Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Democracy", WisGOP style

Phil Hands continues to bring good stuff to the Wisconsin State Journal's editorial page.

And speaking of that story about Wisconsin being 1 of 7 states that the Russians breached in 2016 - notice that state elections officials were still kept in the dark.
The U.S. intelligence community developed substantial evidence that state websites or voter registration systems in seven states were compromised by Russian-backed covert operatives prior to the 2016 election — but never told the states involved, according to multiple U.S. officials....

The officials say systems in the seven states were compromised in a variety of ways, with some breaches more serious than others, from entry into state websites to penetration of actual voter registration databases.

While officials in Washington informed several of those states in the run-up to the election that foreign entities were probing their systems, none were told the Russian government was behind it, state officials told NBC News.
The Department of Homeland Security apparently never contacted the state of Wisconsin before the elections, which is doubly odd given that U.S. Senator Ron Johnson is the Chair of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee. And as Bruce Murphy told us last year in Urban Milwaukee, Johnson was told before the November election that the Russians were interfering, but went along with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who argued against going public with the information.

It's obvious that Ron Johnson and Donald Trump benefited from Russian trolling and propaganda along with WisGOP voter suppression to (allegedly) win the state in November 2016. And the fact that Johnson was getting a big nudge from overseas sure would explain why Johnson didn't tell his own constituents about the fact the Russians had hacked into state voter information, now wouldn't it?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wis ranks well in Best States, but it isn't due to Walker or WisGOP

As our Fair Governor let us know, US News and World Report came out with their "Best States" survey, and Wisconsin fared pretty well overall.

That 11th place standing was good for 3rd in the Midwest, behind Iowa (#1) and Minnesota (#2). Here is the link to show how Wisconsin measured up, not only for the main categories, but for the sub-categories that went into determining the overall numbers. However, I have a warning- you might be stuck in there a while, as there are a lot of ways to slice and dice up those rankings.

And as I looked into those figures, all of a sudden, Wisconsin didn't look so impressive. Especially on figures related to our state's economic competitiveness and infrastructure, as I tweeted to others earlier today.

In fact, in many of these statistics, we were doing even better before Walker took office. This includes the rate of people without health insurance (7th in 2010, 9th in the survey), HS graduation rate (2nd in 2010-11, 6th in the survey), and violent crime rates (11th in 2010, 20th in the survey).

And one item that sounds good for Wisconsin in this survey doesn't end up looking so good when context is added. In the Best States survey, Wisconsin is 4th in the nation having a high number of women working vs men working. However, Wisconsin is 32nd in the nation when it comes to the pay gap between men and women. By comparison, Minnesota is 11th and Illinois is 27th, which would seem quite related to the problems Wisconsin has in attracting young, talented people compared to the states that have the Twin Cities and Chicago in them.

As you go through this list, it is obvious that items Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP have done nothing to improve the items we do poorly on (or acted too late in caring about, like with Internet infrastructure). But the items that Walker takes credit for, like the strong pension fund or the high level of Wisconsinites with health insurance, were things Wisconsin already was good at before Walker and WisGOP took power in 2011.

And when it comes to items like voter participation and social supports and the low number of Wisconsinites with food insecurity, Walker and WisGOP sure seem to be doing what they can to have us fall further down the US News list. If the voters of this state are stupid enough to keep them in power past November, you’ll likely see us slide into mediocrity on those measures as well.

So as usual, while Scott Walker might want to talk up Wisconsin's strong rating in some statistic or survey, he's cynically not telling you that he and WisGOP's policies have had little to do with those strong ratings. And he conveniently leaves out the many areas where we are falling further behind in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, with no hope of getting better as long as he and his Koch/ALEC errand boys are in charge.

Scotty tried to hide from democracy, and now Eric Holder's on his case.

It's nice to finally see some people with big money behind them holding our amoral Governor to account.

As a reminder, these two seats in the State Legislature became vacant on December 29, 2017, when Rep. Kevin Ripp and Sen. Frank Lassee resigned to cash in with higher-paying state jobs. This should have triggered this provision in state law, and I've emphasized a few parts that apply in this specific case.
The date for the special election shall be not less than 62 nor more than 77 days from the date of the order except when the special election is held to fill a vacancy in a national office or the special election is held on the day of the general election or spring election. If a special election is held concurrently with the spring election, the special election may be ordered not earlier than 92 days prior to the spring primary and not later than 49 days prior to that primary. If a special election is held concurrently with the general election or a special election is held to fill a national office, the special election may be ordered not earlier than 122 days prior to the partisan primary or special primary, respectively, and not later than 92 days prior to that primary.

(b) If a primary is required, the primary shall be on the day 4 weeks before the day of the special election except when the special election is held on the same day as the general election the special primary shall be held on the same day as the partisan primary or if the special election is held concurrently with the spring election, the primary shall be held concurrently with the spring primary, and except when the special election is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November of an odd-numbered year, the primary shall be held on the 2nd Tuesday of August in that year....

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election. However, any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring after the close of the last regular floorperiod of the legislature held during his or her term shall be filled only if a special session or extraordinary floorperiod of the legislature is called or a veto review period is scheduled during the remainder of the term. The special election to fill the vacancy shall be ordered, if possible, so the new member may participate in the special session or floorperiod.
Note that part about the Spring Elections in the 2nd paragraph? Keep that in mind when you read this pile of BS from the Governor's office.
Governor Walker’s spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said his decision is “consistent with the law.”

“Voters are already going to the polls this year to elect new representatives in these districts. This D.C.-based special interest group wants to force Wisconsin taxpayers to waste money,” Hasenberg said in a statement.
100% FALSE, and not just because the law requires an election to take place.

The "extra expense" line from WalkerWorld is a flat-out lie, because those elections could have taken place with a primary during the Feb 20 Supreme Court primary, and the General Election would be on April 3, just like with the Supreme Court. All places in Wisconsin would be holding elections anyway, so it wouldn't have cost anything extra if Walker chose to follow the law responsibly.

It's almost like Scotty is scared of higher turnout in that Supreme Court election, and that more people voting would sink any chance of the WMC/NRA puppet of winning that race. Almost....(hold that thought)

Then look at this excuse that Scotty tried to trot out today.

Well, if your crooked ass would have followed the law and called the election SOME TIME IN THE LAST 8 WEEKS, we wouldn't be in that situation, now would we? What a classically scummy move - slow-walk what you should do and then say "Oops, now it's too late! Can't do anything about it now!"

By the way, while Walker is a law-breaking sleazebag in this case, I do want to point out that I was calling for a lawsuit as far back as New Year's Day, because I could see this coming a mile away.
Also, those special elections could/should coincide with this Spring's Supreme Court election in April (if the special election was called in mid-January, then it could be held on the same day (lessening costs to these communities). Higher Dem turnout in those special election races would also make it likely that a non-GOP hack would win that Supreme Court seat and cut into the WMC-bought majority.

If Dems or anyone else that believes in democracy is awake in this state, the Walker Admin's attempt to avoid the election should be the subject of a lawsuit as soon as people get back to work tomorrow. My guess is that Gov "Unintimidated" and his crew would back down really fast. 2018 is here, whether WisGOP likes it or not, and they should man up and deal with the electoral consequences that will be inflicted on them.
Maybe if Eric Holder and/or the Wisconsin Dems had stepped up and sued when Walker first broke the law 8 weeks ago, then we actually would be having these seats filled and would be guaranteeing that 230,000 Wisconsinites get the representation in Madison that they deserve.

But then again, maybe Walker's lawless denial of democracy wouldn't be considered as much of an outrage and embarrassment if he had been forced to back down 8 weeks ago. And that might be a good thing for all of us in the long run. It's also hilarious to see Walker now try to play the victim, after being dragged into court to try to defend his clearly dishonest and illegal act.

See that ratio between "likes" and "comments"? Yeah, I don't think the people are buying it, Scotty.

