Wednesday, March 30, 2016

February reveneues collapse, Wisconsin budget even more on the edge

I'd been harping on the fact that Wisconsin's February revenue numbers had been delayed, and I passed it off to it being Easter Week.

Well, the revenue numbers were slipped out late Monday, and I didn't see them until this evening. And yes, February can be a bit weird because it's the start of tax filing season, and a lot of refunds are given out in the early part of the filing season (you may have been one of them). But even with that caveat, there's no way these numbers aren't alarming.

Feb 2016 Wis tax revenues vs Feb 2015
Income tax -39.1% (-$88.6 mil)
Sales tax +2.7% (+$9.7 mil)
Corporate tax -36.3% (-$6.7 mil)
Excise tax -13.9% (-$6.5 mil)
Other +27.2% (+$1.0 mil)
TOTAL -14.0% (-$91.2 mil)

A $91 million decrease month-over-month is awful enough. But even the sales tax figure is bad, because that tepid 2.7% increase isn't a sign of economic growth, but is only an increase because of the extra Leap Day! In fact, on a per-day basis, sales tax also went down last month.

The drop in income tax also leaves the state's coffers behind the 8 ball, because the LFB's already-reduced 2016 revenue figures count on an increase in income tax of more than 6.6%, but we only have a year-over-year increase of 4.25% at this point. A 2.35% miss in income tax would equal a $183.5 million shortfall, and sales tax is also running below the 3.2% increase that the LFB estimated, at a 2.7% year-over-year increase.

Things were already tight in this state budget, with only $70 million in breathing room before the last month of the legislative session. And February's bad numbers make it a whole lot tighter. If the tax-season months of March and April don't have a bounce-back and stay below trend, it will be likely that the 2016-17 fiscal year budget will have to be repaired...even with $726 million in unspecified lapses built into that budget.

Uh oh, looks like the Donald has another bit of ammo to show that Scott Walker is screwing up in Wisconsin. Well, Trump would be talking about that, if he hadn't self-destructed and flailed about on the abortion issue in Green Bay today. But even after the presidential candidates leave Wisconsin next month, our budget mess is going to continue, and the February revenue numbers indicate it may get even worse.

Trump is usually way off, but he's right with Walker's bad record

I figured Donald Trump wouldn’t lay back and accept Scott Walker’s endorsement of Ted Cruz without responding. And sure enough, yesterday featured Trump ripping Walker’s record in Wisconsin yesterday, and giving a rundown of what he found to be Walker’s failures of leadership.
“There’s a $2.2bn deficit and the schools were going begging and everything was going begging because he didn’t want to raise taxes ’cause he was going to run for president,” said Trump. “So instead of raising taxes, he cut back on schools, he cut back on highways, he cut back on a lot of things.”

Trump also added of the Badger State in general: “Wisconsin has a lot of problems, plus there is tremendous hatred … I wouldn’t exactly say that things are running smoothly.”
Let’s break up the Donald’s statement into 3 parts, shall we?

1. The $2.2 billion deficit.
When pressed on it, Trump gave his typical answer along the lines of “I read it somewhere.” And while I’d normally not associate with a racist fool like Drumpf, I am “Midwestern nice,” and I do know this answer. So I’ll direct the Donald and his associates to where that number came from.

It’s in this document from November 2014, which summarized all of budget spending requests and projected revenues for the 2015-17 budget. And on Page 11 of the PDF (Table 4), it said the following:

Balance in Nov 2014 budget request for 2015-17
FY 2015-16 -$1.1 billion
FY 2016-17 -$1.1 billion

It was laughable to hear Charlie Sykes and the Journal-Sentinel and other local Walker allies try to claim Trump was wrong to quote that figure. Not because it was an honest assumption of where the budget stood at the time (it’s a wish list of spending, and nowhere close to all will be filled), but because it was the same calculation that the alleged $3.6 billion deficit Walker “faced” in 2011 came from. You know, the horrible “budget crisis” that required the union-busting Act 10 and the first round of massive cuts to K-12 education, the UW System, and local governments?

Funny how that standard didn’t apply when Walker’s own deficit appeared, isn’t it? Sorry WisGOP, fair is fair, especially when you were the one that started using that BS standard to claim a crisis in the first place.

Onto the next Trump claim

2. “So instead of raising taxes, [Walker] cut back on schools, he cut back on highways, he cut back on a lot of things.”
This is basically true as well. Walker and the Wisconsin GOP refused to raise taxes, or even reverse prior tax cuts. The only major revenue increases involved a raising of fees for camping and other outdoors activities, and they paused a couple of business tax cuts that were set to become larger in the 2015-17 budget (those tax cuts are set to balloon again in 15 months, unless further action is taken).

Instead, Walker and WisGOP chose to cut $250 million from the UW System, lowered the amount of money going into public K-12 education, and kept shared revenues at or below the lowered levels it has been at, in comparison to what those places received before Walker took office in 2011.

As a result of these Walker decisions, UW-Madison has fallen out of the top 10 for public universities in America), and a myriad of Wisconsin communities big and small have had to go to the voters to ask for their property taxes to be raised merely to keep their local schools upright and operational. This includes over 70 school referendum questions that are on the April 5 ballot throughout the state.

As for highways, Walker and WisGOP did the double-whammy of reducing needed road projects while increasing borrowing by $850 million in this current budget. The lack of funding and action have resulted in Wisconsin roads deteriorating to the 3rd-worst roads in the United States according to the U.S. DOT. In fact, Wisconsin local roads have become so underfunded that a bipartisan group of mostly rural legislators pleaded to have the chance to raise local sales taxes by 0.5% to pay for needed repairs, only to be rebuffed by TeaBag leadership in the GOP-run Legislature.

And finally:

3. “there is tremendous hatred … I wouldn’t exactly say that things are running smoothly.”
You aren’t kidding, Don. This used to be a pleasant place to live in where relatively minor political differences could be bridged by a good local beer on a Packer Sunday. It sure isn't that way any more. Add in the worst job growth in the Midwest since Walker took office, and $726 million in unspecified cuts looming for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, and it is safe to say that things are far from “running smoothly.”

Of course, the local Scott Walker cheerleaders (I’m looking at you, J-S Politi-“fact”) and the rest of the GOP establishment are denying these facts, and are trying to keep their rube followers safely tucked in their bubble of delusion. As the latest Marquette Law Poll confirms, the talk show sheep that vote GOP in eastern Wisconsin live in a separate world from the rest of Wisconsin. But the fact that Trump is a racist Republican might make the message to be taken a little more seriously by a certain pig-headed contingent that doesn’t want to hear stuff coming from us “book-learning lib’ruls.” I find it noteworthy that Walker’s name was roundly booed at Trump’s event in Janesville yesterday, and that Walker’s approval has sunk in the same areas of Wisconsin where Trump does best (Northern and Western Wisconsin).

Those of us who have been pointing these failures out for years are glad to see someone else cut through the AM radio spin and tells the truth about how this state has been damaged in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. In other words, Mr. Trump:

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Walker endorsing Cruz + Sykes ripping Trump = both following orders

I hope you weren’t surprised that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker endorsed Ted Cruz for president today. And not just because Cruz has gone out of his way to pay off Walker’s million-dollar debt from his failed presidential campaign (though I’m sure that played a role, as campaign contributions always do with Koch-boy Scotty). There had been clear signals from the Wisconsin GOP that their establishment was going to get behind Cruz, and the “tell” wasn’t from elected officials, but instead from their media propaganda outlets.

There is no better indicator of what the GOP machine is thinking than by checking the tone of certain AM radio shows in the state. And no one show toes the party line more than that of Charlie Sykes on 620 in Milwaukee, the show that Walker announced his endorsement of Cruz on this morning. Notice that it was Sykes who surprised Donald Trump with a withering phone interview yesterday, followed by a similar Trump hammerings on shows from (V)icki McKenna and Jerry Bader later on Monday.

What was sickening to me was how many national media outlets (especially “liberal” MSNBC) tried to portray Sykes’s grilling of Trump as some sort of great act of independent journalism, and a model that should be copied nationwide. For those new fans of Sykes, I have a tip for you - Charlie wasn’t doing it to try to “raise the GOP’s game” beyond the hate and simple-mindedness of Donald Trump. He was doing it because he was under orders to promote from the Wisconsin GOP to promote Ted Cruz.

