Monday, May 31, 2021

New COVID data shows it was worse than we knew. And that it got a lot better in May

Looks like the Wisconsin Department of Health Services made a few adjustments to how they present their COVID data, now that the overall crisis is slowing down.

So now daily updates will talk less about how many new cases are reported on a given day, and it looks like deaths and new cases are now more reflective of the actual date these events happened, vs when they are reported. I didn't go back to fix every week over the 14 1/2 months of COVID world, but it does mean that we didn't see as much of a drop in cases in March as we first thought, but the significant decline in cases in May is still ringing through.

The data adjustments also mean that the depths of the pandemic were even worse than we thought in Wisconsin. COVID deaths peaked at more than 500 in the 3rd week of November, and there were 16 straight weeks of at least 100 deaths starting in October.

While Wisconsin passed the sad milestone of 7,000 deaths from COVID on May 1, it took a long time to get from 6,000 to 7,000, as this chart shows.

Some of this may be seasonal, but it still is very good progress in stopping the death toll. With new cases continuing to decline (down to 225 a day as of Monday) while vaccination totals plod higher, it seems likely that it will be a long time before we will get to 8,000.

And if those cases are still low in mid-June, which means we didn't get a spike from Memorial Day travel, then I'll think that we'll be in a situation when most sensible Wisconsinites can truly start to act in a way where COVID has to play a role in what we choose to do and how we choose to do it.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

April income and spending not better than March, but a lot better than February.

It reflects information from a month ago, but it's still always worthy to look at the Income and Spending report, which came out on Friday.

The topline numbers would be alarming if viewed in isolation. But it's worth knowing that it comes after a major increase in incomes and spending in March.
Personal income decreased $3.21 trillion (13.1 percent) in April according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (tables 3 and 5). Disposable personal income (DPI) decreased $3.22 trillion (14.6 percent) and personal consumption expenditures(PCE) increased $80.3 billion (0.5 percent).

Real DPI decreased 15.1 percent in April and Real PCE decreased 0.1 percent; goods decreased 1.3 percent and services increased 0.6 percent (tables5and 7). The PCE price index increased 0.6 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.7 percent,
But that $3.21 trillion (annual rate) decrease in personal income is entirely due to the fact that a lot of Americans got stimulus checks in March, and didn't in April. Wages and salaries (+1.0%) as well as business incomes (+3.2%) had solid increases in April, and unemployment payments ts declined in April, which can also be translated as a good sign.

Those underlying income numbers seem like an economy that's in the right direction to me. And while the spending side barely increased in April (and slightly lost ground vs inflation), let's note that it followed a 4.7% increase in March. Take a step back, and you can see that Americans are spending much more than they were at the end of 2020.

It's also no coincidence that April was a month when COVID resurged, with daily cases growing for the first time in 4 months. That has quickly subsided as more of the population has been vaccinated and the weather has warmed, with the 7-day average of new cases dropping from over 71,000 in April to barely more than 21,000 today.

The bigger story with the spending numbers is that Americans have started adjusting their habits back toward what they were in the pre-COVID World. It likely won't even be the same mix and choices as before, but note that goods spending dropped in April (particularly non-durable goods like groceries and clothing) while services continued to grow.

With COVID cases, capacity constraints and mask mandates fading away throughout May, let's see if that trend continues in the next month (bet it does). It also helps explain why you're seeing all of those whiny stories from service businesses complaining that they can't hire up to match the improving demand - stories that conveniently ignore that those same businesses laid off large numbers of people when service spending plummeted last year when COVID first broke out.

The story that pessimists (and cynical Republicans) drew out of the Income and Spending report was the 0.7% increase in core PCE for April, and the 3.6% year-over-year increase in overall prices, claiming that high inflation was here and going to be a drag on the economy. But the bond market sure doesn't seem to believe it, as the benchmark 10-year note actually dropped after the April income and spending report came out, and is now back below 1.6%.

Bottom line - that April income and spending report added more evidence that our economy took a short breather in April, but at higher levels than we were at before. From all indications, the May numbers will be better as the cloud of COVID continues to lift. The only questions remain as to whether inflation will follow or level off, and if we lawmakers continue to keep their foot on the gas to continue to close the many gaps that still appear in the wake of 2020's wreckage.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

WisGOPs screwing up stimulus to schools continues a tradition of state sabotage

Well that didn't take long.

And specifically, the US Department of Ed is telling the WisGOPs that their scheme to shove $350 million into the state's rainy day fund is not an "investment" into K-12 education.
It has come to our attention that the Wisconsin legislature is considering an omnibus motion as it finalizes the State’s 2021-2023 biennial budget. It is our understanding that, as part of this motion, the State would transfer $350 million from Wisconsin’s general fund to a budget stabilization fund in the second year of the biennium. These funds would be available for appropriation by the legislature for K-12 education or for any other purpose. We are concerned that this proposal may have an impact on the ability of the State and its local educational agencies (LEAs) to comply with Federal fiscal requirements if the funds, in fact, are not appropriated for K-12 education.

Each of the Federal pandemic relief statutes – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (the CRRSA Act), and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the ARP Act) – contain maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements that apply to States that receive Federal education support. Specifically, as a condition of receiving funds under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, Wisconsin assured that it would maintain State fiscal effort for both elementary and secondary education and for higher education in fiscal years (FYs) 2020 through 2023. These provisions are designed to ensure that States do not reduce support for education because of the influx of Federal financial assistance and that students receive the much-needed supports and services that the additional Federal resources are intended to provide.

