Friday, September 30, 2016

Demos help Clinton nationwide, but may keep it closer in Wisconsin

While I'm not a huge believer in the smug "demographics are destiny" mentality that afflicts far too many in the Democratic Party, causing them to write off and lose too many rural areas and state legislatures, that doesn't mean there isn't some truth behind it. David Wasserman and Aaron Bycoffe came up with a great tool for called the "Swing-O-matic" that explores voter demographics, and I encourage you to have some fun with it. Here’s their explanation of how this works.
We started with the results of the 2012 election and the support for each party’s candidate by the five demographic groups. We then adjusted the size of those groups based on four years of population change. When you adjust the vote and turnout above, our model recalculates the results for each state — as well as the Electoral College outcome and the national popular vote — taking into account how much of the state’s electorate the group accounts for.
So I wanted to see if Donald Trump’s “stir up bitter white guys” strategy could work well in propelling him into the White House. What I did is made the following changes from the 2012 results, based partially on polls I’ve seen, and partially on some conservative assumptions of what I think might happen.

Adjustments to 2012 electorate
College-educated white- Goes from 56% GOP to 52% Dem. Turnout stays the same at 77%.

Non-college whites- Goes from 62% GOP to 70% GOP. Turnout goes from 57% to 62%.

African-American- Stays at 93% Dem and 66% turnout.

Latino- Goes from 71% Dem to 80% Dem. Turnout goes from 48% to 50%.

Asian/Other Goes from 67% Dem to 70% Dem. Turnout goes from 49% to 50%.

Put that in the Wasserman and Bycoffe Swing-O-Matic, and the result is…

Clinton 347
Trump 191
Popular vote- Clinton 52.9%, Trump 45.4%

This would be a bigger win than Obama had over Romney in 2012, and the popular vote is virtually the same as Obama’s 9.5 million vote win over McCain in 2008.

What’s intriguing within this projection is that even though only one state changes from 2012 (North Carolina goes Dem), some close Dem states in 2012 become blowouts, while other Dem states actually get closer, including here in Wisconsin.

New “blowouts”
Virginia- From Dem +3.9 in 2012 to Dem +9.8
Florida- From Dem +0.9 to Dem +7.5
Nevada- From Dem +6.7 to Dem +10.4
Colorado- From Dem +5.4 to Dem +7.6

Closer blue states
Iowa- Dem +5.8 to Dem +1.1
Wis.- Dem +6.9 to Dem +4.3
N.H- Dem +5.4 to Dem +4.0
Ohio- Dem +3.0 to Dem +2.4

The reality of Wisconsin having a lot of low-educated whites helps explain why Trump was hanging out in Waukesha this week, and those demographics help explain why Trump’s best "Obama states" in polling over the last month have been Iowa and Ohio. We’ll see if that holds after this disastrous week, however, because a whole lot of women fall into that “non-college white” category, and I’m thinking they won’t take kindly to the Donald’s fat-shaming and piggish behavior. Particularly when the main-party opponent is the first female to be a major-party candidate.

I admit to being skeptical of the Florida and Nevada numbers being that easy of a win for the Dems, but demographics (and Trump’s racism) could be Clinton’s “secret weapon” in those states. And if she wins Florida, there’s pretty much no way she won't end up being president, if you do the electoral math. On a related note, a number of “red” states become pretty near purple under the scenario I created, including the biggest one.

Close red states
Georgia- GOP +7.8 to GOP +1.1
Texas- GOP +15.8 to GOP +3.5
Arizona- GOP +9.1 to GOP +3.6
S.C- GOP +10.5 to GOP +5.7

So how in the world can Trump win with this “bitter white guy” strategy? Basically it would be if no one else reacted to his race-baiting and misogyny, other than low-educated white folks. Here's a Swing-O-Matic combination that got Trump to a 282-256 win over Clinton, and Wisconsin would be among the states that flip his way in that scenario.

College-educated whites- Stay at 56% Republican. Turnout goes from 77% to 76%.

Non-college whites- Goes from 62% GOP to 70% GOP. Turnout goes from 57% to 64%.

African-American- Stays at 93% Dem and 66% turnout.
Latino-Stays at 71% Dem and 48% turnout.
Asian/Other Goes from 67% Dem to 68% Dem. Turnout stays at 49%.

I really wouldn’t bet on this outcome happening on November 8, and it shows how long the odds truly are for the GOP to win the presidency these days. In the real world this November, you’d have to think that Latino and Asian/Other turnout will go up and they'll vote Dem after the numerous insults that Drumpf has thrown at Mexicans and non-Christians (among many others). Throw in the fact that no one with an IQ over 80 and an ounce of decency will vote for the Orange one (meaning he loses the white, college-educated vote), and a more likely scenario is that this race breaks out for Hillary, and she ends up winning BIG.

Obviously, there's still a ways to go, and some kind of wacky event could change this. But even Nate Silver’s Trump-sympathetic model has turned hard in Hillary’s favor, as she has gone from a 55% chance of winning on Monday to 64% today. Not coincidentally, her lead keeps growing as post-debtate polls are being done and reported, and with Drumpf going on 4am Twitterstorms to personally attack former Ms. Universe contestants, I can’t see that trend reversing any time soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

John Doe money train leads to Koch, demands accountability

As the Supreme Court decides whether or not to take the John Doe case (from what I can tell, we'll find out next week), there have been a couple of developments that help to clarify how seamy and lawless Scott Walker and his supporters were in the aftermath of the union-busting Act 10. And that lawlessness need to be held to account.

The first item I want you to look at is this excellent, in-depth reporting by Lisa Graves for the Center for Media and Democracy, which describes the money trail that was part of right-wing efforts to hold onto power during the recalls of 2011 and 2012. And yes, these asses from Kansas were involved.

Here’s an example Graves gives of how the Kochs jumped in, and tried to hide their tracks at the same time. Nick Ayers of the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) worked alongside Walker/Club for Growth coordinator RJ Johnson and Koch groups to launder and spend money during the Wisconsin Uprising and associated recalls, and Graves quotes one of the John Doe emails where Ayers talks about trying to get everyone on the same page.
"Spoke to Gillespie this morning. My sense is that everyone's heart (AFP, WIGOP, RSLC, RGA, CFG) is in the right place but no one is clear on the entire battle plan, and that is leaving very vulnerable gaps in both the planning and execution of a winning strategy."

Here Ayers names key groups involved in the campaign coordination prosecutors were investigating; Ed Gillespie from the Republican State Leadership Conference, Americans for Prosperity (a Koch front group) , the Wisconsin Republican Party, and Club for Growth. The groups would go on to spend some $30 million in the recall races ($20 million funneled through Wisconsin Club for Growth, $10 million via the RGA) an enormous sum in a small state. RGA registered as an "independent expenditure" group (Right Direction Wisconsin) and swore an oath not to coordinate with candidates or their agents.

Multiple emails suggest that RGA, a partisan political organization, and AFP worked closely on recalls. One email from Walker fundraiser Kate Doner in August 2011, puts the AFP spending to that point at $1 million. On September 7, 2011, Doner will list AFP/Koch as a key partner and urge Governor Walker to "lock them down and make them work for you."

After the April Wisconsin Supreme Court race on May 11, 2011, (AFP hack Matt) Seaholm wrote to R.J. Johnson, subject: "Conf Call later this afternoon," asking if Johnson is available to have a call "to see what (other Koch hack) Sean Noble's guys are thinking?" Johnson replied, "Depending on time, yes."

At the time, Noble's Center to Protect Patient Rights and the related Coalition to Protect Patient Rights were focused on battling President Obama's 2010 health care reform bill funneling money to a host of groups, all pretending to be genuine grassroots voices on the issue.

The email doesn't reveal what "Noble's guys" were thinking but, in the final two weeks of the gubernatorial recall election in June of 2012, a brand new group with the name "Coalition for American Values" suddenly appeared out of nowhere to run $400,080 on a pounding rotation of express advocacy ads (the "vote for" "vote against" kind) appealing to "Wisconsin nice" by saying the recall wasn't "the Wisconsin way."
The article goes onto say the Center to Protect Patient Rights got hit with a massive fine and clawback in California for pulling a similar money-funneling routine in 2012. Remember, “independent” Koch front groups like AFP are only allowed to hide the names of their donors and spend unlimited funds because they’re NOT supposed to be working with other organizations. The John Doe docs show that pro-WisGOP groups didn’t even try to maintain this wall of separation, or to adhere to disclosure laws and campaign finance limits once they did work together.

And for once, the Democrats in Wisconsin don’t seem willing to let this corruption fade from the public’s and the media's collective memory. Numerous Dem members of the State Assembly filed a formal complaint today with Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne demanding that more items be investigated, based on information revealed in the leaked John Doe documents. The top complaint deals with Scott Walker and other members of the WisGOP machine allegedly violating the state’s ban on direct contributions from corporations, and used the entity of Wisconsin Club for Growth to circumvent donation limits, and to avoid donors from being revealed.

