Sunday, November 29, 2020

Trump recount fizzles, but WisGOP is still scheming. And Dems need to say more about it

Not that this was a surprise, but the last 10 days of recounts in Wisconsin's 2 largest counties allowed Donald Trump to...lose the state by even more votes. Hey, it's not my money that was thrown down the drain for this - it was the MAGAts and other SUCKERS who sent money to this Hail Mary grift. There was one positive out of the whole thing - a few hundred more Milwaukeeans got their votes counted! But this was still a disgraceful episode from a GOP that clearly has no depths it won't plumb in order to gain power and/or advantage. Jeramey Jannene of Urban Milwaukee had a great series of updates as this went on, and he and other writers showed just how frivolous and desperate the Trump/GOP tactics were. Here's an example from Tuesday, where Jannene describes a lawsuit filed by the "Christian" Thomas More Law Center that tries to invalidate large numbers of votes.
The suit issues the same three challenges the Trump campaign has used to challenge approximately 160,000 absentee ballots in Milwaukee County alone – improperly declared indefinitely confined voters, clerks completing addresses on witness signatures (mismatched ink) and in-person absentee ballots that don’t have a separate application.

In each case, the Milwaukee County Election Commission has said the municipal clerks and voters complied with the law and Wisconsin Elections Commission guidance. A similar process is playing out in Dane County during its recount.
So voters followed the rules on election day, and now TrumpWorld wanted to throw out their votes because...they had the wrong color ink? And the "lack of a separate absentee application" argument is equally insane, because it basically claims Wisconsinites can't vote early in person - which takes place after those voters have to show ID and after they are registered - because they need to treat it like absentee voting?

Some of the challenges and social media BSing by Trump/GOP were even lamer. You would see copy-and-paste memes that referenced some kind of measure against "Registered Republicans" when Wisconsin doesn't register voters by party. Or you would see these Trump Trash observers trying to challenge certain ballots when they clearly didn't understand that voting early in-person qualifies as voting "absentee." Nor did they understand that people had to download their photo ID before they could sign up on MyVote Wisconsin for an absentee ballot.

There was also (intentional?) misinformation claiming that Milwaukee's one-time addition of absentee ballots was suspicious, when it simply reflected the fact that all absentees in Milwaukee are counted at one place (they are not the only city in Wisconsin that does this), and those votes couldn't be counted and totaled until Election Day (which is something that Republicans refused to change before the election, despite requests by state Dems and GOP US Sen. Ron Johnson to do so).

In addition to the hair-splitting and the grossness in trying to disenfranchise voters who followed the instructions they were given, it also illustrates how short-sighted Trump/GOPs are. Why limit the invalidated votes to just Milwaukee and Dane Counties if it's a state law that was violated? This is why the Trump/GOPs should have had it be a statewide recount, as it makes it easy for courts to sidestep the issue by saying "The voters were following the rules, and throwing out these voters would cause different rules for different places. NOPE!"

The fact that Trumpers didn't go statewide tells you that they aren't that serious, and have other motivations behind these moves. They didn't want to spend more of their grift campaign money on a statewide recount, but instead want to deligitimize Biden's win in the state and the country, while also giving hours of topics for AM Hate Radio to keep the rubes stirred up.

All of this recount crap is basically political hackery (because WisGOPs ALWAYS choose "politics and power" over "policy and honesty."), but state Dems seem too willing to point and laugh at the idiocy instead of recognize that it's allowing far too many people to avoid the reality that GOPs got beat. Wisconsin Ethics Board member and Dem operative Scot Ross is among those rightfully asking why the GOPs get to spew this without pushback. But could the gerrymandered WisGOP Legislature or courts step in and mess with things? Not seeing it. Not because I don't think they'd consider such garbage, but because the Legislature is largely locked out of the equation, as the numbers are tallied and affrimed/denied by the Wisconsin Elections Commission under state law.
The commission shall record in its office each certified statement and determination made by the commission chairperson or the chairperson's designee. Immediately after the expiration of the time allowed to file a petition for recount, the commission shall make and transmit to each person declared elected a certificate of election under the seal of the commission, except that the commission need not wait until expiration of the time allowed to file a petition for recount if there is no aggrieved party, as defined in s. 9.01 (1) (a) 5. It shall also prepare similar certificates, attested by the commission administrator, addressed to the U.S. house of representatives, stating the names of those persons elected as representatives to the congress from this state. In the case of U.S. senators, the commission shall prepare a certificate of election for the governor's signature, and the governor shall sign and affix the great seal of the state and transmit the certificate to the president of the U.S. senate. The certificate shall be countersigned by the secretary of state. If a person elected was elected to fill a vacancy, the certificate shall so indicate. When a valid petition for recount is filed, the commission chairperson or the chairperson's designee may not certify a nomination, and the governor or commission may not issue a certificate of election until the recount has been completed and the time allowed for filing an appeal has passed, or if appealed until the appeal is decided.

(b) For presidential electors, the commission shall prepare a certificate showing the determination of the results of the canvass and the names of the persons elected, and the governor shall sign, affix the great seal of the state, and transmit the certificate by registered mail to the U.S. administrator of general services. The governor shall also prepare 6 duplicate originals of such certificate and deliver them to one of the presidential electors on or before the first Monday after the 2nd Wednesday in December.
So even if all the Republicans on the Wisconsin Elections Commission try to force a deadlock on certification, the Elections Commission's Chairperson is Ann Jacobs, a Dem. She'll sign it. The big bullet we dodged in this scenario is through the election of Governor Evers in 2018. I have little doubt Scott Walker would be trying some kind of trickery to avoid signing off on the election and in lying/misinforming about the results. But Evers will likely sign the certificate, and he can point to the official canvass numbers (and Milwaukee/Dane recounts) as proof. Besides, do the Republicans also want to have all other elections be considered illegitimate, including their downticket wins in the House of Representative, the State Senate and their 61-38 control of the State Assembly? Doubtful.