It also looks like Scotty is scared of the idea that the big money and voter sentiment might be on the other side in 2018, which would be the first time that the professional grifter would have to work uphill to win an election in Wisconsin. And Walker's not good enough to win a race he has to work uphill in (as we saw in his joke of a presidential campaign). Of course, if Walker wants Eric Holder to butt out of the 2018 elections, then maybe he should fill these legislative seats AS REQUIRED BY LAW, and demand independent redistricting become the law in Wisconsin.

At that point, I'm sure Holder wouldn't care what Scotty does. So what's keeping Scotty from doing it?

Monday, February 26, 2018

WisGOP chose WMC over homeowners on "dark stores", and must pay a price

While the GOP-run State Assembly tried to jam through dozens of bills at the scheduled end of their session last week, there was one bill that didn't make the cut. And the failure to do so could raise the property taxes of Wisconsin homeowners by millions of dollars.

An in-depth article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette last week described how numerous assessments have been reduced for corporations statewide.
Data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue show that 136 companies obtained reduced assessments for more than 200 manufacturing facilities around the state between 2012 and 2016....

Among the largest losers:
► Manufacturers in Milwaukee County reduced their assessed values by more than $18 million, the most of any county.
► Outagamie County had the second-biggest reduction, losing $14.5 million in assessed value.
► Brown County lost more than $11 million, while Sheboygan County lost $7 million and Manitowoc County lost $4.7 million.
► In central and northern Wisconsin, Oneida County lost nearly $4.5 million and Marathon County lost more than $2.5 million in taxable property.

Expera Specialty Solutions secured one of the biggest cuts of any single company: It obtained reductions in the assessed value of its paper mills in Kaukauna, De Pere, Mosinee and Rhinelander by a combined $13.6 million.
Later in the story, author Jonathan Anderson describes a situation where Sturm Foods was the largest employer in the Village of Manawa, and was going to go to court to get their plant’s assessed value reduced from $30 million to $6.5 million in the city of 1,300 people.

Eventually, Manawa and Sturm Foods reached an agreement which lowered the assessment by $10 million, but even that smaller reduction had a high price for those 1,300 residents. Since the City still needed to have a similar amount of property taxes in order to function, the property tax rate for homeowners in Manawa went up by $2.36 per $1,000.

Doesn't look abandoned, but it's assessed like it is.

With this circumstance repeating throughout the state, a sizable amount of legislators from both parties
signed onto legislation that would end the "dark store" loophole and other bases for property assessment that favor corporations over homeowners. These bills had gotten hearings and are ready to be voted on by either house of the Legislature, if the GOP legislative leaders want it to happen.
One would limit use of the so-called “dark store” theory that has been employed in Wisconsin and other states. Retailers have used it to challenge their tax assessments by contending their property values should be linked to the value of other large retail stores that are vacant, or “dark.”

The other would reverse a 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that found the city of Madison improperly assessed the value of two Walgreens stores. That case since has formed a precedent for assessments of certain leased retail buildings, which local governments contend has artificially depressed their value….

But their opponents include some of the state’s most politically influential business groups, such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and retail giants Walmart, Walgreens and CVS.
That conflict led to this seamy scene at the end of Thursday night's Assembly session, which was scheduled to be the last one of the 2017-19 biennium.

And note who Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos says were unsuccessful in negotiating any kind of dark store bill- HINT, it wasn't the legislators.

And the reason any deal failed? Because as Mark Sommerhauser reported in the Wisconsin State Journal, the LWM wouldn't do WMC's bidding, and because GOP Reps wouldn't be able to hide how they voted.
A compromise floated by WMC and Assembly GOP leaders “would have codified the Walgreen’s decision, which is exactly the opposite of what we are seeking,” the league said in its statement…

The office of the Assembly sponsor of the bills, Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, declined to comment Friday. Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz, meanwhile, said Assembly Republicans approached him about holding a voice vote — not a roll call, in which members’ votes are recorded — on a version of the dark store compromise opposed by the league. Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Democrats declined because that proposal wouldn’t solve the problem.“Not reaching a decision is making a decision,” Hintz said. “Assembly Republicans made a decision to continue to punish residential taxpayers by shifting the tax burden.”
Given that the GOP-run Legislature refuses to take up a bill clarifying the “dark store” standard, you’d have to think a definitive decision on the issue will be left to the Wisconsin Supreme Court at some future date. And given that Michael Screnock has already been baacked by more than $500,000 from WMC, with more corporate cash likely to follow, want to take a guess how he’d vote?

You’d also think that if Rebecca Dallett’s campaign is smart, they’d point out Screnock's WMC ownership for April's Supreme Court election, and say that Dallett is the only candidate who would protect homeowners by making corporations have to pay property taxes on the same standard as everybody else. Wisconsin Dems should do the same for November's elections, and make the GOPs pay for being so bought that they wouldn't pass a law that to end the "dark store" ripoff.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

WisGOP Assembly, and AG Schimel have no problem with deleting records and evidence

There was a lot of garbage pushed through State Assembly on Thursday's final day of the 2019 session, but none may be worse than a bill that seems to allow people in power to hide more information in court proceedings.

State Rep. Chris Taylor was sounding the alarm about this on Facebook on Thursday, and if you look at the text of Assembly Bill 773 and the associated amendments that were added on during the process, you can see why Rep. Taylor was trying to draw attention to it. Look at what this bill allows to be concealed.
The bill provides that upon the filing of a motion to dismiss, a motion for judgment on the pleadings, or a motion for more definite statement, all discovery and other proceedings must be stayed during the pendency of the motion unless the court finds good cause upon the motion of any party that particularized discovery is necessary.

The substitute amendment maintains the automatic stay upon the filing of certain motions, but specifies that the duration of the stay is a period of 180 days after the filing of the motion or until the court’s ruling on the motion, which is sooner, unless the court finds good cause upon the motion of any party that particularized discovery is necessary.
And while discovery of documents is being stayed, the electronic documents can magically go away, if it's considered too much trouble to produce them.
Production of Certain Categories of Electronically Stored Information

The bill and the substitute amendment provide that, absent a showing by the moving party of substantial need and good cause, subject to an assessment of whether the burden of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, a party is not required to provide discovery of any of the following categories of electronically stored information (ESI):

 Data that cannot be retrieved without substantial additional programming or without transforming it into another form before search and retrieval can be achieved. - 5 -

 Backup data that are substantially duplicative of data that are more accessible elsewhere.

 Legacy data remaining from obsolete systems that are unintelligible on successor systems.

 Any other data that are not available to the producing party in the ordinary course of business and that the party identifies as not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. In response to a motion to compel discovery or for a protective order, the party from whom discovery is sought is required to show that the information is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. If that showing is made, the court may generally order discovery from such sources only if the requesting party shows good cause.

Preservation of Certain Categories of Electronically Stored Information

Under the bill and the substitute amendment, absent a court order demonstrating that the requesting party has a substantial need for discovery of the ESI requested, a party is not required to preserve the following categories of ESI:

 Data that cannot be retrieved without substantial additional programming or without transforming it into another form before search and retrieval can be achieved.

 Backup data that are substantially duplicative of data that are more accessible elsewhere.

 Legacy data remaining from obsolete systems that are unintelligible on successor systems.

 Any other data that are not available to the producing party in the ordinary course of business.

Limitations on Discovery Methods

The bill creates the following limitations on the specified methods of discovery, unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court:

 Twenty-five interrogatories, including all subparts.

 Ten depositions, none of which may exceed seven hours in duration.

 Requests for production of documents for a reasonable time period of not more than five years prior to the accrual of the cause of action.

The substitute amendment generally maintains the limitations provided in the bill, along with the exception that the limitations may be exceeded under a stipulation or court order. However, the substitute amendment provides that the limitation on requests for production of documents does not apply to requests for patient health care records, vocational records, educational records, or any other similar records.
It seems noteworthy that not ONE Republican chose to table this bill when Dems asked them to on Thursday night. Maybe the GOPs recognize that they ARE going to be gone soon, and want the ability to have deleting/shredding parties before the Dems take control.