What made Sykes’s act with Trump funny and disgusting at the same time is because Charlie Sykes and other Wisconsin talk radio hosts have used Trump-like racism and dog whistles to attract listeners to the GOP for decades. Let’s flash back to 2014, and Alec MacGillis’s excellent critique of the first loser in the GOP presidential primary- “The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker.”
In 1989, as the crack-fueled crime wave was nearing its peak in Milwaukee, [AM radio host Mark] Belling began hosting a talk show on WISN, an A.M. station. Often, a man named Charlie Sykes would appear as a panelist or substitute host. Sykes, too, had started out on the left. His parents were World Federalists, a movement that called for global government and universal disarmament; his father, an editorial writer at the Milwaukee Sentinel, had managed Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 campaign in Wisconsin. Sykes had adopted his father’s politics; he even ran (unsuccessfully) for the state legislature as a Democrat. He told me that he had grown disillusioned with liberalism while covering City Hall for the Milwaukee Journal in the late ’70s. “I was a reporter covering urban programs that were well- intentioned but utterly dysfunctional,” he says. “I thought: This thing doesn’t work as planned.”

Within a few years, Sykes had gotten his own show, on WTMJ, and for the next 20 years, he and Belling would share the airwaves: Sykes in the late morning, Belling in the late afternoon. Their styles are very different. Sykes is a thrice-married man-about-town with a smooth on-air manner and modish eyeglasses who has built himself into a multimedia brand, with a Sunday TV show on the NBC affiliate, books subsidized by conservative funders (his latest: A Nation of Moochers), and a subscription-based website, “Right Wisconsin” (which sometimes refers to Michelle Obama as “Mooch”). Belling is introverted and brooding—he zips in and out from the station’s suburban studio in his Jaguar, interacting with co-workers no more than necessary. His demeanor on air is more intense, with long foreboding pauses between his acid declamations. In one 2012 riff, he called a young black Milwaukee man who had died in police custody a “piece of garbage” and attacked “the pigs of mothers who are too lazy to put their children in a crib and roll over the top of them while sleeping on a futon on the floor.” Christopher Terry, who worked with Belling at WISN and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says that Belling is more of a “true believer,” whereas “if Sykes thought there was money on the other side of the street, he would sell out in a second.”

Over time, the two shows became known by a single name: “SykesBelling.” In the halls of the statehouse, Milwaukee City Hall, and area county governments, elected officials, particularly insufficiently conservative Republicans, lived in dread of denunciations by the hosts and the tsunami of angry calls from listeners that would follow. Sykes is credited with, among other accomplishments, having blocked public funding for needle-exchange programs and having helped drive into bankruptcy an urban mall after harping on security issues there. In April 2013, he played a clip of “It’s Free (Swipe Yo EBT),” a viral video produced by a right-wing activist in which an African American woman raps about liquor stores where one can allegedly use a food-stamp card. Returning to the same theme later in the year, Sykes declared, “The number of Americans who receive means-tested government benefits— welfare—now outnumbers those who are year-round full-time workers.” No other midsize city has this kind of sustained and energized conservative forum for discussion of local politics. The only counterweights on the left are Wisconsin Public Radio, with its implicit but restrained liberalism, a lefty F.M. talk show in Madison with limited reach, and two African American talk-radio stations in Milwaukee, one of which recently went out of business.
Yes, this is the type of “civilized” act that Sykes lectured Trump about when Charlie described the way the GOP operates in Wisconsin. So why did Chuckles not like it when the (also thrice-married) Donald got support by saying similar racialized garbage, and instead chose to go with the fundamentalist Ted Cruz, who would pull McCarthyist persectuions on Planned Parenthood, and wants random, SS-style patrols of Muslim neighborhoods?

The reality is that Walker, Sykes, and the puppetmasters at the Wisconsin GOP all work together on these things - the only question is “Who orders who?”. This is why Sykes’ legit, adversarial questions to Trump are noteworthy, because he asked The Donald more tough questions in 15 minutes than he has of Walker in the last 15 years. That’s no accident, as the Forward Institute’s Scott Wittkopf pointed out this coordination between WisGOPper-gandist radio hosts and Walker four years ago, revealed in documents released as part of an open records request.
Two sets of email chains specifically name Charlie Sykes, Vicky McKenna, and Jerry Bader in statewide broadcast radio; and former TMJ4 television Executive Producer Julie Pearl. The reach of these media outlets through syndication is virtually statewide; and is a flagrant use of on-air broadcast as a full-time campaign mechanism for the Walker Administration – outside of the campaign.

The first set of emails is from [then-] Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie to Governor’s staff, and Walker himself; though the email is redacted along with one other email address. The email is dated June 7, 2011:Important to note the contact is initiated by Cullen Werwie to Charlie Sykes on Monday, June 5; soliciting an appearance for Walker on June 9 to explain how his reforms are already “producing positive results.” Sykes confirms, and Werwie replies on June 7, sending an attachment titled “6.9.11 Bader Sykes McKenna briefing”

The “Meeting Briefing” for the radio hosts is an outline of talking points, strategically planned for not only Walker’s interviews; but for the hosts themselves.

The audio archive of Sykes’ show from June 9, 2011 shows that all major points from the above briefing were discussed – many with Walker himself. The CEO ranking and “job creators” message, supposed savings for local schools, and the Middleton/Cross Plains teacher arbitration issue were all discussed in the Walker interview. Sykes touches on the other primary points during the balance of his show.

The Jerry Bader show from June 10, 2011 was staged as a “call-in” show for Walker’s segment. The points covered during this segment encompass most of the memo. Walker’s fiscal reforms already working, increased pension and health premium contributions by teachers saving districts money, local government savings, and the favorable CEO rankings/”job creators” message were all discussed during this call.
This is what makes it so unsurprising that Walker flopped so badly on the national stage- he couldn’t do scripted interviews with talk show hosts, the media companies weren’t reliant on his advertising dollars (like JournalComm and other Wisconsin broadcast stations were), and Scotty wasn’t solely dealing with media members that relied on his access for their careers. Once he stepped out of the Wisconsin cocoon, his lack of substance and failed policies got him eaten up by the big boys.

Also remember that Sykes hosted a GOPper-ganda event last week in Waukesha with Cruz and (equally crooked fundamentalist) Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley as his “special guests”. This gives me little doubt that someone gave Chuckles and the rest of WisGOP’s spokespeople an order to promote Cruz and denigrate Trump (and to a lesser extent, Kasich). If the WisGOP establishment wishes to do that, it’s their prerogative, but to pretend that the recent pro-Cruz, anti-Trump act of Sykes and McKenna and other right-wing talk show hosts is any kind of independent uprising of thought is foolish. These people know their roles, and know how to recite their lines convincingly, and anyone thinking they are making an independent analysis IS A SUCKER.

Let’s see if the national media does a bit of digging into this, as the coordination between media and the Wisconsin GOP is a real story, and may explain why the state of play may be quite different than other states. The Bubble-World created by GOPper-ganda radio and the rubes who buy into it help explain why Wisconsin politics are in the mess that they are today, and why a progressive state that used to be a paragon of clean governance has been allowed to degenerate into a corrupt cesspool that is economically underperforming.

Monday, March 28, 2016

As the nation's eyes comes to Wisconsin, little data to tell current story

Since the State Legislature adjourned on its 9 1/2 month paid vacation 2 weeks ago, I've been looking for updates on the state's fiscal condition. However, it's very hard to find those updates these days.

1. If I want to look at what the state's expense situation looks like, I used to be able to click onto the state's appropriations reports. This was an alleged "open government" effort that Gov Walker and others had signed onto several years back, but if you click on it today, the spending report only goes through September 2015, and there hasn't been an update for 6 months.

2. There also hasn't been a regular update on the state's Monthly Statement of Receipts and Disbursements since September. This report basically tracks the cash side of the state's balance sheet. It's not a direct comparison to the state's General Fund, but one usually gives at least an indication of how the other is doing.

The only place I could find something resembling a cash balance update came via the release of the Wisconsin DOA's General Fund Cash forecast earlier this month. And that took a bit of piecing together. The cash forecast looked ahead at the numbers from April through the end of June, and I compared it to a similar forecast released at the start of February.

General Fund Cash forecast, April 2016
Feb. 2016 $1,320.8 million
March 2016 $1,174.1 million
DIFFERENCE $146.7 million

Granted, this $147 million difference in projected cash could be nothing more than a difference in timing of some revenue source. But it's not a great sign, and in the absence of any other information, we have to go ahead and figure we are running a bit short.

