Sunday, June 30, 2013

So where's our economy at now?

A few reports in the past week have given us a bit more insight on where the economy's going, or not going. First of all, US economic growth wasn't as good in the first quarter as we originally thought, as GDP was revised down from 2.4% to 1.8% for Q1 2013, largely due to lower-than-previously-thought levels of consumer spending, exports, and inventories.

When you plug those numbers in, I see a bit of a cause for concern, as year-over-year growth has now been at 1.7% and 1.6% the last 2 quarters, and private GDP growth a hair under 2.5%. Those are the lowest levels in back-to-back quarters that we've had in over 3 years, when we just pulling ourselves out of the Great Recession. So we might need to keep our eye on it when the 2nd Quarter figures come out in a month, because a third straight quarter of stalling growth means we have a real trend on our hands, and could start popping some of the stock market and real estate bubbles we're seeing.

But for the long view, it still looks like a slowly-growing economy, as slower growth is still better than contraction, and the GDP numbers are still climbing as they have the last 3 1/2 years.

And despite the GDP slowdown, the job market has stayed on the same upward path- jobs keep getting added in the 175,000-200,000 a month range, and the unemployment rate has slowly declined from 9.0% in May 2011 to 8.2% in May 2012 to 7.6% in May 2013. Now, I have little doubt we'd be doing a lot better if the dingbats in DC weren't clinging to a semi-austere strategy and concentrated on job growth over our shrinking deficit, but there's also no question we're better off than we were a couple of years ago, and a couple of years before that (when unemployment was 9.4%).

Unemployment claim numbers also indicate this, as US claims keep falling by 7-10% on a year-over-year basis, with the most recent report showing the 4-week average just under a seasonally-adjusted 346,000. In Wisconsin, the unemployment claim story isn't quite as rosy. While not as bad as the year-over-year increases we saw earlier this year (which coincided with the horrible March and April jobs reports), we also aren't seeing drops to the levels we've seen in the rest of the country- more like 4-6% year-over-year instead of 7-10%. This explains why the change in the Wisconsin numbers have generally been below the rate of the US, as shown by the purple line above 0% in this chart.

And despite a strong bounce-back jobs report in May, the last 3 months are still dismal here in Wisconsin, as we've lost a total of 18,400 jobs in those three months. This awful performance was reflected in this week's release of the Philly Fed coincident index for states, which showed Wisconsin as one of only 5 states with a shrinking economy for those 3 months, and the only one in the Midwest.

And when you go back to the start of the Fitzwalkerstani era in January 2011 and compare it with our Midwestern neighbors, Wisconsin remains the clear laggard...with no growth at all for 2013, unlike the US's steady growth.

So as Governor Walker signs his budget continuing and expanding the same "cut and divert funds to cronies" policies that have put us in this spot for the last 2 years, ask yourself- why would you expect a different result? And even more so, what happens if the decline of US economic growth isn't just a blip, but instead a sign of things to come in the next few months, especially as we come upon another budget and debt ceiling showdown in the next 3 months? Ruh roh.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Quick QCEW rundown for Wisconsin

Was tied up doing more productive things on a warm Summer day yesterday, but here are a few reflections on the QCEW release from yesterday (click here for the always-cool interactive chart).

1. On a state by-state comparison, Wisconsin didn't do as bad as I would have expected 31st in the nation for job growth overall, and 33rd in the private sector, better than the 40-something rankings they had for the 3rd quarter, and the job growth rates were above what we had last quarter. However, both Walker years are still worse than what we had in Jim Doyle's final year of 2010, as you can see with the prior reports.

Year-over-year total job change, Wisconsin 2010-2012
Q4 2012- +1.19%
Q3 2012- +0.77%
Q2 2012- +1.49%
Q1 2012- +1.17%
Q4 2011- +0.81%
Q4 2010- +1.28%(Doyle/Dem)

Year-over-year private sector job change, Wisconsin 2010-2012
Q4 2012- +1.40%
Q3 2012- +1.02%
Q2 2012- +1.64%
Q1 2012- +1.79%
Q4 2011- +1.31%
Q4 2010- +1.50% (Doyle/Dem)

Particularly when you look at charts of the QCEW's private sector growth numbers, you'll notice that the state hit a ceiling of growth once Act 10 was passed - the highest year-over-year job growth numbers were in March 2011, the month Act 10 was passed.

