Friday, April 30, 2021

A massive March for both incomes and spending in America.

Given other recent economic reports and with tens of millions of Americans getting stimulus checks, we could have figured that US incomes and spending would have a big increase in March. And it sure did.
U.S. consumer spending rebounded in March amid a surge in income as households received additional COVID-19 pandemic relief money from the government, building a strong foundation for a further acceleration in consumption in the second quarter….

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 4.2% last month after falling 1.0% in February, the Commerce Department said. The increase was broadly in line with economists' expectations.

The data was included in Thursday's gross domestic product report for the first quarter, which showed growth shooting up at a 6.4% annualized rate in the first three months of the year after rising at a 4.3% pace in the fourth quarter. Consumer spending powered ahead at a 10.7% rate last quarter.

Most Americans in the middle- and low-income brackets received one-time $1,400 stimulus checks last month which were part of the pandemic rescue package approved in March. That boosted personal income 21.1% after a drop of 7.0% in February.
And while the stimmy checks are one-offs that won’t be as much in effect for April, it’s clear we took a big step toward getting out of the hole that we were in as 2020 ended. That’s true for the overall economy and in battling COVID-19, which played off each other to make things even more positive as Q1 ended.

The stimulus checks were even larger than the first checks that hit this time last year, and made up the biggest chunk of that income surge. But we also got a good bump up in wages and salaries, and Americans are finally earning more (in aggregate) on the job than they were in Feburary 2020.

Likewise on the spending side, we have finally exceeded the level of real consumption that we had in February 2020, the last month before the COVID World started hitting the economy.
Consumption of goods boomed, with a 7.3% increase in March. Durable goods did even better, jumping by a massive 10.3%. Vehicles of all sorts had big Marches, with RVs and related recreational goods rising by 10.6%, and regular autos up by 13.6%. And Americans are buying many more of both types of vehicles than they were a year ago.

But we also saw a runup in spending on services as well, with an (annual rate) increase of nearly $140 billion. That's the largest one-month increase in that area since last Spring, when America emerged from the first wave of COVID lockdowns, and we especially saw a comeback in spending for food and accomodation services, which had been beaten up for well over a year of the COVID World.

As more people felt safe enough to eat out and travel, that spending sector accounted for nearly $80 billion of that $140 billion increase in services for March.
You can see that we are still not back to the pre-COVID levels for these services, so more work is needed to be done as 2021 progresses. But it is a strong sign of hope after a bleak winter in many of these areas. Combine that with stimulus assistance for restuarants that starts taking applications on Monday, and it helps explain why you are starting to see "Help Wanted" signs popping up at eating and drinking establishments in recent weeks. Overall, March was a time of great optimism and income boosts, as Biden’s stimulus package became law, weather warmed, COVID cases plummeted and immunizations were on the rise. There is no question that after a rough COVID Winter, our recovery from the virus-induced economic collapse got shifted into a new gear as we ended Q1 2020.

But April saw weather moderate, COVID cases rise in several areas of the country, and the rate of immunizations start to slow down. Fortunately, unemployment claims continue to decline, but we have to keep working hard to defeat the virus and restore an economy that is still operating below pre-COVID levels in many areas.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Why talk about the economy when you can talk about Rodgers?

Well, I was planning to talk about the huge GDP growth of 6.4%, or maybe this hilarity.

And then this came out an hour before I was leaving work.

To me, the original sin is the Pack trading up to draft Jordan Love in the first round last year, which you don't do for a QB unless you intend to have him replace Rodgers at some point. And Rodgers doesn't forget a slight from anyone. Beginning with the initial slight most of the NFL showed him on another Draft Day.

I can't really blame Rodgers for wanting to control this thing, whether it results in a contract extension, or a trade out of town. You're the MVP on the NFL, playing its most important position. It's absurd to think that the team will improve if it lets you walk (2021 Jordan Love is not 2008 Aaron Rodgers, who was clearly good, and waiting for Brett Favre to leave), and yet they're acting like you're disposable? Yes, Rodgers is a diva, but he's good enough to make those demands to be taken care of.

The picks begin in 90 minutes. Buckle up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

"Status Quo Joe" is going big on the economy. A welcome change

I may not watch much (if any) of President Biden’s speech before Congress tonight (these rarely do much for me as a jaded middle-aged man). But I am intrigued by what will likely be the economic centerpeice of the speech.
Billed as "generational investments in our future" to out-compete China and transform the U.S. economy, the families plan includes $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years, according to senior administration officials who agreed to discuss the specifics on the condition of anonymity. An additional $800 billion would cover targeted tax credits for the middle class.

The proposal to Congress would be paid for in part through a crackdown on taxloopholes used by high-income tax-filers. Biden also wants to nearly double the capital gains tax from a 20% rate to 39.6% for households making more than $1 million, among other changes.
Not seeing any downside here, I gotta say.

Tell me more about what will be in this plan. In addition to the child tax credits, families of pre-schoolers would get a second type of financial assistance from having their kid in a fully-funded classroom vs having to pay for child care.
Biden is proposing $200 billion to make free prekindergarten available to all three- and four-year-olds regardless of their families' incomes. This would be made primarily through "partnerships" with states, but the federal government would seek to work directly with preschools in states that don't participate.

The national pre-K expansion would benefit 5 million children and save the average family $13,000, according to the White House.
It’s another step toward rebalancing an American economic system that doesn’t do much for many that aren’t rich and wealthy.

