Saturday, April 30, 2016

Walker's whining and Schimel's lawsuits gives away the game for ALEC-GOP

You can usually tell when Scott Walker is losing the rhetorical battle on an issue when he starts complaining about his opponents and/or the media for one of his administration’s scummy actions being brought to light. This happened again this week after the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) voted 4-2 to ask for the release in $250,000 in supplemental funds to go towards a media campaign to educate Wisconsin citizens on the state’s new voter ID procedures.

Instead of shrugging and letting the procedure go with a non-statement, Walker acted like an abusive husband, and blamed the supporters of the people having their voting rights impeded.
“The fact is, the State had to spend a whole lot of time and money defending the law, and we continue to do so today. If people were really serious about that, they wouldn’t have allowed the State to use all that money to fight courts and to use that in promoting the system.”
There is SOOOO much fail in that statement from Scotty.

Let’s start with the fact that the $250,000 being requested, doesn’t take one dime away from the state’s abilities to defend the laws or carry out any other services. That money has already been budgeted and set aside (that’s why it’s called a “supplemental”, Scotty), and isn’t designated to go anywhere else but to an education campaign on voter ID. Releasing these funds wouldn’t change anything when it comes to the state’s ability to pay for needs…unless Walker never intended to pay the “voter ID education” money at all and instead wanted to fill in a budget hole by not spending it.

The head of the GAB rightly called out Walker's line of bullshit.
"That’s really a very disingenuous comment," said [GAB Director Kevin] Kennedy. "I mean, this was a very politically charged decision in the Legislature. Not everyone supports it. And people were challenging the right. That’s like apples and oranges."

Kennedy said that the money would be used to restart the "Bring It To The Ballot" campaign designed back in 2011 and used briefly in 2012 and 2014. Part of the campaign, said Kennedy, would direct voters to a state website, and advertise the toll-free number for those who don’t have Internet access.
“Disingenuous” is putting it kindly, Kevin. What Walker and the WisGOP proponents of voter ID have done over the last 3 weeks is prove that they view it not as a good government measure to increase integrity of the vote, but as a tactic to increase their chances of winning elections. In fact, one of those lawsuits that Walker alluded to shows that WisGOP knows “Wisconsin voter fraud” is a lie.

Go back to 2014, when this case was being argued in a Wisconsin federal court. At that time, voter ID was thrown out, and in the decision, Federal Judge Lynn Adelman said the GOP-run Department of Justice admitted in federal court in 2014 that it “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past."

This admission didn’t stop voter ID from being Ok’d by an Appeals Court, claiming that it was similar to another OK’d voter ID law in Indiana, and despite being delayed until after the 2014 elections, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case, letting voter ID stand. But once voter ID was in place for the Wisconsin presidential primary on April 5, numerous stories and instances of people not being allowed their right to vote were reported. This, along with long lines and multiple hoops to jump through, have shown that voter ID causes excessive burdens on specific demographics….most of whom just happen to favor Democrats. That evidence, along with the public statements of former GOP staffer Todd Allbaugh that WisGOP legislators were “giddy” about using voter ID to suppress certain votes and increase their chances of winning, should be sufficient to show that this law is intended to injure certain groups over others. That case goes to trial next month, with the new evidence in tow.

You can bet the Walker Administration and AG Brad Schimel will be using taxpayer dollars to try to keep the voter ID laws on the books, and that leads to the other reason Walker’s statement is so disgusting. Voter ID is far from the only example of taxpayer money the Walker/Schimel folks are spending to defend and promote the Koch/ALEC agenda. Schimel has joined other Koch/ALEC states in suing against the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, in filing suit to force welfare recipients to be drug-tested before receiving benefits, and recently joined other states in filing suit to relax federal ozone and other air quality standards. Schimel has also vowed to use state resources to appeal the recent ruling in a Dane County court that the state’s “right-to-work” (for less) law was unconstitutional.

But that’s not all, as State Rep. Chris Taylor pointed out this week that Schimel created a new Solicitor General position whose main (taxpayer-funded) job seems to be to work in conjunction with the Kochs and ALEC to try to override rules from the Obama Administration.
The reason [for having a Solicitor General] is this: It’s no secret that Wisconsin has become a laboratory for American Legislative Exchange Council policies. ALEC is the conservative group that drafts model state-level legislation. It’s now the solicitor general’s job to pursue these policies in court, even if Wisconsin isn’t involved in the case or if the case is one certain to be lost.

In fact, during budget deliberations on the Joint Finance Committee, I explicitly asked if the function of the solicitor general’s office would be to sue the federal government — and the answer was yes.
Rep. Taylor adds that the Wisconsin DOJ won’t even detail the costs of these many lawsuits against the Feds, which is why Walker’s crocodile tears of “I don’t want to release $250,000 for voter ID education because of we’ve spent so much in lawsuits” is such garbage. If cost of these lawsuits is such a concern to the Walkers and Schimels of the world, why the hell are they filing suits every chance they get, and why aren’t they willing to release the cost of these suits to the public? At the poker table, that’s known as a “tell,” and it shows that both the Governor’s Office and the AG’s office don’t give a damn about fairness or integrity of the law, but want to rig things for them and their puppetmasters any way they can.

Regardless of Scott Walker’s whining, it does appear that the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will take up the topic of releasing these funds for voter ID education next month. But let’s not let this issue of voter suppression drop, and let’s bring WisGOP’s foot-dragging and litigious nature to the forefront for people to see. Because there is nothing conservative about limiting the sacred right to vote, or in abusing taxpayer money and the power of the government to help your campaign contributors.

For that mentality, an F word comes more to mind…

Friday, April 29, 2016

More tourists stay in Wisconsin, but new laws take away local benefits

Today featured the release of the Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin report for 2015, which featured largely positive numbers. If you take a look at the PowerPoint from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism summarizing the report you’ll see how this industry has a significant impact on Wisconsin’s economy.
Visitor spending of $11.9 billion generated $19.3 billion in total business sales in 2015 as traveler dollars flowed through the Wisconsin economy.

•Visitor activity sustained 190,717 jobs in 2015, both directly and indirectly.

•1-in-12.5 jobs in the state is sustained by tourism activity – 8.0% of total employment in Wisconsin.
In addition, the Department of Tourism notes that one of the biggest drivers of 2015’s increase was in the lodging industry, as spending went up in that area by 7.3% to more than $2.5 billion. This allowed lodging to move past retail into 2nd place for the sector with the most tourist spending in Wisconsin for 2015 (only Food and beverage had more, at just over $3 billion). Hotel room revenue especially surged in the warm-weather months last year, as the Department of Tourism says Q2 and Q3 revenues were up by 11% in each of those 3-month periods.

The Tourism Department goes on to note that local governments and entities raised just over $100 million in lodging taxes last year, an increase of 8.2% that goes beyond the increase in overall lodging spending. Ordinarily this would be a good sign, as these lodging revenues could be use to increase services and take pressure off of the property tax in the communities that these tourists are staying in, which could go a long way toward keeping the positive cycle of tourism spending going.

However, the Wisconsin GOP Legislature threw a monkey wrench into that with the 2015-17 budget, and it could hurt these local communities as they deal with next year’s budget over the coming months. The Legislative Council has a good rundown of these changes in room tax laws, and why it might cause some difficulty for the locals.

·Specifies that the required percentage of room tax revenues must be spent on tourism promotion or tourism development, not municipal development generally. Under prior law, the revenues had to be spent on “tourism promotion and development.”

·Eliminates a municipality’s authority to directly spend the room tax revenues that must be spent on tourism promotion and tourism development. Under Act 55, a municipality must forward those room tax revenues to a commission, if one exists for the municipality, or to a tourism entity.

· Modifies the 1994 grandfather clause, which generally permitted municipalities that had imposed a room tax prior to May 13, 1994, to retain more than 30% of room tax revenues if they had been doing so as of that date. Beginning with the room taxes collected on January 1, 2017, Act 55 creates a cap on the amount of room tax revenues that a municipality subject to the 1994 grandfather clause may retain for purposes other than tourism promotion and tourism development. The cap will be gradually reduced over a period of five years, such that, by fiscal year 2021, an affected municipality will be able to retain only the same dollar amount of the room tax that it retained in fiscal year 2010 or 30% of its current year room tax revenues, whichever is greater.
Basically what this does is prevent certain communities from using more than 30% of the revenue that comes from room taxes on things like streets or fire protection or a number of other services (despite the need for services growing due to tourists coming into the area). It also diverts money from the local communities from doing their own tourist promotion and spending, and forces it to go to commissions like the Greater Madison Visitors and Convention Bureau. These moves that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said would cause a $1 million budget hole to a city that sits in a county that had tourism spending grow by nearly 6.2% last year.

