Sunday, April 30, 2023

Tax revenues lower through March. Could hurt for the debt ceiling, and lower Wisconsin's surplus

One thing that's been showing up at the Federal level in recent months is that tax revenues are running below what was expected, which widens the deficit, and could lead to the debt ceiling being hit sooner than originally expected.
While projections of the so-called "X date" have put it sometime over the summer, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in January the U.S. would be able to avoid default through at least early June as it uses "extraordinary measures" to pay its bills. At that time, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated the date would likely arrive this summer or early fall.

Economists at Bank of America expect Yellen to update her guidance on the X date by early May and anticipate she will stick with the early June estimate. But with tax revenues down, economists at multiple banks have started moving up their own estimated timelines for the threat of a default....

Goldman Sachs economists have also noted the potentially shifting timeline, pointing out that tax receipts are running 35%, or $138 billion, below last year.

"At this rate, an early June deadline looks nearly as likely as the late July deadline we project," they wrote.

Their economic research team continues to put the debt limit deadline in late July, but they noted if tax receipts continue to undershoot in the coming days, the odds tilt "slightly in favor" of an early June deadline. The Treasury is expected to receive another round of tax payments around the mid-June estimated tax deadline, which the bank economists believe would provide sufficient funds through the end of June.
It's especially perplexing because there have been a lower percentage of federal tax returns that have had refunds in tax year 2022 vs tax year 2021, and the refunds have been for lower amounts. At the same time, more Americans are working than ever, and with wage increases of 5-6% compared to a year ago.

Now maybe there's an effect from 2022's inflation, as tax brackets were indexed higher by 7% for 2023, which would be a back-door tax cut for a lot of Americans, especially at the start of the year before more raises and boosts from changing jobs sink in.

We also may be seeing this effect state taxes in Wisconsin. The recently-released state revenue figures for March shows that individual income tax revenues and corporate tax revenues are both down compared to where they were last year.

Now, you will notice the 88% increase in income tax revenues March 2023 vs March 2022, but that's something that was expected, as the Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted in their revenue estimates from earlier this year.

Based on preliminary collections information through December, 2022, individual income tax revenues for the current fiscal year are 12.9% lower than such revenues through the same period in 2021. This is primarily due to decreased withholding collections following the withholding table update that took effect January 1, 2022. However, individual income tax revenues are expected to increase at a rate of 21.1% over the next six months relative to the same period a year prior.

The primary factor for this estimated revenue increase is an expected decline in refunds paid to taxpayers in 2022-23 relative to 2021-22. The income tax rate reduction included in 2021 Act 58, which took effect beginning in tax year 2021, caused refunds to spike when taxpayers filed their corresponding income tax returns in 2021-22. However, because the income tax withholding tables were later updated beginning January 1, 2022, to reflect the rates, brackets, and standard deduction in effect for current law, the amounts withheld from taxpayers during tax year 2022 incorporated the Act 58 rate reduction for the first time. As a result, when taxpayers file the corresponding returns in Spring of 2023, their refund amounts will be lower (all else equal) than the refunds they would have received had the withholding tables not been updated.
And March is a big month for tax refunds in Wisconsin, as people file earlier if they are getting refunds. In looking at the first 3 months of 2023 in total, income tax revenues are up 19.8% from the first 3 months of 2022, so that's mostly in line with what LFB thought so far.

One other warning sign came with a report on the state's cash balance, which is different than the budget balance, but is a good proxy for figuring out where things are going. And while the first two months of cash activity was in line with projections, March fell well short.

With the big tax payment month of April coming to a close, let's see what those numbers tell us, both at the Federal and State levels. But if those revenue numbers are disappointing, that's going to change both the estimation of when we may be facing the country's (unenforceable) debt limit, and it'll affect the updated Wisconsin revenue estimates that the LFB will put out some time in the next 10 days.

From the state side, lawmakers are still going to have billions to play with in this state budget, but I'm getting a sneaking suspicion the cushion that we'll have on June 30 won't be as massive as we thought it would be. And if GOPs in Congress are successful in sabotaging the economy by messing with the debt ceiling, those shortfalls may show up in the projections as well.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

GOPs roll out shared revenue plans. It's a decent start, even if the strings attached are obnoxious.

So we've now gotten more details about what Legislative Republicans want to do to fix Wisconsin's broken shared revenue system. And it seems like there are more funds than we thought, but the aids will be strictly targeted.
Republicans were originally talking about a $200 million boost to county and municipal aid. That has increased to $227 million.

The state expected to pay locals $753 million through that aid in 2023. Under the plan, the additional $227 million would be split up using a formula that would benefit smaller communities. The new money also would be dedicated to expenses such as law enforcement, fire protection, EMTs, public works and transportation, according to sources....

The Assembly GOP plan also includes a one-time transfer of $300 million to what’s been dubbed an innovation fund. That would reward communities that combine services.
Most of the funding comes from using 1 of the 5 cents per dollar collected in Wisconsin sales tax over the next 2 years, and sending it to the shared revenue pot. I would guess that this $300 million "innovation fund" is additional one-time funding, but we'll see what the bill tells us.

As I mentioned before, what about the local governments that already "innovated" and increased efficiencies, or runs things better on their own? They get nothing from this $300 million? And is one of the "innovations" replacing newer wheel taxes that many communities have had to take on to fix their roads? Because that's certainly something I would want in there.

AJ Bayatpour of Channel 58 in Milwaukee has plenty of experience discussing this situation from his time as the main guy covering the Capitol for TV in Madison, and he put together a very good summary of the situation.
Wisconsin currently divides $753 million annually among its counties and municipalities. That shared revenue figure has been frozen since 2004. Under the plan unveiled Thursday, 20% of Wisconsin's state sales tax collections would go to local governments. That would amount to an estimated $1.5 billion. Without a bill, it's still unclear how the state would divide that new shared revenue pot, but Vos and other Assembly GOP leaders said at different press events Thursday every community in the state would receive at least a 10% increase in state funding.
Governor Evers' plan for shared revenue allowed for Milwaukee (and all other Wisconsin communities and counties with ore than 30,000 people) to have a 0.5% sales tax, if their voters approved of it in a referendum. Interestingly, the GOP plan allows for the City to have a much larger sales tax, but I don't see provisions listed about anywhere else in the state.

But WisGOP being who they are, they attach a lot of strings to that Milwaukee funding.

Given that Milwaukee Public Schools is its own entity outside of both the City and the County, I would agree that it is silly to have MPS items in here. Unless the WisGOPs want to have the local government take over MPS, which is a whole different fight and isn't worth stuffing into what will likely be an already-fragile coalition of support for the shared revenue package.

And the streetcar stuff is tired and lame. What if the Feds want to give 80%-90% of the funding to improve and extend the streetcar, which increases efficiency and ridership, and the City just has to match the rest of that? They can't? Give me a break. But Milwaukee's in desperate need of the assistance, and the restrictions aren't something that should be a deal-breaker if bankruptcy and/or massive deinvestment of the state's largest metro area and tourist destination is the other option.

