Wednesday, August 31, 2016

WisGOP budget tricks lead to neglect at Vets Home

In the category of “you knew this was coming,” is this week’s bombshell story in the Cap Times from Katelyn Ferral, who exposed widespread neglect at the state’s Wisconsin Veterans Home at King. This story comes after several years of concerns over mistreatment of the elderly and disabled veterans at the facility, and also seems to be related to Walker/WisGOP budget moves to fill budget holes instead of invest in services at King.
…Pictures provided to the Cap Times by an employee who did not want to be named for fear of retribution show mold on a wall and a large red stain on the floor of a tub room where veterans are bathed once a week. Employees said the red stain was fixed and the mold was painted over, but remain concerned about the conditions of other tub rooms at King. Carpeting in one late-stage dementia unit is yet to be replaced after being soaked with urine, according to King employees who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

A 2013 photo of a tub room where veterans are bathed at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King showed a large red stain on the floor, which employees said can alarm residents with dementia and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. Employees said the stain has been removed, but other tub rooms at King are in poor condition.

Veterans are packed into small rooms reminiscent of college dorms. Medical equipment, including the nurse paging system, is outdated and some functions minimally, former and current employees say. Beds are antiquated, some welded together. In one federal inspection report from earlier this year, inspectors found King did not have a control program for certain infections, a lapse that had the potential to affect 195 residents. The same report also found that residents were washed with dirty washcloths placed in the drain of a soiled sink….

…Several former King employees who observed admission practices said the state keeps the homes as full as possible, alleging exceedingly sick veterans are accepted regardless of its capacity to care for them. More heads in King’s 721 beds means more money flows to the state from Medicaid, Medicare and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

State officials have used King’s money to subsidize its other veterans homes and have transferred more than $20 million in total since 2007 back to Madison to pay for other departmental expenses and salaries. The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to transfer another $18.6 million from King over the next two fiscal years, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This year, WDVA transferred $12 million out of the fund for the homes.
Now let’s go back to the July memo from Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos that revealed these transfers in the first place, and how they were keeping the Veterans Trust Fund afloat. In particular, let’s focus on this paragraph, which describes how the Vets Fund was able to be saved from “insolvency.”
The condition report illustrates a transfer from the Homes appropriations of $12 million to alleviate any negative balances. This transfer is pursuant to s. 45.57 (1) of Wis. Stats., which permits the department to transfer all or part of the unencumbered balance of any homes appropriations to the VTF. The extraordinary turnaround and success of the homes, due to a commitment to efficiencies, cost savings, maintaining census levels and optimizing federal funds has made the DVFA self-sufficient for the foreseeable future.

Well, I guess the Cap Times article tells us what Secretary Scocos meant by “efficiencies”, “cost savings” and “”maintaining census levels.” Cutting corners on staff and supplies, and overcrowding the King facility in order to grab as much federal money as possible. I guess we need to decide if that’s OK (I don’t find it OK).

Things look bad enough that elected officials from all sides of the aisle are now asking for an audit to try to figure out what's going on at King, including both chairs of the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee today. But the Cap Times article also notes that the King Homes have received 5-star ratings from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (you can click on the rating here).

So let’s look at the CMS’s criteria and see how they arrive at their ratings.
1. Health inspections rating:
We base health inspection ratings on the 3 most recent comprehensive (annual) inspections, and inspections due to complaints in the last 3 years. We place more emphasis on recent inspections.

2. Quality measures (QM) rating:
We combine the values on 16 QMs (a subset of the 24 QMs listed on Nursing Home Compare) to create the QM rating. QMs are derived from clinical data reported by the nursing home.

3.Staffing rating:
We base the staffing rating on 2 measures: 1) Registered Nurse (RN) hours per resident per day; and 2) total staffing hours per resident per day. Total staffing includes: RNs; Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs); and Certified Nurse Aids (CNAs). Staffing data are submitted by the facility and are adjusted for the needs of the nursing home residents.
Which makes me wonder what’s going on here. And when was the last of these comprehensive inspections of the facility?Is the quality and staffing data that the King Homes are reporting to CMS actually what the real quality and staffing figures are? (the Cap Times article is more than a little skeptical of this being the case) Something clearly doesn’t add up between what the Cap Times reported and what the CMS has.

Gov Walker was asked about the article and veterans’ services at his latest photo op in Milwaukee yesterday, and expressed surprise at the allegations, given the 5-star CMS ratings. But then Walker followed up with a pathetic whine job about his decision to transfer funds out of the homes.
"When Democrats and Gov. (Jim) Doyle were in charge, they raided money out of the state transportation fund, spending on things unrelated to transportation," Walker said. "Every penny that's in veterans affairs department is either spent on the homes or veterans programs.".
That comparison is bullshit. Here’s why.

When Jim Doyle shifted money from Transportation to other areas of the budget (mostly K-12 education), it was because the money wasn’t needed in Transportation at the time and the excess money allowed other services to be stabilized. This is NOT what was done in the Veterans Trust Fund, where there were clearly needs at the Veterans Homes, but instead of paying for them, Walker and WisGOP chose to fill in the budget holes with that extra money.

PS- Hey Scotty, is using other funds to fill in budget holes something you now find to be OK, or is it always wrong? It’s gotta be one or the other, kiddo. Either way, I suggest you PUT THAT TALKING POINT DOWN.

UPDATE- Looks like there's further news this afternoon on this story, as Katelyn Ferral has a new story out saying that lead has been found in the tap water at the King Homes, leading to this picture from King on Monday.

Today's update and the increased calls for an audit shows that these questions over the conditions at King and other state veterans' homes are not going away. Especially because many of the concerns stem directly from decisions made by the Walker Administration and WisGOP to reallocate the money collected for the Homes to fill in a multi-million dollar deficit instead of paying for needed services and actually asking the (gasp!) taxpayer to help out these men and women who have served the nation. It’s yet another fiscal problem that has never been dealt with over the 5 ½ years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and this is even worse since it involves not helping such an honorable and vulnerable group. In typical right-wing fashion, the WisGOPs were just hoping they could get away with the neglect for as long as they could, until it blew up spectacularly, and now we will likely have to pay up even more as a result.

Tired of this routine, yet?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

WisGOP's neglect and "reform" of UW grabs more national attention

As classes start back up here in Madison and at other campuses in the next few days, it’s important that we recognize the threat that is being posed to the University of Wisconsin System, and that we are not alone in seeing our great public universities being attacked. UW Regent Charles Pruitt laid it out over the weekend in a Washington Post column titled “Politics is cutting the heart out of Public Ivies.”

Former Regent Pruitt is now at the Association of Governing Boardds of Colleges and Universities, and shakes his head at how politicians have increasingly stuck their noses into what the university is teaching, and tried to direct curriculum in a more corporate direction. At the same time, these legislators have hypocritically defunded those same schools.
Such policies compromise the historic promise of the Public Ivies: excellence and affordability, made possible by robust state support. Now, having made incompatible promises to slash funding and freeze tuition, politicians have set aside leadership and chosen the course of attack instead. In my state, they say the university is “out of touch,” its business model “broken.” The idea is to set up a partisan debate between largely Democratic defenders and largely Republican critics of the university.

This process of partisan polarization surrounding universities has occurred in other states as well, from Virginia and North Carolina to Colorado and Arizona. In North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said the state should only subsidize university classes that would “get someone a job.” Elsewhere, more in-state students are losing their places to “full pay” students from other states or countries as universities desperately search for new revenue to offset budget cuts. A recent “discovery” of “billions” of dollars held in reserve at the University of Virginia stirred legislative criticism even though, as university officials tried to explain, most of these dollars came originally from sources other than state aid or tuition and, in an era of declining state support, a reserve fund is an essential component of sound fiscal management. (sound familiar, Wisconsinites??)

At a meeting not long ago between state legislative leaders and regents of the University of Wisconsin, for example, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Robin Vos, told the regents we had a choice: be “cheerleaders for the university or advocates for the taxpayers.” The once-unifying “Wisconsin Idea” had held that to be one was to be the other. Meanwhile, in his 2015 budget, Republican Gov. Scott Walker simultaneously proposed slashing a record $350 million from the university while removing tenure protections for faculty.

Walker also proposed rewriting the institution’s mission statement — which focuses on “the search for truth” and improvement of the human condition, the traditional and noble role of the university — so that it focused on training workers instead.

In the face of criticism, Walker called these changes a “drafting error.” An error can reveal a great deal about one’s underlying values, and this one did. The governor and his allies spoke of “modernizing” the mission statement. But the search for truth and the sifting and winnowing of knowledge in its pursuit are not out of date. They are timeless and, indeed, they have never been more urgently relevant.
Of course, the ALEC legislators know that sifting and winnowing and the independent research involved in that is a threat to their voodoo economics and cronyism, which goes a long way toward explaining why they want to defund these Public Ivies and make the universities and the public more reliant on corporate support.