The failure of the Wisconsin legislature to appropriate sufficient levels of funds specifically for K-12 education may preclude the State from meeting applicable MOE requirements. Specifically, Wisconsin may not consider funds that the legislature transfers to the budget stabilization fund to be State support for K-12 education until such time as those funds are appropriated by the legislature for the sole purpose of supporting K-12 education and made available to school districts for their use during the applicable fiscal year. Consequently, the $350 million that the State might transfer to the budget stabilization fund may not be considered State support for education at the time of the transfer unless it is actually appropriated for K-12 education for the applicable fiscal year and not “for any other purpose.”
But maybe the WisGOPs are just fine with that scenario. Check out the responses from the two WisGOPs that chair the Joint Finance Committee, starting with the State Senator from a swingy SW Wisconsin district who has constantly told his constituents that he's an "independent voice".
On Friday, budget committee co-chairpersons Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, dismissed the warning.

“My position remains the same as it was yesterday,” Marklein said in a statement. “We will continue to consider the potential impact of the (minimum state funding thresholds) for the future, but we will not paralyze our state budget process.”
Oh, I dunno Howie. I'd say not knowing whether $2.2 billion will be yanked out of the budget due to your stupid games might "paralyze our state budget process." Especially if Governor Evers would veto the entire budget and tell you gerrymandered dopes to start over and get it right.

Marklein's Assembly counterpart, Rep. Mark Born from Beaver Dam, let the mask slip with his response, with a nice side-order of race-baiting and resentment.
In another statement, Born called the amount of federal funding schools are slated to receive (if requirements are met) “obscene,” and questioned whether it was legal for Evers to have accepted such federal funds given that the federal government has imposed additional requirements on the Republican Legislature during the budget process.

“Ultimately, this is a political letter sent by a Biden bureaucrat at the request of a hyper partisan liberal-democrat from Dane County who cut state aid for K-12 education when he was Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Finance,” Born said, referring to U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, who asked the Department of Education about the funding thresholds.
In addition to the whininess and Koched-up BS, it's cute how Born tries to compare the time of the Great Recession, when Federal aid was badly needed to backstop a major lack of state revenue. That's not today's situation, where Wisconsin is likely to have $2.5 billion or more in surplus at the state level as the 21-23 biennium begins.

Stupid, scummy, or both?

I also note that Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos sneered this week about how public schools "won the lottery" and that the amount of Federal aid going to K-12 was "obscene." So would you put it by these lowlifes to intentionally try to keep those stimulus funds from reaching Wisconsin districts? Especially with a lot of it going to THOSE PEOPLE at MPS? Me neither.

This sounds like the same game plan the WisGOPs did the last time a Democratic president did a stimulus package, when Scott Walker told the US Department of Transportation that we didn't need $810 million in infrastructure funds to build a high-speed rail line that connected Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. And Walker also turned down $23 million in federal funds to extend broadband to underserved (and mostly rural areas) 1 month after taking office.

Both of these choices set Wisconsin back years, and now a decade later, we're asking for funds in this stimulus and this state budget to make up for the investments we didn't make. But to WisGOPs that was a small price to pay if it stangated the economy and could get voters angry enough to throw out Barack Obama from the White House in 2012.

That strategy didn't exactly work in 2012 in terms of getting rid of Obama, but it definitely held our economy back. And I have strong suspciions that the WisGOPs are running the same strategy in 2021 to try to blunt Wisconsin's recovery from the COVID-induced recession. If things aren't good in 2022, that makes it more likely that voters will be grumpy and WisGOPs figure they will turn their anger on the party (perceived to be) in power - which is the Dems.

See, WisGOPs don't care what happens to the everyday person and Main Street communities in Wisconsin, they only care about getting power and steering money to themselves and their donors/allies. And if it means they rule over a pile of rubble, that's fine with them.

For more good insight and detail on where things stand on K-12 and higher education in the state budget after this week, Wisconsin Eye's Rewind show spends a good 15-20 minutes on it this week. I'll embed the video when it pops up on their YouTube channel, but there's a lot to unpack there, including the possibility that WisGOPs TeaBag the budget and do nothing if Evers were to veto the whole thing.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Wisconsin's reality keeps proving RW business hacks to be wrong on unemployment


It's cute that a top exec at Kwik Trip is the Chairman of the Board WMC. You think Kwik Trip would love having Wisconsinites continue to have more money to spend on things.

Let me remind you of the actual data, starting with the $400 add-on that was part of the bill outgoing President Trump signed in late December, and then the $300/week add-on that came in for March. Oddly, you didn't see the WMC crowd complaining about the add-on for unemployment benefits until the last few weeks, which just happen to coincide with the time right after President Biden got the stimulus package passed into law.

And the RW complaints seem especially off-base, because the last two months have been much better for job growth in Wisconsin than the 3 before then.

And in March and April, nearly 16,000 Wisconsinites entered the workforce, and just over 13,000 of them got jobs.

If WMC and other WisGOP hacks were correct, we'd be seeing these numbers stagnate or even decline, instead of picking up steam.

Bruce Thompson also examined this question at his Data Wonk column at Urban Milwaukee, and took a look at the leisure and hospitality sectors, where many of these anecdotal "we can't find workers" complaints seem to be coming from. Wisconsin's lost jobs in the sector like the rest of America, but it also has gained back some of those losses, especially in recent months.
Put another way, the Wisconsin leisure and hospitality industry is down 58,000 jobs from its pre-pandemic size. During that period the Wisconsin labor force shrank by almost 20,000—3,400 more unemployed and 16,000 who left the labor force. The remaining 38,000 most likely found jobs in other sectors. Many are unlikely to come back.

I suspect that many of the people who had filled those jobs are not returning because they have found other jobs, helping to explain the difficulties businesses in that sector have had in filling them. Perhaps a period of enforced joblessness gave them the chance to think about what they really want to do with their life. Republicans have jumped to the conclusion that workers are missing because they do better with unemployment benefits. What we need is data on where those losing their jobs in the pandemic have gone.
While I agree that it would be great to center in on what's happened to all the people who lost their jobs and compare where they're working now vs Feb 2020, the macro data does seem to give a lot of good information. Someone's hiring out there, and more Wisconsinites are looking to be hired.

If higher unemployment payments were encouraging people to stay at home, why do unemployment claims keep falling in Wisconsin, especially among continuing "regular" claims?

