Monday, May 30, 2016

Continued WEDC theft demands more action than Schimel will give

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) continues to grab headlines, and not for reaching its alleged goal of job creation. For most of the 5 years since Scott Walker signed the bill that brought WEDC into existence, it has been racked by incompetence, and has been categorized as a slush fund due to the fact that a majority of recipients of WEDC tax write-offs were donors to Scott Walker and other Wisconsin Republicans.

And yet, even after 5 years of this, we continue to find out about the misuse of tax breaks, as shown in this story from WKOW in Madison, where Greg Neumann has been consistently strong on WEDC for the last couple of years.
Since 2012, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has awarded $2 million to Specialty Retail Shops Holding Corporation, a subsidiary of Sun Capital that serves as the parent company to Shopko, which is headquartered in Green Bay. $1 million of that award was for job creation tax credits.

To date, WEDC records show Shopko has created 94 of a planned 129 new jobs since the award was originally handed out.

But a 27 News investigation found Shopko has also outsourced jobs to southeast Asia since receiving the award.

On May 6, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) benefits to seven former employees whose data entry jobs were outsourced from the company's corporate headquarters to India in late 2014.
Funny, I seem to recall Scott Walker telling the WEDC Board around that time that policies would be put in place to prevent outsourcings like this from happening. Interesting how that went down the memory hole after the November 2014 elections, eh?

And also- $1 million for 94 jobs created? At flippin' Shopko? That in itself is robbery of Wisconsin taxpayers, and we still don't know how WEDC decided on that number or why they chose Shopko to give those tax breaks to (couldn't be related to Shopko employees making donations to WisGOP politicians, could it?)

And that story came on top of an article in the Wisconsin State Journal by Matt DeFour which showed taxpayers may be out a whole lot more money because of bad record-keeping at WEDC.
The state’s job creation agency has so far identified more than $412,000 in erroneously awarded tax credits — a figure that could stretch into the millions of dollars — based on a preliminary review released Thursday.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is reviewing 222 tax credits awarded since 2006, including under the former Commerce Department, for discrepancies in how jobs should have been counted.

Based on 18 awards reviewed so far totaling $4.5 million, the agency found it over-awarded $448,674, for a net excess credit of about $25,000 per award. The agency also found $36,479 in under-awarded credits.

WEDC first disclosed the tax credit problem at a board meeting last month. The report Thursday was the first time WEDC indicated the scope of the problem.
But I imagine Attorney General Brad Schimel will be all over this ripoff of taxpayers. Oh wait, Homer J. Schimel was busy last week defending WisGOP's voter suppression laws and filing lawsuits with Confederate states to instill the bathroom police in Wisconsin, and can't be bothered with something that might show wrongdoing by his campaign contributors.

Guess it's good timing that the following item is part of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's list of resolutions to be discussed at next weekend's DPW Convention.
WHEREAS, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) spent an estimated $1.5M to elect Attorney Brad Schimel in 2014;

WHEREAS, the new Chair of the WEDC Board [Dan Ariens] is also the WMC Board Chair, and WEDC’s new CEO [John Hogan] is a major GOP donor who gave three times to Schimel’s campaign; and,

WHEREAS, the Attorney General has a conflict of interest, and cannot be trusted to fairly investigate WEDC’s wrongdoing;

THEREFORE, RESOLVED, the DPW asks the Dane County District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice to open their own investigation of WEDC.
At this point, how much more evidence do you need that WEDC is a slush fund that kicks back to WisGOP donors? The Dems would be wise to follow this resolution and push the issue hard over the next 2 years, as it's not just liberals in Madison who are noticing that WEDC is corrupted and a clear failure when it comes to improving Wisconsin's record on adding jobs.

Were our troops really fighting for this kind of "democracy"?

On this Memorial Day, we tend to talk big game about the "greatness of American democracy" that our troops died fighting to defend. But what kind of great American political system are we talking about? John Oliver had a great segment on this last week, which points out how our system of choosing a president doesn't exactly boil down to "one person, one vote." (yes, in typical Oliver fashion, it is NSFW in places)

And while this system seems about 100-200 years behind the times, at least it evolves occasionally. Just last week, Minnesota decided to join the 20th-21st Century and both parties agreed to dump their presidential caucus for a primary in 2020.

I don't anticipate any of the craziness in Nevada to happen at Wisconsin's Democratic Party convention in Green Bay next weekend, as the DPW has a relatively orderly way of choosing its pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philly (I talked about the 2nd Congressional District one that I attended in this post). But the state does have superdelegates, and as Oliver mentions at around 8:20 in the piece
they are party-obsessed widely-resented, and untethered from all responsibility.
John Oliver on Dem supedelegates
Oliver is also correct at the end, when he points out that the winning side in this system often shrugs and says "Too bad, so sad," and moves on instead of doing something that would get him/her significant support- DEMANDING CHANGES IN THIS SCREWED-UP SYSTEM. And not just on how delegates and a presidential candidate are chosen, but also in the absurd amount of time and money it takes to choose such a candidate. It's bad enough that tiny, unrepresentative states like Iowa and New Hampshire get so much precedence and attention under this system, but let's also remember that they voted NEARLY 4 MONTHS AGO. Hillary Clinton's big wins in Southern states were nearly 3 months ago, and you have to wonder if those results are representative of the state of play today.

Yet those results from Winter are being used a evidence that she is the choice of Democrats for the Summer and Fall 2016. Ironically, that is one of the few reasons that superdelegates may makes sense, as things may well have changed from the time of the vote in a state to the National Convention in the Summer. And while I don't have a lot of belief that party hacks and elected officials looking for a Clinton Cash kickback Clinton-supporting superdelegates will decide not to vote for Hillary, maybe they should waver if they realize that she's the candidate that presents the best chance for the horrifying outcome of a Drumpf Presidency becoming reality.

And by the way, they don't have to flip their vote to Bernie, if they have reservations about him. Instead, the supredelegates could deny both the nomination and choose someone else that might increase Dem enthusiasm, better represent the values of the Democratic Party's members, and boost the party's chances of winning big in November for both the White House, and downticket (cough-ELIZABETH WARREN-cough). Call me crazy, but that is what I thought a political party was supposed to be all about.

As we honor our troops this holiday weekend, we should ask ourselves a question that may prove troubling. With this less-than-democratic presidential selection process and the increased (and slanted) restrictions on voting, are these the ideals we want our flag and our troops to represent in 2016? If not, we need to work to change them, both during this election season, and in the hard work of social awareness and legislation afterwards.

EDIT- Here's a great cartoon from Tom Tomorrow at This Modern World. I especially like the next-to-last panel.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How a higher ed "increase" led to higher ed cuts in Wisconsin

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released a long rundown of higher education spending across all U.S. states late last week. It gave a couple of stats that seems contradictory on Wisconsin's investment in higher education in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, but it can be easily explained. In fact, one item that "increased" state support of higher education directly led to the higher ed cuts that we are seeing today.

On one hand, the CBPP report says Wisconsin seems to measure up well compared to the rest of the country.
•State spending on higher education nationwide [since 2008] is down an average of $1,525 per student, or 17 percent.

•In only four states ― Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming ― is per-student funding now above its 2008 pre-recession levels.
HUH? All we've heard about is how Wisconsin is slashing spending on higher ed under Walker? What gives?

It's a misleading figure, and it's because of the $406 million giveaway for property tax relief from 2014. This increased the amount of money the state of Wisconsin gave to the state's Technical College System, but it was also not allowed to add to the Tech Colleges' budgets, and instead was a gimmick to lower property taxes ahead of the 2014 election. Even worse is that the giveaway wasn't funded with taxes, but was a way to blow one-time surplus, with the spending continuing in future years without the taxes to back it up.

The CBPP admitted this in a follow-up post which explained the $406 million initiative, and that it didn't translate into further investment in the schools.
Our report focused on state support due to the outsized role it plays in higher education funding. But in Wisconsin, looking only at state support led us to calculate that per-student funding for colleges and universities rose 3.3 percent since 2008. In fact, if you exclude the shifted funding responsibility for the technical college system — which appears as additional state support — state funding for Wisconsin’s public two- and four-year institutions has fallen by roughly 25 percent per student since 2008.
That drop would put Wisconsin as the 12th largest reduction in state support per student in the US over the last 8 years.

The unfunded giveaway and other reckless Walker/WisGOP tax cuts directly led to a $2.2 billion budget deficit for the 2015-17 budget, which Gov Walker and the WisGOP Legislature decided to "solve" through measures that included a $250 million cut to the UW System. As a result, Wisconsin "stands out" in the following chart from the CBPP report in higher education funding for this current fiscal year.