If that plan really works well, the void resulting from defunding can be filled with sources like Koch stink tanks to throw out competing “facts,” which confuses and/or misinforms the average voter, who doesn’t know much about these issues. Add in lower tax revenues resulting from giveaways to the rich and the corporate, meaning that budgets have to be cut (well, at least the budgets of programs ALEC legislators don’t like. Voucher schools seem never to be included in this), and you have the excuses ready-made for defunding these great public research institutions.

So what do these schools do as a result of policies that won’t give them added revenues from inside the state? They look to get students from outside the state, who pay higher tuition. The New York Times had an excellent, in-depth article that described this trend at a number of states to make up for the lack of tax dollars going to their schools. California has been at the center of this, as a state audit in March indicated that the UC system gave “favorable admissions treatment to thousands of higher-paying out-of-state and foreign students, to the detriment of Californians.” The UC System president (and former Governor of Arizona) admits that universities all have to make these kinds of choices these days.
Defending her university system after the audit’s release in March, President Janet Napolitano wrote that because of budget cuts, nearly every state in the nation had been forced to make a “Hobson’s choice, and they all have reached the same decision: Open doors to out-of-state students to keep the doors open for in-state students.”

Ms. Napolitano reeled off a list of more than a dozen big public universities whose out-of-state enrollment exceeds California’s. Some, like the University of Alabama, where the student body of 37,000 is more than 50 percent nonresident, have resorted to aggressive marketing aimed at luring out-of-staters, including distributing million of dollars in merit aid to nonresidents, much of it to high-achieving students from affluent families, not only improving its bottom line but also raising average test scores, metrics used by commercial ratings groups to rank colleges.

But it is a ratings and financial game, some worry, that means university student bodies will increasingly become alienated from their state’s population.

“It seems like all the incentives are going after wealthy students and leaving the low-income students in the dust,” said Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst with the New America Foundation who has studied the increased use of merit aid to attract nonresident students.
The New York Times later included this handy chart illustrating which states are increasingly seeing their homegrown students leave for public colleges in other places, and which states are taking them in.

And Wisconsin is part of this trend, receiving 2,200 more students from out-of-state compared to the Wisconsinites that attend public schools in other states (although about half of this trade of students is with with Minnesota, who Wisconsin still has tuition reciprocity with). UW-Madison is a main beneficiary of this, since it can raise out-of-state tuition to offset some of the funding cuts, and is one of the few UW schools that can get large numbers of students from outside of Wisconsin and Minnesota to pay that full price.

All you have to do is walk around the high-rise and high-priced private dorms on University Avenue and State Street to see some of the result of this strategy, and it was something the Badger Herald Editorial Staff complained about when it spoke in October against Chancellor Becky Blank’s decision to lift the cap on out-of-staters in Madison.
Leading up to the decision, Blank stated several times that declining numbers of high school graduates in Wisconsin, and not revenue generation, was the driving factor behind this proposal, but the chancellor’s excuse fails to address a larger issue.

The Wisconsin Idea should not be disregarded because it is easier to let in out-of-state students than address why fewer high-performing Wisconsin students are applying to UW. Instead of the Regent’s collective apathetic shrug toward Wisconsin students, UW should be working with our K-12 primary systems to improve college readiness and address other underlying factors.

As Noel Radomski, director of UW’s WISCAPE, said this move will make the university “richer and whiter.” Instead of increasing enrollment by targeting low-income and underrepresented Wisconsin students, UW now joins the ranks of public institutions that are happy with increasing the — already substantial — socioeconomic divide on campus. Making UW a bougie playground for the greater Chicagoland area is not the way to keep Wisconsin a world-class institution.

Increasing out-of-state enrollment in a time when Wisconsin residents need the education and services of the university more than ever is a disservice to students, faculty, staff and the state. Increasing the divide between those who have and those who have-not at UW will only reinforce Coastie and Sconnie stereotypes until campus becomes the caricatures it derides.
And as a two-time Badger who graduated from an upper-middle class family in Wisconsin, I totally get where the Herald is coming from. I don’t want to see UW become “Wisconsin” in name only with a bunch of students that don’t have a clue about how the average person was brought up, and I’ve always thought the hidden strength of UW is that you get to meet people from a variety of classes and backgrounds, which helps you better relate to varied groups of people, which is a great post-college skill to have.

But I also know that in the face of Walker and WisGOP choosing “no tuition increase” poses and austerity over responsibly funding the UW, that Chancellor Blank has few options left if she wants to have UW-Madison continue as a top-flight school. This likely will increase the divide between us lucky enough to go to a school like Madison and many others in the state who either can’t get in (or never attended college at all), which leads to more of the resentment politics in the left-behind rural Wisconsin that helps Walker and WisGOP stay in power. It’s sick, disgusting, and it hurts the state in pretty much all measures other than GOP power-grabbing, which explains why the ALEC crew does it, I suppose.

It seems timely that the documentary “Starving the Beast” is beginning to pick up steam and is gaining nationwide distribution. I saw a rough cut at the Wisconsin Film Festival this April, and felt like throwing something through the movie screen during much of the film, as it identified the systematic neglect of our great public institutions (and shot through the bullshit reasoning of many of these ALEC types). This film will be showing in Madison at Sundance theater starting on September 16, and UW-Madison is one of several schools that are discussed when it comes to this strategy of “defund and deform.” .

Go see this film, and after you're done make damn sure in November that you remove any ALEC legislator in your neck of the woods that is in favor of this crap

Monday, August 29, 2016

Less for public education, more for vouchers and prisons. Nice priorities, Wisconsin

Steven Walters performs a good public service with today’s article in Urban Milwaukee. Walters uses a simple statistic- the top 10 areas of spending in the Wisconsin state budget - and compares what led 10 years ago, and what leads today. And what he found was illuminating regarding the choices state legislators and our governors have made.

Let’s start with the areas of our state government that have been having the largest increases of General Fund taxpayer dollars given to it.

Biggest gainers last 10 years
1.Medicaid and other health care- UP $2.12 BILLION (+62%)
2.Property tax relief/related tax credits- UP $950 MILLION (+102%)
3.Debt-service payments- UP $779 MILLION (+204%)
Caveat: Walters says “this large increase resulted from how borrowing was structured and does not reflect actual spending.” Seems to be related to the $400 mil+ that's advanced for that balloon payment that was just refinanced.

4.Corrections- UP $480 MILLION (+30%)
5.K-12 school voucher programs- UP $257 MILLION (+109%)

Walters also includes the Wisconsin Technical College System as a gainer, as it gets over ¾ of a billion dollars more from taxpayers than it did in 2005-07. But $406 million a year of the WCTS’s funding is the unfunded “property tax relief” giveaway put into law by Walker and WisGOP in 2014, and those funds can’t be used by WCTS itself. Take that out, and WCTS’s state funding has decreased by over $50 million in the last 10 years.

So in reality, the biggest items we are spending more money on are: medical care for the poor, property-tax giveaways and debt, and prisons and voucher schools. Many of these items seem to be related.

And then you contrast with the large programs that have not seen those large increases in Wisconsin over the last 10 years, and our changing priorities become even more obvious.

1.Shared revenues to local governments- DOWN $200 MILLION (-10.5%)

2.Shared revenues to K-12 public schools- Still the largest individual program, but only up 2% vs 10 years ago (well below the rate of inflation). And as a share of General Fund revenues, aids to public schools are DOWN from 39.7% to 32.1%.

3.UW System, up 9.4% vs 2005-07 (but still below rate of inflation), and Walters notes that “much of that went for debt payments.” Also, in 2005-07, the UW System accounted for 7.3% of General Fund expenses compared to 6.3% in this budget, and the UW System has been passed in total spending by Corrections during the last 10 years.

So let’s see, more help for voucher schools, and barely any extra help for public ones. More money given away in property tax relief from the state level, and money taken away from local governments, limiting property tax relief on that level. And we now spend more on prisons than we do higher education, and refuse to give relief to our rising health care costs by taking the expanded Medicaid in Obamacare because….???

Budgets reflect values. Looking at what we have chosen to spend (and not spend) on, do you think Wisconsin has been going in the right direction in its choices over the last 10 years? Cause I sure don’t.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Charlie Sykes' disgusting duplicity

I was up in the Northwest when this absurd piece of spin came out from Politico Magazine last weekend. It's Charlie Sykes trying to show that right-wing world and Trumpism aren't the same thing, and a stenographer named Erick Trickey dutifully writes down Chuckles' tripe in a long article. Among the many crocodile tears shed by Chuckie includes the following.
“Were these people that we actually thought were our allies?” he asks.