Theoretically, the GOP-controlled Supreme Court of Wisconsin could try to invalidate votes and throw the state's results into doubt. But does Chief Justice Roggen-hack really want to be facing recalls and national derision (or worse?) if they try to make something up that goes against what the voters wanted? Not even those scumbags would want to deal with that situation if they don't have to, especially since the only person being helped is Donald freaking Trump.

But that doesn't mean damage hasn't been done. In addition to the doubt that far too many dopes will have about a clean win for Biden, it will likely lead to more versions of WisGOP attempts to suppress the vote, now that a record number of voters were able to cast their ballots in the state this November. That's where Ross sees the GOP "Justices" jumping in (likely with a ruling to take effect in future elections), and I agree with him that Dems again are failing to show the outrage that will alert everyday Wisconsinites to what might be coming. It's scummy, but you gotta give Trump/GOPs this - they never stop scheming. While too many Dems are celebrating a Biden/Harris victory and trying to wait out the next 52 days, GOPs are already busy trying to mess things up for that new Administration, and for Governor Evers on the state level, and you know they will try to throw up this "questionable voter practices" smokescreen to cover for their failures to do ANYTHING about this pandemic and the economic distress that is still happening due to it. The fact that GOPs even attempted any part of this scheme to overturn the will of the voters tells you that they have no problems with doing this again if future elections are closer, and will refine methods and laws to do so.

If Dems don't stand up NOW and publicly put Trump/GOPs on the spot for their frivolous lawsuits and baseless slurs against voters in cities and college towns, and assume that they will be rewarded for "going high", they are making a big mistake. In fact, it's a lot like the errors made in the Obama Years, which resulted in GOP midterm wins in 2010 that directly led to the divsiveness, idiocy and alienation that sum up the nation's politics in 2020. And we can't afford to have GOPs win in 2022 (either at the state level or in Congress), and mess up this country's elections even more than they already have.

We cannot rest for a minute, and I fear some damage has already been done by not smacking back hard against Trump/GOPs for their baseless and destructive claims after the election. These are bad people who want to do bad things, and you cannot allow these lowlifes to keep toxifying our politics without making them pay.

Friday, November 27, 2020

As stimulus fades, we see who the COVID economy is helping, and hurting

As many of us buy stuff during this week of sales, it seems important to look at this week's release of the October 2020 income and spending report to get an idea of where things stood ahead of a Holiday shopping season that will likely look very different than any we've seen in our lifetimes.

For both statistics, we saw a reversion back toward pre-COVID numbers as stimulus measures fade away and consumption continues to recover from its Springtime depths.
Personal income decreased $130.1 billion (0.7 percent) in October according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis(tables 3 and 5). Disposable personal income(DPI) decreased $134.8 billion (0.8percent) and personal consumption expenditures(PCE) increased $70.9 billion (0.5 percent).

Real DPI decreased 0.8 percent in October and Real PCE increased 0.5 percent (tables 5 and 7). The PCE price index was unchanged from September. The PCE price index excluding food and energy was also unchanged.
That drop in personal income is due to the ending of the short-term bump in unemployment benefits caused by President Trump's desperate raid on FEMA funds in August. Take that out, and personal incomes would have risen by nearly $80 billion (annual rate) last month.

That being said, all of that remaining increase in income can be chalked up to another pre-election giveaway, in the form of major farm subsidies that went out in October to try to make rurals forget about 4 years of bad Trump/GOP policies that led to record bankruptcies in Wisconsin (and judging by the election results, I guess it worked).

Meanwhile, growth in wages and salaries has continued to diminish in recent months, and as you can see, that main source of income for most Americans still isn't back to the levels that they were at in February. By comparison, business owners are back above water, and have been seeing steady growth since things hit bottom in April.
November's income story should prove especially interesting, as unemployment claims have started to rise again, as COVID spikes and the weather cools. But it's without the boost in unemployment benefits that we had in May, June and July.

On the spending side, we continue to see a two-sided story. The increased amount of people staying home and the fact that middle and upper-income Americans have barely seen their incomes hit at all in the COVID World has become a boon to quite a few goods-related industries. Spending on goods is well above the levels that we had in pre-COVID February, vehicles have become especially hot in recent months, and we are still spending an elevated level on groceries and booze.
But notice that services spending was still depressed in October, and growth continues to flatten out. With COVID Winter looming, it's not looking much better for the future, which makes for an alarming situation given what a hole many of these businesses are already in.
Those lower sales are not going to pay the rent, which makes me think we are in serious danger of havig a 2nd phase of significant job loss and closings in those sectors. And this time, they won't be temporary, which tells me that Congress needs to step up in the next 2 weeks to get the bipartisan RESTAURANTS Act and related, targeted measures pushed through Moscow Mitch's legislative graveyard.

If that happens, then we might not get back above February's income and spending levels for the rest of 2020, and for quite a while afterwards. Keep an eye on DC, and see if that reality of looming doule-dip recession sparks the GOPs into action. Or if they walk away, and try to screw Biden even more than Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is already doing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mnuchin's ratfuck part of a larger GOP strategy to screw Biden

You know how I really knew that the Trump Administration knew they had no chance of winning the election? Not when they cleared the way for the GSA to work with the Biden folks on a transition, but when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin took $455 billion away from the Fed, to handcuff the economy going forward.
The money will be placed in the agency’s General Fund, a Treasury Department spokesperson said Tuesday. Most of it had gone to support Federal Reserve emergency-lending facilities, and Mnuchin’s clawback would make it impossible for [the Biden-announced Janet] Yellen as Treasury secretary to restore for that purpose without lawmakers’ blessing.

Democrats swiftly criticized the move, with Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the congressionally appointed watchdog panel overseeing Fed and Treasury Covid-19 relief funds, saying “the good news is that it’s illegal and can be reversed next year.”…

The move leaves just under $80 billion available in the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a pot of money that can be used with some discretion by the Treasury chief. By contrast, the Cares Act funds had specific uses, and weren’t available for general government spending purposes.

Any move by Yellen to take the money back out of the general account and into the stabilization fund would likely trigger a wave of Republican protests -- a battle she may prefer to avoid early in her tenure.