Charlie Pierce at Esquire is heartened by Biden’s desire to go big with his agenda. He says it echoes what LBJ was saying in 1964, when Johnson called for the Great Society that gave us education programs like Head Start, and Medicare for older Americans.
That speech was given while the country was still recovering from the shock of a murdered president, and one that was confronted daily by the implacable moral witness of the Civil Rights Movement. (Two months later, President Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) In other words, it was a time when a president was handling a number of different crises at once. What else could he do? LBJ threw long.

This president took office at an even worse set of circumstances, not the least of which was trying to pull the country and its government out of the abyss that his predecessor had sunk them. So, rather than retrench and hunker down, he has chosen to take steps that will reverse 40 years of American political history, returning especially the Democratic Party to what it once was, and to what it has been afraid to be for decades.
Pierce adds that Biden’s agenda has the added benefit of being something that Americans want.
If the country goes back in this direction, the Republicans have got nothing, and they know it. The bluff’s not working anymore, because the president knows how popular so many of these initiatives are, how many everyday needs they meet, how much easier they will make life for so many people. He also knows he has a very narrow window through which to wedge this monumental change into law. If the Republicans think they can bluff him down, no matter how much he talks about bipartisanship, I think they’ve misjudged the man and the moment, and I’m a person who wants to roll back the Reagan tax cuts, let alone that abomination that the Republican Congress passed on behalf of a vulgar talking yam. The man and the moment have collided, and the fallout is all around us now.

I wasn’t anticipating all of these big moves this early, but I sure love to see it. It’ll still take a lot of work to get these measures through the tight pro-Dem majorities in both houses (especially since GOPs can't afford to have things get better before the 2022 midterms), but it’s at least a possibility that we can turn around the economic direction that my country has been on for virtually my entire life.

We know the current system doesn’t work for the overwhelming majority of us, so let’s try a different way for the next few years, shall we? One that actually rewards work and families over legalized gambling on assets.

EDIT- This goes out to the GOP staffer commenter below.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Census totals show Wisconsin with minor growth in 2010s. But Minnesota gets a positive surprise.

Maybe I had just missed it, but I was surprised to see the US Census Bureau come out with its state population totals for 2020, which determines how many seats each state will have to vote for in 2022.
Texas will gain two more congressional seats and seven states will each lose a seat as a result of population shifts recorded in the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau said Monday in the release of its first round of data from the survey taken last year.

In total, seven seats shifted affecting 13 states. Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon each gained one seat in addition to Texas. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia each lost one seat.

The shift could affect the 2022 midterm elections and whether Democrats can hold onto control of the House, where they hold a narrow majority. It's also part of a broader shift to the South and West of the U.S., with 84 seats shifting toward those states since 1940.
It's worth mentioning that today's Census report didn't break down the populations within a state. That will come in August and September, and that information will be used to draw the new maps at the Congressional and state levels. Given that much of the population growth in America is happening in urbanized and suburban areas, the lazy analysis of "GOPs are going to benefit from Census numbers" may not prove true when you have fewer low-educated white people to spread districts over.

The 435th and final seat in Congress was a surprise to many, in came to the benefit of our neighbor to the West.
Minnesota will keep its eight U.S. House seats — by the skin of its teeth.

The 2020 census found Minnesota had 5,709,752 residents as of April 1, 2020. That put it a mere 89 people, or 0.0016 percent of its population, ahead of New York state for the 435th and final seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Many experts thought Minnesota would lose one of its seats because other states were growing more quickly, in the zero-sum race for the 435 seats in the House. Instead, it held on to the last seat in Congress by the narrowest margin recorded since at least 1940.
That April 1 date is sadly crucial here, as you have to wonder if New York ends up ahead of Minnesota if that question is asked on March 1, 2020, before the COVID pandemic began hammering New York full force. You can get a look at the last states that missed out at this link.

Minnesota made a strong push to have its residents respond to the Census, ended up with the highest response rate in America (Wisconsin was 2nd), and apparently it paid off. Minnesota recorded by far the fastest population growth in the Midwest in the 2010s, growing at a rate double that of Wisconsin, and well ahead of any other state in the traditional Big Ten.

You can see Wisconsin was in the middle of the road for our part of the country, but in the bottom half for all states at 34th. But even that was better than expected, as our Census population of 5,893,718 is more than 70,000 above the 2019 estimates. No states passed us between 2010 and 2020 in population, although Colorado is nipping at our heels and likely to zoom by us in the next few years.

You can click here for a table which shows all of the states' populations, and how much of a change happened between 2010 and 2020. It will be far from the last that we hear about the Census this year, and the later numbers for cities and counties will be every bit as important in telling how things changed in the 2010s. But we at least have an idea of what the big picture looks like, and they're especially happy in Minnesota tonight, I am sure.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

COVID starts to trend back down in Wisconsin, but some places still aren't vaxxing enough

As this new week begins, things are looking a little better on the COVID front in Wisconsin. After see new cases exceed 5,000 for the prior two weeks, we saw a nice drop last week of 1,100 cases below the peak of 2 weeks ago, hopefully indicating that things are calming down after Spring Break.

Perhaps that also reflects that more Wisconsinites continue to be vaccinated, as last week also saw the Evers Administration celebrating the 4 millionth dose of COVID vaccine going into the arms of Sconnies.

I am glad to say that I am the recipient of 2 of those shots, with the second coming last Thursday. Can't wait to have my 2 weeks end, and to feel I can safely do more things, such as attending my first Brewer game in the 2020s on May 15.

It's also nice to live in an area where we respect the science and the damage that COVID can do. The 65+ population is well into herd immunity in Dane County, and roughly half of people 35-64 also have completed their set of vaccinations.