Another tell here is that right-wing corporate fronts like WMC, NFIB, and the US Chamber [of Commerce] Institute For Legal Reform all testified in favor of this bill in January, and Koch Companies, the Dairy Business Association, the Builders Association and Associated Builders and Contractors (aka Diane Hendricks’ company) registered in favor of it.

It’s obvious that these guys don’t want the public to be able to sue them or find out what they are REALLY doing and who they are working with. Don’t give me this crap about how producing emails or other electronic evidence is an “undue burden.” This is all about covering up corruption and other revelations that would come from court actions.

And you know who likes this ability for corporations and other power-brokers to cover their tracks? Our crooked AG.

Sounds like someone’s looking for more corporate contributions! How much do you want to bet most of those states Schimel is referencing also have legislatures owned by ALEC?

Time to get on the horn with some state senators and make sure this corrupt pile of trash doesn’t become law. It might also be worthwhile to ask Supreme Court candidates Rebecca Dallett and WMC/NRA puppet Michael Screnock what they think about this as well.

Actually, I know what Screnock will say, because this type of one-sided BS is exactly what he and other right-wing judges mean when they say they will “uphold the rule of law.” The second part of that statement “rule of law” is “….no matter how much those GOP laws violate the Constitution or hurt someone else.”

AB 773 is Banana Republicanism at its worst, and yet another reason that they all gotta go ASAP.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fitz says "Not so fast" on Walker/Assembly GOP pre-election gimmicks

If you thought this week's bum rush of pre-election giveaways by the Assembly GOP was something that was quickly going to head to Governor Walker's desk, Scott Bauer of the Wisconsin Associated Press told us yesterday that many of those initiatives may not go through.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald threw cold water on a couple of Gov. Scott Walker's top priorities Friday, saying he was cut out of negotiations between the governor and Assembly on a tax cut deal and juvenile justice overhaul.

Fitzgerald told The Associated Press that both proposals, which passed the Assembly this week, will have serious problems getting through the Senate with no changes. The Assembly has adjourned for the year and Speaker Robin Vos reiterated to the AP on Friday that the chamber has no intention of coming back.

"If the Senate doesn't want to pass the tax cut, they can kill it and take the blame," Vos said...

Several major pieces of Walker's agenda that he hopes to run for re-election on this year got through the Assembly this week. That includes a $100 per-child tax credit and sales tax holiday, a plan to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison and overhaul the juvenile justice system, $350 million for a new adult prison, $4 million for more prosecutors and an incentive package to persuade Kimberly-Clark not to shed 600 jobs in northeastern Wisconsin.

Fitzgerald didn't commit to any of those passing the Senate unchanged and said he "absolutely" felt like he was cut out of negotiations between Vos and Walker.

Now Fitz is hitting back, apparently

And Fitz is continuing to publically voice concerns about the AssGOP/Walker bills. Take a look at what's going to be broadcast tomorrow statewide.

Another complication is that even if the Senate were to pass these bills next month, if any of those bills are changed in the Upper House, then the Assembly would have to come back and agree to those changes for those bills to go to the Governor’s desk. And as noted in the quote above, Robbin' Vos seems intent on giving State Reps a 10 1/2 paid vacation over having to do more work to make sure those bills can become law.

Given how the bills stand today, they might not fly in the Senate, and not just because Fitz is pulling a tantrum from being kept away from discussions between Vos and Governor Walker. Given the tighter margins in the Senate (18-14 vs 63-35 in the Assembly) and the expense involved (which would put a major hole in the 2019-21 budget). Along those lines, Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had this headline yesterday. "New spending and tax cuts to cost more than $700 million under actions by Wisconsin lawmakers."
A tally by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that lawmakers have voted for up to $678 million in one-time spending or tax cuts for an adult prison, child tax rebate, lockups for juvenile offenders and limits on welfare.

On top of that, legislators voted for roughly $220 million in ongoing yearly costs to lock up more repeat offenders, boost rural jobs programs, and hold down prices within the Obamacare insurance market. Republicans pushed the bills, though some Democrats also voted for some of them....

The Senate could still amend that bill, but it currently would return $174 million to taxpayers. The Assembly also approved a bill to spend $50 million a year on rural jobs programs.

If approved by the Senate, those bills and several other minor ones would leave the state with $207 million in its main account in June 2019, or enough to run the state for four days.
That tight budget situation could be a problem for GOPs in the Senate, and not just the ones up for re-election in November, as there are also 9 GOPs that will continue in the Senate past 2018. Those individuals will have to deal with the fallout from these pre-election gimmicks by having to deal with the harsh measures needed to fill in the next budget hole if they were all to become law.

Given that a few of these Senators up in 2020 are in swing areas, with the GOP's current Senate majority is already in jeopardy for November (more so if SCOTUS throws out the legislative map in the redistricting case), let’s see if they’re gung-ho to sign on to bills that will be likely look very bad for the state's fiscal outlook by November.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Many people not noticing GOP tax cut. And it might cost you more next year.

This article from Jordan Weissman in Slate indicates that while December’s tax cut bill is now getting more popular, many seem to be approving out of hope and propaganda over any kind of tangible improvement.
A handful of polls have shown that the public is generally feeling more warmly about the tax cut than three months ago. According to the New York Times, support is up to 50 percent, from 37 percent in December. A Monmouth poll showed approval surging to 44 percent from 26 percent.

Still, the vast majority of adults don’t seem to have sensed the effects of the tax cut on their personal finances. In a poll by Politico and Morning Consult, just 25 percent of registered voters said they’d noticed their take-home pay increase as a result of the legislation. Another 51 percent said they hadn’t noticed a pay bump, and another 24 percent said they didn’t know or weren’t sure…

You might assume that the reality distortion field of partisan politics is to blame here. But that almost certainly doesn’t explain the entire perception gap. Only 33 percent of self-identified Trump voters in the poll say that they’ve noticed their take-home pay go up as a result of the tax cut. That’s better than the 21 percent of Hillary Clinton voters who say the same, but probably still far below the number who are actually benefitting at least slightly.
Well, this Hillary Clinton voter knows he got a little more money in his paycheck, but that’s because I’m a dork and post about tax policy and budget stuff quite a bit. So I was looking to see when the new withholding tables would hit, and noticed that I had higher take-home pay when it did.

However, that increase in my paycheck was all of $42.72, and it was direct-deposited to my bank. And that reality leads Weissman to say that’s why many haven’t noticed the tax cut.
A more likely explanation, I think, is that for a lot of people, the tax cut is just way too small to pick up on, especially if you break it down into bi-weekly chunks. The Tax Policy Center estimated that Americans in the middle 20 percent of the income distribution who received any tax cut at all could expect their IRS tab to drop by $1,090 on average. If all of that money arrived at once, it would be easy to notice. But divide it by 26, and it comes out to $41 per paycheck. That adds up to real money for many families over time, but it might not jump out from a bank statement—very few of us have the eagle-eyed financial awareness of the public school secretary in Pennsylvania who noticed her paycheck go up by $1.50 a week. It’s going to be especially tough for people to pick up on the small changes in their tax withholding if their pay has changed for other reasons. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which tracks pay growth for individuals over time, the median worker saw their wages rise 3 percent over the past year. Not many people are going to sit down and try to disentangle the effect of those annual raises on their paychecks from the effect of Trump’s tax cut, because why would they?

These guys are getting more than $41 a paycheck from the tax cuts.

Not only is a 3% raise is a bigger bump for most people than a $40-a-paycheck tax cut, it’s also a lot better for our overall economic growth. Of course, those 3% raises don’t seem to be happening as much in in 2018, which is likely why GOPs continue to try to sell corporate PR BS of “one-time bonuses” as some kind of indicator that the tax cut is working (Sean Duffy is notoriously awful for this).

