Thursday, August 30, 2018

How the Trump Admin plans to bail out farmers

Wanted to take a little bit to discuss this week's release of details on how the farm bailout from the Trump Administration will work.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) to provide payments to corn, cotton, dairy, hog, sorghum, soybean, and wheat producers starting September 4, 2018. An announcement about further payments will be made in the coming months, if warranted.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will administer a Food Purchase and Distribution Program to purchase up to $1.2 billion in commodities unfairly targeted by unjustified retaliation. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will distribute these commodities through nutrition assistance programs such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and child nutrition programs.

Through the Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP), $200 million will be made available to develop foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products. The program will help U.S. agricultural exporters identify and access new markets and help mitigate the adverse effects of other countries’ restrictions.
Looking closer to Wisconsin, it is through the MFP part of this that dairy, hog and soybean farmers will be able to be subsidized for their products. For example, the government will pay 12 cents per hundredweight for milk (maximum total payment of $127.4 million) and $1.65 a bushel for soybeans ($3.63 billion max total payment).

If China won't buy them, Uncle Sam will.

However, there are some restrictions in the program that are intended to limit the payments given to corporate farms and others who have large, valuable tracts. No one who had an adjusted gross income above $900,000 in either 2014, 2015 or 2016 is eligible, and the amount a farmer can receive under the MFP is also limited.
The initial MFP payment will be calculated by multiplying 50 percent of the producer’s total 2018 actual production by the applicable MFP rate. If CCC announces a second MFP payment period, the remaining 50 percent of the producer’s total 2018 actual production will be subject to the second MFP payment rate.

MFP payments are capped per person or legal entity at a combined $125,000 for dairy production or hogs. Payment for dairy production is based off the historical production reported for the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy). For existing dairy operations, the production history is established using the highest annual milk production marketed during the full calendar years of 2011, 2012, and 2013. Dairy operations are also required to have been in operation on June 1, 2018 to be eligible for payments. Payment for hog operations will be based off the total number of head of live hogs owned on August 1, 2018.
Corn, cotton, sorghum, soybeans and wheat are also limited to $125,000 a person.

The other part of the tariff-related farm subsidy is the AMS, which enables the USDA to buy up $1.2 billion of various farm products, and then give them to adults and (especially) children that are in food and nutrition programs. This includes Wisconsin-centric crops like other dairy products ($84.9 million), cranberries ($32.8 million), pork ($558.8 million) and potatoes ($44.5 million).

This will not make ends meet. /em>

So if I’m reading this right, this won’t necessarily raise the prices that individuals pay for these items at the store (I suppose the extra demand could have an effect), but will allow the farmers to receive more revenue for their product, helping them stay afloat. Interestingly, this is only the first half of the $12 billion subsidy program, and it seems like the Trump Administration is hoping that things will get better on the trade and farm price fronts so that they don’t have to do a second round of this.

I can see where the program’s design fits in, and has a decent chance of working. But let’s not forget that the only reason there’s a need for this tax-funded stabilization program is because of Trump’s recklessness in imposing tariffs that resulted in countermeasures which were keeping American producers from exporting to other countries.

Now maybe this week’s news of Mexico and the US reaching an agreement to renegotiate NAFTA isn’t empty talk from Trump (what, you don't trust our president?), and actually succeeds in improving terms of trade and reopening those markets for US farmers. If so, then maybe prices will bounce back to normal, and less of a crisis will exist.

But in the short term, it’s intriguing to see how the Trump Administration wants to use these policy levers to try to keep getting rural votes keep farmers solvent in these tough times, and I want to see if it actually does anything to avoid the future crises that may be coming due to other dimwitted decisions in DC.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

WisDOT admits it- less spending + less revenue = bad things for roads

I was wondering why our Fair Governor was lying his ass off about the Zoo Interchange project in a stupid photo op yesterday. Naturally, it was because Scott Walker's weakness on road funding was about to be exposed in a big way, as Katelyn Ferral wrote in the Capitol Times about a report from the Wisconsin DOT detailing its recent history of (dis)investment.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reports that total funding across all state transportation programs has fallen since Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011, despite statements Walker has made insisting he has made historic investments.

According to a DOT report on 2018-2019 budget trends released last week, spending has fallen across every road program, including major highway development, local road aid and assistance and southeast Wisconsin freeways, which saw the most dramatic decline.

Dem Assembly Leader Gordon Hintz gave the most damning changes under Wisconsin GOP rule.

In addition, Ferral's article noted that the Walker Administration's refusal to honestly look at how to pay for the roads is a big reason why these cuts and deterioration have occurred.
Even with an increase for local roads in Walker's latest budget, the DOT's report shows that the administration has "kicked the can down the road" on a long-term transportation funding solution, said Dan Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, who has worked on local transportation issues for more than 30 years.

"There's no question, and I said it multiple times ... in relationship to transportation funding at the local level you don't have to look at the reports. It isn't a complicated issue. You just have to be out in the field looking at what's happening," Fedderly said. "The funding at the local level has not kept pace with the demand and needs of the local system by any stretch."

"You don't solve a transportation dilemma that you created over multiple years in one budget cycle ... the whole discussion sums up the failure of the Legislature and the administration to address a long-term sustainable funding source for transportation in Wisconsin," he said.
Let’s jump off there and look at how the DOT is funded, and why we’re in the mess that we’re in. And let's dig into the DOT’s Transportation Budget Trends report, starting with this chart, with the numbers adjusted for inflation.

You can see that registration fees have risen as a bigger part of the DOT funding pie, and more than made up for that loss of gas tax revenues between 2005-2011. But that hasn’t been the case during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and other sources have had to be tapped to keep up.

Here’s another way of looking at that mix of funding streams. As inflection points, I’ll use the registration fee increases of 2004-05 and 2008-09, the ending of gas tax indexing in 2005, the 2011 takeover of state government by Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, and a one-time bump in 2015 of $213 million transferred from the General Fund and other sources of money.

All of this is adjusted for inflation.

Despite relying a bit more in recent years on "other” sources in recent years (at the expense of other areas funded by general taxes, like schools and health services), over 89% of state funding for the DOT is from gas taxes and registration fees.

On the spending side, you can see that total funds for WisDOT are slated to be nearly $200 million less in the 2018-19 Fiscal Year than it was when Walker took over in 2011. By comparison, DOT expenses rose by nearly 48% during Jim Doyle’s tenure from 2003-2011 (so stick that RW “Doyle raid” talking point up your ass). However, the increasingly scarce gas tax and registration dollars are paying for more of the DOT’s budget, as Walker reacted to criticism for increased highway debt costs by cutting back on bond funds over the last 3 years.