Also take a look at the numbers starting in June 2012. Remember how Robin Vos and the GOPs were claiming the state's economy would "take off like a rocket" if Walker was retained and the "uncertainty" of the recall election was behind us. Well, there was an effect of keeping Walker on- job growth TANKED, down nearly 40% in the 3 months after the recall, and still down almost 6,000 from what they were in the month the recall election happened.

These numbers also don't account for the deteriorating jobs situation we've had since the start of the year. If that's any indication, these numbers will slip when we see the next QCEW report in September.

Change in jobs, not seasonally adjusted,
Dec 2011-May 2012- +25,369 (QCEW)
Dec 2012-May 2013- +15,000 (BLS)

So this indicates that we're down another 10,000 in year-over-year growth for the first 5 months of this year, and a lot of that will show up in the next report, dropping the relatively small increase of 32,000 private sector jobs down toward 22,000.

The BLS's recent state-by-state report bears that slippage out. This report is benchmarked to the QCEW stats, but also includes its estimates for the 5 months measured since the end of 2012. When you look at that report, Wisconsin does a lot worse than 33rd in job growth.

May 2012-May 2013 jobs by state, U.S.
All jobs
45. Ark.+0.25%
46. Maine +0.23%
47. Wis. +0.19%
48. Penn +0.08%
49. Wyo. -0.55%
50. Alaska -1.27%

Private sector
45. R.I. +0.54%
46. Wis. +0.51%
47. Ark. +0.48%
48. Penn +0.41%
49. Alaska -0.56%
50. Wyo. -0.66%

So even while the end-of-2012 QCEW report marks a slight blip up from the horrible report of the 3rd quarter, I wouldn't characterize it as anything to crow about- it's more like a 65-win baseball team going up to 75 wins. I don't find that acceptable, and I sure hope you don't either. And the bad numbers we've seen in the first half of this year should tell us that we're going to continue our slide down in the first QCEW reports reflecting stats for 2013.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quick preview of today's "most accurate" jobs release

Around 9am today, we should see the final 2012 numbers for the Quarterly Census of Wages and Employment. This was a report few of us even knew until Scott Walker and his campaign busted it out 1 month before the recall election, (and lied about the numbers, as well as refused to reveal Wisconsin's awful standing nationwide).

In the last QCEW, Wisconsin was 42nd overall for job creation over the prior 12 months, 44th in the private sector, and 45th for wage growth/loss. Don't expect much of that to change, given that the state's own reporting to the BLS has job growth at a paltry 1.2% year-over-year overall, and 1.4% in the private sector, well under the U.S. levels for 2012.

So keep your eyes open for this one, as well as any of the pathetic spin this administration will no doubt give about its failing policies. I got things to do today, but I may be back later to break down these numbers, and other jobs-associated ones.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Open for (Monkey) Business" indeed

I am Jake's complete lack of surprise.

Walker showing up at contributors' businesses for events has been an ongoing pattern for the 30 months of this disastrous regime, as I pointed out 3 months ago, as well as last year.

And how many Wisconsin Mainstream Media members will bring up this fact when Walker holds his budget-signing event on Sunday (in front of captive workers brought in on their day off)? I'll give an over-under of 0.5, and take the under.

Monday, June 24, 2013

This is why I don't watch Sunday talk shows

I could give a long spiel regarding David Gregory's disgusting act this Sunday when he basically accused Glenn Greenwald of being a criminal for reporting Edward Snowden's revelations of NSA phone-logging measures.