It appears from the documents released that Governor Walker and/or his campaign committee violated these laws by basically accepting corporate monies through WCFG (Wisconsin Club for Growth), an entity they apparently coordinated with and controlled. The conduct of Governor Walker and FOSW (Friends of Scott Walker) campaign staff clearly indicate that the secret, unlimited corporate contributions he solicited for and directed to WCFG were valuable to him and central to his re-election efforts. Governor Walker’s intention, as set forth in an April, 2011 email from his fundraising consultant, was to have all ads “run through one group to ensure correct messaging….The Governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth [which] can accept Corporate and Personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure. It was functionally as if, because of the close coordination of Walker, FOSW, and WCFG, these donations were being made to Walker personally and/or to his campaign committee.

As a result of this scheme, it appears WCFG did not operate independently from Scott Walker and FOSW, but as a subcommittee controlled by Governor Walker and FOSW. WCFG was run by Walker’s top political advisor, R.J. Johnson, and other key staff members seem appear to have directed both entities. For example, fundraising consultant Kate Doner, though emnployed by FOSW, appears to have raised money for both FOSW and WCFG. Talking points prepared by Doner in June, 2011 instructed Walker to ask for donations to “ your 501c4” (emphasis added). In May, 2011, Doner instructs Walker to ask the Clear Channel’s Lowry Mays “Would he give $250K to your 501c4. Let him know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.” Walker also asked campaign staffers and Johnson “did I send out thank you notes to all of our c(4) donors?” Despite efforts to cloak their actions, Governor Walker and his staff clearly thought of WCFG as an extension of the Walker campaign efforts.”
The fact that this coordination was being done to avoid the law seems beyond question, and while perhaps this is part of the wider John Doe investigation, I see no reason it couldn’t be cut off from the bigger case with charges brought on by itself.

The Dem complaint to Dane County DA Ozanne also asks that he go after the corporations who tried evading laws prohibiting direct contributions to candidates, and look at WisGOP for potential pay-for-play actions involving Club for Growth donors that later got favorable laws on mining and lead paint liability. Lastly, the Dems note that Gov Walker may have violated state law last week when he seemed to threaten Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm with lower funding if Chisholm continued to investigate the John Doe case.
It appears that Governor Walker used his office to send a message to district attorneys that they should not further investigate his potential criminal conduct or that of others who were the subject of the John Doe proceedings at the risk of losing critical funding. Wis. Stat. 19.45(13) prohibits state public officials from promising or refraining to take official actions, such as funding district attorney positions. Any person who intentionally violates Wis. Stat. 19.45(13) is guilty of a Class I felony….Furthermore, it may constitute prohibited conduct under Wis. Stat. 943.30(4).

Threats by Governor Walker to retaliate and not fully staff Wisconsin’s district attorney offices if they initiate a valid criminal investigation is not an appropriate or lawful use of the Governor’s office and should be investigated.
Those threats also showed that Walker is starting to crack because I think he and the rest of WisGOP knows that SCOTUS will at the very least take the John Doe case to figure out the limits (or lack thereof) on campaign finance laws in the post- Citizens United world, and the unprecedented scale of his paid-off crookedness will remain in the news.

And no Scotty, having a Facebook Q&A tomorrow with pre-selected questions from your supporters really isn’t going to narrow that trust gap. Well, unless you answer real Wisconsinites when they ask what you really did in John Doe, and whether you think these money-laundering and pay-for-play schemes are acceptable behavior. Oh, and if you’re willing to tell us what favors you’ve given (and still owe) to your campaign contributors, I think myself and numerous other Wisconsinites would love to find that out, especially before the elections in 40 days.

But I’m thinking Scotty won’t reveal that on Facebook, or anywhere else other than court documents. Hopefully we’ll see those full John Doe docs in the near future, and see charges associated with that information. This has to happen for Wisconsin government to start to regain a semblance of credibility, and stop being the Koch subsidiary and joke that it is today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 lottery boom might mean a nice one-time prop tax break. Should it?

Since I'm a nerd, I was cruising by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's reports page, and saw the annual release of the Wisconsin Lottery's final figures for Fiscal Year 2016, and the resulting property tax relief that will come from it. And it turned out to be a banner year for lottery ticket sales, partly boosted by the $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot in January and other 9-figure pots over those 12 months.

In fact, ticket sales for Fiscal Year 2016 exceeded March's projections by huge margins. And it wasn't just the bump from the massive Powerball jackpots that did it.

FY 2016 Lottery sales vs March 2016 projections
Instant Scratch
March 2016 projection $356.2 million
FY 2016 Sales $378.8 million (+6.3% vs projections)

March 2016 projection $0.974 million
FY 2016 Sales $1.131 million (+16.0% vs projections)

March 2016 projection $223.0 million
FY 2016 Sales $247.2 million (+10.9% vs projections)

Prize payout also exceeded projections by nearly $23 million, giving a payout rate of 59.4, slightly below the 60.27% projections from March, but in line with recent years. Still, the high ticket sales means that the lottery's "profit" for Fiscal Year 2016 ended up being well above what legislators counted on when the lottery credit was finalized for this year.

Projected net proceeds, lottery FY 2016 $154.1 million
Actual net proceeds, lottery FY 2016 $171.5 million

So that $17.4 million in added profit means that there is more money available to be refunded to Wisconsinites for property tax relief, and today's report indicates that the property tax credit for homeowners could go up significantly for the tax bills that people get in December 2016. This is a change from what has been a declining property tax credit in recent years, and a $3.2 million drop in the credit that was originally projected for this year.

Actual and projected property tax credit 2014-2017
2013 $168.2 million
2014 $166.0 million
2015 $157.8 million
2016 (proj.) $185.3 million

If the lottery tax credit is indeed 17% higher than it was in 2015, based on my last property tax bill in Madison, that means I'll be looking at around $20-$22 in savings for this year's property tax, instead of the increase that was looming. With property values continuing to jump in many parts of the state due to interest rates and home inventories staying low, having a bigger lottery break could offset some of the inevitable increases in property taxes that'll result from those rising values.

However, this one-time bump in lottery proceeds sets up an interesting decision for JFC lawmakers, who have until mid-October to decide whether to sign off on this amount for the 2017 lottery credit, or discuss it further. Because the Department of Revenue says that if lottery sales decline by $9.8 million from the high levels that we saw in Fiscal Year 2016 (which would still be well above what was sold in FY 2015), the lottery credit will still go back down to a more typical $163.5 million in 2017. This would mean into a property tax INCREASE for most Wisconsinites in 2017, on top of whatever increases may be coming from local government and other taxing entitites that year.

So might it be a good idea to have a JFC member object to this one-time windfall, and perhaps discuss smoothing out the amount of money given out in the lottery credit over 2016 and 2017? For example, you could reduce that $185.3 million to something like $170 million for this year (which still gives a nice bump in the lottery credit for this year), and then if projections hold for Fiscal Year 2017, you can increase the credit again for 2017 tax bills, keeping taxes lower in both years instead of the roller-coaster ride. Especially given that those 2017 property taxes would be on the last property tax bills before the 2018 elections for governor, it might be in the interest of both parties to have those bills staying stable or declining vs going up.

Let's see if any members of JFC step up, because the huge increase in lottery sales that we saw in FY 2016 shouldn't be relied upon for the future, and giving some breathing room for the Lottery Fund in this year seems like a more prudent option vs giving everything away in a larger property tax credit this winter. But then again, I don't make a living by striking political poses to try to trick rube voters, so what I think is the right move might not be what the crew at the Capitol decides on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Walker's "student loan reform" is nothing new, and nowhere near enough

As a 40-something who is still paying off the student loans from my graduate school, I read with interest Governor Walker’s media event at the UW Credit Union's corporate offices in Madison today. At the event, Walker announced a “new” plan designed to help Wisconsinites repay their student debt, and here's how it would work.
UW Credit Union has for the past three years offered members the option to refinance student loans, President and CEO Paul Kundert said. But the credit union's services were only open to students and alumni of the University of Wisconsin System.

Officials announced Tuesday that they have expanded eligibility to all Wisconsin residents who have attended an accredited college or university anywhere in the United States or abroad. State regulators approved the change earlier this month.

“This offers a tremendous opportunity for students, not only to get student loan financing, but particularly for those looking to consolidate or refinance that," Walker said.

Democratic lawmakers have proposed a more dramatic change to address the issue -- a state authority that would handle student loan refinancing -- which they say would lower many borrowers' monthly payments. Walker has opposed the idea, and it has gone nowhere in a Legislature controlled by Republicans.
Well that sounds great on the surface, as having more places available to refinance student loans and lessen payments and interest rates is a good outcome, and if we can take steps toward that, then I’ll take it.

There's also a new website that borrowers can check out, and the “Look Forward to Your Future” site does seem to be a decent resource. It has a lot of good links and bits of information to help clear up some questions for borrowers, and so that can help assist Wisconsinites in making better choices that fit their situation.

But you’ll notice that these are links to pre-existing programs and options, and the website doesn’t improve anything, other than possibly increasing the flow of information. And when you look at Gov Walker’s press release announcing the new higher ed website and expanded eligibility at UW Credit Union, you’ll see that there isn’t really much changing in the banking industry in the state either.
Governor Walker also noted that the new website includes a list of 13 Wisconsin banks and credit unions that currently refinance student debt.