3. I've also been waiting on state revenue information, which has been a little more up-to-date, with January's report coming out last month and indicating things were mostly on track for what the LFB's estimated earlier this winter. But February's revenue data has yet to drop, and that's a huge month for budget purposes, since that it where we get our first indication of what the returns from tax season look like, which account for almost all of the income tax refunds that are given out in a year. Maybe the delay is based on Easter being last week, and we will see that information come out soon, but if we are getting a revenue shortfall that turns the second year into a deficit (a deficit on top of the $726 million in unspecified cuts that are already built into the 2016-17 fiscal year), that's a big problem. And it would be an awful headline for Wisconsin Republicans to show the nation as the country's political media turns to the state for next week's primary election.

Which it why it seems convenient to me for that information and other fiscal updates not to be available for people at this time. Are they trying to hide yet another state that's set to go through a ALEC/GOP-caused fiscal disaster? Or has the record-keeping somehow gotten shoddy or hampered, and there's a bigger story lurking about this administration's continued incompetence? Would you put either of these solutions past the current crew in charge?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reflections of Bernie rally, and the coming week in Wisconsin

Attended the Bernie Sanders rally with about 8,000-10,000 others yesterday- a pretty diverse crowd of interests and ages, which isn't unusual for a progressive rally in Madison. Makes you realize it's a pretty big, diverse world of interests out there, and I'd imagine a Hillary Clinton crowd would be similarly diverse (although with slightly different interests and a few more well-dressed people in suits than Bernie's rally would have).

The nearly 60-minute speech was pretty good, although I've seen Bernie speak a few times in person and knew what to expect. The second part of the speech was especially good, when Bernie went off of the Greatest Hits and discussed the plight of Native American communities (he also tied it into the need for legislation and attention to climate change) and the need to reduce federal penalties on pot while increasing treatment for opiod dependency. Bernie also landed a big blast on Governor Walker and other GOP governors regarding vote suppression tactics, saying they should "get out of politics" if they think that is a legitimate way to run elections and wield power. Voter rights and the plight of Native peoples and other impoverished groups is a topic he should return to time and again in the coming 9 days, because I think a vast majority of Wisconsinites would really be woken into anger and action against politicians who have been so cynically trying to rig elections in this state, and because the nation's attention should be brought to the abusive actions of Walker and the ALEC slugs in the GOP Legislature.

Also worth noting from the rally is the huge number of Russ Feingold bumper stickers you saw on cars in the parking lot. Russ has (wisely) stayed out of endorsing either Clinton or Sanders, but I think there is little doubt that most of Russ's biggest backers are Sanders supporters, at least in South Central Wisconsin. ANd it makes sense, because Russ and Bernie have been on the same side of campaign finance reform, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and in being against the removal of Glass-Steagal for investment banking. They're also two candidates that I anticipate to grab a larger number of the rural Wisconsin vote than Hillary Clinton would, and Dem Party officials should keep this in mind if they want to win downticket in November.

One other cool touch from the Bernie rally- this is what Bernie and his wife Jane left the stage to this great tune.

Now note what "Starman" is supposed to be about, according to Bowie's interview with William S. Burroughs in 1973, later printed in Rolling Stone . Bowie may have been coked out of his mind when he said it, but there's probably an element of truth when he's telling Burroughs this.
Bowie: The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end due to lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to the things they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock & roll band and the kids no longer want rock & roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy's adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, 'cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. "All the Young Dudes" is a song about this news. It's no hymn to the youth as people thought. It's completely the opposite....

Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes "Starman", which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about is called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman that will come down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use for us. They just happen to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping.
Now, Bowie goes on to say that Ziggy gets a swelled head and is eventually torn apart by the infinites in "Rock n' Roll Suicide", so the infinites can become human, so I'm not sure Bernie may want that part of Ziggy's story to track with his. But there's definitely a parallel in that a whole lot of us recognize Bernie is telling truths about our broken political system and rigged economy that our most of the paid-off media and politicians won't dare to say, and that the fact that a whole lot of us realize we are not alone in thinking that is an invigorating feeling that can leave to a popular movement, if we care to stick with it.

Regardless, with both the GOP and Dem races looking to be hard-fought and close, it should make for a very interesting week here in Wisconsin. And I think a lot of us in the Cheddarsphere should work to tell the rest of the country what is really happening here and why the results look the way they do, and maybe some of the clueless Coastal media will figure a few things out about us in the Upper Midwest.

PS- Here's a nice holiday note from one of our Supreme Court candidates.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd rather have my judges base their rulings on the Constitution of the state and the US instead of the New Testament. Call me a heathen if you must.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Dane County grows while rest of Wisconsin stagnates in Age of Fitzwalkerstan

I would like to thank the Wisconsin State Journal for alerting me to the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2015 figures for county and metro populations this week. The State Journal noted that the Madison area stood out as one of the few places in the state that added a sizable amount of people last year.
Dane County had the highest rate of population growth of any county in Wisconsin in the last year, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

The county’s population rose 1.3 percent between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015, the bureau said.....

Dane County gained 6,714 people over the period, more new residents than any other county in the state. That increase was 514 higher than between 2013 and 2014.

Wisconsin as a whole had a 1.5 percent population growth rate from 2010 to 2015 and gained 84,048 new residents in that time. But from 2014 to 2015, the state had a 0.2 percent growth with a gain of 11,905 people, according to the bureau’s website.
So I went inside those Census numbers a bit further, and wanted to take a look at how population has changed in Wisconsin over recent years. And what I found was quite surprising, and a story that isn’t being told very much, but gives some real insight onto the changes and damage done to this state in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

I first jumped off of WSJ writer Amanda Finn’s point about Dane County having the highest population growth in the state, and noted that its growth rate has stayed consistently high throughout the 2010s. This is in significant contrast to the state’s declining rate of growth over the last 5 years, with last year having the smallest increase yet – barely over 0.2%, and not much more than half as much as we grew in the last year of Jim Doyle’s tenure.

Bad enough, as declining growth in population usually limits the ability of a place to grow (obvious, but still important to mention). But even more alarming is how concentrated the tepid growth in Wisconsin is, with a majority of the state not being in on it. I’ll start out by mentioning that Dane County’s growth last year was more than the combined growth in the other 71 counties in the state.

Wisconsin population, 2014-2015
1.Dane County +6,714
2.Rest of state +5,191

To go further, if you take out the six counties in Wisconsin that added the most people last year, the population of the state went down.

6 biggest gainers, Wisconsin population, 2014-2015
1.Dane County +6,714
2.Brown County +2,130
3.Outagamie Co. +1,266
4.Waukesha Co. +1,153
5.St. Croix County +613
6.Eau Claire Co. +428

A similar pattern repeats when you go back to 2011, which takes into account the Age of Fitzwalkerstan from the date that Scott Walker’s first budget took effect in July 2011. Not only has Wisconsin population growth been small, but it has almost all been in and around the state’s metropolitan areas. And Dane County again leads the way.

6 biggest gainers, Wisconsin population, 2011-2015
1. Dane County +27,143
2. Brown County +8,155
3. Milwaukee Co. +6,038
4. Waukesha Co. +5,680
5. Outagamie Co. +5,469
6. La Crosse Co. +2,936

Hmmm, maybe our state’s elected officials should be looking to figure out why people flock to Dane County and then try to copy it for the rest of the state. NAH, who am I kidding? That’s just silly talk.

So where has this exodus of people (and their lack of replacement) been happening in the state? Generally in northern and eastern parts of the state, but they are far from the only areas that have suffered population losses. Half of Wisconsin’s counties lost population last year, and 37 of the state’s 72 counties had less people in them in 2015 than they did in 2011.

And having so many Wisconsin population is a recent phenomenom, as a look at past figures shows that only 17 of Wisconsin’s counties lost population between the 2000 and 2010 Censuses, and the state’s population averaged growth of over 0.5% a year- twice what it grew last year. So if someone tries to argue that the population drought in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan is merely the continuation of a long-term trend, it’s not true.

The top population loser in the state last year may surprise you (it did me, anyway), and it should be sending serious warning signals.