Another facet of the shared revenue plan is that Jeramey Jannene and Graham Kilmer of Urban Milwaukee say the GOP plan would give more funds to smaller, rural communities (which have more GOPs representing them) than the Evers proposal.
The proposal would increase shared revenue payments by at least 10% to counties and cities across the state and connect the total provided to sales tax collections, allowing the total to grow with inflation.....

An estimated 47% of the new shared revenue, according to Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield), would be targeted at communities with less than 5,000 residents. Evers’ proposal had more evenly targeted distributing the funds.
I also want to go back to Evers' comments from last month on the shared revenue issue, and the need to add funding to an outdated, underfunded system.
Evers’ shared revenue proposal would amount to the largest increase in state aid for local communities in decades, according to an analysis from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. The dollar amount has decreased over decades, from more than $1 billion in the 1990s to about $900 million today, without factoring for inflation, per that report.

"That's crazy," Evers said on Tuesday. "I don't care if you’re a 300-people township or the city of Milwaukee, you cannot operate with that."
Agree with that, and it seems that WisGOPs have finally admitted that as well. And it's rare enough that we get to that step, given the BubbleWorld and game-playing that is the typical WisGOP response.

I see that Evers' request for a 2% increase on levy limits and new local sales taxes are among the 500+ items that the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee plans to remove from the budget next week, but no idea if this shared revenue package is going to be put into the biennial state budget (which may make it harder for WisGOPs in the Legislature to vote against and for WisDems to formally vote for), or if they do it as a supplemental, standalone bill (which makes it harder for Evers to outright veto and/or modify, but also gives room for some GOPs to vote no and other Dems to vote yes).

It's not the sexiest item to discuss, but the shared revenue discussion is likely the most important one going on at the Capitol in 2023. And it's the details and the sausage-making that is coming over the next months that will decide if we get the reforms that we so badly need when it comes to funding our local governments in Wisconsin.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Good GDP, income, and spending growth, but also moderation and future worries.

A couple of big macoreconomic reports have dropped in the last two days, and they can be taken in a lot of different ways.

Let's start with the first look at Q1 GDP, which had a surprisingly low topline number.
U.S. economic activity grew at a slower pace than expected in the first quarter of 2023, flashing further signs that the economy is slowing down as recession fears swirl and the Federal Reserve considers more interest rate increases.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis' advance estimate of first quarter U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) showed the economy grew at an annualized pace of 1.1% during the period, slower than consensus forecasts. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had the U.S. economy growing at an annualized pace of 1.9% during the first three months of 2022.

The print came in significantly cooler than the previous two quarters, which saw annualized growth at 2.9% and 3.2% respectively.
But then go into the various components, and you see evidence that many parts of the economy were strong for Q1 2023, and could be every bit as good as it was in the last half of 2022.

You can see the real (aka inflation-adjusted) consumption added nearly 2.5% to the GDP number, and that's the highest boost to GDP since Q2 2021, when Americans were spending their last stimulus check. And at the same time, the GDP report shows that Americans had quite a bit more money in their pockets, and upped their savings along with their spending.
Disposable personal income increased $571.2 billion, or 12.5 percent, in the first quarter, compared with an increase of $403.0 billion, or 8.9 percent, in the fourth quarter. The increase in the first quarter reflected an increase in personal income and a decrease in personal current taxes.

Real disposable personal income increased 8.0 percent in the first quarter, compared with an increase of 5.0 percent in the fourth.

Personal saving was $946.2 billion in the first quarter, compared with $758.8 billion in the fourth quarter. The personal saving rate — personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income — was 4.8 percent in the first quarter, compared with 4.0 percent in the fourth.
That's pretty healthy to me, and if you go back to the chart, you'll see that the biggest drag on the Q1 GDP numbers were a reduction in inventories, which took out 2.26 percentage points of growth. When you remove the often volatile distortions of government and inventories from GDP, we see that consistent, solid levels of growth continued at the start of 2023, and was better than Q4 in several areas.

Real GDP growth, minus Govt and Inventories
Q2 2022 +1.6%
Q3 2022 +3.7%
Q4 2022 +0.5%
Q1 2023 +2.6%

Now that being said, I also will mention that the Q1 figures for GDP consumption are a bit misleading, because it's a quarterly average , and might not necessarily capture where things stood at the end of March. I say this because of the cross-messages of Friday's income and spending report, which showed a small (pre-inflation) increase in incomes last month, consumer spending nearly flat, but saving continued its remarkable rise.

Personal income increased $67.9 billion, or 0.3 percent at a monthly rate, while consumer spending increased $8.2 billion, or less than 0.1 percent, in March. The personal saving rate (that is, personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income) was 5.1 percent in March, compared with 4.8 percent in February.

And if you dig into the report, it shows that inflation-adjusted consumption declined in both February and March, after that huge (seasonally adjusted) increase in spending for January. And that seasonally adjusted real consumption has declined in 4 of the last 5 months.

So the last 2 months of real declines in consumption will mean that the moving average for Q1 was higher than where we start March at. So does that mean we could see a bad Q2 for consumption, especially as the models plan for more spending as weather warms and school ends?

It also indicates that Americans have indeed adjusted their spending habits to higher interest rates, increasing savings rates from 3% in September to more than 5% in March. With income and spending growth being decent but not huge, and core inflation moderating at a 3-4% annual rate since June, does that sound like a circumstance where interest rates need to keep rising? Especially when we're already at a 5% Fed Funds rate - our highest rate in 16 years?

I would hope the Fed realizes that we can get a soft landing, but only if they stop choking off an economy that has already slowed and adjusted. I would hope they use this information as the reason to take a long-overdue pause from tightening, and see how things work out for the Spring and Summer of 2023.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

WisGOP Legislature replies with their own shared revenue plans

One of the most important parts of the upcoming budget talks and related bills will deal with whether there will be long-overdue changes to Wisconsin’s outdated methods of funding local governments. Traditionally, the state sent sizable amounts of funding down to the locals, with property taxes being paid in to take care of the rest.

Except Madison lawmakers are sending fewer shared revenues to local governments than they were in 2009, before we even account for inflation or increased population in the state. And property taxes have been limited by the WisGOP Legislature to make up the difference, leading to significant strains on communities and their ability to continue doing the same things they did 15 years ago.

In reaction to this, Governor Evers asked for using 1 of the 5 pennies that are paid in state sales taxes in each year, and having that pay for shared revenues to counties and municipalities. It would raise these types of shared revenues from $976.4 million to $1.52 billion a year (an increase of a more than $576 million), and allows for local governments to increase property taxes more than today, if they so choose.

Evers also wanted to allow all Wisconsin cities and counties that have over 30,000 people to put in an additional sales tax of 0.5%, particularly centering on the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, who are both facing budget deficits in the tens of millions of dollars for each of the new few years. And the City in particular has had its hands tied by the lack of shared revenues for the last 2 decades.