When adjusted for inflation, the differences are even more stark, as the Doyle years had real DOT increases of $686 million, while it has dropped by $661 million under Walker. The inflation-adjustment also shows that despite the Paul Ryan’s GOP controlling the House since 2011, WisDOT’s federal funding has dropped by a little less than $94 million, making the squeeze even worse.

And finally here’s the chart for the key breakdown that Ferral’s article discussed – the DOT budget by category. Note the $448.6 decline in state highway spending between 2014 and 2019 while the costs to pay off debt increase by more than $44 million.

When you adjust for inflation, you really see where the highway spending cuts in 2015 and (especially) 2017 and 2019 along with local aids cuts of more than $80 million between 2011 and 2017 led to so many Scottholes in recent years.

So the question becomes “What’s gotta change?”, assuming we aren’t getting a huge bailout from DC (is it “Infrastructure Week” in TrumpWorld again, by the way?).

First, we need to get more revenue into the Transportation Fund, as the current amount of funding just isn't enough. And given that real gas taxes have steadily declined over the last 14 years, that area seems like an obvious place to start. But I’d put a different spin on a gas tax increase, where the it would rise on a sliding scale starting on May 15 (say 5 cents), jumping again around July 1 (like by 15 cents), staying there through September 15, when it goes back to a 5 cent increase, and then it declines back to its present 30.9 cents-per-gallon on October 15. This puts more of the burdens onto FIBs tourists that use more of the state’s roads in the Summer, and lessens the tax increase on people who live here and rely on the roads every day.

I’d also borrow an idea that GOP State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck suggested during last year’s budget stalemate, and put on a mileage-based registration fee on heavy trucks, which she said would raise $138 million a year. That idea was beaten back after lobbying from Schneider National and other GOP trucking donors last year, but I’d tell those businesses that paying a little extra is a lot better than having to pay for more truck repairs and the lost work hours and productivity that results from Scotthole damage.

And there’s a third piece of the equation that often gets left out when we talk about how to pay for streets - stop handcuffing local governments. This means more shared revenue sent to those communities (whether through the General Fund or the Transportation Fund), and/or loosening up the restrictions on localities raising their own revenue, especially through sales taxes. A local sales tax for roads has been floated several times in recent years by members of both parties, but Walker and WisGOP leadership have caved to the “no-tax increase” orders given to them by the Kochs and other puppetmasters, and so it hasn't happened.

Or just use the state plane

Which means that if we want to solve the DOT’s funding woes, it’s going to take new leaders in both the Governor’s Office, and in the Legislature. The current crew has shown repeatedly in recent years that they’re too bought off to do the right thing, so as usual, it’s going to have to fall to Dems to clean up a mess caused by reckless Republicans.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Evers goes big on special ed funding, showing another way Walker screwed K-12 public schools

As the new school year approaches in Wisconsin, I wanted to revisit a campaign statement by Tony Evers and give a bit of budgetary context for it, as it showcases a significant area of neglect by Scott Walker and the GOPs that have run the Legislature since 2011.

You may recall that Evers said last month that planned to ask for an additional $600 million to K-12 special education funding in his first budget as governor. The $600 million in special education aid seems like a lot, but much of it serves as a way to “catch up” from it being underfunded by Scott Walker and WisGOP since they came to power.

Because despite a projected 15% increase in the Consumer Price Index over the course of 8 years, Walker and WisGOP have only made a minor addition to special education aids between the amount of funding schools got in 2010-11 and the end of the next school year. And that's only in categorical (i.e., more specific) types of special education aid, as general aids haven't changed at all.

Special education aids, 2011-2019
General Special Education aid to K-12 schools
2010-11 $368.9 million
2018-19 $368.9 million

High-cost special education aids
2010-11 $3.5 million
2018-19 $9.35 million

Supplemental special education aid for smaller schools
2010-11 $1.75 million
2018-19 $1.75 million

This means that school districts increasingly have had to pay for special education out of their “regular” school budget, putting even more strain on school districts that are already strapped.

However, the Walker Administration has added two new programs for special education during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, both of which seems to benefit Walker donors. One deals with “transitional aids”, which help students with special needs prepare for adulthood, either through employment training or life skills (and allows businesses to use these students as a low-cost source of labor). That has $5.1 million set aside for it next year.

The other is the Special Needs Scholarship Program, which is slated to give a $12,424 voucher to students with disabilities in private schools in the coming school year. That has a total price tag estimated at $9.3 million - nearly as much as we spend for high-cost special education in public schools throughout the state.

The Special Needs Scholarship program started in the 2016-17 school at the behest of the Betsy DeVos/Scott Jensen crew, and was the subject of a recent legislative audit. Parents generally reported positive results from the Special Needs Scholarship, but it’s also worth noting that ¾ of the students who received scholarships in the program’s first 2 years didn’t attend public school in the district the year before they got the scholarship.

Even though those students never attended public school, that didn’t stop public school districts from losing state aid from the Special Needs Scholarship program, as the program is funded just like the voucher programs that are outside of Milwaukee and Racine- by taking the amount of the voucher OUT of the amount of General Aid those districts would have received.

I haven’t seen what Evers plans to do with the Special Needs Scholarship Program, whether he plans to keep it at all (HINT- DON'T) or how much he wants to fund it at. I’d also like to know if the $600 million in “additional special ed” funding is in the “regular” special education aid program, and then possibly the other programs would be folded into that? Or are those "special", special ed programs part of the additional $600 million Evers wants? That seems a bit unclear to me.

But one thing that is certain is that special education has been neglected in Fitzwalkerstan since 2011. And by going big on funding in his budget proposal, Evers puts Walker and WisGOP on the defensive, as they should answer why they have felt the need to leave it up to the local school districts to find the scarce resources required in taking care of our most vulnerable students.

Early "gold standard" release shows same story- Wisconsin subpar for job growth

Wanted to briefly go over last week's release of the "gold standard" Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This covered the time period between March 2017 and March 2018, but just had the overall numbers and information for jobs in large metro areas, as the bigger breakdown of private sector and county-by-county comparisons for all places comes next week. It shows that Wisconsin ended up with 27,159 new jobs in the 12 months covered in that report, not too far off of the year-over-year total of 29,300 that the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development reported back in the Spring (in recent years, Walker’s DWD has often overestimated growth by more than that).

It marks a job growth rate of 0.97%. Not great, but not much different from December’s 12-month increase rate of total jobs of 1.01%. And when compared to the rest of the nation, the story was also familiar for Wisconsin, as we ended up 30th in the US for overall job growth, which makes it the 27th straight quarter that we have been in the bottom half for job growth…or every quarter since Scott Walker’s first budget was signed into law in June 2011.