Over the past year, most states increased per-student funding for their public higher education systems. (See Figures 3 and 4.) Thirty-eight states are investing more per student in the 2015-16 school year than they did in 2014-15.

•Nationally, spending is up an average of $275 per student, or 4 percent....

•But this trend is far from universal. In 11 states, per-student funding fell over the last year — declining, on average, 3.6 percent or by more than $220 per student....

•Five states — Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — cut funding by more than $250 per student over the past year.
Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Not states I really care to be associated with when it comes to eju-kay-shun. And not really the way for our state to prosper for the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

WisGOP school cuts = over $600 million in added property taxes

The cost of cutting funding for K-12 education in Wisconsin continues to pile up. One of the consequences of this has been the increasing number of school referenda that have been voted on in order to go above state-mandated property tax limits. State Rep. Gordon Hintz got the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau to tally up the costs of these votes, and the amount might surprise you.

Hintz specifically asked for the referenda that have happened since the “dropping of the bomb” of Act 10, followed by the first Walker WisGOP budget in 2011 and its resulting cuts in K-12 school aids. Further, this was limited to operating referenda, which are used to keep the lights on and the school rooms open as opposed to building a new school or facilty. These referenda for operating costs are split up into one-time bumps (usually for an odd one-year blip with enrollment or some other odd reason) and recurring increases (which stay at that elevated level for the years following, usually because of ongoing costs).

Dollar amount of Wisconsin K-12 school referenda 2011-17
Nonrecurring referenda $472.7 million
Recurring referenda $132.1 million
TOTAL $604.8 million

And not only has the dollar amount of approved referenda increased, but the rate of approval has also gone up in the last two years, indicating that voters recognize that there are needs beyond what the current revenue limits allow.

Passage rate of Wisconsin K-12 school referenda
2011-12 school year 69.2%
2014-15 school year 74.7%
2015-16 school year 82.6%

Also worth noting is that the number of referenda tripled between 2011 and 2015, with 2016 still at a level nearly twice that of 2011, and the number of recurring referenda has also tripled in the same time period, from 4 in 2011 to 13 in 2015, and 12 in 2016. This indicates that districts have come to the conclusion that they cannot survive under the current Fitzwalkerstani school funding formula, and have no choice but to ask for property taxes to stay higher for several years in the future.

Hintz used the LFB analysis to complain about how Wisconsin Republicans have pushed the responsibility for funding schools off of the state, and it reflects in higher property tax bills in winter.
This year alone 46 school districts had non-building operating referendums on the ballot. And since 2011 when Republicans started cutting public school funding, approval rates of referendums have jumped to over 80 percent, showing that Wisconsinites recognize the deep harm to public schools if nothing is done.

“The Governor and state legislators have a constitutional obligation to adequately fund equal opportunity public education,” said Rep. Hintz. “It’s time for state government to make public schools a priority in Wisconsin. It is not fair to continue to push the cost of public school funding on to local property taxpayers.”
And there are two obvious places to start when it comes to restoring the state’s investment in K-12 public schools.

1.Repealing Walker-era giveaways like the Manufacturers and Agriculture tax cut, which has failed miserably in adding jobs for the state, and is set to cost $279 million in revenue in the fiscal year that starts on July 1. Given that those types of businesses benefit from a strong K-12 educational system through better-talented workers that emerge, shouldn’t they be asked to contribute toward keeping that talent pipeline moving?

2. Shutting off the funnel to the GOP’s allies in the school voucher and charter school lobby, which is set to receive over $271 million from taxpayers in the 2016-17 school year. , This figure includes $48 million directly taken away from Wisconsin public school districts statewide in the 2015-17 budget, from any district outside of Milwaukee and Racine that has a student attend a voucher school under the program.

If even a fraction of these kickbacks to GOP campaign contributors were taken away, it would become much more likely that school districts would not need to go to referendum, and that Wisconsinites wouldn’t have to raise their property taxes to keep their public schools open. That seems like a much better system than we have today, especially with rural counties in Wisconsin losing population and economic opportunities by the day under Walker’s reign of error. The last thing we should be doing is making it even harder to stay in certain Wisconsin communities by cutting off aid to one of the few things that unite and add value to those places- good public schools.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Walker crony's resignation at WHEDA has WEDC, John Doe connections

With all the other sketchiness from Scott Walker's administration that has emerged in the last few days (the latest being Walker having to release his office's open records on messing with the UW System and the Wisconsin Idea), certain events end up getting short shrift, and I want to talk about another administration move that happened today which I think warrants some attention.

On the surface, it seemed like an innocuous press release that was sent out by the Walker Administration this morning, but beneath it were a whole lot of connections to headlines that were in today's newspapers.
Today, Governor Scott Walker announced the appointment of Ivan Gamboa as Chair of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). Former Chair of WHEDA, Corey Hoze, submitted his letter of resignation to the Governor on Thursday, May 26, 2016, and Mr. Gamboa’s appointment is effective today.
Quitting a job as the chair of WHEDA effective immediately, and a replacement was already lined up? Odd in itself, and then it gets even more interesting when you look at who quit.

The name Corey Hoze may be familiar to you, because he’s had longtime connections to Walker World. Hoze was was one of Scott Walker’s first appointees to the Board of Directors at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) before moving onto the WHEDA Board.

With that in mind, take a look what was in the news last night.
The early findings of an internal review being conducted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) show the agency overpaid companies for $412,195 worth of tax credits they never earned, a number that is expected to rise.

In April, WEDC officials told members of their board they had uncovered a discrepancy in how they calculated tax credits and would be reviewing 222 different awards that had already been handed out to companies since 2006, dating back to the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

In a memo sent to board members Thursday, WEDC Secretary Mark Hogan said the discrepancy relates to how full-time jobs were calculated when determining how much to award in tax credits. Hogan indicated the most common reason for discrepancies came from how mid-year hires were counted in the verification process….

The final total is expected to be well into the millions of dollars.
Huh, funny how one of the former WEDC Board members quits his current gig on the day after this comes out, isn’t it? Meh, I'm sure there's no connection at all.

And that’s not the first time Hoze had been caught up in some Walker World sketchiness. Let’s go back to 2012, where Badger Democracy’s Scott Wittkopf mentioned Hoze as part of a larger scandal involving WEDC improperly handing out money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (oversight had to be shifted to the Department of Administration as a result). The connections between Hoze and Walker run back to the 2000s, and yes, it involves housing and the handing out of government funds.
On March 15 2012, just one month prior to HUD suspending WEDC from administering the block grant program, HUD sent a letter to the new Milwaukee County Director of Health and Human Services Hector Colon (Full March 15 2012 letter here). The letter informed DHHS Director Colon that after a HUD review of additional information supplied by the County, 23 of 29 block grant awards failed to meet federal requirements, and the County could face repayment of over $500,000 in grants. An additional 3 programs required further documentation.

The Milwaukee County program was being administered during that time period by Timothy Russell, at the time Walker’s housing director now facing trial in the John Doe investigation. Another key Milwaukee Walker Administration person in the block grant program was Lisa Jo Marks, director of DHHS under Walker. Marks is now the DOA Housing director in the current Walker Administration.

Lisa Jo Marks was Walker’s Child Support Enforcement Director from 2007 – 2009 before being named interim director of DHHS. Marks replaced Corey Hoze as DHHS director when Hoze left for a job as Associated Bank Vice President of Government Affairs. (cough-LOBBYIST-cough) Hoze also now serves on the WEDC Board of Directors – another agency currently involved in CDBG program controversy under Walker. Marks and Hoze undoubtedly work together in their capacities in DOA and WEDC (respectively) grant programs.….

Key individuals in the Milwaukee Walker Administration not under investigation in the [then-]ongoing John Doe investigation have been selected by the governor to be involved in the current CDBG program. A series of department memos from May-June 2010 show that Timothy Russell, Lisa Marks, and Cynthia Archer were all involved in the block grant award process, and had to have firsthand knowledge of grantors and awards. Only 29 awards were distributed in 2011.