2 months after Evers introduced his budget and the shared revenue changes, Republicans in the Legislature are now responding with their plans on how to fund local governments in Wisconsin. Here’s what WisPolitics says is in discussions for the Legislature’s shared revenue package, which is also paid for by diverting some of the state's sales taxes.
Under the framework that Republicans have been discussing, the state would put aside one penny of the state’s 5-cent sales tax for shared revenue. That pot would cover a series of state aids, including payments to counties and municipalities.

The framework also includes allowing a higher sales tax for Milwaukee County, as well as a new one dedicated to the city of Milwaukee. The revenue from those sales tax collections would be dedicated to meeting the county and city’s pension obligations.

[Senate GOP Leader Devin] LeMahieu said Republicans were still working to finalize how large of a sales tax increase would be needed to meet the pension obligations. Still, he supports that approach to helping the county and city cover those costs.

Under the framework, new employees would be added to the state pension system. The sales taxes would sunset once the obligations are covered for current and retired employees. That process could take decades.
I assume the pension items are for Milwaukee only, since both the City and County of Milwaukee have pension systems that are separate from the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) that covers most state employees. The City's pension costs have jumped significantly in 2023, and are slated to stay at these unprecedented levels, driven by the large amount of police and fire fighters, who are not subjected to the "tools" of Act 10 that would pass more of these costs onto current workers.

As a WRS member planning to tap that pension some time in the next 10-20 years, you might think this would concern me, as Milwaukee pensions could threaten the WRS’s fully-funded status, and raise the 6.8% of salary that I currently pay in due to Act 10. But I’d welcome it, because it’s a reform that needs to happen, and lessens its significant drag on Wisconsin’s largest City, County and tourist destination.

The WisPolitics story says that as much as $1 billion could be used to offer incentives to (as Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos describes it) “municipalities that want to be able to coordinate their services”. Not sure what all that means and if that is a sort of penalty to local communities who have already increased efficiency and/or are comfortable in continuing operations as they do today.

This also has to be combined with the other side of the funding equation, which are the limits on property tax increases that communities can levy - limits that are well below the increase in property values over the last decade. I want to know if this funding package not only allows for more money from the state, but allows local governments to have more resources. That’s not something that WisGOPs allowed for K-12 schools over the last 2 years, even as property values went up, and instead used the higher state aids to cut property taxes.

So keep an eye on whether communities can actually have a better chance of staying afloat under this GOP package. But on the surface, I’m at least in favor of using more state aids and less property taxes to fund both local governments and schools. Link it to a % of sales tax, and those are aids that go up with inflation and growth over the years, and to me, that would be much more important and game-changing in Wisconsin than any cut in income taxes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Scott Walker and elite GOP grifting. From the Wis Capitol, to Faux News, to SCOTUS

Let's talk again about how our former Governor, a guy who saw Wisconsin badly underperform at job growth during his "reform-filled" 8 years in office. Scott Walker now has a "job" where he doesn't seem to do much beyond tweeting stuff like this, less than a week after we found out that Wisconsin reached record lows in unemployment.

But this is the thing about being a 2020s GOP with a cushy wingnut welfare job - facts and results don't have to matter, because there's always some kind of oligarch and/or influence-peddler willing to give you a paycheck.

The excellent David Roth gave a great rundown of this type of GOP elite griftopia that gives a high 6-figure salary to Scott Walker. This RW Insiders' Club received extra scrutiny after revelations of Harlan Crow’s bribery “influence” over Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Roth says this is a bug that infects large segments of today’s Republican Party and DC conservatism in general.
It all feels and certainly looks like the end of something, but some different images have emerged that made me reconsider my sense that those thumbs-up pics [with Donald Trump] were an apotheosis. If those images were a depiction of what Trumpism is fundamentally about, the conservative movement currently shrinking and demeaning American politics looks very different. As Republican elected officials follow their leader into strident kookery and clammy influencer-style grifting, the movement's work is increasingly done through the courts, by judges that Trump and those otherwise unmanageable goofs gave lifetime appointments.

Those judges are the product of a farm system designed and funded by a few conservative elites, and are incubated and promoted through a sprawling network of patronage that's a social network and political class unto itself. That process is designed to exploit both the antiquities of the American political system and the weaknesses of its political discourse. It does the first by slotting these hothouse-grown goons, many of whom have barely practiced law before assuming their lifelong appointments and all of whom are there because they can be counted on to issue rulings that advance movement goals, into jobs from which they cannot be fired. The discourse hack is subtler, and amounts to norm-abuse—the bipartisan insistence that both the institutions being busted-out and co-opted and the individual mediocrities doing that work should be treated with reverence, because of how important those institutions and jobs are.

It cannot be overstated how much this gambit depends upon the billionaires funding it; there is not a popular movement for many or most of these ideas. The system works to ensure that the people funding it and their interests are never offended or inconvenienced; a priestly caste of political elites acts as the intermediary between the rich people and the systems that protect and flatter them. This is all happening right where everyone can see it, and the organizations that comprise that system—the Federalist Society, or Alliance Defending Freedom—are themselves well known by now. The billionaires propping it up are seen mostly in the negative, through which otherwise unsaleable candidates and policies rise in response to their personal quirks and irks. It is difficult to write about all this without sounding like someone who is speaking increasingly and dismayingly quickly. Thankfully, the last weeks have given us an image that illustrates it better than it can be described.

...The question of whether [Harlan Crow] does or doesn't venerate Hitler is not a very interesting one, but how quickly it became the central question seems significant. It was delightful to watch one conservative elite after another step forward and fulsomely defend Crow as a decent and kind man (who, full disclosure, has also made their otherwise untenable careers possible). It was also bleakly funny to see affectively liberal doofuses like Wood try to stake a moderate position on the question of The Billionaire's Vast Personal Collection Of Nazi Shit. But it seemed telling that what was most disturbing about the story so quickly became secondary to the question of whether one dull conservative billionaire was or wasn't nice. What the ProPublica story made clear, and which a follow-up story revealing that Crow bought and then renovated the house in which Clarence Thomas's mother lives made explicit, is how this network of conservative elites actually works—not through discreet acts of bribery, but as a self-enclosed network of influence and relationships that exists above any kind of accountability. It is a hierarchical and exclusive community, not a series of individual actions.

That is a point that our political media, which is generally agnostic on whether elite-driven systemic forces even exist, is built to miss. Crow, for his part, has defended his expensive and long-running sponsorship of Thomas and his wife by saying that they are his dear friends; the way conservative elites took up his defense suggests that, while they all clearly see him as a current or future benefactor, they found it more tasteful to think of him as a buddy than as an ATM they sometimes visit. It was a snapshot of how small and shabby this whole scene is. There are thinkers who fall somewhere between mediocre and actively vile, whose business is telling a few rich dullards what they want to hear, and then there are the rich dullards paying for it all. All of them are invested in believing that inherently transactional relationship is actually a movement.
And it seems that the only way these elite righties face anything resembling accountability is when they cross their fellow elites, and/or end up costing other rich people a lot of money. We saw an example of that on Monday.

The racism and outright lies weren't a big deal. But once Tucker talked bad about Rupert and cost his boss a bigtime settlement with worse things likely to be exposed soon? See ya!

