Wednesday, May 31, 2017

WisGOP, corporates make Milwaukee Number 1! For job loss

In case you wonder why Governor Walker and his allies are constantly going around the state giving “happy talk” about the state’s economy (with paid right-wing hacks writing debunked and dishonest columns to out-of-state audiences), it’s because they’re trying to convince people into thinking things are fine in Wisconsin ahead of the 2018 elections.

The reality they are running from is saying something very different, especially in the state’s largest metropolitan area (where nearly 30% of the state’s jobs are). The Bureau of Labor Statistics came out today with their report on local area employment and unemployment for April 2017, and it included this brutal paragraph.
The largest over-the-year decrease in employment occurred in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis. (-4,700), followed by Rochester, N.Y. (-4,500), and Houma-Thibodaux, La. (-4,400). The largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment occurred in Casper, Wyo. (-6.1 percent), followed by Houma-Thibodaux, La. (-4.9 percent), and Sioux City, Iowa-Neb.-S.D. (-2.9 percent).
We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1! The Milwaukee metro also lost the 2nd highest percentage of jobs out of the top 51 metros in America (0.5%, only Rochester lost a higher rate). I’m sure Governor Walker will be touting this as much as he touts the high rankings from Chief Executive Magazine.

And if “last in the nation for job growth” doesn’t convince you the Milwaukee metro has the worst corporate culture in America, let me note that the oligarchs at the MMAC have said “we love what the GOPs in Madison have done for us!,” and is encouraging the state to continue on this path by backing Dale Kooyenga’s stupid plans to cut taxes and wages further.

I mentioned last week how the Milwaukee Metropolitan area has been way behind Madison when it comes to job and population growth over the last 6 years. But it’s also noteworthy to look at the report and see how for behind Milwaukee is vs other mid-sized Midwestern metros in today's report from the BLS.

Change in jobs, metro areas, April 2016-April 2017
Detroit +38,100 (1.9%)
Minneapolis-St. Paul +29,200 (+1.5%)
Columbus, Ohio 22,700 (+2.2%)
Indianapolis +18,400 (+1.8%)
Cincinnati +17,900 (+1.7%)
Grand Rapids +11,900 (+2.2%)
Des Moines +10,400 (+2.9%)
Cleveland +10,300 (+1.0%)
Madison +5,100 (+1.3%)
Milwaukee -4,700 (-0.5%)

How can you look at these and numbers and find the decline in Milwaukee remotely acceptable? Even the “Illinois cesspool” of Chicago (+13,800) has added jobs over the last year, and we keep hearing from Walker and Wisconsin business leaders what a mess that city and state is. So how bad must that make Wisconsin’s largest metro area?

Combine this “last in the nation” status for the Milwaukee metro with last Friday’s news dump showing that Wisconsin’s job growth declined by 70% in 2016, and the news from 2 weeks ago that had Wisconsin dead last in the nation (again) for business startup activity. .

These stats lead to an obvious conclusion- WHAT WE ARE DOING IS IN WISCONSIN NOT WORKING. And it won’t change as long as the current puppets politicians are in power in the Capitol, both in the Governor’s Office, and in the Legislature.

You would never accept the Brewers or Packers being this far behind the competition, and continuing in the wrong direction. So why do we accept it from our corporately-run Wisconsin government?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wanna pay more for camping and sightseeing in Wisconsin? Walker wants you to

In addition to decisions relating to whether to get rid of the state property tax that pays for Wisconsin's Forestry operations, the Joint Finance Committee will also talk about how to fund Wisconsin State Parks, and whether the state should raise fees for the second straight budget. These discussions follow a decision in the 2015-17 Walker/WisGOP budget that removed all General Fund tax dollars from parks operations, and raised admission fees for vehicles visiting State Parks, along with raising camping fees in state parks and forests.

Those 2015 moves are not projected to bring in enough money on their own to make the parks self-sustaining, so the DNR was tasked with coming up with identifying other ways to come up with the money. Here's what they found.
With the elimination of GPR support for parks operations and the recognition that the fee increases included in 2015 Act 55 [the 2015-17 state budget] were not likely to generate sufficient revenues to support authorized ongoing expenditures going into the 2017-19 biennium, 2015 Act 55 required DNR to study and prepare a report regarding potential additional sources of revenue for parks operations and maintenance. The Department's report noted that the parks account was expected to have a projected structural imbalance (authorized expenditures exceeding anticipated revenues) of approximately $1.4 million annually. The report included four short-term revenue options as well as four long-term options. As noted in the report, the short-term recommendations would primarily involve demand-based pricing to align fee structures with local market conditions. The report identified six properties accounting for approximately 33% of the estimated total 17 million parks visitors in fiscal year 2015-16, including Devil's Lake, Governor Dodge, High Cliff, Kohler-Andrae, Peninsula, and Willow River State Parks.
And the Walker Administration is following some of those DNR recommendations in this budget, including a plan to charge higher fees at the most popular state parks, and allowing park visitors to buy into an annual admission sticker during the year.
Under the proposed two-tiered fee structure annual admission fees at the other parks would remain the same as under current law. DNR noted in the Act 55 report this fee structure would require differentiating stickers between the admissions options. Further, the Department indicates that if this proposed structure were implemented, visitors could "upgrade" from a daily pass to an annual pass during the year. For example, if a resident had paid for two daily admissions at high-tier Wisconsin State Parks already during a calendar year ($13 each), on their third visit to a high-tier property, they could choose to purchase an "upgrade" to an annual admission for $12, or the difference between the two daily fees purchased ($26) and the annual admission fee ($38). Department staff indicate that this proposed fee structure is currently being considered, but no final determination has been made regarding its implementation. Further, as the bill would allow the Department to charge a range of admission and camping fees at different properties at different times of the year, this fee proposal or a different fee proposal could be instituted or altered at the Secretary's directive. ...

The bill would increase the range of nightly camping fees the Department may charge by up to $10. A plan currently under consideration by DNR, as described in March, 2017, correspondence, would increase nightly camping fees as follows at five high-demand parks, including Devil's Lake, High Cliff, Kohler-Andrae, Peninsula and Willow River: (a) for electric sites, by $10 from May 1 to October 31; and (b) for non-electric sites, by $5 from the Friday preceding Memorial Day to Labor Day. Increased revenues from these camping fees are estimated at $220,000 in 2017-18 and $875,000 annually beginning in 2018-19.
Interestingly, the Parks Account turned out fine in the last fiscal year, before some of the newly-increased fees hit. But the LFB says that was a one-time fluke that shouldn’t be counted on for the future, and that the only thing allowing the Parks Account to be self-sustaining for this year is lower staffing.
….Although actual fiscal year 2015-16 revenues to the parks account were higher than expected and significantly exceeded actual expenditures, favorable weather conditions and low gas prices likely contributed to revenues exceeding estimates. In fiscal year 2016-17, it is estimated that authorized expenditures from the parks account would exceed anticipated revenues by approximately $1.2 million. However, the Department has maintained a number of vacancies in the parks account and the vacancy rate remains at approximately 28% in May, 2017. As a result, fiscal year 2016-17 expenditures are expected to be approximately $1.25 million less than authorized expenditures….. Increased revenues from these [new] admission fees [at the high-demand parks] are estimated at $925,000 in 2017-18 and $1,850,000 annually beginning in 2018-19 (Alternative A1). In combination with higher camping fees that DNR may institute as described in a later section, annual parks account revenues would increase by an estimated $2.7 million once in full effect by 2018-19.
Those higher admission fees, along with the higher camping fees, would result in another $3.87 million over the 2017-19 biennium, allowing the DNR’s Parks Account to be self-sustaining while filling in some of those remaining vacant jobs.

Of course, this also makes those high-demand parks and the campgrounds less affordable and/or utilized by some people (which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view). And there is an argument to be made that we could avoid any fee increases over the next 2 years, and see what the long-term effect of 2015-17’s higher fees are. We have the breathing room, since there was $9.16 million in the Parks Account last July 1, and the Parks Account is projected to have $9.24 million available on this July 1.