“There are private-sector solutions available for people who have student loans and who would benefit from being able to refinance that debt at a lower rate,’” Governor Walker said.

To provide additional Wisconsin residents with access to more options to manage educational expenses, the UW Credit Union Board of Directors recently approved a change in membership eligibility. Now, in addition to UW System past or present students, any Wisconsin resident who is currently enrolled or has attended any accredited institution of higher education can do business with the UW Credit Union. The Office of Credit Unions at DFI certified this change on September 8, 2016.
It’s a good thing that UW Credit Union is opening its doors to more Wisconsinites (our home loan is through there, and they’ve treated us well), but that’s the only difference I see today vs yesterday. In fact, a cynical observer might say that this event was a PR move to drive more business to the state’s financial institutions, and lead to a nice campaign kickback or two to Walker and/or pro-WisGOP campaign organizations. Diverting the loans to the private banks also keeps elected officials from being directly responsible for correcting with any abuses of customers that might happen, as they would if a government agency were the ones getting the student loan payments and interest.

By the way, do we know the credit unions and other banks would take on those student loans? I don’t see any requirements for those banks to do so under Walker’s press release or today’s news reports. What if those banks decide the individual is just too much of a credit risk, either because of other debt or a lack of credit history? Then does it become “too bad, so sad” (especially under a deregulation-favoring WisGOP administration?), and those borrowers stay locked into the current system instead of having the options available under the Dems’ “Higher Ed, Lower Debt” plan? In addition, does the increased amount of funds out on loans at Wisconsin banks now mean that the rates for all other loans would have to be raised to lower the overall risk to the bank?

The other thing to note is that Walker felt like he had to hold this event in the first place, which tells you that student loan debt is becoming a legitimate political issue, and that Republicans are losing on the issue because they’re seen as not caring by not wanting to make changes. So this is a classic “photo op over policy” move designed to defuse the issue ahead of November’s elections. I see this as desperation and more proof that the GOP is out of new ideas when it comes to dealing with the real problems that afflict Gen Xers and Millenials that are trying to keep afloat in Fitzwalkerstan.

Scot Ross, who is the executive director of One Wisconsin Now and someone who has made student loan debt a personal crusade, summed up the Walker student loan plan quite well.
“Nearly one million Wisconsin student loan borrowers have over $19 billion in debt and the best Gov. Walker can manage is to hold a press conference announcing he is doing nothing and they should go talk to a bank or visit a website.
I agree it's not enough. Gov Walker’s plan merely changes the place where student debtors make their payments, and that doesn’t work in a system that is leaving far too many behind the 8-ball, and in need of larger reforms. If I were the Dems, I’d keep demanding that there be a “public option” that’s necessary to improve the bottom line for tens of thousands of consumers whose financial activity is being limited under the current student loan repayment system.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Demos in Marquette Poll indicate Dem leads may be bigger

I finally had a bit of time to dig into the data from the most recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin, and get my thoughts together. Bottom line- Charles Franklin and company may be making the state’s races appear tighter than they are.

I wanted to use the registered voter figures to get the picture, and as always, looked to the cross-tabs to see what the real information is (ALWAYS look to the cross-tabs, folks). I’m going with registered voters because that’s a larger data set than “likely voters” and because a sizable amount of those voters were not listed as likely voters even though they said they were “very likely” to vote (over 11% in the latest Marquette Law poll fell into this category, and another 7% said they were “50-50”).

Let’s review the “topline” totals in the poll released last week in the two statewide races for federal office in Wisconsin.

Marquette Law Poll late Sept. 2016
President (2-way Trump vs. Clinton) Clinton 43-39
President (4-way Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Stein) Clinton 39-35
WI Senate- Feingold 46-40

The first item which I wanted to investigate is the Partisan ID question, which was the main reason the race “tightened” in the Marquette Poll that came out earlier in September, and I was curious to see where it fell this time. As a point of reference, I also looked at the 2012 presidential exit polls and the 2014 midterm exit polls, to see what the Party ID was there when comparing self-described Democrats vs self-described Republicans.

Party ID, 2012 + 2014 elections, Wisconsin
2012 exit poll Dem +5
2014 exit poll GOP +1

Now let’s look at the previous Marquette Law Poll, and this current one. I’ll even include the “leaners” among the group who claim to be independent, but usually support one party or the other.

Party ID, Marquette Law Poll
Early Sept. Dem +1
Late Sept. Dem +2

Basically a middle ground between 2012 and 2014, even with it being a presidential year like 2012. Maybe that’s true, but I find myself skeptical of that.

My skepticism of claims of a close race grew when I dug into various demographics of these polls and compared them with the 2012 exit poll results in Wisconsin, when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 7%. In particular, look at two of the constituencies where Dems have traditionally had the largest advantages- young voters and minorities.

Voters 18-29, Wisconsin
2012 election Obama- 60-37
Late Sept. MU Law Poll President 2-way- Clinton 40-35
Late Sept. MU Law Poll President 4-way- Trump 31-26
Late Sept. MU Law Poll WI-Senate- Feingold 38-37

Do we really believe Donald Trump is leading among Wisconsin voters under 30, even with Gary Johnson pulling nearly 30% of that youth vote? And do we really believe that Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson are basically tied with that same group? Call me doubtful.

Same pattern repeats when you look at the white vs non-white breakdown of the Wisconsin electorate in 2012 vs this survey.

White voters, Wisconsin
2012 election- Romney 51-48
Late Sept. MU Law Poll President 2-way- Trump 42-41
Late Sept. MU Law Poll President 4-way- Clinton 38-37
Late Sept. MU Law Poll WI-Senate- Feingold 48-41

So if Clinton and Feingold are doing better with white voters in Wisconsin, why isn’t the Marquette Poll showing a 10-12 point blowout? Here’s why .

Non-white voters, Wisconsin
2012 election- Obama 84-15
Late Sept. MU Law Poll President 2-way- Clinton 50-24
Late Sept. MU Law Poll President 4-way- Clinton 42-25
Late Sept. MU Law Poll WI-Senate- Feingold 36-31

Again, either there’s been a major move by non-white voters toward the party that has a white supremacist running for president and a state GOP that is actively suppressing minority votes, or Dems are likely in a much better position than the Marquette Law Poll says they are.

By the way, I'm not necessarily saying that Franklin and Marquette Law are intentionally keeping this close- it's really hard to get people to pick up when it's a weird phone numbers calling, and that's especially true with the demos I mentioned above. You can only report on the info you get, and when you're dealing with an especially non-responsive group, it can be more likely that the info is misleading.

Might the fact that the race really isn't that close be an explanation why we haven’t seen much in terms of presidential ads and appearances here in recent weeks? Maybe that's changing, as Drumpf and Pence were scheduled (where else?) Waukesha this week, (oops, scratch that Pence visit) but the GOPs also have to come here because their road to 270 electoral votes is so limited that they have to try to get overly-white states like Wisconsin into their column, even if they’re trailing badly. The Clinton campaign only recently has started to bring sent in campaign surrogates, and even those appearances aren’t public events, with the airwaves (thankfully) relatively empty of ads.

Now, maybe Team DNC/Clinton is making a major miscalculation, and the “angry old white guy” strategy of Trump has put this state in play. But the crosstabs of the Marquette Law Poll indicate that if the demographic mix of Wisconsin’s voters is similar to 2012, and youth and minorities vote similar to how they did in 2012, then both Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton have sizable leads here. And that reality does not change regardless of what the a media reliant on ads and clicks tries to tell you.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Solution to false "benefit crisis" isn't cuts- it's better fiscal policies

Jason Stein and Haley Henschel released an interesting, in-depth article in this Sunday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel titled "Wisconsin Faces Billions in Retiree Obligations." It's a discussion of pensions and Other Post-Employee Retirement Benefits (OPEB in the budget world), and here is a taste of some of the gaps between the money coming in to a community, and the cost of those benefits for those employees after they retire.
Today, a year of health insurance for just one City of Beloit worker and his or her family costs about $22,500. Keeping just one 52-year-old city police officer who retires today insured until 2029 — the first year the officer would be eligible for Medicare — would cost taxpayers at least $200,000, said David Osterndorf, the chief actuary at the Glendale consulting firm Health Exchange Resources.

"It wouldn't at all surprise me if you're seeing a $250,000 obligation," Osterndorf said. "It's really that kind of a number."..

Over the coming decades, the City of Racine owes a projected $417.5 million in health care and life insurance obligations to its retired and active workers and has nothing set aside to pay them. That works out to more than $5,300 for every person in the city, or three times as much as the city government spends in a year.

Meanwhile, Racine County expects to pay $193.4 million for its retiree health care. The Racine Unified School District projects $70.9 million in unfunded retiree health costs and $3.8 million more for a supplemental pension in addition to the state retirement system.
And this is where you see deficit scolds and other right-wing oligarchs try to claim "Public employee benefits are too expensive, we'll go broke!" Then that "crisis" is used as an excuse to stir up resentment against public sector workers, and pass Act 10-like measures to "level the field" with private sector workers who may not have such benefits.