But I'll let people much smarter than I do it instead. First, the always-excellent Charlie Pierce.
Every actual journalist at NBC should spit every time David Gregory walks by. Hell, the janitorial staff should spit as he walks by, but that would simply be making more work for themselves, so I guess they won't. As someone who's career has straddled the Big Ditch between the old media and the new, I will grant you that the definition of who's a journalist has become rather fluid over the past few decades. Whatever you may think of Glenn Greenwald -- and, Jesus, he makes it tough sometimes -- what he's doing with Edward Snowden is journalism by any definition anyone ever proposed for it. (He's arranging logistical help for an important source? Newspapers used to do that with some regularity. It's even an important plot point in both the greatest newspaper movie ever made (His Girl Friday) and in the second-greatest newspaper movie ever made -- Deadline USA with Humphrey Bogart.) Meanwhile, let us recall that a former chief of staff for Dick Cheney testified under oath in the Scooter Libby trial that MTP was that White House's preferred launching pad for arrant bullshit. Let us recall the marvelous quote the late, sainted Tim Russert gave to Bill Moyers in which he said he'd wished "somebody had called him" to warn him that we were being lied into a war. Under the Dancin' Master, the show has devolved further into being a playground for the courtier press. Maybe we do need a new definition of what journalism is. But, whatever new definition emerges, it shouldn't be developed by the host of Meet The Fking Press, which is no more "journalism" than Duck Dynasty is a nature program.

This was a career defining moment. It's rare that someone reveals himself quite as clearly as the Dancin' Master does in that little by-play. He will "debate" who is or is not a journalist, and the rest of us can wait under the balcony and wait for scraps. The clearly batty Peggy Noonan is a journalist, but Glenn Greenwald may not be. Journalism has sickened itself with respectability, debilitated itself with manners, crippled itself with politesse, and David Gregory may well be Patient Zero for all of this. As my Irish grandmother used to say, mother of god, who the hell is he when he's at home?
And in the comments was a link to another excellent article bringing the true point of the incident home, this time by's Will Bunch.
Note that I headlined this post, "The one question a journalist should never ask." That cuts two different ways. I wouldn't object to Gregory asking the question of a colleague in a rhetorical sense, as in, "Explain to the people out there why journalism is a protected activity, even if the whistleblower involved risks being charged with a crime." I don't believe that was Gregory's intention, however. But if you believe that the very essence of doing your job well is somehow a crime...well, you simply are not a real, serious journalist. That may sound harsh but there's no other way to put it.

Indeed, I feel like the last week has really put the very essence of what journalism is under the microscope. On one hand, so many of us are deeply mourning the sudden loss of Michael Hastings, the journalist -- and I mean that in very sense of the word -- who worked for Buzzfeed and previously for Rolling Stone and who died in a one-car accident at the age of 33. Hastings was completely fearless -- not just because he reported from Iraq and Afghanistan but because of the unrelentingly tough questions he asked and the stories that resulted, including one that took down a top general. Hastings cared 0 percent about losing access to, or offending, the powerful and 100 percent about the truth.

Contrast that with David Gregory and his ilk of overpaid, overfed Beltway big-shots. They live in a bubble where access to the powerful isn't everything, it's the only thing. They regularly dine with and socialize with the folks that they "cover," went to the same elite universities with their sources and now send their kids to the same exclusive private schools. It's a good life...and no one wants to rock the boat. This is not a blanket condemnation -- it is actually possible to do real journalism in Washington, D.C., and some do. But the comforting-the-comfortable kind like Gregory rule the day. They are court couriers, relaying whispered information and placing an abiding trust in the all-powerful whisperers. There really needs to be a word in the English language that describes what they do. I know it is not "journalism."
Right on the damn money. A lot of DC Sunday talk "journalism" is really nothing more than a group of back-scratchers who want to wallow in their own self-importance instead of digging deep into pressing issues of the day, and getting real insight and answers from top decision-makers. By asking that leading question, David Gregory exposed himself as being on the side of the Military Industrial Complex, and against the side of journalism.

Instead of asking "Where in the world is Edward Snowden?", the real questions that our media should be asking are:

"What are the limitations of this NSA program (if any)?"
"Who imposes those limits?", and
"Why the hell don't we know the answer to the other 2 questions?"

But of course, asking these questions and examining these issues would require actual work and questioning of the security state, and God Forbid our DC cocktail party guests actually have to work and risk their invites to the next social gathering.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Good May jobs report isn't close to repairing WisGOP damage

It's well past time that this state had a good jobs report, and we got one in May, with 12,700 private sector jobs added, and 10,400 overall, and the unemployment rate ticking down to 7.0%. There also were upwards revisions to April's report, of another 1,800 private sector jobs and 2,200 overall.