Sykes remains confident that Trump will lose badly in November, and he is equally fearful that Trump will drag longtime Republicans, like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, down with him. This has Sykes thinking about the long-term future of the party and what might have precipitated its looming collapse. He wonders: Did “the faux outrage machine” of and other right-wing outlets foment the noxious opinions that Trump has stoked so effectively on the trail?

“When I would deny that there was a significant racist component in some of the politics on our side, it was because the people I hung out with were certainly not,” Sykes says. “When suddenly, this rock is turned over, there is this—‘Oh shit, did I not see that?’
Not see that? Hey Chuckie, YOU BUILT THAT! 3 1/2 hours day, 5 days a week on "Wisconsin's radio station", where the Brewers and Packers gave you more listeners than your loafer-wearing, Mequon ass ever deserved.

Seriously, fuck this guy

Marquette grad Charlie Pierce came back from vacation last week, and rightfully called out Sykes for what he was trying to pull over.
Just asking that question marks Sykes as either a charlatan or a fool, and my money's on the former. Sykes knew damn well who his "allies" were when he was calling the First Lady "Mooch," or when he was calling a black man who'd died in police custody "a piece of garbage," and when he referred to "the pigs of mothers who are too lazy to put their children in a crib and roll over the top of them while sleeping on a futon on the floor."

Sykes knew who his "allies" were when, as Milwaukee's Shepherd Express reported, he aired a blackface rap parody.
It features a young, black woman calling herself Chapter Jackson, who acts out every racist stereotype of poor, black, single mothers that bigoted audiences find hilarious. Ms. Jackson is knee-deep in black babies in a house full of women slutted up like prostitutes while she writhes and raps that her life is a constant party paid for by taxpayers. She repeats the obscene refrain: "All you have to do is f— and nine months later you get in the big bucks."
Yeah, he's known all along who his "allies" are. Once again, Trump is merely the modern Republican party without its interior monologue.
On a related note, No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us that Sykes sent many a Tweet last year beating up on "illegals" and Islam. And then Sykes has the nerve in the article to act offended and shocked when a dumbass caller calls Muslims "these people" and expresses fear about Islamic people being radicalized.

And let's go back to 2015's Super Bowl for more Sykes "civility". After Russell Wilson threw the game-losing INT to the Patriots. Blogging Blue reminds us that Sykes thought it was cute to joke about Beast Mode wanting to "Lynch" his coach for not giving him the ball on that play. Because the running back's name was Marshawn Lynch. HILARIOUS!

The self-serving nature of Sykes' new "Trump isn't who conservatives are" act is vomit-inducing to anyone who has followed Chuckles' act. He knows exactly what he was saying in those statements, and why he was saying them - to gin up racial resentment by mediocre white guys to get them to back WisGOP for cultural reasons, allowing the WisGOPs to get in power and slip through a WMC/Bradley Foundation's economic agenda that a majority of Wisconsinites do not support. And Sykes has worked in tandem with Scott Walker and other Wisconsin righties on and off the air to play this duplicitous game.

Sykes is also looking big-picture, and I believe him when he says he thinks Drumpf is likely to lose in 2016, and lose badly. So the game Sykes is playing, likely on behalf of his ALEC/Bradley bosses, is to pave the way to say that the GOP "really isn't like Trump", try to stay afloat downticket at the state and Congressional levels in 2016 through suckering enough people to buy that crap excuse. And then once November 8, 2016 passes, he and his type will try to pretend Trumpism never existed (and that the GOP actively encouraged that mindset) for future elections, just like how they sent the disastrous Bush years down the memory hole once Obama took the Oath of Office.

Then the "we aren't Trump" excuse can be used for the 2020 presidential campaign to encourage people to look for a "kinder, gentler" face for the GOP that isn't as vile as Drumpf. Someone like Paul Ryan or Scott Walker, who believe the same vile, regressive BS that Drumpf does, and are more than willing to stir up stupid white guys in racial resentment in order to get their votes. But those candidates can stick to the code words in public ("dependency", etc.) and pass off the white supremacy and nastiness inherent in their beliefs to Faux News and the AM talk show hosts. It also allows Char-LIE Sykes to get air time on MSNBC and other "non-rightie" sources as an "independent, anti-Trump voice" that can improve his brand to the unsuspecting viewers to think that he is something beyond the race-baiting liar we know him to be in Wisconsin.

Be aware of this, and alert others about this disgusting game Sykes and the country-club right are trying to play. And cut that dishonest sack off before the "new, independent Sykes" gains momentum.

H/T to Jeff Simpson at Cognitive Dissidence for reminding me to bring up Sykes' bullshit.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Local governments hurting under Walker/WisGOP shell games, mandates

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities recently released its 2016 State of Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages to give an update on where things stood in local government going into those places’ budget seasons. The LWM combined observations from its members with data collected by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, and painted a picture of communities struggling under the weight of limits imposed from Madison by Governor Scott Walker and WisGOP legislators.

I wanted to start with an important stat that LWM gives, as many do not understand how local government finances are handcuffed in Wisconsin. By state law, most cities, villages and towns are prohibited from imposing their own sales or income taxes (sales taxes only exist at the county level, or through special districts like Miller Park and the Wisconsin Center). This means the property tax and fees have to be the main way for city, town, and village services to be funded, especially as aid is being cut from the state level.
Wisconsin cities and villages rely to a great degree on the property tax. Of $4.8 billion in city-village revenue, 57% came from property taxes, and another 13% from local fees. Various state aids comprised 21% of the total.

Given that, the effects of state-imposed levy limits and state-aid retrenchment are evident. City and village property taxes increased 5.2% from 2011 to 2014 (or about 1.7% per year). State aids fell a total of 7.5%. Adjusted for inflation, levies were down 0.8% and aids fell 12.8%.
What this means is that there is a 5% gap between the amount of revenues coming in for 2014, and keeping up with inflation for the same services that were provided in 2010 (around $225 million).

Which leads to an interesting breakdown in the report from the LWM on the fiscal effects of the union-busting Act 10. The LWM notes that cities and villages got less of the savings from it than school districts or other levels of government, because those communities have to pay more for police, fire services (whose unions were exempted from Act 10 as payback for past and future support of Scott Walker). Partly due to that, the League concedes that Act 10 didn’t fill all the budget gaps that still existed by 2014 (after Act 10 had been adopted in most places) due to limits on revenues, identifying a $125 million gap between continuing services and the available revenue.

Some of those gaps were filled by negotiations on savings with police and fire unions (funny how that can work), but those gaps also will eliminated by service reductions and delayed maintenance, especially when it came to quality of life items and back office work in government.
With revenues under pressure, spending priorities shifted. Public safety (31.4% of spending) and streets (13.8%) were the two areas that held their expenditure shares over 2009-14. General government administrative costs (9.1%) and spending for parks and related programs (8.2%) showed some erosion.
What’s more alarming is that while communities are spending on streets in a similar proportion to what they did a few years ago, the quality of those streets is getting worse.
Last year, 68% of city and village streets were rated in “good” or better condition. However, the percentage is declining somewhat, as it stood at 72% in 2011. While 37% of municipal streets were rated “excellent” or “very good” in 2010, that percentage had fallen to 31% by 2015. Likewise, those rated “fair” or “poor” increased from 29% to 32%.
And this decline in road quality and the limited revenues the state gives to local communities (as well as the limited options to make up the difference) is exactly why so many places in recent years have either considered or put into law new wheel taxes. The latest example is in the Wausau area, where the Marathon County Board passed a one-year $25 wheel tax this week. I’m guessing the temporary nature of that Marathon County tax is because they are hoping that a more sustainable form of funding comes from the state level with the next budget and legislative session, but Governor Walker made comments in Green Bay this week that indicated he was OK with this kind of tax-shifting shell game.
Gov. Scott Walker said local governments will have to decide for themselves whether wheel taxes are the right way to fund increasing road construction costs.

After speaking at the Governor’s Conference on Highway Safety at the KI Convention Center on Wednesday, Walker said state funding for local road construction and state highway system maintenance will continue to increase.

“They’re going to have to gauge whether or not those increases are enough or if they want some more. But those are things they have to justify to local voters,” Walker said.
In addition to Walker’s casual brushing off of the shell game his “no-tax and pose” policies have created, I need to call out the Gannett writer for a statement here. “State funding will “continue” to increase?” State aids to local governments for transportation and transit are at the same levels they were at 2015, and will stay at that same amount for 2017. The only increases that may exist are due to borrowing more money for highways, which will need to be paid back and further constrain the possibility of getting more aid to local governments.

Lastly, the LWM report didn’t offer much for the future in changing these financial constraints for local communities, and expressed concern over Wisconsin’s smaller towns in particular, as more of those places reported job losses than job gains, and the officials in those areas also reported a lower amount of civic engagement, with many uncontested seats for elected positions in elected government. It seems that local government and small towns in particular are getting choked off in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and after shooting the one-time bullet of Act 10 “savings,” there are few options remaining other than reckless new construction and hopes for growth in the property base (and the taxes that go along with it). The current WisGOP regime does not seem interested in giving communities extra options to make up revenue and services that have been cut over the last 5 ½ years- options that could come in the form of increasing shared revenues, or in allowing local communities to raise their own revenues through property and/or sales taxes.