So to me, it seems like the problem is with cheapo employers who were glad to lay off workers as COVID hit last year, but can't get people willing to accept the same terms in as Summer 2021 looms, COVID fades and the economy picks up. And boy are they whining now that the shoe is on the other foot!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

WisGOPs threaten billions in funding for Wis schools. Stupid, or evil?

Wanted to follow up from yesterday's post about the Joint Finance Committee's budget hearing on K-12 education in Wisconsin, because it's gotten crazier today, with several billion dollars that are now up in the air.

A day before this meeting, Senator Jon Erpenbach’s office received a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that described the amount of state support that is required to receive the billions in federal stimulus funds for education. And the ARPA stimulus uses a threshold is based on the percentage of overall state tax dollars that are dedicated to education.
The Department of Administration submitted baseline state and education expenditures data to the federal government on May 17, 2021. Total state spending includes all GPR expenditures, excluding transfers, as shown in the state's annual fiscal report. Total K-12 spending includes actual expenditures on general aids, GPR categorical aids, and funding for the state's choice and charter programs, less lapses made to fund the choice and charter programs. For the higher education calculation, GPR expenditures for the UW System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and the Higher Educational Aids Board are included, excluding funding for UW debt service and UW research, plus UW SEG funding. For all three programs, actual expenditures are used, so funds that are appropriated but not expended are not included in the calculations. Based on these calculations, to meet the CAA and ARPA maintenance of effort requirements, the state's GPR expenditures on K12 school aids must be equal to or greater than 35.28% of total GPR expenditures in each year of the 2021-23 biennium. The state's GPR expenditures on higher education must be equal to or greater than 8.87% of GPR expenditures in each year of the biennium.
So if overall state spending is increased (due to inflation or other needs), then spending for education also has to increase, in order to legally use all of the federal money.

The LFB says that based on where the budget stood at the end of last week, based on Joint Finance actions that have already would back a lot of spending to the base levels of 2021, K-12 spending would need to increase by a total of $387 million over the next 2 years. And Republicans on the Finance Committee said they were surprised to find out that the maintenance of effort meant that state funds had to be added.

Well, you should be reading this blog guys. I was talking about the MOE 6 weeks ago, when I read it in that memo. Guess I should know that a group of people who hate real education wouldn't do their homework.

Naturally, the Republicans might not even get to that level of state investment, according to the budget motion that they passed today.

Wisconsin schools would get $128 million in general purpose revenue over the next two years, a fraction of what Dem Gov. Tony Evers originally proposed, under a motion the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee approved today.

The GOP motion, approved 11-4 along party lines, also would transfer $350 million to the state’s budget stabilization fund that could be tapped later for K-12 education as well as other purposes….

The motion includes no new state money for the general school aids, the largest pot of money for districts. It accounts for $4.9 billion in state aid to schools in the current school year.
Let me repeat that $350 million goes to the RAINY DAY FUND, which means it could go anywhere. Or, as Evers' spokewoman notes, nowhere.

That likely puts the total K-12 spending under the threshold that the stimulus bill requires for the state to legally use the $2.4 billion sent to the state by the Feds.

It’s incredibly stupid, so bad that it is encouraging me to do something that is also likely stupid. Because I’m going to give the GOPs advice on how they can better do this in a way that will likely be OK under the rules of the stimulus.

1. If they want to have a $350 million contingency fund for schools, just allocate it to DPI, but not have the extra money released until June, 2023. And reduce the base number for the 2023-24 school year by the same amount. Yes, these funds need to be eventually sent out and used, but if the state funds come out in a given fiscal year and are spent, wouldn’t that count as part of the maintenance of effort requirements?

2. WisGOPs also could have chosen to increase state funding to schools by $350 million, but barely increase or even reduce revenue limits, which would constrain how much money public schools can get (stupid, but WisGOPs like em stupid). This would be a backdoor property tax cut, much like what was done in 2014 where $406 million in state funds added to the state’s technical colleges, without having the tech colleges increase their spending.

But nooooo, the WisGOPs are so petty and/or bought off that they did it this idiotic way, and now are now going to have to make more changes to education funding as the budget moves through the process. Or are they going to try to shove this through and risk losing all of this federal help for schools, as a dare to try to goad Evers into vetoing the whole budget (which frankly he should if the GOP keeps playing these games)?

Or is risking the loss of billions in stimulus funds the GOP’s plan? Don’t put that possibility by those lowlifes. WisGOPs don’t want things to get better before the 2022 elections, because that would help the chances of Evers and Dems in general, and causing major cuts and/or property tax increases for public schools due to a lack of state/fed revenues would go a long way toward that “goal.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Stimulus, state funds, and property taxes. And a whole lotta school funding questions for tomorrow

Tomorrow may be the most important Joint Finance Committee meeting of this budget cycle. Not only will the $12 billion in state spending for K-12 education be discussed and voted on for the next 2 years, but we'll also see what will be done with the huge amount of money that is going to schools from DC, which is more than double what districts were getting before COVID was a thing.

First, let’s get a picture Wisconsin’s schools were funded in the pre-COVID era, courtesy of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Note the $844.4 million that the Feds paid toward education in the previous school year, which is a fraction of what is paid out overall. Then realize that more than $2 billion in federal money is slated to go to Wisconsin’s school districts due to the stimulus measures that became law in December and March, and needless to say, it’ll be a big deal.