Although I'll look to see if cases bump up in the 18-24 group in the Mad City after yesterday.

Hey, I get it. Mifflin is Mifflin. And especially after what has to be a craptastic year to be a college student. But still not the best thing to hear when we're trying to make sure cases are back under control.

However, mask-wearing, regular testing and vaccinations are also still happening around campus, and any effect from yesterday's revelry will likely be short-lived. The bigger concern long-term is what's happening outstate, where cases are higher and vaccinations are a lot lower. Yes, cases shrunk in a lot of places last week, but look at NW Wisconsin in particular, and the differences are quite clear.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took a look at these disparities, particularly in outstate Wisconsin, and talked to people in one of the lowest-vaccinated counties to paint a picture why.
Some folks in Clark County haven't gotten the vaccine because, so far, no one in their family has been affected by COVID, said Sheila Nyberg, the county's economic development director.

"Maybe they’re thinking 'let everybody else get it first,'" Nyberg said.

Early in the pandemic, some Clark County residents strongly objected to Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order.

"Think of COVID-19 as the Devil. We are not supposed to fear the Devil; faith in God should prevail," Abbotsford Police Chief Jason Bauer wrote in a letter to the governor last spring, protesting the safer-at-home order in place at the time.

"I do not fear the Devil, nor COVID-19. I believe COVID-19 has some politicians scared, resulting in bad decisions."
And yes, there is a political correlation to some of this, as GOP counties are less likely to vax up than Dem-voting ones, especially if those GOP counties are lower-educated.

I know us overeju-kay-ted urban liberals are not supposed to talk down to rurals, so the "real Wisconsinites" don't become even more resentful. But at this point, don't those of us who did our part in controlling the virus and getting ourselves vaccinated have a right to be resentful ourselves? The best way for the economy to open back up and to have many small businesses be able to get by for the future is to crush COVID and make it safer to go out in the first place, and these non-vaccinated areas and their rube leaders are keeping that last step from happening.

No surprise, but guess who is "representing" Rusk and Taylor Counties in the State Legislature.

These superstitious, dopey clingers are allowing the virus to remain impactful on our because of their selfishness, and I'm frankly tired of them holding the rest of us back. So when it comes time to make your warm-weather getaway plans in Wisconsin, maybe you should check the COVID charts first, and if an area is still showing " weak-minded jackassery vaccine hesitancy," then maybe you shouldn't go to those places or spend your money there. Too risky, ya knoooow.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Evers budget adjustments include Foxconn, and $1 billion bonus for Medicaid expansion

On Friday, Gov Evers' Department of Administration sent over a list of corrections to the state's budget bill to the Joint Finance Committee. Some of these are corrections and clarifications of "oopsies" that were in original budget bill, and this happens with every 2 years. But many reflected that there have been a lot of developments in the last two months, both in Madison and in Washington DC.

The change that's getting a lot of attention from media outlets complements the news from earlier in the week that the state's jobs incentive contract with Foxconn has been renegotiated away from the absrudity that was signed by ex-Gov Scott Walker. It
As you are aware, the terms of the agreement with Foxconn for receipt of awards under the EITM Zone were renegotiated by the Evers Administration and approved by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Board on April 20, 2021. This renegotiation will save taxpayers $2.77 billion compared to the previous contract.

To reflect the recently updated contract terms,we respectfully request that the estimates for the EITM Zone refundable credits be updated to reflect an anticipated expenditure of $37.4 million for the 2021-23 biennium, with up to $29,100,000 in the fiscal year 2021-22 and up to $8,300,000 in the fiscal year 2022-23.
Which indicates that the Evers Administration thinks that Foxconn could meet some of the minimum job thresholds and capital improvement incentives. As the Wisconsin Budget Project's Tamarine Cornelius lays out, this was how the state was able to drop billions off of its potential exposure to Foxconn and lowered the % of salaries and capital improvements paid.

Several of the changes that the Evers Administration requested of LFB had to do with the fact that bills have already been passed to take care of these budget items. This includes some "federalizing" of tax codes to match changes made by Congress, increases to pay for public defenders, and additional oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and related measures on price transparency for drugs.

And of course, the Evers Administration reminds the JFC about the extra money that could be saved by expanding Medciaid, now that the Biden stimulus package is in effect.
Subsequent to the Governor's budget bill submission, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law on March 11, 2021. Under the act, any non-expansion state that expands Medicaid under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would receive a 5 percent increase to their state's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for two years.

This paragraph accounts for the fiscal impact of the Medicaid expansion provision of ARPA on the Medicaid provisions in the Governor's budget. The appropriation under s.720.435(4)(b) should be reduced by $529,500,200 GPR in the fiscal year 2021-22 and by $509,421,800 GPR in the fiscal year 2022-23.
Which means that Evers' budget has another $1.04 billion of savings built into it. And means that $1.67 billion in extra state spending would get added back to the budget if/when the GOPs on Joint Finance refuse to adopt Medicaid expansion.

The last public hearing on the state budget will be done virtually next week, and then the real games begin in May at the Capitol. But there is plenty that has changed between February and today, both in laws and in the availability of funds, and these are likely to be far from the final last changes we see as the budget works its way through the process.

Friday, April 23, 2021

So what can Wisconsin do with all the billions in stimulus?

You may have seen this headline in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this morning.

That sounds like a lot of money. And it is.
Since last year, Congress has passed five major spending bills to address COVID-19 and its toll. The two biggest ones cost more than $4 trillion, deepening the federal deficit but softening the economic blow of the pandemic.