More locally, the state was in the middle of the pack for Midwestern job growth (4th out of 7) between March 2017 and March 2018. But it looks worse when you look at the longer-range picture, where we drop to 5th for overall job growth in the Midwest in the 7 years since Act 10 was jammed through the Legislature in March 2011


But hey, we might catch Ohio soon and reach mediocrity, so…yay?

The wage side of the QCEW had a little better news, as Wisconsin’s rate of weekly wage growth for the 1st Quarter of 2018 was up 3.8%, which ranked it 12th in the nation, and beat the 3.7% increase in the US as a whole.

But because the US’s average wage was about $180 more than Wisconsin’s in Q1 2017, the dollar gap actually grew to $184 for Q1 2018. That wage gap was also noticeable for Wisconsin’s largest metro areas when you compare them to most other Midwestern population centers.

Average weekly wage, March 2018
Dane County, Wis $1,144
Waukesha Co., Wis $1,142
Milwaukee Co., Wis $1,096

Chicago area
Lake County, Ill. $1,686
Cook County, Ill. $1,420
DuPage County, Ill. $1,309

Minneapolis area
Hennepin Co., Minn $1,497
Ramsey Co., Minn $1,346

Detroit area
Oakland Co., Mich $1,277
Wayne County, Mich $1,268

Indianapolis area
Marion County, Ind. $1,218
Hamilton Co., Ind. $1,134

Those wage gaps are not a good thing when you’re competing against those areas for talent to locate and stay in your state. And Foxconn will not do a thing to help to close that gap.

In retrospect, I guess I can see why the pre-release of the “gold standard” figures didn’t get much for interest by the state’s media. Subpar job growth and wages have become the norm during the 7 years of WisGOP’s Reign of Error in Wisconsin, and no amount of propaganda released by the Walker Administration/campaign will change that reality. The only thing that changes it is new leadership.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Sketchy Foxconn deal the latest example of corporations skewing (and screwing?) the UW.

The Foxconn PR assault continued today, under the guise of a huge planned donation to my alma mater.

Sounds like a big deal. What are the plans?
Foxconn Technology Group will invest $100 million to UW-Madison that will go toward establishing an interdisciplinary research facility for the College of Engineering, the largest research partnership in the university's history.

The Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology, or FIRST, will collaborate closely with the company's Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park near Racine.

Foxconn CEO Terry Gou joined UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank for the Monday announcement, signing several agreements formalizing their relationship.

The gift is one of the largest in the school’s history, Blank said, and will help develop Wisconsin's research and engineering talent.
Sounds like a great deal. And if you were a low-info rube, you might be tricked by this. You shouldn't be.

First of all, given that Gateway Technical College has yet to receive the $5 million Foxconn and Governor Scott Walker’s Department of Administration promised it would get, if I was Chancellor Blank, I’d make sure the check goes through before implementing any changes.

This is especially true as you dig deeper into the arrangement Foxconn is making with UW-Madison. This comes from the joint press release between the 2 organizations.
With Foxconn’s lead gift of $100 million, UW–Madison plans to raise an additional $100 million as part of a $200 million fundraising subcampaign in the final two years of the $3.2 billion All Ways Forward campaign. The initiative will focus on supporting research that advances engineering, data and computer science and human health.

The bulk of the Foxconn gift will go toward a new interdisciplinary facility for the College of Engineering to replace 1410 Engineering Drive, complete details of which will be announced at a future date.
That's pretty vague. So One Wisconsin Now called up UW's contact person for the event, we got a few more specifics. And that $100 mil from Foxconn is far from a sure thing.

And read between the lines of Gou's plans for what his donation will be used for.
"At Foxconn, we see our role as not only being a major investor in Wisconsin, but also a long-term partner to the community," Gou said. "The Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology will provide funding on practical topics and capabilities in core areas that will become increasingly invaluable to the advanced technology hub, along with the artificial intelligence, 8K resolution and 5G wireless technology ecosystem that we are building in Wisconsin."
Foxconn gets to decide what the new FIRST center concentrates on, and gets an inside track on the talent that works on the products and processes that Foxconn has dictated. So Chairman Gou is openly admitting that a main focus of this new research facility is to use UW researchers and students in product development…that just happens to be the types of products Foxconn plans to specialize in. And Foxconn doesn’t have to pay for those people as employees to perform the R&D that Foxconn would usually have do on their own.

Let's also follow the dollars on this, shall we? Foxconn gets the promise of billions of dollars in subsidies from Wisconsin taxpayers, then says it’ll kick back a small amount of that to UW-Madison, reaping the PR benefits from such a “donation” from unsuspecting rubes and cheerleading media. And we should feel eternally grateful as a result of them using OUR MONEY to do this? Yeah, I don't think so.

There does seem to be one good sidelight to this UW-Foxconn arrangement, if it ever happens.
There will also be a focus on advancing research on human health in areas such as genomics, immune cell research, clinical data integrity and processing and medical imaging in cancer and related diseases. The two parties will also work together to identify and develop initiatives to promote technological advancement, education and scientific outreach.
You might think that cancer research is an example of Foxconn caring more about the big picture beyond its business. But more likely it is because Chairman Gou lost his first wife due to breast cancer, so it’s really more a personal thing than a selfless act (although it’s still doing a good thing, and that shouldn’t be ignored).

And that’s the bigger point here. When you move funding of a university away from taxpayers and into the pockets of donors, then the university will naturally gear itself to the wants and desires of those donors. Which might be nice if you believe that billionaire benefactors are altruistic and aren’t going to use the UW’s good name to boost their own bottom lines.

But it’s a risky if not outright awful way to run higher education – having it be dependent on a handful of oligarchs who have no responsibilities to the greater society, and can (ab)use their “high donor” status to turn away from what might be bigger priorities for the rest of the state or country.

You saw this play out in the UW budget request that passed the Walker-stacked Board of Regents last week, where all additional funding was intended to meet the wants and desires of businesses versus having a UW System that excels in all areas and allows a wide choice of study for students to take advantage of.
The two-year operating budget proposal calls for divvying up $82.5 million among the System’s campuses based on each institution’s performance on 16 measures developed by the Regents and distributed equally among four broad categories: student access, progress, workforce contributions and efficiency. Each campus determines how much weight to assign to each measure, but each category must be given the same emphasis.

The remaining $24.5 million would go toward expanding programming in high-demand fields such as science, technology, engineering and math.Investing in the System would help colleges and universities better fill workforce demands across the state, officials said.
Anyone see creativity or humanities in this list? Or in other types of research that might lead to results that corporations might not like to see (like climate change or social problems resulting from poverty)?