The money in question includes $429 billion that Mnuchin is clawing back from the Fed -- which backed some of the central bank’s emergency lending facilities -- and $26 billion that Treasury received for direct loans to companies. Both initiatives were created under the Cares Act that was passed in March as the coronavirus pandemic inflicted economic pain on the U.S.
For me, not for thee.

So the Treasury Department is going to tighten up the ability of (mostly small) businesses to get loans at the same time that many of these businesses are going to see a loss of business (if it ever came back from this Spring’s declines). Cool, eh?

Here’s the thing – GOPs know that spending government funds helps the economy get out of a recession. It’s why they had no problem spending trillions on CARES as soon as COVID broke out, why Moscow Mitch constantly funnels pork back to his home state of Kentucky, and why Trump spent massive amounts of money on farm subsidies over the last 2 years.

And this is on top of TrumpWorld not lifting a finger to do something about the continual climb in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the election. They want things to be brutal for Biden as he takes office, and this sets up Moscow Mitch and company to tie up Biden’s plans for economic recovery, as they can refuse to allow this $455 billion to be spent.

Then they can shove the blame for a sputtering 2021-22 economy onto the new president. If this sounds familiar, it should. It was the same routine the GOP tried to pull throughout the 2010s, and they’ll keep doing it until voters hammer GOPs for their inaction.

Dems need to be shouting about this NOW, or else a whole lot of us will be facing serious economic pain in the near future, and it’ll be a lot harder for Dems to stay in power in both DC and in Governor’s mansions after 2022. And if that happens, the type of Tom Foolery that we've seen in 2020 from GOPs won't look so foolish when they have GOP Governors using their office to try to rig voting laws and in approving election results.

We can't let these lowlifes get away with handcuffing the economy again.

Unemployment is rising in US and Wis. But many are set to be cut off in December.

This is not good at all. But felt entirely predictable.
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 778,000, evidence that the U.S. economy and job market remain under strain as coronavirus cases surge and colder weather heighten the risks.

The Labor Department's report Wednesday said jobless claims climbed from 748,000 the week before. Before the virus struck hard in mid-March, weekly claims typically amounted to roughly 225,000. They shot up to 6.9 million during one week in March before dropping yet remain historically high more than eight months later, with many businesses unable to fully reopen.
Worse is that this “seasonally adjusted” increase of 30,000 was based on having more people file last week, as the raw number of new claims went up by more than 78,000 to 827,000. And more are likely to become needy as 2020 ends, which isn’t good because a lot of people are already in need in America. We should have seen this coming, not only because of the rise in COVID cases and colder weather conspiring to hammer restaurants, bars and other gathering places. But also because the temporary stimulus of jobs and spending related to the election is petering out (so there are a lot of hacks needing to find gigs now).

The continuing claims figure only goes through November 14, which is the week that new claims started rising again, so we'll wait until next week to see if that starts going back up. But we do have information on all of the main unemployment programs through Election Week, and the drop in continuing claims was already being more than offset by an increase in the gig-related PUA program and the number of people receiving long-term unemployment benefits.
Much like how the end of the election collided with the rise in COVID cases and COVID/weather-related shutdowns, the recent rise in new and long-term claims for November is set to collide with a late December deadline that will cut off millions of Americans from benefits.
Unless Congress can agree on a new stimulus deal in the next few weeks, an estimated 12 million workers will lose their unemployment benefits on December 26, according to a new report from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, leaving them with “little or no means of support” in the new year.

Without a deal, federal funding will lapse for two key unemployment programs on Dec. 26 because of deadlines written into the CARES Act in March: The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which extended unemployment benefits to gig workers and freelancers who don’t normally qualify, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides an extra 13 weeks of UI to those who have exhausted their state’s benefits.

An estimated 12 million workers — more than half of the 21 million people currently collecting UI — will be receiving jobless benefits from those two programs at that time, according to TCF’s report, and are at risk of falling off a benefits cliff.

Another 4.4 million workers will have already exhausted their benefits, meaning more than 16 million people “will be heading into 2021 with little or no aid available to them,” the report says.
And some states might be cutting people off before Dec. 26. The US Department of Labor says states trigger "off" of getting unemployment benefits for 39+ weeks (under the Extended Benefits (EB) program) if their unemployment rolls are low enough. Here's how that happpens.
States must pay EB (for 13 weeks) if the insured unemployment rate (IUR) for the previous 13 weeks is at least 5 percent and is 120 percent of the average rate for the same 13-week period in the two previous years.
Wisconsin hasn't had an IUR of 5% since the end of August, and was triggered off of the EB program in the first week of November. So if you reach 39 weeks in Wisconsin, you are now cut off.

This is especially relevant as the number of Wisconsinites that are on the 26-to-39 week PEUC program keeps growing, and is now past 60,000.
The number of Wisconsinites on PUA also keeps going up, and is now past 35,000. And all of these people are set to be cut off in the next month.

But I still see that Congress seems more concerned about keeping government funded in 2 weeks, over dealing with the cliff that millions of Americans are set to go over after Christmas.
Top House and Senate appropriators on Tuesday clinched a deal on a bipartisan set of funding levels, paving the way for a $1.4 trillion spending package to avert a government shutdown next month.

The agreement on the funding allocations, confirmed by a House Democratic aide, establishes overall totals for 12 appropriations measures that will be rolled into one massive omnibus bill that would boost federal budgets for the rest of the fiscal year. Negotiators plan to keep the numbers — known as 302(b)s — under wraps until a bipartisan, bicameral omnibus is finalized, the aide said….

It's unclear whether any stimulus measures will accompany the government funding package. Senate Republicans have been increasingly pessimistic about attaching coronavirus relief to the spending bill, while Democrats have remained somewhat optimistic.