Don't cry too much for Tuck-ems, he's apparently going to keep his $20 million a year salary, and there will be some other rich wingnut to prop him up and give him plenty of money and platforms to spew his garbage in limited-release movies and online specials and other parts of the RW media Bubble.

It is infuriating to see these dweebs continue to get rewarded when their only real skills seem to be shamelessness and a lack of conscience or decency. But it also explains why these GOP politicians and other RW dopes continue to double down on lousy policies and losing/seamy strategies instead of listening to what most voters want. Because they and their benefactors never pay much of a penalty for being such scumbags and screwups, and there's always another paycheck available from somebody, as long as you suck the right Koch and say the right lines.

That's why this glad-handling won't end with a few setbacks or firings of on-air talent, but only when they and their tax-dodging, crooked money funnels get CRUSHED and EXPOSED. The RW Insiders' Club can't just get drummed out of the above-ground, decent America, but also needs have the spotlight shined on the backrooms they infest, and have them branded as seditious, mediocre LOSERS.

Monday, April 24, 2023

In GOP BubbleWorld, losing in Wisconsin doesn't mean new ideas. It's new schemes to keep power

After losing by increasingly large margins in the 2022 Governor’s race and the Supreme Court race earlier this month, you’d think that Wisconsin Republicans might get the hint, and adjust their policies and strategies. Especially with it being likely that their gerrymandered maps will be thrown out, leading to a situation where more GOP legislators are in danger of losing in 2024.

Well, you would be wrong, my friend!
With liberals poised to take control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers standing in the way of most Republican policies, some conservatives are calling on state lawmakers to ramp up their use of constitutional amendments to enact or preserve legislation.

Constitutional amendments offer Republicans an advantage in promoting GOP policies because they only require approval from the Legislature — the one branch of government conservatives will control after August — before going before voters.

Anthony LoCoco, chief legal counsel and director of oversight for the conservative Institute for Reforming Government, said constitutional amendments could be used to protect conservative policies like right to work, school choice and elements of Act 10, former Republican former Gov. Scott Walker’s signature 2011 legislation that effectively eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public-sector employees….

“Obviously there’s a lot of discussion in the wake of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race about possible challenges to Scott Walker-era reforms, and with respect to the executive branch, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish things legislatively with divided government,” LoCoco said. “But what conservatives do have is massive majorities in the Legislature, and that’s half of the equation for enacting a constitutional amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution.
A Milwaukee-based GOP hack gave another example of this type of reaction, saying that too many young people stepped up to vote in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election.

A board member of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation recently told top Republican donors that conservatives need to curtail college voting, singling out Wisconsin among four other states.

Cleta Mitchell made the comments during an April 15 presentation at a Republican National Committee donor retreat in Nashville, according to a report appearing in The Washington Post....

Mitchell said: "Wisconsin is a big problem because of the first day, because of the polling locations on college campuses. There are 501c3's (nonprofits). Their goal for the Supreme Court race was to turn out 240,000 college students in that Supreme Court race. And we don't have anything like that and we need to figure out how to do that and combat that."

One example of the effectiveness of getting students to the polls was in Eau Claire, where the highest turnout came from Ward 20, which serves a number of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire dorms.

Nearly 900 votes were cast there compared to the 150 in the 2019 state Supreme Court race. Protasiewicz got 87% of the vote in the recent spring election.
So instead of seeing these numbers and asking themselves “Why are we not appealing to these voters”, WisGOPs would rather figure out how to keep students and other less-typical Wisconsin voters from being able to control their futures.

(Side note - as I've asked numerous times, why aren't we TAXING THE BRADLEYS? "Charity", my a$$!)

We saw similar clownery from washed-up former Governor Scott Walker, who says the real problem is that college students are learning about stuff.

That “indoctrination” is what the non-Bubble World calls “learning about others and being a decent person to them.” And the less fearful and more accepting people are of others, the more likely they are to vote Dem. In the face of that reality, Walker and other GOPs are trying to do their own indoctrination by whitewashing history and trying to make their own Bubble of BS bigger and bigger.

This lack of accountability and avoidance of facts is kind of hilarious because this denial will mean the GOPs are very unlikely win in the states they need to win to beat Joe Biden, or to take several Senate races in 2024 (including Wisconsin). But it is also frustrating, because there is so much RW oligarch money to fund these talentless grifters and keep them from having to reckon for their failures, and that gets in the way of real progress and advancement in many parts of this state and country.

Which helps to explain that when Real America and Real Wisconsin isn’t buying what they want to sell, these Republican oligarchs and elites don’t ask themselves why, but instead trying to develop new schemes to keep and expand their power despite what the people think. And it is why they ALL must go down, and go down even harder.

Which is why they are ALL bad, and ALL deserve to lose. Eradicating this crooked, illegitimate GOP garbage at all levels and via as many pathways as possible is the only way this state and this country can improved from the damage that conservatives have imposed on it. And can restore a true “consent of the governed” in Wisconsin and in America.

Ahead of hearing, we see WisGOP flat tax scheme isn't just regressive. It may not be legal

It's a boring, gray Monday. I'm sure nothing worthwhile in news or sports has broken today.... :P

Well, there's one guy who won't benefit from the Wisconsin GOP's flat tax scheme, which is going to get a hearing before a State Senate committee tomorrow. Here's a reminder of the scheme would work, and the timetable.

You can see how this gives a major giveaway to the rich while lower-income Wisconsinites get very little (and may lose out if this scheme removes certain tax credits or makes them unnecessary). And it involves changing the withholding tables on every October 1 to have the tax cut show up on paychecks right before November elections. Nice deal, eh?

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue took a look at those reduced rates, and gave their estimates on how much this would reduce incomes taxes in the state.
The bill also requires that the department of revenue adjust income tax withholding tables by October 1 each year from 2023 to 2025. Based on a simulation of the proposed tax rates, DOR expects the bill to reduce individual income tax collections by $2.11 billion in fiscal year 2024, $2.85 billion in fiscal year 2025, $4.31 billion in fiscal year 2026, and approximately $5.06 billion annually thereafter.
So that would take out nearly $5 billion in this current budget, and more than $9 billion in the next one. As you will see, that blows away most funds available in this budget, and leads to a deficit in the next one.

This is before we even account for one dollar of added spending needs to account for everyday inflation, the end of COVID-related program expansions, and population increases. So we would likely lose all of our fiscal cushion and leave a lot of people in the lurch in the process. With a major budget hole showing up in 2025-27. That’s bad enough, and it doesn’t even account for the absurd levels of regressivity that come from this flat-tax scheme.

