2016-17, and that some really bad things are going to have to be done- either by the good guys or the bad guys (or both). But we need to figure it out fast, because as we've seen in Wisconsin, the GOPs don't really care about doing things the right way- they just want to grab power and be seen as "active reformers", regardless of how anti-democratic, reckless and damaging those acts may be. And we need to be out ahead of it and continually sending the message to bystanders that THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE, THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE, AND WE WILL NOT BE A PART OF IT.

Thanks for letting me rant. I guess this outpouring clears some of the gloom that clouds me, at least in the short term. But there's a lot of sunlight that needs to come out to make me feel warmer and calmer.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Local sales taxes up in big cities, but varies widely Up North

With the calendar year ending, that also means the end of the fiscal year for Wisconsin's local governments. With that in mind, I was thinking about one of those governments' revenue sources that can double as an indicator of the economy in a certain area- local sales tax revenues.

Most (although not all) Wisconsin counties have a 0.5% sales tax to supplement property taxes and state shared aids/revenues as the most common sources to fund their operations. And therefore, a bump in sales taxes can avoid an increase in property taxes, or it can cushion the blow from lower aids from the state. Likewise, a drop in sales tax revenues require other taxes to pick up the slack, or they require service cuts and deferred maintenance on things such as roads.

With that in mind, I took a look at the state's listing of county sales tax revenues. These funds are distributed from the state with a two-month lag (October's taxes are sent out in December, for example), to make sure the figures are accurate for the time period listed. It appears that the December distributions to counties haven't been posted yet, so I decided to look at the January-November totals from 2016, and compare it for the first 11 months of 2014 and 2015 to get an accurate picture.

Overall, county sales tax distributions looked good through November- they were up $10.3 million (3.3%) compared to 2015 and nearly $18 million compared to 2014 (5.9%). And perhaps not surprisingly, the largest gainers in county sales taxes (and by proxy, increases in state sales taxes) were the state's two largest (and most Democratic) counties. Two others in the top 5 were counties in South Central Wisconsin that border Illinois, who has a higher sales tax than Wisconsin.

Largest gains in county sales tax revs, 2015 vs 2016
Milwaukee Co. $2,301,925
Dane County $1,958,516
Rock County $856,126
Marathon Co. $665,300
Walworth Co. $521,465

Interestingly, four of the largest GOP-voting counties for 2016 in Wisconsin (Waukesha, Winnebago, Outagamie and Brown) are among the 10 who don't have a sales tax in 2016. I'm not sure what that signifies or why these areas feel they can make it without a need for a sales tax, but they'd better hope sprawl continues to allow them to add to their property tax and population base.

But I digress. What's also noteworthy is that there has been a wide variance among counties in their changes in sales tax revenue in recent years. Compared to 2014, 1/6 of Wisconsin's 72 counties have seen double-digit increases, and the top 5 are in the northeastern quarter of the state.

I'll note that most of the northern Wisconsin counties on this list have had stagnant job growth at best over the last 2 years, so it's a good bet much of this is tourist/retiree spending.

On the flip side, there are parts of Wisconsin that have seen drops in the amount of local sales taxes collected, indicating tough times for both the economy and local tourism. Many of these are located in the western half of the state, and the biggest drops have been in counties that once were the home of large-scale manufacturing, but has now fallen on hard times with declining populations.

Wood County's drop in sales tax revenue is especially shocking, down by more than $1.28 million compared to 2014, helping explain a 6.8% increase in the Wood County property tax rate on this year's bills. Even worse, neighboring Portage County has seen its sales taxes rise by 13.3% over the last 2 years.

I also wonder what effect the floods of this Summer have had on Douglas, Ashland, Jackson and Buffalo Counties, as all 4 of those counties had increases in sales tax revenue in 2015, but have dropped below their 2014 AND 2015 levels for this year. Douglas County has especially suffered so far, with a loss of over $500,000 in sales taxes compared to last year. Bayfield County also nearly made this last chart, with their sales taxes being down more than 3% this year, and only up 0.85% compared to 2014. This seems to indicate that getting state and federal aid to these areas to rebuild the damaged infrastructure from the storms is all the more vital, and may not be able to wait through this year's budget deliberations.

Lastly, for those of you who are inclined to direct your tourism dollars to places based on who they vote for, I'll note that the northern counties which have seen the largest increases in county sales taxes have slanted hard toward the Republicans who don't seem to care much about protecting the beautiful scenery or improving the rural schools of that part of the state - the anti-environment and school voucher-supported Tom Tiffany is the State Senator for many of those counties. So far that attitude of voting against hasn't bitten those places in the ass when it comes to getting the tourism spending that allows it to thrive, and I wonder if in the Trump rera, some start to draw that connection....or force those places to take a hit for backing such regressive idiocy.