A subsequent memo from October 2010 shows that Walker, Russell, and Archer were directly involved (along with the County Board and DHHS) in grant awards. A full list of past and present grants are included in the memo. On September 10, 2010, DHHS Interim Director Lisa Marks presented the list of CDBG awards to the Committee on Economic and Community Development for approval. In spite of the numerous checks and balances in the system, the grants were made and approved on the basis of trust in the Walker Administration’s assurance of their qualifications.
And hey, look who else from that story was in the news yesterday- Cindy Archer, whose frivolous lawsuit against John Doe investigators was tossed out of federal court. As part of that decision, federal judge Lynn Adelman allowed a copy of the evidence acquired by John Doe prosecutors to remain under seal, instead of being destroyed like the corrupt “WMC 4” on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered. Adelman also included details about the 6 convictions in the Milwaukee County-based parts of John Doe (aka John Doe 1), as well as the alleged money-laundering scheme for WisGOP politicians that is the centerpiece of John Doe 2.

A lot of dots are getting connected here, aren’t they? And with the U.S. Supreme Court announcing this week that they will hear arguments in John Doe 2, it seems likely that we’re going to find out even more about the real way the Walker Administration has done business in Milwaukee and Madison, and how they chose who to do business with.

So that’s why today’s resignation of Corey Hoze from the WHEDA Board set off warning bells to me. Not many things are coincidental in Walker World, and let’s see if Hoze's quitting adds to the signals from this week which indicate an implosion of this corrupt and destructive group is coming soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

J-S Politi-"fact" strikes again, letting Walker lie about UW funding

6 weeks ago, I did an analysis of an absurd tweet Governor Walker sent out as the college Dropout tried to discuss the finances of the UW System. In addition to pointing out why Walker was being blantantly dishonest, I also made the following prediction.
And I'm sure Walker cheerleader Tom Kertscher will be by in a few days to Politi-fact this take as "mostly true," based on the fact that the UW System will spend $6.15 billion in 2015-16, which would be its highest "All Funds" amount.
And while I was off by about a month, Wisconsin Politi-“fact” and “analyst” Tom Kertscher got around to Walker’s claim on UW’s budget and spending yesterday. So let’s see if my hypothesis was correct. First of all, Kertscher decides to tell the readers what Walker really meant when he made his statement.
Walker made it clear his claim was about total funding for the UW System, and that state money covers only a portion of the system’s budget.
Whoa, stop right there! Let’s go to the actual quote from Walker, which came when Gov Unintimidated was given free air time by Charlie Sykes 10 days ago. Kertscher notes Scotty’s next line was “The amount of money is only a fraction of what they have overall.” And that’s true- much of those UW funds are segregated funds, from sources like gifts, federal grants, dorms and athletics, and they can’t be used for other parts of the UW System.

Kertscher even admits this in the next part of his analysis.
But it’s worth noting that, adjusted for inflation, state support of the system -- known as general purpose revenue -- is in a historic decline, according to figures from the fiscal bureau.

The highest state support, adjusted for inflation, was in the first year of the system, 1973-’74 -- at just under $1.52 billion. That figure hit an all-time low of $1.03 billion in 2015-’16.
A 50% drop for inflation on the funding that is the most flexible doesn’t seem like the most “money to spend”, does it? Scotty knows that people won’t buy his argument if that fact is given.

So he pivots in his next line to “So, for all the hysteria out there, they have never had more money to spend in the UW System.” With that statement, Walker is trying to give a false impression to the losers tuning in on 620 that the UW is doing just fine and isn’t in the financial constraints its faculty and supporters say it is.

But given that Kertscher has recognized that state funding keeps declining, and that this element is the one Walker and the WisGOP Legislature has the most control over, I’m sure he will grade appropriately, and not give Walker the lenient rating I predicted 6 weeks ago.
The system’s 2015-’16 all-funds budget -- which includes not only state tax dollars but federal funds, tuition and other income -- is $6.194 billion, the biggest since the system was created in 1973-’74.

But adjusted for inflation, the 2015-’16 all-funds budget is among the biggest, though not the biggest. And the 2015-’16 figure includes unspent tuition revenue that hadn’t been counted in the all-funds budget in previous years.

For a statement that is accurate but needs clarification, our rating is Mostly True.
God, I hate being right about our state’s media.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??? “Needs clarification?” Scotty didn’t clarify because that would blow up his entire meme, since it would show that the state isn’t funding the UW near what it used to, and is instead making students, researchers and donors take up more of the cost. How could Kertscher mention this obvious point, then conveniently ignore it in his final rating?

Apparently the check from the Bradley Foundation to the JournalComm offices cleared, because there’s no other explanation as to why Politi-“fact” Wisconsin would pull this garbage to help their boy Scotty (who is clearly flailing around and losing on the UW issue). What an insultingly slanted “analysis”, and I’m not going to believe for a second that Kertscher is blind to the false impression that his article gives to the average dope who knows nothing about higher ed finance.

But hey, if you buy into Gov Walker’s BS about the “UW is spending more than ever,” take heart in knowing this likely won’t be true next year, because the documented exodus of professors and the federal funds they take with them will likely lower that “all funds” budget next year.

Fuck these cynical sleazebuckets at WisGOP and their anti-educational “divide and conquer” attempts, and fuck Tom Kertscher for being an enabler of it with his Politi-crap “analysis”.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Waukesha Clerk and Wisconsin DOJ try to defend voter ID. And FAIL

In the ongoing Federal court trial challenging the legality of Wisconsin's voter ID law, several statistics have been brought up by the challengers to the law pointing out that it affects certain groups over others. Here's an example from one of those organizations suing, the One Wisconsin Institute.
Kristina Boardman, Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles Administrator, testified that based on their own statistics from mid-September 2014 through mid-May 2016, of those applying for a free voter ID over fifty percent have gone to African Americans and Hispanics. In addition, one in five of those applying through the ID petition process (IDPP) have not yet been approved for the ID they now need to cast a ballot.
Given that just over 13% of the state's population is African American or Hispanic, that's means those individuals are 4 times more likely to need a voter ID. Similar proof of disparate outcomes of laws is what led to decisions like Brown v. Board of Education , which ended many Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s.

The trial doesn't just deal with laws on the ability to cast a ballot, but also is debating whether the state's imposition of uniform hours for early voting in all communities was OK. Those changes had the effect of lowering the availability of early voting in big cities like Milwaukee and Madison, and to try to argue that the new early voting hours were OK, the Wisconsin Department of Justice called Waukesha County Clerk Kathleen Novack to the stand yesterday to describe how much better voting runs in the 262, and that it should be a model for the rest of the state.
Novack said she believes eliminating weekend voting "level(s) the playing field" between large urban areas and smaller suburban and rural communities that lack the resources to staff weekend hours.

"If there’s an office open 30 days versus an office that’s only open 10 work days, there are obviously voters that have a lot more access than someone else," Novack said. "There has to come a point where it’s just giving over-access … to particular parts of the state."

Asked whether she thought voters in Milwaukee and Madison — communities that previously used weekend voting — had too much access, Novack said, "too much access to the voters as far as opportunities."
So much foolishness in that statement. Here's a mere 3 ways that it senseless testimony.

1. What wasn't mentioned by Waukesha Clerk Nov-hack is that each community only gets ONE place to have early voting- usually the city clerk's office. In Waukesha County, the largest city is Waukesha, population 71,489, and most communities in WOW World are quite a bit smaller than that. By comparison, the City of Madison has nearly 250,000 people and the City of Milwaukee has nearly 600,000, according to the latest Census figures. On a pure per-capita basis, Madison should have 3-4 times the amount of early voting hours that Waukesha does, and Milwaukee should have 8 1/2 times as much.

2. Milwaukee and Madison also have a more transient population than pretty much any part of Waukesha County, and has a sizable college student contingent. Both of these groups of individuals are more likely to need to register at their current address for the net election, which takes more time and requires extra forms of identification. Early voting can allow those individuals the time to get properly registered, or be able to find out what information they need to submit, and then have a better chance of getting that correct information.


Here's another bit of genius from County Clerk Nov-hack's testimony.
If long lines start to form at a polling place, Novack said, it would make more sense to add more staff and open more lines within that location rather than opening a second one.

"For instance if you’re in the grocery store and there’s a long line, they open up another line," she said.
Hey Kathy, weren't you just complaining about how cash-strapped your communities were? Well where the hell are they going to get the money to snap their fingers and add more staff to open up polling spots? Especially when cities like Milwaukee and Madison have had shared revenues slashed by WisGOP legislators (and some sellout Dem accomplices) over the last 15 years, and can't be expected to defund their other services in certain years to guarantee that they can "open more lines" on Election Day. This maybe isn't a problem in WOW World, where they have plenty more voting places per capita, and have fewer social and public safety needs to worry about, since the WOW Counties have tried their damnedest to ghetto-ize poverty out of their area through redlining and trying to disconnect themselves from Milwaukee in order to keep "those people" out of their towns (well except for the paychecks and public events they enjoy there, without paying taxes to Milwaukee when they're there. WOW Countiers don't mind that).