If the Joint Finance Committee decided to not to change fees, the LFB indicates that there would be just under $6 million of cushion that the Parks Account could absorb in case of a low-attended year or some kind of higher costs that have to be taken care of. This would be risky and leave the Parks Account with an annual deficit of well over $1 million a year once it is fully staffed, but also may be an option if there is sufficient money to carry over.

Or, we could be like Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, and show that all Wisconsinites should be invested in their state parks, and use General Fund dollars. This seems unlikely in this tight budget, but it’s worthy to make the contrast, particularly since it is FREE to visit state parks in Iowa and Illinois due to that usage of general tax dollars to fund the parks.

Regardless of how you look at it, keeping with this “Chamber of Commerce” mentality at the state parks is something we need to keep our eyes on, and work to maintain access and affordability to. If we have a true “business mentality”, we should recognize that one of the state’s few advantages is natural beauty, and that can be used to gain an edge in quality of life, in tourism and in attracting talent to come here.

Can't get this in most places.

Are Wisconsin's forests worth $27 a year? We'll find out

One of the centerpiece “reforms” of Scott Walker’s budget is a proposal that would lead to noticeable changes for Wisconsinites’ property tax bills, and the potential maintenance of State Forests. It’s a move that would eliminate the “state” part of a homeowner’s property tax bill, and then make up the difference in that tax cut by using General Fund tax dollars to pay for that part of the Department of Natural Resources’ forestry duties. The DNR’s Forestry Account would lose $180 million of that property tax funding, and instead will have the same amount of money transferred in from the General Fund.

So let’s go into the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s paper on the property tax proposal, and see what the Forestry Account currently does. It pays for many outdoors-related maintenance and operations, and helps to pay some of the money required for land management and preservation duties. Under today’s Forestry financing system, there is projected to be a surplus of money available to take care of these things.
The forestry mill tax currently provides a dedicated funding source for, and makes up the majority of revenue to, the forestry account of the conservation fund. As noted in LFB Paper 466, under the bill, forestry account revenues would support approximately 617 full-time equivalent staff positions in 2018-19 to fund a variety of activities. This includes approximately 602 DNR staff and the following programs: (a) the operations of 23 state forests; (b) tree nursery operations; (c) prevention, detection, and suppression of forest fires; (d) forest health and productivity, including administration of the MFL program and assistance to county forest administrators; (e) grants, loans, and payments to certain towns and private forest owners; (f) repayment of a portion of stewardship program debt; and (g) a portion of DNR administrative costs. In addition, the forestry account supports approximately 15 staff and certain costs of various other state agencies, including forest pest control by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and land management operations of the Kickapoo Reserve Management Board and the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board. Expenditures from the forestry account totaled $103.8 million in 2015-16.

4. Also, as noted in LFB Paper 466, under the bill, the forestry account would be expected to have an available balance of approximately $25 million on June 30, 2019. Anticipated revenues ($118.4 million) are expected to exceed authorized ongoing expenditures ($110.9 million) by $7.5 million in fiscal year 2018-19.
So perhaps the 2017-19 would be the right time to take this risk, since there is plenty of money available in the short term. That, or maybe it’s a good time to use Forestry money to pay for upgraded communications and fire detection efforts, which the LFB says is underfunded in the current 2017-19 budget.

But back to the property tax part for a second. If Walker’s measure is approved, the LFB says that property taxes on the average Wisconsin home would be projected to be lower over the next 2 years.
On March 14, 2017, this office released its estimate of the tax bill on the median-valued home taxed at the statewide average tax rate based on provisions in the Governor's budget bill. Because the estimate for 2016(17) included more recent data on actual tax levies that are higher than assumed at the time of the Governor's estimate, the base year estimate ($2,852) is somewhat higher than the administration's estimate ($2,845). Nonetheless, the March 14 estimates for 2017(18) and 2018(19) are lower than the tax bill estimates for 2010(11) and the estimate for 2018(19) equals the 2014(15) calculation.

19. Under current law provisions, the forestry mill tax is levied at a rate of 16.97 cents per $1,000 of the statewide equalized valuation, as determined by DOR. Sunsetting the state forestry tax would reduce statewide property tax collections by $88.8 million in 2017(18) and $91.7 million in 2018(19), relative to current law. Based on this office's estimated median home values, tax bills would be lower by $27 in 2017(18) and $28 in 2018(19), also relative to current law. Table 5 reports tax bill estimates for 2010(11) and for 2014(15) through 2018(19), under the bill. The calculations are rounded to the nearest dollar. The amounts also take into account the Governor's 2017-19 recommendations related to increased funding for school equalization aids and the school levy credit.
This is good news if all you care about is what you pay in property taxes, but very bad news if you care about pretty much anything else. That $180 million in General Fund money could be used for a variety of purposes, including reducing debt on road projects, increasing aid to local governments (and preventing the inevitable cuts that would come under the current budget), or even building a more responsible method to keeping property taxes low.

The $180 million of General Fund money is also a less stable source of funding for Forestry operations, since the availability of General Fund money for any service is going to be an issue with a $1 billion budget deficit looming for 2019-21. Add in the stagnant job and population growth news of the last week, and it is increasingly possible that Wisconsin's structural deficit will go even higher due to low revenues.

This lack of long-term stability for Forestry operations and the uncertain future budget picture are why a Northwoods Assemblyman and several lumber-related businesses and forestry groups have recently released statements asking that the Forestry tax remain.
The Board of Directors of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA), the Lake States Lumber Association (LSLA) and the Wisconsin Consulting Foresters (WCF) join the positions taken by the Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Forestry Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) and the Wisconsin Council on Forestry in opposition to the sunset of the Forestry Mill Tax.

These organizations, whom are involved in every aspect of the states (sic) timber and forest products industry, believe that elimination of the Forestry Mill Tax would have a negative impact on an industry that is one of the leading economic drivers of the state.

As the state struggles to find a long-term funding solution for the state’s transportation program, and biennially debates how much funding is available to support K-12 education, the Medicaid program, and the Department of Corrections, we don’t need to add further uncertainty into the mix by eliminating a dedicated revenue stream which adequately maintains, grows and protects one the state’s most important resources.

GLTPA Board member Aaron Burmeister released the following statement:
“The Forestry mill tax of Wisconsin is important for us to maintain the forest on a responsible basis. It will allow us to continue valuable research on controlling exotic and invasive plants and insects that could bring doom to our forest resource!

We would much prefer that the Forestry Mill Tax remain in place and that the additional surplus general purpose revenue be used to fix our rural roads and bridges, so that our industry and other industries in Wisconsin can efficiently get raw products from the forests and fields to our respective mills and markets.”
Interestingly, Mursau’s State Senator is Tom Tiffany (R-Climate Change Denial), who sits on the Joint Finance Committee, so let’s see what direction Taconite Tommy and the rest of the JFC Republicans take on this one.

I think $27 is a worthwhile investment for this, don't you?

Also, let’s see if there are discussions in tomorrow’s meeting about how to best use the $180 million in GPR funds, particularly in light of recent declines in income tax revenues, significant slowdowns in job growth, and other competing needs such as transportation, insurance costs and salaries for state employees, or even needing a bigger cushion against a potential downturn in the economy.

As June approaches, we are getting into the big stuff of this budget, and we’ll see how Joint Finance and the Legislature tries to build off of the house of cards that Scott Walker calls a budget. Be vigilant

Monday, May 29, 2017

OK GOPs. Let's bring back JFK's "tax cut"

On his 100th birthday, I want to give a little context to a certain claim that is sometimes floated regarding John F. Kennedy. Right-wingers will often try to justify tax cuts by saying something like "Even JFK cut taxes and they worked! Why have liberals lost their way?"

The first sentence is true- John F. Kennedy indeed did ask for a tax cut, which was working its way through Congress when Kennedy was shot in November 1963, and was signed into law 3 months later as the Revenue Act of 1964. This lowered tax rates across the board for both individuals and corporations, and established a minimum standard deduction which reduced taxes further for many people. And from 1964-1966, the US economy boomed, with GDP growth consistently being between 6-10%. Unemployment also fell from 5.2% to 3.5% from 1964 to 1969 (a bunch of Boomers entering the work force and a major ramping up of spending in Vietnam and the Great Society didn't hurt, either).