Looking inside the report, it looks like some of the May job gain was seasonal springback from the April losses, as usual warm-weather hiring got delayed due to the cold and crappy April weather, which artificially lowered some of April's adjusted seasonally-numbers, and raised May's. You can see this in the following service-economy sectors, especially when you throw in the non-seasonal numbers for the month.

Wis. job growth by sector, April-May 2013
Leisure and Hospitality- April +6,100 non-seasonally adjusted, -2,900 seasonally-adjusted
Leisure and Hospitality- May +19,200 n.s.a, +4,600 s.a.

Professional and Other Services- April +1,700 n.s.a, -5,900 s.a.
Professional and Other Services- May +5,400 n.s.a, +4,000 s.a.

Trade- April +2,500 n.s.a, -800 s.a.
Trade- May +6,200 n.s.a, +1,700 s.a.

All 3 of these sectors have 2-month seasonally-adjusted changes of less than 2,000 jobs either lost or gained, but more of the hiring happened in May is year vs. most years, which explains the big swings from month to month. Take out these 3 sectors, and we had barely any job growth at all for May (+100 total jobs, +2,400 private sector).

And when you take into account the horrifying March and April jobs reports, we're still way down compared to where we were 3 months ago, even when you account for May's strong report.

Wisconsin jobs reports March-May 2013
March -7,000 total, +100 private sector
April -21,900 total, -20,800 private sector
May +10,500 total, +12,700 private sector
TOTAL -18,400 total, -8,000 private sector

So while the state made a slight cut into the Walker jobs gap in May, we're still down more than 60,000 jobs from where we should be, and any positive job growth trend has flattened out in the 12 months since the recall election of June 2012.

I noticed that the Walker folks were remarkably subdued about the May report, and you can see why. A lot of it is simply reversion to the norm when it comes to warm-weather seasonal hiring, and they've dug such a hole when it comes to jobs that it'd take a full year of these kinds of reports to get back toward the U.S. rate.

Oh, and there's another reason. The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) is scheduled to be released this week, with comparisons for the December 2011-December 2012 time period. With the state listed in the bottom 10 for both jobs and wages in the last of 2012, I don't think this administration is going to want to draw attention to its record of jobs failure, because that number is likely to suck yet again.

Wisc. Soapbox destroys Chris Rickert on vouchers

Now THIS is the way you take apart clueless hack columnists. Well done stuff from Andy Fozzy at the Wisconsin Soapbox, where he dismantles Chris Rickert's simplistic pro-voucher argument of "well, they're cheaper, so there's something positive to them, and public schools won't be hurt with declining attendance." I recommend reading the whole thing, but this last part is a great ender.
Okay Mr. Rickert, what school would you shut down to reduce facility costs? This isn't like your home where you can shut the vent off to one room to not have your gas-fired furnace run as often. The school's boiler works just as well for 550 students as it does for 500, or 450, or 449. Even if you lose 5 students from a small district that has one elementary school, what teacher do you lose? Librarian? Secretary? What do you do, combine classrooms? Defer purchasing technology/books? (Because I'm sure having outdated things is a great way to be competitive against private schools.)

Furthermore, special education students and what they are required to have in terms of staff and accommodations, are often mandated by the Federal Government, meaning that the local district isn't able to simply "reduce" their costs. This would be why people were flipping-out at the idea of special education vouchers, and why the problem of losing non-special education students exacerbates to problem of funding public schools. (Not that I'm advocating "losing" special-education students or denying them every right or learning experience they rightly deserve.) I really wish Mr. Rickert would've witnessed the voucher forum in Fond du Lac, and had Superintendent Aaron Sadoff explain all of this to him in person...

Yes, businesses make changes to their market, but schools aren't business. I, along with my colleagues are so sick and tired of people thinking that education is like business. It's NOT! You can't simply ramp up or down your supply of workers and move kids around from room to room like they are items being manufactured in a plant. They are HUMAN BEINGS! They have emotional responses, and disruptions to the learning environment affect them, especially younger students. Here's a thing you learn in college - Kids learn and react differently than adults!