A similar concern about how this provision robs local governments was voiced last June by a couple of tourist-driven towns on opposite ends of the state.
The change, which was approved by the Joint Finance Committee last month, would mean communities would have to turn over 70 percent of room taxes they collect to local tourism. Bayfield Mayor Larry MacDonald said his city keeps 48 percent of the tax now, and that the proposed change would result in services getting cut.

"We will be forced by the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association to damage our tourism economy because we will not have as many police officers, garbage cans, parks — you name it," said MacDonald….

Denise Pieroni is the city administrator for Delavan. She said the city currently uses 82.5 percent of room taxes collected for capital projects that improve city infrastructure. Delavan would likely increase borrowing to pay for improvements to maintain their tourist town. With the change, Pieroni said there would be no incentive to add beds because of the cost it would take to service them. She said it’s short-sighted to use all the revenues for tourism promotion.

"(Visitors are) not going to come again if you have a downtown and it’s deteriorating," she said.
But wait, maybe Governor Walker realized that this bill would hurt the town he graduated high school in, wanted to maintain local control (remember when GOPs were all about small government and local control?) and did something to fix it!

Ahh, who am I kidding? In typical Walker fashion, he made this provision even worse, as explained by the Leg Council.
Governor’s Veto

Under SB 21, as enrolled, a municipality that would otherwise be subject to the room tax retention reduction schedule, could have delayed implementation of the reduction schedule if the municipality had entered into a contract before January 1, 2016, that depended upon room tax revenues to satisfy its terms. The Governor vetoed this provision. Therefore, under Act 55, all municipalities that had imposed a room tax as of May 13, 1994, and had retained more than 30% of room tax revenues, pursuant to the 1994 grandfather clause, will be subject to the room tax revenue retention reduction schedule beginning with the room tax collected on January 1, 2017.
So the hit is guaranteed to come starting next year, and you'll see the resulting cuts and higher property taxes as a result. How kind of the man.

Here's another example of how the Wisconsin GOP gets things backward when it comes to business development in the state. Visitors get attracted to Wisconsin due to neat little towns, great events in cities, and beautiful scenery. So what does Walker and the ALEC crew do? They reduce the ability of those cities to maintain its infrastructure to handle these tourists, and instead push those duties onto the local property taxpayer, all while claiming to "protect" those same taxpayers. In addition, these same Republicans have defunded those cities with shared revenue cuts, and couldn’t even allow a vote on a bipartisan measure that would allow these communities to impose a sales tax to pay for upkeep on their roads. This is despite the fact that tourists cause extra use and wear on those roads, and pay a sizable amount of sales and room taxes.

Then add in WisGOP’s deregulation of the environment and regressive social policies, and it makes for even more incentives to keep people from considering Wisconsin over other areas to spend their tourist dollars. After a strong 2015 for tourist spending and the hotel business in Wisconsin, we see the state Legislature and Governor Walker trying to undo all of this success, and harm the original and beautiful Wisconsin communities that got those tourists to “Escape to Wisconsin.” It’s just so dumb.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sorry Dem leggies, but Dane County primaries are a good thing

As I head out to lunch from my bureaucratic job these days, I occasionally see State Sen. Fred Risser gathering nomination signatures around the Capitol Square area. Risser is running for yet another term this Fall. Risser has been in the State Legislature since 1957, and in the State Senate since 1962, and in that time period the City of Madison has grown from just over 125,000 in 1960 to nearly 250,000 today. In those 59 years, there have been whole generations of progressives come and go through the Mad City, but Risser has stayed in office, usually without any challengers from his fellow Democrats. As of this writing, there doesn't seem to be a primary challenger willing to take on Sen. Risser this August, despite the fact that Risser turns 89 next week and would be 93 when his term ends.

The lack of a challenge to Sen. Risser in the growing, progressive city of Madison leads me back to an article that came out last weekend which caused a bit of consternation within certain corners of progressive Wisconsin. It dealt with Fitchburg's Jimmy Anderson deciding to challenge incumbent Rep. Robb Kahl in the Democratic primary election this August. Anderson claimed that Kahl wasn't progressive enough for the district, citing Kahl's vote for Gov Scott Walker in 2010, and in Kahl going along with Republicans on a bill toughening penalties for trafficking food stamps.

Anderson's primary challenge disturbed some established Democrats, including State Rep. Gordon Hintz, who said Dems have a hard enough time in this state without having to use time and resources for intra-party primaries.
"This is such a distraction," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. "Think about this. Hopefully all 35 of us (Democrats in the Assembly) are going to come out strongly for Robb. Every dollar and every door that we do for our colleague is another dollar and another door that we’re not doing in a Republican district that we can win. When we pick up a seat or two fewer in the fall, I’m going to think about these so-called progressive hypocrites that went after this unnecessary seat to make themselves happy or to high-five their friends at the co-op."
Gordon, I like you, and I've cited you plenty of times on this site, but you are way off here. And not just for the tactless "progressive hypocrites/friends at the co-op" slam.

The bigger reason I have a problem with Rep. Hintz's quote is that I don't buy his reasoning. If Robb Kahl is a worthy enough Assemblyman, he shouldn't have to worry about some unknown newcomer knocking him out of office, and he shouldn't need a major effort from other party members to do so (why would they stick their nose into that business anyway?). The district is strongly Democratic, and the winner will likely be unchallenged in the November election, let alone have to spend any sizable resources. And if Hintz is right, and the Democratic Party might fail to pick a seat statewide because one candidate might have to spend a few thousand dollars in August, they have MUCH bigger problems than Jimmy Anderson challenging an incumbent Dem Rep.

Now that doesn't excuse others who went off the deep end in reaction to Hintz's comments, such as Jeff Simpson in Cognitive Dissidence, who gave a childish rant against Hintz and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, using personal slams and a right-wing framework to do so. I said my piece in the comments section of that column, and there's no need to reiterate them here, but I thought that was every bit as inappropriate as Rep. Hintz's original comments.

There's a better way to question why DPW officials (elected and otherwise) have such a problem with the prospect of primary challenges. Isthmus's Alan Talaga showed how you do it in a thoughtful commentary that ran this week. Talaga turns Hintz's complaints about a lack of Dem seats in the Assembly on its head, and says having primary competition can improve the caliber of Dem candidates, and get their messages out in front of an audience that doesn't hear enough about Democratic positions and values.
Now, putting aside Hintz’s AM talk radio-esque dig at the high-turnout progressive base that gives Democrats even a chance at being competitive statewide, I fully understand what he is doing. The Democratic and Republican caucuses are teams — you show support for your fellow team members. Plus, Hintz is correct when he says that a Democratic purity test is a bad idea. I don’t want a Democratic Party where the leadership Dale Schultz-es any moderates out of its ranks.

A lack of primaries is good for current Democratic officeholders. However, what’s good for incumbents isn’t always good for voters, or the Democratic Party as a whole.

This is a party that needs more leadership at a statewide level. If Democrats are ever going to retake the lower chamber of the Legislature, they need to convince voters they have a plan and an agenda that is more grandiose than “stop the onslaught of horrible, garbage legislation.”
I also like another point from Talaga- a primary challenger would finally give a reason for the politically-active area around Madison to get involved in a Summertime election.
This primary election also gives Dane County Democrats a chance to get engaged in a legislative election in their own district. With the exception of retirements and redistricting, there’s rarely a competitive race for the Wisconsin Legislature in the Madison metro area. That’s somewhat of a natural consequence — there’s a solid slate of people who represent the area in both the Assembly and Senate who draw few serious complaints.

However, the high rates of Dane County incumbency make it difficult to get local people engaged in legislative races. Local races are how you move voters from making social media posts to getting out in the community and talking to other voters. A high-stakes primary has the potential to raise energy for the party, regardless of who wins. Getting local residents mobilized for Kahl and Anderson in the primary — knocking on doors, making phone calls — builds up a Democratic base that can be used to knock on doors and make phone calls in other Assembly and Senate races in the general election.
I can't agree with this more. It is absurd that much of the City of Madison has had the same state senator for more than 50 years, and that's not to rip on the effectiveness or positions of Fred Risser. But don't the voters in this growing, changing city deserve the chance to decide if Risser should be retained or replace him with a potential upgrade? This bowing to incumbents has kept a number of good progressives in Madison from moving up the ranks and making their own name, and it hasn't helped the state party in the last 20 years either, as the ability to promote new names stagnated 20 years ago. Now state Dems are in need of a boost more than ever, but it doesn't help to have the same names stay in the same spots for decades and block others.