What that means is that if we see the WisGOPs stay in power past this November, the “pose over policy” mentality will continue, and Wisconsin municipalities will continue to decline with even less of an opportunity of keeping up with their growing service needs. Don’t like that option? Then don’t vote Republican this November.

As Wisconsin stays dead last for start-ups, WEDC still giving milions to donors

Forget all the talk about tax cuts and “reforms” that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP have put in place over the last 5 ½ years, a huge economic problem in Wisconsin is that we continue to have too much of the same, and not enough new blood to stir things up. That was shown again in yesterday’s release of the Kaufman Foundation’s Index of Startup Activity for 2016.

You may remember that Wisconsin rated dead last in the nation for business startups in the Kauffman report last year. Well, at least we got consistency.
The new report, which uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey and Business Dynamics Statistics from 2015, doesn't rank all 50 states on a comprehensive list — instead, it separate states into a list of "big states" and "small states" based on population. However, Wisconsin comes last in the list of "big states," and based on its Kauffman Index score, it would have been ranked 50th had all the states been listed comprehensively.

Kauffman's entrepreneurial indices are often regarded as a go-to measure of the health of the startup economy by policymakers, although the foundation's reports have been questioned by some academics over their ability to fairly represent a startup business climate….

Troy Vosseller, the co-founder of the major Wisconsin-based startup accelerator gener8tor, takes the new report as a sign that Wisconsin could stand to change certain economic policies that he believes hinders entrepreneurial growth. For example, he said, the state should tighten its regulations regarding noncompete agreements that tech workers may sign with an employer, restricting them from taking on another job in the same field.

"The fact that I can't name more than one venture-backed startup led by a former employee of any of Wisconsin's Fortune 500 companies is troubling," said Vosseller. "Contrast this with robust startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley, where there are no non-competes, and yet we see more innovation and corporate spin outs there than perhaps any other place in the world."

Vosseller also pointed to the state's tax credit policies as a tool that should be used more by the state to "foster the establishment and growth of new firms," instead of going toward more established corporations.
As WisBusiness’s report on the last-place Kauffman rankings pointed out, the Walker/WisGOP economic strategy of favoring campaign contributors established businesses over helping new ones is a big driver behind that lousy performance.
It also needs to continue to ensure it grows the amount of angel and venture capital investments in the state, [Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom] Still said. One way of doing so, several tech leaders noted, is making investments into startups more attractive by expanding the amount of tax credits for investors.

WEDC, some noted, did the opposite when it moved money allocated toward those tax credits to a program aimed at the state’s legacy industries.

“The signal that it sent as a state was that we’re not interested in entrepreneurship,” said Steven Deller, a UW-Madison economist whose research has slammed the state on its aiding of startups.
It seems fitting that on the same day that the last-place ranking from Kauffman came out, Walker and officials from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) were attending an event announcing $22.5 million in tax credits to encourage Direct Supply Company in Milwaukee to expand.
Expansion plans call for a five-story, 280,000 square-foot building to be constructed in place of an existing single-story building at its 10-building campus along Industrial Road.

The state certified Direct Supply under the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Enterprise Zone Program to generate the income tax credits, which are contingent on creating the 800 jobs over seven years and retaining its current workforce. Direct Supply currently has 1,100 employees at its headquarters campus on Milwaukee far northwest side and 100 employees at its Technology & Innovation Center at the Milwaukee School of Engineering….

Direct Supply has not disclosed the cost of the expansion project, but Bob Klein, chief administrative officer at the company, said a spring groundbreaking is “under consideration.”

“That question is open right now, as to exactly when the groundbreaking will be,” Klein said. “That’s one of the things that’s still got to be finalized.”
Sounds like a sweet project and a great boon for the community…if it ever happens. Why do I say “if”? It isn’t just because the Direct Supply exec couldn't give a date for the groundbreaking for this expansion. Let me take you back to a similar Walker "jobs are coming" event at HUSCO International in Waukesha in 2013.
HUSCO International is embarking on a multi-year $45 million capital expansion project in Wisconsin that is expected to generate over 150 permanent new jobs by 2015.

“I congratulate HUSCO for making this major investment in its operations to grow in Wisconsin,” said Governor Scott Walker. “HUSCO is well-positioned to expand its leadership in automotive engineering efficiency technologies, and I’m pleased the State of Wisconsin is a partner in supporting the company’s growth.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has made HUSCO eligible for up to $800,000 in tax credits to support the company’s major investment.
And then flash forward to what happened earlier this Summer.
On Thursday, the boom apparently was a bust. A HUSCO spokeswoman says 100 salaried and hourly positions will be eliminated from its Waukesha plant.

Several police officers were spotted outside as the announcement was made. Waukesha police say they were asked by the company to be there to "keep the peace" in case there was anger over the decision.
And I’m sure this will shock you, but the Ramirez family that runs HUSCO has also given big money to WisGOP candidates over the years. Likewise, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign pointed out something that Walker and the Wisconsin media didn’t yesterday- that there are deep ties between Direct Supply’s leadership and the Friends of Scott Walker.
Walker failed to mention that he had received $34,000 in campaign contributions from the founder, president, and CEO of the company, Robert Hillis, and his wife, Jennifer, or that their daughter, Genevieve, had given $8,700 to Walker. All the contributions were from January 1, 2009, through the end of 2015.

The total contributions from Direct Supply employees during this period was $47,071.42.
Huh! Imagine that! If I didn't know better, I'd say Walker knew the Kauffmann Foundation was going to rank Wisconsin dead last for start-ups again, and realized he needed to create a photo op to try to trick the public into thinking the top-down, crony capitalism of WEDC is working? And that his buddy Bob Hillis was just the guy to get in contact with to get the WEDC handouts and set up the event to distract from the negative headlines?

NAAAAH! That just me wearing a tinfoil hat. I’m sure it’s all just coincidence. Absolutely.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Vukmir tries talking up WisGOP K-12 policy- reveals more failures and shell games

It’s becoming pretty obvious as the next school year begins that the 5 ½ years of defunding and disrespect of public education by the Wisconsin GOP is taking its toll on the state. State Superintendent Tony Evers made emergency moves this week to allow for more long-term subs and other measures to stem off a teacher shortage that has resulted from applicants not wanting to work in many underfunded, underpaying districts. And this reality is clearly influencing the state’s voters, as Dems have been on the attack with numerous memos from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing the effects of these cuts, including one from State Sen. Janet Bewley last week that showed the vast majority of Wisconsin’s school districts receive less state categorical aid than they did in 2010-11.

As WisGOP flails in the polls partly due to these education policies, State Senator Leah Vukmir (aka “The ALEC Queen”) tried to turn back the tide by sending up another memo to the LFB. Vukmir followed by giving out a press release in her typically (no-) class manner, along with a shout-out to the voucher movement that pays her campaign contributions.
“My Republican colleagues in the Legislature and I are committed to funding students whose parents choose public schools. Since 2012 we have increased state aids to public education, and we will continue to budget with students’ best interests in mind. Thanks to state Republicans, students in Wisconsin are getting a quality education, and they’re doing it with expanded opportunities that weren’t available before.

“Here’s my advice to my Democrat [zing!] colleagues unhappy with education in Wisconsin: perhaps aim to improve education policy by diversifying educational opportunity, as opposed to showing more interest in employee-protectionist policies. Recent primary results indicate that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support educational alternatives. It is becoming rather tiresome that some Democrats continue to criticize effective policy initiatives while simultaneously turning a blind eye to schools failing our youth.
The duplicity and bullcrap in Vukmir’s statement is pathetic enough (hey Leah, didja see the recent ACT scores and their racial gaps, along with statewide teacher shortages? And why don't you care about the underperforming voucher schools that close up shop mid-year, stealing our taxpayer dollars while leaving students stranded and unstable?), but let’s take on her statement that Republicans are adding funding to education.

The LFB memo split up funding four ways, with the state being one leg of that foundation. To the LFB’s and Vukmir’s credit, it looks like they they only counted public school aids, and didn’t include the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars thrown at voucher schools in this time period (counting voucher money is a GOP trick to say “we spent more money on K-12 education!”, because those scumbags think voucher schools are the same as public ones- except for the public accountability part). It also looks like they used what was actually spent out, as opposed to what was budgeted.

When we break down those figures from 2010-11 to ‘14-15, we see the following changes.