“We have been working on the omnibus bill and I thought that would be a segue into” coronavirus relief, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday during her weekly press conference. “Let’s hope that it is.”
If only Nancy was in a position to make sure that happens…

Pelosi botched this situation before the election, when she didn't force Moscow Mitch and the GOP Senate to vote on stimulus, choosing to avoid a shutdown instead. Are House Dems seriously going to make the same mistake in the Lame Duck session, allowing the Senate to walk away from helping the tens of millions of Americans that are/will be out of work?

They'd better not! It is more important to keep Americans and service-related businesses afloat than in giving funds to keep things operating as-is. And if Dems in Congress refuse to tie a funding bill to unemployment benefits, aid to restaurants, and other measures to help people survive a brutal COVID Winter, they are setting up the economy to be a mess for the start of President Biden’s term.

Not tying stimulus measure to the budget bill would be a losing strategy for both Dems (and a lot of Dem guvs and House members are up for re-election in 2022), and in avoiding the double-dip recession that is becoming increasingly likely by the day. So we need to stay on top of what's happening in Congress, to make sure we don’t go backwards in December.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

All corners of Wisconsin continue to feel the wrath of COVID

As Wiscomsin exceeds 100 deaths in one day for the first time, COVID-19 is now seeing cases at record levels throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Perhaps the most startling rise in recent weeks have been in Waukesha County, who now have 182 of the state's 3,100+ deaths. Waukesha County had a backlog of previous cases be "discovered" last week, which brought the week's total of newly accounted cases to near 4,700. But as you can see, it's been an uninterrupted and stunningly steep climb for the last 6 weeks.
Yet Waukesha County's main State Senator feels no need for the state to guarantee the resources that are needed to test for and fight COVID in the new few months.
At the other end of response to the pandemic is incoming state Senate President Chris Kapenga, the Republican from Delafield who will preside over the Senate for the 2021-22 session, and a potential candidate governor in 2022. Asked about COVID-19 proposals from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Assembly Republicans leaders, Kapenga told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “At this point, I haven’t seen anything that I’m real excited about.”

Kapenga’s comment suggests that, even if Assembly Republicans pass COVID-19 bills in a December lame-duck session, Kapenga will recommend that the Senate not meet this year.
Maybe Sen. Kapenga needs to take a look at Waukesha's many hospitals and notice how many people are in those facilities for COVID. Like all other regions in Wisconsin, the Southeastern portion of the state continues to have an elevated number of people in the hospital with COVID-related illnesses.
All other parts are seeing the same trend. A few were down a bit from the week before, but it's still at levels that we were never close to before October, and (as sick as this sounds) some of that decline may be related to the fact that over 100 deaths were reported today.
Likewise, while the number of new cases have seen a leveling off in some places in recent days, it's still at levels we'd never seen until recently. That's true in communities large and small, and it means we should expect an elevated amount of hospitalizations and deaths to continue for the rest of 2020 in Wisconsin.
And sure, we hear news of drug companies coming up with versions of COVID vaccine. But that's not going to be available for most Wisconsinites for at least 3-4 months, which means that people and policymakers have to be taking steps to bend the curve back down NOW.

The cutbacks and changes in economic activity that need to happen in this COVID Winter are not going to be fun to live through, but living is the key word, and we have to start from that as our goal. And we also need to admit that COVID is still roaring through our communities, and to turn our backs on this real problem is to make sure it bites us even more.

Monday, November 23, 2020

In 1st half of 2020, Wis lost a lot of jobs, but not as bad as rest of US

With all of the other oddness going on in the country, many of us may have missed that last week had another "gold standard" jobs report, better known as the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), which is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

THis report covered the June 2019-June 2020 time period, which means it captured the full effect of the economic shutdowns and other effects on the jobs market as COVID 19 gripped the nation. All 50 states had shed large amounts of jobs by June 2020, and Wisconsin was no different. The QCEW says that we lost nearly 257,000 jobs in the June 2019-June 2020 time period, a drop of 8.72%.

This placed Wisconsin 25th in the US for the lowest rate of job loss in America, and we were smack dab in the middle for the Midwest as well (4th out of 7). On a national level, the QCEW report says that the US lost an even higher percentage of jobs than Wisconsin did – 9.44%, which followed the country gaining jobs at a faster rate than Wisconsin in recent years (as they pretty much had for the last decade).
What’s interesting about the QCEW figures is that the 9.44% is a bigger US job loss for the 12 months ending June 2020 than we were getting from the monthly job reports that gather headlines in the news. Those reports only set the US job losses at 8.59%. Increase those losses to 9.44%, and it means an additional 1.275 million jobs lost beyond what was reported.

Watch for that as we have the jobs numbers re-benchmarked in February, and it would be reminiscent of how the Obama Administration was given data that underplayed just how bad the economy was when Obama became president in early 2009. Conversely, while Wisconsin lost a lot of jobs this Spring as COVID lockdowns took place and then changed the economy, it wasn’t as bad as we first thought, and indicates that job losses for the 1st half of 2020 may be revised down in a few months.

Wisconsin job change, June 2019 – June 2020
Monthly reports -9.95%
QCEW report -8.72%

This would reduce Wisconsin’s job losses by nearly 37,000, and might help explain why the state’s tax revenues have held up better than we would have expected (increased unemployment benefits and few jobs lost in high-wage industries also helps).

While this “gold standard” report was intriguing to get more data on to see just how bad things got as COVID-19 broke out, the next QCEW report that hits in 3 months may be even more important. That early 2021 report will illustrate how many of those jobs really did come back between June and September, and while the monthly reports have looked strong, jobless claims continue to stay at levels above what we saw during the Great Recession. And many businesses seem endangered today as colder weather has set in, and COVID cases have jumped to record levels.

The Q2 QCEW report confirms the hole was huge, but were we given a false sense of recovery ahead of our Election? We need to have a more complete picture of what was happening with our jobs market in the Summer and Fall, so we can see just how much further we have to go, in order to put in an appropriate level of stimulus in a time when millions are still out of work.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Another record week of COVID, as Vos and company continue to dither

It's not surprising, but there isn't much good to report on the COVID front in Wisconsin for hte last week. Again. The rate of increase in new cases may have leveled off last week. But it's still more than the week before, and still a new record, with an average exceeding 6,400 a cases a day for the last 7 days.
And sadly, the number of deaths also set another new record in the last week.
Wisconsin hit a notorious milestone yesterday, with the COVID death toll now exceeding 3,000 in the state, and over half of those have come in the last 40 days. These bad numbers are coming right before we are facing a new SuperSpreader event for those who are foolish enough to get large groups together for Thanksgiving.