So you know what Mr. Rickert, don't sound like you don't know what in the hell you are talking about. My guess is that when you think the Superintendent of School's argument is wrong, you're probably barking up the wrong tree with your own special bag of facts. That is, unless you aren't armed with facts, but ideology. Well, then you are just a conservative, Neo-Stalwart modern day Republican.
Yeah, righties aren't that good when it comes to that concept of "fixed cost" when it comes to facilities, are they? But they do exemplify this quote from Oscar Wilde.
What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Cause today's WisGOPs are nothing if not cynical.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Budget bunko- less shared revs = higher property taxes

Between all the talk about vouchers and Koo-Koo tax cuts and ballooning deficits is an issue that deals with the bread-and-butter of government- local services like roads, police and fire protection. And this is an area where the Walker/ WisGOP budget falls way short, as illustrated by a great breakdown by the Wisconsin Budget Project. As you'll see here, state aid to local governments and agencies have little to no increase for the next 2 years after having been slashed in Walker's first budget in 2011.

And many of those increases only appear in year 2 of the budget, which means that local Wisconsin communities will somehow have to find a place to make up the difference in 2014. This is especially a problem when you realize that cuts in shared revenues have been on a downward trend for the last 6 years, so the 2013-2015 years will add to the troubles these communities have had in trying to make ends meet without the state's help.

In addition, most places have already used the "tools" from Act 10 as a one-time savings, so there's not another shell to turn over going forward that'll cut expenses without cuts in services. So that leaves higher taxes and further service cuts as the obvious solutions to the lack of state support in the 2013-15 Walker/WisGOP budget, as Wisconsin law gives few to no ways for local governments to get revenues other than property taxes. Local sales taxes are generally only allowed at the county level, and are limited to 0.5% (in contrast to places like Illinois and many states in the South, which allow cities and counties to have much higher local sales taxes), and Wisconsin law forbids a local income tax.

Interestingly, the WisGOP legislature (with Walker's approval) has increasingly forced the burdens for local funding onto the property tax, and not just through their cuts in shared revenues. The best example of this comes from May 2011, when the GOPs on the Joint Finance Committee agreed to abolish the state's Regional Transit authorities, with current Assembly Speaker Robin "Boss" Vos calling them "abominations." And sure enough, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that property taxes are headed up around the state for the next 2 years.
As a result of the preceding changes, gross property tax levies are estimated to increase on a statewide basis by 1.7% in 2013(14) and 1.5% in 2014(15), and net tax levies would increase by an estimated 1.7% in 2013(14) and 1.9% in 2014(15). These tax changes would translate into tax bills for a median-valued home estimated at $2,973 in 2013(14) and $3,002 in 2014(15). These represent increases of $29 (0.99%) in 2013(14) and $29 (0.98%) in 2014(15).
The only reason these numbers aren't even higher is because the GOPs have chosen to impose strict limits on how much local communities can raise in property taxes (so much for being the "party of local control"), which the Wisconsin Budget Project points out in their article.
This budget continues strict controls on the amount of property taxes that local governments are able to raise. Under this proposal, counties, municipalities, and technical colleges must limit any increase in their levy to the growth in property values due to new construction. Unutilized levy capacity may be used with a two-thirds vote of the local governing board.

The budget bill proposes streamlining property tax controls, with the effect that counties, municipalities, and technical colleges will all be governed by the same basic restrictions on local property tax levies.
Which means that places with growing/ sprawling property values will be the ones able to see the largest increases in property tax levies, in order to keep up with the needs of their community. In Wisconsin, these places are generally a few select suburbs of Milwaukee, suburban Dane County, and the exurbs of Minnesota's Twin Cities in western Wisconsin. That Western Wisconsin area is particularly interesting to note, because it's the fastest-growing area of the state by percentage of population, and the most recent state Realtors report shows that home sales prices are up 20% in 2013 for St. Croix County, and 17% in Pierce County, both reflecting the growing economy in the Twin Cities.

