Thursday, June 29, 2023

Solid growth, low unemployment, inflation dropping. So more rate hikes? WHY?

Usually the 3rd reporting on GDP levels is anti-climactic and somewhat irrelevant. Most data has already been reported in at this point, and you’re talking about economic events that happened 3-5 months ago. But today was an exception.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2% annualized pace for the January-through-March period, up from the previous estimate of 1.3% and ahead of the 1.4% Dow Jones consensus forecast. This was the third and final estimate for Q1 GDP. The growth rate was 2.6% in the fourth quarter.

The upward revision helps undercut widespread expectations that the U.S. is heading toward a recession. A separate economic report released Thursday showed layoffs running well below expectations, indicating that labor market strength has held up even in the face of the Federal Reserve’s 10 interest rate hikes totaling 5 percentage points.

According to a summary from the department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the change came in large part because both consumer expenditures and exports were stronger than previously thought.

Consumer spending, as gauged by personal consumption expenditures, rose 4.2%, the highest quarterly pace since the second quarter of 2021. At the same time, exports rose 7.8% after falling 3.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Sounds pretty good to me. But not for Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who now is saying more rate hikes are likely to come in the near future.
"We did take one meeting where we didn’t move," Powell said during an event held by the Spanish central bank in Madrid. "We expect the moderate pace of interest rate decisions to continue."

The labor market, with unemployment at 3.7%, is very tight, Powell noted. Underlying inflation, while down from its peak last year, is still running at more than twice the Fed's 2% target.

"Inflation pressures continue to run high, and the process of getting inflation back down to 2 percent has a long way to go," Powell said.

I’ve asked this before, and I will ask it here. What is so magical about a 2% inflation rate? I know it was the general pre-COVID baseline after George W Bush took over in 2001, taxes were cut for the rich, and real wages stagnated between then and 2019. But was that such a great economy in Real America?

That’s what this is really about, isn’t it? Instead of having a wide mass of desperate workers willing to take any garbage wages that they can, the labor market is tight, and workers can actually grab more money for themselves. Job openings and job quits may be down from where they were 12 months ago, but are still high. New jobless claims are higher than they were in late 2022, but are still only between 235,000 and 265,000 a week – basically the same as they were a year ago.

In addition, real hourly wages have been gaining since inflation peaked in June 2022 - up by 5% in the last 12 months, while CPI is only up 4.1%.

Side note - when unemployment claims were that low in 2018 and the Fed was raising rates from 0%, then-President Trump threw a fit because it was increasing interest on his massive debts it threatened the continuance of (pre-COVID) economic growth.

Powell’s reaction to Trump’s whining? The Fed stopped hiking at the start of 2019, when Fed Funds rates weren’t even half as high as they are today. But now Jerome Powell keeps saying that 5% wage growth, 4% inflation, 4% unemployment, and 2% growth is a bad thing, and requires more rate hikes to try to change?

I’m not seeing the downside in where we stand today, and given June’s big rise in consumer confidence after the debt ceiling BS subsided, most honest Americans seem cool with it as well.

The only people not cool with it are rich Republicans that want to see Joe Biden and other Dems lose in 2024, increasing the chances for you and your fellow oligarchs to get away with even more larceny and even lower taxes.

But wanting a GOP win wouldn’t be Jerome Powell’s motivation for saying we should keep tightening. Would it?


Tuesday, June 27, 2023

On the eve of the budget vote, what do the numbers tell us?

As the full Legislature plans to take up the state budget over the next 2 days, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released their summaries explaining where we stand after the actions by the GOP-run Joint Finance Committee.

I just wanted to give a couple of quick illustrations about what's happened to a situation where we had projections of $10 billion to play with in the state's General Fund, and still had $9.5 billion after slightly lower revenue estimates in May. I also wanted to compare that baseline to what Governor Evers' budget planned to do, and where the GOPs on Joint Finance have left us at.

In both cases, Evers and JFC have gotten rid of pretty much all of those billions, although JFC did leave a cushion of just under $600 million.

But how they spend down that balance is quite different. Evers would have continued revenue growth by offsetting tax breaks for lower and middle-income Wisconsinites with higher taxes on the rich, while Republicans on Joint Finance signed off on over $3 billion in tax cuts, with most of the benefits coming to the rich.

Conversely, Republicans don't plan to spend as much General Fund money as Evers did. Although both have sizable increases in spending in the next fiscal year, mostly through one-time measures like transfers to the Transportation Fund, and in paying cash for Capital projects instead of borrowing for them.

But I'll also note that both the Evers and GOP budgets end up spending between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion more than is taken in for revenue as the budget ends. And that means that we might have to cut back and fix quite a bit in 2025 if the GOP budget is allowed to stand as-is. Which means Governor Evers should be using the line-item veto on those tax cuts for the rich and other GOP stunts, which would allow for more funds to be available for the rest of this budget.

And if circumstances warrant, maybe use that cushion as a chance to have a mini-budget proposal in early 2024, particularly to restore the UW System's budget cuts, child care assistance, and in giving some tax relief for lower-income/working Wisconsinites, as Evers wanted to do with his budgets. With new maps being a strong possibility, maybe that'll get the WisGOPs to focus in and have a chance of doing things that help more than a handful of donors. Or deal with facing a voting constituency that can finally get rid of them.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Wisconsin rural broadband upgraded due to Dems in DC, with no help from GOP reps at the State.

Here's some good news if you're in one of the far-too-many Wisconsin communities where the Internet isn't up to snuff.

Wisconsin will receive more than $1 billion in federal funds to expand broadband as part of a sweeping infrastructure bill signed into law in 2021, Democratic President Joe Biden's administration announced Monday.

The announcement comes less than a month after the Legislature's GOP-controlled budget committee rejected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' request to spend $750 million in state funds to expand broadband, citing the incoming federal dollars....

Wisconsin is receiving $1.055 billion for broadband — an amount greater than all but 15 states and territories. All Wisconsin Democrats in Congress voted for the bill and all Wisconsin Republicans voted against it.
Keep that last sentence in mind when you read this tweet from a longtime WisGOP strategist.

McCoshen is saying it's a good thing that WisGOPs in the Legislature didn't use any state dollars....because Democrats in DC stepped up to do something that Republicans in DC never would. Apparently it's only Democrats that can and do things that benefit the average Wisconsinite, and that McCoshen thinks Scott Walker should have taken the $23 million in rural broadband funds that Scotty turned down from the Obama Administration a dozen years ago. Noted!

If you look at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's report on the state's broadband programs and needs, the $1.055 billion is on the high end of what was expected to be coming on our way.
Additional funding in the 2023-25 biennium is expected from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which created the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Nationwide, $42.5 billion is provided for broadband deployment under BEAD, consisting of a minimum of $100 million for each state, with the remainder allocated based on the state's proportion of unserved locations, determined by maps created by the FCC, and 10% set aside for certain high-cost unserved locations. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the administrator for BEAD, has indicated BEAD's first allocations to states will be made by June 30, 2023. PSC is anticipating a total allocation of approximately $700 million to $1.1 billion for Wisconsin.