By 1965, when Kennedy's proposed tax cut was fully phased in, there were 25 (!) federal tax brackets, with the rates sliding higher with income. Here are some of the key cutoff points (using this handy site from the Tax Foundation), and I'll adjust for inflation and use 2017 dollars, so you can have an idea about how this would translate into the modern day.

Tax brackets for selected income levels, married filing jointly 1965
(adj for inflation)

14% $0-$7,651
19% $30,602-$61,205
22% $61,205-$91,806
25% $91,806-$122,409
28% $122,409-$153,012
32% $153,012-$183,614
36% $200,000
42% $250,000
48% $300,000
50% $340,000
53% $400,000
55% $500,000
60% $675,000
64% $1,000,000
68% $1,225,000
70% $1,530,721+

And if you look at difference between then and now, you'll notice that the capital gains tax rate was a flat 25% in 1965, the same as the post-Obamacare 25% that the rich pay for long-term cap gains and above the 15% rate on dividends that we have today. The top corporate rate in 1965 was 48%, which is a lot more than the 35% top rate (that no regular corporation pays) that Paul Ryan and company whine about in 2017.

So hey, if Republicans want to pay tribute to JFK and bring back the same tax brackets as we had under his early '60s "tax cut", count me in! It'd definitely work better than the oligarchical, pro-rich, pro-corporate crap we have today.

And today's Republicans seem to forget this statement of JFK's, which helps to explain his spending philosophy, and how the nation must invest and lead, and put our money where our mouth is.

PS- And minimum wage in 1965, using 2017 dollars? $9.70 an hour. Bring that back too, GOPs!

JFC lets more vets, families get college paid back, but makes the schools pay for it!

Just in time for Memorial Day, the Joint Finance Committee has expanded the eligibility of the family and surviving spouses of deceased and disabled soldiers to improve their lives through higher education. The provisions were part of the omnibus package on the UW System that was passed at Thursday's JFC meeting.
In addition, specify that the spouse or child of a disabled veteran who was not a resident of this state at the time of entry into service but who has lived in this state for five consecutive years immediately preceding the semester in which the spouse or child of a disabled veteran enrolls would only be eligible for a remission of tuition and fees if the spouse or child has also lived in this state for five consecutive years immediately preceding enrollment. Specify that the unremarried surviving spouse or child of a deceased veteran who was not a resident of the this state at the time of entry into service but who had lived in the state for at least five consecutive years while aged 18 or older would only be eligible for a remission of tuition and fees if the spouse or child has lived in this state for five consecutive years immediately preceding enrollment.
The JFC also approved of allowing National Guard members to receive in-state tuition at state colleges, even if they come from out of state.
Provide an exemption from nonresident tuition for students who meet all of the following criteria: (a) the student has resided in this state for six months immediately preceding the beginning of any semester or session in which the student enrolls; (b) the student is a member of the Wisconsin National Guard or a reserve unit of the U.S. Armed Forces while he or she registers at an institution and has been a member for the six months immediately preceding the semester in which the student enrolls; and (c) while enrolled, the student continues to be a member of the Wisconsin National Guard or a reserve unit of the U.S. Armed Forces. Specify that a student who meets the criteria above and who withdraws from an institution during a semester or session because he or she is called into active duty with the Wisconsin National Guard or U.S. Armed Forces for at least 30 days is entitled to an exemption from nonresident tuition if he or she reenrolls in a UW institution during the semester in which he or she is discharged, demobilized, or deactivated from active during or in the following semester. Provide that a student who meets the criteria above would be eligible to receive an exemption from nonresident tuition for 128 credits or eight semesters, whichever is longer.
Both of these are good rewards for Guard members and family members of soldiers who have paid a high price for their service to the country. There's one big problem with these initiatives- there's no extra money set aside to pay for this.

If you go into the budget paper that talks about expanding the ability of spouses and children of dead and disabled vets to get their tuition paid, it mentions that the veterans tuition program was already underfunded, even before Walker and Joint Finance wanted to expand the eligibility to take advantage of it.
7. The precise number of veterans who were not Wisconsin residents at the time they entered service but who have lived in the state for five consecutive years is unknown. However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows that that 64.8% of veterans who have been awarded disability ratings of 30% or more and live in Wisconsin were born in the state. Although some veterans who were born in Wisconsin may have been residents of other states at the time of entry into service and some veterans who were not born in Wisconsin may have been state residents at the time of entry, this figure could reasonably be used as an estimate of the proportion of Wisconsin veterans who were state residents at the time of entry.

8. Based on this data, it is estimated that the value of remissions to the children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans who were not state residents at the time of entry into service but who have lived in Wisconsin for five consecutive years could total $6.47 million annually ($5.42 million at UW institutions and $1.05 million at the technical colleges). The Governor's budget does not provide any additional funding in the HEAB [Higher Education Aids Board] appropriation to reimburse the Board of Regents and the technical college district boards for the increase in forgone tuition revenues that would result from this provision. As an alternative, the Committee could increase the HEAB appropriation by $6.47 million annually to fund the estimated increase in tuition and fees remissions that may result from this provision. If the Committee wished to reimburse the UW System and the technical college district boards for 15% of the additional remissions, which is equal to the percentage of current remissions that are reimbursed, the Committee could increase the HEAB appropriation by $970,000 annually. (the Joint Finance Committee and Walker budget chose to give an increase of...$0)

9. The value of remissions granted to children and spouses may increase in the future as this provision may attract additional disabled veterans and their families to this state. While federal education programs for veterans generally allow veterans to transfer benefits to children or spouses, benefits provided under these programs are usually limited to an amount sufficient for one beneficiary to earn a four-year degree. Under the state remissions program, a disabled veteran's spouse and each of his or her children are eligible for tuition and fees remissions for the longer of 128 credits or eight semesters, which is roughly equivalent to a four-year degree. Given these generous benefits, expanding eligibility for remissions to the children and spouses of disabled veterans who have lived in this state for five consecutive years could encourage a significant number of disabled veterans, especially those with multiple children, to relocate to this state, thus increasing the value of remissions granted.
So who will make up the difference in these added tuition remissions? THE SCHOOLS THEMSELVES. The UW System seems to set aside a portion of their regular tuition payments to give back money to the spouses and children of disabled and deceased veterans, but the state Technical College System just adds the expense of remissions to their overall bottom line. In other words, expanding this program without funding it will mean that already-restrained funding at the UW System and the Tech Colleges has just gotten tighter.

Bad enough, and in addition, it seems quite sad that right before Memorial Day weekend, our Legislature passed on helping to pay for the deserved benefits that are being given to our veterans and their families. Keep this in mind when you see other intiatives and spending be chosen in the coming weeks during state budget talks.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

UW budget already wasn't good. But JFC made it worse

I wanted to go over the 23-part omnibus package on the UW System that the Joint Finance Committee passed last Thursday. It made a mediocre-at-best UW budget into a downright bad one.

Here are a few of the items I wanted to touch on.

1. Gov Walker's budget wanted to give $21.25 million a year to the UW System for performance funding, starting in July. But the Joint Finance Committee's package only allows for money in 2018-19. There's more of it for that year ($26.5 million), but it also requires the UW Board of Regents (now filled with Walker appointees) to send over their plan for distributing the money and what measures they will use to do so. In the meantime, that's a $21.5 million cut from Walker's budget for next year.

2. The 5% tuition cut for 2018-19 is also gone, traded in for a freeze on in-state undergrad tuition over the next two years. Unfortunately for the UW, the $35 million in tax dollars that Walker's budget set aside to make up the difference for the proposed tuition cut is also gone, so the UW is going on the same amount of resources.

3. Some of the $21.25 million cut is made up with the following item.
Provide $5,000,000 GPR in 2017-18 through the UW System's GPR general programs operations appropriation to be distributed by the Board of Regents to UW institutions to increase enrollments in high demand programs. Specify that these funds would be distributed to the institutions through a competitive process involving a request for proposals.
Of course, the question is "Whose demands are the UW supposed to follow." Given the previous comments by Assembly Speaker Robbin' "Ancient Mating Habits of Whatever" Vos, I'm betting this will take the input of the WMCs and other corporate oligarchs over what students or future-visioned businesses want.