By the way, who had the bright idea in Attorney General (and former Waukesha County DA) Brad Schimel's office to think a good defense of the voter ID law was to say "See, it's not so difficult to vote in the WOW Counties." THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT OF THE LAWSUIT, DIPSHIT! THAT YOU WOW COUNTIERS HAVE IT EASIER THAN OTHER PARTS OF THE STATE! Voter ID laws were intentionally drawn up to make sure the people most likely to have extra barriers to voting be in big cities and on college campuses, both of which tend to vote for Democrats. It's the intentional targeting of the damage that is why similar restrictions on early voting in Ohio just got shot down this week (MAL has a good rundown of that), and it shows why Wisconsin's voter ID law is likely to be at least modified by this federal court, if not tossed entirely for its discriminatory nature.

Are people in WisGOP and especially the WOW counties in such a bubble that these people can't understand that not everyone's experience in getting identification and being able to vote comes as easy as they do? Or are WOW County elected Republicans just that dishonest and lame with their excuses for how they try to rig elections? Either answer is unacceptable, and it's why I don't spend a dime in that cultural cesspool.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wisconsin still far from the "gold standard" for 2015 jobs

I wanted to go into another part of last week’s Wisconsin jobs report for April 2016, The last page of that release features preliminary figures for the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW). The Walker Administration picked out these parts of that QCEW information.
Wisconsin added 35,565 private-sector jobs from December 2014 to December 2015.

·Construction led industries in year-over-year job gains with a 6.2 percent growth rate.

·Quarterly wages by covered private-sector employers grew by 7.1 percent year over year.
The wage part is noteworthy, as that's a massive jump for the overall wages, and while the average wage increase per worker isn’t as high, it's still a robust 5.6%). Yet at the same time, we're not seeing the same type of 7% increase increase in income tax revenue, which makes me wonder where all the money went (likely to richer people, who are more likely to find ways to avoid paying taxes on those added wages).

The 35,565 private-sector jobs added means an increase of 1.48% in 2015, which improves on the horrid 1.23% we had for the previous quarter’s QCEW report, and it’s even above the 1.45% that was reported in the month-by-month figures that we previously had (Todd Milewski’s chart in the Capital Times has a great rundown of the month-by-month figures).

But that 1.48% was still well below the national level of 2.23% job growth for 2015, and is even below the 1.55% in private sector job growth that we had in 2014. So not really that great in context, and it seems likely the state will trail the rest of the nation in year-over-year job growth for the 18th straight quarter (neatly coinciding with the Age of Fitzwalkerstan) when the nationwide QCEW report is released in a couple of weeks.

For more on the long-term QCEW record, Political Heat’s Chris Walker points out that Wisconsin’s rotten jobs growth in the first 4 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan put us so far in the hole, we’d still be trailing much of the country even if we were graded on a severe curve.
However, a funny thing occurred to me when I started thinking about this most recent release: what if we compared these new numbers, and all of the jobs created in Wisconsin from December 2010 to December 2015, to jobs numbers in states ONLY up to 2014? That is, give Wisconsin a golf handicap: compare its five years of jobs growth to the rest of the nation’s four years of jobs growth, but assume that a net zero jobs are created elsewhere in the rest of the nation, and divide EVERYONE’S jobs growth by five years.

The result? Wisconsin STILL would lag behind most of the country under those assumptions. We’d rank 29th overall nationally in our average yearly rate of private sector jobs growth since Walker took office, and we’d rank 7th out of ten states in the Midwest.

Our annual jobs growth rate from December 2010 to December 2015 is 1.45 percent on average. Minnesota’s average during that same time period -- again, assuming that they created ZERO jobs in 2015 -- would be about 1.62 percent on average.

In fact, from 2010 to 2014 Minnesota created 177,713 new private sector jobs. From 2010 to 2015 Wisconsin created 13,000 less jobs. In other words, Minnesota (and 28 other states) outperformed in four years what it took Wisconsin to accomplish in five.

The desperation of the Walker boys is obvious at this point, as the numbers show the state continues to fall short despite corporations getting every type of tax break and wage-suppression measure that they can. It seems likely that more evidence of that failure will come forward on June 8, when the national figures are released and Wisconsin is slated (yet again) to be in the bottom half of the nation on job growth.

And now that the state is out of ammo on that side (we are more likely to be in a budget deficit in early 2017), all they can do is make excuses and cherry-pick numbers for the next 5½ months before the next election. Which means it’s up to us to give the full picture that shows how far behind we are, that we still aren’t catching up, and that the trickle-down and austerity policies in Fitzwalkerstan will never work in improving the Wisconsin economy for most of us outside the inner circle.

New paper shows just how badly gerrymandered Wisconsin is

Here is a timely and interesting study on Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative maps, which are on trial in a federal courtroom starting today. It comes in the Washington Post’s wonky “Monkey Cage” section, and was done by 5 Binghamton College PoliSci professors and graduate students using election data in Wisconsin’s statewide elections from 2008 to 2014, then overlaying those results with the current Assembly legislative districts.

Here are the baselines that the study started with.
For those who haven’t looked at statistics in a while, we get “mean” vote across assembly districts by adding each party’s percentage of the vote in each district and dividing by the number of districts, or 99. The “median” district vote, by contrast, is what we could get if we list the districts from most Democratic to most Republican (by percentage of the vote) and choose the one exactly in the middle. The mean and median should be nearly the same in a fair system.

If the median district is only 45 percent Democratic, then the chances of a Democrat winning it is slim – and therefore the Democrats are very unlikely to win a majority of the legislature. In this case, if the mean district was also 45 percent Democratic, there’d be no bias in the system and the Dems would be getting what they deserve when they fail to take control of the assembly.
Then the Binghamton researchers created a “neutral” Wisconsin Assembly map from a computer program which requires only that 1. districts be contiguous and 2. have the same population. This would test to see if the fact that the heaviest Dem voting districts (large parts of the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, and the Menominee Reservation) are more pro-Dem than the heaviest pro-GOP districts in the state would give the GOP a natural gerrymander through “the big sort” of population.

What that simulation proved that Wisconsin’s pro-GOP gerrymandering was not only no accident, it was also significant.
These neutral maps show a natural gerrymander of 1.1 to 3.9 percentage points (using the same median-mean comparison) favoring the Republicans. Obviously, this is smaller than the total bias of 3.8 to 6.3 percentage points in the current map. What is extraordinary is that none of the 10,000 neutral maps produced a plan as skewed toward the Republicans – in any of the 13 statewide elections from 2008 to 2014 that we examined — as the actual map drawn by the state assembly.

Or to think about it differently, Wisconsin’s state legislative districts were drawn to add an additional, thick layer of bias atop the “natural” gerrymander of where Republicans and Democrats live in the state.
And it’s the severity of the gerrymander that this lawsuit is based on, that many Wisconsinites are disenfranchised from a fair chance to pick who represents them because of these manufactured district maps.

The article also has a very cool chart (click here to see it) that illustrates the “natural” and “GOP-made” gerrymanders in Wisconsin. It’s interesting to see the size of GOP bias grow between the 2010 and 2014 statewide elections, for both the gray and red lines, which indicates the increasing level of polarization in the state in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and less 50-50 areas in general.

That chart also illustrates how much of a landslide is needed to flip the State Assembly into Democratic control- a uniform swing during a statewide total in the neighborhood of President Obama’s 56-42 win over John McCain in 2008. That’s a lot to overcome in a state where Republicans have a large amount of their voters getting their “facts” from biased news sources that won’t tell dare reveal what is really going on outside the Bubble (you’d think the fact that Ted Cruz turned into a punchline after the Wisconsin primary would make them think about it, but nope!).

So let’s see if we can get some new ground broken in this week’s redistricting trial, which already has been given enough credence to have the argument heard in court in the first place. If these maps can be thrown out or even forcibly modified (how can the Madison areas have non-contiguous “islands” of certain districts?), it’ll send a wake-up call to an arrogant Wisconsin GOP who figures these rigged maps will save them regardless of what kind of heinous legislation they choose to pass.