6 biggest population losses, Wisconsin population 2014-2015
1.Walworth Co. -695
2.Manitowoc Co. -355
3.Marinette Co. -342
4.Shawano Co. -248
5.Ashland Co. -233
6.Rusk County -231

That’s right, Walworth County, home of Lake Geneva. An area you’d think would be filling up with people that lots of people who work in northern Illinois would live in if things were so much better here in Wisconsin, or where businesses would be setting up if they truly used tax climate and tax cuts as a top reason for location. The fact that the opposite is happening, and that Walworth County is losing population after gaining more than 10,000 people in the 2010s, should tell you something is going wrong.

If you expand out into the last 4 years, a couple of these names stay on the list with others come into play. But all are outside of major urban areas, and all 6 voted for Scott Walker in 2010, 2012 and 2014 (most of them by wide margins).

6 biggest population losses, Wisconsin population 2014-2015
1.Manitowoc Co.-1,360
2.Wood County -1,212
3.Adams County -756
4.Langlade Co. -663
5.Waushara Co. -548
6.Marinette Co. -547

There’s a Steven Avery joke in there with Manitowoc County losing the most people, but I won’t make it.

These population stats make me of two minds when I see it reflected in our state’s goofy politics. I suppose I could be heartened by the fact that the thinking, blue-voting area of Dane County is becoming more influential statewide as its population grows, and that the rural, aging areas that support Scott Walker and other Republicans are dying out. But that long-range view was the mentality of Mike Tate and the DNC types who decided it wasn’t worth fighting too hard or smart against the many power grabs and radical changes that the Fitzwalkerstanis put in from 2011-2014. All of us in the state have lost big as a result of that (well, everyone outside of WisGOP’s inner cabal), and just because Dems are demographically positioned to be dominant in 10 years, it doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t a state worth saving by that point.

I generally lean toward an alternate view of what those population shifts mean. The declining areas seem to have mostly reddened, and seem especially susceptible to the scapegoating of Trumpism. As Craig Gilbert of the Journal-Sentinel noted, Trump polls best among Repubicans in the northern half of Wisconsin, and in blue-collar areas like Manitowoc.

The 2010s have left these people behind and they see decline all around them, despite the fact that they worked hard and played by the rules. Now they want someone to blame, and the “others” are a great target- be they public employees, hoidy-toidy book-learners, immigrants, other people of color. This is why they liked seeing Scott Walker stick it to those teachers and unionists (well, until their schools went to shit), and why they think the clueless, reckless Trump can “Make America Great Again.”

On the flip side, the few growing areas of the state likely mean the blue-voting areas of Milwaukee and Madison grow even more in influence, as will the dead-red suburbs in the 262. The growth in the Appleton and Green Bay areas in Northeastern Wisconsin makes for the biggest possibility of realignment. These areas have been close to 50-50 in presidential years, but have been more like 60-40 Republicans in off-year elections. If the results in elections start to slide to Dems, then it’s likely Dems will be dominant statewide very soon. But if the GOP stays strong and starts picking up 60-40 level votes in presidential years, then the Republicans become a strong force in every election (not just off-year ones), and perhaps the influence in issues shifts as well. The 920 is not the 262, even though their reps vote in lockstep for the time being, and perhaps some member of NE Wisconsin will actually assume a strong voice of power in the Wisconsin GOP (which is dominated by SE Wisconsin these days).

So the Census Bureau figures for Wisconsin’s county population are intriguing, and I recommend you dig into it to see how things are trending in your neck of the woods. It’s also worth seeing if these changes are mentioned as the nation’s eyes turn to Dairyland with the presidential primaries and Supreme Court race on April 5, because it might explain a lot of what we see flash across our TV and computer screens that night.

Well that wasn't a fun ending

Still a bit stunned over the collapse by UW at the end of their game with Notre Dame, where they somehow got outscored 8-0 in 20 seconds to go from being up 3 to losing by 5. I'd be taking it a lot worse if I hadn't lived through the great success of the last 2 years, and the knowledge that this team overachieved this year, really wasn't that great, and should be a top 10 team next year if everyone comes back (Nigel, stay in school. Please).

Now, I'm just cleaning up a couple of things, gonna enjoy some sunshine and warmer termps, and get ready to see Bernie this afternoon. However, I'm not understanding the point of opening doors to the Dane County Coliseum at 1pm when Bernie won't speak until at least 5. I'm guessing those that planned to see the speech at 1 aren't going to be very happy about it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

February jobs bounce back in Wisconsin, except for manufacturing

Now that the benchmarking process is over, the state of Wisconsin is catching up on its jobs figures, releasing a very strong February report.
Place of work data: The state added a statistically significant 8,000 private sector jobs from January 2016 to February 2016 on a preliminary basis. Wisconsin also added a significant 35,300 private sector and 37,700 total non-farm jobs over the year ending in February 2016.

Other statistically significant changes include a month-over-month job gain of 4,100 jobs in Education and Health Services, and year-over-year additions of 7,600 jobs in Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities and 11,100 jobs in Education and Health Services. Additionally, revised January private-sector job counts swung from a decline of 1,400 to a gain of 5,800 private sector jobs, a difference of 7,200.

·Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.6 percent in February 2016, unchanged from January 2016. The 4.6 percent rate is lower than the 4.7 percent rate in February 2015 and lower than the national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in February 2016.
The most interesting part to me is not the 8,000 jobs gained in February (while nice, it’s not an unusual one-month bump), but the upward revision of 7,200 jobs in January, pushing our current figure 15,200 above what we had last month. This allows for a gain on the national rate compared to where we were last month, reducing the Walker jobs gap by over 10,000. It’s still a huge gap (94,400), but that’s better than the 104,700 we were at two weeks ago.

The positive Wisconsin numbers reflect a national jobs situation that is in very good shape, where nearly a quarter-million private-sector jobs were added in February, and layoff notices are at some of the lowest levels in more than 40 years.
In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended March 19.

The government also revised data going back to 2011, which showed claims generally trending lower than previously reported. Claims for the week ended March 5 were the lowest since November 1973. The low level of claims has economists anticipating another month of strong job gains in March after nonfarm payrolls increased by 242,000 in February.
However, there is one black mark on the nation’s economy, and it exists in Wisconsin as well as nationwide. The state lost another 1,700 manufacturing jobs in February (2,200 on a non-seasonally adjusted basis), and January’s total was revised down by 300. This means Wisconsin now has 100 fewer manufacturing jobs than it did a year ago- when the WisGOPs in the Legislature passed (right-to) work-for-less legislation, and Gov Walker signed it, claiming it would “[give] employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin.” Yeah, that theory hasn’t worked out, has it Scotty?

But we’re not alone in having manufacturing suffer recently. From the same Yahoo!Finance article that talks up the lower unemployment claims came this other bit of economic data today.
The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft meant to last three years or more, declined 2.8 percent last month after increasing 4.2 percent in January. Durable goods orders have decreased in three of the last four months.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, fell 1.8 percent after advancing by a downwardly revised 3.1 percent in January. These so-called core capital goods orders were previously reported to have increased 3.4 percent in January.
Some of this is related to the collapse in oil prices and the stronger U.S. dollar over the last year, but it also shows that our economic recovery still isn’t firing on all cylinders. It leaves a legitimate question lingering to find out if the struggles in manufacturing drags down the rest of the economy in 2016, or if we fight through it, and our factories start hiring again.

For now, it appears that the rest of Wisconsin’s and the U.S’s job picture now looks like it got off to a decent start this year. And I suppose that’s something worth being happy about, if not entirely satisfied with.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Paul Ryan says politics should get beyond bad situation Paul Ryan helped cause

I see that one of our state’s big-name politicos made a high-faluting speech today, and it’s being dutifully relayed as the top story in the state via his cheerleading squad at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. And I agree that it needs to be read and exposed far and wide…as the dishonest garbage that it was.

The speech was House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Heritage Foundation) addressing House interns today to ask them to rise above the rancor and anger that seems to permeate all areas of politics these days. Ryan started by looking back on his days when he was a ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, and claimed that both sides used to respect each other and try to work out differences.
And we always held ourselves to a higher standard of decorum. We treated each other with respect. We disagreed--often fiercely so--but we disagreed without being disagreeable. I speak of this in the past tense only because I no longer serve here. But it almost sounds like I'm speaking of another time, doesn't it? It sounds like a scene unfamiliar to your generation.

Looking around at what's taking place in politics today, it is easy to get disheartened. How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides? You know, I see myself in each of you. I came here as a curious college intern. Trying to get a sense of everything. Trying to figure out where to take my life. I would always ask older, more experienced people: what do you know that you wished you knew when you were my age?