There's one other positive to having a primary challenge in Madison and other Dem-leaning college areas- a contested August election is a good reason to get young voters registered and "in the book", which could pay huge dividends for the general election in November. Getting pre-registered would also lessen some of the huge lines Republicans have tried to impose with voter ID and other rigging of elections.

Besides, isn't it better for Chris Taylor to run for statewide office as a Majority member of the State Senate rather than being stuck as a Minority member of the State Assembly? Or have someone like Kathleen Vinehout or Jen Shilling run for Congress after Ron Kind moves on to his next gig after numerous terms in the House? Or have any of Milwaukee's numerous under-40 Assembly and Common Council members move onto DC to speak up for Wisconsin's largest city in place of Gwen Moore?

Oh wait! Did I just say that? It's just a hypothetical, folks. And given that the Democratic Party seems to be OK with having its elected officials be entitled to jobs for life, it wouldn't be anything we'd get to see in the next few years. Even though we should.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Steineke "arrogance" on UW shows why Bucky should fight WisGOP

Things are already heated on the UW-Madison campus, as the campus is grappling with numerous years of budget cuts and the dissolution of tenure in the last state budget. And the temperature got turned up even higher today, in light of the UW Faculty Senate's plans to pass a resolution of no confidence against UW President Ray Cross and the UW Board of Regents.
The resolution to be considered next week blasts the Regents for approving new tenure policies that weaken faculty layoff protections and accuses Cross and the board of damaging the reputation of the flagship campus.

Written by sociology professor Chad Alan Goldberg, who has been among the most vocal faculty members in calling for strong tenure protections, the resolution declares the Faculty Senate has no confidence in Cross or the Regents to “protect tenure and shared governance.”
Basically, the faculty Senate is saying that they've been pushed past the breaking point, and do not trust Cross and the Walker-stacked Board of Reents to act in the best interests of UW-Madison. Instead they believe Cross and the Regents are working on behalf of Walker and the WisGOP Legislature in allowing the defunding and reforms deforms happen to the UW System, and demand that UW System Administration actually stand up for the UW.

UW-Madison chancellor Becky Blank said she thought the resolution would lead to more turmoil for the university, as it could lead to revenge by the WisGOP State Legislature in the form of further damage.
“The backlash on this will be potentially very real,” Blank said, “particularly as we’re going into a budget year where the number of people who are looking for reasons to cut UW-Madison is uncomfortably high. This gives them those reasons.”

Blank said a no-confidence vote risks alienating UW’s potential supporters in the Capitol and the business community, groups with whom she said Cross is popular, and questioned what UW-Madison would gain from the resolution.
Very telling that Blank thinks the interests of "business community" is more important than the interests of the workers that produce the knowledge and goods that come out of the university that she heads up. That business community is better known Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other corporate oligarchs, who elected the Legislature that instilled the cuts in the first place.

And as for those "potential supporters in the Capitol", take a look at how a high-ranking WisGOP legislator reacted to the Faculty Senate's resolution against President Cross, and to faculty complaints over the new work conditions.
On Tuesday, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, defended Cross and the Regents, described the changes to tenure as "minor" and criticized faculty for bringing the no confidence vote.

“This action ... shows an arrogance that doesn't serve the university or its students well," Steineke said. "It’s a clear example of the complete disconnect between UW-Madison faculty who seem to expect their job to come with a forever guarantee and the average Wisconsin family struggling just to make ends meet.”
Now the Number 2 guy in the State Assembly would know, because after all he got a degree from the UW-Madison and he knows how different those professors view things vs the "real world.". I mean, just look at Steineke's bio. It screams "expert on the ins and outs of higher education."
Born Milwaukee, November 23, 1970; married, 3 children. Graduate Wauwatosa West H.S. 1989; attended UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh. Realtor, salesman.
Let me translate for you- "attended" college means STEINEKE DROPPED OUT WITH NO DEGREE. The only job skill he seems to have is convincing rubes to buy into whatever he is selling.

But Jimmy didn't stop there. Like the undereducated fool with multiple criminal convictions that he is, he felt the need to explain his comments to the public in a massive Twitter meltdown this afternoon, which included this gem.

There is so much wrong in those 140 characters. Here's just a couple of them.

1. Tenure is not a "guaranteed job for life." You can still be fired for misconduct (and rightfully so), and that's not it's main calling card. What tenure allows is intellectual freedom to carry out research and discuss ideas without fear of reprisal from ideological bullies. You know, like college dropout governors and legislators who warn that there will be repercussions taken against universities who have faculty organizations who call the UW System President to account.

2. UW-Madison is a research institution, who has most of its funding and mission be based on research which advances society, and whose findings increase quality of life outside the university borders. This statement comes directly from UW-Madison's mission statement.
The primary purpose of the University of Wisconsin–Madison is to provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all. The university seeks to help students to develop an understanding and appreciation for the complex cultural and physical worlds in which they live and to realize their highest potential of intellectual, physical and human development.
Sure, there is a teaching element to things at UW (especially at the undergrad level), but the main focus of that university is research, and it's what separates it from the rest of the System. It's also a main reason that UW-Madison was a Big Ten school and a top 10 public institution in America (until Steineke and ALEC/GOP started messing with it) that attracted great minds from around the U.S. and the rest of the world. Steineke's comment is the logical offshoot of what Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos's said after the 2014 elections about what the UW's priorities should be.
“Of course I want research, but I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” said Vos. “So we want to try to have priorities that are focused on growing our economy.”
And who defines what "grows the economy?" You got it- the Assembly GOP and their non-innovative WMC puppetmasters. In this mentality, there is no concept of public good or societal advance, just profitization for those who are in the inner circle.

Unlike Blank, another UW chancellor decided there is nothing to be gained by cowering to these anti-education thugs in the Legislature, and he went public with his concerns today. UW River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen released a statement illustrating how state support of his school has plummeted over the last 40 years, and how that reality not only threatens the university’s viability, but also business development and the quality of life in western Wisconsin.
At UW-River Falls, the 2015-2017 state budget approved by the legislature and Governor resulted in a $2.87 million base budget cut, representing an 11.2% reduction in base state support. Also, as part of the budget bill, undergraduate tuition was frozen for 2015-2017, extending the tuition freeze for a total of four years. The primary use of state and tuition funds is to support faculty and staff who work directly with students. At UW-River Falls, the budget cuts have resulted in a reduction of 55 state/tuition-supported positions, including 18 permanent layoffs or non-retentions. Since 1974-1975, the balance between funding of core educational costs at UW-River Falls has shifted from 79% state funds and 21% tuition, to 28% state funds and 72% tuition in 2015-2016….

UWRF is an extraordinarily student-centered university, has prepared its graduates well, and is deeply connected to River Falls, Hudson and the entire St. Croix Valley,” said Chancellor Van Galen. “Through initiatives such as the Hudson Center, the St. Croix Valley Business Incubator, and new academic programs in agricultural engineering, data science, and neuroscience, the university is striving to be responsive to the needs of our state and our students.”

“Our role, however, is not only to produce talent that benefits our state and region,” Chancellor Van Galen continued. “A UW comprehensive campus like ours is truly here to help prepare students to become engaged, ethical citizens for the entire course of their lives. State budget cuts, in conjunction with a tuition freeze, inhibit our ability to do this. We need our alumni and community members who care about education and this university to stand up and support us now, more than ever.”
Chancellor Van Galen recognizes the reality that these anti-education WisGOPs will try to cut and deform the university no matter how UW higher-ups treat them, so why not go over their heads and take the UW's case directly to the public? After all, removing anti-UW legislators like State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (who "represents" River Falls and voted for all of these cuts and deforms) is the only way that the UW System can stop the bleeding and start the recovery process from this destructive ALEC agenda.

Becky Blank should do the same at my alma mater in Madison, especially since Bucky has the donor and research base to "go it alone", and likely has a much higher level of respectability in the eyes of the typical voter than the sleazy ALEC crew at the Capitol. And if Chancellor Blank isn't willing to stand up for Bucky in the strongest language possible, tell UW grads all over the state that these destructive jackwagons in the Legislature can stick their anti-education attitudes up their backsides, and that they need to be replaced for the damage they have caused, then she's not cut out for the job and we need a UW advocate put in her place. Because the state's best resource and generator of talent can't afford to have timid, cowed leadership in this crucial time, and needs to understand that the ALEC crew isn't going to decide the funding of UW-Madison or the rest the System in good faith.