However, many of these funds have to pay for expenses incurred to adjust school staff and classrooms to the realities of the COVID World.
3. Allowable activities for LEAs under ESSER include coordinating with public health departments to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus; professional development for staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases; purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity); providing mental health services and supports; and planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after school programs. Under ARPA, LEAs must use at least 20% of their funds to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year programs. A full list of allowable activities under each act is included in Attachment 1. Funds must be obligated no later than September 30, 2022, under the CARES Act, no later than September 30, 2023 under the CAA, and not later than September 30, 2024, under ARPA. (These deadlines include one additional year beyond the date included in the federal legislation. Under the federal Tydings Amendment, LEAs can carry over federal education funds for one additional year beyond the period for which they were appropriated.)
In addition, there's not a lot of discretion as to which districts get funds, and how much, because most of the funds are already accounted for.
Ninety percent of Wisconsin's total ESSER III funding (or $1,386.7 million) must be distributed directly to local educational agencies (LEAs) according to the formula used for the 2020-21 distribution of Title I Part A funds under the ESEA, which is based on a census count of the number and percentage of low-income pupils residing in each district.

LEAs are required to allocate at least 20% of these funds to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs. These interventions must respond to pupils' academic, social, and emotional needs, and must address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care. Allowable uses for the remainder of the funds are defined under the federal Act, and include preparedness and response efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic; training and professional development related to sanitation and preventing the spread of infectious disease; purchasing educational technology equipment; providing mental health services to pupils; any activity authorized by other specified federal education acts, including the ESEA and IDEA; addressing learning loss among pupils, including low-income pupils, pupils with disabilities, and English language learners; and other activities that are necessary to maintain operations and provide services during the pandemic…Grant recipients may use ESSER III funding for expenses incurred between March 13, 2020, and September 30, 2024.
DPI’s current plan has every school district in Wisconsin receive at least $600,000 in ARPA ESSER III funds, but most districts get more than that, based on total enrollment and poverty levels. In Milwaukee’s case, those factors combine for a whole lot of ARPA money.

Top K-12 school districts receiving ARPA funds
Milwaukee $505.8 million
Racine $53.1 million
Kenosha $44.9 million
Green Bay $44.7 million
Madison $42.6 million
Beloit $18.9 million
Janesville $16.7 million

For districts (and especially Milwaukee), one of those items that federal funds can be used for is to fix backlogged infrastructure, lessening the need to go into debt and referendum to pay off those expenses. This will also make it easier to pay for everyday operations with regular funding.
Previous estimates put the total amount of building improvements needed in Milwaukee schools at about $970 million. So far, the district has earmarked about $200 million in its federal relief funds for facilities improvements.

"They can't accomplish all of it to federal funds, but the federal funds certainly give them an opportunity to address existing facility needs," said Ari Brown, another co-author of the report. "That can then free up money in other parts of their budget."

Other school districts have similarly said they plan to put federal dollars toward facilities improvements — particularly HVAC systems and ventilation, which became an even more pressing concern during a respiratory pandemic.
The LFB also reminds us that there is a maintenance of effort requirement that says the state cannot pay less in support than they did (from 2017-2020) which tries to prevent ALEC states from using the federal dollars as an excuse to cut state aid to K-12 education.
As a condition of receiving ESSER funds, states are required to fulfill a maintenance of effort requirement. Under the CARES Act, each state's application for funds was required to include assurances that level of state support for elementary and secondary education and higher education (including state funding to institutions of higher education and state need-based financial aid) would be maintained in 2019-20 and 2020-21 at least at the state's average level of support provided in the three previous fiscal years. Under the CAA and ARPA, the proportion of state spending allocated to K-12 and higher education in 2021-22 must be maintained at the same level as the state's average allocation in the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 fiscal years. ARPA requires that this proportion be maintained in the 2022-23 fiscal year as well.

That part may play a big role in the debate tomorrow, especially after comments from a top GOP legislator that appeared in state newspapers today.
“I think we’re good for right now,” Senate President Chris Kapenga said in an interview Tuesday. “My gut is there’s not going to be a big push in the caucus to increase funding.”

What do public schools have to do with life in Waukesha County, anyway?

There's another wacka-doodle idea from the Delafield Dumbass in that article where he wants to have 1 school district in each county, but we'll hold off on that, and stick with the overall funding question for now.

Not adding state funding might mean that "the proportion of state support for elementary and secondary education" wouldn't be the same as they were from 2016-2019, and Wispolitics says that might put the full $1.5 billion from the Feds in jeopardy.
The LFB paper prepared for tomorrow’s hearing doesn’t calculate the state’s average allocation over those years. But a check of past LFB documents show the state budgeted 32.7 percent of GPR for general school and categorical aids for K-12 over that period. Under Evers’ budget as introduced, he called for spending 32.9 percent of GPR on general and categorical aids in the first year of the biennium and 33.6 percent in the second.
But if the WisGOPs keep the state spending amount at the same level that was spent in 2021, would that end up violating the Federal rules? And would WisGOPs care if it did, figuring that wrecking Wisconsin publicm schools might work in their favor for 2022? (do NOT ignore this possibility)

If WisGOPs have an ounce of decency and savvy, they'll make sure they don't violate that maintenance of effort, and could get tax cuts and limited spending in the process. How? Let's allow LFB to explain how the state’s revenue limits apply and how they are calculated.
Under revenue limits, the amount of revenue a school district can raise from general school aids, property taxes, and exempt property aid is restricted. A district’s base revenue in a given year is equal to the restricted revenues received in the prior school year. Base revenue is divided by the average of the district’s enrollments in the prior three years to determine its base revenue per pupil. In 2020-21, a $179 per pupil adjustment is added to each district's base revenue per pupil to determine its current year revenue per pupil. Current year revenue per pupil is then multiplied by the average of the district’s enrollments in the current and prior two years to determine the district’s initial revenue limit. There are several adjustments that are made to the initial revenue limit, such as the declining enrollment adjustment and the low revenue adjustment. A district can also exceed its revenue limit by receiving voter approval at a referendum.
But note that the amount of money that comes in from federal sources is not generally part of that limit. And as you saw earlier, local property taxes are a big part of paying for K-12 schools in Wisconsin, so could the Federal money be used to replace that part of the funding equation?

In other words, couldn’t the next couple of years have a school funding model that ends up along these lines? 1. Federal funds - Big jump. 2. State aids – Similar or slightly higher. 3. Property taxes – Not as much This can be done via a tiny increase in the revenue limits for the 2021-23 biennium, which still increases the amount of resources going to schools, and allowing property taxes to be cut.