Change in funding 2010-11 vs 2014-15
State aid- DOWN $95.0 million
Federal aid- DOWN $205.0 million
Property taxes- UP $61.3 million
Other local revs (gifts, fees, etc.)- UP $53.8 million
TOTAL SPENDING – DOWN $184.8 million

Uh, that doesn’t seem to prove your point, ALEC Queen Leah. We spent less on education in 2014-15 than in 2010-11, and cuts in aid from the state accounted for over half of that decline. This also illustrates the Walker/WisGOP shell game of shifting costs down to the local property taxpayer and individuals

Oh wait, Vukmir ranted something else in that release about Act 10 “savings” (read: money taken from teachers and staff) making up for the loss in state aid and that funding has been increased since the Walker/WisGOP’s cuts of $437 million in that first year. I suppose part of that is true - the state gave out $342 million in additional aids to public schools between 2011-12 and 2014-15. But it leaves out the fact that the 2014-15 level was still below 2010-11’s, both on a total and per-student basis, and that’s BEFORE inflation is figured in.

Vukmir also doesn’t mention that local taxes and fees have gone up in that time period as well.

Change in local funding 2011-12 vs ‘14-15
Property taxes- UP $107.7 million
Other local revenues- UP $19.9 million

Another stat in this memo breaks down these figures on a per-student basis. I suppose in WisGOP world, this could be used to show that the slight decline in public school enrollment of 2,900 over those four years makes the publics look less “efficient”. Except that the per-student costs are still below the figures of 2010-11, and it makes the tax-shifting look even worse.

Change in per-student revenues, 2010-11 vs ’14-’15
State aids- DOWN $90/student
Federal aid- DOWN $236/student
Local Property taxes- UP $91/student
Other local revenues- UP $64/student
TOTAL- DOWN $182/student

So much for Walker and WisGOP cutting your property taxes and out-of-pocket costs for the last 5 years.

And the increase in per-student revenues since 2012 barely matches the rate of inflation, with no magic bullet like “Act 10 savings” to hold down real-world costs. In fact, after a one-time drop in property taxes for 2011-12 the property tax increases have been larger with each passing year.

Change in property taxes per student, 2012-’13 to ‘14-’15
2012-13- UP $5
2013-14- UP $41
2014-15- UP $86
TOTAL $132

And that’s before the slate of referenda that was passed for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years are taken into account, so you can count on that number going up when this is refigured for the coming years.

So no, ALEC Queen, the small amount of crumbs you have tossed back into public education in the last 4 years don’t come close to making up for the cuts you imposed on these districts 5 years ago. In addition, the numbers you were trying to spin clearly show that Wisconsin property taxpayers are shelling out more of their own money to make up the difference for your negligence and vandalism. And no matter how many angry press releases Leah Vukmir sends out, those fiscal facts don’t change, nor does it change the reality that Wisconsin districts are not able to pay for retain talent under today’s constraints.

Underfunding and denigrating one of the state’s few advantages (public schools) isn’t working out, it isn’t making schools more stable, and it’s not improving the human capital that comes out of those schools. Time for a new plan, and getting rid of the ALEC types like Vukmir who squander the Act 10 “savings” on handouts to unproductive corporates and voucher schools.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

July jobs decent, but "gold standard" says things may not be so good

Now that I've had a bit of time, I wanted to follow-up on last week's Wisconsin jobs report, and put the figures into wider context.

1. The monthly job numbers are not bad at all for July (9,100 jobs added overall, and 5,000 in the private sector), but large downward revisions have happened in each of the previous two months (a combined downward revision of 10,600 total jobs and 11,600 private sector jobs). It means that job growth has been very small since March (2,500 private, 8,900 overall), despite all of the happy talk at the start of the year.

And given that U.S. job growth has sprung back in the last 2 months, this means the Walker jobs gap is growing again, now just under 91,000 private sector jobs, and 90,000 jobs overall.

2. And even those increases in the first three months of the year may not hold up. To be sure, the preliminary numbers of the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages that were part of that July report showed improvement. Year-over-year private sector job growth in March up to 1.59% compared to September's 2-year low of 1.23%, and it was even more impressive in February, which had year-over-year growth at 42,648 - the highest in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

But March's 1.59% private sector job growth rate was also well below the 1.98% that the figures said in Spring, and as Chris Walker pointed out at Political Heat, the 12-month private sector job growth between March 2015 and March 2016 ended up being 10,000 jobs below what the "seasonally adjusted" monthly numbers indicated. That seems to indicate the monthly figures from the start of this year will be revised down when the next benchmarking happens next winter, and it also makes Wisconsin likely to remain in the bottom third for U.S. job growth when the nationwide QCEW is released in 2 weeks.

Bottom line- things aren't collapsing in Wisconsin, but we do continue to lag the rest of the country, and the last few months have seen another flatlining of job growth that makes me wonder how much more can be added (especially with regressive WisGOP policies driving talent into retirement and out of the state). Even worse, I fear that even with this past year's job growth, tax revenue growth will not follow (we'll find out in the coming days on that). If revenues do fall short, that means even more budget deficits to deal with in the near future, and that's before the effects of recent natural disasters and the mass closings of the Oscar Mayer and Manitowoc Crane plants ripple their way through the Wisconsin economy.

School year starts in Fitzwalkerstan under teacher shortages and major ethnic gaps

As the Summer winds down and another school year is on the horizon, we’re already starting to see hints that it could be a rough one in many of Wisconsin public districts. Despite the fact that college-prep scores remain strong, there are cracks showing in the foundation that used to be one of Wisconsin’s greatest economic and social strengths.

State Superintendent Tony Evers laid out the truth at a pro-public education event in Wauwatosa yesterday, saying the Walker/WisGOP policies of lower state aids and disrespect of public education and educators over the last 5 years is paying off in a very bad way. Most notably, the current school funding situation is leading to a shell game that results in higher property taxes through voter-approved referenda (often required just to keep the lights on and the classrooms upright), and greater disparities in performance among districts.
“And the reason we're passing referenda is because people like you all across the state, are saying, 'this is b.s,’ we have to support our schools, if the state is not,” he said.

But Evers said the downside is that school referendum efforts in some poorer communities like Milwaukee are less likely to succeed, making worse what he calls the gap between have and have-not school districts.

Evers said the Department of Public Instruction will ask Gov. Scott Walker in the next state budget to focus on having an equitable distribution of state aid for schools, noting he understands any additional dollars may be limited.

Evers said he's especially concerned about teacher shortages in some districts in Western and Northern Wisconsin. He said he's engaging stakeholders from around the state to identify and propose solutions that help school districts address critical staff shortages.

"I think it's about money. I think teachers are underpaid," Evers said. "And second of all, the kind of dysfunctional dialogue we have about public schools, where it always seems to turn to the teachers as the villains here. That's a national issue, but I think it's amplified here in Wisconsin.
That teacher shortage led to Evers outlining emergency steps being taken by DPI to get more teachers in the classroom when the new school year begins in just over a week.
Allowing educators near or in retirement to apply for a nonrenewable, five-year license without professional development requirements.

•Increasing the number of days a short-term substitute can be in the same assignment from 20 to 45

•Expanding criteria for renewal of emergency licenses to include attempting required tests for licensure

•Adding new pathways for teachers to add additional licenses based on content tests
I could land a cheap shot here and point out that Wisconsin’s average ACT scores suffered a sizable drop last year (as the headline in this story indicates), but because I’m not a Republican, and therefore not a dishonest a-hole, I think that number can be excused. Those numbers dropped because 2015-16 was the first year all Wisconsin high school seniors took the test, increasing the pool of test-takers by 42 percent (with many of the new test-takers likely to be lower scorers, since they weren’t taking the college board beforehand), so I don't think the scores themselves are major cause for concern. In fact, Wisconsin was 4th out of 20 states that has virtually all of their graduating students take the ACT - pretty good, although behind our neighbors in Illinois and Minnesota.

But what is disturbing is the massive racial gaps that persist in the state listed as “worst in the country for African-Americans.” Not only did all Hispanics, Native Americans and African-Americans score between 3.6 and 5.6 points lower than their white counterparts in Wisconsin for 2015-16, those gaps persist even when limited to high school students who took “an ACT core curriculum” with 4 years of English, and 3 years each of math, science and social studies.

Average ACT scores of Wis students w-core curric.
White 23.2
Asian 21.9
Multi-racial 21.7
Hispanic 19.5
Native American 18.8
African-American 17.3

Then combine the fact that White students are more likely to take a core curriculum (59%) than Hispanics (47%), African-Americans (43%), and Native Americans (35%), and that non-core students of all races scored 2-4 points lower, and it’s an awful double-whammy that leaves minority groups at a significant disadvantage. Maybe that whole ALEC “de-invest and privatize public education and ghettoize poverty the cities” mentality of the last 25 years isn’t working so hot when it comes to bridging the racial divide in K-12, so perhaps we need to try another way.