At this point, what do UW campus officials have to lose? The WisGOPs will cut and screw them over if they stay in power past 2016. And if you succeed in changing the current Legislature and its destructive attitude toward the UW System, that's quite a bit to win back.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Just like ALEC planned- less Wisconsin teachers, and less want to be

In today's edition of "Gee, whaddya know?", the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took a deep dive into a recently-released report which gives hard numbers behind teacher staffing in Wisconsin, and how those ranks are being thinned in the post-Act 10 world. While the results of the Public Policy Forum’s report aren’t surprising, they do illustrate that teachers are leaving the profession in higher numbers, both in the Milwaukee area, and statewide.

Among the findings:

■ Wisconsin saw a spike in departures between the 2010-’11 and 2011-’12 school years. Act 10, the state law restricting bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, took effect in the intervening summer. But the report could not definitively point to the law as the cause.

■ Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest district, lost 9% to 15.4% of its teachers annually over a four-year period. But others, including Waukesha and several in rural communities, saw higher rates.

■ While departing teachers tended to be retirement age, more than a third in the Milwaukee area were in their 20s and 30s. New teachers with less than five years of experience were the second-largest group to leave.

■ More than a fourth of the teaching workforce in metro Milwaukee is over 50, suggesting that departures will increase, and about 62% of the replacement teachers come in with no prior experience.
Making this situation worse is that there is a smaller amount of potential teachers entering the pipeline. The PPF report goes on to report that enrollment in the state’s college teacher education programs has declined significantly in the 2010s.
A casual look at the data shows the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has declined sharply over the [2008-2014] period. Statewide, enrollment levels have fallen 27.9%, from 12,323 students in the 2008-09 school year. Public universities saw the biggest impact of the decline with enrollments falling 31.5% over the six years. Private colleges experienced a decline of 18.2% over the same period. Indeed, 28 of the 41 programs in the sample saw enrollments fall since 2008-09.

Looking at individual programs, UW-Oshkosh was affected the most, with enrollment falling by 1,526 students (70.1%) since 2008-09. UW-Whitewater and UW-Eau Claire also experienced large decreases of 679 and 272 students, respectively. Some colleges appear to have added students over time, though enrollments have declined from their peak. For example, UW-Milwaukee had

499 students enrolled in its program in 2013-14, an increase of 251 students compared to 2008-09. However, enrollments fell by nearly 50% from a peak of 962 students in 2010-11.
The PPF paper is careful not to directly blame Act 10 for this decrease, claiming that the real decline didn’t start until 2012-13 (a year after Act 10 was passed) and that other Midwestern states also had declines in teacher education programs. But this is easy to explain, as students who were sophomores and juniors in 2010-11 (when the Act 10 “bomb” was dropped) would be likely to continue with their major instead of changing gears and having to likely take more time to complete their degrees. Once those students left, and once Governor Walker was retained in the June 2012 recall election, it became evident that Act 10 provisions would remain in place, and students adjusted their careers afterwards.

It’s also not surprising that other Midwestern schools would see declines in teacher education programs in the 2010s. As this chart from a 2014 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, Wisconsin may have had the largest cut in inflation-adjusted K-12 spending per student in the Midwest between 2008-2014 at over 15%, but Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan also had cuts ranging from between 8.6% and 11.7%, putting all those states in the “top” 20 for cuts per student.

This translated into a sizable drop in local government employment in the first half of the 2010s. Students attending college at that time would rightfully have seen that other areas of the economy were hiring more than education was, and likely shifted their career choices that direction.

The double-whammy in Wisconsin is that Act 10 also reduced take-home pay for teachers and condoned right-wingers and local yokels to denigrate the profession, making that career choice for teaching less worthwhile in take-home pay and satisfaction. It’s almost like the rules of supply and demand don’t just affect business owners, but they also have an effect on what potential workers choose to do as well. Imagine that!

Unfortunately, the Public Policy Forum’s study ends with the 2013-14 school year, which means it does not measure the added cuts to public education and increased voucherization that has happened in Fitzwallkerstan since that time. As the CBPP notes, Wisconsin was the only state in the Midwest to continue to cut funding for K-12 education in 2015-16, and had the 4th-largest cuts to K-12 schools in the country, going against the nationwide trend of restoring funding to public schools.

So with K-12 teachers aging and a lack of new college graduates on the horizon to replace them, how can schools keep on having classrooms staffed at an adequate level? One of WisGOP's answers: Lower the standards of becoming a teacher! Remember this from last year, after a UW-Madison student delivered a petition with over 37,000 signatures protesting licensing “reforms”?
Under the proposal, the Department of Public Instruction would be required to give a teaching license to anyone with a bachelor’s degree in core subject areas like English, math, social studies and science. People who demonstrated knowledge in non-core subjects also would be eligible for a teaching license, even if they didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

“Nobody, nobody wants to lower the licensure standards for teaching in Wisconsin,” [UW-Madison education student Briana] Schwabenbauer told [Edgewood College professor Jed] Hopkins and Tim Slekar, dean of the Edgewood School of Education, on their on their BustEd Pencils podcast.

“It’s become a movement,” said Schwabenbauer. “We’ve built up this momentum around the idea that we need higher standards in our education system and to meet those standards we need to push our educators, not discourage them from going into education.”

Hours after a press conference announcing the delivery of Schwabenbauer’s petition, Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, announced her proposal was being redrafted.

Czaja told the Wisconsin State Journal that under new language being drafted, individuals receiving the proposed alternative teaching licenses and permits could work only part time and in one school. The revised proposal would also require anyone teaching in a non-core subject area to have at least a high school diploma, something not included in the original language.
The proposal was eventually modified to allow for “experience-based” teacher licensing in certain STEM and technical fields, and to allow for reciprocity with other states if the teacher had at least one year of teaching experience in that other state. But you can see where this is heading, and if the ALEC/GOPs maintain control of the State Legislature after November’s elections, I have little doubt this proposal to lower teaching license standards gets resurrected to handle the “crisis” that is resulting from fewer people wishing to become teachers.

And that’s all part of the ALEC plan, isn’t it? Defund public schools, lower the status of the teaching profession, discourage some of the best and brightest from pursuing it as a career plan, and then use that as the excuse to say “See! Public schools aren’t working these days!” This allows for an excuse to funnel more taxpayer money into private schools, whose operators (and churches) kick some of that money back to them in campaign assistance. Combine that with stupid tax policies that starve the state of revenues and leads to more budget crises and K-12 public education cuts, and the cycle starts all over again.

It’ll only stop when we remove the scummy politicians and their ALEC puppetmasters from the Capitol. Know this, and act accordingly.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

West Bend doesn't have a silver lining

Washington County, Wisconsin starts on the exurbs of Milwaukee County, and goes up through the heart of the AM radio sheep that the Wisconsin GOP rely on- giving Scott Walker over 75% of the vote in 2012 and 2014, and Bigoted Becky Bradley 72% of the vote in the Supreme Court race of 2016. Both percentages were the most out of any county in Wisconsin for those GOP candidates.

You may wonder what type of place votes in such a way. To get an idea, take a look at the story that came out this week from the biggest city in Washington County. One of the West Bend city fathers was sent to jail...for wanting to be a young girl's daddy.
The city administrator in West Bend has been arrested after police say he tried to entice a 16-year-old for sex. Prosecutors say it started with text messages and only got worse.

49-year-old Thomas (T.J.) Justice is now in custody Friday, April 22nd and facing two felony charges.

According to a criminal complaint, Justice had been sending provocative text messages to a teenage girl for nearly a year -- including offering her money for sex.

Gotta love the "3x" mark on the orange jail shirt. Typical bully who lived off of "big fish, small pond" syndrome. But wait, it gets better.
The criminal complaint states the girl's mother turned the phone over to police. A detective with the Muskego Police Department posed as the girl to communicate with Justice -- setting up a meeting for sex at a local Dairy Queen.

Police pulled Justice over nearby and found a bottle of Viagra in his car.
A middle-aged bald man hopped up on Viagra who tries to relive his youth by enticing a teenage girl? You couldn't create a better stereotype of a Baggerland shriveldick if you tried. And this guy wasn't just some loser with a dead-end job listening to AM radio so he could blame others for his mediocre life. This guy was the top city official in West Bend, in charge of the city's budget and the hiring and firing of many city department heads.

