Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sportsmen for Walker? DNR reorg proves there is no such thing

Naturally, the weeks following the November election are showing us what voting Republican REALLY means. And I'm betting the rurals who voted to retain the GOP majorities in the State Legislature voted to have the Wisconsin DNR pass the buck on its duties in giving honest analysis to make sure innocent Wisconsinites aren't victimized by the actions of irresponsible businesses and individuals. Because that's what you're gonna get, as DNR Secretary Cathy ("Chamber of Commerce Mentality") Stepp revealed today.
Stepp said that in the past topics of research have been driven by requests from front-line employees, partners such as UW-Madison, or groups that give grants. Greater control of topics by top managers will ensure research matches the agency's highest priorities.

She said she will be able to withstand pressure from lawmakers if they attempt to influence the direction of science research in ways at odds with the DNR's priorities, but she added that elected officials properly will have the last say.
And if you have any doubt what that really means, take a look at what a puppetmaster for many of those elected officials has to say.
"From what we've seen we have been very supportive of the plan," Lucas Vebber, director of environmental and energy policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
After all, who wants to hear inconvenient truths about climate change or contaminated well water when it might cost a few dollars in profits, right?

In other words, they will let Big Ag, frac sand miners, and Koch-like polluters decide what should and should not be allowed, and any warnings about the effects of such pollution on nearby homes and communities is going to be diminished, if not outright ignored. And when it comes to figuring out if industries and agribusinesses won't mess up other nearby areas, the Stepp/Walker DNR says "We'll punt and let the big guys write their own rules."
Allowing dairy businesses to hire consultants to write permits for feedlot designs and plans for spreading tens of millions of gallons of manure annually could be successful because there are sufficient numbers of experienced private engineers and agronomists available, said Mark Aquino, who directs the DNR Office of Business Support and Science.

The DNR would do spot checks and maintain final authority over every permit, Aquino said.
I'm sure these for-hire engineers and agronomists will be objective and have the strictest standards for making sure no one else may suffer harm, and will stand up to the people paying them to make an assessment. And those spot checks will be unannounced, under the strictest scrutiny, and not face any pressure to let things go from the hacks running the DNR. Riiiight.

After today, it is clearer than ever that there is no such thing as "Sportsmen for Walker." There are people who appreciate the outdoors, and want scenic areas to be maintained and want rural areas to remain inhabitable without the threat of downstream pollution. On the other side, there are people who are all about GUNS and blindly vote for Walker and the GOP because of GUNS.

But as this DNR "let business do our job for us" plan proves, you cannot be both a "sportsman" and a Walker supporter. And there are no "buts" allowed in that statement.

James Rowen has much more in-depth and quality analysis of this at the Political Environment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

By the way, our road funding mess still hasn't been resolved

As the new year of 2017 looms, it also means the State of Wisconsin’s 2017-19 budget and its associated deficits are going to have to be discussed and dealt with in the very near future. The worst of which is figuring out a way to close the $880 million gap between revenues available for the Wisconsin Transportation Fund, and meeting the spending plans that were part of the Wisconsin DOT's budget request for the next 2 years.

To that end, Wisconsin political columnist Steven Walters had this report discussing a 27-page pamphlet Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos handed out to his fellow Assembly Republicans this Fall. Vos’s document is apparently titled “No Easy Answers”, and deals with a number of “myths” peddled by Governor Walker and others, and compares it to the realities Vos says must be dealt with in the Transportation budget.
Myth No. 1: State highways are “not in bad shape.”

Fact: The U.S. Department of Transportation ranked state highways 47th nationally, with 71 percent of them “poor of mediocre.” The Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance gave state highways an overall D grade. And, a special state panel created to look at the funding problem warned that, without new revenues, the percentage of state roads rated “poor or worse” will double from 20 percent in 2014 to 42 percent by 2023.
Bottom line, the state has been underfunding these needs for several years, and because we have a Governor who cares more about sucking up to the Kochs and DC oligarchs with his no-tax, no-fee pledges than he does in maintaining the state’s infrastructure, the pattern of underfunding and borrowing funds has continued in increasing levels over the last 6 years. Unless we want our roads to completely fall apart and make us even less desirable for business or tourism than regressive Fitzwalkerstani policies have made it, we need to get this shit fixed.

Speaking of borrowing, that’s another item of discussion in Robbin’s little book.
Myth No. 4: With low interest rates, we should borrow more to maintain and build highways.

Fact: The current two-year state budget borrows a record $910 million, or 13 percent of all Transportation Fund spending of $6.82 billion. If the Legislature approved the state Transportation Department’s proposal to borrow $500 million more by mid-2019, debt-service payments would be about 25 percent of all transportation spending.
A second complication with this is how interest rates have jumped as the possibility and alleged election of Donald Trump became reality, as the yield benchmark 10-year Treasury Bond went from 1.78% to 2.38% from the Friday before the election to last Friday. The 10-year is also 0.8% higher than it was in early September, when many of these budget requests were being put together. That means that debt service on those 10-year bonds is up by 1/3 in a matter of 3 weeks, and 70% in 4 ½ months, and the payback for Gov Walker’s proposed $500 million in borrowing has become much more costly than he planned it to be.

We are already crowding out current and future DOT spending with the borrowing on the books, and it would get much worse if we borrow more in the 2017-19 budget.
Myth No. 5: Let counties, cities, villages and towns enact “local option” taxes to pay for their streets and highways.

Fact: Local-option sales taxes, or the growing practice of local governments approving “wheel taxes”—including $30 just approved by Milwaukee County—do nothing to maintain “state highway and Interstate projects.”
True if you stay skin-deep, but it does reflect a lack of funding going to local road aid programs which are designed to help keep the pressure off of property taxes and other local taxes. If the Legislature would be OK with freeing up local governments to give road taxes, and stopped handcuffing these places with tight property tax limits, allowing this kind of offset could be a justification for having any new money go into state highways and freeways instead of local road aids.

There is one other option out there that could take care of a lot of these problems- a bailout from Uncle Sam in the form of a massive infrastructure program under (gulp) President Trump, who has made noises about wanting such a thing. Obviously, such a plan would have to get through Congress first, and given Trump’s other plans to massively reduce taxes, it makes you wonder where that money will come from (other than massive deficits). But perhaps some of that would be in the form of major federal assistance, which the State of Wisconsin could use instead of having to come up the revenues themselves.

But that’s at least a few months off, and in addition to being ironic (since GOP posers usually don’t like the Feds helping out their budget crises…at least in public), isn’t something that should be counted on as the 2017-19 Transportation Budget is discussed.

Which means the $880 million hole between wants and projected revenues is going to have to be closed somehow, and living in Fantasyland and wishing the problem away isn’t going to do it.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Recount! Why, and how the numbers look today

Looks like the November election isn’t quite done in Wisconsin yet. In addition to the recount in Western Wisconsin to verify that Senate Dem leader Jen Shilling beat Dan Kapanke, we now have a statewide recount for the tight presidential race, courtesy of Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Independent Rocky de la Fuente. The notice was filed on Black Friday and procedures for the recount were OK’d by the Wisconsin Elections Commission today, assuming Stein and/or de la Fuente put up enough money to pay for it.

You can read the Stein campaign’s recount filing by clicking right here. It gives a brief explanation for the recount, and attaches several articles from the past few months detailing hacks into the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign’s emails, including an October warning from the Department of Homeland Security which called the hacks “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.” At that time, the US DHS explicitly said Russia has messed with elections in other countries, and was likely trying to do so in the United States.
These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government. The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.
Of course, just because it would be “extremely difficult” to hack an election, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible. And even with the decentralization that the US DHS mentions (which is especially true in Wisconsin, as votes are generally reported by township and city/village level), that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t mess with a few totals or have a few pre-made ballots ready to stuff, especially if they knew the right way to sneak it into certain places throughout the state.

Also part of Stein’s filing is testimony from J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan Computer Science/Engineering Professor. He explains how hacking an election could occur, why Homeland Security’s confidence in previously reported tests may be misguided, and why we need a recount to make sure these elections are on the level.
13. One explanation for the results of the 2016 presidential election is that cyberattacks influenced the result. This explanation is plausible, in light of other known cyberattacks intended to affect the outcome of the election; the profound vulnerability of American voting machines to cyberattack, and the fact that a skilled attacker would leave no outwardly visible evidence of an attack other than an unexpected result.