These policy choices by the UW is why UW Regent and Dem candidate for Governor Tony Evers voted against the System’s budget request last week. Evers cited UW President (and Walker lackey) Ray Cross’s decision to have additional money go to these business-centered measures vs. using the money to pay for tuition freezes and pay raises for staff as a reason he voted “No,” and he was right to do so.

Today’s sickening scene of Chairman Gou up on a stage with Bucky Badger as “On Wisconsin” played in the background is yet another example of how corporations are trying to capture the UW System (and higher education in general) for their own needs, and not take away the idea of education serving a greater good that helps all of us.

As I’ve said before, this song may be about S&M, but it sure sounds a lot like the endgame of corporate oligarchs these days. Where they get to RUN AND CHOOSE EVERYTHING, and we are offered no choice but to go along.

Walker and WisGOP chose ALEC and other donors over Wis local govts. Record flooding is a result

As my area deals with flooding resulting from record rain and record-high lake levels, and as Ozaukee County sees I-43 shut down and have record flooding on their part of the Milwaukee River, this was the picture of the weekend.

The guy with the sign is right, except he's soft-selling it. Scott Walker, GOP legislators, and their campaign donors colluded on policies that made the Madison area more vulnerable to the recent severe weather events in Dane County.

Let me go back 3 weeks, to a sadly prophetic article by the Wisconsin State Journal’s Steven Verburg titled “Climate, policy changes pose risk of major flooding on Madison's Isthmus.”

In the article, Verburg talks to Ken Potter, a UW-Madison emeritus professor in civil and environmental engineering, and Potter notes the increased flooding risk that exists in the Madison isthmus area due to higher water levels, climate change and increased numbers of people living in the area.
Since 1970, the Yahara River’s volume has been 30 percent higher than it was in the previous four decades, and annual average precipitation for the Madison area has been 13 percent greater.

Water running off streets and rooftops not only increases flood risk; it also carries pollutants, including those that cause beach closings, tangle boats in weeds and make the lakes smell bad.

“Without major changes in stormwater policy, damages from Yahara lakes flooding will increase dramatically in the future,” Potter said.
That reality has led to a meme in the last week by right-wing hacks in Wisconsin claiming, “what’s going on in Madison is a local development issue and has nothing to do with Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP.” Which leads us to another episode of that long-running GOP show: “LYING OR STUPID?”

That’s because Dane County and Madison have wanted to take steps to lessen the flooding-related challenges that result from having a big city on an isthmus. But it’s the donor-bought ALEC crew at the Capitol that kept them from doing so.
Last year, Potter led a panel of private consulting engineers and representatives of state and local government agencies that called on Dane County to adopt stricter standards to control the volume of runoff allowed from new developments, and to set fees to help pay for designs that ensure water would soak into the ground, evaporate or be used in some way.

Builders have resisted higher costs in the past. This year they were among the groups that persuaded Gov. Scott Walker and a majority of state lawmakers to forbid ordinances that are tougher than state standards. State standards allow developments to roughly double runoff, Potter said.
In particular, the Legislative Council memo for that new (ALEC) law removing local control for many development-related issues creates a “one-size-fits-all” system that doesn’t allow for the needs and wishes of a local community to be put into place. In addition to several parts that keep local communities from having stronger work standards or other regulations regarding construction sites and affordable housing requirements, here are the areas that are most related to the flooding issue.
Making or enforcing an ordinance that applies to a dwelling and is more restrictive than the state Uniform Dwelling Code or that is contrary to an order of the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) with respect to the enforcement of the Uniform Dwelling Code.

· Imposing more stringent requirements on a developer relating to the installation of a water meter station than are required to ensure the proper functioning of such a station….

Subject to certain exceptions, under state law, a city, village, town, or county may not enact an ordinance relating to stormwater management unless the ordinance strictly conforms to uniform statewide standards. [s. 281.33 (3m), Stats.] The Act revises an exception for ordinances relating to flood control to instead apply to ordinances relating to peak flow to address existing flooding problems or to prevent future flooding problems, except an ordinance may not require more than 90% of the difference between pre-development and postdevelopment annual runoff volume to be retained on the site.
This bill seems to have been jammed through the GOP-controlled Assembly on a voice vote during its closing days of session, blasted through the Senate without a public hearing a week later (with all GOPs voting for these local control restrictions, and all Dems voting against it), and then run through the Assembly again to concur with some minor Senate changes to the bill. Walker then quietly signed the bill on the day of Wisconsin’s April elections.

One month after that ALEC bill was signed into law, Prof. Potter wrote an editorial for the Wisconsin State Journal and noted that the overriding of local stormwater ordinances and the "90% runoff" rule change could lead to very bad things.
For example, land development has greatly increased water levels in Stricker, Tiedeman, and Esser ponds in Middleton. To prevent local flooding, all three ponds have been equipped with the capacity to drain into Lake Mendota during wet periods, increasing the flood risk in the Yahara lakes. Middleton’s current stormwater ordinance requires new developments maintain the pre-development runoff amount. This requirement is no longer allowed by Act 243.

Given that most of the Yahara Lakes watershed is now undeveloped, it is critical we wisely manage the impacts of development on flooding. For the most common soils in Dane County, requiring only 90 percent of the difference between the amount of pre- and post-development runoff results in about a 100 percent increase in runoff.

Flood risks are increasing throughout the world. Wisconsin has always been a leader in managing flood risk. A local municipality’s ability to protect the public safety and property of its residents requires the ability to control storm water quantity and flooding, based on local conditions.

The recent stormwater management legislation is counter to this tradition. Section 61 of Act 243 should be repealed.
And now in several parts of the state (and more likely to come this week), we see how the choice of the ALEC-GOP crew to prevent local communities to take actions that protect their communities from the increasing number of “once-in-a-generation/lifetime” severe weather events is causing real harm and distress for large numbers of Wisconsinites.

You’re damn right it's not too soon to talk about the legislative kickbacks Scott Walker and other WisGOPs gave to their scummy friends at the Realtors' and Builders' associations. Thoughts and prayers won’t stop people from suffering through the damage that has been made worse by their corrupted choices. But putting better politicians at the Capitol and in the Governor’s Office will.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

"Free market"? WEDC throwing $60 mil at GB Packaging, and corporates still want K-C bailout

While there doesn't seem to be much appetite by State Senators to go back to the Capitol to vote on a $110 million Foxconn-like package to bail out Kimberly-Clark and keep jobs in Wisconsin, that doesn't mean the "free market" types in Wisconsin's corporate community aren't trying.