4. There are also several earmarked items for UW majors and initiatives. This includes the creation of an engineering school at UW-Green Bay, an Institute for Sustainable Technology at UW-Stevens Point, and more funding for the UW-Madison Carbone Cancer Research Center. However, the only General Tax dollars that are set aside for these purposes are an extra $980,000 to Madison's Carbone Center, and it is specifically intended for "precision medicine." The Sustainable Technology Center at Point is paid for out of the state's environmental fund, and GB's new engineering major has no money behind it, but merely asks the Board of Regents to set it up.
I guess it's better than nothing, but at some point, these new offerings need money behind them.

5. Lastly, I want to go into the biggest earmark in the UW motion- the new Tommy Thompson Center for Alternative Facts on Public Leadership. Not only does this give $3 million in tax dollars to this new organization over the next 2 years (amazingly, this is the largest one-year GPR increase to the UW next year outside of the Innovation Fund), but there is a specific line-item that directs where at least $1 million of this money goes to.
Require that annually not less than $500,000 of the amount appropriated to the Center be allocated to the Board for speaking engagements sponsored by the Center at campuses other than the UW-Madison campus. Require that the Director of the Center propose an annual budget itemizing expenditures of the moneys appropriated to the Center, including expenditures for grants to proposed recipients, which would be subject to approval by the Board. Specify that upon the approval of the Board, the Director could make substantive changes to the annual budget only with subsequent approval of the Board.
In addition to the $1 million earmarked for speakers to non-UW campuses (this would literally be state-funded speech), it's the makeup of that Board that is giving the game away that the Thompson Center is far from an honest academic study place. And that's what making an original supporter of the Thompson Center skeptical about what this is really going to be about.
The proposed leadership of the planned think tank named for former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison does not match up with political leaders’ promises of nonpartisanship, said Donald Moynihan, director of the university's La Follette School of Public Affairs.

“Our vision of Thompson center is that it will be a credible nonpartisan entity,” Moynihan messaged Friday in response to a request for comment. “The governor, speaker and others committed to that goal when they presented the idea to the public. The current language coming from the JFC falls short of that standard.”

The seven-member board would include:

•a director
•the president of the Thompson Family Charitable Foundation, Inc.
•one member who worked under the personal direction of Thompson in the state or federal government
•two members nominated by the Speaker of the Assembly
•two members nominated by the Senate Majority Leader

The nominees from the Speaker and Majority Leaders would be appointed by the governor without Senate confirmation.
In other words, at least 6 of the 7 members of the Thompson Center Board would currently be nominated by Republicans or have served with GOP governor Thompson. Do you think there's going to be a lot of discussion about the failures of school vouchers, and honest talk about climate change or trickle-down economics with that crew? Hell no.

When you put all the figures and items together in the UW measure, along with the re-estimated decline in Federal Funding at the UW (as I mentioned in this post) it means that the UW System is actually going to have a cut in total funding of $10 million for next year compared to their current base budget. And in 2018-19, a paltry $28.8 million increase in state money is almost entirely tied up in performance measures (which seem likely to hurt high-commuter schools like Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Parkside), and the $2 million earmarked for the Carbone and Thompson Centers.

Then add in the major cuts that are proposed to UW funding for Capital building projects, and this budget is every bit as bad as the previous cuts that Walker/WisGOP imposed on it, because that damages from past sins remain and the 2017-19 disinvestment goes on top of that.

And then these WisGOP clowns and their corporate puppetmasters wonder why Wisconsin is dead last for entrepreneurship and that much of the state's economy is stagnant? Look no further than the "politics of resentment" strategy that these people have made against higher education in the state, in a lame attempt to grab votes from outstate rubes. It's got to end.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump, Russia, and Wisconsin connections

Even before last night's revelation that Donald Trump's son-in-law and trusted advisor Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret back-channel communication with Russian interests to discuss foreign policy matters and that Kushner had numerous pre-election contacts with the Russian foreign ambassador, the dots were pretty easy to connect between TrumpWorld and the Russian government.

Here's Keith Olbermann putting together the facts that had already been revealed, BEFORE the Kushner stories came out in the last 2 days.

Several top-level Wisconsin GOP politicians also have connections to the Russian sketchiness, and knew of this Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Let's start with former WisGOP chair and current White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asking the FBI back in February to deny that Trump's campaign hadn't talked to Russian officials, in an attempt to sniff out information on what the FBI was investigating, and how much they knew.

One Wisconsinite that definitely knew what was going on was U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Let's go back to this excellent Bruce Murphy article in Urban Milwaukee from January where Murphy pieced together published reports to show that Johnson (and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan) was aware of potential Russian interference before the November elections, but covered that up to Wisconsin voters.
The details of the mid-September meeting are in a story by the Washington Post, which reported that President Barack Obama had dispatched his counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to make the pitch for a ‘show of solidarity and bipartisan unity’ against Russian interference in the election,” as a senior administration official told the Post.

As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson was one the so-called “Gang of 12,” the top 12 congressional leaders, who were invited to the meeting. (House Speaker Paul Ryan also attended the meeting.) Johnson later confirmed to Politico that he participated in the briefing....

Russia’s interference with the American elections fit the pattern of a country engaged in disinformation and destabilization efforts across the globe, as Johnson has described it. And Russia’s leader was someone Johnson already suspected of nefarious acts. Johnson had previously sponsored resolutions calling for a full investigation into the murder of a Russian political opposition leader and for an investigation of Russia’s attacks on the Ukraine....

After the CIA publicly released a report in January concluding that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election, Johnson issued a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal saying he would “would need more definitive information before drawing further conclusions.” Johnson did not reveal that he had been informed back in September this was happening.

Johnson went on to complain to CNBC that the CIA refused to brief him on Russian hacking, saying “I have not seen the evidence that it actually was Russia,” while failing to note the CIA report’s echoed the briefing he’d received from other intelligence leaders in September.

This September meeting is also infamous for a reported moment where the Obama Administration recommended that both Republicans and Democrats go public with what they knew about Russian interference, and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would not go along, and whined that any attempt to go public on Russian interference would be slanting the election toward Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

The Obama Administration cowardly backed down instead of calling McConnell's bluff and going public, and sure enough, Paul Ryan's superPAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee used information received from the Russian-backed hacker Guccifer 2.0 in ads during the most recent elections, to try to maintain their House majority.
Guccifer 2.0 even posted a cache of confidential documents focusing on Representative Ben Ray Luján, Democrat of New Mexico, the chairman of the D.C.C.C., who faced no serious challenger this year. Mr. Luján said it was a clear effort to send a message to the party leadership — that the hackers wanted to try to hurt Democrats at all levels of the party, from lesser known races in Florida to the leadership.

After the first political advertisement appeared using the hacked material, Mr. Luján wrote a letter to his Republican counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee urging him to not use this stolen material in the 2016 campaign.

“The N.R.C.C.’s use of documents stolen by the Russians plays right into the hands of one of the United States’ most dangerous adversaries,” Mr. Luján’s Aug. 29 letter said. “Put simply, if this action continues, the N.R.C.C. will be complicit in aiding the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections.”

[Dem House Leader Nancy] Pelosi sent a similar letter in early September to Mr. Ryan. Neither received a response. By October, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” tied to Mr. Ryan, had used the stolen material in another advertisement, attacking [Dem candidate Joe] Garcia during the general election in Florida.
You want to know why Ryan isn't calling for a full-fledged investigation to get to the bottom of this Russian intereference? That story might explain a lot.

And yes, the Wisconsin connections to Russian interference go all the way down to the state level. Dem operative Scott Dworkin re-tweeted something this week regarding another bit of potential 2016 campaign money-laundering, which was done to back a one-time candidate for the GOP presidential nomination (before he hilariously flamed out in 10 weeks).