This is my answer to that. Here is what I know now that I want you to know--that you cannot see yourself today. And that is not just a lesson for young minds, but a message for all Americans. Our political discourse--both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other--did not use to be this bad and it does not have to be this way. Now, a little skepticism is healthy. But when people distrust politics, they come to distrust institutions. They lose faith in their government, and the future too. We can acknowledge this. But we don't have to accept it. And we cannot enable it either.

My dad used to say, if you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem. So I have made it a mission of my Speakership to raise our gaze and aim for a brighter horizon. Instead of talking about what politics is today, I want to talk about what politics can be….
(cue several minutes of aspirational Reagan-esque bullcrap).

This goal of working together to do the right thing sounds very nice and worth shooting for, but it leaves out an important fact that explains why the “good old days” of comity that Ryan wishes to return to don’t exist today. Paul Ryan has been a central figure behind the D.C. dysfunction he was crying crocodile tears about today.

Never forget that Pau-lie was at the notorious meeting of GOP higher-ups on the night of President Obama’s Inauguration in January 2009, as recounted in Robert Draper’s 2012 book “Do Not Ask the Good That We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives” . Here’s how that conspiracy was recounted in a summary of Draper’s book.
Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl. Others present were former House Speaker and future – and failed – presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who organised the dinner and sent out the invitations.

The dinner table was set in a square at Luntz's request so everyone could see one another and talk freely. The session lasted four hours and by the end the sombre mood had lifted: they had conceived a plan. They would take back the House in November 2010, which they did, and use it as a spear to mortally wound Obama in 2011 and take back the Senate and White House in 2012, Draper writes.

"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority," said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."

The Republicans have done that, bringing Washington to a near standstill several times during Obama's first term over debt and other issues.

That face. So punchable
The angry gridlock in DC and in US politics is no accident and it isn’t merely due to a difference of opinion. It traces back to the treasonous, partisan politics that Paul Ryan eagerly went along with to promote the prospects of his party and himself. And now he’s saying members of Congress should “raise our gaze and aim for a brighter horizon?” FUCK YOU. Just like with Rebecca Bradley’s lack of ethics and homophobia, past is prologue when it comes to Paul Ryan, and claiming that the sickening actions of the past should be forgotten and aren’t relevant to today are empty, cynical words without the actions to back it up.

And Ryan’s actions don’t back it up. Just the other day, Pau-lie was pointing out that 70% of voters think the country is going in the wrong direction, and tried to pin this figure on disapproval of Obama policies. In fact, President Obama is at his highest level of voter approval in 3years, with most polls showing him at or above 50%. At the same time, Congress has an approval rating somewhere between 11 and 15%, and numerous polls in the last month have showed more Americans view Ryan unfavorably than favorably.

So how dare Lyin’ Ryan try to say that American politics should rise above its current mess and the lack of trust that exists between politicians and voters, and then not admit to the significant role he and his GOP buddies in D.C. have had in screwing it up. And in all the poses he struck today did Ryan promise to do anything different to reduce the divisiveness and improve governance in D.C., other than adding a few nice words to go along with his same failed, draconian policies?

Of course, our “liberal media” will refuse to make this obvious observation, because they want to continue to have Paul’s Purty Face grace their presence It is disgustingly shallow, but then again, when have facts and reality ever stopped Purty Pau-lie and our media from pulling it for the last 20 years? We need an army of individuals to call bullshit on all of this, and I’ll give credit to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for quickly reminding people today about Ryan’s 60 votes to repeal Obamacare and support of extreme anti-abortion laws. Both Paul Ryan and the media must be punished for allowing this wreck of GOP obstruction to continue, because they won’t stop until we rise up and stop it ourselves, both at the ballot box, and by shunning media that won’t tell the truth about how we got to this mess.

PS- Madison's John Nichols at the Nation also is calling out "Ryan's self-serving hypocrisy." John knows a BSer when he spots one, and he rightfully corners Ryan in his cynical attempt to use this speech to accomplish two goals- to make himself look better, and to deflect the public's attention from the disgusting act of today's GOP.
Ryan’s speech was cynically partisan. At one point, he announced, “Looking around at what’s taking place in politics today, it is easy to get disheartened. How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides?”

Is there anyone who seriously believes that the Democratic competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is stirring up an equal level of disenchantment (not to mention fear, loathing and Google searches about relocation to Justin Trudeau’s Canada) as a Republican contest in which Trump and Cruz are exchanging threats about the revealing photos and Goldman Sachs schemes of their respective wives?...

Other Republicans have been far more principled in their approaches. Members of the House and Senate have said they would not vote for Trump as the party’s nominee. Former candidates have endorsed rivals, in hopes of preventing a Trump nomination. Principled leaders have taken tough stands. But not Paul Ryan. He’s just telling Republicans to “raise our gaze and aim for a brighter horizon” where, surprise, Paul Ryan happens to be standing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seth Meyers says "Hi Kansas!"

Good stuff from Seth Meyers on the trickle-down disaster in Kansas, and the "creative" ways they have had to fill the deficits that followed. Including cuts to Head Start and K-12 education, leading to schools to close early last year, and likely to have more of the same in this year.

Enjoy the clip, and remember Wisconsinites, this is what we have to look forward to! Because just like the Kansas, we too re-elected an ALEC-owned tax-cutting fool as governor in 2014. Oh wait, that's not funny at all.

Monday, March 21, 2016

...Now the bad stuff going on at UW-Madison, and the other UWs

While I and many others in these parts are fired up over Bronson Koenig’s shot and Bucky’s surprising rebound from 9-9 to the Sweet 16, that doesn’t mean all is well up on Bascom Hill. The declining situation on the academic side of the university is getting national attention, as Slate’s Rebecca Schumann published an article today titled “The End of Research in Wisconsin.”

Schumann discusses the ongoing concerns from UW faculty with the diminishing of tenure, the fact that appointees of college dropout Walker make up 16 of the 19 members of the UW Board of Regents, as well as other anti-UW moves by the Walker/WisGOP regime. This includes the state spending fewer dollars today on the UW System than it did when the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began 5 years ago, and Schumann points out that the lack of support from the Legislature and Board of Regents makes Madison and other UW schools have to pay more to hold onto the talent they have.
So, what’s the problem here? Is spending money to retain brainpower a bad thing? Obviously not. However, as long as tenure remains so weak in Wisconsin, the regents will have to keep doling out cash to stave off poachers if they want to remain a top research university.

But how they’ll recruit new superstars to a university that can’t promise proper tenure to anyone remains a mystery. Make no mistake: If anyone thinks that these professors’ jobs are anything but gilded hollow husks of their former selves, they are deluded. (For their part, even many of the faculty who decided to stay told the [Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel they were “still nervous about the flagship university’s future.”)
For example, UW-Madison has had to pay $9 million in addition salaries and benefits for faculty and staff to prevent quality from being poached away by other schools, and taking the $18 million in federal grants that faculty and staff have generated with it.

Schumann goes on to note the bigger concern that comes with budget cuts and politicization of what types of research a university should look into- heading down the road to the “Brawndo School of Medicine."
But the situation in Wisconsin is worse than your garden-variety corporatization. You might assume it’s no big deal for superstar researchers to be competed for, hired, and fired like executives—and for everyone else to “just get a better job” if they don’t like what they’ve got. That might be how it works at your job, if you are lucky enough to have one. I understand this impulse to look around at your own likely weak labor protections, and wonder why those obnoxious hoity-toity professors think they deserve better than you….

Wisconsin professors simply do not want research limited by the whims of 18 people appointed by a governor with an openly stated anti-education agenda. And you shouldn’t, either. Think university research doesn’t affect you? You’re wrong. Hundreds of technological and social advances that you depend upon have been made thanks to the research of some brainiac at some university somewhere: what kind of cities to plan; how (and where) to alleviate poverty and hunger; what kind of diseases to treat; what kind of drugs to invent (or make obsolete); what kind of bridges and roads to build (and where). If professors are not protected from disagreeing with the agenda of their “bosses”—whether that be Dow Chemical, Gov. Walker, or President Trump—the consequences will go far beyond one person’s paycheck.