14. The only way to determine whether a cyberattack affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is to examine the available physical evidence- that is to count the paper ballots and and paper audit trail records, and review the voting equipment, to ensure that the votes cast by actual voters match the results determined by the computers. For ballots cast through optical scanners, a manual recount of the paper ballots, without relying on the electronic equipment, must occur. Using the electronic equipment to conduct the recount, even after first evaluating the machine through a test deck, in insufficient. Attackers intending to commit a successful cyberattack could, and likely would, create a method to undermine any pre-tests. For votes cast on electronic voting machines, the paper audit trail records must be counted, since the electronic records stored in the machines could have been manipulated in an attack. Voting equipment that might yield forensic evidence of an attack includes the voting machines, removable media, and election management system computers. Paper ballots, paper audit trails, and voting equipment will only be examined in this manner if there is a recount.

15. A recount is the best way, and indeed the only way, to ensure public confidence that the results are accurate, authentic, and untainted by interference. It will also set a precedent that may provide an important deterrent against cyberattacks on future elections.
To be clear, Halderman isn’t saying that the election was necessarily rigged, but that there is a lot of smoke arising from related incidents and hacking, and that a recount could clear some of that smoke away.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission did take one step today that went against the wishes of Dr. Stein and Prof. Halderman, as it rejected their call to have the entire recount be done by hand, instead leaving the “hand-count vs machine” decision up to the individual counties. Stein has responded by filing suit in Dane County to order the recount to be done by hand, but for now, it looks like counties will make their call in the next couple of days and get to work later this week.

The last link I’ll forward to you on the recount is the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s release of the uncertified statewide results for president in Wisconsin. As you’ll see, the gap between Trump and Clinton has shrunk by nearly 5,000 votes from the 27,000 difference that was reported on Election Night, and a higher number of reported votes lowered both of the top-two candidates’ percentage share.

Election Night vs Elections Commission, Wisconsin
Election Night
Trump 1,409,467 (47.9%)
Clinton 1,382,210 (46.9%)

Elections Commission
Trump 1,404,000 (47.2%)
Clinton 1,381,823 (46.4%)
DIFFERENCE 22,177 (-5,080)

Remarkably, these totals would mean Trump got fewer votes in Wisconsin than Mitt Romney got in 2012…when Romney lost by nearly 7% to Barack Obama. This is because of a much higher share of 3rd Party and write-in votes than we had 4 years ago (6.4% in 2016 vs 1.3% in 2012), and because the total number of votes in Wisconsin dropped by more than 93,000 vs four years ago. That’s quite an adjustment, and further lends me to lean towards wanting verification that this is legit.

It also seems telling that our (alleged) President-elect and Governor Walker and other GOPs are now squawking about the fact that this recount will likely go on, with Walker taking the extra step of lying about taxpayers having to pay for the recount (they don’t, it’s being paid for by the Stein and Rocky de la Fuente campaigns). Methinks the slimy righties are protesting a wee bit too much here, which they tend to do when there’s a danger of something being revealed that they don’t want people to know. Yes, the last 6 years in Fitzwalkerstan have left me that cynical and suspicious of this crew, and it makes me all the more interested to see what might be found in Wisconsin over these next 2 weeks.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

State newspapers also looking at angry rural Trump voters

For Sunday reading, here are two more additions to the topic of "why did rural, low-educated Wisconsin (allegedly) turn so drastically toward Donald Trump?"

The first is from Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, who went to Western Wisconsin to talk to the group of (mostly) guys who came out in force for Trump, flipping numerous counties from Barack Obama and the Dems in 2012 to Trump and the GOP in 2016. Here are some of the reasons these people gave.
“He’s for us,” said Richard Zastrow, 54, a worker at the Gold'n Plump chicken-processing plant in Arcadia and a part-time farmer who keeps about 100 beef cattle. He’s going to help us as much as he can.”...

“I know that Trump is no saint,” said Ed Tulius, who planted a “Hillary for Prison” sign in his front yard in Whitehall. (But) I really think that (for) me and a lot of people that I know around here, it was a way to break the system.”

A few cited “facts” that aren’t facts — that immigrant business owners pay no taxes for seven years (not true); that food-stamp recipients cheat the program by drawing cash from their accounts at grocery checkouts (not possible, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services); and that America has a special covenant with God (not verifiable, at least in the scientific sense).

Two men said flat out that there was no way they would vote for a woman. Another warned against being on the streets of St. Cloud, Minn., at night because of drug users and because “there’s muslims all over.”

A fourth man, a resident of Arcadia, which has seen its number of Hispanics jump from just 74 at the beginning of the past decade to over 1,000 today — more than a third of the total population — derided “border jumpers” and said he wanted Trump to “just make it where it was, where a working white guy has a chance.”
As usual, these feelings from rural Trumpland is a combination of legitimate anger and frustration over limited job prospects and a world that has passed them by, and a false consciousness over the reasons why these things have happened.

A similar article with those themes came out in today's Wisconsin State Journal, where head political writer Mark Sommerhauser went to Adams County and took a look into why a county that previously was a Wisconsin bellweather went for Trump by nearly 22 points over Hillary Clinton.
State Rep. Joan Ballweg, a Markesan Republican whose district includes Adams-Friendship, credited the Republican Party of Wisconsin for ramping up its visibility and campaign efforts in the county in recent years.

Ballweg described Adams County as home to many people who "have been hit harder by the stagnant economy."

"A lot of those folks feel like Mr. Trump talked like them and felt like them," Ballweg said.

What Rep. Ballweg says has a basis in truth (Adams County's economy does suck, even by the sub-standards of rural Wisconsin), but let's back out for a second. Why did those same voters in Adams County not blame the Republicans who were in charge of this state, and voted to retain State Reps. Scott Krug and Ballweg, while voting to remove Dem Julie Lassa from the State Senate? And why didn't they blame US Sen. Ron Johnson for the failed status quo, as they voted for (mo)Ron by 15 points over Russ Feingold?

Sommerhauser also talks to Dem backer Steve Pollina from Adams, who says the Trump support was really an anti-Clinton/Obama vote. And it also came from a darker, less positive place than many GOPs will say publically, as Pollina said the locals had an impression others were being helped by government, while they were being ignored.
"They thought that somebody else was getting something they should get," Pollina said.

Asked who "somebody else" refers to, Pollina said: "Minorities, mostly."

Still, Pollina said many local people voted for Obama in past years, hoping he would shake things up.

"They waited for all this change from Obama and it didn't materialize," Pollina said. "The change didn't come to them."
That really rings true. These people want their lives to be better, and they're more than OK with government being an active partner in doing so, if need be. But all they're seeing on their city-based news deals with concerns and issues that affect urban dwellers. Then add in a sizable amount of race-baiting GOPper-ganda on AM radio and slanted Internet sources which taps into that resentment of a lack of support from corporate America, media, and government. That's how a bunch of poor and working-class people in Central Wisconsin could think a foul-mouthed, low-info real-estate mogul from Manhattan is someone worth taking a chance on as the leader of the free world (TM).

These two articles also indicate how superficial the support for Trump really is with these people. It's based on a fantasy of "Make America Great Again" where somehow their jobs will be restored, their wages raised, their position as a respected and favored part of society will return (especially for non-college white men), and life will be a lot more hopeful with less economic and social stress. It's intellectually lazy, but it is also understandable, because many of these people are working hard and played by the rules, and the last 35 years of trickle-down, pro-corporate governance has screwed them over.

But I'm guessing privatizing Socail Security, Medicare, defunding their public schools and destroying their scenic rural landscapes wasn't what they had in mind. And as that happens over the next 2 years, with things more likely to be worse than better by the time 2018 rolls around, it makes me wonder when the light goes on, and they start to turn their frustrations toward the corporate ALEC puppets in the WisGOP-run Legislature in Madison, and the Koch whore in the Governor's Office.

The Dems better be reminding these voters at every turn for the next 23 1/2 months. And yes, that includes breaking into the information Bubble that exists in rural Wisconsin, and telling people just how GOP policies are failing. These voters are volatile, and the flip towards Trump and the GOP in 2012 could well go to back to a Dem populist in 2018 and 2020. The top-down, corporate and Coastal DNC shuld be ignored when it comes to selling these voters on Dem policies, and exchanged for real Wisconsinites who can relate to these people's real lives.

Friday, November 25, 2016

How do we stop angry rurals from destroying themselves, our state and the country?

