Saturday, December 30, 2023

WisGOPs claim they can't work hard enough to come up with new maps in time

Not that I think the members of the gerrymandered Republican Legislature in Wisconsin is exactly a hard-working bunch, but reading this provided a major eye-roll from me yesterday.

Attorneys for Republican lawmakers are asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider its 4-3 decision that found the state's current legislative maps unconstitutional and ordered them to draw new ones, arguing their timeline to do so is rushed.

The court ordered parties on Dec. 22 to submit map proposals by Jan. 12, and consultants are set to review them by Feb. 1. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has said maps must be in place by March 15 for the fall legislative races. Candidates must circulate nomination papers for an Aug. 13 partisan primary ahead of the Nov. 5 general election.

But Republicans argue instituting new maps as the 2024 elections draw closer would "needlessly disrupt the electoral process." They are asking those deadlines to be reconsidered and for the court to halt all proceedings in the meantime.

"Announced the Friday before Christmas, the parties have been given 21 days — a third of them falling on weekends and state holidays — to submit proposed remedies, lengthy remedial briefs and expert reports," attorneys wrote in a filing late Thursday.
Oh, now it takes time for the GOP to figure out how to draw a map and explain what they're doing? It sure wasn't that way in 2011.
In 2011, Republicans controlled the Senate, House, and Governor's mansion, and were in a position to single-handedly draw and approve maps that benefited them (not to mention pass legislation from the ALEC corporate wishlist). However, with six Republican senators facing recall in the state, GOP lawmakers scrambled to draw and pass new maps before the August recall elections potentially returned control of the Senate to Democrats (in the end, the GOP lost two seats but retained a one-vote majority).

"When those meetings ended on July 7th, they had a majority consensus in the legislature to vote for and adopt a secret map that no one had seen – not Democratic legislators, and not the public," said Peter Earle, attorney for Voces de la Frontera, one of the groups bringing the redistricting challenge. Governor Scott Walker signed the electoral maps into law on August 9, 2011, with no input from Democrats and after the legislature held only one public hearing.

In drawing the maps, the GOP hired the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich and held a series of secret meetings at their law offices, apparently in an attempt to protect the redistricting effort from public view and disguise it behind attorney-client privilege.
Heck, it took me a few days to goof around on my free time at the Dave's Redistricting website, and come up with legislative maps. Shoot, Robbin' Vos and the rest of the Assembly GOP created their own "drawn the maps" website 2 years ago. The links are dead now, but I'm sure Robbin' has the info from it. They could re-start the website, use the info from the public, and give it a whirl.

Let's also flash back to 3 months ago, and how Robbin' Vos and his fellow Assembly Republicans were able to take action on a redistricting bill in a much shorter amount of time.
Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Assembly passed a sweeping redistricting reform plan Thursday that takes the power of drawing maps out of the hands of lawmakers and gives it to nonpartisan staff.

But Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has all-but promised to veto the bill that he called “bogus,” even though it largely resembled a nonpartisan redistricting plan he's pushed for years.

The vote shortly before midnight on the rapidly moving proposal came just two days after Republicans introduced the redistricting bill. The proposal caught Democrats and advocates for redistricting reform by a surprise in a state widely regarded as having some of the most gerrymandered maps in the country....

Democrats and those pushing for redistricting reform say Vos and Republicans are being disingenuous by voting on the bill less than 48 hours after introduction with no public hearing and no consultation with groups who have been working on redistricting for years.

“You bring us a half-baked bill with no public input and call it a path forward,” Democratic Rep. Kalan Haywood said in urging opposition.
Just pathetic desperation from WisGOP at this point, and transparently intended to use as some kind of defense to their appeal to the US Supreme Court after the Wisconsin Supremes laugh them out of the Capitol. "Waaah, we weren't given enough time to do work on fixing the maps we screwed up! Can you just bring back the old, crooked maps? PLEASE?"

Give me a fucking break. These clowns deserve an abolsute whupping at the polls next November. Let's make it so.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

To make Wisconsin maps fairer, how much should we care about who people vote for?

Since last week's Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that will require new legislative maps for 2024, I've been doing a bit of noodling at possible maps beyond the stuff I did before.

My original maps are still the ones that I think make the most sense overall, as they are based on keeping similar communities together (so cities like Sheboygan, Wauwatosa and Whitewater don't get split up as they do under the GOP's current gerrymander), has an adequate number of majority-minority districts, and is mostly compact and contiguous. Here's what they look like, as a review, starting with the state Assembly.

And now the state Senate.

I drew these using the excellent Dave's Redistricting website, and you can certainly use the site to do the same for yourself. When using the vote totals from last year's Governor's election, which Dem Tony Evers won by 3.5 points, we can look at which districts Evers got the most votes in, and which districts Republican Tim Michels got the most votes in.

Here's the Assembly distribution with my maps, with the vertical dashed line showing a 50-50 split in seats. I'll focus in on the districts that are within 15 points of each other.

Republicans would still be favored to be in control of the Assembly, but at around a 55-44 level as opposed to the 63-36 advantage the Republicans hold today.

And notice all of those districts that are between around 46.5% to 53.5% of Dem vote (21 in all)? Compare that to the current GOP gerrymander.

Fewer seats between 46.5% and 53.5% (15 vs 21), and instead of the mostly straight line my maps had, the GOP gerrymander has significant dropoffs to protect its members.

The State Senate is a similar story, although this leans harder to the GOP due to the larger district sizes.