But even more remarkable is that Governor Evers’ Department of Administration says the flat tax scheme likely not legal , at least if the state doesn’t want to pay back billions in stimulus from the Federal Government, as part of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) that was included in the Biden stimulus of 2021.
If a state reports actual revenues that are below the reported baseline tax revenues for a fiscal year, two tests are conducted to determine whether a state must repay SLFRF distributions to the federal government due to a breach of the tax offset provision. The first test is whether there are “covered changes” [reductions in net taxes of more than 1% of collections] due to new laws done after the COVID aids came in]. Since Wisconsin has already enacted more than $1 billion annually in covered tax changes in tax reductions since March 3, 2021, this condition would be satisfied, and this bill would also constitute a covered change under the Treasury rule. If there are covered changes, the second test is whether the state has (1) sufficient organic revenue growth above the baseline or (2) offsetting revenue increases and spending reductions to fund the covered tax changes….

The organic revenue growth in excess of the inflation-adjusted baseline tax revenues for the current fiscal year and the following two fiscal years are as follows under current estimates of tax revenues and fees subject to the Census Bureau definition of taxes as well as current economic assumptions:

Fiscal Year 2022-23 $981.6 million
Fiscal Year 2023-24: $542.7 million
Fiscal Year 2024-25: $918.0 million

The Department of Revenue estimates that the bill’s provisions would reduce tax collections by $2.11 billion in Fiscal Year 2023-24 and $2.85 billion in Fiscal Year 2024-25. These reductions exceed the estimated remaining organic revenue growth and would place the state below current estimates of baseline tax revenue. In the absence of offsetting covered tax revenue increases or expenditure reductions, the bill would therefore cause the state to breach the statutory provision against utilizing SLFRF to fund tax reductions, requiring repayment of the entirety of the approximately $2.5 billion allocation.
So we’d have to pay back $2.5 billion if we wanted to give a tax cut (mostly to the rich) that totals $5 billion over those 2 years? Seems pretty dumb to me.

Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos has already said this flat tax scheme isn't going to become law, and I don't get why the Senate GOPs want to give more exposure to this regressive plan as state budget talks start to get serious. Especially when you contrast it with Governor Evers' targeted plans for tax relief to the lower and working classes. But hey, please proceed, WisGOPs!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Lower Fed income taxes mean debt ceiling may be coming up faster

One item that's part of the debt ceiling situation in America is the fact that in a time of growing employment and higher wages, tax revenues are somehow falling short of the levels that we had in 2022.

This was reiterated in the Congressional Budget Office's report on the US budget situation in March 2023. Here are the numbers for the main revenue sources for Uncle Sam at the midway point of Federal Fiscal Year 2023.

That disparity in income taxes and payroll taxes (which generally pay for Social Security and Medicare) is weird, as both are largely based on wages, but there's clearly a disconnect between the two. The CBO says one of the reasons this is happening is because we are seeing a higher amount of tax refunds this year.
Individual income tax refunds rose by $68 billion (or 56 percent), thereby reducing net receipts. The precise timing of refund payments varies from year to year, but most will be paid in the period from February through April. The Internal Revenue Service reports that the number of refunds issued through the fourth week of March was 3 percent greater than in the same period in 2022.
But then you go to the IRS’s tax filing statistics, and it says the refund totals had switched by the end of March. The number of tax returns received and processed are less than they were at the same time last year, even though a higher percentage of the returns and pending refunds had been processed, the total amount of individual income tax refunds is down by $27 billion compared to last year.

So that’s not matching up, unless there’s a lag in reporting, which would allow for income tax receipts to "catch up” in April. Or is it possible that the differences lies between the 2021 and 2022 tax filing seasons vs the 2022 and 2023 Fiscal Years. I don't know why that would be so different, but maybe there are carryovers or a ton of late filings from 2021 that happened in the 2022 Fiscal Year due to stimmy checks, or something else I'm not seeing.

Maybe this helps explain it, as what the IRS calls a "tax refund" actually is a lack of tax credits, which the CBO calls "expenditures". And it's Joe Manchin's refusal to extend one of the best poverty-fighting measures out there seems to be a big reason behind that.
Outlays for certain refundable tax credits totaled $116 billion—a decrease of $86 billion, or 43 percent. That reduction occurred because the expanded child tax credit has expired. (In tax year 2021, eligibility for and the size of the child tax credit were expanded, and advance payments were made between July and December 2021.)
Oh, but "deficit reduction", right Joe?

A significant other reason revenues are falling behind in a time of still-growing employment and wages relates to the Federal Reserve’s increases in interest rates.
Remittances from the Federal Reserve decreased from $61 billion to less than $1 billion. Higher short-term interest rates raised the central bank’s interest expenses above its income, eliminating the profits of most Federal Reserve banks.
The FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund also had net payments of $27.4 billion to help bail out depositors at some of the banks that failed in February and March, in a fund that usually makes money for the US Government. That money won't be paid back for several months or years, and will come from premiums paid by banks that survive.

Put the lower revenues and one-time higher expenses together, and there isn't enough cash coming in to pay for everything. This helps explain why we might hit the artificial debt ceiling sooner than originally thought, even when accounting for what was already likely to be a $1 trillion+ deficit for this year.
The U.S. government's deadline to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling could be sooner than expected, raising the prospect of a short-term debt limit extension, analysts said on Tuesday.

Goldman Sachs analysts said weak tax collections so far in April indicate a higher probability that the so-called "X-date," when the government is no longer able to pay all its bills, would be reached in the first half of June. Analysts at Citi said they expected a short-term deal in June or July.

The Treasury Department has warned that the federal government could reach the moment when it will no longer be able to meet its financial obligations as early as June 5, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has forecast that moment would come sometime between July and September.
On the debt ceiling, I stand by stance that President Biden should simply say "We're paying the bills, as required under law", and continue business-as-usual unless the GOP gives a clean debt ceiling bill that takes it off the table, or until we have budget negotiations in August and September.

But the lack of revenues and higher interest payments on the debt is something that is causing more stress on the budget than we'd expect. The Fed's overshooting on interest rates is causing some of this, however, the lack of revenues seems to be something that should be watched, especially if the Fed's overshooting leads to a recession and job losses, and a bigger drop in revenues. And to see if this has an effect on the state side as our budget debates continue.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Wisconsin sinks to new low of 2.5% unemployment.

I keep waiting for this state’s job market to hit the wall, given that we reached unprecedented territory at the start of 2023. But things got even better last month.

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate fell to a record low 2.5% in March, besting the 2.7% record set in February and signaling a bright outlook for the state’s job seekers, according to federal data released Thursday by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

The total number of unemployed people in Wisconsin, adjusted for seasonal changes, dropped 6,400 over the month to 75,800, setting another record, the two surveys conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found. That’s nearly 21,000 less than a year ago.

“We have, essentially, very few people… that are not engaged (in the labor force),” said Dennis Winters, a chief economist with the department, in a call with reporters Thursday. Those who aren’t may be homemakers, full-time students, independently wealthy, or struggling to find work because they don’t have child care, transportation or the requisite skills.
We also added another 900 jobs in Wisconsin, which set a new series high for total jobs, and we are now only 2,100 away from 3 million.

An Evers Administration Cabinet official linked the state’s record low unemployment with some pointed (and welcome) comments on what can allow us to keep growing in a situation where we seem to be maxed out.
The challenge currently facing the state is finding ways to get more people ready to fill current and future job openings, the department’s secretary designee Amy Pechacek said in a press release.