But having unqualified idiots for public officials in Washington County is hardly unusual. Those same West Bend constituents also the same people that elected Jesse Kremer to the State Legislature, last seen claiming that Wisconsin's jobs problems were due to "entitled college graduates" and workers who won't accept slave wages, and who has introduced a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" targeting transgendered students. The State Senator for the area is Duey Stroebel, another bald dimwit who was an author of the bill that would have limited the ability of public schools to hold referenda. These referenda are the direct result of cuts in aids to K-12 public schools imposed by Stroebel and Kremer and the rest of the ALEC crew in the Capitol, and then Stroebel decided to impinge on local control in favor of "lower taxes by any means necessary", regardless of how much it damaged the communities involved. Stroebel was also a sponsor of the absurd (and likely illegal) bills that would defund Planned Parenthood and put restrictions on the fake controversy involving illegally-made videos regarding fetal tissue.

And let's not forget who begat all of these goons in present-day West Bend- current Congreessman Glenn Grothman. Grothman is the never-married "family values" fool who lived in his Mom's basement until he carpetbagged his way into a House seat in 2014, and most recently was caught on camera admitting that voter ID was a tactic put in place to help elect Republicans. Among his greatest hits as a legislator included saying that wage gaps existed because men "valued money more than women," and led a charge to get rid of required days off (aka "weekends"), claiming it burdened businesses. Grothman also called pro-union protestors during the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising "slobs" (the bloated, white-haired Grothman is quite the looker, you know), and claimed that already well-off Wisconsinites needed a tax break to send their kids to private school because Grothman said sex education was "radical" and that public school teachers "proselytized a liberal agenda."

This gives you an idea of the type of trash that Washington County and West Bend have signed off on to represent them. Oh, but you in the exurban 262 think that it's the rest of the state that doesn't get it, and you're some kind of low-tax, Christian community that can shut off the 21st Century and be a permanent Pleasantville. Here's a tip for all you in West Baggerland- you're not so virtuous, you're a regressive joke whose mentality is harming the rest of the state, and no one worth a fuck is going to want to live in such a backward-ass place. That's why I don't spend a dime in those parts of the state, and you shouldn't either.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

March revenues bounce back, but not by enough

I had mentioned before that March’s revenue figures would start to let us know if the higher employment figures reported last week by the Walker Administration were legitimate, or if it became more likely that the already-sketchy job reports would be revised down.

Well, the revenue numbers were slipped out Thursday afternoon, and it was a mixed bag. On the positive end, income taxes bounced back a bit from the huge drops we saw in February, and sales taxes also had a nice bump for the month of March. But on the flip side, corporate revenues suffered a notable decline, and overall revenues still indicate that the state budget will still require large cuts in the next 15 months to stay in balance.

Individual income taxes were the first item I wanted to look at, and not just because March was the middle of tax season and because it is by far the largest component of the overall revenue picture in Wisconsin. The other reason was that February’s income taxes dropped by $88.6 million (over 39%) compared to February 2015, and it had put the state a bit behind the 8 ball for March, requiring a good increase last month to get the revenues back on track.

And from that standpoint, there was some success, as March 2016’s revenues were up more than $63 million than March 2015 (+23.3%). The down side of that is that it still means Wisconsin income taxes are behind where we were in the first two months of tax season in 2015.

Income tax collections, Wisconsin
Feb-March 2015 $498.692 million
Feb-March 2016 $473.315 million
DIFFERENCE -$25.377 MILLION (-5.1%)

This also means that the year-over-year increase in income taxes is at 5.31%, which sounds good until you realize that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated an increase of 6.61% for this fiscal year when they redid revenue estimates this January. It makes April’s income tax numbers crucial, not just because it’s the month where so many income tax payments come in, and there needs to be a good number for the state’s already-tight budget to avoid slipping below even further. Even if the income tax increase stays at the decent 5.3% we are at so far in FY2016, that would still mean a shortfall of about $95 million.

Sales taxes stayed strong, with a 7.0% increase for March year-over-year, bumping the year-long increase to 3.16%. This also counteracts a soft February, and largely puts the state on track to reach the 3.25% increase that the LFB estimated (we’d need a 3.4% increase over the last 3 months of FY2016). I’ll give the state’s consumers the benefit of the doubt for now and say that they achieve that.

Corporate taxes didn’t do so well. This measure had previously been greatly outpacing the LFB expectations, and through February 2016, the state had collected 8.2% more corporate taxes in FY2016 vs FY2015. But this turned around in March, a key month for corporate collections as it not only combines tax season filings, but quarterly payments made directly to the Wisconsin DOR, leading to large numbers in those quarter-end numbers.

Corporate taxes, Wisconsin
March 2015 $241.004 million
March 2016 $204.650 million
DIFFERENCE -$36.354 million (-15.1%)

It also leaves Wisconsin corporate tax collections down 10.8% for the first quarter of Calendar Year 2016, and Fiscal Year corporate collections are basically now the same as 2015’s (only up 0.4%). An increase would still be a good thing, as the LFB forecast a small decline in corporate tax revenues for FY2016. But the recent trend is troubling, and we will have to see where it goes these final 3 months.

As for the other taxes, the only noteworthy departure is that Excise taxes were way up in March (+9.6%), which leaves the “sin taxes” up nearly 2% for this fiscal year- double what they were supposed to be up. If that holds, then that could give a boost of a little over $6 million to the state’s bottom line. The modicum of all the other taxes paid in is pretty much in line, so no big deal there either.

Bottom line- March’s revenue figures indicate Wisconsin isn’t going to be facing an immediate budget emergency like fellow ALEC-owned states Kansas or Louisiana. But it also makes it less likely that revenues will end up beating LFB expectations, making the $726 million in unspecified lapses slated for the 2016-17 Fiscal Year one step closer to reality. And those lapses are on top of the already ominous list of budget cuts, increased property taxes and unmet needs that have been a common theme across many areas of Wisconsin during this biennium.

So while we dodged a bullet in March and the hole we're in didn't get deeper, next month will be the major tell-tale sign to see if Wisconsin government is going to stay afloat without much disruption in then near future, or if the emergency hits sooner than later.

You thought WEDC's waste and fraud was a thing of the past? Think again!

It had been a while since we saw a story on the problems that have been part and parcel of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Well, wait no longer! Matt DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal gave this update on the taxpayer-backed slush fund for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, and it looks like WEDC is throwing taxpayer money out the door for jobs that may not exist.

DeFour notes that over $170 million in “jobs tax credits” have been made since 2007, and at Thursday’s WEDC Board meeting, it was revealed that not all of those jobs may have happened.
Of that amount, companies have so far qualified for $65.8 million in credits for meeting job-creation goals, according to agency records, while the remaining nearly $105 million has not yet been earned.

But [WEDC Executive Director and Scott Walker donor Mark] Hogan told the WEDC board that the tax credits issued have been based on faulty calculations.

WEDC figures show that the credits are based on the creation of 13,797 jobs and the retention of another 44,114. It’s unclear how inaccurate those numbers are.
So not only has WEDC likely wasted taxpayer on tax breaks for jobs that don’t exist, they likely will also have to spend taxpayer dollars on legal action if they want to get back any of these unwarranted credits. We'll see if they actually try to get the money back, because in WisGOP World, the poor person that might get $100 in undeserved food stamps- THOSE are the people that are worth spending major time and resources to go after in case of fraud. Corporate criminals that waste millions in welfare? Not as big a priority, right WisGOP? It sure seems that way on your radio stations and other GOP-perganda sites. Wonder why that is?

And if you thought that WEDC had improved on its originally awful record tracking loans given out to Walker donors businesses in recent years, this move from yesterday’s meeting indicates otherwise.
The [WEDC] board also approved an amendment to its budget doubling the amount of reserves for writing off loans from $3.5 million to $7 million. The reserves cover both forgivable loans and defaulted loans that won’t be recovered.Earlier this week a judge issued an arrest warrant for a De Pere businessman whose company Green Box NA Green Bay owes WEDC more than $2.1 million in unpaid loans. (the same businessman had given tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Wisconsin Republicans over the years).

The Green Box loan was one of several bad loans from WEDC’s early days when the agency was under pressure to help Gov. Scott Walker create more than 250,000 jobs. The agency’s default rate has declined, but several of the defaulted loans, including Green Box, are still on the books as money the agency hopes to recoup.
And that means more money is going to have to go into WEDC in the coming years if they want to operate at the same levels, because more money has to be set aside to cover these defaults.