For years, higher-ed watchers have been warning against the corporatization of the American university. Students as “customers.” Amenities over academics. Loan debt of $250,000 for a transcript full of courses whose A’s no longer mean anything. For the most part, these warnings have been met by dismissal, scorn, or glee. Will anything change now? What’s happening in Wisconsin is a worst-case scenario come to life, and $9 million will do nothing to stop the demise of the integrity of research produced there—and everywhere else, too, if we don’t start electing lawmakers who actually value research.
We need to have academics at our public universities be rewarded, not just with proper pay and respect for the job they do, but also in having the freedom to study issues that may lead to inconvenient truths. But this goes along with the ALEC/Koch plan to reduce the concept of any kind of public good, and have a corporate-approved agenda that may not teach students very much about how things really work, but it will increase the influence of corporate doctrines, which is all those oligarchs really care about.

This denigration of Wisconsin’s great higher education system is why I will be tempted give a giant “FUCK YOU” to any ALEC-owned WisGOP politician this week who tweets out “Go Badgers” before Friday’s game with Notre Dame, because it is that Wrecking Crew that knocked UW-Madison out of the top 10 of another key ranking, the top public schools in America. And while Bucky’s hoops success gives some nice short-term goodwill (and a helluva thrill last night), it won’t do nearly as much for helping Wisconsin and society as the research, information, and technological advances that come out of the university that they represent. This is something they think in reverse in SEC-land and other backwards places in America, where universities are viewed as conduits for athletic programs, while academics is slighted and sold out to the higest bidders. It makes me very angry to see my alma mater trending in the same Idiocratic direction.

It's also a big reason why I bought tickets to see the new documentary "Starving the Beast" at the Wisconsin Film Festival next month. UW-Madison is one of several schools profiled as it takes a look at how ALEC, the Kochs, Wall Street bankers and other corporate interests are conspiring to degrade public education, and make the next generation beholden to their interests. It's an issue that needs to be hit, and hit hard, because in Wisconsin and in many other states, the promise of affordable, quality college education is quickly being taken away.

The good stuff from UW-Madison this March

So I wasn't expecting all that much from my alma mater's hoops game last night. And with about 7 minutes to go and down 9 points, it was going about as I expected. But then Bucky mounted a rally, and it culminated with THIS, with video courtesy of the father of Syracuse's Christian White (you'll see the Dad turn the camera around with an awesome "HOLY CRAP!" reaction near the end of this, it may be my favorite part of the video).

Yeah, we'll be seeing that one in March for years to come, and now that Bucky's playing with house money, why not go further in Philly this weekend, and continue to shock the world.

Here's how it sounded on the radio, from the great Badger announcer Matt LePay (I'm not being a homer here, I seriously don't know anyone who calls hoops better in a combination of detail, info, emotion), who tells you Koenig "GOT IT! GOT IT!"

I also love how LePay professionally waits for the review to make sure. It only took one replay to be confirmed, but I was already mobbing my wife.

Bizarrely, the 3 biggest non-Uecker names in Wisconsin sports play-by-play were doing the Badger-Xavier game yesterday, as Brewers TV announcer Brian Anderson did the game on TV, and Packer announcer Wayne Larrivee did the game for Westwood One national radio. Wayne doesn't drop a DAGGER reference, like he did with Sam Dekker's clinching 3 last year vs Arizona, but his call isn't bad, as Koenig "RINGS IT UP!".

I could also watch this video all day. Here's the official content from UW Athletics, including a killer cheesy joke from Coach Gard at :40. How Sweet it is!

After last night and this crazy 1st weekend of the tourney, it sure made the concept of work pretty bleh today. But I think I can get by till the next games start on Thursday, if I'm not snowed under first.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Act 10 "savings" Macivered, while economic damage not mentioned

I've noticed that Gov Walker has been running around the state (at taxpayer expense) claiming that 5 years after the passing of Act 10, it has saved $5 billion. I was trying to figure out where that number came from, so I hit the Google machine, and here's what I found out. The number was MacIvered by the WisGOP propoaganda machine.

As in the Maciver "news" service, a Bradley Foundation chop shop that has been a front for right-wing oligarchs in Wisconsin. They created an "analysis", and here's what they "discovered." Also note the framing of their statements.
The analysis found that Wisconsin saved $3.36 billion by requiring government employees contribute a reasonable amount to their own retirement. The analysis also estimates local units of governments saved an additional $404.8 million total by taking common sense steps like opening their employees' health insurance to competitive bidding. Milwaukee Public Schools saved $1.3 billion in long-term pension liabilities, and Neenah saved $97 million in long-term pension liabilities in addition to other savings.
There is a kernel of truth in this. Act 10 shifted a larger amounts of the costs to go from government (and the general taxpayer) to the workers (a smaller group of taxpayers). Now some might call that THEFT, but technically this is an overall reduction of taxpayer dollars spent for these benefits, and that part should be acknowledged. However, that doesn't answer the question of "Was this a good thing for Wisconsin's economy, and its communities?", an analysis that Walker and his fellow rightie rarely tend to bring up. This breakdown of our communities and cohesion is certainly something that can be felt throughout the state due to the scapegoating of public employees, and that reason alone will make some think Act 10 is still a horrible law (I'll get to the economic performance of the state in a bit).

I also want to discuss the next claims that MacIver make, because this is a common right-wing lie that needs to be countered at all turns.
Medford officials were able to make that cost-saving choice [of bidding on insurance] because of Act 10.

Similarly, the Appleton Area School District switched health insurance providers last October and local taxpayers will see up to $3 million in savings in the first year alone.
One problem with that statement. School districts could always bid out their health insurance providers, and did before 2011. Saying Act 10 is what allowed this is a flat-out lie.

What Act 10 did is allow the districts to shift that cost onto teachers, staff, and other workers at the school district, without giving those workers a say through their union on how much they would have to pay for those benefits. All Act 10's "tools" were really a power shift that funneled money out of the pockets of public employees, by keeping them from having input in how those benefits were distributed and paid for. That in itself is bad, but let's never forget that the state employee unions would have agreed to the financial concessions as a last-ditch effort to keep their collective bargaining rights for benfits (an offer Walker turned down, revealing Act 10 as the union bust it really was), so while it was a serious hit to workers, it was one they were willing to take with their backs up against the wall.

If those savings were used to raise pay or maintain and increase public services, then maybe some of the Act 10 acrimony could be considered worthwhile. And MacIver tries to slide that argument in its "analysis."
$5.24 billion in savings works out to $910 in savings for every man, woman and child in Wisconsin, or $2,291 for every household in Wisconsin. The DOT could build 2,912 more roundabouts. The savings could fund over 68,000 four-year degrees at UW-Madison, or install 42 separate Milwaukee-style streetcar systems throughout the entire state. Thankfully, however, Walker and the legislature have used the Act 10 savings to provide more than $2 billion in direct tax relief for Wisconsinites.
But here's the problem with that claim. THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN. And the reason it didn't happen is because Walker and WisGOP cut state aids over the same time period, preventing the possibility of these enhanced services from happening. That's what can't be emphasized enough, the money concessions that were taken from workers weren't reinvested back into public services, but instead blown on those $2 billion in tax cuts and other government spending was shifted to support GOP special interests like WEDC and voucher schools.

Let's look at the funding that was going to the UW System when Walker took over, and what those figures look like today (all budget numbers courtesy of the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau).

UW System GPR funding, 2010-2017
2010-11 budget base doubled $2,299,026,600
2011-13 budget $2,095,251,600 (-$203.775 mil)
2013-15 budget $2,247,320,900 (-$51.706 mil vs. 10-11)
2015-17 budget $2,078,356,200 (-$220.670 mil vs. 10-11)
TOTAL CUT FROM 2010-11 BASE $476,150,900

And how much did MacIver claim the UW System "saved" with Act 10 on benefit costs? Just over $527 million. Factor in inflation over the last 5 years, and the UW actually has less state funding to pay for its operations than it did before Act 10 came into being. So UW got no fiscal benefit whatsoever from the reduced take-home pay that their employees got, and now are less competitive when it comes to keeping and attracting talent, reducing the quality of the state's education and work force. Fuck that.

The same pattern repeats with K-12 education funding, where the Act 10 "tools" may have saved some money, but that's little solace when schools are receiving less funding from the state, and not being able to improve services as a result.