"Wisconsin's historic economic performance … demands that we continue efforts to remove employment barriers, invest in innovative solutions, and prepare our workforce for the green jobs of the future," Pechacek said, calling on the state to “adopt competitive approaches like paid family and medical leave."
That’s correct, as we need to be attracting workers at this point, and you do that by making working and living in Wisconsin something that’s worth pursuing. And you don’t do that with lousy wages or backwards social policies that only appear to small, self-absorbed faction of GOP interest groups.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

If we head into recession this Spring, would we see it?

There have been a couple of worrying signs in recent economic reports. The biggest flashing light was today’s Leading Economic Indicator (LEI) report.
The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the U.S. fell by 1.2 percent in March 2023 to 108.4 (2016=100), following a decline of 0.5 percent in February. The LEI is down 4.5 percent over the six-month period between September 2022 and March 2023—a steeper rate of decline than its 3.5 percent contraction over the previous six months (March–September 2022).

“The U.S. LEI fell to its lowest level since November of 2020, consistent with worsening economic conditions ahead,” said Justyna Zabinska-La Monica, Senior Manager, Business Cycle Indicators, at The Conference Board. “The weaknesses among the index’s components were widespread in March and have been so over the past six months, which pushed the growth rate of the LEI deeper into negative territory. Only stock prices and manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials contributed positively over the last six months. The Conference Board forecasts that economic weakness will intensify and spread more widely throughout the US economy over the coming months, leading to a recession starting in mid-2023.”
While the decline from March-September 2022 didn’t foretell an immediate recession (and the Conference Board says their coincident index was up 0.2% in March and up over the last 6 months, so we're not currently in one), we’ve also never failed to go under when this situation has happened over the last 22 years.

Some current-time stats are also showing weakness, as we’ve had a decline in each of the last couple of months in retail sales after a big jump in January, which means the total increase for Q1 2023 was an OK-but-not-great 1.7% before inflation.

But like a lot of other things in the last 3 years, there is wide variation among the sectors, both in 1st Quarter changes and over the last year. You can see that bars and restaurants as well as e-commerce outlets are doing very well, but stores that sell home-based products have continued to decline in the last year after the big COVID-influenced increases in 2021.

We also received more evidence of a slowdown in the housing sector, with another report showing residential housing starts and permits both declined in March, and are well below the rates we had a year ago.
Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,413,000. This is 8.8 percent below the revised February rate of 1,550,000 and is 24.8 percent below the March 2022 rate of 1,879,000. Single‐family authorizations in March were at a rate of 818,000; this is 4.1 percent above the revised February figure of 786,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 543,000 in March.

Privately‐owned housing starts in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,420,000. This is 0.8 percent (±13.0 percent)* below the revised February estimate of 1,432,000 and is 17.2 percent (±9.1 percent) below the March 2022 rate of 1,716,000. Single‐family housing starts in March were at a rate of 861,000; this is 2.7 percent (±14.4 percent)* above the revised February figure of 838,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 542,000.
However, that’s a signifier of future work. The big increases in housing activity that we saw in 2021 and 2022 are now seeing more new houses are being completed and available to move into compared to a year ago.
Privately‐owned housing completions in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,542,000. This is 0.6 percent (±13.3 percent)* below the revised February estimate of 1,552,000, but is 12.9 percent (±18.6 percent)* above the March 2022 rate of 1,366,000. Single‐family housing completions in March were at a rate of 1,050,000; this is 2.4 percent (±12.4 percent)* above the revised February rate of 1,025,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 484,000.
Which leads to a theory of mine that tells me a “recession” might not be as severe on the job side as previous one, because the data indicates to me that 2021’s rebound was so strong it threw things into shortage for 2022, and now the declines in new orders and housing starts and other indicators have us leveling out into a more balanced situation. So there might not be as much of a need to lay people off since there isn’t an “excess” of labor vs what’s demanded.

Here's a recent article from Wisconsin Public Radio that adds more evidence to this theory.
Low unemployment amid a looming recession sounds counterintuitive, but [UW-Madison Ag and Econ professor Steven] Deller said an economic slowdown is more closely tied to economic output.

"A recession is defined by what's happening to gross domestic product. It really doesn't look at employment levels, but generally those two move hand in hand," Deller said. "So it could very well be that we go into a mild recession, but we keep jobs fairly strong because of the way that we define a recession."
The article also quotes Buckley Brinkman, the CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, who says because activity is still higher than the pre-COVID levels and because labor market is tight in that field, it’s not going to be worth it for businesses to lay people off if business slows in 2023.
"Even if we have a downturn — and we've come off of a record high now in terms of manufacturing activity — manufacturers are really slow to allow people to go back into the workforce, because they know there's nobody else there that they can hire to replace them," Brinkman said.
So as the 2nd Quarter of 2023 begins, we may well be in a spot where we see an economic “decline” in activity, but without job losses and a much higher level of output vs 2020. Which means in the real world, most honest people will hear GOP talk of “recession” and not buy it, because they’re still working and making money.

Of course, the GOP could make things a lot more worrysome if they keep screwing around with the debt ceiling and causing stocks to drop due to fear about what those morons might do to financial markets. But if President Biden says “we’re paying our bills regardless of what the GOP does (or doesn’t do)”, and doesn’t allow that sabotage to happen, and if Jerome Powell and other Fed officials stop chasing the ghosts from last Spring and stops jacking rates well above the rate of inflation, then I think we should get through the Spring and Summer 2023 with little apparent damage for real America.

Which would be a nice contrast to the “growth” of 2002 and the first 4 months of 2003, where we allegedly grew out of the 2001 recession, but lost more than 800,000 jobs nationwide. Call me crazy, but I think those that work for a living would take a continued increase in jobs and wages over a higher GDP number.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Wacko Macco 2-bracket tax plan needs a lot more details

We got 2 1/2 months before the state's budget is due, and with the Supreme Court race over, it's now time for the GOP State Legislature and Governor Evers to have their showdown on what type of tax cut is going to happen. Another GOP plan was thrown out by Assembly Ways and Means Chair John (Wacko) Macco and newly-elected Rep. Jerry O’Connor.

Here is what the two reps described in their press release on the tax plan.
Under the Income Tax bill, over a five phase plan, Wisconsin’s income tax rate will drop to two brackets: 0% and 4.5%. 100% of Wisconsin’s taxpayers will see a tax decrease with the average decrease set at $1,292. Wisconsinites making under $50,000 will see their taxes decrease by 59.6%.

“With the record budget surplus, taxpayers are expecting tax relief from this session. This longer-term plan is fair, especially considering how Wisconsin stacks up against competing states, including those with no state income tax. This bill brings justified tax relief to all taxpayers,” said Representative Jerry O’Connor.