The spending packages have given Gov. Tony Evers wide latitude to spend more than $5 billion. They have also provided more than $4 billion in assistance for Wisconsin workers who were laid off and they have infused about $3.7 billion into schools, colleges and universities, according to the report from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

"This influx of federal aid turns the dour fiscal outlook of last year into a far brighter one in which communities in the state may be able to address some of their most longstanding needs," the report concluded.
So let's dig into that WPF report, and I wanted to start by including this graph from the Policy Forum that shows where all of these billions come from, and what they are intended for.

The first bundle of cash dropped from DC was in last Spring's CARES Act, in the form of the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The Policy Forum goes into the choices Evers made in using that money, most of which was spent out last year.
The Coronavirus Relief Fund money could be used for necessary and previously unbudgeted spending in response to the public health emergency, but not to offset state revenue losses due to the economic impact of the pandemic. The funds initially had to be used by December 30, 2020, though the deadline was later moved back to December 31, 2021. Evers had the discretion to use the money as his administration thought best, and Figure 3 shows how the $2 billion was allocated to areas such as public health and healthcare, support to the economy and for child care, and local government and education aid.

The next group of billions came with Biden's stimulus bill that became law in March (aka ARPA). The Policy Forum indicates that the first set of dollars should be getting to Evers' office in the next month or so, and that while there are limitations on what Evers can use the money for, he has given some indications of where the money will be going.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has the authority to make a payment to the state for its ARPA allocation within 60 days of the state certifying it needs the funds and will use them lawfully. If the entire amount is not paid right away, a second payment with the remainder of the funds could be made up to 12 months later. That second payment could be reduced if the state is required to return some of the initial round of funding because of failure to follow the federal rules, such as the prohibition on tax cuts.

Evers has said he would use ARPA recovery funds for priorities such as $500 million for pandemic response, $600 million to support affected businesses, $50 million for the tourism industry, and $200 million for broadband and other infrastructure. It is unclear if the infrastructure spending would be in addition to $204 million in state funds for broadband being sought by Evers in the state budget.
We got an idea about how $420 million of that support for businesses yesterday, as Evers said he would give $5,000 grants to up to 84,000 local businesses.

There are additional billions directly designated for K-12 schools, a number that has gone up with each successive stimulus bill.

The Policy Forum notes that a provision in the K-12 aid is that this is additional money, and cannot be used as an excuse to reduce the state's commitment to K-12 education and special needs.
To receive the ESSER funds, the state must keep the share of state funding going to K-12 schools and higher education for the next two years at or above the average levels from 2017 to 2019. The state will also receive $54.6 million of additional funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
It's worth remembering that Gov Evers has asked to add nearly $613 million in state aid to schools next year, and another $291 million in the year after that, so in theory those increases could be taken out along with the bump in state aids that happened in 2019-21, and the federal money can make up the difference. Or some/all of those state aid increases could stay, but property taxes going to schools would be reduced due to state-mandated revenue limits. So lots of choices to be made here.

There also is a sizable amount of local aids in the stimulus packages, particularly for the state's largest cities and metro counties.
These funds can be used for the same purposes as state relief funds and, like the state funds, cannot be used for unfunded pension liabilities. In one notable difference from the state funds, however, there is no restriction on using local funds to offset a tax cut.
Which can prove useful if communities want to reducetheir reliance on the property tax, and it also is big in Wisconsin, as the local funding streams have been hit hard in the COVID World.

A good example of this comes from a story that Channel 12 in Milwaukee had yesterday, which documents just how much the state's largest city and attractor of tourism dollars lost in 2020 as the pandemic shut down travel and many events.
Factoring in the virtual DNC, cancelations of the Ryder Cup, USA Triathlon and Summerfest, plus over one hundred meetings, conventions and small sporting events, the economic impact Milwaukee lost out on is just under $608 million.

That does not include the $3 million each Bucks playoff game was expected to bring in.

The city also lost 20,400 hospitality and leisure jobs in the last year, hotel occupancy dropped 45% and passenger traffic at Mitchell International Airport is down more than 63%.
Room taxes and fees related to traffic at Mitchell Field are all sources that local governments rely on, and those shrunk to near-zero during the first several months of the pandemic, and tourism-related sales taxes (particularly on event tickets and bars/restaurants) also dried up. This helps explain why Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley traveled Up North this week to ask the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to include more flexibility in the 2021-23 budget.

No question that there is an unprecedented amount of federal funding heading into Wisconsin that can fill in the budget gaps that were caused by the COVID World and its related recession. And some of that money can also be used to conserve state and local tax dollars that might otherwise have to be used up, improving a financial situation that might otherwise have fallen into crisis. But it also provides an opportunity to restructure how we fund our state and local governments.

If we conserve the state tax dollars we have in 2021-23, we can maintain the elevated level of support for services that we are currently seeing, and repair the damage done to our state's capacity for support during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. We also can stop having an outdated local government finance system that relies on property taxes, and instead can either raise shared revenues permanently, or allow the locals the ability to raise sales taxes or tap other sources to fix streets and provide services that their communities need.

That's the larger conversation that is going to be where the huge amount of stimulus from DC collides with deliberations for the state budget in the coming months. There are a lot of those federal billions that are already spoken for and aren't allowed to be used for other purposes, but some of those billions aren't, and how the state and the locals handle those dollars (and what they are allowed to do) is going to be where the differences are/aren't made.

I do know one thing - don't let GOPs tell you we can't afford to take care of our huge amount of needs. There is plenty of money at the state and federal levels that is likely to be available in the next few years to rebuild and reimagine how our state can operate and help its residents. It's just a matter of what we choose to use the money for, or who to give it away to.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WisGOPs get some national spotlight. For bad reasons. Again

This stupidity was kind of expected, given the dimwit that was speaking.