But there are many problems with this analysis, and I'll start with one simple statement. There is no new fiscal crisis due to public employee benefits. The reality is buried in that first paragraph about workers in the City of Beloit- the "$250,000 obligation" is over the course of 13 years. These huge numbers of "unfunded liabilities" that are frequently quoted make the assumption that they would be paid out to all workers at one time, and that's ridiculous. It's like saying "you owe $200,000 on your mortgage", but doesn't mention that you're paying $1,400 a months for 30 years to pay it off.

Look, I'm not saying the annual payments for these benefits aren't important to keep in mind or that it's not causing a small amount of taxes to go up or crowding out other services that could be funded better. But we've been paying for these bills for decades and will continue to pay these bills for decades, and it's no different than what we've done for Social Security and Medicare at the federal level (and I'll talk more in a minute about how the solution to those fake "problems" are similar). And I'll freely admit that Act 10 provisions helped the bottom line for local governments by shifting the burden off of the government and shoving it onto the workers.

But let's not forget that Act 10 provisions have been imposed on workers without negotiation, has hampered the ability of local and state govermments to get quality employees, and then turned the "savings" into tax cuts and shared revenue cuts destroyed that any fiscal benefits that Act 10 may have given. And that's the real problem here in Wisconsin. It's not that these future liabilities exist in state and local government, it's one part demographics (BOOMERS) but mostly it points back to fiscal constraints put onto local governments by the WisGOP Legislature.
The strategy worked well for these local officials, pushing the bills off until the leaders were long gone. But as baby boomers retire, more of these costs are coming due, pressuring both taxpayers and the citizens who depend on the government for services....

Still, solutions will be a struggle in Wisconsin, where local tax levies are under a state freeze, aging infrastructure is demanding more investment and governments are finding it harder to compete for employees.
With WisGOP legislators continually preventing local governments from being able to raise their own revenues, it encourages those local governments to find "efficiencies" by cutting workers through vacancies and automation. With less workers paying in, it means there is less money coming in to pay for the benefits of these retiring Boomers. Then combine it with the ALEC/GOPs who chose tax cuts and cut shared aids to school districts and local governments, and now you have a real crunch that could have been avoided (and yes, I think many of the ALEC/GOPs are doing this intentionally).

And the solution is relatively simple- FREE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS. Allow them to raise the taxes necessary to pay for these services, if they so desire. This could include reversing the decision of WisGOP legislators to kill the bill that would have allowed local sales taxes to be designated for roads. This also could include cities of a certain size to impose their own sales taxes to pay for police and fire services, not only due to some of these communities having higher crime rates, but also because those bigger communities have events that attract people from outside the city that require more use of services than some bedroom suburb or unincorporated area. We already allow this second option in Wisconsin for tourist towns like Eagle River, Bayfield and Wisconsin Dells under the premier resort tax, so it's not a major change- it's just allowing larger blue-voting cities the same flexibilities that those small towns have.

We also need to get rid of the stupid property tax caps (a typical WisGOP "pose over policy" move that hasn't improved things one damn bit in this state), and allow local governments and their residents to decide the levels of property taxation that they think is adequate. If the state legislature doesn't like the idea of higher property taxes, then combine the caps with adequate shared revenues, but stop the "no-tax and no funding" mentality that is leading to the chronic deficits and continual cuts to services that keep driving away talent from the state. And while you're at it, WisGOP, end the anti-public worker policies that make it difficult to attract qualified people for those jobs (and perversely, drives up the cost of salaries to get those workers).

And there's one other simple option that should be used at all three levels of government - STOP GIVING RICH PEOPLE AND CORPORATIONS TAX CUTS, AND MAKE TAXATION FAIRER.

At the local level- end the ridiculous amount of TIFs and other preferential treatment to corporations that allow them to avoid paying for the city services that they use and benefit from. These costs are increasingly pushed onto everyday homeowners and renters, and the payoff of higher property tax base (which lowers tax rate) doesn't seem to happen nearly enough for this to be a worthwhile strategy for the typical Wisconsinite.

At the state level- Increase fairness in taxation and get rid of exemptions that overwhelmingly favor the rich and corporate. This includes the absurd "Manufacturers and Agriculture" tax credit that has resulted in 11 mega-millionaires getting a tax break of nearly $2 million a year EACH, with no action required to get that write-off. Wisconsin has had 3 straight years of revenue shortfalls, which became an excuse for the lack of shared revenues, which then makes it more difficult to pay for retirees, keading to this false OPEB "crisis".

By the way, these OPEB concerns at the state and local level mirror the garbage we hear in DC about the "trillions in future cost" of Social Security. Let me show you this clip, narrated by a certain former presidential candidate, and remind you how those lies are spread, and how dishonest they are.

And the way you stabilize Social Security and its sister program of Medicare can also be done in a way that would make many of these state and local retirement benefit "concerns" go away.

1. MEDICARE FOR ALL- The biggest costs with these OPEB benefits comes from those bridge years for employees that are between retirement, and not at the 65-year-old limit of Medicare. Not only are those employees not working and taking those benefits, but they're also at an older age where they cost more to insure. Well, if you have Medicare for all, these local and state governments don't have to pay for these bills, now do they?

And even if you phased in Medicare for all to start at age 55, that covers almost all of the health insurance costs for those retirees. It would be a massive tax shift away from state and local government, and would be a huge stabilizer for communities. Oh, and for those workers, who don't have to face the prospect of being screwed out of the benefits they've counted on for decades.

2. SCRAP THE CAP AND EXPAND SOCIAL SECURITY- When I see GOP Congressmen like (mo)Ron Johnson shed crocodile tears about how the government faces a financial crisis due to the future costs resulting from Boomers retiring, I want to scream "PAY THE SAME TAXES AS WE DO, ASSHOLE!" That's all it takes, making rich people pay the same 6.2% Social Security tax that you and I do. In fact, if you expand Social Security to Age 55 (which could be afforded quite easily, if we chose), it increases the options for older workers, and keeps them from being locked into a job well past the time that want to or can work. And if you do it right, this also means public employees don't have to rely their pensions as much, and therefore the future promises don't have to be so high, reducing future liabilities.

So while I appreciate Stein and Henschel's article in Sunday's Journal-Sentinel, as the post-retirement benefits costs are an ongoing issue that needs to be monitored, I also reject the right-wing framing of this being some "scary crisis." It is anything but, and the solutions are relatively easy, they just require a rejection of ALEC "starve the beast" mentality, and actually require an understanding that taxes do indeed have to pay for stuff. Do it right, and communities can stay stable and continue as places with a high quality of life that attracts talent.

I prefer that instead of seeing cities and other places decline, and become places where children, workers and retirees are fighting it out for a dwindling amount of resources, while the rich and corporate steal away and hoard what they have taken from those people. That's the road we're on if we buy into the BS that the Koch/ALEC Axis wants us to believe.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Floods could also drown local, state road budgets

This week’s massive rains in Western Wisconsin has led to widescale flooding and two deaths in Vernon County, and many communities are trying to deal with the effects. These include damaged roads and public buildings that led to several school closings, and you can click on this Ready Wisconsin summary from Friday afternoon to see how widespread the damage is, and which detours you might have to take in the coming days if you’re in that part of the state.

The Wisconsin State Journal's Rob Schultz also had a good summary of the damage to roads and crops in the area,
and here's a sample.
There have been two weather-related deaths in Vernon County, where officials put damage to roads and bridges at between $2 million and $3 million. Flood warnings continue there as well as in Crawford and Richland counties due to heavy rainfall earlier this week on already saturated ground. The latest fatality was Joseph Menne, 79, of rural Viroqua, who drowned Thursday after his cattle truck jackknifed on a flooded road in Vernon County and he couldn’t get out of the cab in the rising water, the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office said....

As of Friday evening, Vernon County officials were reporting that about 60 roads were either closed or partially closed due to high water. That included Highway 35 near Victory, where Michael McDonald, 53, died Thursday morning when a mudslide sent his home down a bluff and onto the highway. Two other vehicles were struck by mudslide debris on the highway in the same area and one person suffered minor injuries, according to the state Emergency Operations Center.

In Crawford County, crews from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and elsewhere were repairing tracks alongside Highway 35 where an apparent washout caused two locomotives and five railroad cars to derail near Ferryville. Roads also were closed in and around Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove and Steuben.

In Richland County, preliminary reports showed one house destroyed and three with major damage due to the floods, and 40 other homes reported minor damage, according to the Emergency Operations Center. Damage to homes was estimated at $300,000. Roads were closed around Viola and Rockbridge.

Governor Walker has already sent in a State of Emergency request for this week’s floods in Western Wisconsin, which gets emergency officials and the National Guard ready to help communities stem the tide from the damage. And the state is also poised to give financial help to communities to fix the damages from major storms like we’ve seen this week, as noted under State Statute 86.34. And here's a different statute to describe how the reimbursement system works for local communities who wish to get state assistance.
When any highway is damaged by a disaster, the county highway committee, or the governing body of the municipality having jurisdiction over the maintenance of the highway, may adopt a petition for aid under this section and file a certified copy of the petition with the department. To be eligible for aid the petition shall be filed not later than 2 months after the occurrence of the disaster damage, except as provided in par. (b). All such petitions shall state the dates on which the disaster damage occurred and as nearly as practical state the location, nature, and extent of the damage.