The New North economic development organization is among the group that wants to see the plant stay, although they don’t limit themselves to having the Kimberly-Clark bailout be the way that it’s done.
A great amount of effort has been put forth by local and state elected officials and by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation [WEDC] to find an effective legislative solution. We applaud that work, and are hopeful that final steps can be taken to save the jobs, most of them union-affiliated.

Keeping quality manufacturing jobs in Northeast Wisconsin is a critical priority.

Retaining this facility also assures continued indirect job and economic impacts related to purchased services, supplies, and materials provided to this plant by Wisconsin firms (estimated at 32 million dollars per year). It would be a huge win for Northeast Wisconsin to save this legacy manufacturing facility from closure and prevent the resultant jobs loss.

Do we want to lend these guys a hand?

Along the same lines, Kathi Seifert chairs the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, and specifically said that the Kimberly-Clark bailout package should be supported, in order to keep the jobs in the Appleton area .
“The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to ensuring a strong and vibrant local economy and is grateful to elected state officials and the WEDC for their support of the Kimberly-Clark Cold Spring facility through proposed legislation. The Kimberly-Clark Cold Spring manufacturing plant not only provides approximately 400 family sustaining jobs, but stands as a representation of what the Fox Cities was built on – ingenuity, hard work and quality.

The Fox Cities – also known as the Paper Valley – is rooted in the paper industry. Our community relies on consumer products manufacturing companies, like Kimberly-Clark, to provide high-paying jobs, not only as a direct employer, but through their greater economic impact. The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce is urging the Wisconsin Senate to concur with AB 963 to ensure the protection of our local economy. The fight for jobs is greater than ever and we can’t afford to lose jobs to states who are more than happy to provide the economic conditions companies require.”

That last sentence strikes me as ominous, as it appears to be in favor of a race to the bottom when it comes to giving away tax dollars to corporations and allowing other Foxconn-like favors for companies that put a gun to the head of communities and threaten to leave.

Oh wait, this is a Chamber of Commerce I’m talking about. Their central focus these days is all about extorting as much as they can from taxpayers and citizens without having to put any of their own skin in the game. A K-C bailout would be right in line with that mentality. And that was confirmed when the right-wing oligarchs at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce also joined the call to have legislators and WEDC help out Kimberly-Clark.

But do we even need a Foxconn-like bailout bill to go through the Legislature. Let me remind you that Scott Walker's WEDC
recently set aside $60 mil for jobs at Green Bay Packaging.
– The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) announced today it is providing Green Bay Packaging with $60 million in tax credits over 12 years to support the company’s plan to build a new paper mill in Green Bay – a project expected to create 200 jobs.

Governor Scott Walker recently joined company officials and community leaders to announce the construction of a new recycled paper mill and an expansion of the Green Bay shipping container division. Green Bay Packaging’s $500 million investment will be one of the largest economic development projects in state history and the largest ever in Brown County.

“This project will provide an economic boost to Green Bay, the region and the entire state,” said Mark R. Hogan, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development organization. “WEDC is proud to support this company’s investment in Wisconsin and the many family-supporting jobs it will bring with it.”
This is the state’s side of tax-funded incentives to Green Bay Packaging totaling a reported $88 million, with local taxpayers shelling out another $28 million.
Green Bay would create a tax increment financing district that would return up to $23 million in property taxes to the company once the new mill opens. The city also will deed its evidence-storage building, near the company's Quincy Street mill, to the company.

Brown County would spend $5.3 million on infrastructure to create a Fox River papermaking corridor.
Seems like quite a price tag for what will be at most 800 jobs (about $111,000 a job, if you do the math), but you could argue that it’s better to try to keep a current employer than rolling the dice on a company like Foxconn that didn’t even have a presence here until billions of state and local tax dollars were thrown at it.

And if WEDC’s got $60 million in a current program that it can throw at Green Bay Packaging, why can’t it throw similar amounts of money to Kimberly-Clark? It wouldn’t require the Legislature to get back into session, unless Walker’s buddies have handed out too many tax credits already, and wouldn’t require changing a number of environmental laws or setting up a brand new enterprise zone where 17% of salaries and 15% of capital investments are written off.

But there's one other facet of these papermaking subsidies that needs to be pointed out. Wisconsin already gives a major tax break to these companies before WEDC gives them a dime. Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Budget Project reminds us about the state's "big giveaway" - the Manufacturing and Agriculture tax credit which is costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Although the proponents of the proposed subsidies refer to them as “tax credits,” that is misleading because manufacturers already receive a state tax credit that eliminates almost all of their state income taxes. There are essentially no restrictions on that credit; manufactures like Kimberly Clark and Harley Davidson can claim the current credit even if they lay off workers, shut down factories, or ship jobs overseas. Wisconsin’s Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit will cost the state an estimated $324 million this fiscal year, which is far more than state policymakers anticipated when the provision was quietly slipped into the 2011 budget bill. This massive expense—which is more than all the tuition and fees combined paid by students in Wisconsin’s technical college system—was supposed to make Wisconsin very attractive to manufacturers, but that doesn’t seem to be working.

The number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin increased by less than 1% from December 2015 to December 2017, compared to a national increase of nearly 1.7%. Corporations like Kimberly Clark and Harley Davidson are scaling back their Wisconsin workforce, and doing so without jeopardizing their eligibility for the generous Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit….

Proponents of corporate subsidies sometimes attack the critics of corporate welfare by contending that they do not care about workers and job growth. That’s a lot like saying parents do not care about the safety of their family if they don’t buy a luxury car with all the latest safety features. State budgets, like family budgets, require setting priorities after weighing the pros and cons of many different spending options. Wisconsin can ill afford to throw money at the most politically powerful corporations, at the cost of being able to make investments in areas like education, transportation and health that would deliver a much larger boost in economic growth.

Lastly, it’s interesting how these paper companies in the 920 gather a lot of Walker’s attention and are deemed worthy of consideration for public funding. Contrast that to 3 years ago, when the Oscar Mayer site in Madison was also in need of updating and in danger of closing. Walker and WEDC did little to try to keep Oscar Mayer in Madison, and backed off entirely after being told to do so by officials at WMC.

Of course, the Oscar Mayer plant and its Madison corporate headquarters announced their closure in November 2015, and are now gone from the city’s east side. And all WEDC has done to help get new jobs and activity in the 67 acres of land that the pant used to sit on is give $500,000 last month to help redo some utility work at the old plant. Not exactly the tens of millions being thrown at Fox Valley paper plants. Funny how that works out.

I'm Ok with ways to preserve and modernize the state's struggling paper industry. But letting Scott Walker's Administration and local governments throw tens of millions of dollars at Green Bay Packaging and Kimberly Clark seems like a less-than-optimal way to do it. Especially since we let these companies get so many write-offs to begin with.