But I did not see this coming afterwards.

(I will not make a joke about Glenn Grothman having no clue about a WAP. I will NOT).

You hear that, Sheboygan? You see that, Fondy? What about you, Portage? You ready to go, Oshkosh/Neenah/Menasha? You've been challenged by Cardi B, so DO BETTER.

The fun never stops with WisGOP foolishness. And we got another reminder of that this week, as Marquette alum Charlie Pierce pointed out today.

To really appreciate the humor of the situation, you probably have to go back to the original deal in which Foxconn played Scott Walker, the goggled-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to run their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, and his running-dog state legislature—as well as former president Art O’Thedeal—as the biggest suckers in the history of American bunkum.
The original Wisconsin package also included local tax incentives and road and highway investments by state and local governments, which brought total taxpayer-funded subsidies to more than $4 billion.
You know the old saying—if you look around the conference room and you can’t tell who the mark is, it’s you.
Likewise, if you are still voting for the cynical, dimwitted fools in today's WisGOP, it isn't the politicians that are to blame in making this once-great state into a national punchline. It's you.

So stop it, will ya? I'm at the end of my rope with this idiocy. It's been a long while since this was funny.

Higher cap gains? Higher wages? Earlier Medicare? Hells yes!

Long f'ing overdue. And for those of you who think this is be relevant to your life, do you know anyone who pulls $1 million in income? Yeah, me neither.

If Biden gets this combined with the infrastructure package, it'll be a major restructuring of an economy that has failed a whole lot of people in the last 40 years. The third part that's left to do is to reverse decades of union-busting, outsourcing and a poverty-level minimum wage.

Seems like a better vision than what the other guys are trying to pull.

I have an idea why, lil' Marco. Maybe because Americans are done with working risky jobs for crappy pay and no benefits?

Compare that out-of-touch statement with what a few Senate Dems proposed this week, including one of our own!

U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today reintroduced the Medicare at 50 Act to give people between the ages of 50 and 64 years old the option of buying into Medicare. Millions of Americans approaching retirement or forced to retire early due to layoffs or mandatory retirement face increasing health care needs and rising costs.

“When it comes to providing affordable health care for every American, there is more we must do right now to change the status quo, improve our health care system and lower costs,” said Senator Baldwin, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Our legislation will give millions of Americans another choice for more affordable, quality health insurance coverage. This reform will provide a high quality option for people to buy into Medicare and get the health care coverage they need at a price they can afford.”
Naturally, Republicans will complain about this, even though it likely pays for itself due to the premiums that people between 50 and 64 would pay. And the reason why is because GOPs hate it when people that work real jobs are allowed to have real options.

In DC, "centrism" means the position between the Democrats and Republicans. But outside of DC, what Biden and Dems are asking for is in line with the middle of American opinion, especially if he and the rest of the DC Dems continue to hammer on who the tax hikes would actually hit, and how it pays for other things that Americans want, and frankly deserve.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

WEDC audit - not as awful as before! And COVID aid is getting out

I wanted to give a few highlights from today's report by the LAB on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corportation (WEDC). This annual audit was a source of gallows humor in the Walker years as numerous handouts from WEDC were either not documented, or loans had to be written off after companies failed to reach their jobs goals.

By comparison, this report was relatively boring if you were looking for screwups, as WEDC has gotten better at not having to take losses on its subsidies.
WEDC wrote off eight loans that were 90 days or more past due on December 31, 2018, and three loans that were 90 days or more past due on December 31, 2019. These 11 loans had a total remaining balance of $3.5 million on the December 31 before the year in which they were written off. The 11 loans included a $50,000 loan that the former Department of Commerce had awarded and 10 loans totaling $3.6 million that WEDC had awarded. WEDC turns over loans awarded by Commerce that it considers uncollectible to DOA, which works with the Department of Justice to pursue collection. Because any amounts collected are retained by DOA, WEDC writes off loans turned over to DOA. Before determining that a loan it had awarded is uncollectible, WEDC may hire a private collection agency. Amounts collected are remitted to WEDC, which pays the collection agency for its services.
The audit also says that while many fewer loans were written off or forgiven, many more became past due in 2020 (3.7 million vs $1.0 million in 2019). But that shouldn’t be surprising given the COVID breakout and related recession, which also likely explains why the loan delinquency rate also rose last year.

On the flip side, the COVID crises also led to PPP grants and loans at the federal level, and the Evers Administration also gave out large amounts of grants through WEDC in 2020. This may be the more interesting part of this year's LAB audit, to see what happened with the new programs that WEDC is overseeing, and LAB said things had been relatively clean so far.
We reviewed summary information for the 26,122 grants awarded under the We’re All In program through September 2020 and found that WEDC awarded two businesses duplicate grants, even though the program was intended to award only 1 grant to a given business. WEDC awarded these two businesses a total of $10,000. Because available program funds exceeded the total amount awarded, no business was denied a grant as a result of these two businesses having received duplicate grants. WEDC indicated it planned to contact these businesses to recoup the funds erroneously awarded.

From October 2020 through December 2020, WEDC’s information indicated that WEDC awarded approximately $177.7 million on the basis of the public health emergency. During this three-month period of time, WEDC collaborated with DOR to award $174.7 million to an estimated 28,000 Wisconsin businesses under the We’re All In program. Individual grants ranged from $5,000 to $20,000. In addition, WEDC collaborated with the Wisconsin Technology Council to administer a contest to support the efforts of small businesses and start-up businesses to develop innovative responses to the public health emergency. As a result of this contest, WEDC awarded grants totaling $3.0 million to 231 businesses. As of mid-December 2020, WEDC had awarded public health emergency–related grants to recipients in every county.