Unfortunately, that other way won’t come from the current WisGOP wrecking crew that’s owned by the voucher lobby and other haters of public education. In fact, that 262-dominant group wants to keep all other schools in the state second-class, to allow their mediocre selves to stay on top and lessen competition in the workplace. These sliding results and large gaps are just what the ALEC crew want to claim schools are “failing.”, and continue the money funnel from convicted criminal Scott Jensen and other privateers.

Which means if we want to keep our talented teachers and improve our schools for ALL students, we need new blood inside the Capitol. That can only be done by removing as many of these enemies of public education this November. The recent words from Superintendent Evers and the reports from DPI prove that fact more than ever.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Walker plans another shell game- giveaway to biz while taking from us

In Steven Walters’ column for Urban Milwaukee yesterday, the longtime Capitol reporter discussed a trial balloon that has been sent up by Governor Scott Walker’s administration and the Wisconsin GOP about a two-step tax reform that would help pay for road repairs. But in true WisGOP fashion, they have to include a giveaway to business in the process.
Step 1: Eliminate the state personal property tax, which the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) says totals about $287 million a year – taxes now collected by cities, towns and villages. Cities get about two-thirds of that. This is not the property tax you pay on your home, which generates far more — billions in tax revenue — for local governments across the state, but the little-known personal property tax mostly paid by businesses.

Step 2: Raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fee, or some combination of revenue increases, to pay for highway programs by about that same $287 million. It would be a step toward closing an estimated $1 billion shortfall in funding for road building and maintenance. Assembly Republican leaders, and some Democrats, are willing to raise revenues to avoid construction delays or more borrowing….
For context, Walters reminds us how much the gas tax and registration fees would have to go up as part of this scheme, with a 1-cent increase in the gas tax equalling $33.4 million in revenue, and a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees adding $47 million. So $287 million in revenues would mean a gas tax increase of 8.5 cents a gallon, or jacking up the registration fee from $75 to around $136. Or there could be a combination, like a 5-cent increase in gas tax and making the registration fee $100.

Raising the proper revenues to pay for highways is a nice first step, and that part I’m OK with. But what an awful trade-off to do it, as getting rid of the state personal property tax is nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate and well-off, and would cause a drastic shift that hurts homeowners and local governments.

It’s worth giving a look at the recent release of equalized values from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to see the impact of removing the personal property tax from the overall tax base (you can click on your county and community here). If you go out from their and look at the state totals, you can see that cities have more of their tax base come from this personal property tax.

% of tax base susceptible to personal property tax
Cities 3.48%
Villages 2.42%
Towns 1.31%

What this means is that cities would have to make up a bigger loss to their tax base than more rural areas of the state. And in particular, the removal of the personal property tax seems to give a larger hit to smaller to mid-size communities that have a disproportionate amount of factories and warehouses along with property values that are not as high. And even though the state’s two largest cities won’t have it as tough as others, their personal property tax proportion is still above the state average of 2.49%.

% of tax base susceptible to personal property tax
Milwaukee 3.12%
Madison 2.90%

West Milwaukee 8.14%
Superior 7.37%
Prairie du Chien 6.25%
Beaver Dam 6.08%
Marshfield 5.94%
Rhinelander 5.43%
Beloit 5.20%
Green Bay 5.00%
Middleton 4.94%
Pleasant Prairie 4.94%
Fond du Lac 4.87%
Wausau 4.70%

This also means that residential homeowners in those communities will likely have to pay higher property taxes in order to make up the difference, since removing the personal property tax means more of the property tax base ends up being residential. Walters notes that this is leading a longtime Walker ally to tell the Governor not to go along with this plan.
The powerful Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA), which has supported Walker in his three campaigns for governor, warned in a statement that abolishing the personal property tax “without identifying an alternative source of revenue” would increase the property tax bill on average Wisconsin home by $80 per year.

Chief WRA lobbyist Joe Murray also said that increase would ”violate Gov. Walker’s property tax pledge” to keep property taxes lower in 2018 than in 2014 and ”worsen Wisconsin’s ranking has one of the highest property taxed states in the country.”
Those higher property taxes may also be hard for local governments to accept, resulting in a cut of services. That’s independent of any other legislation that might be passed by this WisGOP crew to reduce shared revenues to local governments, if they stay in power (a strong possibility given how messed up the budget may be on both the Transportation and General Fund sides).

Plus, why the hell does the business community in Wisconsin need any more tax breaks? After 5 ½ years of giveaways in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, we still have the worst job growth in the Midwest, and its lowest manufacturing wage, showing that these tax cuts haven’t trickled down to the average Wisconsinite. And now the average Joe/Jane is going to be shelling out higher property taxes to pay for this next sellout to campaign contributors business owners?

But Walters includes a final tidbit which should be the final straw as to why this trial balloon to dump the personal property tax is such crooked garbage.
It meets Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s read-my-lips promise to oppose any increase in Transportation Fund revenues, unless there is an offset in other tax collections. It’s another tax cut that helps businesses, who are expected to again support Walker if he runs for a third term two years from now. And, it repeals a tax that many regard as unfairly and unevenly administered.
Walters has this half-right, as part of this scheme is set up to stay in the good graces “no-tax” special interests. But it isn’t for Walker running for a third term in 2018 (which I doubt even happens), but instead because this delusional fool still thinks he can be a presidential candidate in 2020. Walker can’t kiss up to the Grover Norquists and the Kochs and other oligarchs if he is seen as raising taxes. It’s the exact same BS game that Louisiana Governor (and fellow 2016 GOP primary washout) Bobby Jindal tried to pull in Louisiana 1 ½ years ago.
He had to plug a $1.6 billion projected deficit for next year — 20 percent of Louisiana’s general fund — and he had to do it without violating an anti-tax pledge he made to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the influential conservative group headed by Grover Norquist. Jindal’s anti-tax credentials have been a prime selling point in his unannounced campaign for president.

Jindal’s solution: eliminating $526 million in tax rebates, most notably for the state’s business inventory tax. Norquist’s group blessed the decision, concluding that ending tax rebates would not amount to a tax increase.

But that distinction has prompted ridicule from state lawmakers and political commentators on both the right and the left, who accuse Jindal of selling out the state’s tax policy to Norquist.
Need I remind you what happened in Louisiana, where these “no taxes by any means” policies meant that new governor John Bel Edwards had to face $2.9 billion in deficits for the next 2 ½ years when he took office this January, and the state now needs to take out short-term loans just to meet up-front expenses of the National Guard and other emergency services as they grapple with the state’s historic flooding. A Louisiana-like fiscal disaster is what we will have in Wisconsin if Republicans stay in power in this state after the 2016 elections, which is something Scott Walker and his puppetmasters would be perfectly fine with (it makes for a good excuse to sell things off even more).

So let’s give thanks to Steven Walters for exposing this absurd Norquistian scheme of WisGOP’s to give yet another tax break to businesses while jacking up property taxes for homeowners and gas taxes and registration fees for everybody. Because maybe news of this getting out ahead of November will allow enough places in the state to see just how foolish and dumb these WisGOPs are, and they’ll boot enough of them to keep this “repeal the property tax for business” garbage from ever going through. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Time to return east

As I sit in Seattle's airport and await my flight back to the Midwest, just a few reflections from my trip.

The Pacific Northwest is a unique part of the nation, with a high emphasis on quality of life, and the great scenery to match. I recommend anyone try to visit there if you can.

We went to a Brewers-Mariners game out there, and Safeco Park isnt bad- very similar to Miller Park right down to the color scheme of the seats (maybe a bit more compact in the concourses). Given the distance, the sizable number of Brewers fans was a bit surprising, although given the fact that the Northwest is a common landing spot for Wisconsinites to move to, I guess I shouldnt have been too shocked. Mariners fans were extremely friendly and I'm finding myself hoping they can slip into the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

It was absurdly hot Friday and Saturday in Portland and Seattle (99 in Portland, 90 in Seattle), and there was a lot of evidence of drought and climate change. But there also was a notable lack of humidity vs what we'd see in the Midwest. And apparently some of the heat has broken back home, so thats a good sign that Fall may be coming.

I suppose I do need to get back to reality, but these last 4 days were a great break, and a great opportunity to discover. I definitely got another perspective on how things can be in this country (Vegas and the NW is notably more diverse), and it was quite the breath of fresh air.

Onto the plane, and back to business

Friday, August 19, 2016

Political Heat gives good context to Walker jobs FAIL

I talked earlier this week's about Scott Walker and WisGOP's shell game on taxes, but
Chris Walker at Political Heat has a good article on a similar shell game with jobs.

Hidden in yesterday's Wisconsin jobs report were the preliminary figures for the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW), which comes out in early September. And they showed that the March 2015-March 2016 increase in private sector jobs wasn't 47,500, as the Walker Admin said at the time, but instead was more like 37,500.