Under the Local Funding bill, municipalities receive a 38.9% increase in funding. With 20% of the state’s sales tax dedicated to a new “Local Government Aid Fund”. Included in that is $95.1 million specifically designated to enhance first responders and roads and keep our communities safe. As well as a $194 million “Per Capita Deficiency Aid” fund that is dedicated to communities that, since 2012, have not been adequately funded under the current Shared Revenue Formula.
Plan at least seems worthy of debate, and the state's local governments certainly need more funding (Macco conveniently does not mention that he voted for the "inadequate funding" of local governments for the last 12 years).

But I can't find the actual full bill at this point, and I'd like to know the cutoff points for where 0% ends and 4.5% begins, and what happens to the rest of the budget if local governments are getting all of this extra money.

Y'know, unless we are using the hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax dollars that we'd save every year by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But somehow, I'm guess Macco and the rest of the gerrymandered WisGOP Legislative aren't going to have that play into the equation. The Wisconsin State Journal had further discussion of this tax plan, which takes a few years to end up at the two (lower) tax brackets.
Under the bill, all four of Wisconsin’s income tax brackets would be reduced starting with the 2024 tax year. After the first tax cut, four subsequent reductions would only occur if state general fund collections exceed expenditures.

“Essentially what this would do is provide for a tax cut for all filers with a current tax liability,” said Jason Stein, research director with the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t endorse specific policies.
I’m OK with the idea of no further tax cuts until there is a structural surplus in a given year, where we’re adding to the money in the bank and not taking away from it.

But the quote from Stein about “current tax liability” is a red flag to me, because it likely means low-income Wisconsinites would lose some assistance they get (like EITC or Homestead Credit) because those items would stop being “refundable” (aka paid out even if you owe $0 state taxes). Evers wants to allow more Wisconsinites to be eligible for these credits, while I wonder if this Macco/O'Connor tax plan even allows those credits at all, let alone make them refundable.

And no surprise, but it’s the richest Wisconsinites that would get the biggest benefit from this scheme, while blowing a giant hole in the budget in future years.
“That said, there would still be a significant decrease at the upper end because you’d still be dropping more than 3 percentage points on the rate that applies to the income in the highest bracket,” Stein said.

The bill is estimated to reduce state income tax collections by more than $3.5 billion annually once fully phased in, according to a fiscal estimate from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Oh, only $3.5 billion a year, every year? That’s a surefire way to lead to significant budget deficits and cuts in aids and services once things turn the wrong way. And you can bet that Wacko Macco and the other GOPs backing this won’t be reversing the tax cuts to the rich to make up for that.

It makes more sense than the even-larger and more regressive flat tax scheme that was floated by WisGOP earlier. But that doesn't mean this 0%/4.5% income tax plan is a good idea, at least until a lot more details get fleshed out.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Vos says the Brewers won't get $290 mil this year. But lots of games left to play

(Cue a hackneyed pun in an article on sports-related news).

While the Brewers are off to a strong start, the baseball season has a long way to go with twists and turns sure to follow…and so does the bill to pay for future fix-ups for the Brewers’ ballpark.
GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says it’s unlikely his caucus will back dedicating state money to the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium beyond income and sales taxes already generated from the team being in Wisconsin.

The Rochester Republican again declared that Dem Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to direct $290 million in one-time state tax dollars to the district board that oversees the stadium is dead.
OK, so the straight cash to the district board for $290 million isn’t going to happen, and it oddly puts me in agreement with Robbin’ Vos. But as the opening of that article alludes to, that doesn’t mean Vos is opposed to giving funds to the team. He just says he wants it to be limited to what the Brewers add in revenue.
[Vos] noted, for example, the $11 million annually in sales tax revenue generated by activity at the stadium as well as the $12 million in income taxes from players’ salaries, including those from visiting teams who play in American Family Field.
The sales taxes include everything from ticket price, to food and beverages, to gear that you buy at the Brewer team store. We can debate whether the Brewers add activity vs what other entertainment/spending options would be for Wisconsinites, but the income tax part likely is a big boost to state finances.

That’s not just because a sizable amount of non-athletes work for the Brewers for their everyday jobs, but also because of a provision Wisconsin and most other states have that is known as a “jock tax”. That jock tax doesn’t just apply to athletes, as it also [for example] applies to musicians and other entertainers that make their way through Wisconsin while on tour, but it is very relevant to MLB players.
Most jurisdictions use a formula known as duty days, which includes days spent practicing and playing games during the season, as well as certain offseason activities. The duty day count ranges from 150+ for the NFL to 180+ for Major League Baseball.

States calculate the amount a visiting athlete earns by multiplying an athlete’s annual salary by the number of duty days an athlete practices or plays in their jurisdiction divided by the total number of duty days. That number is then multiplied by a state’s personal income tax rate:

To make the process easier, teams typically withhold and remit athletes’ wages to various states and cities throughout the year.
When you consider that the minimum MLB salary for 2023 is $720,000, and the average player salary is up to $4.9 million, that’s a whole lot of dollars from both teams that get taxed at Wisconsin’s 7.65% top income tax level when the Brewers are playing at home. And because Wisconsin’s top rate is higher than most, they generally turn a net gain in this exchange vs what Brewers players have to pay when they’re on the road.

The article from “The Hustle” that I’m quoting from on jock taxes also has this good illustration of how this would have worked with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry for the 2018-19 season.

See the nearly $35,000 going to Wisconsin from his one game vs the Bucks? Steph’s accountant is subtracting those taxes paid to other states from Curry’s $35 million tax bill to California, and conversely, Cali just got 4 days of income taxes from the Brewers players after their weekend series in San Diego.

Ironically, given the $12 million income tax bump that Vos is referring to, and then looking at how much player salaries have grown in MLB, maybe that wouldn’t end up being much different than $290 million over 20 years from the state side. Also ironically, if GOPs like Vos get their wish for lower tax rates on the rich, that would lessen the added revenue that Vos claims would be part of the state’s share.

Paradox, or a way to lower the subsidy?

WisPolitics says Vos compared the potential final Brewers package to the 2015 deal that got FiServ Forum and the Deer District built for the Bucks, where local governments chipped in on the costs.
Vos said the Brewers leaving would also have an impact on the city, county and region, and a final deal could potentially have them involved.
Evers’ $290 million payment was part of the 2023-25 state budget, and Vos mentioned to WisPolitics that a Brewers deal may still be in the budget, even though it would take a different form.
Vos said the plan is to run the Brewers bill in tandem with the budget. Evers had proposed including the plan in the two-year document. Insiders say pulling it out may complicate the path to passing a proposal in both houses.
But if it’s part of the overall budget, then the overall budget bill would be filled with too much GOP stuff to make any Democrats support it, and would mean that outstate Republicans vote for a Brewers subsidy that may not prove popular with their constituents (hi, George Petak!).

That might make a standalone bill more realistic, and offers a rare chance for legislative Dems to have input on what ultimately happens.
Typically, Republicans in both houses only pass bills that have enough support from their caucus alone.

Vos, though, said he would allow the Brewers stadium bill to pass with bipartisan support, like the Fiserv Forum bill in 2015. That bill passed the Assembly 52-34 with 35 Republicans voting for the deal. It cleared the Senate 21-10 with 15 GOP votes.
So two tracks to look at with the Brewers stadium bill.