IIJA also funds the Digital Equity program, which was created to target broadband adoption efforts towards specific communities. Targeted communities include households with low income or low literacy, the elderly, residents of rural areas, people of color, individuals with disabilities, English-language learners, veterans, and incarcerated individuals. The populations covered under DEA account for 79% of Wisconsin's total population. Funding for DEA will be distributed through three programs over five years: (a) planning grants for states to create digital equity plans that promote broadband availability and access by targeted groups, as well as digital literacy and privacy awareness; (b) capacity grants for states to implement digital equity plans; and (c) competitive grants to units of government and nonprofit or community institutions to increase broadband access and availability among targeted populations. PSC anticipates an allocation of approximately $24 to $30 million over five years. Award amounts will be determined following PSC's submittal of its digital equity plan in September, 2023.
The LFB adds that most of these federal grants for "broadband" Internet require a 100 Mpbs download/20 Mpbs upload speed, which is above the 25/3 levels that most state grants require. That was one reason given to supplement the federal infrastructure funds, but another is that Wisconsin's unique topography can make the extension of broadband a costly venture.
Due to the scale and complexity of such a goal, it is difficult to estimate the cost of providing service at speeds of 100/20 to all residents of Wisconsin. However, PSC staff estimate that the total cost could be perhaps $1.8 billion, the state share of which could be perhaps $800 million after assuming an allocation of $1 billion from BEAD. It should be noted this estimate reflects only the capital costs of broadband expansion, and does not include ongoing operational or maintenance costs. The wide range of the estimate reflects uncertainty and assumptions regarding a number of issues, including: (a) reliability of mapping data and estimates of access to broadband service; (b) increasing costs of expanding broadband service as overall access increases; and (c) availability and timing of federal funding provided for broadband expansion. Additionally, as stated above, BEAD criteria regarding 25/3 may assign lower priority to some areas that PSC determines as in need.

PSC also states that state funding would be helpful to supplement federal funding in Wisconsin's high-cost broadband deployment areas, including forests, granite bluffs and other undulating terrain. In areas where it may be particularly challenging to build necessary infrastructure, federal funding may not be sufficient, and a state contribution could leverage or match federal funding to complete difficult projects. Given the estimated capital costs needed to reach universal broadband access statewide, other state funding sources may not be sufficient to meet the policy goals of broadband expansion.....
But that isn't set to happen under the state budget that is scheduled to be taken up by the Legislature this week. But like several other items in the budget, there is always the possibility to demand more later. Or a new Legislature that will do at the state level what DC Dems have helped Wisconsin do with federal funds - bringing rural Wisconsin's communications into the 2020s (or at least the 2010s).

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Also in the Wisconsin budget - other tax write-offs, but nothing for films/TV?

If you're one of the 5 followers of this blog, you know that I like looking at mundane things in state government that seem small and slip by most media in their reporting of bigger issues. And the Legislative Fiscal Bureau ran down some of these as part of the Wisconsin GOP's larger tax motion in last week's wrap-up of work for the Joint Finance Committee.
Deduction for Interest on Commercial Loans. Create an income and franchise tax deduction, beginning in tax year 2023, for the income of a financial institution derived from a commercial loan of $5 million or less provided to a person residing or located in this state and used primarily for a business or agricultural purpose. Estimate reduced income and franchise tax collections of $35,900,000 in 2023-24 and $29,300,000 in 2024-25. Estimate surcharge revenues paid by banks into the economic development fund to decrease by $130,000 annually, beginning in 2024-25. As a result, estimate that amounts appropriated from the economic development fund to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) are reduced by $130,000 in 2024-25.
"For the income of a financial institution"? Is this a bailout to banks and credit unions for impending foreclosures and businesses that might go belly-up? And the write-off is $65 million in this budget? Seems like an easy veto target and worthy of exposure about who lobbied to put that in. If it's legit, they can do a separate bill.

This item also came as news to me, but in a good way.
Sales Tax Retailer's Discount. Increase the sales tax retailer's discount rate from 0.5% to 0.75%, and increase the maximum discount a retailer may claim per reporting period from $1,000 to $8,000. Specify that these changes would first apply to sales and use taxes payable on the first day of the third month beginning after publication of the bill. Estimate a reduction in sales tax collections of $15,500,000 in 2023-24 and $21,100,000 in 2024-25.
This is a payment for retailers to deal with the time and money required to file sales tax reports with the state. Especially given how wages have gone up in recent years, taking the same amount of time will cost more, and I don't see a problem with this level of extra assistance. There is a related increase in admin discounts for businesses that sell cigarettes from 0.8% to 1.25%, which will be another increase in state payments of $3.2 million.

Increase Refundable Portion of the Research Tax Credit. Expand the partially refundable research tax credit (including the engine and energy efficiency credits), as computed under current law, to increase the refundable portion from 15% of the credit amount to 25% of the credit amount for taxable years beginninafter December 31, 2023. Increase estimated expenditures for refundable research credit claims by $3,500,000 GPR in 2024-25, with annual expenditures increasing to $13,800,000 GPR beginning in 2025-26.
This is a version of what Evers wanted in his budget, except that Evers wanted that write-off to be 50% instead of 25%. But it's something and should help some industries in the state. And seems a lot better than that bank bailout provision I mentioned earlier.

One business incentive that wasn't part of Governor Evers' budget or added in by the Legislature were any incentives to have films or TV shows shoot in Wisconsin. This was something that state had in place from 2007-2013, allowing media companies to write off as much as 25% of wages, salaries and production costs. But the amount of the credit was limited as early as 2009 under Governor Jim Doyle and a Dem Legislature, and it was discontinued under Scott Walker and a Wisconsin GOP Legislature in 2013.

Now Wisconsin-raised John Ridley, Oscar-winning writer of "12 Years a Slave" and director of television shows such as American Crime, wants to see that state writeoff for film and TV come back, and says Wisconsin would be a strong place to encourage more of this type of work.

"It really isn't even about the Legislature," Ridley said. "It's going to come down to that, but it's about going to people who are part of the hotel industry and saying here's how this benefits you. It's about going to farmers, who unfortunately they're struggling right now, to say to them look there's an opportunity. And there really is an opportunity, because as you build these incentives, you can build pluses."

"Let's just say - I'm going to pick a number - let's say it's a five percent tax incentive, maybe up to 15 percent. But you can say "Hey, if you film in Rhinelander, we're going to bump that up to 17 percent." If you film in some of the most distressed parts of Wisconsin, whether it's rural parts, that are distressed and population is leaving, or there are urban parts where you need investment, you can increase that incentive so people are going to want to come and spend money there.
And yes, Ridley mentions Foxconn in the interview, and notes that for a fraction of the infrastructure and tax breaks that paid for that debacle development, Wisconsin could start up a "dream factory" for filmed entertainment and related industries.