But strangely, this reality doesn't seem to faze Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos. It seems worth noting that Dane County has nearly 3 times the people of Vos' Racine County, and yet Racine has more deaths than Dane.

Deaths from COVID-19
Racine Co 149
Dane Co 75

Last 31 days
Racine Co 44
Dane Co 29

So you'd think Robbin' would want to learn something from us, but he couldn't stir up the rubes if he admitted that, now could he?

But Robbin' has been hard at work...pointing fingers and deflecting responsibility for the last 7 months. But maybe with the election being over, Vos can finally turn his (and the gerrymandered Legislature's) attention to the most pressing issues. Yeah, why would people be confined to their residences? I mean, it's not like hundreds of people are dying every week in Wisconsin due to a pandemic or something!

Do you really wonder why things keep getting worse here?

Wisconsin home values, property taxes higher than before. As are the inequalities that results

This week had the type of mundane government release that I find interesting. The state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau is changing how they figure out what is the “typical-priced home in Wisconsin.”
At the time of the 2000 decennial census, the U.S. Census Bureau did not provide statewide median value home estimates beyond the decennial census estimates. Since 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau has been conducting an annual American Community Survey (ACS), in which the Census Bureau derives an annual statewide median value home. Going forward, this office will begin to use the ACS annual estimate produced by the US Census Bureau as the base year for any statewide estimate. This change in methodology will produce a more up-to-date estimate of the median home value in Wisconsin. The ACS statewide median value home estimates are released in May of each year for the previous calendar year. For example, the most recent estimate available is for calendar year 2019, while the median home value estimate for 2020 will be released in May, 2021. Therefore, after the Governor's budget introduction, using the 2019 ACS Wisconsin median value home as our base value, this office will provide estimates of the median home value for the 2020(21), 2021(22) and 2022(23) property tax years. This analysis also looks at the relationship between value changes in the residential class of property compared to other property classes, due to the potential for property taxes to shift among classes of property based on the relative value growth in each class. In order to derive the estimated tax bill on a median value home, estimates of property tax levies under the Governor's budget recommendations will also be provided. Once the biennial budget is enacted, using these same statewide median home value estimates, the tax bill estimate on the statewide median value home will be updated to reflect any legislative actions that impacted property tax levies.

The primary reason for making this change in methodology is that the statewide median home value estimate produced by this office has diverged from the home values reported by the U.S. Census Bureau over the past ten years. Figure 1 below shows that while the two estimates were initially very similar, they began to diverge in 2008(09), and have continued to diverge since that time. The Census figures are based on the results of a survey that is administered annually, which is likely more reflective of the new and existing housing stock in the state. Moreover, because the base year for this office's ongoing estimate had been the median home value derived in the 2000 decennial census, there is a concern that the divergence between our estimate and the annual values reported by the Census Bureau is likely to persist, and could increase, over time.

Among the most significant reasons for the divergence between the two measures shown in the graph is that the estimates produced by this office have likely undervalued newly-constructed homes. New construction tends to be higher in value than the existing home stock. While the pace of new home construction declined somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath, it has consistently increased following the recovery. Moreover, according to the ACS, since 2012, the change in the value of newly-constructed homes has outpaced the change in the statewide median value for all homes. Fully accounting for the value of newly-constructed homes results in higher statewide median home values.
The LFB’s note also includes this chart showing the differences between these two methods.
Because the property value of the median Wisconsin home is higher under this metric, it means that the property taxes on that median home were revised higher. In fact, the LFB now says that property taxes on the typical Wisconsin home have gone up 8 of the last 9 years measured. The one exception is the result of a $406 million “tax trade” on the state’s Technical College System that was done by Scott Walker and WisGOP, where state tax dollars were spent to replace the property tax dollars that previously went into the Tech Colleges.
This means that Scott Walker’s oft-repeated claim of “I lowered your property taxes” between 2010 and 2018 wasn’t true (although your mileage may vary). What is true is that property tax rates have gone down in every year after 2013. This reflects both the rising property values and limitations put in place by Walker and WisGOP which limited the ability of local governments to grab some of the extra tax base that was available as those property values rose.

An interesting variable going forward on Wisconsin property taxes is that communities can generally raise the total amount of taxes by the amount of “net new construction” added to the tax base – basically the value of new buildings as a % of the total. This number can be exceeded by going to referendum, which many Wisconsin school districts did 2 weeks ago, with most of them passing (as the Wisconsin Policy Forum recently pointed out), but those levy limits may be getting loosened up in the near future anyway.

That’s not just because Tony Evers is the governor and has asked for more flexibility for local governments, but also because of 2020’s rock-bottom interest rates and a COVID World desire by some to get away from large-unit, communal housing. A couple of reports that came out this week shows that the US is clearly jumping into a new housing Boom/Bubble. On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors showed that existing homes are being snapped up like it's the mid-2000s, with prices jumping accordingly.
Tight inventory is being pointed to as a reason for the large jump in home prices, but that may be relieved soon, as there was a big jump in housing starts reported this week.
U.S. homebuilding increased more than expected in October, suggesting the housing market continues to be sustained by historically low mortgage rates even as the economic recovery shows signs of strain amid a resurgence in new Covid-19 infections. Housing starts rose 4.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.530 million units last month, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. Data for September was revised up to a 1.459 million-unit pace from the previously reported 1.415 million.
In addition to the overall increase, what’s interesting in the report is that home-building has had a clear shift into single-family homes and away from multi-units.