There also could be a change in how Wisconsin distributes state aid to K-12 schools, as a reaction. Here’s the LFB's reminder on how that works today.
The basic concept of equalizing the fiscal capacities of school districts has been promoted through the equalization formula since 1949. The formula uses equalized property valuations per pupil to measure fiscal capacity. To equalize the tax bases of school districts, districts with lower per pupil property values receive a larger share of their costs through the formula than districts with higher per pupil property values. In the 2020-21 aid year, the district with the highest property value per pupil had 44 times the property value per pupil as that of the lowest district. The district at the 90th percentile had over three times the property value per pupil of the district at the 10th percentile. In the absence of a significant commitment to tax base equalization, it would be difficult, if not virtually impossible, for districts with the lowest property values per pupil to provide a reasonably equal educational opportunity for students as districts with the highest values could.
This makes sense as a matter of fairness, but it also means that property-rich areas have to make up more of their school funding with property taxes vs state aid. Combine that with the huge amounts slated for higher-poverty, urban districts from ARPA, and might we see WisGOPs try to change the state aid formula to redirect those funds away from places like Milwaukee and into rural and (especially) suburban districts? Watch for it.

The WisGOPs are clearly cooking something up, because they usually wait to do K-12 schools at the end of a budget, because it’s by far the largest expense that the state pays for. So whatever is chosen on Thursday, it’ll likely guide the rest of the budget strategy in a time when the state has plenty of resources, but a lot of questions left on who is (and is not) going to get them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

In WisGOP World, stimulus and Obamacare is good. But not for Obamacare's Medicaid expansion

For 8 years, I've talked about how fiscally and morally stupid it is that Wisconsin Republicans haven't taken the Medicaid expansion that is part of the Affordable Care Act. And it's extra stupid now, because due to a provision in President Biden's stimulus bill (aka ARPA), the state would save an extra $1 billion on top of the $600 million we already would have saved.

I wasn't even planning to discuss today's pathetic gavel-in, gavel-out of Governor Evers' special session to expand Medicaid, because why bother? At this point, these Koched-up fools are going to do, and it's going to take many of them getting blown out of office for that to change.

But then Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos, Senate GOP Leader Devin LeMahieu, and the two GOP Chairs of the Joint Finance Committee released this letter to Governor Evers, and it was lame and pathetic even by these guys' absurdly low standards.

First, the Republicans say that there's no need to expand Medicaid because we do a swell enough job getting the working poor covered in Wisconsin.
Let’s start with the facts. As you know, Medicaid is a $10.6 billion state-run program which is jointly funded by the federal government and the State of Wisconsin. It has more than 1.1 million enrollees, providing government-run health care to roughly one infive people in the state. BadgerCare covers every Wisconsinite with an income under the federal poverty level (FPL) as well as children and pregnant women in households with incomes up to 300 percent of the FPL.

Once those thresholds have been reached, households with income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the FPL are eligible to receive heavily subsidized coverage through the federal health insurance exchanges. This means there is no gap in coverage between when someone is no longer eligible for BadgerCare and when they become eligible for federal subsidies for the insurance exchanges. Wisconsin is the only state that didn’t expand Medicaid that has no such gap in coverage.
So we don't need to expand Medicaid because Obamacare gives subsidies to people buying insurance on Obamacare exchanges. The same Obamacare that Republicans tried to strike down for years! Apparently it's not all bad now, is it?

That's quite the pretzel logic, but it's a mere warmup for the even lamer reasonings that the WisGOPs give later on.
By adding childless, working-aged adults earning up to 138 percent of the FPL to Medicaid, who are eligible for significant assistance on the federal exchange, state taxpayers would be responsible for covering some of the extra costs. However, when someone in that group enrolls on the exchanges using subsidies which are 100 percent federally funded, there is no cost passed on to state taxpayers.
In addition to the open desire to freeload off of Federal tax dollars, what's not mentioned is that under Medcaid expansion, the Feds would cover 30% more of the expenses of those under the poverty line, replacing state tax dollars. That's a big reason why we would have saved hundreds of millions of state tax dollars for each of the last 8 years, even before the Biden bill gave this billion dollar bonus!

And here's the topper.
Additionally, some the of items you proposed to be funded with the pot of reimbursement money from the federal government to expand Medicaid can already by paid for with the ARPA funds that are at your sole discretion to allocate. Will you finally be releasing your plan on funding those projects rather than using them as fodder for increasing welfare in Wisconsin?

So the WisGOPs want Governor Evers to use stimulus dollars to pay for Medicaid....but not to get an extra $1 billion in stimulus dollars to pay for Medicaid EXPANSION.

(Jake blinks furiously)

The only way that makes an ounce of sense is if WisGOP's main strategy is to have the Biden stimulus funds be used in less effective ways, and to limit state investment in other areas. This would hold back Wisconsin's economy, and (WisGOP hopes) can hurt the electoral prospects of Evers and other Dems in 2022.

Along with bribes of campaign cash from RW oligarchs, that is why the WisGOPs are doing this. They don't care about making things better for Wisconsinites. It's all about power and posing - doing what's right has nothing to do with that in WisGOP World. And they will keep doing it until voters take them down, and take them down hard.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

So I screwed around with some Wisconsin maps for redistricting, Senate version (2 of 2)

Here's the second part of the Wisconsin legislative maps that I drew up, and on this one, we are moving over to the Senate side (where districts are made up of 3 grouped Assembly districts). Here's what the current (GOP gerrymandered) map looks like.

The base story is similar to the Assembly - strong GOP advantage, although more of the districts are competitive.

2018 Governor's Election, current Senate map
Seats voting Walker (GOP) 21
Seats voting Evers (Dem) 12

Walker win 0-5% 1
Evers win 0-5% 2

Walker win 5%-10% 5
Evers win 5%-10% 1

Walker win 10%+ 15
Evers win 10%+ 9

The tipping point seat went to Walker by 6.73% (District 24 in Central Wisconsin), a little closer than the Assembly, but not much closer.