I'm not a big fan of tax breaks for business as a principle, but I'd much rather them be broader-based for an industry that can grow over targeting one business with shifting, unknown plans. Seems like a film incentive proposal could be something worth reviving and at least having hearings on over the next year. And it would likely get quite a bit of attention, especially if someone like Ridley or UW-Madison grad Michael Mann (who filmed Public Enemies in Wisconsin under the prior incentives) were to talk to a Legislative committee about how these incentives work in their industry.

There are other things to pick out as the budget gets to the Assembly and Senate floors this week (well, we think it'll be this week). But these are some of the smaller items to farm out that can make for an intriguing side-conversation as part of a bigger document that is sure to end up being hundreds of pages.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

That WisGOP tax cut package is more regressive than you think, and Evers should veto the worst of it

Wanted to give some follow-up thoughts on the WisGOP tax cut plan that was approved by the Joint Finance Committee late Thursday night. First, let's review the big cut in income tax rates.

I'll remind you that this is taxable income, which comes after the sliding scale deduction for the state. In this chart, hopefully you can see how the amount of the sliding scale deduction rises and falls, and gets replaced by taxable income (listed for married, filing jointly, but you can see how it works for single).

Also subtract the $700-per-person exemption from regular income, and only then do income tax rates start to kick in. It's a pretty progressive part of our tax code, which allows for the lowest incomes to have $0 state tax liability.

That said, I'll note that the WisGOPs on finance did nothing to change the amount of these writeoffs, beyond annual inflation adjustments (for the sliding scale deduction) and the personal exemptions (which haven't changed since 2001). Then realize that the lowest tax bracket would only be reduced from 3.54% to 3.5%, and it's no surprise that low-income Wisconsinites will see nearly NOTHING from this GOP tax cut.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau's analysis shows that people making under $30,000 will save an average of between $10 and $22 a year (game-changer!) and taxpayers between $40K and $50K will save a whopping $88 (or $1.70 a week). Erik Gunn broke down these numbers and the tax break for other income ranges for the Wisconsin Examiner, and notes that the amount of the income tax cut takes off from there, making the argument of "$573 average tax cut" quite hollow to many of us.

Wisconsin’s median income in 2021 was $67,080 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Two-thirds of that is $44,273. Twice the median is $134,160. By the Pew Research Center standards, middle class refers to a household with income from $44,000 to $135,000, and the upper limit for middle class Wisconsin is nearly $200,000 less than the top of the proposed new middle bracket.

The cut-off points in the DOR’s analysis of the tax proposal don’t line up neatly with that range. The analysis divides the incomes reported on Wisconsin tax returns by $10,000 increments below $100,000 and by larger increments above that number. The closest estimate of what is middle class that can be derived from the department’s data encompasses incomes of $40,000 to $150,000 — slightly lower than middle class at the bottom and slightly higher at the top.

The DOR analysis counts just over 1.3 million tax returns in that range. Those taxpayers would share in a total of $480 million in savings from the tax changes. That comes to about $88 a year at the bottom of the range and $930 a year at the top.
So people making 3 times as much as $50K in taxable income would get an average tax break more than 10 times larger. Nice for upper-middle-income types like me, but it's a pretty big ramp-up.

And what my wife and I would get is chicken feed compared to the windfall that rich GOP donors even higher incomes will get from the WisGOP Tax Scheme.

Oh, but $340 million for Child Care Counts? Definitely can't afford it.

That isn't the only measure that WisGOP has that will help richer Wisconsinites over lower-income ones. They're planning to increase the School Levy Tax Credit again, this time by another $590 million over the next 2 years, which continues a trend where the school levy credit (based on the amount of property taxes paid to K-12 schools) keeps going up, but the First Dollar Credit (which is given to virtually all land parcel owners, regardless of value) has not changed.

Milwaukee writer Michael Bradley points out just how regressive a move this is, and how the parts of Wisconsin with the highest property values (and generally richer people) are going to get the biggest benefits from the GOP's move.

Instead of dumping more of these funds into the School Levy Credit, where only so many people see a significant benefit, why didn't the WisGOPs on finance JUST PUT THAT MONEY INTO THE STATE AID TO K-12 SCHOOLS THEMSELVES, and reduced property taxes in the process? Well, that would simply help too many of the richer folks that WisGOPs care more about, now wouldn't it?

Know what tax credit didn't go up? The $300 maximum writeoff for renters, or for property tax payments, for that matter. Raising those long-outdated maximums would have helped lower-income Wisconsinites over higher-income ones, but that didn't happen either.

There are still a lot of tax moves that should have been made, and replace the long-failed, regressive garbage that the WisGOPs did. Which means I would encourage Governor Evers to veto the tax cut to the highest brackets outright, and maybe "write down" where the 4.4% bracket cuts off (like at $150K single/$225K married-joint income) instead of collapsing the entire tax bracket. Everyone ets a tax cut, and it's not as absurdly uneven.

These vetoes would also lessen the $603 million cost that would come with adjusting the income tax tables at the start of 2024, which is almost 5 times the increase that the LFB estimated before the GOP's State Tax Scheme was passed. Those moves alone would likely free up several hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

I also would write down the increase in the School Levy Credit, perhaps giving an extra $100 million for each year, but also banking the other $390 million. This turns the budget toward a structural balance for future years, and buys time for the next revenue estimates in January.

If the revenue estimates hold up next Winter, and there is still $3-$5 billion in the bank for the rest of the biennium, then Evers should come with a special session to raise school aids, cut property taxes, have a targeted low-income tax break (with exemptions and higher Homestead Credits). He even could use a small cut in the top tax rate (like to 7.4% or 7.5%) as an olive branch. It either makes the tax code fairer, and makes the WisGOPs in the Legislature be seen as turning down a tax cut themselves, and doing it a lot closer to an election where new maps could make the average WisGOP legislator a lot more vulnerable.

Take the small wins, save up for later, and then turn the tables on the regressive fools fronting for the "big fish, small pond" rich a-hole puppetmasters.

Friday, June 23, 2023

WisGOPs send another stupid attack on UW System. And Evers can't fix all of it

Look, I know that Republicans are losing college towns and the college-educated, but what they did last night was ridiculous and petty.

Let me remind you that this "anger at DEI programs" is entirely Astroturf, and directed by RW oligarchs at ALEC and other "think tanks" as a distraction from real issues.

Let's take a step back and remember that it's not like the UW has been getting much help from the state to begin with over the last 12 years. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted that the System was already under a significant squeeze after years of defunding and extra challenges from the COVID pandemic.
2. To show the long-term trend of GPR funding for the UW System, the UW System's internal budget document (the Redbook) can be used to show GPR funding allocated by spending purpose. Excluding debt service, GPR funding for UW System operations totaled $930.5 million in 2012-13. (Redbook numbers include funding for the State Laboratory Hygiene and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.) For 2022-23, the comparable number is $1,027.1 million GPR, an increase of 10.4%. However, over that time, the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 27.5%, meaning the GPR funding increase was less than half the increase in inflation over the period. Table 1 shows the UW System's GPR operating budget from 2012-13 through 2022-23.