In the wake of the election, one of the depressing and illuminating things about it is how rural white people voted in such high numbers for Donald Trump- a Manhattan multi-millionaire with regressive pro-Wall Street policies, and somebody who wouldn't know small-town life if it smashed him in the face. A couple of recent excellent articles shined a light on this for me, and I wanted to go into this a bit here, and both feature people with Wisconsin ties.

The first is from the great Charlie Pierce of Esquire Politics. Marquette grad Pierce jumps off of an NPR story which went into Clay County, Kentucky, where the vote has shifted hard to the Republicans, despite promoting policies that will literally kill some of the people that live there.
Life already is hard in her part of Kentucky's coal country, where once-dependable mining jobs are mostly gone. In Clay County where Lockaby lives, 38 percent of the population live in poverty. A fifth of the residents are disabled. Life expectancy is eight years below the nation's average. Clay's location places it inside an area familiar to public health specialists as the South's diabetes and stroke belt. It's also in the so-called "Coronary Valley" encompassing the 10-state Ohio/Mississippi valley region. About 60 percent of Clay County's 21,000 residents are covered by Medicaid, up from about a third before the expansion. The counties uninsured rate for nonelderly adults has fallen from 29 percent to 10 percent.
The dread that Freida Lockaby faces comes from the fact that, in 2015, in one of those surprise elections that are becoming commonplace, Kentucky elected a Tea Party hooligan named Matt Bevin to be its governor. Bevin campaigned specifically on doing away with Kynect, the healthcare program developed in Kentucky under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. Central to its success was the ACA's Medicaid expansion and the FREE MONEY! that came with it. Kynect was widely popular. Kentucky elected a governor who pledged to do away with it....
In a state as cash-strapped as Kentucky, the increased expenses ahead for Medicaid will be significant in Bevin's view — $1.2 billion from 2017 to 2021, according to the waiver request he's made to the Obama administration to change how Medicaid works in his state. Trump's unexpected victory may help Bevin's chances of winning approval. Before the election, many analysts expected federal officials to reject the governor's plan by the end of the year on the grounds that it would roll back gains in expected coverage. A Trump administration could decide the matter differently, said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voice for Health, an advocacy group that opposes most waiver changes because they could reduce access to care. "I think it's much more likely that a waiver could be approved under the Trump administration," she said. "On the other hand, I wonder if the waiver will be a moot point under a Trump administration, assuming that major pieces of the [Affordable Care Act] are repealed."
You know the punchline, right? In 2015, Matt Bevin swept Clay County with 71 percent of the vote. Two weeks ago, Donald Trump received 86 percent of the votes cast.

I hate this. I hate that the United States is still fighting over healthcare when the rest of the industrialized world has left the issue behind. I hate the politicians who stoke dread and hate in order to get elected to make the problems of places like Clay County worse. I hate the impotence of the political opposition in making its case. I hate all these things, but the thing I hate worst of all is the overwhelming temptation to gloat over the miseries of people who, for whatever reason, vote against their own self-interest. Hell with self-interest, they're voting against their own survival.
Read the rest of the article, as Pierce mentions his despair for how this situation makes it hard for him to feel sorry for people who are truly in need and deserve help. In addition, Pierce wonders how to break this destructive cycle of "voting wrong" that is speeding the destruction of rural communities and any job opportunities that may exist there.

The other recent article that grabbed me was a Washington Post article where they talked to UW Professor Katherine Cramer, whose book The Politics of Resentment has received a lot of attention after the election, as city-dwelling Coastals try to figure out why white rural America voted so heavily for Trump. Cramer says that she doesn't believe these rural voters were "hoodwinked" by Trump, that they saw his flaws, but didn't care because they wanted things to change and get better.

However, as we go deeper into the discussion with Professor Cramer, and her talks with a group of guys in rural Portage County, Wisconsin and it is obvious that these people operate under a false consciousness of "the way things are."
This morning, the group I talked to asked me a lot of questions about the level of crime in Madison. It was part of a conversation about Black Lives Matter. Their perception is that things had gotten really out of hand, that it’s very dangerous in Madison right now. One guy even said, I’m not going to Madison right now. I wouldn’t come anywhere near there.

To me that kind of fear sounds like fear that comes from sensationalized information, as opposed to personal experience...

The group that I talked to this morning, they’ve had a lot of things to say about Black Lives Matter — about how distasteful it is, and how Obama really let things get out of hand. Now our race relations back to where they were in the 1960s. This is primarily coming from one guy in the group, but the other people weren’t arguing with him.

They’re also talking about how illegal immigrants are taking our jobs. That subject came up this morning way more than it ever has in this group. I think that’s a campaign-induced thing. Because seven or eight years ago, when I’d go around and ask about people’s top concerns, immigration just never came up.
These people have no personal experience in these issues, and I bet they don't go to Madtown very often (if ever). They're just basing their "facts" on what they've seen on TV, heard on AM radio and read about in their slanted Facebook feed. And they are WRONG. Sure, the City of Madison had a violent crime rate twice as much as Portage County (according to and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), but Madtown's violent crime rate dropped by 20% between 2012 and 2014, and was 7% below the national average. In addition, Madison's total crime rate dropped by 20% between 2008 and 2014, and car theft dropped by 50% in that time.

That's not to say everything is hunky-dory here in Madtown by any stretch (although I love living here), but it does show the power of GOP-perganda and other slanted news for people who don't have much other contact with people outside of their home area. It's the same reason they think Trump is a "businessman" like their local store owner, and not a Wall Street financier using insider connections and his money power to buy his way out of jail for corruption- they don't know just how scummy corporations and the big-money side of the real estate business is, because those businesses don't exist in small-town Wisconsin.

That's what has to be changed by Wisconsin Democrats and for anyone else who wants to see this state and this nation stop its regression. We need to get the message out to the sticks, and going door-to-door in an attempt to have a conversation with people who don't want to listen isn't the efficient or effective way to do it. This means we must fight fire with fire, and we have to do it on a daily basis - being good and rational and peaceful isn't cutting it. There needs to be billboards and paid radio messages put out on a constant basis out in rural Wisconsin telling these people how GOP policies are screwing them. If that means buying time on small-town radio stations and local cable TV, then DO IT, and it needs to start NOW to lay the groundwork and plant the ideas well in advance of the 2018 elections.

Tell rural Wisconsin how GOPs are allowing their drinking water to be contaminated and how their property taxes and wheel taxes are jumping because of WisGOP's failure to adequately fix the roads and fund the community schools. And how the GOP politicians that allegedly "represent" them, couldn't give a flying fuck about what happens to these people's lives and their opportunities. And about how it is BULLSHIT that these parts of the state don't have the same broadband access that cities and richer areas have.

Dems don't talk in this blunt, attacking language on policy often enough, which gives their opponents an opportunity to speak bluntly on bullshit issues that appeals to their gut, and it seems to be reaching these voters in enough numbers to keep the regressive GOP in charge. The extra advantage of Dems changing their tone is that Dems wouldn't be talking about theories and false threats from far away, but real life that these rural voters can touch and see every day. You likely won't reach a lot of the weak-minded that shout "MAGA" the loudest, but I bet you can get a whole lot of casual bystanders to figure out that their neighbor Cletus is clueless, and that's all you need to flip the script in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Is Wisconsin turning red just college vs. non-college? Or is it sketchier?

The more I look at Wisconsin's election results, the more confused I am over them. In particular, I'm trying to figure out the apparent “white riot” in rural Wisconsin, leading them to turn toward Donald Trump and the GOP, and whether those reported numbers are actually legitimate.

On the “reasons why” side, Nate Silver gave a long rundown explaining that the amount of people with a college education in a community had a whole lot to do with whether a place voted for Dem Hillary Clinton or GOP Donald Trump. Silver first noted that highly educated communities shifted hard towards Clinton- to the point that the election would seem poised to be a Dem landslide if you only looked at this group of people.
I took a list of all 981 U.S. counties with 50,000 or more people and sorted it by the share of the population that had completed at least a four-year college degree. Hillary Clinton improved on President Obama’s 2012 performance in 48 of the country’s 50 most-well-educated counties. And on average, she improved on Obama’s margin of victory in these countries by almost 9 percentage points, even though Obama had done pretty well in them to begin with….