It's not like Scotty has a concern about money-laundering, since that's what the entire John Doe investigation was looking into- farming out his 2012 campaign operation to "social welfare organization" Wisconsin Club for Growth to hide the names and sources of big-money donors to his campaign. When you realize Walker was fine with taking $750,000 from the lead paint people, it's not a stretch to think Scotty would be willing to take $1 million to sell out US foreign policy. This same Ukranian money launderer gave $2.5 million to McConnell's "elect GOP Senators" superPAC, by the way.

So far, I haven't seen Wisconsin media follow up on these connections and knowledge of Russian interference to Rep. Ryan, Sen. Johnson and Governor Walker. Given that the details are coming public by the day, and given that it's conceivable Walker would run for an open 2020 presidential seat (even if he loses in Wisconsin in 2018, or bails out before that election), maybe it's time for Wisconsin media to step up and take the #TrumpRussia angle local.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wisconsin jobs and wages were horrid in 2016. Fire the GOPs in charge

I figured Wisconsin’s numbers from the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW) for 2016 would be bad when I noticed that Scott Walker’s Department of Workforce Development left out its usual pre-release of the numbers in last week’s Wisconsin jobs report. And my hunch was proven correct when Walker’s DWD pulled a pre-holiday weekend news dump and put the QCEW figures out this afternoon.

These numbers aren’t just bad, they are by far the worst of Scott Walker’s and WisGOP’s 6 years in power.

Job change, QCEW 2016
All jobs +15,462 (+0.55%)
Private sector +11,590 (+0.48%)
Manufacturing -3,776 (-0.81%)

By comparison, even in Walker’s first 5 sub-par years in office we were adding far more jobs than this. Job growth plummeted by 2/3 in 2016 compared to 2015, and hell, we added twice as many jobs in Jim Doyle’s last year in office than we did in 2016.

And these numbers continue a plummeting in the rate of job growth that coincides pretty well with the last “crappy” Walker/WisGOP budget, which took effect in July 2015.

Also note that loss of 3,776 manufacturing jobs for 2016. That was with the state’s Manufacturing and Agriculture credit in full effect, which makes GOP hack/UW professor Noah Williams look like an even bigger fool for claiming that the M&A credit worked in adding jobs (I wrote about that piece of shit "report" last month). Amazingly, Williams is still peddling his “it’s working” crap in Forbes this week, proving that the true party that benefits from affirmative action is the Republicans (because “both sides”, you know).

These QCEW figures add to my strong skepticism about the allegedly good jobs news that Walker’s DWD has been reporting for 2017. I highly doubt that things turned around so fast that we’ve gained over twice as many jobs in the first 4 months of this year than we did in all of last year. And “3.2% unemployment?” That could only be happening if people were leaving the state in droves (even above the stagnating population figures in every area outside of Madison). That, or the 3.2% unemployment number is bullshit and will be “corrected” in the coming months.

To top it all off, DWD’s pre-release of the QCEW also shows that wages actually went down in Wisconsin in 2016.

Total wages, 2016 QCEW
All jobs -1.28%
Private sector -0.62%
Manufacturing -5.30%

And these garbage figures are absolutely why Scott Walker is spending taxpayer dollars to get around the state campaigning, and claiming everything is “looking up” or “going great” in Wisconsin. He, his cabinet and his paymasters Cabinet have to sell propaganda to the unsuspecting rubes to trick them into giving Walker and his puppeteers one last term to screw things up for good.

We’ll see in a couple of weeks just how bad Wisconsin’s job stats look compared to the rest of the country for 2016, but it seems guaranteed that Wisconsin will be in the bottom 20 for job growth for the 22nd straight year. Then again, I’ve posited in the past that maybe these horrible numbers were partly by design- to make blue-collars feel enough anger at their dead-end situation that they’d vote for a dimwit like Donald Fucking Trump to “shake things up” and “get even.”

Well, good luck with thinking things will be better for you by November 2018, rurals and other angry white guys. Because after 6 years, the jury is back in the thinking world. USING WISCONSINITES AS RIGHT-WING LAB RATS HAS FAILED, at least when it comes to improving the economy. Then again, any economic growth that resulted from this Reign of Error was always coincidental to the real Koch/ALEC/Bradley agenda of grabbing the levers of power and making everyone an indentured servant to their needs.

Now do you get it, guys? The answer to your economic anxiety wasn’t going to be solved by replacing the guy in the White House. The answer comes from changing who’s in the Governor’s Mansion and in the Capitol in Madison.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A tale of two metros- growing Madison and flatlining Milwaukee

Interesting release from the Census Bureau today, which released its annual estimates of population for cities, towns and villages. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took note of a sizable drop in Wisconsin's largest City, leaving it back at the same level it was at 7 years ago.
For the first part of the decade, the city saw slight annual population increases, growing from 595,188 in 2010 to 600,178 in 2014. Starting with the 2015 population estimates, Milwaukee's numbers started declining, falling by about 1% to 595,047 in 2016.
80 miles down I-94, the story was very different.
Madison's population grew by 3,938 people from 2015 to 2016. Its total population is now 252,551, up 8.1% since 2010.

Mayor Paul Soglin said those figures are a reflection of the area's economy and quality of life.

"We're building an economy that's designed to create a great place where people want to live and raise their families," he said. "Jobs are at the core, but quality of life is way up there."
I'm no fan of the recent takeover and gutting of the Journal-Sentinel, but one the few advantages to Gannett's ownership is that they like to use more charts and databases, and they’ve made one that shows the population changes in the 2010s for every town, city and village in Wisconsin using this updated Census information. Feel free to click around to see what's going on in your neck of the woods.

Most remarkable in Madison’s growth is that the city added more people in 2016 than the whole rest of the state.

Population change, 2015-2016
City of Madison +3,938
Rest of Wisconsin +3,393

This pattern is similar for the state in the entire 2010s, albeit not as extreme. Madison and the rest of Dane County are the source of the largest additions of people, including 4 of the 5 largest-growing cities and villages in Wisconsin.

Population change, 2010-2016
City of Madison +18,920
City of Fitchburg +3,654
City of Sun Prairie +3,196
Village of Hobart +2,374
City of Verona +2,256

Rest of Dane County +15,174
Rest of Wisconsin +46,148

On the flip side, the state’s largest city and county is losing people and its related metro area is stagnant at best.

Population change, 2015-2016
City of Milwaukee -5,008
Rest of Milwaukee Co. -1,279
Waukesha Co. +2,064
Ozaukee Co. +364
Washington Co. +622
TOTAL MKE, WOW Counties -3,237

Population change, 2010-2016
City of Milwaukee +214
Rest of Milwaukee Co. +3,499
Waukesha Co. +8,433
Ozaukee Co. +1,919
Washington Co. +2,409
TOTAL MKE, WOW Counties +16,474

Not surprisingly, this also reflects in the performance of the economies of both areas. The Madison area is booming while the Milwaukee metro is comparatively stuck in neutral. This is especially true in the last year, where Madison keeps growing, even with unemployment below 3%, while Milwaukee has actually lost jobs. But it’s just an acceleration of a larger trend since Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP allegedly made Wisconsin “open for business” starting with the passage of Act 10 in 2011.

Change in all jobs since April 2016
Madison Metro +5,100 (+1.3%)
Milwaukee Metro -4,700 (-0.5%)
Rest of Wisconsin +37,700 (+2.3%)

Change in private sector jobs since April 2016
Madison Metro +4,200 (+1.4%)
Milwaukee Metro –5,100 (-0.7%)
Rest of Wisconsin +30,200 (+1.2%)

Change in all jobs April 2011- April 2017
Madison Metro +42,400 (+11.8%)
Milwaukee Metro +46,500 (+5.7%)
Rest of Wisconsin +124,100 (+7.9%)

Change in private sector jobs April 2011- April 2017
Madison Metro +41,100 (+15.1%)
Milwaukee Metro +48,800 (+6.8%)
Rest of Wisconsin +120,200 (+6.8%)

All this, AND a bunch of smart people? No wonder it's booming.

Maybe the 2010s strategy of the suburban-run WisGOPs of cutting state aid, voucherizing schools and micromanaging Milwaukee isn’t quite working out, is it? And maybe having regressive social legislation and giving money away to corporate oligarchs isn’t how you draw talent to the state’s largest city and economic engine.