This means the "base scenario" under my maps would be 19-14 GOP, but that's not the 22-11 supermajority we have today. And again, note the mostly straight line of 8 districts between 47% and 53.5%. Then compare it to the current GOP gerrymander.

There are half the districts between 47% and 53.5% than there was in my map, and 3 of those 4 favor Republicans (again, in a chart based on Dems getting 51.5% of the vote). Dems would have to pull around 57% of the vote to flip the Senate, instead of the 54-55% they'd need with my maps.

But what if you want a map with most of the districts being competitive and a 50-50 coin flip for control? Dave's has that, in its "most competitive" category. Unfortunately, that type of map would be a complete mess in Wisconsin. Here's the Senate version.

Lots of slicing, This is especially true when you get to the Milwaukee area.

In addition, none of these Senate districts have a non-white voting age population at or above 40%. That would likely be found to be illegal under the Voting Rights Act, given the population distributions in this state. So let's throw that out.

I did some fooling around with my base Senate map, and I found a way to make it near that 50-50 split. But I still maintain 3 majority-minority districts, and I don't think the map looks too contrived.

Among the differences are what you see in the Fox Valley, where District 18 gets more of the Appleton area and gets rid of the parts in Fond du Lac County, and District 19 goes further north into the Oneida Reservation and the western suburbs of Green Bay. Elsewhere in the state, District 24 goes north from Stevens Point into into Wausau, District 13 is moved further south and west. And in the Milwaukee area, District 8 goes back to looking like it does today, with Dem-voting Milwaukee suburbs like Whitefish Bay and Fox Point included, and parts of Waueksha and Washington Counties are taken out.

So what does it look like for competitiveness?

18-15 Republican as a base, but 13 of the 33 districts are in the "competitive" zone, with a near-equal split in which party is favored in those races, and 11 of those 13 have vote margins of 5% or less. That's a situation that wouldn't allow either party to be able to ignore voters, and have to continue to work to get power and/or stay in power.

With only two weeks to go before maps are submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and its two academic consultants, it reminds us that there are a couple of ways we can base "fair maps"on. Do we try to completely ignore how people vote in a certain area, and base districts on similarity of communities and geography? Or do we take partisanship into account, with a goal of having more competitive districts, and maximizing the chance of having control of the Legislature flip if public opinion flips?

I'm going to get back to work on a "competitive" Assembly map, and likely report in the near future on what that gives me.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Inflation keeps dropping, incomes and spending keep rising, so rates drop in 2024, right?

Given that it's a Holiday week, the monthly income and spending report got moved up into Friday. And it continued the good news on the economy as 2023 wraps up, especially on the inflation front.
Last month, for the first time since April 2020, prices fell on a monthly basis, according to a closely watched report released Friday by the Commerce Department.

US inflation slowed further in November, and consumer spending continued to outpace expectations, lending further credence to the idea that the US Federal Reserve could stick its “soft landing” of bringing down inflation with a barrage of interest rate hikes while not throttling the economy into a recession....

The Commerce Department’s latest Personal Income and Outlays report also showed that consumer spending increased 0.2% from the month before. Economists had expected it to remain flat.

When adjusting for inflation, spending ramped up 0.3% on the month.
Incomes also went up by a solid 0.4% in November, which including the largest one-month increase of wages and salaries since January. It's been a relatively steady series of increases for that form of income throughout 2023.

The bigger story for the financial press was the decline in the "Fed's favored inflation measure" - PCE. Some of it was due to November's falling gas prices, but the underlying "core" inflation also was low, and has been mostly neutered for the 2nd half of 2023.

Now that we have inflation running at the Fed's (artificial) preferred level of 2%, can we stop having them have their Fed Funds rate dtart dropping from 5.4%? When we had 2% core inflation and sub-4% unemployment 5 years ago, then-President Donald Trump was whining that the Federal Reserve was raising rates above....2%. The Fed soon caved and rates three times in 2019, as unemployment stayed below 4% and before we had heard of COVID-19.

I'm not asking for a Bubbly 1.5% like Trump was able to jawbone the pre-COVID Fed into. But we have prices mostly under control, wage and job growth solid but not absurd, and we can still get a solid return on savings if rates were dropped to 3.5% or 4%. And Dems and President Biden should not stay silent in 2024 if the Fed refuses to do what is right, and threatens our strong economy with overly high rates on borrowing.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

A neutered Robbin' Vos is trying damage control for 2024

Days before his precious gerrymander got struck down, Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos made the rounds with state media, and was acting like someone who realized he didn't have a free ride to power any more.

Current state law bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, but Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday that he hopes to put a proposal on some future ballot that would lower the limit to somewhere between the 12th and 15th week.

“It’s probably the only way for us to put this issue to rest,” he told The Associated Press. “It has the idea of saying we're letting the people decide.”...

For a new abortion law to be put before voters, the proposal would first have to be passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. It could then be placed on the ballot in a statewide election as a binding referendum. Wisconsin law does not allow voters to place questions on the ballot, and Republicans who control the Legislature have previously rejected Evers' calls to create a way for voters to repeal the 1849 abortion ban.
Yeah, I don't think Governor Evers is going to be OK with having restrictions that go beyond what we had under Roe v. Wade. But the fact that Vos is even floating this cynical idea tells you that the GOP knows they are still flailing about in the post- Dobbs Wisconsin.