Year-over-Year Change, Housing Starts, Oct 2020 (annual rate)
Total +42 (+2.8%)
1 unit +191 (+20.6%)
2-4 units +12 (+25.0%)
5+ units -161 (-30.7%)

This will likely mean some serious changes in what makes up the tax base, more than how much property can be taxed in itself, as more single-family homes and fewer multi-unit homes may offset themselves. Especially after we start to account for all of the store closings and vacant properties that have already started, and likely will accelerate with a COVID winter.

A major concern I have is that not only might the increase in home values lead to higher property taxes in Wisconsin, it also could increase our already-unsustainable levels of economic inequality, as richer people are more likely to be able to own homes and grow wealth from this Bubblicious growth. And as the Wisconsin Budget Project points out, the increase in economic inequality would also increase racial inequality, as white Wisconsinites are much more likely to be homeowners than Wisconsinites of other races.
In addition, the Budget Project notes that the state's tax code favors middle and upper-class homeowners, which also adds to racial and social inequality.
The exclusion of so many people of color from home ownership prevents them from benefiting from two of the largest federal and state tax breaks—the income tax deductions for property taxes and mortgage interest. The systemic bias in the tax code against people of color can also be seen in Wisconsin’s two largest property tax credits, the School Levy Credit and the Lottery Credit, which together reduced Wisconsin property taxes by $1.2 billion in 2019. Because of policy choices made by Wisconsin lawmakers, they didn’t reduce property taxes equitably for people of different races.

Both the School Levy Credit and the Lottery Credit exclude renters from directly receiving the credit. Renters can benefit indirectly from the School Levy Credit, which reduces property taxes for all owners of property located in Wisconsin, including landlords who rent out residential property. That means that some portion—but only a portion—of the School Levy Credit flows through to renters, to the extent that landlords reduce the rent they charge to take lower costs into account. The Lottery Credit doesn’t provide any benefit to renters at all, as it only reduces property taxes for homeowners on their primary residence.

Even though renters pay property taxes, Wisconsin lawmakers have created a system of property tax credits that predominantly benefit homeowners and largely blocks renters from directly benefiting. However, one property tax credit—the Homestead Credit—reduces property taxes more equitably by benefiting both homeowners and renters. Unfortunately, policy choices made by state lawmakers have sharply reduced the amount of relief provided by the Homestead Credit.
These are items to look at as Governor Evers develops and unveils his 2021-23 budget over the next 3 months, because all of these factors have increased the danger of a property tax spike in this Winter or the next one. It also raises the concerns of unaffordable housing and a lack of demand for it if we fall into a double-dip recession due to a COVID-induced slowdown.

So while we may think that rising home values in recent years are big boost to wealth, it also could lead to things getting worse if we get too far out over our skis, and causes an already-struggling Main Street economy in Wisconsin to go to a worse place in 2021.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Wisconsin finances are fine for now. But 2020 has shown has fast this can change

Yesterday, Tony Evers' Department of Administration released a huge document related to the upcoming state budget. This combines all of the budget requests by state departments, and then adds in projections for state revenues for the 2021-23 Fiscal Years.

Given our current loss of jobs and looming end of federal help at the end of this year, I was concerned that the DOA's outlook could be especially bad. But it isn't, particularly for this Fiscal Year.
The Department of Revenue's estimates of general purpose tax revenues for fiscal years 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23 are summarized by individual tax source in Table 2. For fiscal year 2020-21, overall state tax revenues are forecasted by the Department of Revenue to be $17.664 billion, which represents an increase of $132 million above the 2019-20 fiscal year tax revenues....

Based on projections, the state's general fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2020-21 is projected to be $1.222 billion (see Table 3). This projection is based on the Department of Revenue's revised fiscal year 2020-21 tax revenue estimates and the final budget for fiscal year 2020-21. Estimates of departmental revenues, sum sufficient appropriations and lapses have been updated based on the latest available information.
Obviously, there is a long time and a lot of variables (COVID, economic and otherwise) between now and the end of June, let alone what the next 2 years might look like. But as you can see, there are two main reasons there is so much money projected to be carried over.

1. That continued increase in corporate tax revenues, which the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says is largely due to more Wisconsin businesses calling themselves "corporations" after the GOP Tax Scam in DC gave a big tax cut to corporate rates at the Federal level (which begs the question - How massive a break are corps getting from the Feds if they're willing to increase their taxes at the state level?)

2. Look at those $954.6 million in lapses in spending for this Fiscal Year. Some of this is due to the $300 million in budget cuts that Evers ordered earrlier this year, when there were concerns that the COVID recession was going to hammer the state's finances, and some of this is due to the feds covering some of the state's expenses through the CARES act and other COVID-related assistance.

But if we have $1.2 billion that is set to be left over on June 30, it sure seems like we could afford the $541 million in state dollars that Evers is prepared to spend in order to deal with COVID and related economic issues. Again, this could change drastically if money gets cut off from DC, and we have to spend additional funds to deal with the 170,000 additional Wisconsinites that on Medicaid compared to where we were in March, and related needs.

You can see that if every budget request gets OK'd, we'd be over by around $1.2 billion in both Fiscal year 2022 and Fiscal Year 2023, which makes for a deficfit of $1.14 billion by the end of the 2021-23 budget. Obviously, not every budget request is going to go through for the full amount, but it's similar to what faced Evers when he came into office, and seems manageable as things stand today.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, "as things stand today" could be very different than what we could be looking at in a few weeks, let alone 2 years from now. And if October's job losses in Wisconsin are an indicator of a rough COVID winter and a double-dip recession (which is now being talked about on a national level by Fed policymakers), the $1.22 billion in the state's bank account that we're supposed to have could go away quickly.