Friday, August 24, 2018

"I-41 expansion" not just an empty WisGOP promise, but a reminder of their idiocy

Our fair governor made yet another visit to the 920 area code this week, and used the occasion to make an announcement regarding future transportation plans.
"After speaking with community leaders and elected officials regarding the importance of Interstate 41 to the continued growth of northeastern Wisconsin, I am calling on the Department of Transportation to evaluate expanding the Interstate 41 section between Appleton and DePere," said Governor Walker. "I want to thank Senator Roger Roth, Representative Jim Steineke, and Representative David Murphy for their leadership on this issue." …

WisDOT can now focus on future improvements of Interstate 41. WisDOT's analysis could result in a department request for the Transportation Projects Commission (TPC) to approve the entire corridor, or portions of the corridor, for environmental study as a potential Major Highway Project.
Great if it can be done, However, here’s the fine print ….which is that there is little to no print at all.
Walker’s administration has not given initial estimates on the cost of expanding I-41 from Appleton to De Pere or said when it would like the work to happen. The study that would take approximately six months would determine the project’s price tag.

The work would ultimately need the approval of the state Transportation Projects Commission, the Legislature or both.

The idea to expand I-41 comes as Walker and his administration have delayed or rejected other projects. For instance, Walker in 2011 approved expanding State 15 from New London to Greenville but so far has not provided funding to build the project. And this March the DOT abandoned a study of expanding I-94 from Madison to Wisconsin Dells.

Another reason you should be VERY skeptical of Walker’s public statement is that the expansion of I-41 between Appleton and Green Bay would have to leapfrog several other road projects throughout the state that have already been planned. Many of those projects have been stalled and/or delayed in recent years because of a lack of available funds.
For southeastern Wisconsin alone, the Department of Transportation has identified more than $3 billion for the largest projects that need to be done. Other possible major projects around the state could add billions of dollars to those costs, according to a 2017 review by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
In addition to allowing other roads to deteriorate, the inaction by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans in the Legislature has meant that costs for current projects have also gone up, as evidenced earlier this month by a $30 million increase in the price tag for the north end of the slow-walked Zoo Interchange project.

The delays and added costs for the Zoo Interchange is something that Wisconsin’s Transportation Development Association noted in the latest installment of their “Just Fix it” series of press releases. In it, the TDA notes that WisGOP’s decision to hold off on the completion of the Zoo Interchange leads to half-assed measures that often cause more problems than they solve.
And it is not only inflation on the cost of the delayed improvement project. It is also the “throw-away” costs of short-term patches that only last a couple years and the inconvenience to drivers of recurring orange barrels.

Earlier this year, WisDOT proposed to spend about $10 million on this corridor to remove and replace the top inch or so of asphalt and change the pavement markings from 3 lanes to 4 narrower lanes with smaller shoulders. This would have done nothing to improve the structure of the pavement or bridges, and given the heavy traffic along the route, it would only be a few years before the surface pavement started to crack and fail.
The Zoo project’s delays and half-measures happened because we already don’t have enough money to handle our everyday road repair needs. But in an attempt to kiss up to Fox Valley voters who are rightfully unhappy about being neglected, somehow Walker and the WisGOP legislators from the 920 think there will be some magic pot of money that falls from the sky to pay for an expansion of I-41? In addition, would moving this costly I-41 project to the front of the line run up more costs by delaying the Zoo Interchange project (again) along with other projects for highways and freeways around the state?

I know the WisGOPs are desperate to be seen as having a plan to deal with the Scottholes that are a result of their neglect of the state’s roads. But this stunt of supporting a future expansion of I-41 between Appleton and the Green Bay burbs leads to more questions and it reminds people of their failures around the state over the last 8 years. Nice move, dimwits!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Foxconn jobs shrinking by the day, but the costs remain huge

I have to give credit to the Racine Journal-Times for continuing to get real information on the developments at Foxconn. Instead of taking after the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and being uncritical cheerleaders for this scam, the Journal-Times has provided content and details that continue to reveal this “game-changer” is even more of a fraudulent ripoff than when this boondoggle was jammed through the Legislature less than a year ago.

Michael Burke of the Journal-Times was able to interview Foxconn executive Louis Woo in a report that ran Wednesday, and it was the latest confirmation that the Fox-con isn’t going to lead to the large-scale, large-screen factory that we were told it was supposed to be.
Woo said Foxconn has dramatically changed its initial presumptions about how it would manufacture in the United States. Originally the company figured it would simply duplicate its China model here — until it realized that the much higher labor costs here would guarantee failure.

“If, six months ago, you asked me: What would be the mix of labor? I would pull out the experience that we have in China and say, ‘Well, 75 percent assembly line workers, 25 percent engineers and managers,’ ” Woo said.

“So, ask me the question today,” he said, then replied, “now it looks like about 10 percent assembly line workers, 90 percent knowledge workers.” Advanced manufacturing here will be done largely by robots and a lot of automation, he said.

Thank you, Mr. Foxconn?

So much for the “major manufacturing plant” that we were told Foxconn would be. Oh, but Mr. Woo insists the jobs that do stay will be high-tech, so that’s better right?
…Woo added: “Mainly, we will certainly need to take advantage of the talent pool in the U.S. Do a lot more research and development (that it does in China), looking into future technologies.”

Woo clarified that when he mentioned 10 percent assembly line workers, those people will operate the robots and tell them what to do. He said he has to look more closely into what those jobs will pay but said: “Normally we will pay a lot more than minimum wage even for the … relatively low-skill-set workers.”
Oh, a lot more than minimum wage? Like the $14.50 an hour you need to pay to get the full 17% tax break on those jobs? BREAK OUT THE PARTY HATS, FOLKS!

And don’t worry, even though Mr. Woo claims that only 2,000 people will be working at Foxconn by the end of 2019, and that production of the LCD displays won’t start till 2020, and that robots will be doing a lot of the work, he’ll still have 13,000 people working in Racine County within 5 years. You betcha!

You know, just like how Scott Walker claimed in August, 2013 that Wisconsin would still add 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term. We didn’t even come close, although we MIGHT hit that as we near the end of Walker’s second term…with the key word being “might”.

“But Jake, I heard an ad from a Realtors front group that claims Foxconn only gets paid for the jobs they create, so it isn’t too costly if there’s less people working, right?”

WRONG, because here’s what the right-wing Realtors leave out of that ad.

1. Foxconn gets 15% back on every dollar that they put in to build the plant, up to $9 billion. That’s true no matter how many jobs they add there (as long as they hit the minimums for that year).