I have a better idea on how to get the state’s economy moving for real people. How about taking a page out of Madison’s book, and investing in education, quality of life, and having a progressive outlook on employee wages and benefits? We know the MMAC/WMC “give the store away to the rich and politically-connected” strategy is failure, so why don’t we head in the direction that’s working in the 2010s?

And notice which party runs local government in Madison but who isn’t being given the chance to allow Milwaukee’s potential to be unleashed? That’s right, it’s the Dems. The WMC/MMAC oligarchs and their GOP puppets are the biggest reason behind the decline in Milwaukee and the stagnation in the rest of the state, and the Dems should be allowed to take the wheel for a while from these regressive dimwits and get things back on course.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Walker wants to greatly underfund building projects. Will GOP leggies let him?

The Joint Finance Committee comes back tomorrow to discuss a number of items, including the revisiting of the UW System, and building projects for both the UW and the rest of the state. When you look at the capital budget (the official name for building projects), you'll notice that the state has increasing needs, but the Walker budget doesn't want to spend money to deal with it, and that's especially true for the UW.

The Walker budget and the State Building Commission only accepted $223 million of $542 million of requested non-UW building projects. The capital budget information from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has this interesting tidbit on the cost of NOT paying for these projects in the 2017-19 budget.
4. The cost estimating guidelines provided by the Department of Administration's Division of Facilities Development for 2017-19 capital budget requests directed state agencies to use a cost escalator of 2.0% every six months through July, 2021. Using these cost escalators, delaying $319.3 million of project costs by two years would increase these projects' costs by $24.7 million by the beginning of the 2019-21 biennium, assuming that all of these projects would be built.

5. Table 3 compares the total amount of capital projects enumerated for administrative agencies in the five most recent biennial budgets compared to total projects requested by administrative agencies. As shown, the 2017-19 state building program would fund 41.2% of the funding amount requested for major projects, which is the third lowest percentage compared to the previous five biennia. Although the Building Commission recommended the lowest level of new general obligation borrowing for the 2015-17 biennium, the 2015-17 state building program applied previously authorized general obligation borrowing, which comprised the majority of the $186.2 million of total funding for that biennium.
What’s odd about this recent budget is that most of those new buildings that are requested are NOT part of the UW System. In fact, the UW System makes up less than half of the proportion of cost of new facilities in this budget vs the previous 10 years.

UW project enumerations as % of total capital budget
2007-09 $659.0 mil of $900.0 mil (73.2%)
2009-11 $931.0 mil of $1,196.9 mil (77.8%)
2011-13 $420.5 mil of $601.2 mil (69.9%)
2013-15 $703.8 mil of $1,128.9 mil (62.3%)
2015-17 $451.9 mil of $716.3 mil (63.1%)
2017-19 $128.3 mil of $397.8 mil (32.2%)

Flipped on its head, the cost of non-UW capital projects is similar to what we’ve seen over the last decade (it’s 2nd out of the 6 biennia in total cost, but in line with ’07-’09, ’09-’11 and ’15-’17 when adjusted for inflation). By comparison, the cost of enumerated UW projects is 69% to 86% less than ANY biennium...before inflation.

Even stranger is that Walker and the Building Commission don’t even want the UW to be able to use self-generating money for projects. These include facilities like dorms or student unions or athletic facilities that are funded through student fees along with everyday transactions that go on at those facilities (yes, in theory, each beer you have at the Terrace helps pay for the recent remodeling). From 2007-15, at least 80% of these requested projects were okayed by the Building Commission for each biennium, but for 2017-19, only 2 out of 9 were signed off on. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau mentions what the cost is if the Joint Finance Committee wants to allow the remaining 7 requested self-sustaining UW projects to go through.
7. To be more consistent with previous biennia, the Committee could enumerate additional PRSB projects requested by the Board of Regents. The attachment shows the PRSB projects in priority order assigned to them by the Board of Regents. Enumerating the next five PRSB projects in the priority list requested by the Board of Regents would increase total enumerations by $138,366,000 and authorize an additional $118,860,200 PRSB. Enumerating all of the remaining PRSB projects requested by the Board of Regents would increase total enumerations by $177,223,000 and authorize an additional $153,680,200 PRSB.
These requested self-funding projects that were turned down by Walker and the Building Commission include dorm projects at UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Madison and UW-River Falls, a new parking ramp near the UW-MadisonSchool of Veterinary Medicine, a new Fieldhouse at UW-La Crosse, and a new Student Health and Wellness Center at UW-Stevens Point.

Another source of capital funding can be through what’s called “All Agency” funds, which is generally used as a catch-all for non-specific projects that are needed over the course of two years. The LFB describes the low amount of funding that is proposed for these All Agency projects, and the increasing costs that will result if this type of maintenance and “as-needed” funding is delayed.
7.The majority of the total general obligation borrowing included in the Building Commission's recommended 2017-19 state building program is GPR-supported borrowing. Table 4 compares the recommended "All Agency" GPR-supported borrowing to the total GPR-supported borrowing included in state building programs over past biennia. As Table 4 shows, the Building Commission's recommended "All Agency" GPR-supported borrowing for the 2017-19 state building program comprises the largest percent of total GPR-supported borrowing compared to the five previous biennia.

8. However, the growth in the "All Agency" portion of the total recommended GPR-supported borrowing for the 2017-19 state building program would be offset by the reduced size of GPR-supported borrowing as a percent of total GPR-supported borrowing for the specifically enumerated projects under the Commission's recommendations. As shown in Table 4, the total $320.5 million of GPR-supported borrowing recommended for the 2017-19 state building program would be the second lowest amount provided for a biennial state building program compared to the five previous biennia.

9. Currently, DFD does not have a database that tracks facility maintenance and repair needs for state agencies. Biennially, DFD requests that state agencies determine the maintenance and repair needs of their facilities. For the 2017-19 biennium, agencies estimated total maintenance and repair needs of $535.7 million. Of that amount, agencies requested that $372.2 million (69.5%) be funded by GPR supported borrowing. The Building Commission's recommended GPR-supported borrowing amount for the "All Agency" program under the 2017-19 state building program comprises 48.8% ($181.7 million / $372.2 million) of the amount requested by agencies….

11. The cost estimating guidelines provided by DFD for 2017-19 capital budget requests directed state agencies to use a cost escalator of 0.9% for the six months between July, 2015, and January, 2016, and 2.0% for every six months thereafter through July, 2021. Using these cost escalators, delaying $190.5 million ($372.2 million-$181.7 million) of project costs by two years would increase these projects' costs by $15.7 million by the beginning of the 2019-21 biennium, assuming that all of these projects would otherwise be implemented in the 2017-19 biennium.
And why is all of this needed maintenance being deferred? Because Scott Walker wants to avoid raising taxes and maintain some stupid talking point about a low amount of borrowing? It's pathetic and irresponsible, and I would hope the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee recognize that there are needs that have to be funded and paid for.

But I'm not betting on it, especially the negligence at the UW. Let's see if I'm surprised tomorrow.

Whether it's the UW or in helping recovery, don't trust RW donors

You bet I think that there is serious bullshit going on with yesterday’s announcement of plans for a new Tommy Thompson Center for Alternative Facts on Public Leadership at UW-Madison. I’ve recently written a few things on this pattern of increasing privatization and the desire of right-wingers trying to direct the UW toward an agenda that steers away from revealing truths that might be inconvenient to WisGOP’s agenda. It also involves using right-wing GOP-perganda and fake stink tanks to blur reality for the average Wisconsinite.

While UW Chancellor Becky Blank and some UW faculty insist that the Thompson Center was their own idea, and will function as a non-partisan outlet, comments from the WisGOP Speaker of the Assembly seemed to indicate otherwise.
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the center has “no agenda,” but also indicated he sees it as a counter to left-leaning research organizations on campus.

“It’s not a conservative think tank,” Vos said. “Hopefully it will be able to offset some of the liberal thinking so that we at least have somebody who is bipartisan.

“Far too many of the organizations … (have) a left-of-center thought” at UW-Madison, Vos added. “This is just hoping that we can have a balance of thought on campus.”

Vos joined Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and others Tuesday to announce their plans to fund the center with $3 million of public money in the 2017-19 state budget. The center would also seek private funding.