3. Since Spring, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on UW System's operations and financial condition. UW estimates a loss of approximately $513 million due to COVID-19-related enrollment declines including forgone tuition and forgone auxiliary revenues such as housing and dining revenue. Other significant costs related to the pandemic include testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and technology/telecommuting. As of March, 2022, the most recent data available, UW System estimates a net loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic of approximately $210 million.
So with $7 billion slated to be in the bank at the end of the 2023 Fiscal Year and a few billion more in additional revenue coming over the next 2 years, you'd think it would be a good time to have UW funding catch up to inflation. But the WisGOPs are going the exact other way.

The first 2 items in the WisGOPs’ motion on the UW System all deal with cuts and conditions in some form.
1. General Program Operations (LFB Paper #810). Delete $15,940,900 GPR annually and 188.80 GPR positions beginning in 2023-24 from UW System's general program operations appropriation. Require that the 188.80 positions that are cut are positions that perform functions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Workforce Development. Place $31,881,800 GPR in the Joint Committee on Finance's supplemental appropriation in 2023-24 for release to UW System upon request and approval for performance on the workforce metrics under outcomes-based funding in s. 36.112.
So not only is DEI symbolically targeted (a terrible message to send to prospective students and employers who might want to locate/stay here), but the GOP-run Finance Committee would only restore the budget cut if the UW System grovels to them and gives them some report that they can say “yes or no” to. Just absurd micromanaging from a bunch of hacks who don’t seem to have a clue how business really works in the 2020s.

And unlike what I originally thought, it doesn’t look like Evers could do a line-item veto to restore those cuts to the UW System’s operations budget. While the Governor can use the veto pen to reduce funding, and he likely can use it to remove the DEI-related restrictions on funding, he can’t use them to increase spending, or even to restore budget cuts that the Legislature has put in.

That’s because a budget bill sets new total spending amounts for all areas of state government, with schedules that look like this.

So it’s an all-or-nothing scenario on whether Evers accepts the UW budget cuts. Given that there are lots of boosts to key parts of the budget, including K-12 public education, Medicaid services, Corrections officer pay ($342 million in add-ons, higher base pay and other assistance over the next 2 years!), and road funding, it would be a heckuva risk for Evers to turn that down and try to have the gerrymandered WisGOP Legislature come up with another bill that would be nearly as helpful. Those lowlifes would probably laugh as funding flatlines for everyone, and things quickly go downhill and get tenser over the next 2-3 months.

The cuts in state funding and micromanaging of UW are bad enough, but WisGOP added this on top of the budget cuts and conditions.
3. Remove Vacant Positions (Page 668, #15). Delete 142.00 vacant and unfunded GPR positions beginning in 2023-24. Because the budget for the UW System is determined using filled positions, there is no funding associated with these vacant positions.
So that’s a cutting of 330 positions in all in a time when the state has billions of dollars in its bank account. I wanted to know if Evers could line-item veto the job cuts, but in looking at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s Informational Paper on the State Budget Process, I don’t think Evers can do that either.
Although the dollars appropriated to an agency are specified by program and fund source in the budget bill, the number of authorized staff positions is not. There is, however, backup budget detail that is considered an integral part of the budget process which specifies that number. Generally, positions may only be authorized for agencies in one of three ways: (1) by the Legislature as a part of budget enactments or by other separate legislation; (2) by the Joint Committee on Finance; and (3) by the Governor for federally-funded positions. The Department of Administration reports quarterly to the Joint Committee on Finance on the total number of authorized positions for each state agency.
Even more interesting is that the UW might be able to add back a lot of these positions on their own, in a part I’ll put in bold.
There are, however, exceptions provided to the authorization of positions. One exception allows the University of Wisconsin (UW) Board of Regents or the Chancellor of UW-Madison to unilaterally change the number of positions authorized for the UW System -- but only for positions funded from program revenue, segregated revenue, or federal revenue accounts. The UW Board of Regents is required to report, by November 1 of each year, to the Department of Administration and Joint Committee on Finance on any position changes made under this provision. A second exception also relates to the University of Wisconsin System. This provision allows the UW Board of Regents or the Chancellor of UW-Madison to create or abolish academic staff or faculty positions funded from the University's GPR appropriation for general program operations of the University. The Board and Chancellor are required to report, by September 30 of each year, to the Department of Administration and the Joint Committee on Finance on the number of such positions created or abolished under this authority in the prior fiscal year.
And the overwhelming majority of Regents have now been appointed by Evers, so they might well be fine with keeping and/or adding back the positions that have been taken away, especially with DEI initiatives. The GOPs in the Legislature might pitch a fit, but what could they really do about it? And do WisGOPs want to be seen doubling down on racism, arrogance and regressive BS closer to an election, especially with the strong possibility of new maps in November 2024?

Cutting state funding for the UW for this very specific, ALEC-driven reason seems to be completely stupid for another reason – it isn’t going to be “those hippies in Madison” that will be hurt by these budget cuts. UW-Madison is one of the few UW System schools that weren’t in a deficit at the end of this fiscal year because of Bucky’s increased enrollment and a much larger research grant and donor base than other UW schools. Most of the regional UW campuses have not been so fortunate.
A number of state universities have gone into the red in recent years. That's due in large part to state lawmakers taking away the UW System Board of Regents' ability to increase residential, undergraduate tuition rates in 2013. Then, in the 2015-17 state budget, Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Scott Walker approved a $250 million cut to the UW System's budget.

Those factors and precipitous declines in enrollment forced many UW campuses to outsource things like custodial staff, offer retirement buyouts to faculty and spend down tuition reserves to make ends meet.....

The tuition freeze was in place until lawmakers lifted it in 2021. Regents raised in state, undergraduate tuition by an average of 5 percent in March.
The UW is slated to bring in a higher-than-expected $71 million a year in tuition revenue, which LFB inidcated was a reflection of "changes in enrollment", and more tuition funds from out-of-state students and graduate students. The boost in in-state tuition is expected to bring in another $75 million a year, but that’s barely a 1% increase in total available funds to the System - nowhere near what’s needed to catch up to the inflation of the last 2 years, let alone the additional costs likely to happen over the next 2 years.

Ironically, the only place where UW is going to have more funding made available is as part of the increase in salaries and fringe benefit funding that the Finance Committee gave for state employees (UW grabs a portion of that). But we'll see how many workers (and campuses?) will be able to take advantage of that extra funding, after the WisGOP foolishness from last night.

New maps are coming, and I don't think this anti-UW stuff is going to fly in the majority of Wisconsin. I just hope the ongoing vandalism to one of the few things that gives Wisconsin an advantage is able to be redeemed from the WisGOP wrecking crew.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

A quick reaction to the WisGOP tax package

As the gavel is set to drop on the allegedly final budget deliberation before the Joint Finance Committee, the GOP tax cut plan is out!

Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature's powerful budget-writing committee announced a plan Thursday that cuts income taxes for Wisconsin residents by $3.5 billion through a plan that focuses its largest reductions for the state's wealthiest filers.

The plan was met with immediate pushback from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, whose spokeswoman reiterated the governor's opposition to focusing income tax relief for the top brackets. Evers has said he would likely not sign a budget that would lower the state's top income tax rates.

The plan would reduce the top tax rate of 7.65% to 6.5%, which amounts to a 15% reduction for the top earners in the state. The second-highest rate would reduce by about 17%, from 5.3% to 4.4%. The third-highest rate would go from 4.65% to 4.4%, or a 5.4% reduction, and the bottom rate would slightly reduce from 3.54% to 3.5%.....
"A 15% reduction" is actually NOT the way to calculate the tax cut, because as Wisconsin Watch's Matt DuFour points out, the richest Wisconsinites wouldn’t only get the tax cut from 7.65% to 6.5%.

Nice double-scoop, eh? And while I think the sales tax is fine for Milwaukee because of its high level of tourism and commuters, he does have a point about how we never help THOSE PEOPLE in Wisconsin's largest City.

The Evers Administration was quickly out with an analysis showing how slanted this tax cut ends up being when you're talking about total dollars.

There also is apparently property tax element in this WisGOP tax scam package, and given that an attempt by Robbin’ Vos to make massive changes to Tech College funding got put off in the Legislature on Wednesday, they’re not going to look at cutting property tax bills for K-12 schools instead.
The Republican proposal would also reduce property taxes by directing $590 million to the school levy credit. That comes in addition to a measure already approved by the committee sending $31 million into the state’s lottery credit, which also provides property tax relief.
Let me remind you that these tax breaks also give the biggest benefits to the people who own the most valuable Wisconsin properties, since the school levy credit and lottery credits are done as rebates of a portion of the property taxes that homeowners pay.

Based on how I would guess the tax cut statute is written, Governor Evers could line-item veto the tax cut to the rich easily, but I would guess he would NOT be able to reduce it to something like 7 or even 7.5% (because there is no “7” in the GOP’s bill).

The income tax cut from 5.3% to 4.4% for the majority of working Wisconsinites is in play. However, the LFB places that price tag at more than $1.6 billion over the next 2 years, and I would be interested in seeing how many more funds would be remaining after that. I also would be interested if that would put our budget into a structural deficit, where more money is spent in 2024-25 than is taken in, and the only “surplus” is what was carried over. This is something Robbin’ Vos and other “fiscal conservatives” have claimed they don’t want to see.

In the descriptions of the package, I don’t see anything relating to an increase in the state’s standard deduction, or the WisGOPs taking up Evers’ proposed expansion of the Homestead or Earned Income Tax Credits. Which means that the 0.04% decrease in tax rates is all a certain slice of lower-income working Wisconsinites will see. And even then, it may be nothing, since they might have write-offs that already keep them from owing any state income tax.

It's not surprising that WisGOP would be so broken and crooked that they would do this type of giveaway to the oligarchs that pay for their campaigns. But the unevenness of the giveaway isn’t going to be something supported by most Wisconsinites, and it’s amazing that GOPs continue to live in their own Bubble of trickle-down BS when it comes to tax policy. New maps are coming. And these WisGOPs are not going to be as insulated from Real Wisconsin like they have been for the last 12 years. But instead of adjusting to that reality, they keep doubling down on idiocy that has long since been rejected by most.

Even worse, if Evers is able to line-item veto the tax cut for the rich and keep the rest, GOPs in the Legislature have now boxed themselves in. Either satisfy your donors with a veto override vote (which will fail), and allow for you to be directly attacked for it in your next campaign. Or let it slide, hope people forget, but still have the record of voting for the giveaway in the overall budget.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

We could give Wisconsinites hundreds of millions in backdoor tax breaks, without changing one rate.

We haven't seen the WisGOP plans to cut taxes in this state budget as of yet, but the budget papers on tax provisions have been released by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. And it shows that Wisconsin could cut taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 2 years without changing one tax rate.

One of the ways that could be done is through adjusting the withholding tables, which were updated at the start of 2022 but haven’t changed since then. It would give Wisconsinites more take-home pay next January 1, but would reduce the refund those people would get in early 2025.
The main drawback of adjusting the withholding tables is the one-time cost to the state's general fund. It should be noted that, absent other tax law changes, this one-time cost will continue to increase each year that the tables are not adjusted. As noted above, the withholding table adjustment under Alternative 1 would reduce individual income tax revenues by an estimated $112.9 million on a one-time basis in 2023-24. However, this withholding revenue reduction would be offset in 2024- 25 because refunds owed to taxpayers would decrease by an amount equivalent to the reduced withholding amounts during the preceding 12-month period…..
But since LFB will be putting out new revenue estimates before those lower 2025 refunds come in, those changes get accounted for anyway, and don’t need to be part of the budget process.

Another relatively passive way to give a lot more income tax relief in Wisconsin would be to adjust a lot of tax write-offs and related items for inflation. LFB went over some of those provisions, many of which haven’t had their exemptions or credit limits changed for decades. The biggest of these is a tax credit designed to reduce and/or remove the "marriage penalty" in the state's tax code that increases the tax bracket for married couples when compared to what they would pay individually if they were single.

And this could result in a sizable one-time drop in some people’s tax bills. Not just for the large amount of Wisconsinites who might benefit from a larger married couple credit, personal exemption or property tax/renters' credit. There also are tax breaks that apply to life-changing events that haven't had their limits adjusted for a generation, reducing the aid given to Wisconsinites in those circumstances.

Yes, the private school tuition tax cut still makes me seethe, given that homeowners can get that writeoff along with their property tax break, and because it is likely that private school tuition will be raised more now that the amount of school vouchers are getting significant increases in a deal struck between Governor Evers and WisGOP legislators.

I do want to see if the WisGOP Legislature can get on the same page as Governor Evers about two other state tax breaks that have't been adjusted for inflation over time - the Homestead Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, both of which benefit lower-income Wisconsinites.
Evers’ budget proposal would increase the state [Earned Income Tax] credit to 16% of the federal credit for families with one child and 25% of the federal credit for families with two children. The change would affect about 200,000 low- or moderate-income filers who have children, saving them $300 per family on average, or more than $124.5 million over two years, the administration estimates., the administration estimates.

Homestead tax credit. A longstanding property tax break for low-income homeowners and renters, the credit currently is available only to people with incomes of less than $24,680, including low-income workers, people over age 62 or people with disabilities. The Evers proposal would raise the maximum qualifying income to $35,000 starting in the 2023 tax year, then index the income limit to keep pace with inflation. The DOA estimates savings to affected taxpayers at $100 million over two years.
Many Wisconsinites have seen inflation make them fall off of eligibility for EITC in the last decade, and the upper limit of the Homestead Credit has been stuck at less than $25,000 for the entire Age of Fitzwalkerstan, which means less than half the number of Wisconsinites have been able to take the credit over the last 10 years measured.