2. $252 million was borrowed to speed up work on I-94 South with the idea that Foxconn would be going in, and Walker’s DOT sent $134 million down to the Foxconnsin region to upgrade numerous two-lane state highways and local roads, while taking away $90 million for similar road projects in the rest of the state.

3. Don't forget the hundreds of millions of dollars in local subsidies, infrastructure and other taxpayer-funded improvements were taken out with the idea that Foxconn would bring a massive amount of jobs. With fewer jobs comes fewer people that need to move into the area, and less need to do more building and spinoff businesses. Which means the local taxpayers in Racine County (and especially the Village of Mount Pleasant) are on the hook for a helluva lot in the coming years, for something that won’t come close to paying back the tax-funded investments that were made.

Look, people like Louis Woo and Scott Walker lie and spin for their living. People like them think that rubes outside of their inner circle will go along with anything they try to sell as long as they can be convinced some pot of gold is lurking around the corner (which Walker and Woo know will never exist).

These guys need to be cut off of their welfare program ASAP, before their grifts handcuff us even more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

MU Law Poll is currently garbage. Why is Charles Franklin allowing that?

Really folks? You read the lazy headlines from media and thought the Wisconsin Governor's race is a dead heat, and Tammy Baldwin only leads Leah Vukmir by 2 points for US Senate? Be smarter than that.

Here are the graphics and the topline number in Chucky Franklin's survey that tells you all you need to know. First, here's the breakdown of voters in last week's primary, which had big-time statewide races at the top for both parties.

And now compare that Dem vs GOP number to what the Marquette Law Poll had as their electorate for November's races, both in registered voters, and in "likely voters".

Electorate breakdown with leaners, August 2018
August 2018 actual primary votes Dem 54, GOP 46
August 2018 Maruqette Law Reg voters GOP 45, Dem 43
August 2018 Marquette Law Likely voters GOP 48, Dem 43

Do those Marquette Law figures seem even close to true, given the REALITY we just saw in last week's elections? No, they don't. So add 5 points toward the Dems for these races (which means Evers by 3-5, and Baldwin by 7-12), and you probably have a closer fit to reality.

So I gotta ask. Why is Charles Franklin coming up with that electorate? Is he intellectually lazy, and just going with whoever picks up the phone when they see a weird number? Or is he BOUGHT OR LYING, given the right-wing Bradley Foundation's ties to both Franklin and the Marquette Law School?

I'm not debating the answers given by whoever allegedly responded to Franklin's poll. I'm questioning why there are so many more Republicans than Democrats answering, when recent voting records show the opposite. And I have a bad feeling why that is. As an associate of mine said tonight.
This early polling will no doubt affect donations, which is the primary concern of campaigns eleven weeks out. Under this hypothesis, the object of biased early polling is to affect the path to election day, and then to be right on election day.
And don't think the Bradleys and Charles Franklin don't know that. This Marquette Poll is a right-wing psy-op, unless Franklin is assuming major WisGOP voter suppression and Russian hacking (and if you are, Chuck, could you please be honest and say so?)

Anyone that cares to look inside Franklin's numbers can see that they're BS, given who has been voting in 2018. But maybe that's the point, and that Franklin is actually giving a cry for help, without being able to say it explicitly (it's a paycheck, right Chuck?) Let's stop thinking the Marquette Law School Poll is the "Voice of God", and is instead a "best-case scenario" for right-wingers in Wisconsin. Once you read it that way, these numbers make a lot more sense.

But it's nice to know what that worst-case scenario is for Dems. Makes you realize this thing is far from over, and it won't be over until the returns come in 76 days from now. Keep pounding folks, because the bad guys won't go away until they're forced to.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

While Dane Co Dems deal with record rain, Walker is nowhere to be found

Picking up from the previous post, contrast Governor Walker's "governing by photo op" with this video that a Channel 27 producer took in Madison as he tried to navigate his vehicle the morning after the largest rainfall in state history.

Can you imagine Scotty ever doing something just because it was the right thing to do? Or walking among the public in general? Yeah, me neither.

Meanwhile, 2 of the 3 people in Congress representing the area have already sprung into action within 24 hours of these rains, trying to get help as soon as they can.

So what did the Governor who lives 5 miles from historic flooding that is affecting hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites do about it? Here is the extent of his effort.

Scotty hasn't even picked up the damn phone to ask Soglin or Dane County executive Joe Parisi for an update on the flooding, or to offer aid for their communities.

Yes, we hate Walker's guts in Dane County, but we're also Governor Walker's constituents, and it's in the job description that Scotty serves all residents of the state. You'd think Walker could at least be shown listening to the requests of Dane County legislators, and declare a State of Emergency that would at least activate some state resources to assist us here in Dane County.

Instead, Walker is nowhere to be found, and I don't know if it's because he doesn't care to DO HIS DAMN JOB, or if he's hiding out of state to kiss up to some donor or other right-wing Bubble Worlder. Let's face it, there are only two things Walker DOES work hard at- self-promotion and doing whatever it takes (legal or otherwise) to try to stay in power, and avoid having to get a real job.

"Walker is for Walker". And if you're not paying him, your needs don't matter

Scott Walker may talk a lot about how he likes being governor, but he sure isn't keen on doing the job. Several recent developments illustrate that Governor Dropout doesn't believe in any concept of "public service," but instead only believes in helping himself.

Just today, I noticed this press release from former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall talking about his new book, which discusses how the Walker Administration and the Republican Attorney General really handle their business.
“I have spent my life believing in the rule of law,” said Ed Wall, former Secretary of Corrections in the Walker cabinet. “I am not a politician and have served both parties with honor. But when I saw the legal manipulation, disregard for ethics, state law, self-serving policies and deceit by Scott Walker and attorney general Brad Schimel, I felt a responsibility to the people of Wisconsin to tell my story.”

Unethical details his work as the secretary of the largest agency in the administration and how he dealt with “two experienced politicians who are masters at making people believe they are something they are not. The two highest elected officials in Wisconsin showed me there is another side of government that was not flattering. I learned that everything from personal integrity and morals to the well-being of society could be sacrificed in the never-ending pursuit of power.”

And just this week, Peter Bildsten, who served as Secretary of Financial Intitutions in Walker first term, levied similar charges. Bildsten endorsed Democratic candidate Tony Evers for governor in a video and says that Walker couldn’t care less about the taxpayers who pay for Scotty’s 6-figure salary if they don't give to his campaigns. But if you did give to Walker, you also got to influence other departments like DFI.

Bildsten was Financial Institutions secretary from 2011 until early 2015. In the online video, Bildsten said “it seemed like every decision Walker made was about pleasing his donors.” Bildsten said he was required to meet with those who had donated heavily to Walker, including a lobbyist from the payday lending industry.