Although they all have highly educated populations, these counties are otherwise reasonably diverse. The list includes major cities, like San Francisco, and counties that host college towns, like Washtenaw, Michigan, where the University of Michigan is located. It also includes some upper-middle-class, professional counties such as Johnson County, Kansas, which is in the western suburbs of Kansas City. It includes counties in states where Clinton did poorly: She improved over Obama in Delaware County, Ohio, for example — a traditionally Republican stronghold outside Columbus — despite her numbers crashing in Ohio overall. It includes extremely white counties like Chittenden County, Vermont (90 percent non-Hispanic white), and more diverse ones like Fulton County, Georgia, where African-Americans form the plurality of the population. If a county had high education levels, Clinton was almost certain to improve there regardless of the area’s other characteristics.
This trend held up regardless of whether the county is Dem-leaning or GOP-leaning. In Wisconsin, two counties qualified under this top 50 best-educated list- us socialist hippies in Dane County and the dead-red Charles Sykes types in Ozaukee County. I'll also throw in the county with the 3rd-highest percentage of people 25+ with a college degree, Waukesha County (aka the Bizarro World Heart of WisGOP). In all three cases, the counties shifted toward Hillary Clinton.

Dem vs GOP presidential margin, 2012 vs 2016

Dane County
2012 Dem +43.5
2016 Dem +48.0 (Dem +4.5)

Ozaukee County
2012 GOP +30.3
2016 GOP +19.3 (Dem +11.0)

Waukesha County
2012 GOP +34.5
2016 GOP +28.1 (Dem +6.4)

That seems like a recipe for a Dem blowout. So how did Wisconsin end up red on Election Night and why are we faced with the prospect of (shudder) President Trump? Because Silver points out that if a county had a lot of non-college educated people, it was very likely to shift towards Trump.
These results are every bit as striking: Clinton lost ground relative to Obama in 47 of the 50 counties — she did an average of 11 percentage points worse, in fact. These are really the places that won Donald Trump the presidency, especially given that a fair number of them are in swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina. He improved on Mitt Romney’s margin by more than 30 points (!) in Ashtabula County, Ohio, for example, an industrial county along Lake Erie that hadn’t voted Republican since 1984.
And this is true to stunning levels in Wisconsin, as the 10 counties with the lowest amount of people with college degrees shifted to Trump by an average of 27.6%. Here’s that amazing stat and the counties included in graph form.

There was another subset of counties that Trump did very well in- majority-white places with relatively high incomes and low education levels. These are largely exurbs of big cities in the North, and the Twin Cities area was especially susceptible.
Trump improved on Romney’s performance in 23 of 30 counties where median incomes are $70,000 or higher but less than 35 percent of the population have college degrees and the majority of the population is white. For example, Trump won by a much larger margin than Romney in Calvert County, Maryland, which has some commonalities with Long Island. And he substantially improved on Romney’s performance in Chisago County, Sherburne County and Wright County in the Minneapolis exurbs, even though Clinton made major gains in Minneapolis’ Hennepin County. There’s probably some degree of cultural self-sorting at play here. These communities have plenty of nice homes and good schools — they’re not cheap to live in — but they have fewer cultural amenities or pretensions (think big-box retail as opposed to boutiques) than you usually find in nearer-in suburbs and small towns such as those in Westchester County.
St. Croix County, Wisconsin is also on this list, another Twin Cities exurb with plenty of rural in its eastern half. St. Croix went from Romney +12.3 to Trump 18.4, a notable shift, although one that’s actually below the current 7.8% swing to the GOP president in Wisconsin for 2016.

Silver notes that education levels seemed to be a clear indicator in 2016’s vote, and that it has changed what a “red” or “blue” area might be.
In short, it appears as though educational levels are the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016. You can come to that conclusion with a relatively simple analysis, like the one I’ve conducted above, or by using fancier methods. In a regression analysis at the county level, for instance, lower-income counties were no more likely to shift to Trump once you control for education levels. And although there’s more work to be done, these conclusions also appear to hold if you examine the data at a more granular level, like by precinct or among individual voters in panel surveys.
And this difference in votes by education is why Silver was on Twitter yesterday saying that he didn’t think Wisconsin’s vote was hacked, as he produced regressions showing that education and race differences explained almost all of the voting disparities between Wisconsin counties with paper ballots and counties with electronic voting machines.

A lot of what Silver says adds up, but I don’t think it answers the questions that nag me as I look at the Wisconsin data from this election. The shifts in rural Western and Central Wisconsin are the big flag for me, and given that Trump’s “lead” in the state has already dropped from over 27,000 to 22,500 with only a few counties finalized, are we sure those are the right numbers? And somehow 130,000 fewer ballots were cast for president in Wisconsin compared to 2012 after record early voting??? That doesn’t add up to me. Besides, we already have a recount going on in Western Wisconsin in the Jen Shilling- Dan Kapanke State Senate race. It won’t take too much extra time and effort for to have those same people take a look at the presidential race in that area, so why not have the Clinton campaign or the Wisconsin Dems ante up for the additional presidential recount and see if there’s a discrepancy?

After all, Vernon and Crawford Counties were 2 of the 5 counties that Russ Feingold won, but Hillary Clinton allegedly lost on November 8, so this would be good information to confirm. If the numbers add up, then I’m going to be willing to shrug and admit that Trump won the state. But if there are weird numbers near La Crosse, Viroqua, and Prairie du Chien, then it throws the rest of the state figures into doubt, and that seems important to know before the state’s 10 electoral votes are officially cast next month. Or maybe my skepticism is a reflection of me not wanting us to slide into a fascist Idiocracy, where uneducated, resentful masses elect ignorant and arrogant politicians who have no respect for the institutions they control or the people they govern, and they steamroll over the more educated, decent people.

Sure that’s an elitist statement, but doesn’t knowledge, respect and a bigger-picture mentality seem like something that should be valued in governance? Those qualities seem like the last thing we are on the verge of getting if these 2016 election results hold up, and that goes double for overly white, less-educated places like Wisconsin that are getting overrun by today’s anti-education, anti-fairness GOP.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

FREE BUCKY! Before UW slides down the research rankings more

Late last week, there was another one of those annual reports that seem innocuous, but actually tell a lot. It listed the total amount of filled and authorized positions for each of the campuses and entities that make up the UW System, and it drove me to have an idea that I think would help all sides through the turbulence at the UW caused by Act 10, budget cuts and restrictions on intellectual freedom by the Wisconsin GOP.

If you look at this report, there is a major contrast between where UW-Madison and UW-Extension get their positions funded from in comparison to the rest of the UW System. State taxpayers (via General Purpose Revenue, or GPR) fund about 2/3 of the positions in the other 12 four-year campuses, UW Colleges and System Administration. But at Madison and Extension 2/3 of those positions are not funded by GPR, and are paid by other means, such as federal grants, self-supporting entities and user fees.

Percentage of filled positions funded by GPR
UW-Madison 35.7%
UW-Extension 31.6%
Rest of UW System 66.4%

However, a recent national report indicates that one of those non-GPR sources is being diminished at UW-Madison, and WisGOP's actions are a reason why. UW-Madison sent out a press release today discussing recent rankings from the National Science Foundation, and remarkably admitted that budget cuts in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan is hurting the ability of the university to compete with the elite.
It has been a challenging year for Wisconsin’s top research university, and the ability of the university to keep pace with the nation’s elite research institutions has been affected as the University of Wisconsin–Madison saw its ranking for research activity drop from fourth to sixth.

Data released Nov. 17, 2016, by the National Science Foundation (NSF) show the university remains a research powerhouse with just under $1.1 billion in annual expenditures for research across all fields.

“This is a highly competitive environment,” says UW–Madison Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick, the university’s top research officer. “The numbers show that our faculty and staff are highly successful, although continued disinvestment by the state is having an impact on our ability to compete."

For fiscal year 2015, the latest available figures compiled by NSF, UW–Madison ranked sixth among all U.S. universities, private and public, in the volume of research it conducts as measured by the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey, dropping two notches in the ranking of the more than 600 universities completing the survey. The only universities ranking ahead of UW–Madison were Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California, San Diego.

UW-Madison has worked aggressively and, for the most part, successfully to retain faculty in the face of steep state budget cuts. However, the effort to keep top faculty has become more difficult as other states increase their contributions to public higher education and expand their faculty.

“We are extremely proud of our faculty, staff and students but if Wisconsin is to remain at the pinnacle of American research universities, the state will need to reinvest to be sure we have the faculty positions and conditions necessary to attract and retain the best researchers,” says Mailick.
And they certainly won't be able to stay at that pinnacle if the resentment-filled legislators and college dropout Governor continue to diminish funding and the ability to adequately compensate faculty in Madison.