Ironically, those bonuses are an indicator of just what a Piece of Shit that tax bill is, because many of those one-time bonuses were given at the end of 2017 to reduce profits under higher tax rates. Now in 2018, those corporations don’t have to pay higher base salaries to their workers, so they get to hoard more profits at a lower tax rate. And some are going further, using the Piece of Shit tax plan as an excuse to lay people off, take the resulting charges, and then “restructure” to get even more profits for the future. (Kimberly-Clark is exhibit A of this, but they are hardly alone).

What also is a problem with these higher paychecks is that even at a nominal $1.50 or $42.72, that amount being taken out could still be too much. For example, when I ran information for my wife and I through the various tax calculators (here is an example), I found that we would save somewhere between $880 and $1,050 next year. Sounds good, but if I’m getting $42 back every paycheck, and my wife is getting $42 back every paycheck (likely more because she makes more money, but you get the idea), that’s around $2,000 that’s NOT being withheld.

That means we would OWE $1,000 once we got around to filing in early 2019. I recognized that, and have dialed down my allowances starting with my next paycheck, and you might want to consider the same.

Why does this happen? Because the tax “reform” means that many of us will not be writing off mortgage interest, property taxes, charitable donations, or other deductions this time next year (because the standard deduction is now more than the value of those write-offs). There also is no personal deduction, which means that the extra deductions on your W-4 for your spouse or kids may not apply. As a result, many could have to pay up more than they are used to when it comes time to file.

So even if you are one of those 25% who have noticed you're taking home a bit more money in February than January, that may not be a good thing 12 months from now. So you better make yourself aware of what you'll really gain, and find out if you need to adjust your forms or spending habits accordingly.

The HS kids have shown how to take on the bad guys. Will media and other adults learn from them?

I haven't spoken much about last week's massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, because it's hard to gather rational thoughts together in light of such a sickening (and preventable) mass murder. But I do have a few thoughts on why things feel a bit different than what we've seen with past mass murders, and the inevitable inaction and inertia that follows. And I think it's because the kids in Parkland and other places are showing how public activism needs to be done in 2018.

To me, there are a few big reasons why the students in Florida and elsewhere have been so effective at moving the needle compared to prior mass shootings, (beyond being a sympathetic group because THEIR SCHOOL BECAME A KILLING GROUND).

1. They have the time and ability to keep up the pressure. Most of us have jobs and bills and lives to deal with, so many of us inevitably go on to other things while the NRA lobbyists and other regressive interest groups can continue to get in front of cameras and have the ear of elected officials.

These students have no such barriers, which enables their voice to keep getting out and soaring above the right-wing noise machine. They have the time and energy to walk out of school and have public events where they can be heard, and they have done a great job doing so.

Same thing happened here in Madison last week, where high school students held a press conference at the Capitol to demand action on background checks and other gun control measures.

2. Related to that, young people are savvy about using social media, and use it a lot. Plus, because they’re not “polished” or particularly concerned about offending certain people who they don’t respect, they can be blunt and make pointed statements that reveal just how bought and BS the average GOP politician and/or media member is on this issue. Here's a great example from a Stoneman Douglas student calling out US Senator Marco Rubio, and then using one sentence to show up Faux News sociopath Laura Ingraham when Ingraham responded.

3. On the flip side, our “legitimate” media relies on access to those in power, so they can’t call out the NRA puppets’ BS to their faces like the students can. Remember Chuck Todd’s infamous “the first time we bark is the last time we do the show” comment to Lewis Black and other comedians in 2014?

But sometimes the truth is on one side of the argument. A rapid-fire, large magazine assault rifle was the weapon of choice to kill 17 high school students and teachers last week in Florida, and an overwhelming majority of Americans want the availability of that type of weapon to be restricted. However, "objective” media won’t call out the BS and redirections that NRA puppet GOPs try to pull in order to take public attention away from that fact, because corporate media thinks if they did do that, it would make them “biased” by not giving “both sides” equal time.

The students don’t have to be beholden to those rules, and can say “Stop lying! Do better!” to the faces and social media accounts of these scumbuckets. It illustrates how our media has failed so badly in a time of Faux News and Trumpism, because they think that positions of power and/or public access mean that you have “legitimacy” and should be respectfully listened to. But when those RW hacks are wrong and lying, they shouldn't be allowed to throw that garbage out there unchallenged...or even be given a forum in the first place due to their bad takes and bad faith.

4. Everyday people know the NRA puppets are lying, and they know many politicians in power are being dishonest and deceptive on other issues. But far too often, Democrats will try to be level-headed and sensible because they think that's the best to get something worked out, and that voters prefer politicians to “be adults that try to solve problems”, which ultimately gives them enough votes to win elections.

Republicans and their mouthpieces on AM Radio and cable TV do not worry about such comity. They attack and throw crap against the wall to smear their opponents, and they don’t worry about offending some Soccer Mom, as long as they get enough votes from dumb rubes who like seeing people “speak from their gut” and give voice to their frustration. Because to the rubes, it doesn't matter how BS the GOP’s smears and solutions might be, and the "civility" types don't change who they'll vote for either, outside of extreme circumstances.

You know what those Soccer Moms despise? The idea of guns being taken into their kids' schools. And seeing Dems shrug and say “There’s nothing we can do because the GOP is in control and won't let anything pass” is not an acceptable answer. On this and other issues, Dems need to BRING THE HEAT, and speak in moral terms where it is an imperative that something be done. And it should be considered DISGUSTING that GOPs refuse to act to move responsible legislation that will stop these mass slaughters. This goes well beyond a simple difference of opinion.

5. On a similar note, this is why Jimmy Kimmel’s statements on his nighttime show during the health care debate were influential for people. Not only did he speak from the personal experience of his infant son’s health issues, but it came from a place of moral outrage. “Are you seriously thinking of taking away the chance for young people like my son to survive and live a decent life? And why are you lying to my face? WTF is wrong with you?”

That type of blunt language won’t turn off voters (at least the ones you can win). It will impress them by showing that this time WILL be different, and that things can change for the better if we change the politicians who are getting in the way of real progress and a better life in this country.

The kids are speaking truth to power and changing the conversation. Will the adult politicians and media members recognize it, and do the same? Because we need more of them to.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

WisGOP pre-election "cut and borrow" spree will hurt us after November

As the frantic last days of this legislative session run down, the GOP-run Assembly keeps adding items to throw in before the election. And the bills from most of these items won't come due until after November 2018.

The latest and largest example of this will come later today, where the Assembly will vote on a plan to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to build correctional facilities over the next few years.
The Assembly passed several anti-crime bills Wednesday as the chamber pushes to complete its work for the session by Thursday. The anti-crime proposals, always popular with Republicans, would give them pro-law enforcement talking points as they head into the fall election.

Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday that the borrowing for a new 2,000-bed prison could begin "almost immediately" but wouldn't start until after a study group reports back on the state's prison needs. The current adult prisons were 30 percent over capacity as of last week.

"There is no doubt that we know we need an additional facility," Vos said. "We're just speeding up that process because we're going to end up doing it next session anyway."

Paying to build a new prison would be in addition to a separate $80 million plan to overhaul the state juvenile justice system and possibly convert the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison into an adult facility. The Assembly unanimously approved that Wednesday, sending it to the Senate.

The $350 million in borrowed funding for a new adult prison will be offered as an amendment to a $57 million bill up for a Thursday vote. That bill would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking probation, parole or extended supervision for anyone under its supervision who is charged with a felony or violent misdemeanor.
That seems like a helluva borrowing spree in a time of rising interest rates, and while the extra space may be needed, given the overcrowding in our prisons during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, the rising cost to pay off that debt is yet another area that will tie up the state budget in coming years. And this borrowing is on top of the $286.8 million that we're going to borrow next week to pay for various projects in this current budget.

That same Senate bill is expected to have another amendment added in that would set aside slightly more than $8 million over 2 years to allow many rural counties to hire additional District Attorneys. Not a bad idea, especially given that rural areas have a hard time coming up with resources on their own (especially in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan).

The catch- the money for the new DAs doesn’t go out until July 1, 2019, so these costs are pushed into the next budget. Sense a pattern?