And now that his tax cuts for the rich keep getting shot down, Vos is trying to make an image of "compromise", bringing a tax cut for older Wisconsinites back onto the agenda. So let’s go back to whent aht idea originally was suggested by Legislative Republicans last Summer, given that what will come up in the next months will be similar.
The proposal, co-authored by Rep. David Steffen of Green Bay and Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara of Appleton, introduce[d] new optional retirement income tax exemptions for Wisconsin taxpayers 67 or older. Individual filers would be exempt from paying taxes on the first $100,000 of annual retirement income, while married and joint filers would see a tax exemption for the first $150,000.

Retirement income taxes would be completely eliminated for over 98% of all taxpayers age 67 or older, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate provided by Steffen's office in July.
Sounds good on the surface, and Vos’s contention is that this would encourage more seniors to stay in and/or locate in Wisconsin, overcoming our cold winters and other disadvantages that we may have with other states.

However, let’s also remember that this is targeted at “retirement income”, which is basically pensions, IRAs and 401ks. Social Security payments and military retirement pensions are already exempt from Wisconsin income taxes, and a sizable amount of IRA and 401k distributions are already written off in this state before we even expand any retiree tax cut.
Current state law allows individuals 65 or older with federal adjusted gross income under $15,000 or married and joint filers under $30,000 to claim a $5,000 exemption on retirement income in certain accounts….

An August memo from the [Wisconsin Department of Revenue] estimated the retirement tax cut proposed in July would decrease state revenue by about $54 million in the 2024 fiscal year and $362 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2025. That cost could climb to $420 million annually beginning in 2025 if married joint filers are allowed to claim an exemption after only one spouse reaches 67 years old.
But maybe some kind of modification can be made where we up the exemption on 401k-IRA-pension income to $25,000 and $50,000, to adjust for inflation, higher property taxes, and other items, but also doesn’t give a giant windfall to rich Boomers while reducing the ability for the state to make investments for everyone.

Other news from Vos’ year-end series of media appearances, included this.

In other words…

This is why I don’t buy polls that claim Republicans might have the upper hand, especially in Wisconsin. If Robbin’ Vos is going out of his way to back off this power grab and making noises about passing medical (non-smokable) marijuana legislation, the GOPs are in big trouble for 2024.

And that’s the biggest takeaway we should have from this lame attempt by Vos to seem reasonable in these year-end interviews. It’s damage control, and WisDems should use this as a reason to pound that dweeb even more. Especially now that they have a real chance to boot Vos and his fellow Republicans out of power next November.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Gerrymander is gone! But replacement's not here yet

Well, Happy Holidays to those of us with a drop of decency in Wisconsin.

It's a nice first step, although I don't see why the 4 liberal justices are giving Robbin' Vos and company another chance to draw up a map when these lowlifes have shown they can't be trusted. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has previously said March 15 is the deadline for the new lines to be in place for the August primary that decides the candidates for the November election, but I don't see a "drop dead date" in this decision for the Court to step in.

I'm looking through the decision to see some hints on how that new map might be determined by the Court. There is no timetable given for when these maps get decided, but it looks like two things will be happening at the same time. The Legislature and Governor Evers can try to come to some kind of compromise map (HAH!), and the Court members will be at work drawing their own maps and getting inputs from all sides on how to draw those maps.
The process by which the court will adopt remedial maps will be set out in an order issued concurrently with this opinion. In broad strokes, all parties will be given the opportunity to submit remedial legislative district maps to the court, along with expert evidence and an explanation of how their maps comport with the principles laid out in this opinion. The court will appoint one or more consultants who will aid in evaluating the remedial maps. Parties will have the opportunity to respond to each other, and to the consultant's report.

We set out this process in order to afford all parties a chance to be heard, while bearing in mind the need for expediency given that next year's elections are fast-approaching. We begin our process now instead of waiting to see whether the legislative process results in new maps. In other words, both the legislative process (should there be one) and our process will proceed concurrently. This will allow the court to adopt remedial legislative maps in time for the upcoming elections if legislation creating remedial maps is not enacted.
I also found this interesting nugget, which says the GOP majority's 2022 made-up rule of "least change" (from the original 2011 gerrymander) as a baseline is not going to happen in 2024.
....We cannot allow a judicially-created metric, not derived from the constitutional text, to supersede the constitution. Conceivably, least change (if actually agreed upon) could be relevant to traditional districting criteria, commonly considered in redistricting but not constitutionally or statutorily mandated. See infra, ¶68. In that instance, least change would be secondary to the constitutional requirements and balanced with other factors, such as "preserving communities of interest." However, Johnson I did not adopt a cabined approach to least change. Instead, Johnson I declared that the overarching approach to adopting remedial maps was for them to "reflect the least change necessary" from the previous maps. See Johnson I, 399 Wis. 2d 623, ¶72.

¶63 As illustrated across the course of the Johnson litigation, "least change" is unworkable in practice. As such, we overrule any portions of Johnson I, Johnson II, and Johnson III that mandate a least change approach.....It is impractical and unfeasible to apply a standard that (1) is based on fundamentals that never garnered consensus, and (2) is in tension with established districting requirements. Here we must first focus on established districting requirements set out in state and federal law, and only then on other districting criteria....
The Court says it'll consider partisan impact and try to minimize any advantage, but also will make sure other factors like equal population, minimizing community splits and minority representation are part of the equation as well.

And given that it was a main argument used to invalidate the maps, these new districts are sure to be contiguous without islands in the middle of them, so we don't get districts like this ridiculous one in the Madison suburbs, which included a cutout for the now-eliminated Town of Madison.