Bildsten, like Wall, also said he was encouraged not to create records that would be subject to public disclosure.

“I thought Scott Walker was different, but he’s just another politician looking out for himself,” Bildsten said.

Bildsten first made the accusations about Walker looking to evade the open records law in a story published by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in 2015, shortly after Bildsten left the administration.

Former Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. head Paul Jadin also said in that story that administration officials were told at the start of Walker’s first term not to use state email or phone systems to share important information.
And now add in this third part, which comes as part of One Wisconsin Now’s database of Scott Walker’s usage of state-funded airplanes since 2015.

OWN also reminds us that those invite-only “listening sessions” just happened to be filled with GOP donors and local officials, and quotes a part of Wall’s book where Wall saysthose events were basically PR BS.
Walker’s office has tried to justify his massive plane usage as legitimate efforts at outreach to the people of Wisconsin. But a former Walker cabinet secretary, Ed Wall, wrote in his recently released book about his time in the administration that, “The administration’s fear of a protestor spectacle at every stop would eventually turn the town hall meetings into little more than paid infomercial dog and pony shows for future campaign ads.” [“Unethical,” Page 163]
Huh, sounds just like that trip Walker made on the state plane up to Three Lakes High School last September, which magically had its footage appearing in Walker ads less than a year later.

Never forget the words of the late Mike Ellis from 2014 – “I think Walker is working for Walker.” And unless you can help Walker gain more money and/or power, you don't matter.

He was weird, but he sure pegged Walker.

Understand that, and a lot of what seems negligent or idiotic in WalkerWorld makes a lot more sense.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Cost of WisGOP gutlessness on dark stores keeps rising

One item that continues to grow as an issue in Wisconsin is the “dark store” loophole and other assessment methods that large retailers and other businesses have used to lower their property taxes at the expense of everyone else. The dark store loophole allows active businesses to be valued at the same amount as an abandoned store of the same type, and can result in lowering the assessments of properties by millions of dollars (and reducing their property taxes by a lot in the process). An example of this came in Oshkosh last week, when the city approved of a settlement with Lowe’s of nearly $130,000 to deal with a dark store case that spanned 3 years of assessments.

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities and other local government-based organizations have actively called for these loopholes to be removed, citing the costs to defend their assessments against these businesses, and the tax shift that results if the big boys win. But after active lobbying against those anti-loophole measures, Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos and other Republican “leadership” at the Capitol refused to take up a bill this session that would have clarified assessment rules and removed many of these loopholes. You may recall the seamy sequence.

The LWM has continued its call for legislation against dark stores, and noted in its recently-released State of Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages that these appeals are becoming more common. This results in large amounts of tax burdens being shifted onto everyone else.
Local officials reported a rise in 2017 in the number of dark store appeals of property tax assessments. These challenges are made by businesses, especially larger retailers, seeking to lower their assessments by contending that local officials are using the wrong method to value their property. Local officials said that in 2017 they had 79 tax appeals that they listed under the dark store rubric, up from 63 challenges in 2016 and 66 in 2015. (See Figure 3.1.) Most of the appeals continue to involve cities and villages with more than 15,000 residents, though smaller communities accounted for much of the growth in these cases in 2017…

The dark store issue impacts how the local property tax “pie” is divided. When the local assessor calculates a given property’s value, this assessment also determines what share of the overall tax levy will be paid by the parcel’s owner. If a retailer or other property owner successfully appeals an assessment, and the total tax levy and assessed values of other properties in that city remain the same, then the store’s share of the property tax levy will decline while homeowners and other businesses will pay a larger share. Given that these types of appeals involve properties with substantial property values, they can result in sizable tax shifts, which helps account for the controversial nature of the dark store issue.
Let me illustrate how this property tax shift affects a local government’s financing. To use a crude example, let’s say a community has $100 million in total property value for next year, and is planning to levy to its state limit of $1 million for 2019. This means there would be a “mill rate” of $10 per $1,000 of value.

Now assume the business that has a $2 million property value is able to successfully argue that their property value should be $500,000, due to the “dark store” loophole. This now reduces the overall property value in the community to $98.5 million.
The amount of property taxes collected by the community won’t change, but the rate will, which means homeowners and others have to pay more. Let’s use a $150,000 home as an example of this effect.

And that’s just the municipality’s share of the property tax bill. The same effect would be repeated with property taxes designated for schools, and the property taxes paid to the county.

With this effect becoming more common, local communities in Wisconsin are increasingly demanding action to close this loophole that is shifting taxes away from the big-box stores, and onto homeowners and other property taxpayers. 91% of West Allis residents voted last week to recommend that the dark store loophole be taken away, and voters in counties such as Kenosha, Racine and Washington will all either have or are considering advisory referenda during November’s elections.

The LWM also notes that businesses are getting their assessments lowered through another argument that was allowed under the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Walgreen’s vs City of Madison decision in 2008.
In addition to dark store challenges, another type of tax appeal involves businesses with long-term leases that require the tenant to pay extra costs beyond just rent, such as property taxes, insurance, and repairs. Over the past decade, pharmacies with this type of lease have brought successful appeals, arguing that assessors should not be allowed to use a business’s “above market rent” to assign a higher value to the property.

The survey suggests this type of appeal may be becoming less frequent, with local leaders reporting that appeals in this category dropped to 38 in 2017 from 51 in 2016. (See Figure 3.3.) This may reflect the fact that some of these businesses have won their appeals, leading assessors to change their practices. Local leaders have said they believe the trend might still grow, however, if this type of lease is adopted by other kinds of companies.
The LWM supported a bipartisan bill that would have clarified this situation and removed this tax break from Walgreen’s and other companies that have similar arrangement, but that was also shot down by Robbin’ Vos, Scott Fitzgerald and the Republican leadership in the Legislature after WMC’s “advice” got through.

After the major tax breaks given to corporations through the GOP’s Tax Scam in Congress, and several other pro-corporate measures that have been shoved through at the state level (including the M&A “big giveaway” to manufacturers and Big Ag, and wage suppression measures to help corporate profit margins), do these guys need even more help through dark store loopholes and Walgreen’s -style? Especially given that it’s coming at the expense of the “hard-working taxpayer” that Scott Walker loves to claim that he cares about?

Notice that Walker has said nothing about dark stores or Walgreen’s-type cases because he values the donations from corporate greedheads over helping the majority of taxpayers in the state. This gives a huge opening for Tony Evers and other Dems to call for more tax fairness by removing these loopholes, and keeping Wisconsinites from having their taxes raised by this legal maneuvering that very few people outside of connected corporates approve of.