EDIT- I almost left out the best part of yesterday's report.
Finally, the projections are also affected by developments related to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's (WEDC) 2017 contract with three Foxconn affiliates ("Foxconn") for a project in Mount Pleasant, located in Racine County. Under the 2017 contract, Foxconn may earn annual capital and job creation tax credits related to the construction of a Generation 10.5 Fabrication Facility in an Electronics Information and Technology Manufacturing Zone (EITMZ) in Southeastern Wisconsin. The State of Wisconsin and local partners have invested significant resources in real estate, site development, and infrastructure over the last three years in furtherance of the project. However, based on Foxconn's activities in calendar years 2018 and 2019, WEDC has determined that Foxconn has not been eligible for credits under the contract, with the 2019 eligibility determination currently subject to a good faith negotiation period with Foxconn that will lapse at the end of November 2020. WEDC's non-eligibility determinations will likely continue, as the company also does not appear to be on track for credit eligibility based on its calendar year 2020 activities. Based on these realities, the projections contained in this report assume no payment of EITMZ credits to Foxconn in fiscal years 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The rise in COVID is now starting to drop jobs. Just as Americans are getting cut off.

Not a lot of good news on the jobs front today. First off, last week featured a sizable jump in the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims, reversing a downward trend.
New U.S. applications for state unemployment benefits rose in mid-November for the first time in more than a month, pointing to added stress on the economy from a record increase in coronavirus cases.

Initial jobless claims increased by a seasonally adjusted 31,000 to 742,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 14. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast initial jobless claims to total 710,000.

Another 320,237 people applied for benefits through a temporary federal-relief program that expires at the end of the year, the government said Thursday.
Those 320,000+ people filed for benefits under the PUA program for gig workers and other jobs that aren’t usually able to receive traditional unemployment. And that was an increase of nearly 24,000 new PUA claims compared to the previous week as well, so the total jump was around 55,000 for the 2nd week of November.

On the continuing claim side, things continued to improve through the end of October (the last week was have data for on all the programs). As November began, we were within spitting distance of getting below 20 million people receiving benefits, a level we hadn’t seen since April.
However, the number of people receiving long-term benefits continued to grow at the same time, and now exceeds 5 million.
And the 5 million on extended benefits and the 8.7 million more that are on PUA are facing an increasingly desperate situation. Increases in colder weather and COVID cases are going to limit job opportunities in the coming weeks, and there is a significant cliff that those people are set to go off of by the end of 2020.
"Congress is set to cut off 12 million Americans from the only thing holding them back from falling into financial wreckage and disaster," says Andrew Stettner, a co-author of the new study from the progressive-leaning think tank the Century Foundation.

Stettner says two important federal pandemic jobless relief programs have been a lifeline for people such as Anderson who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits or didn't qualify.

But with Congress stuck in a months-long stalemate over another relief bill, these programs are set to expire.

"Those will come to a crashing halt on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas," Stettner says. He says this is happening just as the pandemic is raging across the country and states and cities are reimposing restrictions on businesses and schools.
It’s especially rough in Wisconsin for several reasons. The first is that the $400-a-week add-on for benefits that came from a Trumpian raid on FEMA will likely be done by December. Then remember that Wisconsin recently became ineligible for having its recipients get unemployment benefits beyond 39 weeks. And 39 weeks from when COVID-related shutdowns began in March is around…mid-December.

And now we’re not seeing those lost jobs get replaced in our state. Not only have new unemployment claims been rising in Wisconsin recently (up from 11,913 in the first week of October to over 15,500 last week), but the new Wisconsin jobs report for October showed that we took a step backward last month.
The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) today released the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) preliminary employment estimates for the month of October 2020. The data shows that Wisconsin total non-farm jobs decreased by 14,700 and 2,700 private-sector jobs in the month of October. Wisconsin's unemployment rate for October was 5.7 percent, up from 5.4 percent in September.
Yikes! Granted, many of the job losses were actually lower-than-normal seasonal hirings in government (state govt and local govt added 3,900 and 3,700 raw jobs in October, which translates to a seasonal “loss” of 2,900 and 6,800), but a couple of beaten-up service areas lost more jobs than in a typical October, which could signal the beginning of what may be a brutal COVID winter.

Jobs lost, Wisconsin Oct 2020

Arts, Entertainment and Recreation
Seasonally adjusted -1,700
Non-seasonally-adjusted -4,000

Accomodation and Food Services
Seasonally adjusted -5,300
Non-seasonally-adjusted -8,900

And while Governor Evers has recently awarded tens of millions of dollars in CARES funds for these types of businesses (unlike a lot of states, who aren’t even giving that), it’s a one-time bump that likely won’t be enough to help these places sustain operations until the snow thaws next Spring.

With the still-huge amount of people on unemployment and many in line to be cut off in both Wisconsin and America, we are in a dangerous place. And unlike the games that Trump/GOP are playing when it comes to states signing off on the will of the voters, it seems very possible that the economy is on the verge of a bad result that makes things even worse as 2021 begins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

GOPs wanna recount Madison and Milwaukee? I wanna recount Sheboygan, Adams and Mauston!

Look, I know that Trump's request to recount Milwaukee County's and Dane County's votes is nothing more than a lame attempt to race-bait and provide fodder for hours of AM Talk Radio and Faux News cable stations. Heck, right-wing operatives in Wisconsin were discovered admitting this nearly 10 years ago during the Kloppenberg-Prosser Supreme Court election.
But it did get me to thinking about turnout totals, and if there was anywhere that had odd numbers. I used the unofficial totals that were put together by the Wisconsin Elections Commission right after the election (yes, I know the official canvass has changed this a bit, but I don't have an easy place to stack that up), then compared that to 2016's total votes.

Using that metric, here are the counties with the largest % increase in votes compared to 2016.

Menominee Co +21.18%
Sheboygan Co +19.35%
Juneau Co +16.77%
Adams Co +16.66%
Kenosha Co +16.23%
Burnett Co +16.06%
Calumet Co +16.03%
Polk County +15.74%

A lot of rural counties along with Sheboygan and Kenosha. The Menominee increase is especially interesting, because it's the bluest county in Wisconsin (but interestingly, NOT one Trump asked to recount), and also seems to be reflective of a strong pro-Dem turnout in the Native American community nationwide that was credited as a big reason behind Biden's win in Arizona.

But I don't see Milwaukee or Dane County on that list. Oh wait, here's a list Milwaukee is on.