We'll see if the Legislature and/or Evers even try to come up with a new map over the 2-3 months (I see no requirement that they HAVE to), or if they'll just let the Court come up with the solution on their own. It's not like the Court doesn't have a plethora of maps to choose from, given how many of us have paid attention this issue over the last 13 years.

Heck, I got mine right here. Use em for free!

EDIT - Looks like the four ladies on the good side of the Court are not going to allow the GOPs to slow-walk this thing. They know what's up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Wisconsin gains more people in 2023, and now might keep all its House seats in the 2030s

Yesterday, the US Census Bureau released their new updates on US and state population for 2023. Not surprisingly, the trend of Americans moving to the South and Mountain West continued, often from California, the Northeast, and the Midwest. But the changes were not as severe as what we saw in 2022.

You can see that Wisconsin is in the green for both years, and the Census Bureau says Wisconsin gained more than 20,400 people in 2023 (0.3%). This means Wisconsin has now regained all of the population it lost in the pandemic-wracked time between April 2020 (when the Census was estimated) and mid-2021, and then some.

In 2023, Wisconsin gained more people from migration within the States than any other state in the Midwest, getting more than 5,600 more people than we lost.

But Wisconsin didn’t gain as much from the “natural” birth vs death factor as 4 other Midwest states did in 2023 (though it was still positive, unlike Michigan and Ohio), nor did we gain as much from immigration (only Iowa added less). So our total population gain ended up smack dab in the middle for our part of the country. And unlike other years in the 2020s, only Illinois has fewer people this year.

But while we were middle of the pack for the Midwest and only the 20th highest for total population increase in America, Wisconsin’s 2023 gain of 20,412 people could become very significant for the state and its ability to maintain the same level of representation in Washington DC, if it were to continue. Here’s why I say that.

Each year, the American Redistricting Project (among other groups) figures out how many members each state should have in 2030, based on population changes. In December 2022, their map looked like this.

And now in the updated map using 2023's numbers, look who is out of the red!

Notice that Wisconsin’s 8th House district is now listed as one of the “last 3” that would be assigned, as opposed to the being in the last 3 "out" in 2022. This means we are close to the borderline eiher way, and will likely need to grow our population more over the next 7 years to keep that 8th seat. Seems like all the more reason to have policies that encourage a high quality of life, good wages and a strong education system to encourage families to stay here, and to encourage others to move here.

Also seems like we shouldn't be driving people away with 19th and 20th Century social policies and anti-inclusive BS, unlike what our gerrymandered GOP Legislature keeps pushing to do. So ironically, if we get new maps for the rest of the 2020s, it might also bring a better chance of keeping Wisconsin at 8 House members and 10 electoral votes for the 2030s. Just saying.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Consumers strong in November. But not guaranteed to be Happy Holidays at stores

Right after we found out that inflation stayed in check in November, we also found out that consumers kept spending in stores for the start of the Holiday Shopping season.
U.S. retail sales unexpectedly rose in November as the holiday shopping season got off to a brisk start amid deep discounting, likely keeping the economy on a moderate growth path this quarter and further alleviating fears of a recession.

The rebound in retail sales reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday underscored consumers' resilience, thanks to a strong labor market, and cast doubts on financial markets' expectations for a rate cut as early as next March….

Retail sales increased 0.3% last month after falling 0.2% in October, the Commerce Department's Census Bureau said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales edging down 0.1%. Retail sales are mostly goods and are not adjusted for inflation.

Sales increased 4.1% year-on-year in November. Though the pace has slowed as households adjust to higher borrowing costs and prices, it remains sufficient to ward off a recession.
And that 0.3% likely understates the true strength of the retail side for November, because lower gas prices dragged down that number due to the lack of adjustments for inflation. In fact, if you take out gas prices, retail sales rose by a robust 0.6%.

The gains and losses in retail have been dispersed quite a bit among the sectors, both for the (seasonally adjusted) figures in November and over the last year.

I note that department and big box stores are the biggest decliners next to the deflation-influenced drop at gas stations. And some of that seems to be a general turn-away from shopping at brick-and-mortar stores (which explains the drop year-over-year), and especially since people don’t go into stores for the Holiday Season in these times compared to years past.

I think that the seasonal adjustments haven’t caught up to that reality, which is shown by the fact that significantly more sales still happened at those places in November, but it’s not the level of increased activity that the models think should happen. Conversely, the falloff at Bars and Restaurants wasn’t as much as in a typical November, which also likely reflects that things aren’t as seasonally-volatile as before.

Now, November certainly isn’t the entire Holiday season. And with reports of retailers extending sales well into December, that might portend a lower number in the next retail sales report. Or maybe it’s just more of a reflection how changes in shopping habits and trends have accelerated in the post-COVID world.

But at least through last month, consumer spending seemed to be holding up well overall in America. And with prices seeming in check while jobless claims stay low, I’d say that’s a pretty good situation to be in.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

My school taxes are up, and yours probably are too. Let's see why

As mentioned earlier, we recently received notice of a sizable 6.7% property tax increase on our home. And the Wisconsin Policy Forum says while that's higher than the rest of the state, there are many other Sconnies getting a property tax increase.
On bills mailed out this month, Wisconsin’s 421 K-12 school districts will levy $297.8 million more in property taxes than they did last year, preliminary figures from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) show. The 5.4% increase is the largest since 2009, and will bring gross statewide K-12 property taxes to $5.77 billion (see Figure 1)....