So I’ve got a proposition to make for the WisGOP-run Wisconsin state government. Why don’t you segregate and block-grant the state funding for UW-Madison and UW-Extension (reducing it in the process), and largely leave those entities alone in what they teach and how they get the rest of their money? This would include giving Madison and Extension their own Board of Regents, and limiting influence of the Governor and Legislature on the appointments of those Boards of Regents. It also would allow UW-Madison to set their own tuition to better match market rates for costs, and instead the state could give vouchers of aid for in-state students deciding to go to school in Madison.

On the flip side, use the “savings” from spinning off Madison and Extension to boost state funding of the other UW campuses that don’t have the self-support, research funding and donor base that Madison and Extension have. This will allow Wisconsin’s flagship university to continue to excel in research and in attracting students worldwide without interference from redneck legislators outside of Madison, will allow the opportunity to even further localize UW-Extension, and allow the other UW campuses and organizations a better chance to remain adequately funded and high-quality.

Sure, some of you may find this a little Madison-centric to put Bucky into a different category than the other 4-year schools, and I admit, I am very biased toward the great university I got 2 degrees from. But I think this reiterates that the 40,000+-student flagship has a different mission than the rest of the UW, and whether we want to admit it or not, Madison has a different student and alumni base than the other UW campuses. I think splitting up those two segments (as was the case until the early 1970s) will benefit both sides at this point.

The budget cuts and handcuffing of the competitiveness of the UW System by regressive WisGOPs has exasperated me so much in recent years that if such a split or spin-off is part of the next budget proposal by Governor Walker (as it has been in the last 2), I’m at such a point that I’d say “Go for it.” The old ways of having a partnership between the Capitol and the entire UW System have broken down in the 21st Century due to austerity and anti-intellecutalism that has gripped the ruling GOP, and I think the best way forward is to break the bonds for Madison and Extension, while strengthening them in the other parts of the System located outside of Madtown. And doing so would largely fit the funding mix that already exists for all of those institutions, so the change shouldn’t be much of a disruption at all.

So how bout it, WisGOP? Instead of giving "Go Badgers" tweets on Game Day and screwing the UW every other day, how about FREEING BUCKY to be the best university UW-Madison and the rest of the System can be, so we win in the classroom as well as the playing field?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Upon further review....budget deficit even higher than I thought

A few thoughts on the Walker Administration's budget estimates, now that it's officially been released.

1. It's funny to see the media constantly call it a "$693 million deficit." That meme comes from a line in the report which talks about how the budget requests have General Fund dollars exceeding projected revenues of $693 million. But the problem with that analysis is that it doesn't take into account the carryover money that is projected, which is just under $105 million. In fact, the numbers break down as follows.

2017-18 starting balance $104.8 million
2017-18 ending balance -$145.4 million (-$250.2 million)
2018-19 ending balance -$588.2 million (-$442.8 million)

2. These figures list appropriations as actually going down in Fiscal Year 2018, but the reason why is something I touched on before- a large debt swap that recently took place which avoided a giant balloon payment scheduled to hit in May 2018. The Walker DOA even made note of that reason in their summaries.
The FY18 Request amounts include $280.0 million GPR that is appropriated to cover debt service for the pension obligation bonds. The request is a decrease of $383.0 million over the prior year. Due to the bond requirements, the FY17 Base appropriation is significantly higher than projected expenditures, resulting in a large offsetting lapse. The lower FY18 appropriation results in a smaller offsetting lapse. If the appropriation is removed from the FY17 Base and FY18 Request, the Change Over Prior Year would be $232.7 million, or 1.4%, over FY17 for GPR only.
And that makes a lot more sense. However, I will also note that those increases aren't going to meet all needs out there, as the Walker Administration asked to have 0% increases for most agencies, outside of entitlements that can't avoid growth.

3. Let's talk about why the deficit was higher than the $513 million that I predicted it would be, and to me, this is the real story of this report. Because even the Walker Administration admits that revenues are going to fall short of what the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated in January.

2016-17 projected General Fund revenues
Jan LFB estimate taxes $15,655.7 million
Nov DOA estimate taxes $15,440.2 million (-$215.5 million)

Jan LFB estimate other revenues $538.7 million
Nov DOA estimate other revenues $510.2 million (-$28.5 million)


In addition, the Walker Administration projects that tax revenues will only increase by 2.9% in Fiscal year 2018 and 3.0% in 2019, below the 3.7% a year I projected as a "good case scenario." So why isn't the situation even worse than a $588 million shortfall? Because the Walker Administration also revealed that there were some adjustments to the Fiscal Year 2016 amounts, which goes along with the footnote on last month's Annual Fiscal Report, which said the numbers were not yet finalized at the time. So here are those adjustments.

Adjustments to FY 2016 post-AFR
Change in Departmental Revenues +$12.1 million
Change in total expenses -$5.3 million
Net change to balance +$17.3 million

So this allegedly raises the year-end balance for FY 2016 to $331.0 million, which gives enough cushion for a $105 million projected carryover at the end of this Fiscal Year, even with the huge revenue shortfall. We'll see if it holds in a couple of months when the LFB comes back and gives its revenue estimates for the next 3 fiscal years, ahead of Governor Walker's budget submittal.

Bottom line- not a good situation, especially when we aren't even considering the $880 million in additional funding or borrowing that needs to be accounted for to make the Transportation budget balance. Stay tuned, because I have a haunting feeling that the downside risks to this budget picture are more likely than a positive surprise.

Trump won in MIdwest after ALEC-GOP states lagged US economy.

On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its state-by-state jobs figures, and it led to interesting patterns when you overlay it with the results of the presidential election. This is especially true in the Midwest, which had 4 states flip from voting for Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Donald Trump.

What you'll find is that those Midwestern states had tepid job growth in the 12 months before the election. The notable exception was the state of Michigan, which consistently did well during the Obama presidency after seeing its unemployment rate rise to near 15% in the late 2000s.

Private sector job growth, Oct 2015-Oct 2016
1. Mich +2.41%
2. Iowa +1.41%
3. Minn +1.19%
4. Wis. +1.12%
5. Ind. +1.03%
6. Ohio +0.82%
7. Ill. +0.53%

6 of those 7 states ended up below the rate of job growth for the nation as a whole, as private sector jobs increased in the US by 2.15 million (1.78%) from October 2015 to October 2016. But as you’ll see, over half of that can be accounted for in 7 states, and most of these states are on the coasts and the Sun Belt, with one notable Midwestern exception.

Most private jobs gained, US, Oct 2015-Oct 2016
Cal. +334,700
Fla. +237,100
Tex. +161,700
N.Y. +95,900
Wash +90,700
Ga. +89,700
Mich +88,300

A similar pattern emerges from looking at the highest rate of gains in private sector jobs in all states with over 1 million total jobs- all are in the West and the South.

8 fastest job growth rates, Oct 2015-Oct 2016
Wash +3.47%
Utah +3.44%
Fla. +3.34%
Ore. +3.31%
Col. +2.70%
Tenn +2.67%
Ga. +2.47%
Cal. +2.44%

Interestingly, if you go into David Wasserman’s National Popular Vote Tracker, you’ll see that 6 of the 8 states that shifted more than 1% towards the Democrats in this election are in one or both of these lists (and a 7th, Arizona, just missed the cut for job growth). In addition, only New York, Tennessee and Michigan had shifts toward Trump that were above the 2.6% shift that has happened nationwide (and Clinton still won NY by more than 21%).

This is in stark contrast to the lower-growth Midwest. Outside of the strongly blue state of Illinois, all Midwestern states slanted significantly away from Clinton and towards Trump in comparison to the Romney-Obama race of 2012.

2012 vs 2016 change, president
Ill. No change
Ind. GOP +8.8
Iowa GOP +15.2
Mich GOP +9.7
Minn GOP +6.2
Ohio GOP +11.5
Wis. GOP +7.9

Which leads me to wonder this chicken-egg question. Was the fact that the Midwest was being left behind the rest of the country in the last year a reason behind these states turning towards Trump, and have our national policies failed in accounting for specific factors relevant to having the Midwestern economy sink or swim (or did policy that favored Western/Sun Belt states)?

Or on the flip side, is the fact that Midwestern states are overwhelmingly run by Republican governors and legislatures a reason why their economies suck, especially after big GOP victories in 2014? And if so, did that sucky economy and lack of job growth lead to enough discontent so that many low-educated white guys wanted to vote for Trump to “clean things up/ blow things up”?