Lowest % increase in votes vs 2016, Wisconsin
Milwaukee Co +4.05%
Grant County +4.14%
Portage Co. +5.22%
Eau Claire Co. +5.83%
La Crosse Co. +6.48%
Dunn County +6.50%
Winnebago Co. +7.92%

Also notice that the other 6 counties on that list are all homes to UW campuses (as is Milwaukee, for that matter). That has to be COVID-related, as those campuses likely have fewer students taking classes on-site and living in those college towns.

Now, let's look again at how the counties in Wisconsin shifted in who they chose for president in 2020 vs 2016. Now look again on the list of counties with the highest increase in turnout - 6 of those 8 counties turned redder in 2020, despite the fact that the state turned about 1.4% bluer. I find that...interesting. But maybe population changes explain some of this. I also compared the turnout differences to recently released Census figures on population for counties for 2019. Logically, places with larger increases in population should have larger increases in turnout.

So I compared the population totals of 2019 to those of 2016, and then subtracted the vote % increase from the population % increase. I'll show you the top counties under that standard, color them red and blue to show which way the vote shifted vs 2016, then show how that compares to the "questionable" turnout in Dane and Milwaukee Counties.
Sounds like we should look at a few places, you know, just to be sure. If TrumpWorld wants to look at the 1,585 votes in Menominee County, feel free (they'll probably appreciate the job opportunities and casino stays). In response, I think Dems should look at the following counties.

Sheboygan (largest change in red-shift county)
Adams + Juneau (right next to each other)
Kenosha (because it got redder after James Blake? Yeah.)
Burnett + Polk (14.45%), both are right next to each other
Richland (+13.51%), because otherwise Richland County's streak of picking every presidential winner since 1980 is over.

I mean after all, if we want to find out if the numbers are legitimate, shouldn't we be looking at the ones that had suspiciously large jumps in turnout. And especially if they voted more for Trump in an election when the state as a whole turned away from him?

It makes a lot more sense than looking at Dane or (especially) Milwaukee Counties, which had smaller increases in turnout compared to many rural counties. Y'know, unless this recount and the GOP's posing has nothing to do with trying to ensure "integrity", and is nothing more than cheap race-baiting, resentment politics, and coming up with excuses as to why TRUMP GOT BEAT.

PS- Wait, maybe it was those Dominion voting machines that are part of RW conspiracy land these days. Let's see what the Dane County clerk has to say.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Evers puts out a plan to deal with COVID World. WisGOP responds with...nothing

You keep waiting for things to stop getting worse in regards to COVID-19 in Wisconsin, and it just doesn't happen. Today set another notorious record. In light of this, Governor Evers unveiled his package of legislative changes to deal with the pandemic. Many of Evers' provisions simply extend rule changes that were put in place as COVID broke out and hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites lost their jobs.
The governor's plan would let the Department of Health Services issue an order prohibiting eviction or foreclosure actions for any period of time before Jan. 1, 2022.

It would fund community testing, contact tracing, vaccinations and public awareness related to COVID-19, although the exact amount of state funding would vary greatly depending on whether the federal government extends its funding.

Evers' plan would prevent insurers from capping coverage on prescription drugs that expired earlier this year.

Schools would no longer have to complete state assessments and report cards for the current school year under the governor's plan.
You can look at Evers’ plans by clicking here. There are also several other health measures in Evers' bill, including:

1. Requiring health plans that cover certain services in-person, to also cover those services if they are offered via telehealth.

2. Requiring that individuals pay zero out of pocket for “…every health insurance policy and every self-insured governmental health plan that generally covers testing for and treatment of infectious disease to provide coverage of testing for, diagnosis and treatment of, and administration of any vaccination developed to prevent COVID-19.”

3. Prevent individuals from being charged higher prices if they have to use an out-of-network provider to get diagnosis or treatment related to COVID, and their in-network provider is shut down. The state will help to pay the difference to providers.

There also are several unemployment-related provisions that re-establish laws from the Spring. This includes removing the work search requirements for people that are laid off, eliminating the 1-week waiting period for people to get unemployment benefits, continuing the expansion and easing of requirements for employers to put in work-share programs. Evers' bill will also allow Wisconsinites to receive both Federal disability benefits, and to receive unemployment benefits.

In addition, many of the costs in Evers' proposal has a subtext of “we need federal help because it costs us a lot of money to do what needs to be done."
Which makes some kind of extension/renewal of the CARES Act all the more necessary in the next 6 weeks. Because if that money runs out (as it is slated to do at the end of 2020), it will be near impossible for the states and local governments to continue doing what they’re doing without having to make cuts in other areas that are in need during the COVID World.

There is one additional item that Evers wants to use taxpayer dollars for, and that’s an additional $75 million in (unspecified) grants to small business. This would likely be something similar to what the Evers Administration has already been doing in the We’re All In program, and other bailout funds like today’s announcement of who is getting the $10 million in CARES money that is designated for Wisconsin movie theatres. Naturally, the gerrymandered GOP Legislature planned their own public event to respond, and discuss their ideas on how to attack COVID in the coming months. Well, at least that's what they were SUPPOSED to do. Then a certain Senator Dumbass from Delafield decided Robbin' Vos couldn't get the award for dumbest and most callous GOP of the day. Really, Kap? You think leaving Wisconsinites to make their own decisions on how to handle COVID is working out for us? On a day when 92 Wisconsinites die, over 1,400 are dead since October 1, and nearly 100,000 new COVID cases have been diagnosed in November so far?

And yet, voters kept 61 of 63 Assembly seats in the GOP’s hands, and actually gave them 2 MORE seats in the State Senate. I know gerrymandering is a big hurdle, but COME ON, at some point don’t you just fire people for sucking at their jobs and not caring about what's happening to their constituents? Or setting fire to torches, grab a pitchfork, and head to their houses?

The lack of accountability for WisGOPs' laziness and arrogance goes a long way toward explaining why COVID-19 continues to get worse as typical November weather keeps more Wisconsinites inside. And me and a whole lot of others in the "thinking and decency" parts of the state are out of patience with the way these mediocrities drag the rest of us down.