The state’s 72 counties will increase property tax bills by 2.6% – third-most since 2009 – while technical college levies will rise by 4.9%, the most since 2008. Data for other local governments are not yet available, but the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects municipal levies will rise by 3.4% and tax increment districts by 13.6%. If those projections hold true, then gross local property taxes would increase by 4.7%, or the most since 2007.

To be fair, the Policy Forum notes that most Wisconsinites won't be paying a 5.4% increase in property taxes for their schools, because of state payments that knock down what property owners end up paying. In fact, those state aids give more help to owners of higher-value properties and higher property value parts of the state, even if they don't give extra resources to the schools in the process.
The DOR data represent gross property tax levies, meaning they do not account for a sizable increase in state credits that reduce net tax bills for Wisconsin residents. The 2023-25 state budget increases the school levy tax credit by $255 million, or 27%, on this December’s levies. The funds from these credits do not increase school spending. Instead, the additional state money is used to lower the net tax bills paid by property owners. The budget will also increase the state lottery credit by $15.9 million over what it otherwise would have been, producing a similar effect.

These provisions will help hold the statewide property tax increase much closer to those seen in the years preceding the pandemic – likely about 2% to 3% – while allowing a healthy increase in local revenues. The school levy credit is distributed based on how much in K-12 property taxes is paid in each community. As a result, the increase in the credit will deliver the most benefit to communities such as Brookfield or Madison with high property values, since they tend to pay more in property taxes for K-12 schools.
The higher property taxes led Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos to try to take political advantage with partisan hackery.

Except the property tax increases of 2023 have nothing to do with what Governor Evers vetoed last summer. Let's go back to that veto, and note when it takes effect.
A surprise partial-veto from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers gives school districts the ability to collect an additional $325 per student annually for the next 402 years.

Evers expanded the additional revenue limit authority from 2024-25 in the budget passed last week by the Republican-led Legislature to 2425.

Doing so would "provide school districts with predictable long-term increases for the foreseeable future," Evers said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Budget plans forwarded by Wisconsin's Republican legislators would have provided the state's public schools and additional $325 in revenue per pupil in this budget cycle. Using his broad veto powers as a scalpel, Evers sliced out bits of the budget document to extend that increase for four centuries.
In other words, a $325-a-year increase in revenue limits was already in place for this year and next, based on the budget that Robbin' Vos and the GOP-run Legislature sent to Governor Evers. All Evers did is put allow those increases to continue in 2025-26, on bills that first show up in December 2025. His veto has zero to do with K-12 revenue limits or property taxes this year.

So that makes Robbin' Vos this week's contestant in our favorite game show: "REPUBLICANS - LYING OR STUPID?" Given that Vos has been in the Assembly for nearly 20 years and has made screwing over public schools education funding a specialty of his, I think I know this answer.

Want to know what else is raising K-12 property taxes this December? Something near and dear to Robbin' (de)Vos's heart - funneling more money to voucher schools at the expense of public schools. As the Policy Forum tells us
Another contributor to the rise in school levies is recent changes to the state’s charter and voucher programs providing additional public funding for qualifying students outside of traditional public schools. Under the state’s complex funding mechanism for these programs, these increases could add $42.9 million to the statewide school property tax levy, according to an estimate by the state Department of Public Instruction.
There's one other odd item with this Winter's property taxes that makes for an odd irony. Many Wisconsin homeowners may be paying more property taxes toward their schools, but they're paying less of their home's value at the same time.
As the Forum has pointed out, however, skyrocketing property values mean that K-12 tax rates will generally fall. Just 18.1% of districts will increase rates.

But I don’t think that those of us that are paying higher property taxes with lower rates consider it a “tax cut”, like we would if that happened with income tax. Guessing Wisconsin Republicans aren't going to say that, either.

While the shared revenue increases to local governments will help on that side for 2024, and the higher revenue limits for public schools give a little more breathing room, the reality is that local governments and schools are "catching up" to years of defunding and inflationary increases in costs. And combined with big jumps in home values, it means that property tax bills are still going up for most people in Wisconsin this month.

Which tells me that more likely needs to be done going ahead, including reforms to how we pay for voucher schools (and stop having them steal funds from public schools and forcing property tax increases in the process), and perhaps letting more local communities beyond Milwaukee and small tourist towns pay for their expenses with a sales tax instead of loading it all on the property tax and user fees.

That's a deeper conversation for another post, but I think it's worthy to be recognizing what's going on now, and to separate the Vossian BS from the reality that we're in when it comes to this year's tax bills.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Fed and Wall Street catch up to reality that rates should be lower

I've been calling for it for a while now, but now it seems to be finally happening. The US's monetary tightening phase seems to be done, and future loosening seems to be in the cards.

With the inflation rate easing and the economy holding in, policymakers on the Federal Open Market Committee voted unanimously to keep the benchmark overnight borrowing rate in a targeted range between 5.25%-5.5%.

Along with the decision to stay on hold, committee members penciled in at least three rate cuts in 2024, assuming quarter percentage point increments. That’s less than what the market had been pricing, but more aggressive than what officials had previously indicated….

The committee’s “dot plot” of individual members’ expectations indicates another four cuts in 2025, or a full percentage point. Three more reductions in 2026 would take the fed funds rate down to between 2%-2.25%, close to the long-run outlook, though there was considerable dispersion in the estimates for the final two years.
Part of the runup in stocks in November and the first part of December was because Wall Street traders have started to anticipate rate cuts happening sooner than later in 2024. The written words in the Fed’s statement backed up those theories, causing stocks to jump after that document was released yesterday afternoon.