Becky, what are you doing with these slugs?

Ok Robbin’, the Thompson Center will have “no agenda”, but it’s intended to “offset some of the liberal thinking.” Gotcha. And who is the center looking at as a “private funder”? Can we say “Bradley Foundation” or "Koch ‘philanthropy’”? I bet we will.

This is part of a disturbing trend where right-wing oligarchs and their puppet GOP politicians try to micro-manage and redirect public research universities from coming up with statements of fact that counteract their BS claims and policies. I saw the documentary “Starving the Beast” 2 years ago at the Wisconsin Film Festival (UW-Madison and Walker's "reforms" are a part of the film) and it was ahead of the curve in recognizing the ALEC-based mentality at the center of these attempted right-wing takeovers of universities, with false claims of “balance” and "modernization".

This mentality is why I don’t trust right-wing organizations to have any intentions of improving society when they give a donation or try to “reform” some kind of social good like public education. These people don’t believe in public goods and view independent research and analysis as a threat (after all, reality does have a liberal bias, as Stephen Colbert famously told us in 2006). These oligarchs want to mess up and delegitimize these institutions, not help them, and they want to control the message while doing so. They pony up money and use the lawmaking process to bully their way into a seat at the table, no matter whether they have merited it.

Even when the purpose is good, I think certain people deserve to have their donations be given a second look. That thought was triggered with me when I read about this “good deed” in light of last week’s devastating tornadoes in the state.
Rice Lake native Foster Friess has donated $1 million for a "Challenge Grant" with Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake for a relief fund in the wake of last week's tornadoes and severe weather which claimed one life, injured multiple people, and caused an estimated $10 million in damage in Northwestern Wisconsin. Mr. Friess says his family will double every amount sent to Red Cedar Church.

"Please dig deeply to help these people, who in less than an hour’s time, life was changed so dramatically for them," Foster Friess said. "Many of them have nothing but the clothes on their back. Their car is damaged, their home gone, including all the contents blown into the next county. My eagerness to issue the challenge grant to you was inspired when I saw how touched Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was as he met the people, hugged them, and encouraged them."
There are a lot of people who need help in Northwestern Wisconsin, and it’s likely that Friess still has ties to and affection for Barron County (he grew up there and graduated from Rice Lake High School), and he wants to help it recover from this devastation. This is definitely a good thing on the balance. But why funnel the money through a favored church, instead of either giving it through the state or local emergency management department? Or why didn’t Friess set up a separate organization to handle the relief efforts?

That may seem like I’m being harsh on a guy doing a good thing. But it’s because the name Foster Friess maes me VERY suspicious. Remember this quote from the 2012 GOP primary, when Friess was propping up cynical “Christian” nutjob Rick Santorum with millions of dollars?
“Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed. We have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture," [Friess] said. "We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are.”

He went on: “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive,” he added. “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
Santorum is far from the only GOP politician that Friess has given big money to if they are willing to follow his fundie edicts, and his donations include $100,000 sent to Scott Walker during his recall election in 2012, do you find it coincidental that Walker's office was the one helping to publicize Friess's recovery gift? How can I not believe there’s going to be a “thank-you” coming from Scotty to this guy in the near future, along with a public PR event and a further campaign kickback? Yes, that’s dark and cynical, but the 2010s have taught me to always look for the strings and eventual kickbacks when it comes to “charity” from right-wingers.

You can see where these things tie together. Among rich right-wing oligarchs, if you donate to university’s research or set up your own relief fund or give some other kind of philanthropy, this means that you get to control what that organization does and what form the assistance or other outcomes are. Taking it out of the purview of government means that there is no overarching purpose of charities or scientific research outside of whatever you want to have done….or not have done.

These guys (with an occasional Diane Hendricks thrown in) really do see themselves as the Masters of the Universe, with the ultimate goal making the other 99% of us the peons that depend on them for wages, knowledge, rights, and pretty much anything else. You need to know that if you ever start to be tricked into thinking that people like Foster Friess or the Kochs or members of the Bradley Foundation give a damn about improving services like education, or anything else that involves the lives of anyone they do not personally know.

It’s not much different than the mentality of these guys.

No matter how benevolent and decent their donations may be, the Kochs and Bradleys and Friesses and other right-wing "philanthropists" are not to be trusted.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump/Ryan Medicaid cuts would destroy Wisconsin budget

There are two huge releases in DC relating to health care policy and spending. The first will be the Congressional Budget Office's release of the updated Trump-Ryancare bill, which was blasted through the House of Representatives without an analysis of how many people would lose health care under the amended bill, or even an indication of what it would do to the US budget. In fact, there is a real possibility that the CBO score will show that so many people will take subsidies for crap insurance under the new bill that it would add to the deficit, which may require Paul Ryan to take the bill back and not officially send it over to the Senate.

Another big story is today's release of the austerity-driven Trump budget for the Fiscal Year that begins on October 1. This features massive cuts to domestic programs, with some of the largest declines coming in Medicaid.
The Trump administration's 2018 budget proposal released Tuesday included massive cuts to Medicaid, the government-run health program that provides insurance primarily to pregnant women, single parents, people with disabilities, and seniors with low incomes.

The plan calls for cuts amounting to $627 billion over the next 10 years.

That number does not include the roughly $880 billion in proposed cuts to the program through the American Health Care Act, the GOP leadership's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which the administration supports.

The plan has already received near-universal pushback in Congress, as even members of President Donald Trump's own party expressed skepticism over its provisions. The drastic cuts to Medicaid, among other programs, have drawn blowback from lawmakers in districts whose constituents would stand to be affected by the slashes.
Interestingly, the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the Medicaid budget in their meeting on Thursday. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says that lower-than-expected enrollments and costs for Medicaid will give over $95 million in breathing room for Governor Walker's 2017-19 budget, but that cushion may be put at major risk if Trump-Ryancare or the proposed Trump budget ever becomes law.
Another significant risk is potential changes in federal policy as it relates to Medicaid or broader healthcare policy. A potential decision to not renew CHIP allocations was already mentioned, but other changes to federal policy could also affect the state's MA spending. Discussions in Congress on the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act are ongoing. The elimination of or reduction to income-based premium tax credits for the purchase of health insurance could reduce opportunities to obtain coverage for households near the poverty line, which may push some, who would otherwise purchase commercial insurance with these subsidies, to seek or retain MA coverage.
And today, Wisconsin's Survival Coalition sent a letter to Wisconsin's Joint Finance Committee, laying out the major problems the state might face in funding Medicaid if Trumpcare becomes law.
As you are aware, the federal government currently funds about 60% of Wisconsin’s Medicaid costs, bringing roughly $5 billion to Wisconsin. These federal matching funds are the largest funding source for Wisconsin’s Medicaid programs and help to ensure that state GPR can be used for other essential purposes.

In March the Congressional Budget Office projected impacts on states that would be forced to operate undera per capita cap or block grant: “With less federal reimbursement for Medicaid, states would need to decide whether to commit more of their own resources to finance the program at current-law levels or whether to reduce spending by cutting payments to health care providers and health plans, eliminating optional services, restricting eligibility for enrollment, or (to the extent feasible) arriving at more efficient methods for delivering services.”

Our analysis of the proposed cuts shows it will be difficult for Wisconsin to meet current and future enrollment needs in a block grant or per capita cap scenario. Wisconsin has already achieved significant cost savings compared to other states, specifically related to long-term care populations which are among the most expensive to serve. The clear majority of long-term care participants are enrolled in managed care while other states are just now making the switch from fee-for-service to managed care. This shift alone has already resulted in savings of approximately $300 million per year compared to the legacy waiver programs it replaced.

Rough estimates provided by the Urban Institute project a $1 billion loss in Medicaid funds for Wisconsin under the AHCA.
And that $1 billion would have to be made up with a sizable increase in state spending using money that we don't have available in the state budget. The other option is having tens of thousands of Wisconsinites cut off of medical assistance and losing stability, with our economy suffering from the inevitable trade-offs that would result.