Through December 2020, WEDC awarded a total of $250.3 million on the basis of the public health emergency, and it may award additional such funds in the coming months, including funds it may receive as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. To ensure transparency and accountability for the considerable amount of taxpayer funds spent to help mitigate the effects of the public health emergency, WEDC should separately report information on how it awarded all such funds through FY 2020-21. Such information should at a minimum include the number, amount, location, and industry classification of awards made under each public health emergency–related program.
I would imagine that next year’s WEDC audit will have a lot written about what happened with these All In grants and related COVID aid (including the next round of stimulus aid that will go out in 2021), and that’s where we’ll get a better assessment at how well this worked at keeping businesses afloat.

There also was an update about how many of the WEDC awards from the Walker era worked out. And no surprise, but the number of jobs created from these giveaways were nowhere near what was advertised at the time.
As shown in Table 13, WEDC’s information indicated that recipients of 151 tax credit and loan awards that ended through FY 2019-20 created 36.2 percent of the planned number of jobs. If WEDC determined that a given recipient did not create all contractually required jobs, WEDC did not award that recipient all of the tax credits that it had allocated to that recipient….

We found that 28 of the 151 awards did not end early, but the recipients of these awards were not paid for creating any jobs. WEDC did not pay the recipients because either the contracts did not contain provisions for it to pay the recipients for creating jobs or the recipients did not create any contractually specified jobs.

Job retention packages seem to be more likely to work out with WEDC.
As shown in Table 15, WEDC’s information indicated that recipients of 131 tax credit and loan awards that ended through FY 2019-20 retained 59.3 percent of contractually required jobs. We found that WEDC determined the numbers of existing jobs that recipients were contractually required to retain only after it had executed contracts for 85 of these 131 awards. If WEDC determined that a given recipient did not retain all contractually required jobs associated with a tax credit allocation, WEDC did not award that recipient all of the tax credits that it had allocated to that recipient. We also found that WEDC amended eight contracts to reduce the numbers of jobs that recipients were required to retain. It did so after it obtained more-accurate information about the numbers of jobs that the recipients actually had at the time of contract execution.

This indicates to me that WEDC should spend more effort on preserving Wisconsin's current businesses and improving opportunities for its work force than in trying the Walker-era PR BS strategy of spending lots of time and money to lure businesses from other states.

This audit also indicates that WEDC's role has changed a lot since Tony Evers became governor 27 months ago, and especially after COVID-19 broke out last year. And while I still find it to be a flawed structure with not enough oversight when it comes to handing out taxpayer-funded "incentives", it also doesn't seem to be the thoroughly corrupt, unaccountable mess that it was in the Walker years.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Foxconn admits they come up short, and now they're just another WEDC deal

Did something big happen this afternoon in the Upper Midwest? Oh yeah, we got a new deal to replace the Fox-con!

Oh, I bet they end up with a number closer to 454 than 1,454. But let's humor them for now.

A central point of this new contract is that Foxconn is admitting they won't do anything close to what was sold to Wisconsinites 3 1/2 years ago.
A new agreement between Foxconn Technology Group and the state announced Tuesday dramatically scales back the number of jobs the company promises to create — to only 1,454 — and reduces the capital investment to a fraction of what was originally promised.

In return, Foxconn stands to receive far less state cash.

The agreement allows for Foxconn to get a maximum of $80 million in tax credits compared to the previous agreement which would have granted the company $2.85 billion in state money if the company met certain hiring and capital investments.....

“When I ran to be governor, I made a promise to work with Foxconn to cut a better deal for our state — the last deal didn’t work for Wisconsin, and that doesn’t work for me,” said Gov. Tony Evers.

“Today I’m delivering on that promise with an agreement that treats Foxconn like any other business and will save taxpayers $2.77 billion, protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments the state and local communities have already made, and ensure there’s accountability for creating the jobs promised.”
I suppose the Evers Administration figures "something is better than nothing" with this white elephant, which has already had several Racine County homes cleared and highways upgraded for a scam project that will not come close to being worthy it.
But sure enough, the guy who "represents" the Foxconn area in the Assembly tried to say Ever's new Foxconn package isn't as good might now give Foxconn more money?
Assembly Leader Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said he voted in favor of the new deal "because it’s not a bad deal for the taxpayer, but it certainly is underwhelming in the way that it was negotiated because we’re paying out more than we would have if we kept the old deal in place for the jobs created.”

“This deal doesn’t save the state any money because the entire deal was based on a performance contract that Foxconn was not meeting,” Vos said. “They didn’t hire enough people, so they got $0 from the state. Under the new deal that was announced they’re going to get money that they wouldn’t have gotten under Gov. Walker.”
I'll remind you that the same Robbin' Vos made this comment over the weekend.

So wait, was Foxconn meeting its goals, or was the deal struck with Walker working because Foxconn was failing to meet its goals? Does Robbin' even know at this point? Or care?

I still want to see the actual contract, to see how many jobs Foxconn actually has to add/keep in order to get anything from the state. Sure, they SAY they'll eventually hire 1,454 people, but we know that's likely BS. So how much are they actually going to hire, and how much are Wisconsin taxpayers actually going to have to pay?