Then Fed Chair Jerome Powell appeared for his typical post-meeting press conference, and did a rate thing. He admitted reality and didn’t throw cold water on our positive economic situation.
“Inflation has eased from its highs, and this has come without a significant increase in unemployment. That’s very good news,” Chair Jerome Powell said during a news conference.

That echoed new language in the post-meeting statement. The committee added the qualifier that inflation has “eased over the past year” while maintaining its description of prices as “elevated.” Fed officials see core inflation falling to 3.2% in 2023 and 2.4% in 2024, then to 2.2% in 2025. Finally, it gets back to the 2% target in 2026.
And that led to even more buying, resulting in a new benchmark for the DOW Jones.

It’s nice to see the banksters and other Wall Streeters come around to what a lot of us have recognized for the last 6 months – that any kind of legitimate inflation in 2021 and 2022 really was a result of post-COVID supply and displaced labor situations. Well that, along with Wall Street speculation that spiked oil prices after Russia invaded Ukraine, and quite a bit of profiteering from corporations that were glad to take advantage of the higher prices.

The profiteering still is there (profits are back to their mid-2022 peaks), but because Producer Prices aren’t much different than they were a year before, and worker productivity keeps rising in 2023, the higher profits aren’t the result of much higher expenses for consumers.

Which means that the US has been put in a very good economic position as 2023 ends. Unemployment is still below 4%, 6-figure job growth is still happening every month, average US gas prices have dropped by a quarter a gallon in the last month (and even more in Wisconsin), and wages are outpacing inflation by more than 1% for line workers.

And now that the Wall Streeters are trying to front-run a lower-interest rate cocaine party, we have new highs in the stock market, and portfolios that got damaged in 2022 are now back on track. I have no illusions that everything will stay this positive, especially with bad actors more than willing to try to sidetrack Bidenomics over the next year to keep their tax cuts and other advantages they'd get under a Republican president. But it does look like we’re going to head back toward a more balanced interest rate situation, and as long as Americans continue to stay on the job, that should help a lot of people feel better about how the economy feels in this election year.

Well, they'll be positive about the economy if they're honest about the situations and not falling for what they want to believe. Some won't have the guts to do that, but if Federal Reserve oligarchs can finally deal with reality and figure out that 2023 is not a reurn of 1970s stagflation, I have hope for more than enough Americans to do the same.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

And now another 180 at the UW

4 days ago, there was train wreck of a rushed meeting led to a the UW Board of Regents turning down a deal (on a 9-8 vote) with Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos that would have recateogrized some Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) jobs and install an affirmative action position for right-wingers at UW-Madison.

Today, that same deal is moving ahead.

And in looking at what was agreed to, it seems to be the same deal as what was on the table on Saturday. I get why you would shrug and take the deal, but I also think that this is allowing Vos and other WisGOP dweebs to save face in something where they were losing in the court of public opinion, and on a gut level, I would have told those clowns to shove their ALEC BS right up their backsides.

The way this was handled was an absolute disaster, both in making the deal behind closed doors and possibly violating open meetings laws, and then in trying to rush the deal through on a weekend. In fact, State Superintendent Jill Underly (who serves on the Board of Regents) is out of the country on a prior arrangement, and asked the Board to delay the meeting, but they chose not to.

This is not a way to do business, either on the Regents' side, or in Robbin' Vos using his gerrymandered position to hold hostage the pay raises he and the Legislature already approved 6 months ago in the State Budget.

The last week up on Bascom Hill adds to a far-too long list of absurdities and power-grabbing crookedness that has made us just another state in flyover country that makes others ask "What is going on over there in Wisconsin?" This state is so badly in need of new maps and new leaders that'll get this state back to the progressive, pro-education place that made it such a special place to be from through 2010. Tony can't fix all of this damage on his own, folks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

There isn't much to look at with INFLATION WATCH these days

Just as the Federal Reserve's Open Markets Committee starts its meeting, we got even more evidence that inflation is staying under control as we wrap up 2023.

Overall prices only rose 0.1% for the month of November, and have only gone up 2.1% since February. Even grocery prices have calmed down in the last year, with food at home only up 1.7% in the last year. With gas prices staying low in December and oil futures at their lowest point in nearly 6 months, there doesn't seem to be much that would cause inflation to fire back up in early 2024.

With prices taming down, we continue to see inflation-adjusted wages recover the losses they took on in 2022.

That's after another positive month for overall inflation-adjusted average hourly wages, (this time up 0.2%), making it 7 out 9 months for real gains since February, and up 0.8% for the last year. The news is even better for everyday workers, as non-supervisory employees are seeing even larger gains in the last 2 months.

In fact, real average hourly wages for non-supervisory workers are higher now than they were in November 2021, even with all the price hikes in 2022. Another year of wage gains like that wouldn't hurt when it comes to making sure democracy still exists in this country.

Know what else wouldn't hurt? Having the Fed realize that inflation really was a post-COVID transitory thing for the last half of 2021 and first half of 2022, and having them reduce rates from the punitive 5.4% that they have imposed on us. There's no logical reason to have real interest rates of more than 1%, let alone 2%, and I would hope we see some indications this week that this lower-inflation reality has sunk in to the Central Bankers, so they loosen up in 2024.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

New rail stops for Sconnies? Possible, and long overdue

Last week, we found out that we were getting one step closer to having more places for Wisconsinites to travel in-state by rail.