As for the places that are suffering the losses in sales tax revenue, I'll note that Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas Counties all voted for Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold, while Jackson and Buffalo Counties were among the "Obama/Trump" counties in the state. Wood County went for Trump by more than 19% over Clinton, and Rusk County voted more than 2-to-1 for Drumpf over Hillary. If you're making your 2017 plans around this time, I suppose that might be a consideration.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Yes, the Walker jobs gap really is well over 100,000

I saw a recent post from Political Heat's Chris Walker which discussed the most recent Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages. That QCEW report came out about 10 days ago, and Chris noted the low figures for Wisconsin under Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP in comparison to the rest of the country.
Since 2011, Wisconsin has grown private sector jobs at a rate of 6.99 percent. That’s an average rate of growth of about 1.4 percent per year.

That sounds pretty decent, but don’t celebrate quite yet: the U.S. rate of private sector jobs growth during that same timeframe was about 9.39 percent, or about 1.88 percent per year. In other words, the rest of the nation has, on average, created jobs at a rate that’s 34 percent faster than Wisconsin.

If we had created jobs at the national average rate, Wisconsin would have created more than 55,000 additional jobs over the past five years. But we didn’t create jobs at the national rate -- and have instead seen 20 consecutive quarters of below-average jobs growth in the state since Walker’s first budget took effect.
That's not good, but it also is very different from what I've had for a "Walker jobs gap", which uses a slightly different metric (monthly jobs reports vs. QCEW), but shouldn't be that far off. My estimate of the Walker jobs gap in the private sector was around 74,000 from June 2011 to June 2016, and is 111,000 if you back to the start of Walker/WisGOP's Reign of Error and take it forward to today.

In addition, because I'm a geek who looks at these numbers far too much for normal sanity, Chris Walker's estimates of 9.39% US private sector job growth for the last 5 years seemed low to me, given that I know the US has averaged well above 2% job growth a year in the private sector in recent years. But because I'm not a shriveldicked Republican, I also wasn't going to assume what I had figured was automatically correct.

And so I dug into the press release Chris included in his post, and I figured out the disparity. When you look at that June 2011 report and then compare it to the most recent QCEW that ended in June 2016, you'll see the following figure.

Total jobs US, June 2011-June 2016
June 2011 130,469,900
June 2016 142.717,200
CHANGE +12,247,300 (+9.39%)

The problem is that it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. The 6.99% increase in Wisconsin that Chris Walker references is PRIVATE SECTOR jobs, not total jobs, so we need to make dual comparisons to figure out what the true Walker jobs gap is from June 2011 to June 2016- one for total jobs, and one for private sector jobs. This means a starting point of

June 2011-June 2016 QCEW stats
June 2011-June 2016 US total jobs +9.39%
June 2011-June 2016 Wis total jobs +5.79%

June 2011-June 2016 US private jobs +12.34%
June 2011-June 2016 Wis private jobs +6.99%

June 2011-June 2016 Wis total job change +156,958
June 2011-June 2016 Wis total job change at 9.39% +254,591
June 2011-June 2016 Walker total jobs gap +97,633

June 2011-June 2016 Wis private job change +152,406
June 2011-June 2016 Wis private job change at 12.34% +260,860
June 2011-June 2016 Walker private jobs gap +108,454

So yes, Walker/WisGOP policies have cost us a lot more than 55,000 jobs between June 2011 and June 2016- they've actually cost us nearly twice as much as that. In fact, we'd be over Scott Walker's promise of 250,000 jobs if we had merely kept up with the rest of the country. And since those QCEW figures don't account for the January-June 2011 or June-November 2016 time periods, 111,000 is a plausible figure for the overall private sector Walker jobs gap. In fact, it'll likely look worse as we go into the coming months and the monthly figures are benchmarked to the lower QCEW growth figures.

Yes, we have fallen FAR behind in Wisconsin since 2011. And yet dimwitted voters decided to return the same GOP legislators to power this November despite this record of failure. You have one last chance in 2018 to stop this madness, both at the Governor and Legislative level (with the potential of new, fairer districts allowing for more change in the Legislature). C'mon Wisconsin, don't you believe we should be doing better than this crap?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rising inflation and GOP wage suppression = bad combination

In addition to the monthly state jobs report, there was another bit of economic data that came out last week that caught my eye. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics said that inflation in the US is on its way up, largely due to the rising home and rent prices, and gas prices bouncing off their previously-low levels.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in November on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported [Thursday]. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 1.7 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The shelter and gasoline indexes continued to rise in November, and were again the main reasons for the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The shelter index advanced 0.3 percent in November, while the gasoline index increased 2.7 percent.
That 1.7% annual increase doesn't sound like much, but it's the largest 12-month jump in inflation in over 2 years. Even worse, prices have gone up 1.1% over the last 4 months, in contrast to actual declines in inflation last winter, so that annual figure is likely to climb well over 2% in the next few months.