And here's what my map looks like.

2018 Governor's Election, my Senate map
Seats voting Walker (GOP) 20 (-1 vs current)
Seats voting Evers (Dem) 13 (+1)

Walker win 0-5% 2 (+1)
Evers win 0-5% 1 (-1)

Walker win 5%-10% 5 (no change)
Evers win 5%-10% 3 (+2)

Walker win 10%+ 13 (-2)
Evers win 10%+ 9 (no change)

So a bit more competitive, and the median seat goes from GOP +6.7% to GOP 5.9% (and is now in the Appleton area). But still a tough hill to climb.

If you compare the two maps, you can see the big differences in geography, even if the GOP vs Dem mix isn't very different. I tried to keep districts contained to one county and nearby area if possible, which means that instead of 21 being a rural district and 22 being an urban Racine-Kenosha district, both are largely county-wide (and competitive) districts now.

This means District 5 is a Dem-leaning district that's mostly in Tosa and West Allis (Evers +6.6%), and District 8 is overwhelmingly Republican, being located almost entirely in eastern Waukesha and Washington Counties. Given that District 5 would come up in 2022 and District 8 in 2024, I would bet Republicans try to switch these numbers, if possible.

The population growth in Dane County and South Central Wisconsin in general is a big driver behind why I shrunk districts in this area. I also made the 17th District more centered in Sauk County and the rest of the SW corner of Wisconsin, taking much of the 27th's current land in blue-voting Sauk, Iowa and Green Counties (I'd say sorry, Howard Marklein. But I'm really not sorry).

In the Fox Valley area, I stopped the gerrymander that GOPs pulled where Marinette and Oconto get lumped in with GB for District 30. Both GB and Appleton get their own districts, and I combined Neenah-Menasha with Oshkosh for District 18, linked Fond du Lac with Sheboygan instead of Oshkosh, and made Manitowoc the largest city in District 1.

In the rest of the state, the biggest move I made was to tighten up District 29 around Wausau (it's still Republican), and gave District 23 more of the area on Highway 53 instead of having it over by Marshfield. District 10 is also shortened up, connecting to the sizable growth in the Twin Cities exurbs.

As mentioned, I could have tried a gerrymander of my own, but I didn't want to do that, and wanted to just draw up a map that looked logical, and kept it realtively compact. Like with the Assembly one, feel free to grab Dave's redistricting app and do some work of your own.

So I screwed around with some Wisconsin maps for redistricting, Assembly version (1 of 2)

With local Census figures redistricting looming, I noticed that the Dave's Redistricting site recently updated its data to 2019's population estimates. This not only includes the estimated changes in population between 2010 and 2019, but it also has the shapes of precincts that will be used in the 2020 Census.

I'm not going to talk much about Wisconsin's Congressional map, as the only thing that matters there is how Ron Kind's district might look in Western Wisconsin, and if you want to include Janesville/Beloit in the Bryan Steil's district, or Mark Pocan's. Instead, we'll look at the State Legislative maps as they stand today, and compare them to what I drew up.

Since I can't find a printed breakdown of the 2020 presidential results by legislative district, we will use the 2018 Governor's election, won by Tony Evers by 1.1%, so it makes for a good proxy of a 50-50 base.

This post will go into the Assembly maps, but I'll follow up with another post on the Senate maps (there's a lot of info here). First, let's use the Daily Kos breakdown by Senate and Assembly district for the 2018 Governor's race as the starting point. Districts that were within 5 or 10 points should be considered at least mildly competitive.

Now let's look at the current Assembly map.
And in looking at 2018, you can see the GOP's gerrymander had a strong effect, as GOPs won an overwhelming majority of districts.

2018 Governor's Election, current Assembly map
Seats voting Walker (GOP) 63
Seats voting Evers (Dem) 36

Walker win 0-5% 5
Evers win 0-5% 1

Walker win 5%-10% 13
Evers win 5%-10% 2

Walker win 10%+ 45
Evers win 10%+ 33

Pretty good example of "packing and cracking", isn't it? In fact, the median seat in the 2018 Governor's race (District 55 in the Neenah-Menasha area), went to Walker by 8.75%. So Dems would have had to win by somewhere around 10% to be able to win a majority of districts, and a "neutral" year would result in GOPs holding the Assembly by a whopping 64-35 count.

Now here's the map I drew up. I generally tried to keep common communities together and wanted to make sure there was an adequate number of majority-minority districts, but generally tried to ignore which party these communities vote for.

2018 Governor's Election, my Assembly map
Seats voting Walker (GOP) 58 (-5 vs current)
Seats voting Evers (Dem) 41 (+5)

Walker win 0-5% 6 (+1)
Evers win 0-5% 5 (+4)

Walker win 5%-10% 8 (-5)
Evers win 5%-10% 0 (-2)

Walker win 10%+ 44 (-1)
Evers win 10%+ 36 (+3)

You can see that while a neutral map still gives strong majorities to the GOP because there aren't any districts that they have which match the 80-90% numbers that Dems get in parts around Madison and Milwaukee, there are many more closer races - 11 decided by 5 points or less compared to 6 with the current maps. And it means that Dems would get the majority at a statewide total by winning by 7-8 instead of by 10, as the 50th seat in the Assembly is 2.2% less GOP than the current maps.

The biggest differences are in the Milwaukee area, where Robbin' Vos and company tried to get cute in 2010, and would combine districts in western Milwaukee County with Waukesha County, and northern Milwaukee County with Ozaukee County. Hilariously, this backfired by 2020 as the suburbs turned against Trumpism, and Dems now control 3 of these districts, but it's still a ridiculous map that throws together communities that have little in common.

I decided to keep districts locked into one county and one community around Milwaukee as best as possible.