State and local officials received five $500,000 federal grants to study expanding Amtrak passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Chicago, Green Bay, Madison, Eau Claire and the Twin Cities....

The five routes picked for further study would extend service out of Milwaukee to the 500,000-plus residents in the Madison metro area, the more than 820,000 residents along the I-41 corridor between Fond du Lac and Green Bay, and the 160,000-plus residents in Eau Claire.

Rail expansion to Waukesha County, Madison, Green Bay and other communities could attract 250,000 new riders within a decade and 1.6 million by 2050, according to Wisconsin Department of Transportation data published in May.

And that's on top of the recent announcement that there will be a second round trip between Chicago and the Twin Cities (bypassing Madison with the route shown in blue, then heading to the Twin Cities in the route in green), possibly by the end of next year. And given the fact that the second round trip will be within those regions and not part of a longer-distance train, it may have a better chance of serving places at better times with better reliability, due to fewer variables that can complicate things with longer distances.

I would think the route to Madison has better chances of starting sooner than the other new routes, because all it would require is updating information and studies that were done before Scott Walker idiotically got politicians to turn down more than $800 million in stimulus in 2010. Those funds were intended for upgraded rail lines that would have led to passenger rail service between Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities six years ago.

However, we do have some idea on the costs to upgrade the tracks on service to Madison, based on what was estimated back in 2010. The one line item in particular we should look at is the "Watertown to Madison" costs, because service between Milwaukee and Watertown is already being upgraded with the second round trip between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Given that it'll be at least 15-20 years between 2010 and whenever Amtrak service to Madison might start, you can probably double those costs (all the more reason that Walker was a moron for turning this down, it costs a lot more after you delay the work on it), so $660 million plus passenger stations and some additional environment remediation along the way.

That seems like a lot to ask for, but we definitely have the funding and Administration in DC to get it from.

So after being set back for more than a decade, it looks like things are finally (incoming pun warning!) back on track for having more Wisconsinites be able to get on a train and travel from town to town. And given how much Madison and Dane County have grown since 2010, it feels like it's more needed and ready to succeed as ever.


Saturday, December 9, 2023

2 big turns of events at the UW

Well, it's been an interesting 24 hours on Bascom Hill. Starting with what broke yesterday afternoon.

In a deal months in the making, the University of Wisconsin System has agreed to "reimagine" its diversity efforts, restructuring dozens of staff into positions serving all students and freezing the total number of diversity positions for the next three years.

In exchange, universities would receive $800 million for employee pay raises and some building projects, including a new engineering building for UW-Madison.

"This is an evolution, and this is a change moving forward," UW System President Jay Rothman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But it does not in any way deviate from our core values of diversity (and) inclusion."

The compromise brokered with Republican legislative leaders caps a contentious six months of negotiations for the state university system over diversity, equity and inclusion programming. Campuses view DEI programs and staff as critical in supporting a broad range of students while conservatives cast the effort as wasteful and racially divisive.
It's ridiculous that Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos made DEI into such a big deal, because pretty much any business worth a damn has some kind of DEI training and outreach in 2023, and it seems important to show underrepresented groups that they are welcome and valued on campus.

But because Vos cares more about following the culture-war agenda handed down from ALEC and in having his 5'7" self show others that he has power, he held those 4% pay raises from UW employees hostage as the co-chair on the state's Joint Committee on Employee Relations.

System President Jay Rothman thought he had a deal in place that could be accepted by the UW's Board of Regents. And it turned out he was wrong.

Well that wasn't expected. And so we're back to where we were.

Here's the funny part about this whole DEI agreement to me - I don't think much was going to change, and it was a fig leaf for Vos and WisGOP to claim they got something out of a losing issue. Take a look at the language used in the resolution, and it seems like all they were doing were changing job titles.
Through December 31, 2026, the System will not increase from the level currently in effect the aggregate number of positions that serve the System’s core DEI functions: (i) the DEI subfamily that provides DEI services, (ii) the job subgroup “academic services and student experience” with job titles that include DEI, and (iii) senior leadership positions in the dean and/or vice chancellor series focused on DEI. In addition, to continue the enhanced focus on student success, the System will, through a mixture of normal attrition and active restructuring and reimagining of the DEI function, realign over two academic years at least 33% of the above-referenced roles that are currently filled (or at least 43 positions) to areas with a primary focus on academic and student success.
The "position cap" proposal also had a ton of loopholes in it.
The position cap will not apply to faculty. It also will not apply to instructional and other staff who spend at least 75% of their time working directly with students and/or patients, or whose research positions are funded at 75% or more by gifts or grants. In addition, the position cap will not apply to other positions funded by gifts, grants or contracts, positions related to outreach such as Extension provided that such positions are funded 75% or more by gifts, grants, or intergovernmental contracts, or to new positions necessary to address subsequently enacted or expanded state and/or federal compliance mandates. Part-time student employees, who gain both useful employment experience and whose employment helps fund their educational pursuits, would likewise be excluded.
And yet it got rejected anyway. I don't know if that's necessarily the smartest move, because I thought UW was going to make out fine in this deal, but it also could pay off.

Here's how I'm guessing this will play out in the coming weeks. Vos and a few other racist/dweeby GOPs will stamp their feet and claim that UW will now get nothing, at least for a few days. But the spotlight, pressure and anger will now also get turned back onto Vos, and everyday Wisconsinites hate that guy. Attention also needs to get put onto every other Legislative Republican that is allowing that dweeb to hold up these pay raises and hold up the Engineering Building and other facilities that the business people say they need to help the state compete for jobs and talent.