Of course, even if Foxconn doesn't get another dime from the state of Wisconsin, they've already had hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure and upgraded roads given to it, and they have a whole lot of acreage they can rent and/or sell off at some point. And I also want to know what happens if Foxconn skips out on the huge property tax payment they are supposed send out in 2023 to a debt-ridden Village of Mount Pleasant.

Look, it's nice that Foxconn is being treated like anyone else that gets a WEDC incentive instead of the extra-special giveaway and PR BS that Walker, Trump, Vos and the rest of these GOP slugs gave it. It's also still a lot more than Foxconn deserves, given their constant deceptions and changing plans, and this deal is not much more than making the best of an already-awful situation that the Last Guy put the State of Wisconsin in.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Phase I of the Fox-con ends tomorrow. Can we salvage something with a normal WEDC handout?

This was a development you could see coming over the 2+ years Tony Evers has been governor of Wisconsin. While it's not the middle finger many of us would want to see, it's also an outcome that likely is the practical choice in a list of subpar options. This agreement will go in front of the WEDC Board tomorrow, and while I am concerned that we aren't seeing the deal posted through the media or on the WEDC Board's website, I'm going to wait and see what the terms are before I get too freaked out.

It serves as an admission from Foxconn that this thing isn't going to be close to what they promised, which is why they are fine with negotating the original Fox-con down to what will go before the Board tomorrow. But that's not going to stop WisGOPs from pretending that all that was needed for the Fox-con to work was to give it more time, especially from Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos (R-Foxconsin), who put himself on the WEDC Board in no small part so he could try to continue his in-district scam.

"The goals of the last administration," Robbin'? You mean these goals?

Do you think we had 5,200 people working at Foxconn in December, or will have 9,100 working in 8 months? Hell, Foxconn couldn't even reach these MINIMUM numbers of jobs.

In fact, GOP hacks like Vos have consistently said it is a good thing that the Fox-con had those minimums put in place to limit the cost to state taxpayers. It's like these dopes don't realize that we have videotapes and Twitter and other records. It's so insulting.

Yes, there is a decent part of me that would want Evers to tell Foxconn to F off and sue them in an attempt to force Foxconn to pay us back for all the costs they've forced taxpayers to take on with the large amount of infrastructure expenses that were part of this white elephant. But that will take years to try to get anything from them (and likely won't get anything, because they'll skip out overseas), and I also know that there is a whole lot of cleared land that isn't doing a thing right now. So I suppose the Evers Administration figures it has to be salvaged in some way.

So my guess is that this will get restructed into your typical WEDC "jobs package", and if something gets added on the site (either by Foxconn or by someone else), there might be some way to get a result. And maybe it'll allow enough property taxes to come in from improvements on these miles of land to keep Racine County communities from going bankrupt due to the great debts their dimwitted local yokel officials were snookered into taking.

Because if those communities go belly-up in the coming years, state taxpayers will be on the hook for 40% of that cost, which would be around $360 million of the $900 million in infrastructure debt that has been taken on. And that's likely the real reason we will see the renengotation Fox-con tomorrow - because Wisconsin has to find its way out of the massive hole that the former grifter Gov left us in, and getting something is better than the near-nothing we have today.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wis COVID cases leveled off last week. Now can we knock them back down?

After several weeks of rising COVID cases in Wisconsin, we at least saw a plateuing in the last few days. The 7-day average declined on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Still high (and sizably higher than we were a year ago), which tells you how we have adjusted to a new normal in the COVID World. But the big difference is that deaths have also stayed low even as cases have risen in the last month. Deaths have stayed down around 5 a day, which is half of what it was in Wisconsin 12 months ago.

I think a big reason why is that vaccines are having an effect, as older Wisconsinites are now more likely to have received their doses (nearly 80% with at least 1 dose, and nearly 72% have completed their series), and have seen their rate of cases fall while most other age ranges have been seeing cases go up.

But the vaccine situation is showing wide disparities among different parts in Wisconsin, which was noticed by Madison's State Journal in an article that posted today.
Early variation in COVID-19 vaccination rates had much to do with a county’s proportion of health care workers, the first group able to get vaccine. With people 65 and older becoming eligible in late January, a county’s share of seniors has also played a large role in its overall rate, experts say.

But with everyone 16 and older approved for vaccination early this month, such factors are beginning to wane. However, a county’s racial makeup can also influence its immunization rate, given that rates statewide are significantly lower for Blacks and Hispanics, and somewhat lower for American Indians and Asians, than for whites.

As of Saturday, Taylor County had the state’s lowest vaccination rate, with 21.8% of residents receiving at least one dose, followed by Clark County, with 22.2%, and Rusk County, with 26.4%.

Door County had the highest rate, with 56.7%, followed by Bayfield County, with 53.0%, and Dane County, with 52.4%.
So we're fast approaching a situation where we might have two realities by the time we get around Memorial Day. Some places like Dane County and counties with high levels of older individuals may be largely vaccinated, but other areas might not be as cleared up, but will have as few (if not fewer) restrictions than the places where most people have gotten the shot. And it's going to be worth observing whether infections have a similar divergence.

Don't let up now, folks. Get these COVID cases back down to where we were a month ago, and keep on vaccinating, and then Summer can be a lot more available and safer for more of us.

Cops behaving badly, Midwest version. And we pay for it

Here are a few headlines for the last few days in the Midwest.
Rittenhouse, who became a cause célèbre across conservative media throughout late 2020, and was even supported by then president Donald Trump, held a fundraiser on GiveSendGo billed as a contribution to his legal defense. According to data from the site, he raised $586,940 between 27 August last year and 7 January.

Among the donors were several associated with email addresses traceable to police and other public officials.