So guess what happens to Western Wisconsin's tax bills for 2014? They will go WAY up, and all of a sudden, it doesn't seem like such a great idea to live in Wisconsin when you're working in the Twin Cities. Especially when Minnesota's Governor and Dem Legislature are promoting measures that could lead to $400 million in property tax relief. And yet the GOP representatives for the area- Erik Severson, John Murtha, Dean Knudson, and Sheila Harsdorf - all voted for a budget that will hike the hell out of property taxes for their constituents, and stop the area's growth. Good luck explaining that one to your middle-class constituents - if they even choose to stay.

This could have easily been prevented, either by choosing to use some of the state's one-time surplus to help out local communities and school districts (which would reduce the need to increase property taxes), or by giving the local communities the options to raise revenues as they see fit. But no, apparently those "tools" aren't allowed in right-wing Bubbleworld, and the GOPs have chosen Koo-Koo tax cuts and continuing this policy of hamstringing local governments - which is especially stupid after you realize that the heavy rains and snows from this year are going to eat up any carryover surpluses these places might be able to have.

With a structural deficit estimated at between $505 million and $545 million in the next budget (BEFORE accounting for the stock market and housing bubbles popping), don't bet on the local communities being able to get much help from the state unless the faces in the Legislature are drastically changed. The key is for local officials and citizens to point the attention of casual bystanders in the right direction once these inevitable tax hikes happen- to the dingbat GOP legislators in Madison who cling to failed trickle-down philosophies in economics and tax-shifting.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Suburban WisGOP Senators- Ignorant, stupid, or liars?

Yes, Funhouse readers, it's time to play one of our favorite games- "Are these right-wingers ignorant, stupid, or lying?"

Our contestants today: GOP State Senators Leah Vukmir and Mary Lazich. I know this will stun you, but they represent suburban Milwaukee, and they dropped these nuggets of wisdom when explaining their theory behind rejecting the Medicaid expansion that is part of Obamacare.
Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said that Democrats are neglecting the failure of the federal government to deliver on their promises, and said it's odd that [Sen. Jon] Erpenbach prefers Medicaid expansion to the exchanges that are supposed to provide "affordable health care."

Vukmir argued that accepting the Medicaid proposal could leave Wisconsinites hanging in the lurch when it's proven that federal handouts are not sustainable.

"It will create a huge hole in our budget here in Wisconsin and the very people that we are here to provide a helping hand to, the very people that deserve that safety net from government...those are the people that are going to be hurt the most by this decision," Vukmir said. "It's a fool's errand."

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, argued that the governor's plan helps those people under 100 percent of the poverty line on the BadgerCare waiting list while providing a plan to pay for their coverage. That's something the feds, she argued, haven't got figured out. She cited a recent stock market plunge on news of the Federal Reserve saying they were pulling out of the stimulus program as signs of a rocky funding source on the federal level.

"Doesn't look too promising for incomes that are going to have a whole lot of taxability to send this money off to Washington to send back to the state," Lazich said.
There are 2 big problems with this "uncertainty of federal funds" argument.

1. As I mentioned last week, this budget relies on more federal money than we had 2 years ago, even BEFORE taking any of the Obamacare Medicaid funds.

Federal assistance in budget
2013-2015 DHS base- $9.726 billion
2013-2015 JFC budget, DHS- $10.295 billion ($+568.1 million)

2011-13 Adopted budget- $19.079 billion
2013-15 JFC Gen. Fun budget- $19.733 billion (+$634 billion)

2. If Crazy Mary Lazich is worried about the budgetary impacts of the Dow tanking 600 points in the last 3 days (and she should, because the alleged surplus is based largely on the booming stock market over any wage growth), then get rid of some of these Koo-Koo tax cuts, set the surplus aside in a rainy day fund, and have a cushion for any federal budget cuts or downturns in state revenues.

That's NOT what they chose to do, which proves that this Medicaid decision in based on striking a pose for low-info 620 and 1130 listeners against Obamacare over any sort of concern of "fiscal responsibility" or future debt.