I've heard some dumb right-wingers in social media try to claim this deal "saves money". How so? It gave hundreds of millions for building projects (good investments, but not it's note a savings in the short term), and allowed for the pay raises to go through. Oh, do they think that UW employees will go through the year with no pay raise and that'll be a major taxpayer savings? Well, I got a little secret for those guys - the money is already allocated!

The UW's salary additions are lumped together with other statewide employees in an allocation known as the Compensation Reserves. And that was already fully-funded and signed into law in the state budget.

So what's stopping UW from using the money that it already has and giving the 4% pay raises on their own? As we've seen many a time in the last 20 years, rules and customs have little enforcement power. Sure, it's not great PR with the Legislature, but maybe it's time to say "Screw those clowns. What are they going to do to us anyway?" Evers isn't going to let the Legislature screw over the UW in funding, and the GOPs don't have the numbers (or public support) to override any of his vetoes.

It's high-level poker to be sure, and if I was a Regent, I might have taken Vos's deal while crossing my fingers behind my back on the DEI and positions. But I also think there are enough Regents and others that have simply had enough of Little Napoleon and the rest of the anti-UW WisGOPs, and figure they may as well be seen as fighting for their students and their campus culture.

And that may well be a gamble that pays off. You thought Republicans were toxic in college towns and among the college-educated before this idiocy? Apparently there are new depths for them to comb! And the new maps are coming, kids....

Friday, December 8, 2023

Good US jobs report keeps things moving ahead. We gotta keep telling this truth, and keep it going

It’s another Jobs Friday here in America, so what do we have?

Seems pretty good to me, especially when I see that the unemployment rate dropped for the “good reason” – more people entered the labor force in November (+532,000), and even more found jobs (+747,000). This means that the overall % of Americans working (under the Employment-Population Ratio metric) is at a new post-COVID high.

That’s pretty good considering there are a lot of Boomers that have hit retirement age between 2019 and 2023, which would “naturally” reduce this number. And indeed, a higher percentage of people between the ages of 25-54 are working now (80.7%) than were at the start of 2020 (80.6%).

Later in the morning, there was another positive sign, as it seems that the persistent negativity that many Americans have had over the economy may be finally starting to fade.

Consumer fears over inflation tumbled in December amid declining energy prices and as the impact of interest rate hikes take hold.

In the latest University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey released Friday, the one-year outlook for the inflation rate slid to 3.1%, down sharply from 4.5% in November and the lowest since March 2021. The five-year outlook also moved lower, down to 2.8% from 3.2% the previous month….

Consumer optimism also jumped higher in December. The University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment index rose more than 8 points to 69.4, tied for the best level since July. The current conditions index registered a reading of 74, up nearly 6 points, while the expectations index surged almost 10 points to 66.4.
It’s still not at the levels we had pre-COVID, but that’s mostly because MAGAs refuse to accept the real world and just assume things are worse because their guy isn’t in power.

After those reports, some of the spin from the Wall Street media is that this news wasn’t so great if you wanted to see the Fed start cutting interest rates sooner than later. And indeed, after 6 weeks of declining longer-term yields, they had a bit of a reversal today.
Treasury yields jumped Friday after the November jobs report showed the unemployment rate unexpectedly fall, suggesting continued tightness in the labor market despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to cool the economy.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was up by 9 basis points at 4.22% as it recovered some losses made earlier in the week when it dipped as low as 4.14%. Similar levels were last seen in early September.

The 2-year Treasury was last more than 11 basis points higher at 4.692%.
But those figures are still 50-75 basis points below where they peaked in mid-October, and I think they should stay down, because I don't think the outlook is much different than it was before Friday’s jobs report.

So if things didn’t really change much, why did sentiment go up by so much in November? I hope it’s because the reality that the economy is really good is finally starting to get through the Bubble of BS that is regularly pumped out by Faux News and other GOPper-ganda on a daily basis.

Chris Hayes had an excellent segment (last night) which illustrated how the Biden Administration has handled a series of economic challenges, and we've come out the other side in good shape. But the RW messaging machine tried to convince everyday Americans that the country was either headed to or in a recession (which hasn't happened), and by hammering on rises in prices of products like eggs and gasoline, to try to anger people and convince them that inflation was still an economic headwind (it really hasn’t been for 18 months).

People may be annoyed that interest rates are higher than they have been in 20 years, given how it adds expenses to borrowing and is an impediment if they haven’t been lucky enough to have bought a home or car before 2022. And I agree that they shouldn't be as high as they are (due to Republican Jerome Powell and other central bankers who are still stuck in the 1970s). But there also are a lot more people working than they were 4 years ago, they’re making more money in doing so, and there isn’t that much out there to slow that down as we head into 2024.

We just gotta keep telling the truth about where things are today, and learn the lessons of the last 4 years of economic policy – direct government investment and supports works when it comes to getting people back to work and in making them feel more secure about their futures. And when we back off on that investment and support, then the problems and concerns kick in (like when Joe Manchin and all Senate Republicans tanked the Child Tax Credit in late 2021).

So don’t take the foot off the gas and stop more of the progress that has been made in the 2020s. As part of their 2024 strategy, Dems should call out the oligarchs who are clearly unhappy that the typical American worker now has options in a full-employment economy, and that the "special few" can’t extract even more than the already-excessive profits and productivity gains that they are getting. What we have now is a better situation than we had from 2001-2019, and we can’t afford to go back to that losing way.