K-12 public education funding from state- all state sources
2010-11 $5.325 billion
2011-12 $4.893 billion (-$431.6 million vs 2010-11)
2012-13 $4.964 billion (-$360.6 million vs '10-'11)
2013-14 $5.039 billion (-$285.8 million vs '10-'11)
2014-15 $5.242 billion (-$83.4 million vs '10-'11)
2015-16 $5.245 billion (-$80.5 million vs '10-'11)

Again, that figure is before inflation, making the real cut even higher, and so much for the "savings" MacIver claims schools got for their retirement savings (PS- "unfunded liability" is largely a bogus measure as it is, because all employees are not going to retire at once from a district). It is likely that many school districts at best have broken even despite the Act 10 measures, because they were offset by cuts in state aid.

But that's not all on K-12 funding, because while overall K-12 dollars are down, the amount of tax dollars going to voucher and charter schools has gone up at the same time. This is a result of the Walker/WisGOP crew taking its orders from ALEC and the MacIver-funding Bradley Foundation, and funneling money away from public schools.

Change in state GPR $ to voucher/charter schools
2011-13 budget +$43,683,500 vs 2010-11
2013-15 budget +$77,866,700 vs 2011-13
2015-17 budget +$79,665,100 vs 2013-15
TOTAL $201,216,300 above 2010-11

Maybe if public schools had more than $200 million put into them, instead of taken to the voucher schools, maybe we might have a chance of seeing those improved services that MacIver claims Act 10 allows for. Funny how that reality never comes up in their "analysis" of Walker/WisGOP policies. So now the cuts to public schools are up to $1.44 billion over the 5-year Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

The fact that Act 10 wasn't a cure-all for local schools' budget issues is common sense when you look around. If Act 10's tools have magically made Wisconsin's school districts solvent, why have so many of them needed to have referenda to raise property taxes just to keep the buildings from falling down and to keep the lights on? And why are schools like Madison cutting 50 staff and teachers and why is Oshkosh facing the prospect of closing a middle school and cutting $3.4 million 5 years later?

I'm not even bringing up the cuts in state shared revenues to municipalities, which also meant that the "savings" MacIver props to those counties, cities, villages and towns never had a chance to be realized into better opportunities and services at that level. It helps explain why the U.S. DOT says Wisconsin has the 3rd-worst roads in the country, and why numerous state legislators from both sides of the aisle were asking for the chance to raise sales taxes to pay for needed repairs (a request turned down by the ALEC-owned state Legislature, meaning at least another year of deterioration).

Then add in the worst job growth in the Midwest in the years since Act 10, and I don't care how much money MacIver claims Act10 saved, there is no way an honest person can say these anti-worker, austerity policies in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan can be considered successful for anyone. Well, anyone except the politically-connected few who have seen resources sent their way instead of the Wisconsin communities and workers that used to make this a great state to live in. And shifting money and power to their political allies and campaign contributors has always been the only priority of Scott Walker and the Wrecking Crew, and they don't care that they have set Wisconsin back decades in the process.

Had enough of this? It only stops when we make them stop, through the ballot box, or other means.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Vegas books love Sparty's result, didn't like Bucky's

I love reading stories like this, which comes from the always-interesting "ESPN Chalk" page on sports betting. Looks like the Vegas books had a great start to their weekend, especially after the maddest upset for this March - 16 1/2 point underdog Middle Tennessee State's shocker over Michigan State.
William Hill's Nevada sportsbook took 78 money-line bets on Middle Tennessee, the largest a $265 wager that netted $5,300. A disappointed Spartans bettor risked $150 on the money-line at -7,000 odds. The wager would have netted $2.15.

The Spartans were the most popular bet to win the NCAA Tournament at the Westgate SuperBook in both money and number of tickets after the bracket was released. Michigan State, the No. 2 seed in the East Region, was the tournament favorite or co-favorite at most sportsbooks with odds around 9-2. Middle Tennessee could be found as long as 2,000-1. The Westgate took one $5 bet on the Blue Raiders to win it all.
And I was one of those that had Sparty winning it all in my (now-useless) brackets. Just a stunning result for them to go one-and-done, given how successful Izzo and company have been in the Big Dance in recent years.

Fortunately, another Big Ten team didn't go one-and-done on Friday, despite playing some of their worst offense of the season. And ESPN says UW's comeback last night helped to reduce some of the books' gains.
Things turned around for bettors in the late slate with Notre Dame and Wisconsin rallying in the second half to win and cover the spread.

Northern Iowa's half-court buzzer-beater that knocked off Texas sent a roar that could be heard throughout the MGM Grand hotel. Sixty-one percent of the money was on Northern Iowa at William Hill. Oregon, Xavier and St. Joe's winning and covering also was good for bettors at most shops.

"Not a good day, lost everything late," CG Technology vice president of race and sports Jason Simbal said late Friday. "Wisconsin and Notre Dame were the main public parlay sides."
Interestingly, Vegas only has Bucky as a 4-point dog vs Xavier (up to 4.5 as I post this), which is below where I would have put it, so it gives me a bit of heart going into tomorrow. After 2 days of long hours at the bars, it's not so bad to take a break and just hunker down in front of the TV tonight. But it's sure a lotta fun, isn't it?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Madness of March takes precedence over RW whining

If you were expecting lots of serious talk yesterday and today, you're probably in the wrong place. It's March Madness time, and I'm preferring to hit the bars and watch some hoops over dealing with the dullness and infuriation of everyday life.

Doesn't mean I'm not noticing things, though. Such as this, where "Justice" Rebecca Bradley is playing victim in an (AM?) radio ad, then calls on Sheriff Tommy Clarke as a voice of endorsement. Y'know, WisGOP, if you don't want people to think that Trump = GOP, you may not to want to scream "BIASED" when the media does a rare act of holding you accountable for the things you said, and you may not want to have a homophobic Fox News token doing ads for your hand-picked Supreme Court candidate. I'm just sayin'.

And by the way, nice touch to have Tommy claim "the liberals have the media in their back pocket" when he and Becky Bradley are constantly given free air time on AM radio and column inches in right-wing propaganda "news sites" (or via GOPuthpieces like Chrissy Schneider). Apparently, those outlets aren't "media". Or maybe that's a little Freudian "tell" there- that AM620, 1130 and White Wisconsin are lie factories, and not legitimate.

Time to see Bucky take it to Pitt tonight (at least I think they will), and perhaps see if UWGB looks respectable against Texas A&M. And of course, enjoy the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Talk to you later this weekend, all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fed keeping rates low an interesting choice

With the economy hitting a soft patch earlier this year, but with job growth and oil prices on the way back up, today’s meeting of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors had a little more attention than normal, as traders, savers and others wanted to see if the Fed would stay on track to raise interest rates back to a more normal level by the end of this year.

Turns out that wasn’t the case, as the Fed made a relatively surprising announcement that rates would stay low, not just in the short term, but for the near future.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee currently expects that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market indicators will continue to strengthen. However, global economic and financial developments continue to pose risks. Inflation is expected to remain low in the near term, in part because of earlier declines in energy prices, but to rise to 2 percent over the medium term as the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further. The Committee continues to monitor inflation developments closely.

Against this backdrop, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1/4 to 1/2 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation.

In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
The Wall Streeters were happy to hear those words coming from the Fed, and the DOW Jones jumped more than 150 points in 45 minutes, and went from being down 26 points before the Fed announcement to being up more than 74 points when the market closed 2 hours later.

Here’s how The Street summed up the Fed meeting and the associated economic data.
The central bank now expects two rate hikes this year, down from December's forecasts for four hikes over 2016. The Fed also cut its forecasts for next year's hikes by 50 basis points.

"Tightening should continue (slowly) because employment continues to improve, fulfilling part of their mandate, while the resulting tightness in some labor markets is leading to wage inflation pressures, which affects the other part of their mandate," said Jason Pride, director of investment strategy at Glenmede. (I don’t get this part at all, because tightening should be considered if employment growth and wage inflation is happening. Sounds like word salad).

The central bank upgraded its assessment of the U.S. economy, particularly inflation. Members expects full-year GDP growth of 2.2%, down from 2.4% previously forecast. However, members also upgraded their concern over global economic developments.
I find that 2016 growth estimate intriguing, because even while the estimates for full-year GDP growth was reduced, it also is still higher than the Atlanta Fed’s estimate of 1.9% growth for the 1st Quarter of this year, which means the Fed Board anticipates higher growth the rest of the year.