In other words, did bad GOP policies and governance in these states mess things up in such a way that it helped to get a GOP president elected? And was that part of the design of these ALEC-GOP elected officials in those states?

If so, it seems to have worked, and now we’re likely to see the rest of the country fall short like the Midwest has in the last year, instead of following the path of the blue-trending states that have been excelling over the last 12 months. And it leads to a classic "What's the Matter with Kansas?" problem where awful right-wing policies leads to such despair and anger that people continue to vote GOP out of blind frustration. Which keeps trickle-down Republicans in charge, enables them to slant the field against these poor and working-class people some more, and it continues the cycle all over again.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wisconsin budget deficit looming, the only question is how big it is

Today is November 20, which usually would be an important day in Wisconsin budget geek world, because it's the usual date that the Wisconsin Department of Administration summarizes the 2017-19 budget requests of all state agencies and estimates revenues for the next 2 fiscal years. The 2015-17 version of this document got a lot of attention 2 years ago because it estimated a $2.2 billion budget deficit in Wisconsin, and the decline in Scott Walker's approval ratings started almost immediately afterward.

But it's a Sunday, and so therefore we're going to be waiting a day to see these figures released. So I took the time to look at the 2017-19 budget requests themselves, counted up the numbers, and took a look to see where we are.

First of all, if you put together the requests from agencies, and combine it with the supplemental request for aid from the Department of Public Instruction that came out last week, you have a total requested increase in General Fund money of just over $666.8 million from the FY 2017 base.

Here are some of the standout figures from that
Largest budget request increases
DPI School Aid +$706.5 million
Dept. Health Services +$455.5 million
Dept. of Corrections +$122.1 million
UW System +$42.5 million
District Attorneys +$22.3 million

You may notice that this is well over $666.8 million. The reason the final increase number isn't even higher is because of a $756.4 million decrease from the base expenses for 2017, which is the result of a debt swap that was made in August to prevent a $383 million balloon payment that was due in May 2018. This money had to be set aside in the 2016-17 budget in preparation for the next year (which increases the base expenses), but because it wasn't going to spent until 2018, it also led to a massive lapse that was built in to this year.

Now that we're not going to paying that balloon payment, and instead spreading out those payments (and interest) between now and 2027, it reduces what we have to pay in the next budget, hence the decrease of approximately $378 million a year in costs for DOA. What's not mentioned is that it all comes back and then some in future budgets, but how to pay for that is something to be dealt with after the next Governor's election in 2018 (funny how that works). But even with that decrease, we still have to find an additional $666.8 million in revenues over the $17 billion a year in General Fund appropriations that is already built into the budget.

Let's then turn to the revenue side, which has its own set of difficulties. You may recall that in last month's Annual Fiscal Report, the State of Wisconsin fell nearly $116 million short of budgeted amounts in taxes and other General Fund revenues. This now means that the state has to get a revenue increase of 3.7% in the 2016-17 fiscal year just to meet budgeted amounts, something that may prove hard to reach, as the first 3 months of the Fiscal Year had revenues increasing by only 1.4% year-over-year.

But let's give Walker-nomics the benefit of the doubt, even in light of the bad jobs numbers, and say that the state reaches that 3.7% increase in revenues. And then let's assume revenues increase at that strong 3.7% clip over the 2 years of the 2017-19 budget. Even if all of these things happened, the request increases on the expense side mean a General Fund deficit of over a half-billion dollars

FY 2017 base x2 = $34,025.2 million
2017-19 budget requests = +$666.835 million
TOTAL 2017-19 EXPENSES $34,692.0 million

Revenues (assume 3.7% increase each year)
2016-17 Revenues $16,180.3 million
2017-18 Revenues $16,779.0 million
2018-19 Revenues $17,399.8 million
TOTAL 2017-19 REVENUES $34,178.8 million


All of these numbers are crude and I'm sure there are some small adjustments that I may be missing, but that's the base assumption I'm going to go with as I compare it with what Walker's DOA figures tomorrow. a $513 million General Fund deficit, in what is frankly a rosy scenario.

Last note, this $513 million does not include the Transportation budget, which is funded from a different area. That DOT budget request is asking for $406.3 million in extra money, and looks to borrow another $473.9 million, for a total deficit of over $880 million. And that's assuming cuts and delays in various road projects.

Yeah, needless to say, we have serious budget issues that seem to get more chronic and ingrained with each Walker/WisGOP budget. We'll get a better picture of this tomorrow, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what to look for.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Popular vote tracker shows Trump not legit in US or WIsconsin

Wanted to direct you to a link that I've been checking a couple of times a day for the last week, and that's David Wasserman (of the Cook Political Report) tracking of the popular vote for president. The number most are focusing on is the total popular vote, which has Hillary Clinton up on Donald Trump by over 1.4 million votes as I write this (47.9% to 46.8%), but what's also intriguing is that all 50 states and DC are listed, as is the total turnout.

Nationwide, there are currently 2% more votes cast in the 2016 election for president vs the 2012 one, an increase of more than 2.5 million votes (and it'll likely be well over 3 million when we are done counting. But if you dig into the 4 Midwestern that flipped from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Donald Trump, you'll notice that voter turnout generally goes the other way.

Change in voter turnout, 2012 vs 2016
Iowa -1.1%
Michigan +1.3%
Ohio -4.6%
Wisconsin -4.0%

All 4 of these states have two-term Republican governors, and all but Iowa had GOP-run legislatures that have passed voter suppression measures since taking power in 2010.

Now add in this article from Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee, titled "An Epidemic of Voter Suppression," which talks about the decreased turnout in Wisconsin, and the exceptionally large decrease in the blue-voting City of Milwaukee.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, told the Journal Sentinel the greatest declines were “in the districts we projected would have the the most trouble with ID requirements.” That included four districts in the city with the most “transient, high poverty” residents struggling to meet the photo ID requirements. “We had a lot of calls” about such problems, he added.

Milwaukee also has more than 50,000 students attending colleges and universities like UW-Milwaukee, Marquette and MSOE. And university students, says McGrath, often have drivers licenses from outside the state that can’t be used to vote without additional identification forms. Many, she says, are first time voters who can be confused about the new requirements.

Former Republican legislative aide Todd Allbaugh testified in federal court that Republicans lawmakers were “giddy” about the Voter ID law and its likely impact on elections. As he recalled, Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) said “Hey, we’ve got to think about what this would mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses.” Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman predicted that Photo ID could swing the presidential election to his party.

As [Molly] McGrath [of voter-rights group Voter Riders] puts it, “I think it’s more than coincidence that in areas legislators were targeting, like low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee, we’ve seen a decrease in turnout.”
As I mentioned last week, if the Cities of Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee had merely matched their 2012 turnout with the same Clinton vs. Trump percentage that we saw last week, then Clinton would likely have won the state.

Combine that with the fact that late-deciders in Wisconsin broke 2-to-1 for Trump, making the pivotal difference in a state that Trump won by less than 1%, with much of that late shift to Trump seeming to be related to less-than-truthful information from Russia/Wikileaks and FBI Director James Comey. Even given the weakness of Hillary Clinton as a candidate, I have a hard time buying that Trump would have won in Wisconsin if either 1. We didn't have the post-2012 voter suppression laws on the books or 2. We had the information we know of today- that the "Hillary emails" items were bullshit and that Russia was openly interfering in the election. I'm not even going to go into Trump's appointments of racists and incompetents to his Cabinet and top advisor positions, which I would hope has more than a few Wisconsinites already regretting their vote for the Donald.

With that in mind, and with Trump falling below Mitt Romney's 2012 vote share for the nation as a whole, I think citizens are completely correct to resist and protest the likelihood of Trump becoming president. Drumpf has no consent of the governed, and even the Electoral College "victory" that he has on Clinton is questionable due to lower turnout in key states, which is a result of the GOP-influenced voter suppression. This isn't legitimate, and should not be treated as such, and I would hope there are 38 patriotic Electors that might step in, admit this, and choose a 3rd person that will handle the power of the presidency responsibly.

The Electoral College exists for a reason, and this election is it. And not in the "Trump wins with less popular votes" way.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Revised numbers show Wisconsin job growth much less than we were told

With it being the 3rd Thursday of the month, it was time for another Wisconsin jobs report from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The topline numbers were pretty good (up 10,400 jobs overall, 6,000 in the private sector, and 11,800 with positive revisions from the previous month). However, even that good report still means only 100 private sector jobs have been added since March, and we're down 1,200 jobs overall in that time. The state's unemployment rate stayed at 4.1% (and nothing out of the ordinary there), a good number, although a lack of labor force growth is more of a reason for that vs more people actually working.