Monday, May 23, 2016

UW faculty's lack of confidence in WisGOPs being proven correct

No-confidence votes from faculty continue to rack up across the state against UW System President/ WisGOP henchman Ray Cross, ranging from the UW flagships at Madison and Milwaukee earlier this month, to the 2-year Colleges late last week. It's quite obvious that faculty members have decided that they can't count on Cross and other UW Administrators to represent their interests against anti-UW legislators, and that there is no point in negotiating with either of these groups any more, and need to go public with their grievances.

And as events and statements come out, it's pretty obvious the faculty are right to think that way. Take a look at this "can't we all just get along" silliness from UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank.
“That kind of positive and healthy relationship is incredibly important; it is important to the university and it is very important to the state,” Blank said. “The current relationship is not as healthy in my opinion.”

Blank spoke after a week in which Walker ridiculed “groaning” UW faculty for a stack of no-confidence votes in UW System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents. His press release prompted a rebuttal from the American Association of University Professors and a rating of “pants on fire” from the fact-checking website Politifact...

“The no confidences votes have obviously raised the ire of some legislators,” Blank remarked. “The response by the governor in his recent press release, I think, was neither healthy nor productive.

"But with dueling press releases, dueling op-eds, we are engaged in precisely the wrong conversation,” Blank said. “This is dangerous, should this continue.”
It would be dangerous if the WisGOP Legislature was acting in anything resembling good faith. But they're not, as articles like this one from the weekend show that GOP legislators and Governor Walker believe that stoking the anger of rubes against best and brightest academics is a way to get votes for November 2016's elections, so they have no interest in being partners with the UW.
Mike Mikalsen, a spokesman for Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said voters don’t want to undo the changes Republicans have made.

“You can’t just feed the beast by throwing more state tax dollars in and more tuition money,” he said. “You have to force (the UW System) to adopt reasonable reforms to get them on the right track.”
That's nice, isn't it? The only "beast" associated with the UW System is the economic beast that generates billions of dollars in current research and jobs, and it keeps the talent pipeline humming to keep the state competitive for the future. Funny how "pro-business" GOPs don't seem to get this.

There's another beauty in that article where former GOP chair and current Grocers lobbyist Brandon Scholz is quoted as saying "“It will be difficult to sell tenure when you apply it to what people do for jobs in their district." This is the same Brandon Scholz who wanted to end Wisconsin's child labor laws five years ago and is now calling the Obama Administration's requirement of overtime pay for low-income jobs "divisive, callous, uninformed." Apparently teenagers and low-wage workers don't exist in GOP districts, Brandon?

More proof that GOPs are not to be trusted on UW System funding came from today's article from Steve Walters in Urban Milwaukee. Walters quotes Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos threatening to further reduce funding and faculty protections as a result of the faculty not sitting back and accepting their prior cuts and reductions in worker rights.

But, in a WisconsinEye interview at the Republican Party state convention, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the faculty votes “not helpful” and a “big mistake on their part.”

Vos said he hopes he can keep state aid for the UW System in the next two-year state budget where it is now – $2.08 billion.

Vos’s statement sends this blunt message to UW faculty members with little or no faith in their bosses: You want state aid to the System increased? Not going to happen.

And, UW faculty should be thankful that legislators allowed the Regents to set new tenure guidelines because, Vos said, “I might have eliminated tenure altogether.” Vos said he only agreed to let the Regents enact new tenure guidelines at the request of Cross.
We'll leave out the silliness of Vos implying that there will be funds available in the next budget to give UW a funding increase anyway (there won't be as long as Walker is in office), but it shows that you can't negotiate with people like that. And ALEC authoritarians like Wee Wobbin' illustrate exactly why tenure needs to exist and be strengthened, because you bet that guy will put the kiobosh on any research that might show results such as a warming planet, the failure of trickle-down economics to raise revenues, or in the fact that voucher schools generally do not do any better with the same students than public schools (and many do worse).

This is why UW have acted properly in turning up the heat and public attention with these no-confidence votes of UW System leadership and the Walker-stacked Board of Regents. Being kind and acquiescing to the GOP leadership is exactly what those anti-intellectual thugs want, and it won't result in better funding or freedoms. So why not fight and work to get those thugs out of power, both by raising public awareness of the issue, and in actively supporting the election of pro-UW legislators in November to flip the State Senate and stop some of those cuts from happening? This includes Diane Odeen taking out GOP State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (who "represents" River Falls and Stout) and Mark Harris winning the open seat in the Oshkosh-Fond du Lac area.

I know it's uncouth in some corners for academics to take political sides in statewide battles, but decency has been out the window in Fitzwalkerstan for more than 5 years, and it is well past time for UW administration, professors, staff to take on the combative stance that this dire situation requires.

Tourist season should remind us of need for better local govt financing

After spending the weekend in Green Bay doing tourist-related things as my wife and friends ran in a half-marathon, I was led to flash back to a document which discussed the impact of tourism on Wisconsin’s economy. This came out from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism last month, and with the Summer Tourism kicking off full-force this weekend, I wanted to go into the places in Wisconsin where tourism is important, and where there is very little of it. This is the type of information that should drive certain fiscal policy decisions in the state, but generally doesn’t when it comes to funding local governments, and I think that needs to change.

First of all, how do we define “direct tourism spending”? The Wisconsin Department of Tourism says it starts with the following:
Domestic visitor expenditure estimates are provided by Longwoods International’s representative survey of US travelers. These are broken out by sectors (lodging, transport at destination, food & beverage, retail, and recreation), by purpose (business and leisure), and by length of stay (day and overnight).
Then this information is cross-checked with items such as sales tax receipts, gasoline purchases, and local economic and employment data.

Based on those measures, here are the counties that the Tourism Department said are the ones that grab the highest amount of direct tourism spending in Wisconsin.

Top 10 counties for tourism spending
1.Milwaukee Co. $1,858.2 million
2.Dane County $1,154.1 million
3.Sauk County $1,005.3 million
4.Waukesha Co. $721.7 million
5.Brown County $613.7 million
6.Walworth Co. $509.6 million
7.Outagamie Co. $335.4 million
8.Door County $332.8 million
9.La Crosse Co. $236.1 million
10.Marathon Co. $235.9 million

Basically it’s the largest-population counties in Wisconsin along with traditional attraction areas like the Dells-Delton area (Sauk Co.), Door County, and Walworth County.

Another way to slice this impact is by adding population to the equation, as a way to see how reliant an area may be on tourism spending. If you work it out that way, you can see where many small-population communities have a strong reliance on tourism to stay afloat.

Top 10 counties, tourism spending per capita
Door County $12,079
Sauk County $11,488
Adams County $10,500
Vilas County $9,928
Oneida County $6,069
Sheboygan Co. $5,203
Walworth Co. $4,957
Shawano Co. $3,780
Marinette Co. $3,775
Iron County $3,296

(Quick note, Sheboygan County hosted the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits last year, and that in itself may have caused them to get a spot on this last. The spending in that county was significantly up from last year).

These top counties would be the ones most likely to benefit from a sales tax on goods and services, as non-residents bring in large proportions of money into the area, and take advantage of the goods and services a community offers. In addition, this could create a positive feedback loop where the extra sales taxes go back into amenities and services which enhance quality of life, and continue to attract tourism dollars.

While larger communities aren’t generally on this list when broken down per capita, I’ll note that Brown and Dane Counties were still in top 20 of Wisconsin counties for tourism spending per capita, and Milwaukee, La Crosse, Outagamie and Waukesha Counties were all in the upper half, despite their larger size. The counties which hold cities that get large amounts of tourism dollars (like Milwaukee, Dane and Brown) would also seem to benefit from a local funding shift away from property taxes and into sales taxes as a result.

Interestingly, the areas that are least reliant on tourism in Wisconsin also are relatively small-population, and all are located either near Green Bay/Appleton or are in the western half of the state. I also find it a bit alarming that many of these counties are on the border with other states, which you’d think would make them attract more tourist dollars just due to geographic proximity, and that isn’t happening.

Lowest 10 counties, tourism spending per capita
Menominee Co. $553
Calumet Co. $599
Pierce County $608
Lafayette Co. $706
Clark County $813
Grant County $827
Buffalo Co. $842
Pepin County $844
Kewaunee Co. $856
Trempealeau Co. $857

Without the boost in spending from outsiders, it makes these areas more likely to need sizable amounts of shared revenue and other non-sales tax sources to maintain local government spending levels. Either that, or they must continue to grow in population and/or tax base to keep the property taxes and other aids flowing. Some have been able to do this, like the counties of Menominee (population up 8.06% since 2010), Trempealeau (+2.55%), Grant (+2.03%) and Calumet (+1.62%). But the other 6 low-tourist counties have been hit with population losses since the start of the decade, with Buffalo (-2.91%) and Pepin (-2.40%) getting the worst of it.