And yes, some of these things are needed and are probably worthy of support now and in the future. But this is why blowing $174 million on one-time, pre-election tax gimmicks is especially stupid (and that tax giveaway just passed the Assembly this afternoon). Not only would that tax cut get rid of half of the dwindling amount of money that we have for the next 16 months, but it’ll put us further into the hole in the next budget - one which grows with each new initiative from a scared GOP.

We end up here a lot with this guy

To the GOP Legislature’s minor credit, it has corrected some of its prior failed policies and done things such as put a little more money into rural schools and added some assistance for foster care and mental health needs. But we had a chance to use this one-time cushion to invest in things that have a much longer-lasting effect, and with potholes springing up by the day, it’s important to note that the roads weren’t helped at all. Well other than the $134 million that Scott Walker's DOT decided to funnel down to Racine County for Foxconn without any public input.

Not using some of this one-time cushion to remove some of the backlog on the highways is a missed opportunity that will cost Wisconsin jobs along with the higher costs of deferred projects and subpar infrastructure. And we deserve to see just how screwed we would be for next year if we decide to throw away all of our money on these pre-election gimmicks.

We saw what happened the last time we were in this spot before an election for governor, back in 2014. The payoff was when the UW System and other state agencies were given massive cuts to fill a $2 billion budget deficit that was the result of Walker and WisGOP blowing the projected surplus, and our job growth ended up getting cut in half in 2016 vs what it was before 2014.

This was written last year. Nice call, eh?

Let's not have this happen again, shall we? Let's hope that the now-slim GOP majority in the Senate backs off from these reckless maneuvers. If not, MAKE THEM ALL PAY IN NOVEMBER. It's the least we can after what the GOP will make us pay after November.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Last night's Supreme Court election decided...not much

You may have heard there was a statewide election last night, and the results appeared as follows.

Michael Screnock 247,480 (46.3%)
Rebecca Dallett 191,155 (35.8%)
Tim Burns 95,422 (17.9%)
Burns eliminated

Since there ended up being no real definitive result beyond “one GOP, one non-GOP advance, and no one with a majority”, and that the percentages were basically in line with a toss-up going into the General Election. What do we take from this? Let’s look into turnout and the results in various parts of the state to see if there are any tea leaves to read.

First of all, turnout was historically decent for a February primary, but slightly less than what we saw in 2016 Supreme Court primary.
With all precincts reporting, 534,057 votes were cast in the statewide primary, according to unofficial returns collected by The Associated Press. That’s about 12 percent.

In 2016, 567,038 cast ballots in the February Supreme Court primary. That’s about 12.7 percent of the more than 4.4 million voting-age adults living in Wisconsin at the time.
I was counting on more turnout than that. A reason I overestimated the statewide enthusiasm for this race is because Dane County both turned out and turned against Screnock in big numbers. Screnock was a distant third in Dane County, as he barely exceeded 17%, with Dallett getting more than 3 times as many votes (52%), and even Burns beat Screnock by 10,000 votes in Dane County. The county nearly doubled the statewide turnout rate of 12.7%, and had 4,300 more votes than our already-strong numbers in the 2016 Supreme Court primary, a 6% increase.

So what happened in the rest of Wisconsin? Some of the dropoff in turnout seems to be related to the fact that there were 13 school referendum questions in 11 districts February 2016 (according to the Department of Public Instruction’s tracker) compared to 5 in 3 districts yesterday. All 5 passed by the way, including nearly $59 million in Sussex for the construction and ongoing cost of a new Intermediate School, as well as additions to their high school.

On the flip side, that referendum may also explain some of the boost in turnout in Waukesha County, since it looks like 7,700 people who voted on that Sussex Hamilton school referendum, vs around 2,000 in that district that voted in the last contested Supreme Court primary in 2016 (click here for the ward-by-ward records for 2016). But even if you take out that referendum-related bump, Waukesha County still added about another 8,000 voters compared to 2016, and 14,000 overall. Many of those added votes went to Screnock, as the WMC/NRA front man got about 8,400 more voters than Bigoted Becky Bradley did in 2016.

The turnout in Waukesha and other pro-GOP counties that border Milwaukee were the key in Screnock reaching 46%. Ozaukee County had 2,800 more voters than they did in February 2016 (an increase of more than 20%), and Screnock grabbed 1,400 of those votes. Likewise, Washington County added 900 voters, with Screnock pulling 1,300 more votes than Bradley, and Racine County got 1,600 more voters than 2016, with Screnock getting 1,400 of those votes.

So to the RW media and front groups that were charged with scaring up the sheep in the 262 into making sure Screnock advanced, you did a good job. The rest of the state, not so much, as shown by the colors on the Wisconsin map in this tweet. Notice the dark red in the 262 compared to the rest of the state.

The Milwaukee County totals are concerning, not necessarily due to the percentages (Dallett and Burns combined for 62.8%, Screnock 37.2%), but because the turnout was dreadful - less than 82,000 votes vs more than 110,000 in February 2016. Worse, less than half of the county's turnout was in the City of Milwaukee, when turnout in the city is usually 25-50% above the rest of the County in November elections. Now, the drop of more than 30,000 votes is likely related to no primaries for Mayor or County Executive like there were in 2016, but the burbs didn’t see any notable drop in turnout vs 2016.

Also interesting is that Screnock only beat Dallett by 1,600 votes in the Milwaukee County burbs, while Bradley surpassed JoAnne Kloppenburg by 5,800 in February 2016. And when you throw in the 3rd-place candidate in both races, the numbers are basically the same for GOP vs non-GOP for those years. This identifies both a concern if you like Dallett (low turnout and performance in her backyard), but also an opportunity, if turnout can pick up in the pro-Dem City of Milwaukee.

Dane County and the 5-county Miller Park tax district accounted for just over half of the state’s votes yesterday. In the other half of the state, the two non-GOP candidates got 51% of the vote, and Screnock 49%. The items of note from the non-Madison/Milwaukee areas are as follows.

1. You really saw turnout nosedive vs 2016 in much of rural Wisconsin, especially up North. Some of that might be related to the fewer amount of referenda, and quite a bit was likely related to the brutal weather. Nearly a foot of snow was dumped near Lake Superior in the 48 hours before the election, and many schools were closed in the state north of Madison and Milwaukee due to freezing rain and snow.

Interestingly, the far North included the 2 counties that Burns won- Ashland and Bayfield. Burns also got more votes than Dallett in Sawyer and Washburn Counties. As noted in the dark blue in the small map above, Screnock often failed to reach 40% of the vote in many counties in the western half of the state.

2. The Fox Valley largely mirrored the rest of the state, although turnout patterns varied. Brown County had 2,000 fewer votes than 2016, but Screnock only lost 600 of those votes vs Bradley’s total, so he ended up just below 50% there. On the flip side, Outagamie County had 1,100 more votes, and Screnock picked up less than 400, and barely exceeded what he got statewide 46.7%. Winnebago County had a sizable drop in turnout of 2,300, but Screnock only lost 800 of those votes, so he pulled a decent 48% in that county.

3. Dallett outright won several counties with mid-size cities, including La Crosse, Eau Claire, Portage (Stevens Point) and Rock (Janesville/Beloit). Screnock was in the low-to-mid 30s in many of these areas. On the other hand, counties like Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Fond du Lac went heavily for Screnock. All of these areas had turnout in line or below 2016 levels (outside of Rock County, who had a nice increase).

Bottom line, low turnout kept that from happening in much of the state, and the only areas that had sizable increases in turnout were the power bases for both parties (Dane County for Dems, the 262 for Republicans). The notable exception to that was the low turnout in the City of Milwaukee, which will be one of the subplots to follow for the Main Event in April. There is also a question if the GOP shot its wad having to spend big money just to make sure Screnock even qualified for the General Election, and won't get as much of a turnout boost for April.