But another part of the report is the real news. As they do every 3 months, DWD released their preliminary figures for the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages, this time for the 2nd Quarter of 2016. Those figures will compare the reports between June 2015 and June 2016, and let me go back to what the Walker Administration wrote in the original DWD jobs report for June 2016, which came out 4 months ago.
Based on preliminary data, the state added a statistically significant 49,900 private sector jobs from June 2015 to June 2016, including a one-month gain of 10,900 jobs in June. Other significant changes include monthly and year-over-year increases in manufacturing at 2,300 and 6,600, respectively, a one-month increase in construction by 2,100 jobs, and a 12-month increase in total non-farm jobs at 47,800. Financial activities, and leisure and hospitality also saw significant increases over the month. Total nonfarm jobs grew by 5,300 over the month.
And now let’s compare that to what the DWD released today, under further review.

Change in Wis jobs, June 2015-June 2016
Total jobs
Original June release +47,800 (+1.66%)
Actual QCEW report +26,313 (+0.93%)

Private sector jobs
Original June release +49,900 (+1.66%)
Actual QCEW report +25,656 (+1.04%)

Somehow, I don’t think we’ll see an “Oops, sorry about that” note from Walker’s DWD, and I also am not counting on the Wisconsin media to let the average dope know it either.

Not only is that job growth much less than originally reported, but the 1.04% quarter-end private sector job growth is the lowest since Walker took office in January 2011, and the lowest in any 12-month period since April 2013 (a weather-related fluke).

The 1.04% growth is well below the national rate of 1.92% in that time period, and we’ll see in 3 weeks how far down this puts Wisconsin when compared to rest of the US and the Midwest. Given how far behind we are from the national rate, I'm thinking Wisconsin is very likely to be in at least the bottom 20 for the rate of national job growth for the 20th straight quarter during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and could well be bottom 10.

And you rubes in small-town Wisconsin thought Trump was the guy who could change this underperforming trend? You were looking in the wrong place, guys. The real problem in Wisconsin is at the state level, where Fitzwalkerstani policies are keeping us behind the rest of the nation, and with no further investment in education likely and more wage suppression likely to come, there isn’t going to be any way to drag us out of these doldrums. Yet you guys voted to return all those Republicans to the Legislature....

Amazingly, our fair Governor is running his Dropout yap and claiming Trump should look to Wisconsin as a “big, bold” model on how to do things? That's only true if you want slower job growth, increased corruption, increased brain drain (a big reason for our “low” unemployment rate- no one wants to come here), and constant budget deficits.

But hey, maybe that is the GOP’s plan, both in Madison and in DC. Make the vast majority of people destitute and reliant on corporate benefactors while handing out tax cuts and other favors to the rich and connected. But I sure don’t think it’s what all of those rural Wisconsinites had in mind when they voted for Trump and the GOP due to blind anger and resentment promises to “drain the DC swamp” and improve the economy for people like them. SUCKERS!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Superintendent Evers and Wisconsin voters agree- public schools are worthy investments

Yes, Republicans may have won a lot when it came to elected office in the State of Wisconsin last week, but something else also got a lot of support at the polls- the state's public schools. Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy recently spoke to State Superintendent Tony Evers, who pointed out the massive success rate of school referenda around the state in an election where anti-“elitist” Republicans also were successful.
“I was amazed. More than 80 percent of the referendums were passed by voters concerned about government spending,” says Evers, noting the support for Donald Trump. “These same people turned around and said tax us for our schools.”

To Evers, it shows the support voters have for their local schools. But it also underlines a growing problem in the state. There is a yawning inequity between school districts as a result of strict school spending caps, which can only be overcome by local referendums and which are difficult to pass in poorer school districts. The situation is exacerbated by the impact of Act 10, which also handicaps poorer districts. Neither measure may have intended to create inequity, but that’s clearly what is happening….

“Since the start of 2012, more than half of public school district (242) have passed referenda to exceed state imposed revenue controls,” according an analysis by the state Department of Public Instruction. “So far in 2016, 154 questions have been posed by 111 districts at a success rate of 79.22 percent.”
This large amount of referenda also indicate that the money-saving “tools” of Act 10 haven’t been enough to keep schools functional in light of strict revenue limits, which forces the referenda to happen. And in fact, Scott Walker’s often-promoted statement about how Act 10 allows for teachers to be “free agents” often works to the detriment of many of these districts, as many cannot afford to pay the market rate for needed teachers and staff.
DPI figures show that the average revenue available per student is $13,031 per student statewide, but varies widely per district, from $10,883 in Milton to $26,477 in North Lakeland. That massive difference helps explain why some districts can’t afford to get in bidding wars for teachers.

“If you are a higher-paying district, the good teachers will flock to you,” Louise Blankenheim, district administrator in Kiel, told the newspaper. But in Kiel, voters have rejected school funding referendums eight of nine times since 2008, and the district is in no position to compete with better funded districts.
Huh, it’s almost like supply-and-demand takes over and doesn’t favor those without money when it comes to services that are necessary. Amazing how that works.

Now, if you think the children in rural communities and other underfunded places in Wisconsin aren’t worthy of the same level of education as some rich kid, then maybe this doesn’t bother you so much. But it bothers the hell out of me and apparently bothers Evers as well, as he asked for $5.5 million in funding to give retention bonuses for teachers in rural districts, as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s full budget request yesterday.
Evers’ budget request notes teachers in rural areas are less likely to have advanced degrees and more likely to be teaching students living in poverty. Students living in rural districts also have performed more poorly than students living in urban and suburban areas.

Rural districts compete with urban and suburban districts for teachers facing the obstacles of not being able to offer high pay, being located in isolated areas, requiring teachers to cover multiple subjects and not being able to offer a lot of training opportunities, the request said.

“In future years, these barriers will be further exacerbated by declining enrollment in rural districts and the overall decrease in the number of college students entering teacher education programs,” the request said.

Overall, Evers is seeking about a $707 million increase in spending including a $525 million increase in general school aid and other changes that would comprise a funding formula overhaul. The request seeks a 2.7 percent increase in overall spending in the 2017-18 school year and a 5.4 percent increase in the 2018-19 school year.
Now that's the type of independent sensibility that's a threat to leaders in Fitzwalkerstan. It explains why they tried to reel in Superintendent Evers by claiming they could make rules and force the DPI to follow them (even the right-wing Wisconsin Supreme Court shot them down), and you know that convicted criminal Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby will try to work to get Evers out of power in the Spring 2017 election.

Instead, I'd rather trust someone like Tony Evers who actually wants public schools to succeed, and knows that it takes an investment for them to offer opportunity to students in all communities throughout the state. It's not too early to draw the lines and get behind Tony and the state's schools as the new Legislature prepares to come in and discuss the state budget in the coming months.

Here's another way your town may get ripped off in Fitzwalkerstan

It’s sometimes the little, mundane things that tell a lot. Today, the Joint Finance Committee received the annual report on payments the State of Wisconsin will make to local communities for Municipal Services.

Let’s start with what this Municipal Services program is, and why we heard about this today. Here’s the description, straight from the Wisconsin statutes.

(1) The state and the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority shall make reasonable payments at established rates for water, sewer and electrical services and all other services directly provided by a municipality to state facilities and facilities of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority described in s. 70.11 (38), including garbage and trash disposal and collection, which are financed in whole or in part by special charges or fees. Such payments for services provided to state facilities shall be made from the appropriations to state agencies for the operation of the facilities. Each state agency making such payments shall annually report the payments to the department….

(6) No later than November 15 annually, the department shall report to the cochairpersons of the committee the results of its negotiations and the total payments proposed to be made in the subsequent calendar year. In computing the proposed payments to a municipality, the department shall base its calculations on the values of state facilities and facilities of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority described in s. 70.11 (38), as determined by the department for January 1 of the year preceding the year of the report, and the values of improvements to property in the municipality as determined under s. 70.57 (1) for January 1 of the year preceding the year of the report, and shall also base its calculations on revenues and expenditures of the municipality as reported under [property taxes and other municipal finance] for the year preceding the year of the report.
Basically the state makes payments to the local governments for everyday services that are done at their facilities that are similar to items that often go on the property tax for regular home and business owners. It’s basically contracting to have the city/village/towns do these services instead of have the state agency do it themselves (and hire people and pay for all of it).