What could prove to be a complication in higher real GDP growth is the increasing inflation that the Fed Board of Governors claims will be a short-term blip and eventually evened out. I’m not quite sure about that, as the U.S. Consumer Price Index seems to be on the way up, . The overall year-over-year increase in the CPI from February 2015- February 2016 was only 1.0%, but that’s largely due to a drop of more than 20% in the price of gas in that time, and now those savings are likely to reverse (gas now over $2 in some parts of Madison vs the $1.61 I paid 6 weeks ago). The BLS notes that core inflation (less food and energy) went up 0.3% for the second month in a row in February, and the underlying amount of 12-month inflation is above the Fed’s benchmark, with0 housing especially becoming pricey.
The index for all items less food and energy increased 2.3 percent over the past 12 months, a figure that has been slowly rising since it was 1.7 percent for the 12 months ending May 2015. The index for shelter has risen 3.3 percent over the last year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending September 2007, and the medical care index has increased 3.5 percent, its largest rise since October 2012.
But maybe the Fed is counting on wages to stagnate yet again in 2016 to keep a lid on the amount of inflation. Any fears about growing wage inflation for the short-term should be put aside, as actual wages went down in February, and only the drop in gasoline kept workers from falling behind.
Real average hourly earnings for all employees were unchanged from January to February, 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 offset by a 0.2-percent decrease in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

Real average weekly earnings decreased 0.5 percent over the month due to no change in real average hourly earnings combined with a 0.6-percent decrease in the average workweek.

Real average hourly earnings increased 1.2 percent, seasonally adjusted, from February 2015 to February 2016. This increase in real average hourly earnings, combined with a 0.6-percent decrease in the average workweek, resulted in a 0.6-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this

WOO HOO! A 0.6% increase after inflation! Don’t spend it all in one place, kids!

So we will see if the Fed’s gamble that prices, wages and GDP growth will remain at “slow but steady” levels will allow it to take its time to raise rates, letting the Wall Street cocaine party of bubble-making cheerfulness continue. But I’m seeing a few warning signs out there that tell me things could well turn the other way as summer driving season heats up - a situation that would lead to prices going up without wages going up with it, and the Fed being stuck no matter which way they turn.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

National update shows how bad it's recently been in Wisconsin

I previewed this a bit last week when Wisconsin’s new benchmarked jobs figures came out last week, but now we have a nationwide perspective to compare those new figures to, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the figures for all 50 states on Monday. With these new benchmarks now in place for all the states, it allows us the chance to further evaluate where Wisconsin measures up nationwide, and stands in comparison with the rest of our Midwestern neighbors.

Not that this should surprise you, but it’s not good, as the state has lost serious ground in recent months, losing private sector jobs in each of the last 3 months. Since January 2015, Wisconsin has grown jobs at less than half the rate of the U.S., and is also (yet again) the worst in the Midwest.

Private sector job growth, Jan 2015- Jan 2016
Mich +2.25%
U.S. +2.21%
Iowa +1.73%
Ohio +1.71%
Ind. +1.68%
Minn +1.27%
Ill. +1.10%
Wis. +0.93%

In fact, Wisconsin’s 22,900 private sector jobs gained year-over-year is the lowest 12-month gain in several years, given the new benchmarks that are now in the data. It is also nearly 10,000 below what was gained from January 2010 to January 2011- the 12 months before Scott Walker took office. Also interesting is that the jobs numbers seem to have been revised up in the previous years...which makes the drop in the last year all the more drastic.

Wisconsin private sector job growth, Jan-Jan
Jan 2010-Jan 2011 +32,700 (+1.43%)
Jan 2011-Jan 2012 +30,700 (+1.32%)
Jan 2012-Jan 2013 +29,000 (+1.23%)
Jan 2013-Jan 2014 +37,600 (+1.58%)
Jan 2014-Jan 2015 +46,000 (+1.90%)
Jan 2015-Jan 2016 +22,900 (+0.93%)

Wisconsin sub-1% gain in private sector jobs puts it in the bottom quarter of U.S. states, and the handful of states that have added jobs at a worse rate than Wisconsin in the last year generally fall into two categories-

1. Nailed by the bust in oil prices (such as Louisiana, Oklahoma, Wyoming and North Dakota).

2.Backwards bumblefuck states like Alabama, West Virginia, and Kansas who can’t attract talent.

We’ve sure acted a lot like Number 2 in recent years, haven’t we? And the awful jobs numbers released in the last week have shown how those regressive policies are coming home to roost in Wisconsin more than ever.

Monday, March 14, 2016

How corporates get their property taxes lowered, and yours to go up

I wanted to talk about an intriguing piece in Sunday’s Janesville Gazette (with thanks to the always-great Wheeler Report to draw my attention to the article). This article discusses an argument that Wisconsin businesses and corporations have been trying to pull over on cities and other local governments, in an attempt to lower their property assessment. Such a move illustrates the type of everyday scams run by the rich and well-connected that cost average Wisconsinites major dollars in property taxes every year, and why these “job creators” spend so much of their profits to lobby for favorable and elect puppets at both the judicial and legislative levels.

The story is from Elliot Hughes and is entitled “'Dark stores’ argument allows big businesses to skimp on property taxes.” Here’s how the argument goes, and how it pays off for the businesses.
When these arguments are made, the commercial property owners basically say their properties, when being assessed for its value, should be compared to a property with a similar but vacant building--a dark store.

Businesses argue that their buildings are so specific and unique to their needs that if the business ever left, the property would never sell because nobody could use the leftover structure. It's also common for deed restrictions to prohibit the sale of buildings to competitors anyway, according to experts.

So, they conclude, their property value should be lowered.
In other words, these businesses shouldn’t have their property values judged based on what the property is worth today, but instead have it based on what would happen if they weren’t operating there. And many municipalities such as Janesville don’t have the resources and/or attorney staffing to make it cost-effective to challenge the business’s argument in court, so often they end up settling with the business, lowering their assessment, and having to figure out a way to make up the difference on the rest of their property taxpayers (most of which are everyday residential homeowners).
[Amie] Trupke (who is hired by the City of Janesville on retainer for these types of cases) and Assistant City Attorney Tim Wellnitz identified eight businesses that have used the dark store tactic against the city: Blain Supply, Farm & Fleet, Target, U.S. Bank, Menards, Sears, Rosebud Partners (for Wildwood Theaters) and Jade Taco (for Taco John's)….

Sears got about $1.5 million of value knocked off its property at 2500 Milton Ave., while Target, Jade Taco and U.S. Bank each shed less than $1 million of value off their properties at 2017 Humes Road, 2821 Milton Ave. and 2732 Milton Ave., respectively.
Hughes saysin the article that those rulings resulted in more than $132,000 being paid back by the City of Janesville to these businesses, not an insignificant amount when you consider the City of Janesville's entire property tax levy was $28.4 million in 2015.

Favorable property valuations are among the largest reasons right-wing and corporate organizations want to put a hack like Rebecca Bradley on the court. Because a relatively common topic that the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules on is interpretative items such as how to assess certain types of property. Getting a pro-corporate “justice” like Bradley onto the bench makes it more likely that these corporations will get rulings in their favor, which lowers their property taxes, while raising the taxes for everyday homeowners, because it leads to higher tax rates to make up for the lower corporate property values.

If the property valuations are disputed, these cases often end up in court, and sometimes reach the highest levels. A good example of this was back in 2011, when Adams Outdoor Advertising got over $917,000 back from the City of Madison after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the city had to base its assessment on the value of the property and the permit, and not solely the income that the billboard generated for the company. Here’s a 2009 case involving a similar billboard assessment issue in Milwaukee, and more often than not, the corporations have been favored in these types of cases in the last decade in Wisconsin.

The Supreme Court also rules on other assessment questions as the “arbiter of last resort,” and the 5-member right-wing majority recently agreed to take a case that could reduce the property assessment of a Racine low-income housing apartment complex by at least $1.4 million in two different years. And if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the apartment complex owners, then it sets precedent for similar lawsuits and lowered assessments for similar developments around the state.

This is yet another example of how things are rigged against the average middle-class worker in Wisconsin. Corporations and other businesses get targeted tax breaks from the GOPs in the Capitol, and use that extra money not to raise wages or hire more workers, but instead hire attorneys to lobby and argue for more favorable regulations (or no regulations), and for lower property assessments. They may also give campaign contributions to politicians to pass favorable laws and to judges who rule in their favor. These lower costs and assessments then allow even more money to flow toward the attorneys, politicians, and judges, while the vast majority of us outside of this inner circle see our wages stagnate, and our property taxes go up.

And scams like this will continue until everyday citizens get a clue and say “NO MORE!”