Now my question to you, fair reader is this. "Are these dingbat suburban Senators "Ignorant, stupid, or lying?"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Have you forgotten? UW budget cuts

One of the budget items that seems to have fallen by the wayside in our ADD media world is the continued trend in Wisconsin of taking taxpayer dollars out of the UW System. You may recall the "controversy" about the allegedly large UW surplus of Program Revenue funds (i.e. funds not paid for with tax dollars, but through self-funding methods like tuition and student fees, student union proceeds, and parking fees). I called out the GOP's complaints for the bullshit it was at the time, as it was budget cuts that many Republicans backed from 2002 through 2012 that led the UW System to be more aggressive in relying on tuition and other sources of revenue.

Now that the Joint Finance Commission decided to punish the UW System by pulling all of Governor Walker's proposed taxpayer-supported increase, and imposing a tuition freeze for the next 2 years, let's take a look at the LFB summary and identify where we currently stand with UW funding.

The bottom line is that again, taxpayers are slated to pay about $2.5 million less into the UW System than they would if they held funding at the 2012-2013 levels, but they allow the UW System to spend an additional $210 million over the next 2 years. So how does the JFC think the UW System should make up the $212.5 million difference? By spending down the "excess" Program Revenues that they complained about beforehand, which is a double-hit for that fund, since the System can't use tuition as the way to come up with that extra $212.5 million.

As a result, the System reports that they are looking at a $61 million structural deficit within the next 3 years as a result of these moves. Now, you can choose to be skeptical of the System's claim, based on prior claims of going broke, but you certainly can see why they might be low on funds if they can't get them from the state and you can't get them from students through tuition.

If you track the funding of the UW System once the major cuts began in 2002, you can see how the tuition freeze departs from prior policy. While sometimes the cuts in state funding were offset in later years, like when the 2008 spending per full-time UW student got back to 2002 levels (while still losing ground vs. inflation), there also is a clear correlation between lower state funding and higher tuition.

Here's another way of looking at it. In 2002, there was more than twice as much general taxpayer spending per full-time student than a student had to pay in tuition to UW-Madison. That number had dropped to 1-to-1 by 2008, and now student tuition is higher than state spending by a factor of 4-to-3.

This is what made the complaints of Legislative GOPs to the UW officials about the alleged surplus ring so hollow to me, because they were taking themselves off the hook for agreeing to the budget cuts that inevitably has led to the "cut-raise tuition-cut more- raise tuition more" cycle that the System has been under for the last decade. As the charts show, one goes with the other, so if the GOPs wanted to keep UW tuition low, they should have been working to try to fund the schools over the last 10 years.

Oh but "they're just trying to be accountable to tax dollars", you say. Ok, let's check to see if they're also cutting state funding and tax credits for the horribly unaccountable WEDC, an organization that 60% of Wisconsinites said they had little or no confidence in, according to a recent UWM poll. And if you take out GOP bubble-worlders, that figure was closer to 75% that had little or no confidence.

A quick check of the WEDC budget summary shows that indeed WEDC is slated to receive $30.3 million less in the next 2 years. But then you read this part, and realize they're not getting cut at all.
Transfer $35,274,700 GPR and $20,276,000 SEG in 2014-15 from WEDC to the Joint Committee on Finance's GPR and SEG supplemental appropriations. WEDC would be required submit a report to the Joint Committee on Finance that includes information indicating that the Corporation is complying with the recommendations of the LAB included in the May, 2013, audit of WEDC, and the chief executive officer of WEDC would have to appear before the Committee at the second quarterly meeting in fiscal year 2013-14 under s. 13.10 of the statutes (December, 2013). The Committee would be authorized to release the funding based on the CEO's testimony, and the information included in the report if it finds WEDC is complying with the audit recommendations.
So if the WEDC officials claim they're going along with the LAB recommendations, they could get their $35.4 million back. And given that 12 of the 16 Joint Finance members are Republicans who love the idea of unaccountable entities handing out tax breaks to their buddies, they won't ask too many tough questions, and they'll probably go along with giving them the money. This means that $30.3 million GPR cut to WEDC now becomes a $5.1 million GAIN.