(b) The department may extend the filing deadline under par. (a) if it appears reasonably likely that federal disaster aid may be forthcoming or when widespread or continuous disaster damage makes an evaluation of damage difficult. …

(2) The department shall make such investigation as it deems necessary and within 6 months from the date of filing the petition shall make its determination as to the granting of aid, the amount thereof, and the conditions under which it is granted. In making its determination the department shall cause an estimate to be made of the cost of repairing or replacing the facilities damaged or destroyed to standards and efficiency similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, and also an estimate of the cost of reconstructing the facilities to a higher type or improving any such facilities if determined to be warranted and advisable. Except as provided in [small or large damages] the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a [tornado, flood or similar natural disaster] shall be 75 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, plus 50 percent of the increased cost of the reconstruction to a higher type or the improvement of any of the facilities. Except as provided in [small and large damages] , the amount of aid payable for damage caused by [damage as a result of the response to the natural disaster] shall be 70 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction. The department may revise estimates on the basis of additional facts. The county, town, village, or city shall pay the remainder of the cost not allowed as aid, but this shall not invalidate any other provision of the statutes whereby the cost may be shared by the county and the town, village, or city.
There is $1 million set aside in the Transportation Fund to handle the relatively smaller repairs that are needed for various weather events. But once we get past $1 million, and especially in the case of large-scale disasters, there is a different fund that is tapped, and this uses General Fund money to make up the difference.
Beginning in the 2nd fiscal year of the 2013-15 fiscal biennium, and in the 2nd fiscal year of each fiscal biennium thereafter, the department shall calculate the amount of aid paid under this section, during the biennium, in excess of $1,000,000, in connection with disaster damage resulting from a single disaster. The amount calculated under this subsection shall be transferred under s. 20.855 (4) (fr) from the general fund to the transportation fund in the 2nd fiscal year of each fiscal biennium.
$6.5 million in General Fund money is budgeted for this fiscal year, but because the fund is “sum-sufficient”, it means that any amount over that has to be paid out. So if these large-scale floods result in damages that run well over that $6.5 million, and we don’t get federal aid to make up some of that difference, that’ll cause more strain on the General Fund budget. And it’s not like there’s that much breathing room to begin with.

The Feds did step up to offer assistance for the storms up North in July, as President Obama signed a disaster declaration on August 9, which allows for the affected areas to ask for FEMA reimbursement for their damaged facilities and roads. This also takes the state off the hook for much of the cost, which helps quite a bit. But we haven’t seen the same for the floods earlier this month near the Mississippi River, and we are obviously tallying up the totals from this week’s massive storms (hopefully there isn’t more to come, with more rain forecast this weekend).

In addition, one complication is that the local communities have to get the washed-out roads repaired first, then send the state the bill for reimbursement. This is with those communities often being small, rural places without much in terms of cash or annual spending, and without knowing exactly when the state will send money to them. This problem was illustrated in an article from a couple of weeks ago where a Buffalo County town chairman mentioned how his area was cleaning up from the massive downpours in early September.
The Town of Gilmanton completed temporary repairs to four flood-damaged roads. Some washed-out paved roads were replaced with gravel, for instance. Three more roads are still closed to traffic.

“They’re not permanent repairs, but they’re passable,” explained Meier. “Permanent repairs — I don’t know how long that will take, maybe years.” The cost of flood repairs dwarf the spending township governments such as the Town of Gilmanton normally take on, and the way state and federal disaster assistance works, local governments must first pay for repairs themselves and then get reimbursement for the majority of the costs. Meier said his township does not have enough money on hand right now to pay for more substantial repairs. On one dead end road that is the only way in and out for its residents, the township did enough work so residents could get by, but full repairs may cost around $100,000. “I could name any one of these roads [that would] would eat up our budget,” Meier said. “Our only avenue I see is borrowing the money, setting up loans,” he added. The Town Board has not yet discussed whether to do that, and if it decides to take out loans, that process will take time, too. “Some roads we may never reopen because the costs are just too prohibitive,” Meier said, speaking his personal opinion. “People want things settled and cleaned up quickly, but some of these things can’t be cleaned up quickly,” he continued.
Adding to this strain is that local governments in Wisconsin are finalizing their budgets over the next 6-8 weeks, and there’s either going to be a lot of hoping and praying that these bills are paid back by the state and the feds, or plans for what is repaired in 2017 may need major changes because of new needs and/or reserves being drained to clean up the flood damage.

Obviously, there is no good time for floods like this, and I wish these areas the best as they deal with this horrible disruption. But with local road funding already squeezed and communities barely able to keep up with regular maintenance, this is especially problematic. Keep your eyes on this going ahead, because well after the water recedes, the fiscal problems could continue and multiply, especially if the State of Wisconsin has to shell out money in the coming months for the repair for the majority of this damage (or worse, if they don’t or won’t).

Friday, September 23, 2016

No good options left to pay (or not pay) for the Wisconsin roads

Wisconsin's transportation funding jumped back into the spotlight on Thursday, with Republicans on all levels squabbling with one another on how to solve the $1 billion deficit that exists in the next budget. It started with Governor Walker sending a letter to GOP Assembly leadership, and if you can get by Walker’s partisan poses and non-reality bullcrap about the state’s economy and budget, you’ll notice this ending paragraph, where he basically says "Come up with something that I don't have to take ownership of"
On transportation, we have more work to do. I have responded to legislative concerns on bonding, supported audits of the agency to protect the taxpayer, and put forth a plan with our priorities for a full discussion. I am willing to consider any specific alternatives from Assembly leadership that live within taxpayer means and I look forward to hearing such alternatives in the coming weeks ahead.
Later in the day, Assembly GOP leadership responded by saying Walker wasn’t following the DOT’s own recommendations, and wasn’t dealing with fiscal reality.
In 2013, your special commission, the Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy, estimated the state needs an annual increase in revenue of $1.35 billion in each year until 2013 just to maintain current conditions. Without additional highway funding, the percentage of the system in poor or worse condition will go from 20 percent in 2014 to 42 percent in 2023. The commission also pointed out “the state’s decades—old transportation funding model is not keeping pace with current or future needs.”

Further, consider the relationship between our fuel tax, the main funding source for our highways, and the construction cost index. Since 2008, the cumulative change for the fuel tax was 2.8 percent; for the construction cost index, it was 46.5 percent. Clearly, the fuel tax is not keeping up.

Assembly leaders believe it is more conservative to pay for projects today than it is to borrow the money and let future generations deal with the debt. Our state has relied too heavily on bonding. Debt payments have doubled in the last ten years and 20-cents on every transportation dollar now goes back to pay transportation debt. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that percentage will increase a penny ( (sic!) ) each year under the DOT Agency Budget Request and may increase to a quarter of the transportation budget in a few years. While, as you pointed out, debt service levels remain in line with recommendations from the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for Wisconsin’s taxpayers, especially with the fact that the budget also delays important projects that will cost more in the future.
Not a bad plan, and it at least admits that revenue needs to be part of the equation, but it’s still vague on just how that revenue will be found (tolling? More gas tax? Hybrid fees?). And the other side of the plans for Robbin’ Vos and others seems to include trying to remove prevailing wage requirements for highway construction workers (notice that GOPs ALWAYS try to cut wages wherever they can?), and with the state already lacking for skilled workers because of low wages, I can’t see how increasing the wage gap more would help GAIN jobs.

And then Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald chimed in on the transportation issue yesterday (in the same press conference where he lied about not being a part of the John Doe scheme) and Fitz seemed to back away from the tax and fee increases that the Assembly seemed to be considered.
Fitzgerald, speaking Thursday to reporters in the halls of the Capitol, acknowledged that the issue has divided his caucus. But he ruled out passing a budget that raises taxes for roads because Walker would veto it.

"How is that productive?" Fitzgerald said. "You're going to have to work with the governor."

The budget proposal put forward last week by the Department of Transportation calls for borrowing $500 million and cutting $447 million by delaying a number of major projects, including work on the final phase of Milwaukee's Zoo Interchange rebuild and Madison's Beltline.
You gotta wonder if vulnerable GOP Senators are going to go along with that “no-tax" doctrine from Fitz over the next 6 ½ weeks, since we’re already seeing wheel taxes getting passed in numerous Wisconsin communities of all sizes because the state hasn’t kept up their share of the costs of local road repair. If I was a Dem running against those senators, I’d definitely ask my opponent if he/she thought that was a good idea.

Speaking of Wisconsin Democrats, isn’t it odd that they’re not being asked for input in this issues, especially since they may well have control in the Senate and will likely have a larger contingent in the Assembly in a few months? Dem Senator Kathleen Vinehout recently published her thoughts what to do on the DOT budget, and advocated for smarter ways to conserve spending, while also knocking Walker’s shortsighted poses on the revenue side.
I strongly support the move to fund our local roads along with smarter transportation spending. Let’s look for efficiencies in-house. An easy first step is passing my bill to repeal the 2011 law forbidding local governments from collaborating on transportation projects.