That's still not a bad increase (about 1.6%), but what Chris points out is that it is less than what we had in the 12 months before that. And even more interesting is that it still doesn't reach the 41,000 jobs that were added from March 2010-March 2011- aka the Wisconsin jobs environment Scott Walker inherited from Jim Doyle.

Know what else happened in March 2011? Act 10 was jammed thru the Legislature, and as Chris Walker notes, Wisconsin hasn't created jobs that fast since March 2011. Doesn't seem like coincidence to me.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Staking out West

I could talk a bit on Wisconsin's latest jobs report (July decent, June revised way down,net result not so good), but Im currently on the 22nd floor in Vegas right now, and will be hopping to the Pacific NW this weekend.

Sorry, but that's taking main priority right now. We will see if I have something more tomorrow as I embark for 95-degree(!) Portland and later onto Grunge City.

Make it happen wherever you are at.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Delayed UW construction, maintenance costing taxpayers more later on

On the eve of the UW System’s finalizing their “Ask” of the Governor’s Office for the next 2 years, State Rep. Gordon Hintz took a look at the documents, and sent out a press release noting his concerns. In typical Hintz style, the press release has a graphic with it, one of a collapsing house of cards, as Hintz said a past strategy of Governor Walker and WisGOP not paying for building projects and repairs will cost Wisconsinites more in the long run.
This week, University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross released the UW System’s complete budget request for the upcoming 2017-19 budget. While there has been plenty of attention on Republicans’ decision to cut Wisconsin’s universities by $565 million since taking control of state government, another crisis is looming: the Governor’s decision to all but halt the UW’s maintenance and infrastructure program. A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo released today by Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) shows that 7 capital budget items ignored by the Governor in the 2015-17 budget have now increased in cost by nearly $30 million.

“Budgeting is all about investing in priorities. Unfortunately, Republicans have refused to make the hard decisions when it comes to investing in our infrastructure,” said Rep. Hintz. “In order to put our roads on the credit card, Gov. Walker and Republicans put a halt on our whole capital budget. However, as this memo shows those needs don’t go away. Higher education in Wisconsin is already suffering historic cuts in Wisconsin, and delaying projects only compounds the cost.”

In addition to additional costs of construction, the Governor has also failed to fund key maintenance projects to existing buildings on UW campuses, known as “all agency” funding. For the first time, our universities had to specifically request this money in their budget just to make repairs. A separate memo prepared by LFB shows the cost of deferring these needs is expected to cost an additional $13.5 million in future budgets. These projects include repairs such as: ‘elevator replacements and fire alarm system upgrades; modifications for handicapped accessibility; replacement of emergency generators and worn-out heating; ventilating and cooling systems; major repairs to roofs, utility structures, walls and loading docks’.

To go further into this, let’s back up and understand the 2 parts to the UW’s budget request.

1. Operating budget- these are everyday expenses which are paid off as they happen. Keeping the lights on, paying faculty and staff, etc. It also pays for items such as debt that was taken on for projects that were paid for with General Tax dollars. This last item goes to what Rep. Hintz was complaining about, because an increasing part of the state funds that go into the UW’s budget is being used to pay off debt instead of actually go into the classroom and to pay the instructors and researchers in the classroom, as is pointed out in Page 3 of the UW’s 2016-17 Operating budget.
2016-17 GPR funding for the UW System, $1,048,705,300, is lower than it was in 2007-08 when the UW budgeted $1,128,380,267. When 2016-17 GPR debt service is removed, state funding of $832.9 million is lower than it was in 1998-99 ($842.1 million). Debt Service increased significantly since 2005-06, decreased in 2011-12 and then grew even more steeply afterwards, largely due to refinancing to support other state costs.
Tomorrow, the UW Board of Regents will consider passing ahead a request to the Governor’s Office to give it an additional $42.5 million for the 2017-19 biennium, much of which is earmarked toward specific programs, such as improving student advising and increasing the pool of healthcare professionals in rural and underserved areas of Wisconsin.

Now let’s go into the main part of Rep. Hintz’s critique- the Capital Budget.

2. Capital Budget- For both the UW and other forms of government, these are funds for specific projects, usually buildings and other forms of infrastructure (streets are a main part of a city’s Capital Budget, for example). Many of these items are designated into specific projects, and are often borrowed for, with the funds being paid back over time.

You can see where the two sides can work together. A new Capital item might change Operating Expenses, either through the debt required to pay back the Capital item (much like how your checking account pays back your home loan), or through lower expenses via the better usage of space and other efficiency gains. And one could argue that the large one-budget drop in Capital items at the state level can reduce debt service for future years at the UW, allowing for more funds to be freed up.

But the obvious trade-off is that the cost for needed repairs and buildings may be higher later on, leaving the double-whammy of worsening facilities now and needing to spend more money to take care of the same problem.

And that’s where Rep. Hintz’s request to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau comes in. Here's an example of the LFB's analysis regarding the major projects that were put off from 2 years ago.
The table below shows the seven capital projects that were included in both the UW System's capital budget request for 2015-17 and its proposed capital budget for 2017-19. As shown in the table, the Regents requested a total of $227.6 million in funding for the seven projects in their 2015-17 capital request. As proposed, the UW System's 201-19 capital budget request would include $257.3 million for these projects, or $29.7 million more than was requested for the UW System's 2015-17 budget request.
Granted, many of these projects seem to be items like athletics facilities and dorms, so those facilities may be likely to be paid off by higher student fees as opposed to taxpayers dollars, but there is also a second memo that mentions another $13.5 million in added cost for regular maintenance that was not budgeted for last time, half of which will come out of general tax dollars.

Just like with roads and other services, the Walker Administration's short-term budget stunts on refusing to pay for building upkeep and construction on the UW Campus is leading to bigger costs in the long run. And us in Wisconsin will be paying for the cost of those delays well after Walker and much of this WisGOP wrecking crew are out of office.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Walker Admin plays shell game on schools, roads. And sucks at it

Hey everybody! It's time to put the fun into the Funhouse for this post, because we're going to go along with our fair Governor, and play the old Shell Game!

Let's start with how we pay for our K-12 public schools, and bring in a guest contestant. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout points out how the moves made 20 years ago to cut property taxes in Wisconsin actually funded the schools, and contrasts it with the shell game that exists today.
Many of you may remember Governor Tommy Thompson’s promise about state school aid back in the mid-1990s. Thompson promised that two-thirds of the school costs would be picked up by the state.

He then gained legislative support for over $1 billion new state dollars for schools. This action had a direct impact on property taxes. In tax year 1996, the school portion of property taxes dropped by 16% leading to a decline in overall property taxes of over 6%.

Today the state contributes almost half of the money for local schools – well short of the two-thirds funding from years ago. For taxes paid this year (2015 tax year), overall property taxes increased 2.3% to the highest level – $10.6 billion – in the history of our state…

With eight out of ten referenda passing, and state school aid below 2006 levels, I find it not surprising that people suspect state lawmakers are going to put the whole cost of schools on local tax payers.

Many Wisconsin residents look to Minnesota and see that the state contributes almost 70% of the total aid for schools. Property taxpayers in Minnesota only contribute one quarter of all school costs. Wisconsinites say if Minnesota can do it, why can’t Wisconsin[?]
Good question, Sen. Vinehout. It really comes down to how state officials prioritize paying for services, and if they desire to keep the quality of those services high. Instead of striking a balance of maintaining and increases in spending to avoid these shifts in taxes or fees, the WisGOPs in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan have tended to fail miserably in at least one of these goals when it comes to funding education, and often both.

Take a look at what is happening at the UW System. Gov Scott Walker is doing a lot of talking about the freeze he has instituted (and plans to continue) on in-state tuition for undergrads, but hasn’t added the state spending needed in order for the schools to have adequate revenues to continue their level of services. This is what the #FundTheFreeze backers are complaining about with that hashtag - having tuition frozen is great, but it needs to be backed up with enough funding to keep things operating well, like Tommy and state legislators agreed to do in 1996.

Instead, the UW System is receiving fewer state tax dollars in this fiscal year than they did for the 2012-2013 base year- the year the in-state tuition freeze began.

State aid, UW System
2012-2013 base $1.125 billion
2016-17 UW budget $1.024 billion

That’s a drop of over $100 million in 4 years BEFORE inflation. How can you expect to maintain quality when no one there's no money available to adequately pay faculty and staff, and the buildings can’t be fixed?

The Wisconsin Technical College System puts both of these methods (unfunded property tax cuts and lower state funding) together, Yes, by the raw numbers, the state is investing more into the Tech Colleges than it was 4 years ago. But take out a $406 million unfunded giveaway from 2014, done as a one-shot gimmick to drop property taxes instead of boost offerings at the 2-year institutions, and we’ve barely changed what is being put into Tech Colleges.