Interestingly, the population loss in Milwaukee County (and especially in certain areas of the City) means that my map might be slightly worse for Dems than what exists today. While North Shore suburbs like Whitefish Bay are now linked with Brown Deer instead of Mequon and Grafton, it also ends up taking away one district that's centered on the city's north side, and fewer districts touch the County in general. On the flip side, that might be a good thing, given the imperialist attitude that some of the gerrymandered GOPs have about the state's most populous county and economic engine.

I also tightened up districts around Dane County and the surrounding area. Right now, the GOPs gerrymander has districts that stretch from Oconomowoc to eastern Dane County, and from Watertwon to DeForest. That makes no sense on any level, and combined with Dane County's population growth, I made these districts much more compact and sensible.

In the 920, I gave Sheboygan its own (very competitive) Assembly district vs being split in 2 like it is today, and tightened up districts around Green Bay, Appleton, and Wausau which makes this swingy area somewhat more competitive at the Assembly level (and will especially be so at the Senate level).

That's the Assembly version of my map-drawing. I'll put the Senate one in a new post, so it isn't so damn long. But feel free to give it a gander, and dial up the Dave's redistricting app to make up your own.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

All vax rates aren't the same in Wisconsin. Check the ages to get a better picture

When looking at the rate of COVID vaccinations in various parts of Wisconsin, we tend to look at the overall numbers statewide and by counties. And those figures certainly tell a story on their own, as some places are well above or well below our 40.7% statewide rate of Wisconsinites compelting their cycle of vaccinations.

But there is also a notable difference even among counties that may have the same overall percentage of people getting doses of vaccine. For example, you'll notice the three darkest counties in that map are Dane, Door and Bayfield Counties (all of whom voted for Biden last November, by the way). And on the topline, all 3 counties have similar percentages of their populations that are done with their COVID vaccinations.

But the Wisconsin Department of Health Services also breaks down the vaccination numbers by age, and you'll see that Dane County has a noticeably higher rate of residents completing their vaccination cycles than the other 2.

So why aren't the numbers that different overall? Because of the aging curve of these counties. Bayfield and Door Counties have a significantly higher percentage of people over 55 and especialy 65 than Dane County does, and so those high vaccination rates carry more pull into the overall number than they do in Dane County. It makes Dane County's already-large numbers seem even more impressive.

You'll also notice that slight decline in vaccination rates among people 18-24 in Dane County, and I see similar 18-24 dropoffs in other counties with large UW campuses. I wonder how much of that is related to UW students that either 1. Got COVID in the Fall and don't feel they have to be vaxxed yet (sorry kids, the data indicates you still should), or 2. Spent the semester and/or being vaccinated at home vs at UW.

You also can see how this aging curve can mask deficiencies or hide successes in vaccinations among other parts of the states. Let's drop to a group of 8 counties that all have had just over 1/2 of their residents get at least 1 COVID shot so far. 4 are in the Northwoods, and 4 are in the southern part of the state. Overall, these countiexs have numbers that are very similar.

But go to the aging curve (with 12-15 year-olds included, now that they are able to get their first shots), and you'll see how the Northwoods counties have a significant gap in vaccinations for people aged 18-55 - with the exception being blue-voting Ashland County, who jumps up to the rates of the southern Wisconsin counties.

The Northwoods counties have such a high percentage of older people that it lifts up their averages vs the southern Wisconsin counties. I slso note that Waukesha County starts falling behind the top 4 counties once you get to about age 35 and especially age 45, and I bet that corresponds quite well to the proportion of people that listen to Hate Radio 1130 and other Faux News.

I also can't help but notice that Ozaukee County acts a lot like La Crosse, Ashland and Iowa Counties on this chart. And guess which of the traditionally red WOW Counties has had the strongest shifts toward Democrats in the last few years? Correct, again!

These vaccination rates, especially when adjusted for the aging curve, is a pretty good Rohrschacht test on attitudes about other things these days (well, at least among white people. Lagging rates among Wisconsin's African-Americans and Hispanics are another issue to be dealt with). And some folks might want to take note of the low age-adjusted vaccination rates among many of the Northwoods Counties as well as the Lake Geneva area when it comes to deciding where to travel during Memorial Day weekend.

But over here in Madtown, we'll likely be at or near herd immunity, so feel free to come on down, enjoy your time in our great outdoor spaces and be safe! Seems like a nice marketing niche, doesn't it?

Friday, May 21, 2021

WMC + WisGOP are dead wrong. Wisconsin gains workers + job-seekers, fewer on unemployment.

The WMC/WisGOP crowd has recently made a lot of recent noise regarding the alleged inability to find Wisconsin workers that will take jobs, and those groups are arguing that workers should be cut off from enhanced unemployment benefits as a result.

I found the argument questionable at best, as the US jobs report for April indicated that more people were returning to the work force, and the biggest increases in jobs were in service professions that business groups were claiming they couldn't find people to work at. But perhaps Wisconsin is a more specific case, given that our unemployment rate in March was 3.8%.

Which made Wisconsin's jobs report for April a key data point. That was releaed on Thursday, and it showed that the WMC/WisGOP theories about a lack of available workers to be BS.

Wisconsin jobs report, April 2021 Payrolls survey
Change in jobs +9,300
Change in Leisure and Hospitality jobs +3,800

Household survey
Change in Labor Force +9,000
Change in Employment +7,100

Even with the added jobs, Wisconsin's unemployment rate rose from 3.8% to 3.9% because even more people joined the work force in April. Not really what the righties are selling, is it?

Wisconsin is also continuing to see jobless claims decrease.

It's a nice story that WMC and WisGOP are trying to spin about "lazy people on unemployment not wanting to take work", and maybe it works among unsuspecting, mediocre people. But any honest look at the data shows that it's a complete lie, as more people are working, more people are wanting to work, and fewer people are on unemployment.

Someone's hiring these people and paying them. Maybe the rent-seeking businessMEN at WMC need to step up and compete vs whining and trying to make Wisconsinites more desperate.