You put these two issues together, and it indicates that perhaps a logical funding reform in Wisconsin could involve redirecting more resources to rural, low-tourist areas, with an extra emphasis on those places with declining population, as they are less likely to be able to raise revenues for services on their own. In particular, General Fund revenues like income taxes and state sales taxes could be the source for those communities to receive those funds, which evens the playing field throughout the state and could reduce the concerning trend where half of the state’s counties have lost population in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and most are in rural areas.

On the flip side, high-tourism and population growth areas would have some of their shared revenues reduced and/or redirected. But this can be made up for by freeing them up to use their community’s amenities to raise more revenue on their own. This could include an expansion of initiatives like the Premier Resort Tax and the Wisconsin Center Tax - added sales taxes that can be installed in places that require additional services due to large tourist populations, or earmarked for specific facilities designed to attract conventions and events that cause people from out of town to visit the area. The increased tourism of those areas also makes it more likely that the regressive sales tax is spread around to non-residents, and could be offset with lower property taxes and a lack of cuts in services that benefit local residents (streets, schools, etc.).

Wisconsin’s outdated local financing system relies heavily on statewide revenues being redistributed. This may help certain areas that are not large enough to generate top-flight services on their own, and some of this should even be expanded for low-income, low-growth areas of the state, to allow those citizens a legitimate chance of succeeding. But this has often come at the cost of reduced options for revenue at the local level. We only allow a 0.5% sales tax for local governments to take advantage of, and only on the county level. This has resulted in property taxes and sprawling growth to be the main source of support to local governments, and it is a system that has hamstrung large cities in particular, since most have fixed borders and much of its land has already been developed.

As a result, my modest proposal would allow cities and high-tourist areas more freedom to impose their own sales taxes and keep more of the funds that are being generated in their own communities. Likewise, this can be accompanied with property tax restrictions and perhaps targets on what the added sales taxes can be used for (like the proposed 0.5% sales tax for local roads that failed to pass the GOP Legislature this session).

If done right, this can be a win-win for the vast majority of communities in Wisconsin, and allow a better chance for the state to keep up the quality of life and natural beauty that attracts those tourists in the first place.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A trip to Titletown

I'm heading back from a warm and good weekend in Green Bay, where my wife and our friends ran in the 1/2 marathon. Hadn't been to Lambeau since most of the renovations, and it was pretty awesome to get inside and see it in person.

More serious stuff will likely be back on Monday. But that's what Ive bern up to

Friday, May 20, 2016

April jobs fall hard in Wisconsin- indicating March was a mirage

As usual, going through the Walker Administration’s monthly jobs release is an exercise in searching and cutting through spin. And the April report that was released on Thursday was no exception. Take a look at this, and I’ll bold the big story that I don’t see reported in any state media today.
Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in April 2016, down from 4.5 percent in March 2016. The 4.4 percent rate is lower than the 4.6 percent rate in April 2015 and lower than the national unemployment rate, which remained at 5.0 percent in April 2016. Based on preliminary estimates, Wisconsin's total employment remained at a record high in April, growing by a statistically significant 61,100 year-over-year.

The state's labor force also remained at an all-time high in April 2016, and the labor force participation rate held at 68.8 percent, outpacing the U.S. rate of 62.8 percent.

·Place of work data: The state added a statistically significant 39,600 private sector jobs and 42,000 total non-farm jobs from April 2015 to April 2016 on a preliminary basis, including a significant gain of 8,800 jobs in construction. While preliminary April numbers estimate a one-month decline by 11,500 private-sector jobs, the March 2016 estimates were revised upward by 1,600 to show a one-month gain of 14,700 from February.
Wait, WE LOST 11,500 PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS LAST MONTH? That kind of seems like a big deal. But few if any media outlets have picked up on that one, so apparently the Walker DWD’s word-smithing paid off.

And it’s not like the rest of the country was having these same difficulties in April, since the state-by-state jobs report came out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics today, and Wisconsin was mired near the bottom of US state for last month. Meanwhile, our neighbor to the west was having the type of major job growth we claimed in prior months
In April 2016, 11 states had statistically significant over-the-month increases in nonfarm payroll employment and 6 states had significant decreases. The largest job gains were in California (+59,600) and Florida (+31,100). In percentage terms, the largest significant increases were in Minnesota and Missouri (+0.5 percent each). Pennsylvania (-16,900) and Ohio (-13,600) had the largest significant decreases in employment over the month, followed by Wisconsin (-12,600) and Virginia (-12,000). The largest over-the-month percentage declines were in Wyoming (-0.9 percent) and Hawaii (-0.8 percent).
In fairness, some of this job loss was a predictable correction from those too-good-to-be true job numbers the Wisconsin DWD was bragging about in March. My 4 loyal readers may remember yours truly saying as much last month, and I singled out one sector in particular for a snapback, as Wisconsin was one of only 2 states in the Midwest that was listed as adding jobs in this area for March.
(\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.
Sure enough, take a look at April’s Wisconsin jobs report in the manufacturing sector and compare it to March’s revised figure.

Change in manufacturing jobs, Wisconsin
March +4,100
April -4,200

So we’re basically back to where we were in February for manufacturing employment, which rings truer (of course, it might look worse when Oscar Mayer and Tyson Chicken and other plants start shuttering this summer, but we’re not there yet).

I don’t want to take too much away from the progress on the household survey that makes up the “employment/ unemployment” part of the Wisconsin jobs report. Not only did the unemployment claim decline in April to 4.4%, but it also is being done despite growth in the Wisconsin labor force. This is a very different reason than what we saw with alleged declines in that stat in 2015 (which was due to alleged drops in the labor force. Both declines were later revised away).

Low unemployment is definitely a good thing, but Gov Walker made a dope of himself when tried to take credit for it, when tweeted this out, using a graphic that all but screamed #THANKSOBAMA!

So what I’m taking out of this April jobs report is that things weren’t booming as much as the Walker Administration made them out to be in the first 3 months of the year, and things didn’t immediately turn bust in April, despite the reported loss of 11,500 private sector jobs. This is likely an evening out of jobs figures which happens over the course of a few months in these reports, and Wisconsin is still averaging 4,875 private-sector jobs a month for 2016, which is pretty much in line with the national rate.

That’s an improvement over the subpar pace we’ve been on in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, but it also means that the Walker jobs gap is little different than it was at the start of the year- just over 95,500 private sector jobs, and 90,000 jobs overall.

I bet Scotty and the WisGOPs won't be tweeting out those charts when they try to talk up their record before the November elections.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Despite headlines, Wisconsin also having middle class hollowed out

The recent release from the Pew Research Center on America’s middle class has led to an interesting “two sides of the coin” analysis when it comes to figuring out what’s been happening in Wisconsin in the 2000s.

First of all, let’s take a look at what the Pew Center defined as “middle income” for this survey.
In this report, “middle-income” Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size. 7 In 2014, the national middle-income range was about $42,000 to $125,000 annually for a household of three. Lower-income households have incomes less than 67% of the median and upper-income households have incomes that are more than double the median.

The income it takes to be middle income varies by household size, with smaller households requiring less to support the same lifestyle as larger households. Thus, a one-person household needed only $24,000 to $72,000 to be middle income in 2014. But a five-person household had to have an income ranging from $54,000 to $161,000 to be considered middle income.
Based on that definition, 51% of Americans were considered middle income in 2014, a decline from the 55% that fell under that category in 2000. It’s noteworthy that several mid-size cities in Wisconsin were listed as having the largest percentage of residents in their metro areas as being “middle income.” As the Pew report notes,
A distinct geographical pattern emerges with respect to which metropolitan areas had the highest shares of adults who were lower income, middle income or upper income in 2014. The 10 metropolitan areas with the greatest shares of middle-income adults are located mostly in the Midwest. Wausau, WI, where 67% of adults lived in middle-income households in 2014, had the distinction of leading the country on this basis, followed closely by Janesville-Beloit, WI (65%). Sheboygan, WI, and four other Midwest areas also placed among the top 10 middle-income areas.
The Eau Claire area also made the top 10, with 61% of its households being considered middle income. The Pew Report notes that many of the Midwestern areas that had a disproportionately large amount of middle-class households also tended to be disproportionately reliant on manufacturing, and most were in markets that were not in the top 50 for population in the U.S.