No one can deny the money funneling into our Transportation Fund, largely gas tax and motor vehicle registration fees, has not kept up with the cost of maintaining our roads and bridges.

Governor Walker is ideologically opposed to raising taxes or fees, yet knows our transportation budget lacks the revenue needed. The prudent executive should not let ideology cloud important financial decisions. Some road delays may be in order, but cutting back on construction already in progress comes with a price tag.

User fees acknowledge the cost to maintain and improve services. For example, the state owns, or is a substantial owner of, over 700 miles of freight rail. In a previous budget, Secretary Gottlieb proposed charging a $10-a-rail-car fee for use of taxpayer-funded rail lines. The Governor failed to take up this modest charge. Taxpayers – you and me – continue to subsidize railroads use of our state-owned lines.
You can see what a mess the state’s transportation budget is in, and how many different ideas are up in the air. And we’re not even talking about the extra costs that the state is going to have to take on to repair the damage from washed-out main roads due to the numerous floods over the last 2 months.

Just like a lot of other things in Fitzwlkerstan, the refusal to responsibly fund the state’s needs leads to bigger problems in later years. Maybe it’s time we stop allowing the current crew to keep messing it up, and call in a new set of leaders that might be real with what has to be done, whaddya say?

Fitz gets caught lying his ass off about John Doe

I saw the headline yesterday about how WisGOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald tried to claim he wasn’t a part of the money-laundering scheme that was outlined in the John Doe documents which leaked to the Guardian last week (click here to read the docs and refresh your memories). That operation funneled millions of dollars into supporting 6 GOP Senators who voted for Act 10 and were summarily recalled in 2011, and when Fitz claimed he knew nothing about it, my immediate reaction was "That's literally unbelievable."

Why did I say that? Because I immediate remembered emails from Club for Growth bagman/slimeball RJ Johnson bragging about his group’s work in making sure Republican retained enough seats in the recall elections to continue to hold their majority in the Legislature, and I couldn’t buy that Fitz wasn’t aware of that. And to their credit, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters Patrick Marley and Jason Stein performed a rare act of journalism and came up with the actual John Doe emails to call bullshit on Fitzgerald’s statements.

The J-S writers referred to a part of the John Doe docs which showed that Fitzgerald wanted Walker to attend a March 2011 meeting of the Republican State Leadership Committee, so Scotty could ask for money to help the WisGOP Senators facing recall. Johnson said he had a better plan for how to offer “assistance.”
"Fitz is putting the hard press on this," Gilkes wrote to Johnson. "We have not done a lot to help Fitz so far so this is his big ask at the moment and I have a hard time saying no."

Gilkes ran Walker's 2010 and 2012 campaigns and at the time of the email was the governor's chief of staff. Johnson was a key adviser to both the governor's campaign and the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Johnson responded to Gilkes by saying political spending needed to be centrally controlled, rather than overseen by groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee.

"As far as Fitzgerald, I would tell him the Governor will be raising 5 million plus under Wisconsin control," Johnson told Gilkes.

In a follow-up email, Johnson wrote to Gilkes, "Also, to remind you and Fitz, all the positive radio and TV was from Scott (Walker) through the club. Also the negative against the three (Democrats). He needs to know that."
Now do any of you think Fitz DIDN’T end up knowing that, after the millions of dollars that Club for Growth and other RW oligarchs dumped in the Summer of 2011 to allow the GOPs to hang onto their Senate majority through the recalls? Give me a fucking break. Hell, Fitz himself was recalled in 2012 and had to fend off a challenge from Lori Compas, and you think he didn’t ask for a few bits of help from Club for Growth and the rest of the GOP groups helping Walker and other GOPs that year?

After Fitz and Walker were retained in the 2012 recalls, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other GOP front groups dumped large amounts of dark money to regain a GOP majority in the Senate in November 2012. This enabled Fitz to get back to work helping his friends. Marley and Stein’s JS article provides a link to a 2013 document that was discovered as part of a lawsuit against NL Industries and other lead paint makers. That document was sent to Fitzgerald from NL Industries lobbyist Eric Petersen with the words “NL Language” on them, with recommendations on how the language should be phrased to give the paint-makers retroactive immunity from lawsuits. That language was later part of a late-night “999” motion jammed into the budget by the WisGOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee in June 2013 with no prior publication or discussion, a law that was found to be unconstitutional by an Appeals Court the following year.

Then again, it’s not like Fitz is very good at this lying and deception thing, as was proven during the height of 2011’s Wisconsin Uprising, when he gave away the fact that Act 10 wasn’t about stabilizing the budget, but instead was a political move to hurt unions and Democrats.

And the Senate GOP caucus thinks this crooked, partisan a-hole is worthy of leading their group? That alone should be considered a disqualifying measure for any GOP running for State Senate this Fall. Next to giving Fitz an orange jumpsuit for his part in this pay-to-play corruption and money laundering, making him and his fellow GOPs fall out of power this November needs to be the goal for those of us that have a shred of decency in this state.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WisGOP John Doe arguments of "free speech" are complete BS

I just want to use this post to give you a link to some good articles explaining the issues in John Doe- and the non-issues that scared righties are trying to throw against the wall to claim that their money-laundering operation was legal.

Here’s the Shepherd Express’s Lisa Kaiser with a very good overview of how Scott Walker and WisGOP’s setup worked during the recall fevers of 2011 and 2012, and how the money that was raised to fight those recall was funneled into one centralized body.
While Walker was the one who went begging for donations in corporate boardrooms and exclusive retreat centers, the individual apparently running the operation for Walker was his longtime political advisor, R.J. Johnson, who just happened to also be the “spokesman” for Wisconsin Club for Growth. Walker even went so far as to call Johnson “my Karl Rove,” referring to George W. Bush’s longtime political advisor and operative.

But this blurring of lines between Johnson’s work for Walker’s campaign and other candidates, and his work for an allegedly independent group, is likely not legal.

“In all the years that I was a practitioner, everyone understood that this kind of coordination was illegal,” said Bill Christofferson, who had worked on the campaigns of Democrat Jim Doyle and the Greater Wisconsin Committee—although never at the same time.

Up until last year, Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws prohibited coordination between a candidate’s campaign and independent groups. That’s because candidates must disclose all of their contributions, those contributions have dollar limits, and they cannot come from corporations. In contrast, dark-money groups can take unlimited donations, don’t disclose their donors and accept checks from corporations.

When you link the two entities, you get the worst of both worlds: candidates taking huge sums of money from corporations and not disclosing any of that to the public, so the public has no idea that, for example, checks from Menard Inc., a lead paint manufacturer or Wall Street billionaires were sent in secret and potentially influenced state laws and regulations.
Adding to this, the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy released a statement today that not only reiterated that this type of campaign coordination was illegal under state law, but also that the 4 “WMC judges” that made up the ruling stopping the John Doe investigation ruled wrong. The CMD said the right-wing Wisconsin Court majority was incorrect in claiming that because Club for Growth (and their laundering partners) didn’t use the magic words “vote for” or “vote against”, it meant they weren’t electioneering, aka “express advocacy.”
"The Wisconsin court was wrong to say that coordination between a candidate and outside groups only matters if there's express advocacy,” said Donald Simon, a Washington, D.C. attorney with over 30 years’ experience in campaign finance litigation, and former general counsel of Common Cause. “But even so, it's clear that many of the ads run by the groups involved in the John Doe investigation qualified as express advocacy under U.S. Supreme Court precedent."…

The leading U.S. Supreme Court case on the matter, Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC, held that an ad is considered the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy “if the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” 551 U.S. 449 (2007) The ads considered in that case were held to be “genuine issue ad[s]” ads because,

[T]heir content lacks indicia of express advocacy: The ads do not mention an election, candidacy, political party, or challenger; and they do not take a position on a candidate’s character, qualifications, or fitness for office. (emphasis mine)

The ads at issue in the John Doe investigation, on the other hand, focus on praise or criticism of candidates’ character, track record, and qualifications for office. Some then attempt to disguise their political purpose by throwing in a visual or verbal appeal to voters to contact the candidate in the last few seconds.
The CMD also included a list of some of these ads, and not only are they remarkably similar in theme regardless of the groups involved (reminding us that Walker is shown in the John Doe documents to be signing off on what the ads should look like- a big no-no when the group is supposed to be “independent”), but all of them are candidate-focused, with no specific issue mentioned.

This is an important point, because not only is it a lie to assume that coordination was EVER OK across these different organizations, either as a tactic or as a method to hide campaign donors, WisGOPs are also lying by claiming “It was OK because these were “issue ads” that never said to vote for anyone.” That is NOT the standard, and GOPs know it, but they think they can muddy the waters and confuse the average rube into thinking this is somehow their own “free expression” and that it is exempt from campaign finance and disclosure laws.