Oh, and this is where I remind you that a bill that would have made WEDC fraud a felony was shot down in the State Senate by Republicans who decided it was more important to allow the handouts to continue than to actually do anything about defrauding the taxpayer.

Maybe instead we should blow this slush fund up and try a different idea on job creation and incentives that doesn’t involve fraud, sketchy record-keeping, and/or kickbacks to GOP donors. Just a thought.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Kremer, WisGOP can't admit the failure, can they?

Another day, and more proof that Wisconsin Republicans are economically illiterate when it comes to the 21st Century. Take a look at this rant from Jesse Kremer (R-Washington County), where he tries to explain the current problems in Wisconsin’s economy. I have added my notes in italics.

Wisconsin has a jobs crisis. A lack of workers to fill skilled trades, lofty expectations from recent college graduates and public benefits are stifling a will to work here in our great state. According to a 2012 report produced by the ManpowerGroup, “Wisconsin will have fewer than half the metal manufacturing professionals that it needs by 2021...” Because Wisconsin is still very much a manufacturing center, we must continue to encourage our youth to consider opportunities for skilled-trade apprenticeships to help fill these jobs. It has also become apparent that many recent college graduates feel their degree entitles them to cushy, white collar jobs with $50,000+ salaries. This is not the real world! In fact, many graduates will often have to begin at the ground floor until they learn the ropes and garner experience. Public benefits are also contributing to our jobs crisis. I recently requested a study from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau which revealed that a family of four, earning $30,000 per year could receive $36,000 in state and federal benefits! (The study is not included in Kremer’s press release. Be verrry skeptical.) Some local employers (which ones?) have told me of potential prospects who turned down an offer because additional, non-cash earnings would cut into their benefits. As a state, we must continue to have serious discussions and encourage ideas to reform these social engineering experiments.
Actually Jesse, Wisconsin has been in a “social engineering experiment” for the last 5 years, and you’ve been part of it. Worker power over wages has been diminished and corporations and other businesses have been bestowed with numerous tax cuts in an alleged attempt to encourage them to expand and add jobs. The result? The worst job growth in the Midwest, and the skills wage gaps that you are describing in your press release.

And by the way, $50,000 is not an unrealistic request for a salary in many types of jobs for college graduates. I just went to, punched up “less than 1 year experience”, and numerous job titles come back with expected salaries between $50,000 and $68,000. These include jobs like Financial Analysts, Software Developers, Engineers and Registered Nurses. And the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average salary for people age 18-24 with a bachelor degree in 2014 was over $45,000 for men and just under $40,000 for women. That includes U of Phoenix grads and other second-rate schools- you’d imagine a degree from a top-flight school like UW-Madison would command more than that. Also worth noting, the average salary for men 18-24 with bachelor’s degrees was much higher in 2013- $49,212, and women were over $41,000.

So Jesse, the reason that new college grads feel “their degree entitles them to cushy, white collar jobs with $50,000+ salaries,” is BECAUSE IT OFTEN DOES. And if Kremer and the mediocre businessMEN that make up the corporate community of SE Wisconsin don’t understand that fact, and don’t compete on salary, then no wonder they can’t fill jobs and why young people are leaving the state for better job prospects.

And the lack of competition on salary isn’t the only reason this state can’t attract or retain talent. Defunding schools and regressive social legislation are two big ways to make sure no one with an open mind, a science-based skill set, and/or a sense of decency are going to want to stay in Wisconsin. Not only has Jesse Kremer backed the K-12 and higher education funding cuts that have been part of the ALEC/WisGOP agenda, he was the author of the bigoted “bathroom bill” that discriminated against transgender high school students. If the GOPs are allowed to stay in power, you can bet Kremer will be pushing harder in 2017 to pass the same type of homophobic and hateful legislation that has led to entertainers and government officials announcing boycotts of North Carolina in recent weeks.

As for the dog-whistle complaint of state benefits “stifling the will to work,”? Funny how Kremer releases this on the same day that the Wisconsin State Journal noted that a state report said nearly 2/3 of certain Food Share recipients could not find work through a state job training program in the last year, and over 41,000 ended up losing their food assistance. Even a rare “success story”, as quoted in this Wisconsin Public Radio news article, had to earn his position by working for free. That is not a luxury most adults can afford.
However, some Wisconsinites have been able to gain employment through the FSET program. Shawn Mattson completed the training and is now employed at Empire Screen Printing near La Crosse. He said he wasn't a fan of the new work requirements at first.

"I always don't like being told what to do," he said. "But I do get the free benefits, so why not? And as it turned out, it was a great opportunity."

Mattson said he worked at Empire Screen Printing for 3 months without pay during a resume building program, and was then hired to work full-time for the company. He said FSET lead to a better job than the ones he was applying for before enrolling in the program.
Remember, these are the “success stories” that Walker is spending taxpayer dollars to promote throughout the state this week. And they’re covering up the massive failures of his administration and Wisconsin employers in not hiring the majority of these applicants.

So yet again, Wisconsin Republicans like Jesse Kremer show that they really don’t understand that low pay and other regressive policy choices are a main reason behind Wisconsin’s “jobs crisis.” That, or their WMC paymasters are telling them not to mention what is obvious to anyone that has an ounce of legitimate business sense. Which is that Wisconsin needs to be offering higher pay to skilled workers, and encouraging high-quality education and innovation to meet the needs of the 21st Century economy. Instead, the ALEC crew has done the complete opposite, and keeps on trying to make excuses and deflect from their failures to make Wisconsin truly “open for business”, and the state’s economy continues to suffer under this Reign of Error. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In praise of his Funky Purpleness

I was going to post about more right-wing stupidity, but that went out the window after I got the awful news around Noon. Where arguably the greatest musical and cultural artist from the Upper Midwest (yes, including Dylan) has now left this earth. It doesn't seem right- it doesn't seem comprehensible to me that Prince could ever leave this planet in this life form.

The first clip I want to show is from Prince's unbelievable performance in the 2007 Super Bowl in the middle of a rainstorm. I happened to be in Indianapolis with friends to watch the Colts win their first (and to date only) Super Bowl that night, and while being around so many of my friends from my great years in Indy and the celebration itself was memorable, I still remember how the whole BW-3 stopped and went silent when Prince took the stage, and absolute KILLED IT in a downpour. And how us Gen Xers exploded in applause as this performance ended.

I still rate U2's post-9/11 performance as the best Super Bowl halftime ever, but you could certainly talk me out of it with this one. So incredible.

And the other clip I want to show may not be one of the Purple One's classics, but it's a great memory for me. This one hit as I was graduating high school and heading into college, and was a standard of any Witte 6B dorm party that we were at. It also became unofficial intro bumper music of mine in my few random times as a radio talk show host. (language may be NSFW, but who the fuck cares?)

In the beginning God made the sea
But on the seventh day he made me
He was tryin' to rest y'all when He heard the sound
Sound like a guitar cold gettin' down
I tried to bust a high note, but I bust a string
My God was worried
'Til he heard me sing...

The world is worse off today, and not by a little.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Starving the Beast" rears its ugly head at the UW

After having its budget cut by $250 million for the 2015-17 biennium by Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP-controlled Legislature, the UW Board of Regents planned to have an item during its meeting this month that allowed for UW chancellors to describe the impact of the cuts and what adjustments might need to be made for the rapidly-arriving 2016-17 fiscal year. And the chancellors gave the Regents the truth.
UW-Eau Claire, for example, has cut 179 full-time positions, about half of those through a voluntary separation program. Twenty-five faculty have resigned, up 150 percent from last year, and class sizes are 14 percent larger on average.

It’s a similar tale at other UW campuses, with some such as UW-Green Bay and UW-La Crosse cutting some databases and other resources that students can access for research.

UW-Madison, which has spent almost $9 million on keeping faculty, expects to cut 418 positions over the biennium.

The flagship campus said it’s been unable to expand programs with high student demand, such as business, engineering and nursing. It also said it’s cut back significantly on advising services and maintenance, as did other campuses. UW-Platteville is also delaying major renovation projects at buildings that it says are significantly outdated.
The UW Board of Regents (stacked with Walker appointees) didn't want the public to find out about this, so they responded in classic GOP "party of responsibility" fashion- they scrapped the presentation right out of the meeting. And the "out of sight, out of mind" act hasn't stopped there, as these guys are apparently so intimidated by Walker and WisGOP that a story broke today describing how UW System officials erased a video where UW chancellors described the impact of the budget cuts, keeping them from being acquired in open records requests that may come.
[UW] Spokesman Alex Hummel said he never saved the video of chancellors rehearsing their presentations because the talks were canceled, and later deleted the files to clear space on a camera so he could record the Board of Regents meeting where the chancellors planned to speak.