These type of "backdoor tax cuts" would help a lot of Wisconsinites, and allow them to catch up to the effects of inflation that have eaten away at a lot of these deductions over the years. I think it would give a lot more bang for the buck than cutting tax rates for the rich, but I also know there aren't as many campaign donations to be had in that.

So I'll brace for what is sure to be a stupid, trickle-down giveaway by WisGOP that is daring to be vetoed, while hoping they don't ignore the easy, efficient tax breaks that coud be done merely by updating some key deductions to meet 2023's realities.

Monday, June 19, 2023

WisDOT recap - Evers wanted more funding, and WisGOPs added even more

I wanted to give an update on where the WisDOT budget stood after Joint Finance action last week.

On the revenue side, Governor Tony Evers wanted to have nearly $300 million go from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund for the 2023-25 biennium, and would have used another $76 million to pay down DOT debt. The GOP-run Joint Finance Committee responded by sending over more than twice that amount General Fund money, but did not pay down the debt in the process.

As you will see, the Joint Finance Committee's moves involve a one-time transfer of $555 million of General Fund dollars min the next fiscal year, along with the 0.25% transfer of all General Fund taxes that already exists in state law. JFC also included a Governor Evers proposal to move the sales taxes generated from electric vehicle sales, and send that over into the Transportation Fund.

$100 million going from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund each year is going to help, but it still means WisDOT will likely have struggles to keep above water under current law after Infrastructure funds from DC run out in 2026.

On the spending side, WisGOP's motion in Finance means that even more funds will be slated to go into Wisconsin than the decent increase Governor Evers asked for in his original budget.

Joint Finance also threw $400 million for the state's estimated share of replacing the Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior, allowing for the last $352.8 million to be borrowed in this biennium instead of merely putting down the first $47.2 million, like Governor Evers wanted to do.

There were also some notable changes in a couple of aid programs for local governments.
….Democrats on the budget committee took issue with another move by Republicans that would fund mass transit via the general fund for the first time since the program was created in 1973. The danger, Democrats argued, is that in future years when state funding is low and the budget gets cut, transit could be on the chopping block, endangering a service that’s a lifeline for people who don’t own cars.

“I’m talking about thousands of riders a day, depending on those services, to get to both work and school,” said Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.

Republicans said the fears were unfounded, noting that along with their transfer, they proposed giving transit a 2 percent increase in the first year of the upcoming budget. The GOP motion would spend more than the governor proposed in other areas, including $100 million for a local roads improvement program and $150 million for “agricultural” roads.
Putting transit aids in the General Fund was something Scott Walker attempted a couple of times during his Reign of Error, but back then, the GOP-controlled Legislature put those funds back into the Transportation Fund, making it more sustainable and likely to be protected from cuts. Seems like an odd time for them to reverse course, but it seems the GOP is playing a bit of a game here, daring Evers to veto the 2% increase in aids along with the move to the General Fund.

I also wanted to go over the $250 million mentioned for the Local Roads Improvement Program (LRIP). The $100 million for “improvements” matches what Evers wanted to add to a discretionary grant program that gives 90% support to Wisconsin communities for road projects, instead of the 50% match that the “regular” (and smaller) LRIP discretionary grant program gives. That “regular” LRIP program is also going to get 4% increases in aid in 2024 and 2025, which is also what Evers asked for.

The $150 million for agricultural roads matches a bill that had already gotten hearings in legislative committees, and is intended to improve both local roads, and transportation infrastructure that’s on farmland and processors’ properties.
The bills, introduced with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, expose the fact that the state’s aging rural infrastructure, often first constructed in the 1950s and 60s, has not kept up with an agricultural industry that has forced farmers to grow their operations or go out of business. As those operations have grown, equipment has gotten larger, requiring more robust roads and bridges and straining the existing stock.

“The trucks are not too heavy for the roads, the roads are not built well enough for the trucks,” Dan Johnson, vice president of the Wisconsin Milk Haulers Association, said. “This critical funding legislation is needed if Wisconsin is to remain as America’s Dairyland and keep milk moving from farm to processor to consumers throughout the year.”…

Under the bills, municipalities will be eligible for grants that cover up to 100% of a project’s cost if it improves a local road, minor collector, bridge or culvert under the control of the local government; provides access to agricultural lands and is used by more than one producer; the infrastructure is subject to weight limits at least annually and the reconstruction will remove that weight limit. An amendment adds roads used for hauling forestry products to the list of eligible projects.
We’ll see if all that is included in the new $150 million grant program, but between this and the big boosts in shared revenue bill that got through the Legislature last week, rural roads and related transportation infrastructure is currently slated to get a lot of help in the coming years.

Still, it looks like everyone in Wisconsin should benefit from more WisDOT-funded services and repairs in the next state budget, and it seems to have been something that both the GOP-run Legislature and Governor Evers have found quite a few areas of common ground on.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

In May, Wisconsin had record-low unemployment... and "lost" the most jobs in America?

In between all of the budget news, we found outt that Wisconsin continued at its record-low unemployment rate in May. but there was quite a divergence between the household survey and the payroll information.
The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) today released the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) preliminary employment estimates for the month of May 2023, which showed Wisconsin's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stayed at the record-low rate of 2.4%.

The total labor force grew by 14,400 and employment increased by 14,100 over the month of May. Additionally, the state's total labor force participation rate grew to 65.1% during that time. Total seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs decreased by 6,400 over the month and increased by 41,200 year-over-year. Private-sector jobs decreased by 7,000 in May and increased by 29,900 over the year.
Those jumps in the household survey puts the total number of Wisconsinites working at a new post-COVID high at 3,026,200 and the labor force at its highest level since August 2021, reversing the odd decline that we saw in both of these numbers for much of 2022.

On the payrolls side, we slipped below 3 million after breaking that barrier for the first time in April (reminder – the “employment” numbers include farm and “one-person shop” types of workers), but I’m not too concerned. The 7,000 private sector jobs “lost” actually reflect lower-than-typical hiring for May (non-seasonal totals +18,900 private sector and +12,500 overall).

Given that the survey week was the first full week of the month, most schools were still in session and Summer work hadn’t kicked in yet (it had also been a particularly cold and crappy Spring until that week). That slower seasonal hiring helps explain why Accommodations and Food Services had a bad May, even though 4,000 more jobs were added in that field for the month in the real world.

But seasonal adjustment doesn’t explain all of the disappointing payroll figure in Wisconsin. Health Care/Social Assistance had actual and seasonally-adjusted losses (-1,900 NSA, -1,200 SA), and Manufacturing had notable losses (-3,400 NSA, -3,300 SA). Retail and Wholesale Trade also didn’t have the slower-than-normal seasonal hiring that bars, restaurants and hotels did (+5,500 NSA, +3,500 SA), so let’s see what June’s figures hold to find out if the May decline is a seasonal distortion or a sign of concerns.