Now sure, there will be plenty of money out there from the WMC oligarchs, the NRA, and the fundies, but Dems/left groups really didn’t have to spend anything themselves for February. And if the GOP dark money advantage can be blunted, or (as Dallett herself hinted last night) can be turned into a liability, then chances are good that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will take a step back toward decency and balance.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see. This one low-turnout race indicates the state of play hasn't changed as much as we might have thought when Democrat Patty Schachtner won a Senate seat in a pro-Trump district last month. But I guess that means it’s time to push it for the next 41 days to keep the momentum going.

Bond yields rise as stock market retreats. That doesn't sound good

While gun violence and the Trump-Russia indictments have rightfully taken center stage in recent days, there's a continuing trend in the bond market that's also caught my eye this week.

The first indication came from this report by Yahoo! Finance yesterday. And the GOP's tax cut bill in DC is a big reason behind the news.
The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday sold $96 billion of bills at yields unseen since 2008 and is preparing to sell a further $55 billion of short-term securities later in the day as it works to rebuild its cash balance with record-sized sales of short-term securities.

The government auctioned $51 billion of three-month bills at a yield of 1.64 percent, 6 basis points more than similar-tenor notes sold on Feb. 12. The amount of bids the sale attracted relative to the volume of bills on offer fell to 2.74, the least since Dec. 26. The Treasury also sold $45 billion of six-month debt at 1.82 percent, compared with 1.785 percent at the sale eight days prior.

The market is being hit with a deluge of T-bills following the recent U.S. debt ceiling suspension, and that’s helping to push up the rates that borrowers demand.

Concerns about the U.S. borrowing cap had forced the Treasury to trim the total amount of bills it had outstanding, but that’s no longer a problem and the government is now busy ramping up issuance. Financing estimates from January show that the Treasury expects to issue $441 billion in net marketable debt in the current quarter and the bulk of that is likely to be in the short-term market.
I’ve previously mentioned the runup in the benchmark 10-year note during the first 7 weeks of 2018, but this shows how short-term rates are also jumping, which you figure is going to hit credit cards and other revolving debt sooner than later. And that $1.50 or $20 you may be seeing from the tax cut won’t mean much if it costs $40 more a month to pay for things bought on credit (and buying on credit is a significant part of our economy, like it or not).

Then today, short-term rates kept climbing, this time in the 2-year note, as CBS Marketwatch noted this morning.
Short-dated Treasury yields climbed, but longer maturities held steady, on Wednesday as investors awaited an account of the Federal Reserve’s January monetary-policy gathering for clues about the pace of rate increases in coming months and the central bank’s outlook for inflation.

The two-year note yield, the most sensitive to the vagaries of interest-rate expectations, climbed 3.9 basis points to 2.266%, versus 2.227%, extending its highest level since 2008, and putting the short-dated bond on track to market a seventh straight yield rise. The rate for the note has climbed 12.5 basis points from 2.141% at the start of February….

Against that backdrop, rates have been marching higher, amid an expected onslaught of bond auctions, which can have the effect of exacerbating yield moves. The Treasury Department will auction off $35 billion of five-year notes on Wednesday and $29 billion of seven-year notes on Thursday. The sales are slightly larger in accordance with February’s refunding announcement.

Expectations for greater issuance to fund the government’s spending plan has played a part in driving bond prices lower and yields higher.
You can see how the yield curve has "flattened out" in the last year, courtesy of this visualization from the "Bond SuperMart"

And sure enough, the Federal Reserve indicated that interest rates should continue to go up in today’s release of the minutes of last month’s meeting. The Fed said that being near full employment, and rising inflation in recent months.
"Members agreed that the strengthening in the near-term economic outlook increased the likelihood that a gradual upward trajectory of the federal funds rate would be appropriate," the Fed said in the minutes.

It added that recent information received by voting members on inflation "along with prospects for a continued solid pace of economic activity provided support for the view that inflation...would likely move up in 2018."…

The Fed's preferred measure of inflation has been below its 2 percent target rate for nearly six years but the Labor Department reported earlier this month that underlying consumer prices posted their biggest gain in more than a year in January.

"Almost all participants continued to anticipate that inflation would move up to the...2 percent objective over the medium term as economic growth remained above trend and the labor market stayed strong," the minutes said.
Those minutes caused the yield on the 10-year note to jump again this afternoon to 2.95%, a march of nearly 90 basis points in the last 5 ½ months.

The stock market originally bumped up for the half-hour after the Fed released its minutes (due to the good economic outlook?), but then promptly took a dive as the interest rates kept going up, with the DOW Jones losing over 400 points in the last 90 minutes of trading and ending down 167 points for the day.

Given that our stock market Bubble has deflated some in the last month, and that saving more money seems like a better idea for the near future due to the higher rates, it sure makes me wonder where our economic growth is coming from. If real wages continue to fall due to higher inflation, and corporations decide to continue to buy back stock and lay off employees to "make their numbers", combined with our rising deficit increasing what we have to borrow, that’s not really a good prospect for anyone. Well, other than coked-up hedge funders and CEO slime.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Foxconn 2? $100 million+ Kimberly-Clark bailout needs to go down

To no one's surprise, Appleton-area Republicans have now formally introduced a bill that would give out tax dollars in an attempt to avoid over 600 layoffs that Kimberly-Clark is planning to impose by closing two facilities in the Fox Valley. So let's take a look at the bill, and see how this bailout package would work.

The bill gives Foxconn-levels of tax breaks for keeping jobs, allowing WEDC to give back 17% of Kimberly-Clark’s payroll costs, and a 15% writeoff for “significant capital expenditures” at the plants. But it only requires K-C to keep “93 percent of its full-time employees” at both the plant and the state and have those employees make at least $30,000.

Now from that, I can’t tell what that 93 percent figure is based on, but if I’m reading WEDC’s fiscal note correctly, it means that the 610 jobs that are supposed to go away with the two facility closings would be retained. And if that happens...
..WEDC could certify the business as eligible to earn approximately $6.7 and $7.8 million per year for up to 15 years.
So that’s somewhere between $100 million and $117 million for a Wisconsin manufacturer who is already seeing near-zero state tax levels due to the Manufacturers and Agriculture tax credit, and just got another massive tax break from the GOP’s tax bill that went through DC in December.

This is where I remind you that these layoffs are coming in spite of Kimberly-Clark pulling $812 million in profits in 2017, and I think it's also important to remember that Kimberly-Clark said the Piece of Shit tax bill in DC was the excuse they needed to layoff workers and grab EVEN MORE for the suits.
[CEO THomas J.] Falk added that the company restructuring would make it "leaner, stronger and faster."

But in the same announcement of plans to restructure the company, it announced that the Kimberly-Clark Board of Directors "approved a 3.1 percent increase in the company's quarterly dividend for 2018, which it says is the 46th consecutive annual dividend increase for shareholders," NPR reported. Falk also noted that Kimberly-Clark stated, "we returned $2.3 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases."

How does the GOP tax plan play a role in all of this? The company stands to "net benefit" from the newly passed tax cuts, so much so that it will be able to pay for its "restructuring" plan, as Nathan Bomey of USA Today noted. To recap, last year's profits dipped, Trump and the GOP put forth a tax plan that provided relief to the company and now Kimberly-Clark is using that money to restructure.
If that’s how corporate America will act (and they will), why don’t we stop bowing down to Lord Business as an economic policy? Instead why not encourage good trade policies that make paper manufacturing a worthwhile job still to keep in America.

Our US Senator put it well when the layoffs were announced, before meeting with laid-off Kimberly-Clark workers last week. She asked K-C, "How many more tax breaks do you need?"

The scared Wisconsin GOP is trying to fast-track this Kimberly-Clark bailout, and a Public Hearing and Executive session was scheduled for this bill today (they usually wait a day between the two). I haven't seen anything on where it is from there, but my guess is that the GOP Assembly will try to jam it through in this bum-rush of a last week of session. And who cares if we have little money left to pay for it.