Which goes to the last article I want to forward you to. It’s from Joel McNally, also at the Shepherd Express, and it includes what should be everyone’s response the next time Walker and Robbin’ Vos and other GOP slime try to claim “courts have found what was done to be legal and stopped the John Doe as a result” The trick is that those WisGOPs don’t mention that the courts who did so were tainted and illegitimate.
The real reason the state court shut down the John Doe was itself brazenly corrupt. The so-called independent groups at the heart of the case—Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce—had spent between $8 and $10 million to elect all four of the majority justices. Although two justices—Michael Gableman and David Prosser—were challenged to recuse themselves because of the clear conflict of interest, they refused.

Prosecutors have appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican refusal to fill a vacancy on the court could prevent it from addressing Wisconsin’s widespread political corruption. But exposing the breathtaking magnitude of that corruption to the nation by publishing leaked documents is not a serious crime. It’s a public service.
The last part about “public service” is completely true. The RW oligarchs were gaming the whole John Doe investigation, and not just because the Wisconsin Supreme Court is bought off by those same elite bastards. Eric O’Keefe and his well-connected buddies were leaking information and documents about the investigation that they could spin into their absurd “free speech” or “prosecutor abuse” arguments, but we never have been able to see the full documents, what led the prosecutors to expand the probe, and how everything fit together.

Now that we do see how John Doe worked, and the amount of laundering, pay-for-play and debasing of state government was done as part of the scheme, it becomes quite obvious that SCOTUS has to take this case. And just because it would let these scumbags walk after the leaked documents indicate they are blatantly guilty of fraud (“tax-exempt social welfare group” my ass), money-laundering, and quid pro quo corruption (as shown in the lead paint issue and Walker using “return on investment” as a reason to give to him).

SCOTUS also has to take up the John Doe case because the Wisconsin Supreme Court made up a giant loophole that never existed under Citizens United or Buckley v. Valeo , which may have allowed for money to be speech in certain ways, but also said that “speech” had to be separate from a candidate, and couldn’t hide or misrepresent who the speaker was. That’s clearly what happened here, and there is no better case for SCOTUS to draw the line (and show there is a line) than John Doe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Walker debt shuffle eases next budget, but screws future ones?

I was digging into the topline numbers for the recently-submitted budget requests from agencies in the state of Wisconsin, to see what kind of budget hill we’re going to have to climb for 2017-19. And some of the requests include sizable jumps in cost, despite orders from Gov Walker’s office to try to keep to a zero-increase request, and despite the fact that the Department of Public Instruction’s request for additional teacher retention funds won’t come in until after November.

Largest proposed GPR increases from Wis agencies
Health Services +$455.5 million
Corrections +$122.1 million
UW System +$42.5 million
District Attorneys +22.5 million
Wis Tech College System +$20.6 million

These added increases total just over $700 million over the 2-year budget….until you get to one last department, the Department of Administration. And this number put my jaw on the floor.

DOA Budget Request, GPR funding
2016-17 adjusted base doubled $1,559.05 million
2017-19 budget request $802.63 million
Change- DOWN $756.42 MILLION

The obvious question is “What the hell is happening at DOA asking where their budget is cut almost in half?” And most of the answer can be found back in page 206.

The department requests a decrease of $(382,960,200) in the first year and $(355,140,300) in the second year to adjust the annual appropriation bond authority to the amount required for State of Wisconsin General Fund Annual Appropriation (Pension Obligation) Bonds debt service.
So how do we get $738 million reduced off of our pension bonds over the next 2 years? That goes back to something I noticed a few weeks ago, when the state sold nearly $600 million in new debt designed to avoid a huge balloon payment from previously-sold bonds that were due to mature in 2018. The move is nice if you’re concerned with taking pressure off of the next 2-year budget, but obviously you have to pay more in future years to make up the difference.

And if you look at Page 2 of that debt document, you see that a lot of that debt wasn’t put off for too long.

Date of maturity for Wis debt sold Aug 2016
2020 $49.855 million
2021 $74.175 million
2022 $77.875 million
2023 $75.705 million
TOTAL MATURING 2020-2023 $277.61 MILLION

So why might the Governor’s Office and WisGOP want to go this route? Well, those added payments just so happen to coincide with the next 4-year term of governor in Wisconsin, which means those funds are tied up, and can’t be used for other means, or for avoiding cuts elsewhere in the budget. I’m not saying that was done maliciously to increase the chances that the austerity errors in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan could be reversed….but it’d be a nice way to get to that outcome.

So keep your eyes open if Republicans try to claim the 2017-19 budget is “just fine” even with the added money for agency budget requests. Any breathing room that may exist will be a one-budget item largely coming from this debt shuffle, and it’ll literally be getting paid back with interest right afterwards. But if the next (Dem) Governor and Legislature have to clean up that mess, the GOP won’t care. In fact, it puts GOPs in their favorite position- bitching about Dems and Dem groups without taking any responsibility for the bad tax, spend, and borrow decisions they made that led to the situation requiring tougher choices.

Wisconsin jobs going in reverse while Minnesota still thriving

Today had the jobs release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for all 50 states, and I figured Wisconsin’s job-losing August referenced in this post, although oddly not mentioned in much of the state’s media) would render it pretty low compared to the rest of the country. But what was intriguing was that many of our Midwestern neighbors also struggled last month, at least on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

Private sector job change, August 2016
Ind. +5,600
Iowa +4,000
Minn -2,100
Ohio -5,000
Wis. -6,200
Ill. -7,800
Mich -12,400

Now maybe some of this may be fluky, because August has become notorious for low jobs reading in the initial BLS report, due to seasonal adjustment reasons such as the start of the school year. But what’s different for Wisconsin is that most other Midwestern states weren’t struggling like we were in the time before this August report came out. As I and UW’s Menzie Chinn have each noted, the last 3 months have all featured downward revisions for our state’s jobs numbers, meaning there was basically no job growth in the quarter before August.

So while it’s been hard to pinpoint Wisconsin as an awful performer in the individual jobs reports for most of the warm-weather months, when you step back and look at how the state has fared since March (ironically, the last month measured by the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages), we have been noticeably worse than everywhere else in our part of the country. And look who’s topping that same list.

Change in private-sector jobs March-Aug 2016
Minn +22,200
Ind. +16,700
Iowa +10,900
Ill. +6,600
Mich +4,800
Ohio +3,400
Wis. -6,700

Change in total jobs March-Aug 2016
Minn +25,200
Iowa +14,100
Ind. +12,900
Ohio +12,000
Ill. +2,000
Mich -300
Wis. -5,500

The trend of Minnesota’s economic performance putting Wisconsin’s to shame since Dem Mark Dayton (in Minnesota) and GOP Scott Walker (in Wisconsin) continues, and it’s something that shouldn’t be accepted by Cheesheads who should be asking hard questions about why after 5 ½ years of GOP control, we continue to fall behind the neighbors to the west.

And those aren’t just entry-level jobs that Wisconsinites are losing out to Minnesota in. Take a look at this article from the University of Minnesota’s student newspaper today, which interviews several faculty members who went to Minnesota from the UW System in the last year. And they point the finger directly at Gov Walker and his fellow regressives in the Wisconsin GOP. Here is a sampling.
Changes to policies adopted by the Wisconsin Board of Regents weren’t just about tenure, [chemical engineering professor Mahesh] Mahanthappa said, but also about what departments may be discontinued.

Similar concerns were also expressed by other science faculty members due to political pressure from the Wisconsin Legislature to avoid topics such as climate change, he said.

“Their jobs could potentially be at stake … if someone is doing something unpopular. Even in the sciences, those rules could lead to serious ramifications,” Mahanthappa said.

Chris Terry, a journalism professor who came to Minnesota from UW’s Milwaukee campus this fall, said the lack of resources in Wisconsin was a driving factor in his decision to leave.

“It was hard to get any sort of movement towards a better contract,” Terry said. “Promotions were almost unheard of.”

I can’t see Packer fans accepting this picture and staying second-best to the Vikings, but yah-hey-deres in NE Wisconsin and other parts of the state need to care just as much about getting our ass kicked by the ‘Sotans when it comes to adding jobs, paying an adequate wage, and in quality of life. And unlike with the Packers, I don’t see where things settle down from the bad things we saw the past week and reverse themselves in the near future. At least as long as the current crews are in charge of both places.

Monday, September 19, 2016

John Doe just latest example of degraded politics, society

I think Bill Maher has hit upon part of the disease that seems to be eating up this country from the inside these days. In his “New Rule” segment from this Friday’s show, Maher mentions that American politics and many American politicians seem to have no standards of decency or truth anymore, and never pay a price for it. Because these people are able to get away with it by being re-elected in office and continuing to get air time on TV and radio, it’s helping to cause our government to become gridlocked and dysfunctional.

Sure, it’s ironic to hear a call for “decency” and higher standards from an often-Islamophobic comic that does a lot of blowjob jokes, but bear with it, because Maher’s basic point is correct here. The key quote: “Donald Trump didn’t create this swamp, he just rose from it.”