I also note that the 6,400 total (seasonally-adjusted) jobs lost in Wisconsin for May was listed as the most out of any state in America (based on national reports released Friday). While monthly numbers can have wide month-to-month variation at the state level, let's see if the calendar turning into June and the warmer weather following makes that a blip, or if it is a sign of worse times ahead.

But taking a step back, Wisconsin was still in a very good place in May, and there isn’t a lot to indicate things have gone the wrong way in June for both the Wisconsin and US jobs markets (so far, anyway). But things are at/near maxed-out levels, and growing the labor force and attractiveness of the state is what’s needed if we want to sustain the strong spot we find ourselves in for mid-2023.

Friday, June 16, 2023

"Pro-business" WisGOPs turn down $340 million for child care. Which

You figured that the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee wasn't up to much good when they weren't starting their meeting until past 11pm on Thursday night. And when we woke up Friday morning, those fears were proven correct.

The Joint Committee on Finance voted 11-4 early Friday to reject a proposal from committee Democrats to spend $340 million on a program known as Child Care Counts, which began in November 2021 after Evers directed $351 million in federal pandemic relief dollars to keep the program running through the end of 2023....

The program had two goals: to increase access to child care statewide and to support child care workers with recruitment and retention efforts.

Advocates who pushed for the program continue with state funding warned that without the funding, parents could see large tuition hikes, worsening staff shortages, and the closure of programs.

For many of the state’s regulated child care providers, the monthly payments provided a stable revenue source without having to rely solely on parents. The program enabled many providers to increase staff wages, hire additional staff, or avoid tuition increases.
Wisconsin radio host and mother-to-be Kristin Brey was not having it.

In fairness, Robbin' Vos doesn't have children. 3 marriages, but no children...

To back up, here’s how the LFB describes what the Evers Admin wanted to do with Child Care, and what will likely happen to providers and child care services as a result.
DCF indicates that due to limited availability of remaining supplemental CCDBG funding, Round 3 CCC payments will be reduced by roughly 50% on and after August, 2023, through the estimated end of the program in January, 2024 (with the final payment in February, 2024). The add-on for children in care during non-standard hours will be removed. DCF will also remove the requirements to maintain staff compensation. Further, new restrictions will be imposed, such as that any CCC funds that are used to reduce the tuition expenses may only be directed towards children who receive Wisconsin Shares (and only to reduce the parent's costs).

[Gov Evers' State Budget] would provide $100,389,400 ($81,389,400 GPR and $19,000,000 FED) in 2023-24 and $240,719,300 ($221,719,300 GPR and $19,000,000 FED) in 2024-25 to establish the Child Care Counts program as a permanent child care quality improvement program. The funding increases include: (a) $100,000,000 ($81,000,000 GPR and $19,000,000 FED) in 2023-24 and $240,000,000 ($221,000,000 GPR and $19,000,000 FED) in 2024-25 to fund payments to providers; and (b) $389,400 GPR in 2023-24 and $719,300 GPR in 2024-25 to fund DCF's costs of administering the program, including 4.0 GPR positions, beginning in 2023-24….

Based on the foregoing, the Committee could decide to continue the CCC program at the funding level proposed under [the Evers budget]. The funding amounts provided are roughly equivalent to the annualized cost of the federally-funded Round 1 and 2 Stabilization payments. Funding in 2023-24 is reduced to account for federal funding that supports the CCC program for the first six months of the fiscal year. Afterwards, funding of $240,719,300 ($221,719,300 GPR and $19,000,000 FED) in 2024-25 would represent the annual cost going forward.
Instead of giving the full funding of Child Care Counts, the GOPs on Joint Finance only set aside $30 million for bonuses to child care subsidies by the old YoungStar program (which wasn’t needed under CCC because it took care of those bonuses).

The GOPs did allow one expansion of child care subsidies - to Wisconsin families making between 185% and 200% of poverty (this expands assistance for families of four that make between $55,500 and $60,000, for example), and reduced the "slope" of the cliff in benefits from losing $1 for every $3 of income to $1 for $5 in income. GOPs had no problem using $27 million in Federal funds for that, but it also became more challenging for those parents to find a place that's offering child care after yesterday.

Interestingly, in the same motion where GOPs cut off CCC, they threw in an additional $20.6 million to help local cops and social services agencies with enforcing child support laws and ensuring payments. WisGOPs also approved of $22 million to replace the ‘90s-era IT system that is used by staff throughout Wisconsin to track child support cases, and put in a web-based system.

So WisGOPs had little problem with spending money on improving the chances to catch deadbeats and make sure parents get their child support. And they also But when it comes to helping parents who are working by making child care more accessible and affordable? Not so much.

Nice priorities, and the "business leaders" at WMC will probably give their full support to this. Because God Forbid we give working Wisconsinites more options and abilities to succeed. Can't keeep wages down, hoard profits, and race to the bottom when you do that.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

K-12 voucher deal makes an already-large giveaway even more massive

A few recent developments have piled up as the state budget and other bills go through the Capitol this month. One I wanted to catch up on relates to a major boost in K-12 funding, particularly for the state’s already-huge voucher program that helps pay for students to attend private schools.
As part of a sweeping agreement between Republican leaders and Evers to boost state and local funding for municipalities, public, charter and private voucher schools will receive a boost in state dollars as well.

Some Assembly Republicans, including Speaker Robin Vos, have touted the agreement as an "expansion" of the private voucher school programs in Wisconsin. It does not expand the programs, however — enrollment in the programs stays the same — but it does increase the amount of money each voucher is worth, which could allow private schools to expand the number of non-voucher seats the school may accommodate.

One provision being considered will increase the amount of the taxpayer-funded voucher private schools receive per student. Under the bill, payments would increase from $8,399 to $9,500 per K-8 student and from $9,045 to $12,000 per high school student. Payments for students in the voucher program for students with disabilities would increase to $14,677 per student from $13,076. Charter schools would increase from $9,264 to $11,000 per student under the deal.
I was struck by the paragraphs that followed this information in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s story on the voucher bill, where a private school president accidentally exposes the BS inside the pro-voucher argument of “it’s cheaper to teach students with vouchers”
John Hoch, president of St. Thomas More High School in Milwaukee, told lawmakers Monday in a public hearing on the bill that educating one student "costs far more" than the current $9,045 amount and requires additional fundraising efforts.

Increasing vouchers could let some schools add seats or increase pay, Hoch said, but "for others, it could mean the difference between keeping their doors open or having to end operations entirely. The situation is that dire."
Huh, why doesn’t Robbin’ Vos, Devin LeMahieu not feel the same way about public schools in communities that have these issues, with less state aid per student and no tuition to back them up? (easy answer – no Betsy DeVos or Bradley Foundation donations in that).