UW System institutions have eliminated hundreds of jobs, reduced course offerings and cut services such as advising and maintenance as they absorb their shares of a $250 million decrease in higher education funding in the 2015-17 state budget.

Hummel said last week that erasing the videos was “a mistake.” On Monday, however, UW System officials said they were not required to keep the videos, and Hummel said his actions were not in error…

But state Rep. Terese Berceau, a Madison Democrat who has called for a public hearing on the budget cuts, said the decision to delete the videos followed what she described as a trend of UW officials being afraid to talk about the impact of reduced state funding because they fear “retribution from the Legislature.”

“It’s part of regular practice now to make sure that the Legislature is not going to hear or see anything that might anger it,” Berceau said.
I can't begin to tell you how infuriated this makes me. Not just due to the regressive policies Walker and the ALEC Crew have put in, as the UW is one of the best uses of state tax dollars, directly generating economic activity and cultivating talent that pays back that investment many times over, and cutting its budget is the exact opposite direction that we should be going in if we truly want to be "open for business."

But I also see that the State Legislature and Governor's Office have completely intimidated UW System officials, and are keeping them from being honest about what effects these policies are having on their campuses, to try to keep the public in the dark. This is the outcome that results from GOP dominance of state government, where they abuse their power and divert resources away from institutions they do not like, and/or neuter and devalue those organizations if they feel they may tell inconvenient truths to others, which may threaten the GOP's stranglehold on government. This is the way authoritarian governments and Banana Republics operate, where they silence potential pockets of dissent, instead of working with those organizations to improve outcomes.

And why did these cuts happen in the first place? Tax cuts passed by the Walker/ALEC crew over these 5 years of error reduced revenue, putting the state budget in such a deficit in 2015 that they "had" to cut $250 million to the UW System to balance the books. These are the same tax cuts that Walker was bragging about as part of a PR tour that went to multiple locations around the state yesterday (at taxpayer expense, I will add). Those same tax cuts have "led" us to dead last in the Midwest for job growth since Walker and WisGOP came to power in 2011, and a bleeding of qualified workers from the UW System and K-12 schools in response to the defunding and devaluing of those institutions.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin rightfully hammered on this strategy with a press release today.
On the heels of Tax Day, we are reminded that Governor Scott Walker slashed $250 million from the University of Wisconsin’s budget in order pay for the millions in tax breaks he has given to special interests and greedy out of state corporations. Instead of prioritizing the needs of Wisconsin’s students and building on what was the gold standard of public higher education, Walker has gutted the UW system to pay for tax giveaways to the richest of the rich.

“Scott Walker has slashed the UW system’s budget to ribbons while giving millions in tax breaks to his special interest and out of state corporate buddies,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Kory Kozloski said on Tuesday. “He is placing the unfair burden of $250 million in budget cuts on the backs of students who are only trying to better themselves with a higher education.”
Kozloski is correct to connect the tax cuts to the defunding of the UW, as what's happening to the UW is a clear example of a longtime right-wing strategy known as "Starving the Beast." This is intentional vandalism, and it results after tax cuts and other reductions in revenue are imposed. This leads to deficits that force spending cuts which just happen to be targeted for services that right-wingers may not like and/or want to see privatized out to their campaign contributors.

"Starving the Beast" is also the title of a movie playing tomorrow night at the Barrymore Theatre as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival. The movie talks about the defunding and devaluing of the UW, as well as similar efforts being done at the University of North Carolina, Louisiana State, Arizona State, and other public colleges. I'm going to it, I recommend you go to it, and I recommend that we recognize that this cancerous "Starve the Beast" mentality is not just a localized disease to Wisconsin, but one that is being put upon pretty much any state run by ALEC Republicans these days. Because other than ethnic diversity, nothing endangers the GOP staying in power more than an educated public that can think for themselves, and who uses their added talent in the workforce to innovate and create competition for the old guard.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

On Sunday before Tax Day, remember the churches aren't paying

As the tax filing deadline hits on Monday, it's worth remembering that there are a whole lot of people and organizations who won't have to file like you and me. On Friday, Bill Maher called out one of the largest categories of tax-exempt organizations. No, not corporations this time- religions, and this being Maher, the language is likely NSFW.

The "Forever 21" vs "Forever 33" line is quite strong, by the way.

Not surprisingly, this tax-free status for religious organizations can allow for abuses. With that in mind, here is John Oliver and Rachel Dratch announcing the end of the tax-free "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption" (started from Oliver's epic segment last year on money-grubbing televangelists, and how they don't have to pay taxes on it). Our Lady got plenty of donations- both the monetary kind and, uh, in-kind. And yes, this segment becomes very NSFW.

So keep this tax-free status in mind as you see the creepiness of fundie Moms pulling kids out of school for Jesus lunches in Middleton. Then ask yourself why you're paying so much in taxes and getting so little political influence, while the religious organizations pay nothing, but seem to be getting a lot more than they deserve. This needs to be evened out on both fronts.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The more we look at March's WIsconsin job report, the less we believe

I touched on this a bit in my rundown of the alleged huge March Wisconsin jobs report that came out on Thursday, but Chris Walker at Political Heat expanded on it (with a great Scooby-Doo visual). Chris's story gives needed extra background info that likely gives a clue into how deceptive the Scott Walker Administration is being, in the hopes that you'll be tricked into their confidence game on the state's economy.

First of all, that "largest 12-month jobs increase since 2004" that the Walker boys are claiming? It's actually less than the increase these guys were bragging about this time last year.
But there’s a problem -- though the year-to-year private sector job numbers do show more than 47,500 jobs being created from March 201[5] to March 201[6], they are unrevised, and thus unconfirmed. Indeed, look at the same jobs report put out by DWD from a year ago -- the March 2014 to March 2015 data -- and you’ll see that the Walker administration says pretty much the same thing.

Wisconsin added 48,200 private sector jobs from March 2014 to March 2015, ranking third in the Midwest for rate of job growth.
Now if you’re like me, you just made the “huh” sound along with a very quizzical look. How could the current jobs report (47,500 jobs created) be the best since 2004 when last year’s report (48,200) showed a better performance?

The answer is simple: the numbers had been revised since that time. In fact, last year’s jobs report was revised down by more than 16 percent of its original projection.
Chris goes on to note that a similar thing happened in the "number of people working" part of the report, with that increase being revised down by more than 30% later on.

And a look at the state-by-state jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday should make you even more suspicious of Thursday's Wisconsin jobs figures. Nationwide, the manufacturing sector seemed to contract in the 1st Quarter of 2016, with the latest bad news being the 6th drop in 7 months for industrial production. In fact, the Federal Reserve reports March to have the largest decline in production more than a year. Employment has also nose-dived in manufacturing, with 29,000 jobs being shed in that sector in March alone.

Most of the Midwest reflected that drop in manufacturing, with 5 of the 7 states losing jobs in that sector, and a combined total of 11,500 jobs lost in the 6 states that aren't Wisconsin. But the DWD says we went the other way in Dairyland, and allegedly saw factories hire all over the place last month.

Change in manufacturing employment, March 2016
Ill. -3,100
Ind. -1,500
Iowa -3,000
Mich -600
Minn +1,000
Ohio -4,300
Wis. +4,200

We seem like quite the outlier, don't we? And February's manufacturing employment figures were also revised up for February, making the gain even larger. Knowing what is going on in the rest of the country and especially the Midwest, does that manufacturing number ring true to anyone here? It certainly doesn't to me.

Oh wait, I know what's caused the turnaround in Wisconsin jobs. All of these increases have happened since former DWD Secretary Reggie Newson abruptly quit in January as the state's jobs numbers were set to be revised and benchmarked for 2015 (showing the state to be among the worst in the Midwest). Maybe the huge increases for the first three months in 2016 are all due to new Secretary Ray Allen, and there's some great new strategy that has been unlocked in that time.

Yeah, that's the ticket. It can't be that these Wisconsin jobs numbers are BS, soon to be revised downwards, and the flailing Walker Administration is desperately trying to convince an increasingly disapproving public that yes, this time "it really is working," could it?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lincoln Hills scandal blowing up? Ex-DOC Secretary blowing whistle on Walker Admin?

The scandalous treatment of youth at Wisconsin Department of Corrections' Lincoln Hills facility in Irma has been awful enough. But now it looks like the fallout from Lincoln Hills might be getting to the upper reaches of the Walker Administration.