One donation for $25, made on 3 September last year, was made anonymously, but associated with the official email address for Sgt William Kelly, who currently serves as the executive officer of internal affairs in the Norfolk police department in Virginia.

That donation also carried a comment, reading: “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

The comment continued: “Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”
Even after these police departments are caught on camera murdering and abusing people, their attitude seems to be "what are you going to do about it?"

And if these bad cops ever face justice for doing bad things, many of them can lean on their buddies in the prosecutor's office to bury key details.

Often any accountabilty that comes is through civil suits, which puts taxpayers on the hook for when police abuse their power. In Milwaukee alone, Channel 12 noted that $40 million had to be paid out in the last 10 years.

I remember when conservatives used to believe in cost-effective solutions to issues. But when it comes to cops and their authority, apparently any price is worth paying, no matter how awful the outcome. And without accountability for this agent of the government.

Well, as long as it's cops beating on THOSE PEOPLE anyway, and not the "real 'Murikans.

I'm so sick of the impunity in this country. And not just for bad cops.

PS- And add this one to the list.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Another tax-funded Walker giveaway fails in Wisconsin

The shot, from late 2018. And the chaser, from yesterday. Scotty's just the gift that keeps on giving, isn't he?

Speaking of taxpayer-funded schemes from Walker, Foxconn is back under discussion at the Capitol. This time with a new bill that allows more time for the local yokels that fell for this scam to try to get something out of this white elephant, which could lessen the chances that the state would be stuck with having to bail them out.
Under current law, a city or village creating a tax incremental district (TID) in an electronics and information technology manufacturing zone may incur project costs for certain specified items, including capital expenditures for constructing or expanding fire stations and for purchasing police and fire equipment. Such capital expenditures may be made only for the first 84 months following the TID's creation. This bill increases that period to 180 months.
This is basically admitting that it will be a long time for there to be enough activity to allow for a Foxconn TID to start paying back these capital expenditures.

These are the direct effects of having a crooked college Dropout for a Governor who has never worked a real job in his life, and only cares about economic strategy as a means of generating short-term headlines that might boost his political fortunes.

It's also the mark of someone who thought that the main job of government is to direct money and power to help himself and his cronies/donors, without any regard for what happens to anyone else in the state. Or any regard for what happens after he is run out of town and we have to clean up the shoddy deals and ongoing costs that he has left behind.

Retail sales figures confirm that US made big progress in March.

We’d seen a number of strong economic reports come out for March, starting with a big-time jobs report 2 weeks ago. But today’s retail sales report indicates that a significant boom happened last month. CNBC’s Kelly Evans put the blowout number into perspective.
How’s a 10% surge in spending sound? Because that’s what just happened in the month of March (okay, 9.8%, to be precise). And don’t be fooled into thinking that number only sounds big because it’s compared with last March, the nadir of the pandemic. No, no. U.S. retail sales surged that much in March from February. In one single month. If they kept up that pace, that’s a nearly 120% annualized increase, or in other words, a more than doubling of total U.S. spending on retail items.

Now, of course that pace won’t be kept up. But it helps to illustrate just how strong March sales were. Even if you average it out with the decline we saw in February and add in the nearly 8% surge in January, we’re now talking about a 35% annualized spending pace in the first quarter. I mean, that is really, really, extraordinary, unusual, jaw-dropping stuff. If you’re curious, March sales were up 28% from the prior (pandemic) year.

Where is this all coming from? Stimulus payments “were a definite positive, but the main force driving sales up was an outsized increase in earned wages and salaries in March,” wrote economist Brian Bethune. Recall the U.S. added nearly a million jobs last month. Bethune thinks we could now hit 7% GDP growth this year.
That’s quite the jump, and the retail sales report from the Census Bureau shows that the growth was in plenty of different sectors.

Change in retail sales, March 2021
Sporting goods/hobby/music/book stores +23.5%
Clothing stores +18.3%
Autos/auto part stores +15.1%
Bars/restaurants +13.4%
Department stores +13.0%
Home/garden stores +12.1%
Gas stations +10.9%

It seems to be a good combination of stimulus checks, increased optimism on COVID, and warmer-than-normal March weather. And only the gas station number seems to be reflective of significantly higher prices.

Even the one “disappointing” number in that report is due to these positive developments, as grocery stores went up by 0.5%. Which adds up because fewer Americans chose to stay tied to their homes in March.

That being said, 1 year of the COVID World still shows how our buying habits have changed. While overall retail spending is up a seasonally-adjusted 17.1% compared to February 2020, (!) those increases are notably larger in the auto and for items to be consumed at home than they are for mall-type stores and bars/restaurants (who still have yet to reach pre-COVID levels).

But overall, this is a big-time report, and indicates that we will see a big GDP number for Q1 2021 when it is released in a couple of weeks. Even with a cutback during a cold February, the Census Bureau says overall retail spending was up 7.7% in Q1 vs Q4 of 2020, with several sectors up by double-digits.

The Atlanta Fed reacted to these big retail sales figures by boosting their estimates for Q1 by more than 2%, to 8.3% overall.

That being said, the damage from 2020 isn’t entirely fixed, and April has shown another resurgence of coronavirus cases along with an end to above-average temperatures for many of us. In fact, you have to wonder if the higher amount of COVID cases in April is related to March’s optimism, especially among the dimwits who traveled before they were fully vaccinated.

So we can’t let up, either on the COVID front, or in having our government try to actively help the economy. Stay smart out there, folks, and don’t let GOPper-ganda sidetrack the progress that we’ve been making.