And this is especially true in GOP Bubble World, where the key to success and re-election has less to do with sound policies and solving problems than it does with being the most vocal, hateful fool that sparks the rubes’ passions, which gives you a few minutes of attention on talk radio. As Maher mentions, when asshole Congressman Joe Wilson yelled “YOU LIE!” at President Obama in 2010, he was rewarded with a large infusion of campaign donations, and don’t think other politicians haven’t made similar connections between outrageousness and increased financial support.

This type of degradation and sleazy politics have become par for the course here in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin GOP rose and have stayed in power in the 2010s by distracting enough middle and lower-class white people by stirring up hatred against people of other races, along with “privileged” classes like teachers, unionists, and academics. And 9 hours a day of hateful GOP-perganda on AM radio reinforces those messages and divisions instead of talking about how we can solve the state’s obscene racial gaps in education and opportunity, and figure out how to get us out of the bottom 5 in the nation for entrepreneurship, Internet access, and quality of roads.

The other way Wisconsin has been degraded and damaged in recent years is through the destruction of its previous reputation of clean politics and quality public services to promote a high quality of life. The Capital Times wrote an outstanding editorial this weekend bemoaning how far this state has fallen in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and the disgusting pay-for-play revelations in last week’s release of the John Doe docs laid bare just how far we are falling short of the ideals that used to be central to the way things were done in Wisconsin.
The drafters and early amenders of the Wisconsin Constitution established a framework for honest and responsive governance: strong constitutional offices (not just a governor but an independently elected lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction). The Legislature was large, and accountable to citizens at the grass-roots rather than to monied interests. The state Supreme Court was nonpartisan and duty bound to uphold the rule of law. Democrats and Republicans and Progressives embraced the ideal of Wisconsin and the “Wisconsin Idea” that extended from it.

But one of the drafters of the state constitution warned that Wisconsinites needed to be vigilant. “There is looming up a new and dark power,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Ryan warned in 1873. “The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economical conquests only, but for political power. … The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine: ‘Which shall rule, wealth or man? Which shall lead, money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations, educated and patriotic freemen, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?’”

THE DAY HAS COME. The feudal serfs of corporate capital rule Wisconsin, as Britain’s Guardian newspaper has revealed in a detailed examination of documents associated with the John Doe inquiry into wrongdoing by Gov. Scott Walker and his cronies. The details are disgusting. A governor of Wisconsin is seen jetting around the country, begging for money from billionaires like Donald Trump. Legislators are little more than errand boys for big business interests seeking to avoid basic accountability — even when children are exposed to lead paint. And Supreme Court justices decide cases precisely as their campaign strategists and donors desire.

Partisans of the two major parties clashed last week over the revelations. But this is bigger than party politics. This is horrifying. And this is not Wisconsin. Scott Walker is making a great state into something small and vile. The governor has been exposed. He has shamed himself, and he has shamed Wisconsin — a state that some of us remember, and love.
And there’s only one way for our state and our country to regain its reputation for decency and working across the aisle to solve problems and improve life. That is by voting against politicians who appeal to hate, who concentrate more on striking ideological poses and gathering power than dealing with issues, and electing politicians that will demand that the public be able to see the puppet strings that are dangling from the backs of our elected officials.

Don’t kid yourself, politicians who fail to stand up to Trumpian or Walker-like bigotry and corruption in order to “go along with the game” are every bit as guilty as the sleaze who have driven politics into the cynical gutter it exists in today. All of them who turned a blind eye and voted to maintain this corrupt, hate-filled system (or not voted, as Maher notes about Senate filibusters) must pay the price ASAP, or our system of American governance will be broken permanently.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Other WisGOP sketchiness in John Doe- absentee "balloting"

Today's good Sunday reading involves a long article from the Wisconsin State Journal's Matt DeFour. In this piece, DeFour uses this week's release of the documents from the John Doe investigation to describe the Wisconsin GOP's political operation in 2011 and 2012, allowing them to maintain their Senate majority through much of that time, and allowing Scott Walker to be retained as Governor.

Beyond the descriptions of the WisGOP/ Club for Growth money laundering operation and centralization of controls, this passage grabbed my attention.

Two days after the last [State Senate] recall, in mid-August [2011], Walker thanked donors for their "quick and very generous response to our call for help" which enabled them "to frame the debate and define our opponents before they had a chance to define themselves."

They had raised about $12 million for Club for Growth, which coordinated spending through 12 different groups, and conducted opposition research, polling, focus groups, message development and an absentee ballot program.

Johnson noted that with a funding assist from the Club, religious and family groups and gun right activists helped process thousands of absentee ballot requests through a central operation. The Club also sent 3.5 million pieces of issue-specific mail to targeted voters, while running "generic television ads talking about the progress made balancing the state budget without raising taxes or cutting essential programs" — with some places experiencing as much as eight weeks of "heavy network and cable television and radio."
Two obvious questions come from these 3 paragraphs.

First, what does Walker mean by "our call for help." Wisconsin Club for Growth was supposed to be disassociated from the Walker campaign and other groups by law. And as a tax-exempt organization, it is supposed to spend at least half of its funds outside of politics. You wanna know why the IRS looked into these groups, and you want to know why the Koch-heads in the House of Representatives are talking about impeaching the IRS commissioner? THIS IS WHY, because organizations like Wisconsin Club for Growth are cheating the tax code and being fraudulent over what they are. Which isn't unlike most money-laundering "fronts", now that I think of it.

But the second part is what really perked my ears up, and I also took note of that part of the Doe docs when they came out Wednesday. I want to know how these absentee ballots were "processed?" Did they pick up the filled-out ballot from the fundies' and gun nuts' houses? Did they send out absentee ballots to those people (and how would they get absentee ballots from the City Clerk's office as a third party)? Seriously, how do we know those "gun and family" voters actually voted, and actually checked the box for the candidates that they were recorded as voting for?

Or is there a more evil reason behind the WisGOP/Club for Growth absentee ballot operation? Take a look at what investigative journalist Greg Palast (who just appeared at Fighting Bob Fest in Madison this weekend) discussed 4 years go.
GP: I was just up in Baraboo, Wisconsin this week, and in Baraboo Obama won by 28%. That’s a crush, right? And yet, in the recall vote, Scott Walker won it big time. (Jake's note- Palast is confusing the City of Baraboo and Town of Baraboo, but there are still huge differences in the Obama 2008 vs Walker 2012 vote. City of Baraboo went from Dem +28 to Dem +9, and Town of Baraboo went from Dem +11 to GOP +1).

Now, come on, how does that happen? Well, let me let you in on a little secret. The secret is called Themis. Themis is the Koch Brother’s magical vote munching machine. It’s a data mining operation. It does two things. It’s capable first of something that’s creepy but legal. They fill out ballots for their own voters, mail them and tell them to sign it. It’s all perfect so they’re beyond challenge. So their voters are all taken care of basically, they’ve already been voted for if they sign.

Then, the Themis machine is capable of doing all the caging, all the challenging, the purging, and the blocking at the polls to keep away the voters. For example, if I went by the Brennan Center numbers, and these are experts and therefore no one listens to them, but if you do listen to the screaming, screeching, buried experts, 97,000 Wisconsinites, almost all of them students, were barred from voting because they lacked state ID. Even though they had state student ID, that’s not state ID.

But that wasn’t enough for the Themis machine. The Koch Operation, Americans for Prosperity, had its Chief set up a front called United Sportsmen of Wisconsin. United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, which appeared and then instantly vanished after the recall vote, using the Themis machine, were able to identify likely Democratic absentee voters in key recall areas. (United Sportsmen were later revealed to be a GOP fraud, leading to the resignation of GOP Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder). Because there were also votes, by the way, on legislatures. The Themis machine was able to get the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin to identify Democratic voters, send them letters saying here’s where you mail in your ballot, and here’s the deadline. The address was a phony, it was their own, and the date was after the legal date for submitting an absentee ballot. So, either way, you were fucked like a duck. The Sportsmen basically were hunting Democrats. That’s how it worked. And again, as Bobby Kennedy says – he’s Dean of Law School at Pace University – this is a crime. And it’s a double crime when you add in the fact that most of this is racially targeted.
And the Wisconsin GOP has the nerve to "message about Dem voter fraud"? How we do know there was no GOP fraud as part of this operation, either in artificially driving up "turnout" for GOP votes, or in suppressing Dem votes?

And might this be why we've seen Republicans in state races consistently overperform exit polls? The last 2 Walker "elections" have had predictions of a "long night" due to dead-even exit polls, but end up quickly turning into a 5-6% Walker win called early in the evening. Also recall how Rebecca Bradley ended up allegedly winning this April's Supreme Court race, despite Election Night exit polls reporting JoAnne Kloppenburg leading 54-46.

All fo this may be just me talking out my ass, and maybe the GOPs are just better than Dems at working the absentee ballot system. But the numbers continue not to add up here, and it requires more explanation. The more you untangle the threads in John Doe, a whole lot of added questions keep coming up, and it calls into question the legitimacy of the entire state government of Wisconsin.

By the way, can you tell me the difference between the Wisconsin GOP machine and the mob? Well, other than the mob actually doing some things that might help everyday people and their community?