1. How is it paid for, and for how long is both the Brewers lease and the funding for the stadium?

2. Standalone bill, or part of the budget?

And much like the Brewers 11-5 start, what we’ve seen so far in 2023 does count when it comes to the Brewers stadium. But there is so much more left to figure out and deal with.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Jake does redistricting pt. 2 - the Senate maps also can get closer to reality

Following up on my post about redistricting the Wisconsin State Assembly, let's now take a look at what I did with the State Senate. Per state law, 3 Assembly districts make up one Senate district.

Now compare that to the current GOP gerrymander.

This is where the choice on where to group districts comes into play. Not only in compactness, but also in grouping communities and general competitiveness. You can see how much "tighter" district 30 in Green Bay, district 19 in Appleton/Neenah/Menasha, and district 27 west/north of Madison is on my map.

Go into the Milwaukee area, and there are noticeable differences. The current gerrymander shoves the recently-filled District 8 around 3 counties in a very odd shape, has the majority of District 5 voters be in more-GOP Waukesha County, and separates Districts 21 and 22 into a "rural vs urban" dynamic.

By comparison, my map actually helps the newly-elected Dan Knodl by making District 8 be entirely in Ozaukee and Washington Counties, but makes up for that by putting most District 5 voters in Milwaukee County, and concentrates Districts 21 and 22 into one main county, setting up two significant battleground districts.

Also worth noting, both maps have 2 majority-Black districts (4 and 6) and District 3 is majority-minority, with Hispanics being the largest ethnic group in that district.

The Fox Valley map also shows key differences. I move District 2 up in to Marinette, and make District 30 be entirely in Green Bay-centric Brown County. District 19 is tightened up into Appleton, and District 18 is almost entirely located in Winnebago County.

And these changes manifest themselves into more competitive results. Using the 2016-2020 composite figures, the GOP's gerrymander has fewer close districts, and you can see how they can slither into a 22-11 supermajority in a 50-50 (if not slightly Dem-leaning) state.

Using the same measure under my maps, GOPs would still be favored in 20 of 33 districts. But look at the large number of districts in the "competitive" range, and 53% is again around the tipping point for Dems to take the majority.

The Senate gets even more competitive if you use the post-Dobbs/Jan 6 result from the 2022 Governor's election. From what I can tell, Michels would have still won 19 of 33 districts, but 6 of the 33 districts were within 5 points (3 GOP and 3 Dem), and it makes the Fox Cities, Eau Claire and Racine/Kenosha areas into major deciders for the balance of power for the upper house.

Sure, we could be greedy and try to figure out Dem gerrymanders. But let's use these maps as the baseline, because as I mentioned in the Assembly redistricting post, merely having the CHANCE of a change in power might go a long way toward restoring confidence that Wisconsinites can have a Legislature that has to listen to what Wisconsinites want. And if GOPs arrogantly continue to ignore us, we now could vote to make the changes that are necessary for this state.

Let's make it so.

Jake does redistricting pt. 1 - now that our Assembly maps can be fair

After Janet Protasiewicz's landslide win in the state Supreme Court race earlier this month, it immediately restored the possibility that Wisconsin could get out from under the absurd legislative GOP gerrymander that was first imposed on this state 12 years ago, and updated in 2021. And it led me to go back to maps I had created 2 years ago to see what might happen if those maps would be in place for 2024.

The only modifications I made to the maps I created back in August 2021 were a couple of move-arounds of townships and a couple of wards in various cities to make things more compact in some spots, and to remove a couple of circumstances where a district was only in one township in a rural county, or making a county entirely within one district.

Here's the Assembly map I drew.

Now compare it to the GOP's current gerrymander.

You can see I have a few more districts that are compacted, particularly around cities like Wausau, Waukesha, Sheboygan, Green Bay, and Appleton. And my maps don't have nowhere near as many weird shapes, because I really didn't care much about how people in those communities voted, as much as I cared whether those districts had racial and/or community commonalities.

Going into the Milwaukee area, I stopped the absurd 4-way split up of Wauwatosa (done by GOPs to dilute the influence of a 50,000-person city that now votes 2-1 Dem). I tried to keep a lot of districts within one county, or with nearby communities. This also allows for 5 majority-black and 2 majority-Hispanic Assembly districts in Milwaukee, and a majority-minority district in Racine, same as we have today.

Compare to the current map, and you see how the Republicans shoved one district (15) out of Milwaukee County and into more-GOP Waukesha County, and sliced up the North Shore (Dem-voting) Milwaukee suburbs into 2 districts instead of one. Also note the different district numbers, which will become more important when we go to the Senate.

The Fox Valley is a similar story. Take a look at how the current Republican gerrymander has these weird turns (like districts 2, 55, and 56) which are used to dilute the Dem vote in Appleton/GB suburbs and even the larger cities.

By comparison, take a look at how I "tightened up" some of these city/suburban districts in the 920, and kept District 2 entirely in Manitowoc County.

If we look at the results of the 2020 Presidential elections, both maps are still strongly Republican at first glance, although my maps are at least closer.

Districts won by Trump vs Biden, 2020 Presidential Election
Current gerrymander Trump 65, Biden 34
My revised maps Trump 59, Biden 40

But the main differences start to show when you look at how closer certain districts are. It's a little different method for this one (the Dave's Redistricting app only uses 2016-2020 "composite" for this illlustration), but the gerrymander makes it very hard for Dems to flip. The dashed line is where the 50-50 point would be for Assembly seats.

Now take a look at how many more districts are near the middle in my maps - both in overall numbers and in percentage.

But we also know that the post-Dobbs and post-January 6 electorate is a bit different in Wisconsin. So I looked at the 2022 Governor's election (using the state's ward-by-ward database), and tried to impute it into my maps as best I could.

Despite Evers' 3.5% win, the maps I created still would have had Tim Michels win 54 of 99 districts last November. But that's not anywhere near a supermajority, and 14 districts were decided by 5 points or less - 7 for Republicans, 7 for Democrats. And I didn't even consciously try to equalize the number of competitive districts.

That's how it should work, right? More districts that allow both parties a chance to win, which forces legislators to have to listen to more of their constituents, because there's a greater chance they could lose in November. And the Democrats get a CHANCE to get control, if they post a statewide win of around 53%, instead of needing a double-digit, "beating Dan KeLLY"-level landslide.

I'd also encourage Governor Evers and other Dems not to get cute with their proposed maps, or answer a GOP gerrymander with their own gerrymander (which allows for "both sides" BS to be said about redistricting). Besides, the way things are sliding in this state (especially in the increasingly blue suburbs), why not play it straight, and possibly win control with fair maps in 2024, and then use the opportunity to put fair maps into law, which would make it harder for the GOP to overrule them either through elections or courts.

Sadly, we have to wait another 3 1/2 months before Janet Protasiewicz can take her seat on the Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean we should be working on our own to ID what should be done, and what gerrymandered wrongs need to be corrected.