Here is UW-Madison's Menzie Chinn with some good added information from this jobs report.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

In a brutal 2020, Wisconsin loses less jobs than most states. But it's still a big hole

While Republicans make efforts to cover up what happened in the first week of 2021, we also got more information about how much damage was done to the US job market in 2020. That was in the form of the year-end totals for the "gold standard" Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), which released its numbers at the nationwide and state levels, as well as for counties in metro areas.

As you'd imagine, we lost a lot of jobs in 2020, and were in a major hole as the year ended.

QCEW, all jobs US
Dec 2019 150,005,303
Dec 2020 140,881,253
TOTAL LOSS 2020 - 9,124,050 (-6.1%)

48 out of 50 states lost jobs last year (only Utah and Idaho were spared, and barely), with Wisconsin being one of them. But the nearly 140,000 jobs that we lost still put us below the US's rate of loss, allowing Wisconsin had its best national ranking in jobs in 10 years (well, fewer losses anyway).

Like the rest of the nation, Wisconsin had its heaviest losses in April 2020, as it was locked down to try to contain the initial wave of COVID breakouts. Then as more businesses reopened, jobs came back in the rest of Spring and Summer. But it hit a wall after September, as weather cooled and COVID spiked to its worst levels through the rest of the year. And the same happened in Wisconsin, where our year-over-year losses were 4.8% in October, and November, and December.

You can see just how much of a jobs hole Wisconsin and most of the country was in at the end of 2020. And while the COVID situation is much better today than it was at the end of this QCEW report, it'll still take many months of strong job growth to even come near the levels that we were at as 2019 ended. Which is why we cannot let up on economic stimulus measures, and recognize that there are many more people in need today compared to where we were pre-COVID.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

GOPs blame still-sizable unemployed instead of lazy employers not dealing with post-COVID reality

If you buy into what Wisconsin Manuacturers and Commerce are selling these days, Wisconsin’s economy is stagnating because a whole lot of people are sitting at home and refuse to work.
To help our collective members, and give a shot in the arm to Wisconsin’s economy, the undersigned trade associations are calling on your administration to return unemployment benefits in Wisconsin to what they were pre-pandemic by ending the state’s participation in the enhanced federal unemployment benefits.

It is already a difficult hiring environment for employers as they face competition from each other; they must now also compete with state and federal unemployment benefits that, if not ended by your administration, will run throughout the summer months. Workforce was the biggest challenge facing Wisconsin businesses prior to the Covid-19 downturn. Now, instead of “bouncing back” from the pandemic, the Wisconsin economy is being held back by an acute labor shortage made all the worst by government interference in the marketplace.

Through September, an individual can receive $670 per week on unemployment due to the $300 federal enhancement. That is the equivalent of $16.75 per hour. Our member employers tell us every single day that this expanded unemployment benefit is creating a strong disincentive to work and is making it harder for them to hire. We cannot afford to continue to have potential employees remaining on the sidelines while thousands of jobs are available today.
I’m sure your members do say that, WMC. Because God forbid they actually make an adjustment to a changing job market

Not surpringly, WMC’s GOP-puppets in the State Legislature are following their bosses’ leads.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Sen. Howard Marklein proposed legislation Tuesday that would stop paying an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits, among other pandemic-related benefits.

"The government needs to quit competing with our local employers. We need a reset here," Marklein said at a press conference in the state Capitol.
Competition, Howie? THE HORROR!

Speaking of competition, is there anything in this GOP bill to raise the minimum wage to a “competitive” level past $7.25/hour and $2.13/hour for tipped wages? Or are GOPs asking for a major expansion in subsidized child care to lower that barrier? Of course not, which gives the game away.

What GOPs are also ignoring is that a lot of people are still out of work, both in America and in Wisconsin, and some are still losing their jobs this Spring. While it’s great news that unemployment claims are falling, they’re still twice what they were in early 2020, before COVID-19 was a thing.

These charts all compare the numbers from the last 5 weeks with the last 5 weeks before COVID started to cause unemployment claims to rise in mid-March 2020.

In fact, the amount of today's jobless claims is similar to what we had around this time in 2010, which was 6 months before Republicans swept to power in large part because the economy hadn’t recovered fast enough from the Great Recession (along with a lot of Big Lies surrounding Obamacare from RW oligarchs and corporate sleaze).

And those continuing claims numbers in 2021 don’t include the 7.3 million on PUA, or the 5.7 million on extended benefits. It's also worth noting that at this time in 2010, Congress was allowing Americans to receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment (albeit with no $300 add-on) and only 5 million were receiving those extended benefits. And now WisGOPs want to cut off unemployment benefits at just over 60 weeks.

It’s also odd to see WisGOPs claim things are so tight in the jobs market when 11 days ago these guys were jabbering about a “disappointing” April jobs report and how the recovery was stalling out with unemployment still at 6.1%. GOPs conveniently left out of that criticism the fact that unemployment went up because 430,000 more people entered the work force and only 328,000 more people (76%) ended up employed.

So which is it, WisGOP/WMC? Are job-seekers not able to find work, and the economy is being “held back”? Or are things going so great that employers can’t find anyone to handle all of the increased demand from a stimulus-fueled boom?

Or maybe…employers are too slow to adjust to a new reality in 2021, where many Americans aren’t willing to accept the lousy pay and increase their risks of catching a virus that still has a presence. And that those jobs often involve dealing with MAGAts and other obnoxious members of the public that make the jobs even less worthwhile.

That seems to be the more likely answer, and the fact that the GOP donors at the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce didn’t sign onto that WMC BS letter shows that even those regressive clowns know it’s not “lazy workers” that are causing these jobs to stay unfilled. Instead, it’s lazy employers who aren’t paying enough in a post-COVID world.

Don't believe it's a conscious choice that employers are making? Check out who one of the "invited guests" to today's WisGOP press event was.