In a classic Friday news dump, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the firing of already-demoted ex-DOC Secretary Ed Wall. And Matt DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Wall is responding by suing Schimel and the Wisconsin DOJ, claiming he was improperly fired, and that he is being thrown under the bus for what went on in Irma.
In a Feb. 10 letter to Schimel asking for his old job, Wall said he only accepted the job at Corrections, the state’s largest cabinet agency, “because the law and civil service rules guaranteed my ability to return to my classified civil service position.” Wall noted he sought the DOJ investigation into Lincoln Hills, that he was not a target, witness or in any way involved and that the investigation involved staff nine levels below his office.

Wall was to start the new job at a $108,076 annual salary on Feb. 28, but the next day he was reassigned to a deputy division administrator position at the same pay rate effective March 20. He was instructed not to communicate with any DOJ employees except a department lawyer and Deputy Attorney General Andrew Cook.

Wall’s lawyer Dan Bach said Wall plans to file a whistleblower retaliation complaint because his termination commenced after Wall gave a draft copy of his WERC appeal to DOJ. That appeal alleges DOJ violated state law in not letting him keep his former job.

“Although DOJ was very specific that this disciplinary action was focused solely on the letter and not the draft appeal document, certain allegations against Mr. Wall were derived from the positions expressed in his draft appeal,” Bach wrote in a letter to DOJ last week.
Doesn't sound like former Sec. Wall is going quietly. Now would be a great time to let everyone know what really went on at Lincoln Hills, and who made the call to cover up the bad things that were happening behind the walls. These include the bad things that a Racine County judge was informing the Walker Administration about 4 years ago- claims the judge said the Walker Administration "swept under the rug."

Keep an eye on this one folks. Feels like it might be ready to blow up, and it could be verrrrrry interesting to see whose inaction (or action ordering inaction) allowed the evil to continue to flourish.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Is Wisconsin lagging in jobs? Or booming? Or what?

Within 2 hours of each other today, we had two bits of reports and analysis that give directly opposite indications of how Wisconsin is faring when it comes to job growth.

On the “bad” side is columnist Bruce Thompson of Urban Milwaukee, who wrote an article titled “Road Map to Economic Failure,” which ripped the job creation approach of Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, using numbers to show just how badly Wisconsin has lagged over the last 5+ years. Thompson’s essay begins as follows.
By this time, it should be evident that Gov. Scott Walker’s job-creating plan has failed. So why does an approach with so little success or supporting evidence for it continue to be followed by Walker and other conservative leaders?

Wisconsin continues to lag behind most of its neighboring states and the nation in job creation. The graph to the right shows percentage growth since the end of 2011 in Wisconsin and states bordering us. While Wisconsin has added jobs since the Great Recession, it has done so at about half the rate promised by candidate Walker in 2010.

Wisconsin’s only competitor for the bottom of the list is Illinois. Illinois has struggled with the worst-funded public employee pension system in the nation. Finding a solution has become nearly impossible because of an impasse between its Republican governor and Democratic legislature. By contrast, Wisconsin’s public pension system has long been among the best-funded in the nation. (a trend that started well before Walker took office, by the way).
And then on the same day, the Walker Administration’s Department of Workforce Development releases a blowout March jobs report, with the following stats.
Place of work data: The state added a statistically significant 13,100 private sector jobs from February 2016 to March 2016 on a preliminary basis, including a significant gain of 4,200 jobs in manufacturing.

Wisconsin also added a significant 47,500 private-sector and 51,200 total non-farm jobs over the year ending in March 2016, the best year-over-year growth since August 2004 in both categories. Additionally, revised February private-sector job counts swung from a gain of 8,000 to a gain of 10,500 private sector jobs, a difference of 2,500.

·Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in March 2016, down from 4.6 percent in February 2016. The 4.5 percent rate is lower than the 4.6 percent rate in March 2015 and lower than the national unemployment rate which increased to 5.0 percent in March 2016. Based on preliminary estimates, Wisconsin's total employment grew by a statistically significant 58,000 year over-year to more than 3 million, an all-time high. Additionally, the state's labor force reached an all-time high in March 2016.

"Today's report shows that Wisconsin's employment was higher than ever in March, our unemployment rate dropped over the month while the national rate increased, and the state experienced the best 12 months of job growth since 2004," Secretary [Ray] Allen said. "All indicators show that under Governor Walker's leadership, Wisconsin's economy is expanding and adding jobs in 2016.
First of all, that’s classic cherry-picking from Walker’s DWD to say this is “the best 12 months of job growth since 2004.” They’re going on total (alleged) private-sector job gains (47,500), but not the rate of growth, which is 1.92% after this report. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a very good number if it holds, but it’s also not as strong as the 1.94% we had on these same month-to-month reports in April 2014, and other months have been at or near thisrate. And we’ve also seen similarly high year-over-year numbers in other recent years, only to see those gains revised down in the future.

But what gives with these divergent numbers, and why the state jobs report looks so good these days? I took a look inside the March Wisconsin jobs report, and the first item that jumped out at me is the manufacturing number. While some of that 4,200 gain reflects seasonal adjustments (non-seasonal jobs gained were 2,500), February was also revised up by 1,400 manufacturing jobs. That seems like an awful lot of hiring at Wisconsin factories in a month when the U.S. lost 29,000 manufacturing jobs. I literally find that incredible, and I want to see if there are revisions coming over the next few months, as more refined data comes in.

The other big gainers in Wisconsin jobs for March include Professional and Business Services (+4,100) and Leisure and Hospitality (+2,400), which seems a little more believable. But you combine the first three months of the year, and if you buy what the Wisconsin DWD’s reports are claiming, then Wisconsin has added 29,400 private sector jobs in the first three months of 2016, and 30,300 overall.

That’s more jobs than were added for the entire 12-month period between Sept 2014 and Sept 2015, according to the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW). Take a look at the Walker jobs gap chart, and look at the right-hand part of the chart, and how the state figures have jumped since the end of 2015. Do we really think things have changed so suddenly and by so much?

In addition, DWD Secretary Ray Allen tries to claim these alleged job gains are due to “Governor Walker’s leadership.” How can he say that when there were few if any policy changes that went into effect at the start of 2016? The state budget was so screwed up that there wasn’t room for many tax cuts (other than a giveaway for the rich on the AMT, which wouldn’t be realized until tax refunds came back in February and March at the earliest), and most public spending changes started on July 1, with the start of the state fiscal year. You can’t credit (right-to) work-for-less, because that was law in Wisconsin dating back to March 2015, and job creation sucked in the last 9 months of last year.

This huge jobs figure makes me even more antsy to see what the revenue numbers look like for March. You may remember that there was a significant revenue shortfall in February, but that some of that may be due to more tax refunds being sent out in Feb 2016 vs Feb 2015. If that is the case, and if we truly are booming in jobs, then we should see a strong rebound in revenues for March, and not be in danger of having a massive in-year budget deficit spring up.

Likewise, I want to see what the upcoming reports from the “gold standard” QCEW has to say about these alleged job gains. The last QCEW report went through September 2015, and was miserable, with Wisconsin ranking 36th in private sector jobs, and next-to-last in the Midwest. And that’s worth noting because the last QCEW report led to flattening of some of the state’s job growth up through that point, and it’s noteworthy that it doesn’t include the massive jump of 15,400 private sector jobs that was reported by the Wisconsin DWD for October, as well as the alleged gain of over 10,000 jobs a month for this year.

The next QCEW will go through December, and we should see that officially released in early June, with the March 2015-March 2016 report to follow in September. If this job growth is legitimate, it’ll be reflected there. Likewise, if it falls short, there’s going to be some serious ‘splaining for the Walkers and WisGOPs to do ahead of the November elections.

So my best advice is to “stay tuned” when it comes to evaluating how Wisconsin’s economy is really doing in 2016. Especially given that the warm winter we saw through mid-March turned snowy and dreary in the month after, which could skew both seasonally-adjusted jobs figures on a short-term basis (March higher, and April lower).

And lastly, no matter how much the Walker boys try to play a confidence game of “it’s working” and that they claim to be focused in on job growth, Bruce Thompson ends his column by reminding you what this crew is really about when it comes to economic policy. And it tells you why they had such a lousy record in their first five years.
The simplest explanation for the failure of the Wisconsin jobs plan—and others of its ilk—is that it was never really about creating jobs. Rather, the underlying purpose was to further transfer income and resources to very wealthy people.