Not a huge deal on the surface, as it’s a relatively typical cooperation agreement across various levels and types of governments. But as someone who has had a prior job dealing with these kind of issues, this part of the report to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance raised my eyebrows.
The number of towns, villages and cities eligible for payment is 326. The recommended payments are 37.95% of total entitlements. The reduction is necessary to contain the program within its $18,584,200 appropriation. The reduction of payments on a pro-rata basis is a standard action required by 70.119 whenever the appropriation is insufficient.
Then I went back through the Joint Finance report page, and looked at the previous 3 years of this Municipal Services Payment report. That’s where things got intriguing, because back in November 2013, the state was giving 44.62% of entitlements to the locals, nearly 6.7% more than what they will get for this year.

The reason this percentage has dropped is because while property values of state buildings and the related value of these city services have gone up, Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP haven’t added a dime to the amount of money they set aside for these payments. In fact, Walker and WisGOP cut this amount by 10% in their first budget in 2011 and haven’t added anything since, despite the Obama Recovery and low interest rates leading to economic recovery and higher property values in the interceding 5 ½ years.

In fact, if the state covered these municipal services payments at the same rate as they did in 2013, local governments would be getting nearly $3.27 million dollars in additional state aid.

That’s money that could have gone toward reducing property taxes, or maintaining services like snow plowing and street repair, instead of having to turn to the numerous wheel taxes that have been approved throughout the state in the last 2 years (Milwaukee County being the most notable with their $30 fee being approved last week, but they are far from the only one).

In fact, some of the state’s largest communities have lost sizable amounts of revenue due to these reductions over the last 3 years, which makes me wonder how long they will continue to be such friendly neighbors to the state agencies they help out. Not surprisingly, many of these notable reductions are in cities with UW campuses, and any reductions are especially tough for smaller college towns or little towns with prisons similar state facilities, because of a lack of otherwise taxable property. The notable exceptions are the Cities of Madison and Milwaukee, which have had serious building and improvements for both the university and state offices in recent years, raising their total property values.

Change in Muni Aid Payments, 2013-2016
City of Stevens Point -$154,907 (-28.3%)
City of Green Bay -$89,414 (-16.3%)
City of Chippewa Falls -$45,894 (-26.2%)
City of Whitewater -$45,937 (-12.9%)
City of Platteville -$45,568 (-18.9%)
City of West Bend -$34,016 (-22.0%)
Kenosha Co Town of Somers (Parkside) -$31,638 (-19.8%)
City of Waukesha -$31,251 (-13.2%)

City of Mauston -$34,576 (-32.3%)
City of Boscobel -$11,419 (-49.8%)
City of Stanley -$6,897 (-18.0%)

City of Madison +$375,797 (+4.5%)
City of Milwaukee +208,543 (+11.0%)

Seems like an easy call to give a few extra bucks to these local communities to stay in their good graces, and to restore the percentage of costs we had 3 years ago. But don’t bet on it for this upcoming budget. We have to give Diane Hendricks another tax cut that she can funnel back into the campaigns of right-wing politicians, and we need to throw more money back to Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby for their role in keeping the GOP majorities at their high levels. Oh, and forget about having a revenue boost to pay for it- we are on pace to be $350 million short this year the way we are going, and there are a whole lot more needs to pay for over the next 2 years on top of what we already spend.

These Municipal Service reductions are also part of the “death by 1,000 slices” strategy that Walker and WisGOP have put into the state budget in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. This neglect doesn’t look like much at the time they are put in place, but cause serious cumulative damage over time, with Walker and WisGOP hoping they can get out of town before it crashes down hard.

I’m sure this type of looming mess and higher taxes is what you small-town types voted for when you decided to return all of your GOP “representatives” to the Legislature last week, right? Well, you're gonna get it, SUCKERS.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ryan lyin' again as he tries to destroy Obamacare and Medicare

House Speaker Paul Ryan is known as Lyin’ Ryan among those with any type of economic literacy, because of his magic asterisks and absurd claims to try to convince rubes that his Ayn Rand fantasies actually work. And boy did he live down to that moniker when he showed up two days on the election on Fox News with Brett Baier and claimed “Because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.”

If you follow me or pretty much anyone else on Twitter with an economic clue, we were immediately screaming “BULLSHIT!” to this response, as geeks like us were familiar with the annual report from the Medicare Board of Trustees which estimates the financial stats and viability of Medicare, and was last updated in June. Ryan especially would know about these stats when he made the claim, because he’s the first person addressed on the report (see page 3).

And Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler came out on Monday and took apart Ryan’s completely false statement about how the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was the reason Medicare has financial difficulties.
The Affordable Care Act actually strengthened the near-term outlook of the Part A trust fund. The law includes a 0.9 percent payroll tax that hits the wages and self-employment income of wealthier Americans — above $250,000 per couple or $200,000 for a single taxpayer. That was estimated to raise an additional $63 billion for the Part A trust fund between 2010 and 2019. The law also was estimated to cut expenses, including $162 billion in productivity adjustments to provider payments and $86 billion in reduced payments to Medicare Advantage plans.

The net result was that the “insolvency” date was extended by 12 years. Before the law was passed, the trustees said in 2009, the fund was going to be depleted in 2017. “The short-range financial outlook for the HI [hospital insurance] trust fund is substantially more favorable than projected in last year’s annual report, primarily as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” the Medicare trustees said in their 2010 report, saying the fund would last until 2029….
Let’s stop right there. Not only has Obamacare not made Medicare’s funding more shaky, it actually has made it last with full current benefits (aka “solvency”) until the last of the Baby Boomers are eligible for it. And even then, a minor tax raise or benefit modification can allow Medicare to stay on for much longer than 2029.

Also, note that a big reason behind the better solvency is a small tax imposed on the rich. Since that “job-killing tax hike” started, the US has seen practically uninterrupted job growth, with more than 14 million jobs added since the end of 2010.

We continue with the Post’s fact-checking.
In the 2016 trustees report, the [Medicare Part A Trust] fund was estimated to be depleted in 2028, two years earlier than the 2015 report, primarily because the consumer price index, representing inflation, did not rise as much as anticipated, reducing income projections. (In the long run, however, lower inflation will also reduce Medicare expenditures.) But that’s unrelated to the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, Republicans have vowed to repeal Obamacare, which would in turn make the trust fund’s situation instantly worse unless lawmakers found a way to make up the payroll tax revenue and program savings embedded in the Affordable Care Act.
So in other words, Ryan and the rest of the DC Republicans repeal Obamacare, they need to find a place to raise taxes in order to keep Medicare solvent. Or they need to divert general tax funds and/or cut some other type of government spending. Seems like we should know what choice they are making, and who will be hurt as a result, eh?

Soooooo punchable

And while Ryan's and the GOP’s big talk might make sense to idiots in BubbleWorld, it doesn’t add up in the real one, and Kessler and the Post give Lyin’ Ryan the ultimate Four-pinnochio rating when it comes to this claim.
Medicare certainly faces financial stress as the baby-boom generation begins to retire in full force, but it’s important to get the facts straight. It’s bad enough that Ryan, like many politicians, uses imprecise rhetoric such as “broke”; that’s a Two-Pinocchio violation. But the House speaker really went off the rails when he said on national television that Obamacare is making the program go broke. That’s the exact opposite of what happened.
Now maybe Ryan is just acting like the cynical piece of crap he is, and figuring that if Donald Trump can throw a bunch of shit against the wall and get enough dimwits to fall for it, why can’t he do the same to hand over Medicare to privateers and corporations? But if truth and independent facts have any place in this country anymore (and sure, that’s a big IF), they need to toss Lyin’ Ryan’s plans onto the fire. While we’re at it, can we pretty much have the media realize that as a rule, anything else that Lyin’ Ryan has to say about the federal budget and the economy is likely to be dead wrong, and laugh him off of the podium for the next 2 years?

And no Beltway media, it doesn’t matter how pretty Pau-LIE’s face may be, because that guy is throwing out some ugly, disgusting ideas, and sneaky methods in carrying out that agenda. Never forget that Ryan and other Congressional Republicans are fronting for some even worse people when it comes to discussing the future of both Medicare and Social Security, as noted in this always-great passage from Robert Greenwald's movie Koch Brothers Exposed.