The “Wisconsin has a lot of middle-class” meme got a lot of play in the media when the Pew report came out last week, and it is an interesting stat. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. First of all, the Madison and Green Bay-Appleton areas are missing from the report, likely because their metro areas were expanded in recent years, so it was taken out of the Pew analysis. The other large metro area in the state didn’t have the same “huge middle class” dynamic that some medium-size metros did, as Milwaukee’s middle-income ratio was 52.6% in 2014.

That was still above the U.S. average of 51%, but Pew also reports that the Milwaukee area had sizable slippage in this category between 2000 and 2014. This is especially true when you look at the increase in lower-income households in Milwaukee, which seems to be the destination of most individuals who departed the middle-class.

2000 vs. 2014, Milwaukee metro vs US
Lower income
2000- U.S. 28%, Milwaukee 19.8%
2014- U.S. 29%, Milwaukee 25.5%
Change- U.S. +1%, Milwaukee +5.7%

Middle income
2000- U.S. 55%, Milwaukee 58.9%
2014- U.S. 51%, Milwaukee 52.6%
Change- U.S. -4%, Milwaukee -6.3%

Upper income
2000- U.S. 17%, Milwaukee 21.3%
2014- U.S. 20%, Milwaukee 22.0%
Change- U.S. +3%, Milwaukee +0.7%

And this trend of changes within the classes is what the Wisconsin Budget Project looked at in their analysis of the Pew research study. As you’ll see from this graphic, other than Eau Claire and (barely) Sheboygan, more often than not, any drop in middle-class Wisconsin households was due to people sliding into the lower class in those communities.

And then the Budget Project expands outward into the rest of the state, and shows that Wisconsin went against the national trend in this time period, as only 7 states had a higher difference between people going into the lower class vs going into the upper class. They weren’t alone in the Midwest for this trend, but it’s also in marked contrast to our neighbors to the west in Minnesota and Iowa.

Change in % in upper income vs lower income 2000-2014
Iowa +3.9%
Minn +3.3%
Ill. -1.6%
Wis. -1.9%
Ohio -2.6%
Ind. -5.0%
Mich -8.6%

Tamarine Cornelius at the Wisconsin Budget Project says it’s no coincidence that Wisconsin’s middle-class has struggled in the 2000s, particularly given what sector makes up a sizable portion of its economy.
One of the reasons that Wisconsin’s upper income tier has grown more slowly than our lower income tier is that there are far fewer jobs in manufacturing than in past decades. A bigger share of Wisconsin’s jobs are in manufacturing than in almost any other state, and those jobs often pay solid wages that allow workers to climb into the middle class. But the manufacturing sector has shrunk dramatically across the country, making those jobs harder to find, and forcing some former factory and foundry workers in Wisconsin to take jobs that pay less.

The decline in unionization is also one of the reasons Wisconsin’s middle class is giving way to the lower income group. Between 2000 and 2014, Wisconsin had one of the largest drops in the share of workers who belong to a union. Unionized workers earn more in wages and other compensation than non-union workers who are otherwise the same, and the higher wages help push additional households into the middle class. Union workers are also better off than their counterparts with regards to health insurance, retirement, and paid time off.
Note that the last year of this analysis is in 2014, before (right-to) work-for-less was passed in Wisconsin, and manufacturing slowed down with the oil bust and the strong dollar. Combine that with the increasing tax cuts and incentives that Governor Walker and WisGOP have handed out favoring the rich and corporate, and it doesn’t seem like Wisconsin’s 1.9% gap between rich and poor will be closing any time soon.

There are plenty of other angles to go at with the Pew Report “middle-class” report, so give it a click and see what you can find.

Can the Walker Admin read revenue documents? Or are the numbers themselves misleading?

Given Governor Walker’s decision last week to “scoop and toss” $101 million in debt into future years, I surmised that it must have been a tax revenue shortfall that had emerged in Wisconsin after tax filing season ended. This made the release of April’s tax revenue report by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue a crucial one, to see if that hypothesis was correct.

Well, the DOR sent out the release late yesterday afternoon, and the result was…unclear. Here’s the reason why.

Income tax revenues, Wisconsin April 2016 vs April 2015
Actual figures -20.22% (!)
Adjusted figures +12.73% (!)

Income tax revenues, Wisconsin FY2016 vs FY2015
Actual figures +1.33%
Adjusted figures +6.46%

Total tax revenues, Wisconsin FY2016 vs FY2015
Actual figures +1.82%
Adjusted figures +4.54%

What’s with the big adjustment? The DOR document explains.
Individual income tax collections in fiscal year 2016 was affected by late postings in withholding. These occur whenever a month ends on a holiday or weekend, causing the due date for withholding payments to move to the first working day of the following month instead of the last day of the current month. Year-to-date amounts for fiscal year 2016 were also affected.
So looking at the calendar, what this means is that 2015’s income tax withholding payments were supposed to be in by April 30 (a Friday), but 2016’s didn’t have to come in until Monday, May 2. I could see a related argument that income tax filings not being due until April 18, 2016 would have a similar effect, although 11 days is a long time between mailing and having the payment hit DOR’s records.

In itself, having these adjustments is fairly common, and they snap back over the following month or two, depending on how the calendar falls. But it’s the amount of the adjustment that caught my eye. Over $296 million! And it makes all the difference in how the revenue picture looks for the rest of the fiscal year, especially since sales (only up 1.3%), corporate (down 9.3%) and excise taxes (-4.6%) all disappointed in April.

If income taxes are truly up 6.46%, then that’s pretty much in line with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s estimates in January of a 6.61% increase for this fiscal year. And the 4.54% increase in overall revenues is slightly over the total revenue increase of 4.36% that LFB made in January. So no revenue issues should exist if this is true.

But here’s the danger if that adjustment is overestimated, and adjusted revenues “fall” in May as a result. Let’s use the actual figures through April 30, and see what would result if that held for the rest of the year compared to the LFB’s January estimates.

Income tax +1.33% DOWN $386.8 MILLION from estimates
Sales tax +2.95% DOWN $14.5 MILLION
Corp. tax -0.05% UP $14.4 MILLION
Excise tax +1.18% UP $1.0 MILLION

This makes me wonder some more about the Walker Administration’s decision to scoop and toss last week. If revenues were truly on the mark, then there wouldn’t be any immediate budget concerns, because the 2015-16 budget has a $284 million cushion built into it. This $284 mil assumed that the state would pay the $101 million debt payment that the Walker boys decided to skip out on in favor of paying more money down the road. Which leads me to ask an obvious question.

WHY WOULD THEY SKIP MAKING THAT PAYMENT? Are they thinking there is some magic high-interest investment out there for that extra $101 million to make money off of over those 8 years. Seems like quite a gamble in exchange for having to pay $13 million in principal and interest in each of the next 8 years. This is especially true if buy into Gov Walker’s BS about “The Obama economy” making things worse off in the future, because a failing economy in the future would make it even more foolish not to pay your bills now while you can.

No, that doesn’t add up. Which leads me to conclude one of two options.

1.The Walker Administration panicked when they saw the actual revenue figures, didn’t understand the adjustment part, and thought that even with the built-in budget cushion there would be a deficit of nearly $102 million, (amazing how close the numbers work out there). So in their minds, the “scoop and toss” allowed them to avoid having to do a budget repair bill in the Summer before the 2016 elections, and hide the real damage until the next budget deliberations begin this Winter. This theory makes some sense if you realize the decision to skip the debt payment was announced right after April’s revenue numbers came in.

2.The Walker Administration knows the income tax adjustment is going to be much smaller than $296 million, and they know a budget shortfall is coming, so they took care of the “scoop and toss” now, as they didn’t want to play the “hope and pray” game on figures being better in May and June. The hoping and praying comes later, as they try to avoid a budget repair bill in the already-tight budget for 2016-17.

So the Walker fiscal people are either dumb, or they’re cynically manipulating the numbers. Either answer indicates a group of people unfit for office, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which direction they’re taking (I truly don’t have an answer on this one).

As for the revenue picture, I guess we have to wait for May’s figures in a month, when the adjustment snaps back, and we see if the 2015-16 budget is actually on track. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wisconsin Tech Council- "Stop cutting the UW and Tech Colleges"

I’ve been waiting for certain business groups to start stepping in on the future of the University of Wisconsin System, as the defunding and anti-academic actions from Governor Walker and his Wisconsin GOP allies are causing damage to Wisconsin’s image and ability to cultivate talent. To their credit, the Wisconsin Technology Council stepped up to the plate, and are getting headlines today that read “Cutting UW, tech college funding again would hurt economy.”