State aid, Tech College System
2012-2013 base doubled $216.5 million
2015-17 budget $1,038.6 million
2015-17 LESS unfunded tax break for both years $226.6 million

That 4.67% increase for tech college services is below the rate of inflation, and it includes the recent push for increases in "performance-based" funding.

(Quick sidelight- I find performance funding worrisome because of one obvious question. Who are the people and organizations deciding the measures that the funding is scored on? With the Fitzwalkerstanis, you can bet it’ll be the same WMC oligarchs and Koch-funded stink tankers that have been in charge of the strategies that have driven Wisconsin to dead last in the Midwest for job growth).

There's another way the Walker/WisGOP shell game works may well be coming to a community near yours, if it isn’t there already. Wisconsin Public Radio gave an overview of this latest tax shift last weekend, as part of an article on local wheel taxes.
Fifteen municipalities and counties are already tacking $10 to $20 onto vehicle registration to pay for local road maintenance, and now Milwaukee County, Marathon County, Wausau, Portage and Green Bay are considering following suit.

Dan Fedderly of the Wisconsin County Highway Association points to a decade of stagnant road funding from the state that's left locals with little choice.

"We just simply need to address what has been a pending dilemma for many years and has got to the point where it is in crisis mode for many local units of government across the state," Fedderly said.
You can bet this will be a common theme as local goverments debate their 2017 budgets over the next 3 months, and Dems in the state would be wise to connect the state’s defunding with the need to jack up registration fees locally. Unfortunately for Scotty and WisGOP, that added fee is paid out in the same bill as Wisconsinites’ regular $75 vehicle registration fee, so it’ll look like the state was the one who added the fee…which is essence, they did through their inability to fund the locals. So the voter anger will be right and wrong at the same time!

I can bet that Scott Walker will give some kind of spin job at his rally with Donald Trump tonight in the reddest part of Wisconsin- West Bend. He'll likely try to pull the same BS over on Fox News, and say that the state's tax burden is lower. But what Walker's not going to tell them is that he and his fellow WisGOP posers aren't cutting taxes on the average Wisconsinite, but is merely shifting the decision down to the local level, and likely pulling the double-whammy of higher local taxes AND a lower level of services.

Don't fall for the shell game, and give your friends the heads up if you see them being suckered by it.

Another school year, and Wisconsin's rural schools continue to bleed

State Senator Janet Bewley sent a note off to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau earlier this month, asking a simple compare-and-contrast question. "What did every school district in Wisconsin receive in general state aids in 2010-11 (the year before Scott Walker's Act 10 and first budget took effect), and how much did those districts get in aid in 2015-16. Well, the LFB came back, and not only were the overall amount of general school aids is down nearly $197.5 million you can click on your own district and look for the results in your own neck of the woods, but worse is that nearly 3/4 of the state's districts receive less money from the state, before inflation.

And remember, much of these cuts from 2010-11 have been at or near this reduced amount for five straight years, so multiply by 5 to get an idea of the total amount of money that has been taken away from these districts in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. With the one-shot “tools” of Act 10 now being long gone, the Walker Administration or WisGOP have not done enough to fill in the gaps that now exist.

Note that outside of New Berlin (you know, the place where Icki McKenna encouraged citizens to taunt teachers with pacifiers to tell them to “quit whining”?) the biggest percentage cuts are overwhelmingly in rural Wisconsin.

Cuts in state aid 2010-11 vs 2015-16
Northwood -61.7%
Spooner -61.1%
New Berlin -56.9%
Northland Pines -56.8%
Williams Bay -55.9%
Herman -55.8%
Wabeno Area -55.1%
Phelps -54.3%
Alma -53.6%
Erin -53.5%

And then there are a ton of small districts that have lost 53.2% of their aid after that. Now, some of that may be made up by the relatively new sparsity aid program (the LFB memo is unclear on whether that is counted), but it sure doesn’t seem to be coming close to solving the funding concerns. Bewley (who represents a northwest Wisconsin district largely made up by the counties bordering Lake Superior) notes that while public school districts are losing talent because of low pay and appreciation, the failed policies of Walker/WisGOP tax cuts and giveaways to their campaign contributors in the voucher school lobby have continued.
“My Republican colleagues’ budget priorities are out of whack. They gave $209 million a year to a wealthy few, claiming it would spur the economy. The truth is that we created fewer jobs in the 3 years after we enacted that tax giveaway than we did in the three years before. Unaccountable voucher school operators were rewarded with over $200 million more, right out of taxpayer pockets,” said Bewley. “At the same time, our classrooms have been cut by $197 million.”

Bewley pointed out that data from the Department of Public Instruction shows that Wisconsin has lost 2,867 public school teachers and seen a 12.7% decrease in local experience in our student’s classrooms over the same period. “The 25th Senate District alone, with 36 of 40 school districts getting less general aid back under the Walker Administration, has lost 193 teachers,” Bewley said. “It’s time to stop favoring millionaires and voucher operators. Time we starting taking care of our public school students and looking out for middle class property tax payers.”
Walker policies have made it difficult for districts to come up with adequate funding to pay and support their teachers, and Bewley’s statements back up what a teacher friend of mine that works in a small, central Wisconsin district said on Facebook recently.
Act 10, in my understanding, was the means for local districts to have more control over their staff and costs. It was endorsed as a means to get rid of those "bad" teachers since they would no longer have the union to protect them.

Funny enough, in my district, I can't say that I've seen many if ANY bad teachers leave or get fired. I've only seen a surge of great teachers retire, leave for other states or other cities because we are a POOR district and don't have the means to offer higher pay or benefits.

Our schools are a revolving door of new teachers. The climate at school [is] abysmal. There is a plethora of new faces that I have no idea who they are, what they teach or the building they service. And they keep changing every year. They have no loyalty or ties to the district/town. They don't buy homes because they aren't planning on staying. They stay for 2-3 years and then move on....

Perhaps in better cities (i.e.: richer communities) like De Forest, Waunakee, or others have better results due to Act 10 but I can't say I'm reaping the benefits. My insurance out-of-pocket has gone up and I've lost long term and short term care. Thus, my pay is decreasing although my years of experience is increasing. The percentage cost of living increase we receive yearly falls far below the actual cost of living.
And despite what AM hate radio (paid for by the privatization folks at Koch and Bradley) may say, teacher pay continues to lag, especially in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Budget Project jumped off from a report from the Economic Policy Institute titled “The Teacher Pay Gap is Wider than Ever”, and said that Wisconsin teachers make approximately $11,900 less a year from other college-educated professions.
Nationally, public school teachers earned 17.0% less per week worked than other workers in 2015, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. That wage gap has tripled since 1979, when the wage gap was 5.6% between teachers and other workers. The analysis controls for age, education, race/ethnicity, geographical region, marital status, and gender.

In Wisconsin, the wage gap means that public school teachers earn $229 per week less than other workers with the same level of education. Teachers earn less than other college graduates in every state in the U.S….

When benefits are included, teachers still earn less than other workers: 11.1% less per week worked.

When teachers earn less than workers in other fields, it becomes harder for schools to attract and retain high-quality teachers. Some Wisconsin school districts have reported struggling to hire teachers, and as the wage gap grows, schools will face an even more difficult time attracting candidates to fill vacant positions. If we want to make sure that schools are able to hire well-qualified teachers to teach Wisconsin students, we need to make sure we can offer potential teachers a job with competitive salaries and benefits and a good working environment.
And that’s especially true in small-town Wisconsin, where there are notably fewer people with 4-year college degrees than the 27% of Wisconsinites that have one statewide. Sure, the reality that teachers are better-educated and likely better paid than most local (non-college educated) workers, and that may cause jealous anger that Trump/Walker types have exploited to their advantage (UW’s Katherine Cramer has hit on this with her book “The Politics of Resentment”).

But reality and numbers show that the Walker Way has failed rural Wisconsin, and if these individuals want to take out some resentment, it should be on the GOP poliiticians who have funneled sizable amounts of needed funds away from their schools, and into the hands of their cronies. So deal with where we are today, small-town Wisconsin. Understand that if your local schools fall apart and/or have to consolidate, one of the largest unifiers and areas of pride in that community go away. And then small-town Wisconsin becomes ghost-town Wisconsin. If you want to avoid that reality, you’re going to have to compensate teachers enough so that they will want to work in your community, and the way that’ll happen is by the state of Wisconsin (and especially corporate Wisconsin) contributing enough tax money to adequately fund a quality public education that benefits all of us in the state.

There’s only one way the aid cuts will stop, and the property tax increases resulting from the aid cuts will stop, and rural schools will be maintained and able to attract decent talent. That’s by removing the ALEC crew at the Capitol that doesn't care if they public education in Wisconsin and the state’s economic competitiveness, because they value a few more campaign contributions over improving things for the taxpayers that pay their salary. There is no other option, and the time for excusing this disgusting, destructive educational policy in Fitzwalkerstan is far past.