In addition, while the rise in inflation is going on, workers' wages aren't getting the same bump. Another report released by the BLS on Thursday showed that workers actually fell behind in two ways in November.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees decreased 0.4 percent from October to November, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This result stems from a 0.1 percent decrease in average hourly earnings being more than offset by a 0.2-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

Real average weekly earnings decreased 0.3 percent over the month due to the decrease in real average hourly earnings combined with no change in the average workweek.
Some of the decline in average hourly earnings was a logical mini-correction from the 0.4% increase for October. But some of that October increase was also eaten up by inflation last month, and if you look at the year-long trend, you'll see that prices have gone up compared to this time last year, but the wage increases are no different.

Average hourly earnings, 12-month change
Nov 2015 +2.4%
Nov 2016 +2.5%

Average weekly earnings, 12-month change
Nov 2015 +2.1%
Nov 2016 +2.2%

Real hourly earnings, 12-month change
Nov 2015 +1.9%
Nov 2016 +0.8%

Real weekly earnings, 12-month change
Nov 2015 +1.7%
Nov 2016 +0.5%

I don't see a lot of indications that the trend of limited wage increases and rising prices will reverse soon, especially in Wisconsin. Gasoline prices have continued to climb in December (I paid $2.09 this morning) and with oil futures jumping near 20% in the last month, that won't go down. But WMC and their WisGOP puppets are trying to suppress wages further, and Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos openly promoted this suppression yesterday in a press release bragging about the GOP Legislature's "accomplishments".
The first of 16 Assembly GOP wins is being released today. The implementation of prevailing wage is the first accomplishment highlighted. This reform that eliminates a set wage for local government construction projects officially goes into place on January 1, 2017.

“As one of the leaders who helped shepherd through the reform, more taxpayer dollars can be saved by eliminating the prevailing wage in state projects,” said Speaker Vos. “A full prevailing wage repeal should be considered as part of a comprehensive transportation funding package.”
So it seems more likely that instead of "making America great again" for workers, the next 2 years under Trump and WisGOP control are more likely to make things worse. Now combine the mediocre wages with the recent spike in interest rates lead to increased mortgage payments and a popping of the current mini-bubble in housing, and you've got a recipe for the middle class to fall further behind the richest Americans, with inequality crippling the economy even more.

Which brings me to ask a simple question for many of you blue-collar white Wisconsinites. How's that "voting Republican" solution going to work for you when it comes to paying your (increasingly more expensive) bills?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Did lagging Midwest job growth elect design?

Today featured the release of the state-by-state November jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it gives further evidence toward a theory I had about the November election. When you look at Wisconsin and the rest of the Rust Belt/Upper Midwest, you can see where "economic anxiety" could exist, and lead a previously Dem-leaning state to flip towards Donald Trump.

Remember that the five of the six Trump states that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 are states that have Big Ten schools in them. And with the exception of Michigan, if you compare their job creation record to how the rest of the country had been doing in the last year in comparison to those Obama-to-Trump states, you'll see that these places were badly lagging the rest of the US.

Private sector job growth, Nov 2015-Nov 2016
Mich +2.04%
U.S. +1.68%
Wis. +1.02%
Iowa +0.87%
Penn +0.83%
Ohio +0.82%

And even Michigan's strong numbers come with a "but", as they lost 8,300 private sector jobs in November. So while the nationwide numbers would indicate that the economy was still relatively going strong, those swingy states weren't doing as well (especially outside of big cities), and Trump was able to exploit those fears. That's because if you look at the 2 houses of the Legislature and the Governors' seats in those 5 Obama-to-Trump states, Republicans run 13 of those 15 institutions, and have at least 2 out of 3 in all of them. In fact, Republicans have pretty much run things in all of those states since the 2010 elections, and you can see things aren't really working out.

UW Professor Menzie Chinn mentioned another GOP-run economic failure- Kansas, who has faced chronic budget deficits since cutting taxes 4 years ago, and has lost 4,500 jobs over the last 12 months, while previously Dem-governed Missouri has gained 53,400. This identifies the opportunities for Dems, if the party ever grows a pair (yes, this is a big IF). Because the "economically anxious" members of the Midwestern Trump states should get their attention drawn to the fact that more progressive places like Minnesota (+1.33% private sector job growth last 12 months), the Pacific Coast (California, Washington and Oregon all have job growth of 2.3% or above), and Massachusetts (2.9% unemployment). All those states have Dem governors and/or Legislatures, and are kicking ass, and you'd think Dems might want to point these facts out, but somehow they don't seem too willing to do so, which probably is why they stay in the minority in far too many other states.

Here's more information that Wisconsin Dems could point out. With another 5,200 private sector jobs lost in November, the Walker jobs gap continues to grow. Now it's near 111,000 private sector jobs, and 105,500 overall.

Honestly, I wonder if failed GOP economic policies at the state level were done with part of the intent being to anger the average dope in those states into wanting "change" away from the Obama years.

Actually, I don't wonder all that much. I think that in Wisconsin and other ALEC-owned states in the purple Midwest, stagnating the 2015 and 2016 economy in the face of a nationwide expansion was the intelligence of ALEC's design. And now they've got the opportunity to take that regressive mentality nationwide.