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau gave a breakdown of the voucher bill, and it’s even more a bonus payment that you may think. That’s because the LFB says that voucher schools will also benefit from the increase in revenue limits that public schools are slated to get in the state budget.

Then all of these figures rise again for 2024-25. Cool deal if you're on the receiving end of this subsidy.

The voucher increases also mean that public schools will lose more state aids. That's because a sizable portion of these vouchers are “funded” by taking money away from the public K-12 school district the voucher student lives in, even if the kid never took a day of classes in the public schools.

And that taking of funds has increased throughout the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, blunting any (still below-inflation level) state aid increases that those districts may have received in recent years.

I freely admit that I might be slightly off on the exact numbers because the LFB is mixing and matching a lot of variables, but you can see the point.

The taking of state aids from publicm schools have also led to property tax increases on residents of the districts where voucher students live. After all, losing 1 or even 10 students in a school isn’t going to cause that school to close, and it won’t cause a change in the overhead costs of operating it. So the funds have to be made up somehow.

I can see why Vos and the WisGOPs are sending this in a standalone bill, because if the voucher increase was part of the budget, Evers likely could have vetoed some/all of the per-student increases out (since the move would save taxpayer dollars), and the Legislature likely wouldn’t be able to override it. Instead, if Evers vetoes this voucher bill, then WisGOPs can hold up the budget in the gerrymandered Legislature, with public schools and everyone else getting no increases at all.

In reaction to this, State Rep. Darrin Madison (D/Socialist-Milwaukee) had an amazing statement on the voucher school bill, explaining why it makes an already uneven playing field even more slanted against low-income Milwaukeeans.

Unfortunately, AB 305 and K-12 education has now been brought into the equation at the expense of our public education system. One of my predecessors, Annette Polly Williams, was the author of the first school choice legislation in the nation. I must acknowledge the history and positive intent of school choice driven by the historical disparities between Black and brown students in public education. It is important to note that in a public school system that relies on local taxes for funding, these disparities are directly related to the history of redlining and white flight in the most segregated city in America. The Speaker even referenced Polly’s vision today on the floor, even though she had to distance herself from the school choice movement in the 2010s because what was supposed to be an experiment and opportunity for low-income students of color from Milwaukee turned into a strategic divestment from our public school system.

I understand the intent behind the decisions that parents and families are currently making in order to send their young people to the best schools for their child. However, we also have to address the harm that school choice can cause children, including special education students or students with identities that are not respected in their school. Additionally, choice schools have access to private funding sources and do not need this historic investment of public funds. Most importantly, choice schools should not be the solution to discriminatory practices such as redlining or school segregation, nor were they ever intended to be a solution for students who suffer from the recurring divestment of public education that we have seen under this Republican-led legislature. Though we have a long way to go, the only way to ensure accountability of public funding and educational outcomes is to truly invest in our public schools so that every child, no matter their identity, background, or zip code, can get the quality education that they deserve.”

And Republicans have zero interest in dealing with the societal inequities that Rep. Madison is referencing, and now are imposing more controls and demands on how the City spends its funds through the shared revenue bill.

I know sometimes you have to make deals to get bigger budget packages done, and I take small solace in the fact that the limits on voucher enrollment aren’t expanded further. The $325/$650 increase in revenue limits is needed for public schools, who have been choked by absurdly low limits under WisGOPs for years, although there is still catch-up to do.

But it feels like Evers may have given up too much on the voucher side as part of that deal. The hope I have is that he’s thinking that Dems can win with fair maps in 2024 and this and other inequities can be corrected in the next budget. And maybe the WisGOPs sense it to, which could make Robbin’ Vos want to bank this big increase in voucher payments before he quits to cash in loses power as Speaker.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

More WisGOP idiocy and threats on the UW System. What is this even accomplishing?

It's not surprising, but still ridiculous.

Pretty telling that the Republicans can't even meet in the light of day on this, and that it is 8:00 pm (as I write this) and the Joint Finance Committee has yet to start its scheduled meeting on the UW budget and related topics.

Not that I'm overly worrieed about the UW cuts and attacks on DEI initiatives actually becoming law, because any cuts in funding and positions at the UW can be removed by Governor Tony Evers' veto pen, but that doesn't stop me from having a massive eye roll about it. Especially in a time period when 10 of the 13 UW campuses are projected to run a deficit this year.

This GOP "concern" about DEI and other "wokeness" is even more BS than you may already think it is. We knew this was coming 4 months ago, courtesy of a couple of Dem state reps who were given the heads-up when they went behind enemy lines to an ALEC conference.

In a session at the ALEC summit we attended everyone was talking about ESG, what one speaker referred to as “the greatest threat to American democracy since the Civil War.” Almost everyone in the room took out their phones to google it.

ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. ESG investing refers to a set of standards that take into consideration the impact a company has on its employees, customers and the communities where it does business to screen potential investments. For example, how does a company address the climate emergency, or how does it embrace diversity in its leadership?

ESG investing strategies are used to help identify companies that may be operating unethically or in a risky manner that could lead to a public controversy where companies are held accountable for their actions and, as a result, stock prices drop. Just as with CRT, the right is using a complex and niche topic to concoct new threats out of thin air in order to divide us so we cannot all fight together for economic security for everyone.

At the conference, conservative speakers framed ESG as a threat to everyday working people. And reactionary, right-wing organizations are doubling down on the messaging. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in D.C., sends out weekly fundraising emails with ESG as the leading issue. In an email from just last month, Heritage whined that “the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) movement is a dangerous attempt to undermine our market and force a woke agenda on all of us.”

At the ALEC summit, the world’s worst drinking game could have been organized around their use of the word “woke.” Banking is woke. Women’s equality is woke. Public education is woke.
Sound familiar? Astroturf all the way, being pushed by oligarchs trying to put up another misdirection play to sneak through tax cuts and other regressive garbage that Real Americans reject in large numbers.

But in the Real America, being knowledgeable, accepting and sensitive to other cultures is good for business. Know what else is good for business, increasing the supply of engineers and similar tech-based professionals, in order to have a strong labor pool for Wisconsin businesses to choose from.

You know, something that Robbin' Vos said he wanted out of the UW last decade.

And yet GOPs on the Joint Finance Committee refused to give the go-ahead to an already-designed, new Engineering building that would include large aounts of research that businesses could take advantage of. This is despite UW-Madison donors pledging to pay $150 million of the project $347 million cost.

Napoleon Vos couldn't get in to UW-Madison when he graduated high school in the '80s, and has been trying to get even ever since. But here's the thing, outside of the conscious lack of capital investments, it's not UW-Madison that's going to be the ones suffering the major damage from defunding the UW.

How is continuing to play this resentment BS helping anyone with an ounce of game in this state? And is it doing anything to encourage anyone outside of the state to come here vs places whose policies and everyday lives aren't controlled by Big Fish, Small Ponders, and other mediocrities?

The new maps can't come soon enough.