That finding was part of a 28-page report the Tech Council made on the future of higher education in Wisconsin, and the headline seems to be drawn from this part of the paper’s conclusion.
It is important to recognize that only three states out of 50 are spending as much on higher education per student today as they did before the Great Recession, which means cuts in higher education have been a national trend. Within that context, however, it’s important to understand where efficiency ends and competitive advantage is threatened. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin spent 16.5 percent less in inflation-adjusted terms in 2008 through 2015. That decline in real spending suggests further cuts would harm access, affect overall quality and erode economic competitiveness.

• Does it make sense for state government to provide just 20 percent of the UW System’s total budget but to exercise a much higher degree of control over its tuition, capital projects, personnel decisions and more? Further, do current administrative transfer practices between the state and the UW System contribute to a lack of transparency about true costs of operation?
I'll answer that second one. No, it makes no sense that these dingbats demand tighter controls on something they fund less and less of. But that's how authoritarian goose-steppers roll.

From those two main points, I want to go into detail on the 3 main recommendations that the Tech Council is making, and then riff off of them for a bit.

1. In making funding and programming choices, policymakers should compare UW-Madison with its national peers (the nation’s top 25 research universities as defined by the National Science Foundation) and UW-Milwaukee with its peers (those 20 institutions in major metropolitan areas that aren’t “flagships” but which offer doctoral level work and have an urban mission).
This would indicate that the Tech Council wants basically a three-tier system for supporting the UW System

3.All other 4-year UW campuses (aka “comprehensives”)

I think there’s a lot of sense to this, as the research-and-Med School flagship in Madison and a UWM that has increasingly housed research-based business incubators are definitely going in a different direction than the other schools, and perhaps they should be funded differently. The Tech Council recommends having dedicated state funding for research at Madison and Milwaukee, and asks that researchers be freed up from teaching loads in order to use their time more wisely, and possibly use the discoveries to enhance the teaching side at a later point.

From a policy side, I’d argue that this also leans toward giving a larger proportion of “regular instructional” state aid to the comprehensive UW System schools and away from Madison and Milwaukee. Those other 11 campuses will not have as much research funding, enrollment size or donor base that UWM or Madison will, and will rely more on state aid to make up the difference. As a Madison grad, I have no problem with that trade.
2. Examine ways to speed time to graduation, which varies greatly within the UW System; consider ways to improve portability of credits within institutions; and accelerate programs that allow high-school students to get a “head start” on college through advanced placement courses and similar strategies. Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities offer a ready example. Both the UW and Wisconsin’s private nonprofit colleges and universities have instituted three-year degree programs, flexible degrees which give credit for prior learning and blend on-line and face-to-face learning, and encourage AP and Course and Youth Option programs. The real challenge is that only a few take advantage of these opportunities – again, perhaps, because funding of Wisconsin Grants is so low that students have to work so much that it lengthens their time to degree.
I’m not a huge fan of gimmicks like UW's new “Flex Option” degree, mostly because I think face-to-face exchange with peers and instructors is a key part of undergraduate education, and separates UW from a diploma mill. But the example of the private schools using accelerated degree programs makes some sense to me, and making it easier to transfer credits from high school and other colleges is something that should be automatic- how is either the student or the resource-starved university helped when the credits don’t transfer?

Also note the call for more Wisconsin Grants, to lessen the chances of students having to take extra time to graduate because they can’t go full-time. The underfunding of Wisconsin grants for higher education came up a couple of years ago, as the LFB reported in July 2014 that nearly 41,000 Wisconsin students couldn’t get the grants because the state hadn’t set aside enough funding for them. In the 2015-17 budget, $2.6 million was added to grants for technical education (Item 4 in this summary), but that is estimated to reach less than 1,200 of those students in need of aid. Later bills as part of Gov Walker’s “Higher Ed Affordability” package added another $950,000 for grants, but that falls far short of meeting the needs that the Tech Council and the LFB have shown

It seems that the Tech Council is calling for higher tuition but also higher financial aid to be available from the state to allow students to pay that tuition. They bemoan the underfunding of Wisconsin grants in the report, and also include a chart which compares in-state tuition and fees at UW schools compared to public universities in other Big Ten states. It shows Wisconsin’s average in-state tuition of $8,781 in 2014-15 was lower than 5 of our 6 Midwestern peers (only Iowa is lower), and it was more than 30% lower than public universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In addition, the Tech Council said Wisconsinites get a relatively good deal for their tuition dollars, even with our lower cost-of-living compared to other places.

Tuition and fees as % of median household income, Big 10 states 2013-14
Mich 23.8%
Penn 23.7%
Ill. 22.0%
Ohio 21.4%
N.J. 20.6%
Ind. 17.7%
Minn 17.2%
U.S. 16.6%
Wis. 15.8%
Iowa 14.3%
Neb. 13.6%
Mary 13.0%

To give a bit of perspective, if Wisconsin raised that ratio to 17.5% (between Indiana and Minnesota), that would mean an in-state increase of around $930 (just over 10.6%). So if that $930 per-student increase was spread across all 151,000 Full-Time Equivalent students for this year, it would translate into $140 million in added revenue a year- enough to make up for the cuts Gov Walker and the WisGOP Legislature imposed on the UW System in the 2015-17 budget. (Yes, I know some UW students come from out-of-state. I’m assuming that $930 increase would apply to them too. If you want to change it so the Coasties pay a bit more and the Sconnies pay less and the average is $930, I won’t argue with it).

Going to a higher-tuition, higher-aid model seems like a good idea on its face, but good luck getting an increase for Higher Ed Assistance from Governor Dropout, who seems to be more than content to pose about freezing in-state tuition without a care for how that lack of resources restricts UW quality and the range of classes available for students. This is especially true given that it seems we might well have a revenue shortfall and budget deficit for not only this Fiscal Year, but for the 2017-19 budget as well.

3. The UW Board of Regents, working with its Tenure Policy workforce and responding to legislative initiatives, has approved policies that reflect best tenure policy practices nationally as well as within the UW System. Clear tenure policies help attract talent in a competitive industry. In a world with changing economic, social and political needs, the Regents and the UW System should monitor how tenure may continue to evolve over time while protecting core principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.
WHOA! Gonna have to disagree with you on that one. The recent UW tenure changes certainly have not protected academic freedom and freedom of expression. That is clear from the attitudes exhibited in Ray Cross’s emails and in statements from various Walker-appointed Regents at the meeting in April when these changes were passed into law. These anti-faculty types clearly want to be the ones who decide which majors have “value” and which don’t, and manipulate UW resources and curriculum accordingly. That doesn’t sound much like a “best practice” or “academic freedom” to me. But it’s also not a surprising point of view from a business-based organization, who ultimately drill down everything in life to dollars and cents.

See, the problem with the recent moves and statements by Walker, other WisGOP hacks, the Walker-appointed Regents and President Cross is not only the weakening of tenure (bad enough), but also that they are pressing their thumb down on the university’s mission, and denigrating the value of highly-educated workers that deliver a quality product of human capital. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the Kochs or the Bradleys (Hi, Regent Michael Grebe!) or WMC deciding that certain disciplines (cough-CLIMATE SCIENCE-cough) just don’t fit into their plans, and they use the underfunded status of the UW System to weed out things they don’t like in favor of imposing their “facts” into the classroom.

I would hope the Tech Council isn’t being na├»ve on where the weakening of tenure could lead to, and instead could demand that the Legislature and the Kochs and other outside force BUTT OUT of micromanaging the UW System curriculum, and instead be a willing partner in keeping the UW System strong and respected.

But perhaps some of this was written before the callous, anti-academic attitude of Walker and his allies was thrown out in the open this month. Either way, the Tech Council should clarify what they mean “how tenure may continue to evolve”, and should make sure they give the benefit of the doubt to the instructors and researchers that have spent tens of thousands of dollars to get the Master’s and Doctoral level qualifications that allow them to take research to the next level. There is also a mention of closing and consolidating certain campuses, and I’d be interested in finding out just which UW schools the Tech Council had in mind.

In all, it’s an intriguing group of thoughts, and largely supportive of an institution that deserves to be supported. It’s a good addition to what needs to be a wider-ranging in-depth conversation, and a whole lot more worthwhile than the absurd “divide and conquer” crap that’s been floated out there by the Wisconsin GOP over the last few weeks. Let's see if any further talk comes from it.