It makes me wonder if the Joint Finance Committee might want to take a step back on the Medicaid budget for a bit, to get an idea about how much federal funding they can count on (or not count on). At the very least, perhaps some additional money should be set aside as a hedge against Congressional action, even if that makes other Wisconsin budget initiatives impossible. Because if that doesn't happen, and if some kind of GOP health care bill ever goes through that cuts Medicaid funding from DC, then the state ends up at significant risk of having to have a repair bill to fill in the massive holes in the health services budget that would result.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not just the UW budget- financial aid and UW salaries are also underfunded

There are a number of items at tomorrow's Joint Finance Committee that deal with financial aid for higher education, UW tuition for the next 2 years, and potential UW pay raises. I wanted to rapid fire them, and explain the price tags involved, because all 3 items are going to require more money than Governor Walker set aside in the 2017-19 budget.

First of all, in order to fully fund Governor Walker's plans to expand veterans remission to children and the spouses of deceased or disabled Veterans. This will allow UW students to claim remissions as long as those people have lived in the state for at least 5 straight years (not necessarily a “resident” when that person entered the service, but the problem is that the funding is insufficient in the budget bill, and so $6.47 million is needed the full pay for the remissions for children and spouses of deceased or disabled Veterans, ).

Side note, the amount budgeted for remissions hasn’t been changed since 2009, just under $6.5 million a year.

Second, Turns out that Gov Walker's proposed 5% cut of tuition is more costly than what Scotty anticipated.
2.The Governor's budget would provide $35 million GPR in 2018-19 to fund the proposed tuition reduction. Based on data provided by the UW System, it is estimated that a 1% reduction in resident undergraduate tuition could result in a decrease in tuition revenues of $8.4 million. Based on this estimate, a 5% reduction in resident undergraduate tuition in 2018-19 could reduce UW System tuition revenues by $42 million in that year.

3. If the Committee approves the reduction in resident undergraduate tuition and wishes to fully fund that reduction, the Committee could increase the GPR funding provided to the UW System in 2018-19 by $7.5 million. Alternatively, the Committee could reduce the amount by which resident undergraduate tuition would be decreased such that it would be fully funded by the $35 million provided in the bill. It is estimated that $35 million would offset the estimated decrease in tuition revenues resulting from a 4.2% reduction in resident undergraduate tuition.
Also, remember that Walker's self-insurance scheme was going to get so much savings that it would pay for much of a 2% increase for UW employees in 2018 and 2019. Now that the Joint Finance Committee has indicated they won't go along with self-insurance, there needs to be nearly $30 million added to the budget to make up the difference.
DOA has estimated that the GPR-funded fringe benefit costs for UW employees could increase by $9,979,500 in 2017-18 and $15,429,300 in 2018-19. In addition, the Governor has proposed providing 2% salary increases for all state employees, including UW System employees, on September 30, 2018, and May 26, 2019. It is estimated that the GPR portion of these salary increases for UW System employees would total $15,794,500 in 2018-19. The bill would specify that the Board of Regents could not request any funds from the state's compensation reserve during the 2017-19 biennium to fund compensation and fringe benefit costs. Instead, the bill would provide $126,500 GPR in 2017-18 and $11,517,900 GPR in 2018-19 through the UW System's GPR general program operations appropriation to fund these costs. These amounts are equal to the estimated cost of the GPR portion of salary and fringe benefit increases less the estimated GPR savings to the UW System of the state self-insuring for employee health benefits ($9,853,000 in 2017-18 and $19,705,900 in 2018-19).
Seems like a sensible trade to get rid of the $35 mil (under)budgeted for the 5% tuition decrease and pay for the proposed UW salary increases, doesn’t it? Let's see if that's carried out.

And lastly, state grants for financial aid are also underfunded. Walker wants a minor increase, but it’s not enough. The LFB says that increasing the Wisconsin Grants back to 2009 levels would be an increase of $2.76 million above the budget. And if the Joint Finance Committee turnsdown the 5% tuition decrease and then puts in the difference to Wisconsin Grants, that’s $9.72 million.

Keep an eye on a number of these items tomorrow, in addition to the regular UW budget. Looks like we need to find some place for extra money, or we will see more students left out.

Why improve the state when you can save $26, right Scotty?

It’s obvious that Governor Walker is in full-on campaign mode with his latest PR assault- trying to portray himself as a tax-cutting champion that’s made Wisconsin better off (your reality may vary). This culminated in another Twitter meltdown that included Walker threatening to throw the whole state budget out the window.
Gov. Scott Walker, in another sign of escalating tension with fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, vowed Monday to take the unprecedented step of vetoing the entire $76 billion state budget if it raises property taxes on homeowners.

Walker issued the unusual warning publicly on Twitter in one of a series of messages defending his budget priorities. Republicans are considering breaking with Walker in several key areas on the budget, including property taxes, as they continue to debate changes to his two-year spending plan.
Of course, Walker's act has little to do with good governance and everything to do with Walker posing for voters ahead of his inevitable 2018 campaign for re-election (along with trying to stay in the good graces of DC lobbyist Grover Norquist). While Walker's claim that he's reduced property taxes on the typical homeowner is generally true, as the LFB says the property tax bill on the average Wisconsin home would drop from $2,943 in 2013 to $2,831 in 2019 under Walker’s proposed budget (again, your reality may vary), that has come at a great price to Wisconsinites and has hamstrung the state budget.

Much of that reduction in property taxes is the result of Act 10 benefit cuts that took thousands of dollars out of the pockets of many Wisconsin workers (and has not been made up over time), or is because of gimmicks like a $406 million increase in aid to the state’s Technical Colleges which has never been offset with taxes to pay for it, nor has the money been allowed to be used in the classroom. And Scotty's latest pre-election year stunt to lower property taxes is to remove the state portion of the property tax, which is goes directly to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to fund Forestry operations. Instead, Walker wants to use general tax dollars to pay for that, which has a price tag of just over $180 million in this budget.
The Governor recommends repealing the state-levied portion of the property tax beginning with the 2017-18 property tax year. The Governor also recommends creating a GPR sum sufficient appropriation equal to 0.1697 mills multiplied by the total state equalized value that will be transferred to the forestry account in the conservation fund. The amount of this appropriation is projected to be $88,759,300 in FY18 and $91,695,600 in FY19.
The idea of replacing property taxes with General Fund money might seem OK on the surface as a structural change, but many people who care about the state’s environment see the problems that will happen in the future from getting rid of a dedicated funding source for conservation services.
"This would mean that forestry would have to line up with schools and with transportation and with health care and all the other important needs that are funded with general revenue," said (former State Rep.) Fred Clark, executive director of the Forest Stewards Guild.

The programs are fully funded in the 2017-19 proposal from the governor, but Clark expressed concern they could be cut in future budgets.

"There's no guarantee that the level of funding that's provided today would be sustained," Clark said.
Given the $1 billion shortfall we are already looking at in 2019-21 if this proposed budget goes through, I think Fred has a point. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this new money that’s supposed to go to Forestry would be one of the first targets to cut to fill in a future Walker-caused budget hole.

In addition to the conservation angle, why would any responsible legislator choose a $26 property tax cut gimmick over $180 million that could be used to reduce that future deficit, and/or fix the pothole-covered roads in Fitzwalkerstan without borrowing ourselves into oblivion? Yes, this is a tight budget, but a big reason it is such a mess is because Walker designed it as a Christmas tree filled with pre-election talking points.

And it goes to a bigger theme. In WalkerWorld, there’s no concept of caring about what happens to Wisconsin after 2018, because Scotty’s onto the next grift after that anyway (especially if we’re looking at a different GOP president by then). He just thinks the average Wisconsin voter is so shallow that all he/she cares about is paying $1 a week less on their taxes and the ability to knock down “others” that they resent, instead of demanding better wages, a higher quality of life and a state that people want to live in for the rest of their lives.

Sadly, Scotty's been able to get 52-53% of voters to fall for it in past elections, but after a certain point, the jig is up and the bills need to be paid. This property tax gimmick should be shot down and the $180 million used for a better purpose- whether that’s savings from current and future budget cuts, or better investments like roads, schools and maintaining local services.

Yet again, the wisdom of Marge Gunderson comes through.