And the rushed nature and the waste of tax dollars are among the reasons that this proposed Kimberly-Clark bailout needs to go down. Maybe if the paper industry is in structural decline (and it probably is), the state should instead do more to help these laid-off workers with retraining, which will cost a fraction of the $7 million a year this tax giveaway would, and direct them into fields that are more sustainable with better wages.

Also, we should get rid of the wage-suppressing right-to-work (for less) mentality and related disrespect of workers that seems to permeate Wisconsin boardrooms these days. And we should recognize that giving away the state Treasury to corporations isn’t nearly as worthwhile and economically productive as investing in people and quality of life.

We need to worry a lot more about our supply of workers and having them be rewarded properly for their work. We also need to become a state that attracts people and businesses than we do in giving yet another handout to corporations that have already gotten more than enough, and keep letting us down. And that won't happen until we boot these GOP regressives who are trying to shove through yet another giveaway to big business at everyone else's expense.

Sorry Racine County- Foxconn's getting your land, one way or the other

You knew this headline was coming with the Fox-con, but it’s going to be even uglier than we thought. “Eminent domain may be used to acquire land for Foxconn from holdouts.”

The first part of that process would involve the Village of Mount Pleasant using state law to condemn the land where the Foxconn plants will be built.
The move could see the village declare the entire 2,900-acre designated Foxconn area — the great majority of it now open farmland — to be a blighted area under state law, but not in the commonly understood meaning of blight….

Under the law, such an area doesn’t have to be a crime-ridden slum; it also can be a predominantly open area that, because of diverse ownership, obsolete platting and even for unspecified reasons, “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.”
Part of the reason the Village of Mount Pleasant and their attorney Alan Marcuvitz want to take the land is to clear the way for the Wisconsin DOT to start work on their $134 million effort to widen local roads near Foxconn.

And if people don’t like the idea of their land being taken and/or having a massive increase in traffic in front of their home? Then Marcuvitz and Mount Pleasant will put the screws to them.
Like most such projects, the plans here will involve taking slices of private property alongside the roads so they can be widened.

But the Foxconn-area road-improvement plans likely will go a step further: According to village officials, the DOT will shut off road access to the parcels inside the Foxconn area.

So owners who balk at selling their property for the Foxconn project would be left landlocked. And their parcels, inaccessible from the roads, would be what Marcuvitz described as “uneconomic remnants” with little or no value.
Classy, eh?

Sure, Foxconn gave the village $60 million in late December to buy up land for the campus, but as another article from the Racine Journal-Times shows us, the village is spending much more than that for this scam project.
As of Monday, Marcuvitz said, between $82 and $85 million in total land purchase options were in hand in the three Foxconn areas combined. The village exercised all of those options and now owns those roughly 1,7090 acres. Most purchases of large tracts of land are being made for $50,000 per acre.

Marcuvitz said he and Village Foxconn Project Director Claude Lois will seek Village Board approval next Monday to buy another group of properties totaling another 300 to 400 acres. In rough numbers, Marcuvitz said, that would give Mount Pleasant about 2,100 acres under contract in the three Foxconn areas, or about three-quarters of the 2,894 acres in Foxconn areas I, II and III.
Hope the people of Mount Pleasant enjoys the property tax spike that’s coming from all of the extra borrowing and extra services that are needed to buy up all this land (if they still have a home, that is). They'll probably like it as much as the rest of us are enjoying seeing so many of our tax dollars funneled down to the SE corner of the state to pay for this boondoggle.

It fact, it seems like the only people making out on this deal are the Foxconn corporates, Walker cronies, and land dealers. Funny how that works.

Monday, February 19, 2018

End-of-session goodies tie Wisconsin's hands, and won't fix the roads

As the GOP-run Legislature tries to jam through a massive amount of legislation in the near future (before taking off on an 11-month paid vacation), I wanted to take a step back and look at where our fiscal situation is before a lot of the remaining funds are tossed out in this furious rush.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said last month that they projected $385 million will be left over at the end of this budget cycle on June 30 of next year. But that was based on $579 million being carried over from the end of Fiscal Year 2017, and the Legislative Audit Bureau found accounting errors in the annual reports that lowered the carryover by $21 million, meaning there is actually $364 million of cushion to play with for the rest of this budget, not $385 million.

Interestingly, one of the bills that will NOT be affecting the finances for 2017-19 is the Governor's plans to spend tax dollars to sub subsidize insurers in an attempt to hold down premium increases on insurance plans bought on the Obamacare exchanges. Due to an amendment that passed the Joint Finance Committee last week no payments will be made to insurers until August 15, 2019, pushing those costs into the next budget. Of course, the question then becomes whether insurance companies do anything to lower premiums that are being purchased on the ACA Exchange in Fall 2018 for the next year, because they'll have to wait several months to get that money back from any lowering of premiums (I am...skeptical).

Also worth noting, the LFB came out with its analysis of the Governor and Assembly GOP's plans to give out a $100-a-child tax rebate and a 2-day sales tax holiday in August. The price tag for these one-time stunts tax cuts are as follows.

$100-a-child tax rebate + processing- $122.9 million
Sales tax holiday- $51.5 million

(Side note: I think the sales tax holiday number is BS, and intended to inflate the value of the tax cut, as Walker’s Department of Revenue claims 14 days of sales would get compressed into the 2 days of the weekend. But I’ll go with it for this post).

Now, let's look at most (but not all) of the goodies that either have already been handed out, or have been through the Joint Finance Committee in recent weeks.

Rural WEDC $50 million
Added funding for child care subsidies $48 million
WEDC “talent attraction” $6.8 million
Added Sparsity Aid $6.45 million
New drug court items for DOJ $3.8 million
Raising cap on Historic Rehab Credit $3.5 million
Raising cap of New Business Ventures $2 million
Tuition remissions for students in foster care $930,000
Outreach + mental health services for vets $900,000
Tax deduction for apprenticeship $800,000

(Notice that not a dime of this extra money is going to this state's pothole-filled roads)

If all of those provisions were passed and signed into law, that would leave a little more than $66 million for ANYTHING else that may happen in the next 16 months as a result. That is less than 2 days of state operations, and while the LFB has made projections of the potential changes, we really don't know what effect the Piece of Shit tax bill from DC will have on state collections.

Oh, and have I mentioned that we already have major structural deficits looming in both Transportation and the General Fund for the 2019-21 budget cycle, and that any of these giveaways will drive the deficit even higher?

So maybe having all of these giveaways isn't such a bright idea if you care about keeping things running smoothly in Wisconsin, and lessening the chances of fiscal problems that would have to be fixed this time next year. But of course, that's the cynical plan of Walker and WisGOP. The goodies get handed out before November 2018, and then we end up paying a bigger price for those giveaways after the election.

Again, if Milwaukee and Wisconsin want young people, Walker/WisGOP must go

As the Wisconsin Assembly plans to vote tomorrow on giving the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) $6.8 million to start up a campaign to lure young workers to the state, the Milwaukee Business Times had an article out on Friday afternoon illustrating why WisGOPs say such a bill is needed.
When it comes to population growth of millennial residents, it’s slow going for the metro Milwaukee area, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.

The area ranks seventh lowest in the nation for population growth among young adults, aged 18-34, from 2010 and 2015, the report said.

Drawing from U.S. Census Bureau data, the analysis examined where millennials – defined as those born between 1981 and 1997 – are settling in the U.S., as well as their educational attainment and racial diversity.

The only metro areas to see lower growth rates than Milwaukee’s 1.4 percent millennial population growth rate were Birmingham, Alabama which saw a loss of 0.6 percent; Chicago, with a 0.2 percent growth rate; Toledo, Ohio (0.5 percent); St. Louis (0.9 percent); Youngstown, Ohio (1 percent); and Jackson, Mississippi (1.2 percent)….
Zooming it out statewide, Brookings says that Wisconsin had the 10th-smallest amount of millennials out of the 50 states in the nation (22.4%), and they note that the trend in that statewide standing is even worse since Scott Walker and the GOP came to power.
Two states, West Virginia and Illinois, registered losses of young adults in 2010-2015, and seven others, mostly in the middle of the country, showed growth of less than 2 percent. These include Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin, along with, in New England, Maine. With the young adult population growing at 4.7 percent nationally, these states are drawing fewer millennials than others.
When you’re as unattractive as Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky, you should really check yourself and realize you're on the wrong path.

In contrast, Madison had the 5th highest proportion of millennials out of the top 100 metro areas in America (26.8%). And the Business Journal notes that the young people Madison is getting are also highly educated.
Madison tied with Boston for having the highest educational attainment among older millennials. In both cities, 58 percent of 25- to 34-year-old residents have at least a college degree. Among white residents in Madison, that figure was 63.8 percent.
Sure makes you think that if we want to attract younger people to the state, then maybe we should see what Madison does and have that as a model that the rest of the state can learn from. And that maybe a change in strategy is in store to get those young people to settle in Milwaukee?

Instead, our current Governor tries to score political points by saying this.

And that same Governor is supported by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the MMAC honestly was interested improving things in the state’s largest metro market, how could they look at the stagnation in Milwaukee’s economy and its worsening demographics over Walker’s 8 years in office, and then say “Oh yeah, we want more of that!”?

The answer to that question is obvious – the MMAC and other Wisconsin corporate oligarchs DON’T CARE if the state becomes more desirable to young people, or even if the economy grows for most Wisconsinites. They only care about their elite position and having their puppets in power at the state and local levels.

And it’s why those slimebuckets should be ignored at all levels, if not outright fought. Because as long as the MMAC, WMC, and their GOP puppets are in power in Wisconsin, this state will continue to be unattractive to young people, especially those with talent and options in life. And $6.8 million in tax dollars for marketing isn’t going to change that.

The only thing that changes it is to FIRE THE GOP in 2018, and restoring Wisconsin’s progressive heritage by reversing these regressive policies.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sorry Guv, but CAFR shows all you've done is can-kicking

In this last week, we had the long-awaited release of Wisconsin's Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report (CAFR). And Governor Walker used the opportunity to brag about how the state's finances looked at the end of the 2017 Fiscal Year, on June 30.

(By the way, nice use of state resources for campaigning, guv).

Not mentioned by Scotty was that the Legislative Audit Bureau took a second look at the CAFR, and noticed that a few high-amount transactions were missed and/or mislabeled. This means the real final numbers ended up being a bit different.
In addition, in conducting our audit work related to the State’s General Fund financial statements to be presented in the State’s CAFR, we questioned a $38.2 million increase in a liability that, after discussion with SCO staff, was determined to be the result of an error in the cash balance for the General Fund as of June 30, 2017. The error had been appropriately identified as a reconciling item in the bank reconciliation process and was corrected on STAR in fiscal year (FY) 2017-18. However, SCO staff did not ensure the error was considered for FY 2016-17 financial reporting. This error resulted in a $38.2 million overstatement of the General Fund cash balance as of June 30, 2017.

Further, after we discussed these errors with SCO staff, we were informed that SCO had identified a third error that occurred during the implementation of the STAR payroll module, Human Capital Management (HCM), in FY 2015-16. This error resulted in a $7.3 million understatement of the General Fund cash balance on the June 30, 2017 financial statements.

Finally, as part of our audit of the bank reconciliation, we raised questions regarding an outstanding receipt of $9.6 million that was deposited in the bank in March 2017, but was not yet recorded in STAR as of June 30, 2017. SCO staff researched this reconciling item and identified that it related to a deposit that had been made to a disbursement account. This error resulted in a $9.6 million understatement of the General Fund cash balance on the June 30, 2017 financial statements.
Put that together, and it means that the “surplus” Walker keeps claiming is actually $21.3 million less than what we thought it was. It's still $558 million at the end of FY 2017, but it also drops the 2017-19 budget's cushion to $364 million. And that's before we begin to account for all of the goodies Wal(typical borrowing er and the WisGOP Legislature try to give away in the next few weeks.

Another main part of the CAFR includes the GAAP accounting balance. This figure improved from $1.723 billion to $1.626 billion, but that's only an improvement of $96.7 million while the cash balance went up by $248 million (before the $21 million adjustment LAB found).

So where did the other $151 million go? Even if you account for designated, multi-year appropriations going down by $80 million (as you'd expect in the 2nd year of a 2-year budget with many funds having a 2-year life on them), there is still a $71 million difference in the GAAP budget, which indicates a higher amount of delayed payments to other governments and entities. In other words, exactly the opposite of what "reformer" Scott Walker was promising voters in 2010.

The CAFR also gives information about the state's debt standing, and unlike how Walker and WisGOP try to portray it, what we owe went up in all areas in Fiscal Year 2017. This is on page 40 of the PDF, and the change is compared to what we ended FY 2016 from.

General Government Obligations $6.190 billion (+$135.4 mil)
Annual Appropriation Bonds $3.114 billion (+$81.5 million)

Revenue Bonds (mostly DOT-related where registration fees pay it off) $2.315 billion (+$57.9 million)

So debt continues to go up on all sides, and another interesting sidelight of the CAFR shows the schedule of when debt is supposed to be paid off (it's on Page 111 if you're into that sort of thing). What it shows is that the amount the state is slated to spend in future years for debt went up last year. Some of this isn't surprising (any added debt will add to debt service), and in the 2 largest expenses of debt service, the higher payments only go up between $30-$40 million year, and even some of that is offset by money sitting in an escrow account from new debt.

But the real jump starts in Fiscal Years 2021 and 2022, where state taxpayers and car owners are expected to come up with more than $60 million more in 2021, and $140 million more in 2022.

That's bad enough for a higher tab to pay off in the future, but even worse is the situation involving Appropriation Bonds. In August 2016, the Walker Administration did a debt refinancing of $571 million to avoid a massive balloon payment in this current Fiscal Year. But as you can see, what they did is merely push off most of it until 4-5 years later.

Cute trick, eh? Yes, the Walker Administration has reduced total debt costs by quite a bit in the last year, due to these aggressive refinancings (an option that's going away as interest rates rise, by the way). But when we pay that off is also important to keep in mind. And it looks really bad in a few years.

The last part of the CAFR I want to point out is a new segment that began with this report.
Wisconsin statutes authorize tax abatements to encourage economic development and other actions beneficial to the State or its citizens resulting in a reduction in tax revenue the State would otherwise be entitled to collect. GASB Statement No. 77, Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires disclosure of tax abatement agreements entered into by a reporting government, along with agreements entered into by other governments, which reduce the reporting government’s tax revenues. Most tax abatement programs meeting the criteria for disclosure in the State’s CAFR are certified by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), a separate legal entity also reported as a component unit in the CAFR. WEDC enters into the abatement agreements and administers the programs. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) is responsible for ensuring the certified tax abatements were properly applied when processing income tax returns filed by recipients.
Almost all of the abatements are WEDC business incentive programs.

Tax abatements, FY 2017
Historical Preservation Tax Credit $28.6 million
Business Development/Jobs Tax credit $26.6 million
Qualified New Business Venture $12.8 million
Enterprise Zone Tax Credit $8.8 million
Development Opportunity Zone Tax Credit $0.2 million

State Historical Society
Historical Homeowners Tax Credit $1.2 million


The notes from LAB indicate that this is a new reporting requirement, and I think this is simply informational, explaining how much in taxes we wrote off in the name of "economic development." And of course, that $78.2 million is ON TOP OF what the state already gives away with the Manufacturers and Agriculture tax credit, other corporate tax breaks, and wage suppression measures. And this number will explode if Foxconn ever opens up.

Bottom line on the CAFR - continued growth with the 2016-17 US economy also helped Wisconsin's books be balanced in the short term. But it also isn't nearly as sunny as the Walker Administration tries to portray it. And with the increased debt payments that are coming in the next few years, it would seem foolish to get rid of the tiny fiscal cushion we have on pre-election stunts. But let's face it, in a WisGOP that chooses politics over responsibility every time, they're likely to screw this up in this next month.