That contingency fund really illustrates the double-standard GOP leggies have had between the UW System and WEDC. The GOPs in the JFC could well have told the UW System to report on their PR balances, and only release additional GPR funding to the UW if the System was proving they were paying down the alleged surplus - a similar tact to what they took with WEDC. But instead the GOPs cut out the GPR funding from the UW System, and used the "savings" to help pay for their Koo-Koo tax cuts that will blow a hole in the budget within 2 years.

Let's not forget that budgets are indeed moral documents, and what is valued and what is not shows in what ultimately gets passed. For the GOP members of the Finance Committee, those priorities are clearly giveaways to the rich and corporate like WEDC and rich-favoring tax cuts. By comparison, the great resources and talent-generator that is the UW System is thrown to the wayside in favor of these failing policies. Keep it in mind going forward, and do not forget as November 2014 approaches.

The downward spiral of GOP budgets

Excellent cartoon in this week's Isthmus by Alan Talaga and Jon Lyons. And very true.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

WisGOP budget quite W-like

With the Assembly scheduled to start taking up the state budget on Tuesday, let's take a look through the LFB's listing of where the $70 billion budget is at, and discuss a few items.

First of all, the budget is built on a projected surplus of nearly $670 million that is supposed to exist at the end of this month. As mentioned before, is mainly the product of two items that have little to do with real economic growth. The first is the large cuts to shared revenues, K-12 schools and take-home pay for state employees that are the hallmark of Scott Walker's agenda, which has led to Wisconsin having by far the worst economy in the Midwest for the last 2 years, and the nation's economy has grown at a rate more than twice Wisconsin has in the last 2 1/2 years. The second reason for the surplus is a one-time fluke revenue increase in 2012 due to the fiscal cliff at the end of the year, and a booming, bubbly stock market that I wouldn't count on continuing.

Then you look at the overall General Fund numbers, project them forward, and look at how the General Fund balance deteriorates.

Year-end General Fund Balances 2013-2017
2013 +$670 million
2014 +$470 million
2015 +$174 million
2016 -$202 million
2017 -$505 million

You can see how things fall apart, and quickly. What are the culprits? Well, first is the Koo-Koo income tax cut, which built off of Walker's dumb initial tax cut proposal and took it to the next level of stupidity. The breakdown of the various tax and fee changes estimates the tax cuts to reduce state revenues by $647 million over the next 2 years, and the LFB adds that 2/3 of the tax cut among married couples will go to couples making more than $100,000. While my wife and I are looking at an average tax cut of $11 a month, couples making $300,000 or more are slated to get an average tax cut of more than $120 a month. Then, when you look at the property tax increases coming from this budget, that takes away about 20% of that tax cut for us. No help at all.

The other big culprit in the 2013-2017 deficits is Walker's decision to pander to the Bagger base instead of bend to reality and accept Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid (click here for why this is so stupid). The budget is slated to spend another $850 million in state taxpayer dollars for Medicaid and other Health Services over the next 2 years, but the state's extra costs could have been cut by $119 million in this budget and another $170 million in the next just by taking the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. But NOOOOOO, Walker thinks the 30%-ers that are the GOP bubble-world base are more important than the 100% of Wisconsinites that benefit from lower taxpayer costs and the improved economic stability that results from more people being covered by insurance.

And the DHS budget also gives us time to debunk the latest GOP talking point- as illustrated by this recent Walker ramble.
“Everybody acknowledges in that city (Washington D.C.) there’s a deficit. They can’t afford what they have now, let alone adding it, so there’s going to be a lot of states that bet on the expansion that I think aren’t going to see the money. I’m not going to expose my taxpayers to have them pick up that when the bottom falls out (because) of the lack of the federal government to be able to make their commitment.”
This is an absurd take, and not just for the fact that the federal budget deficit is falling fast, but because the Walker/ WisGOP budget has the state taking in more federal dollars than it was 2 years ago. This is true not just for Medicaid and other health services, but for the budget as a whole.

Federal assistance in budget
2013-2015 DHS base- $9.726 billion
2013-2015 JFC budget, DHS- $10.295 billion ($+568.1 million)

2011-134 Adopted budget- $19.079 billion
2013-15 JFC Gen. Fun budget- $19.733 billion (+$634 billion)

As you can see, Walker's budget relies on more than a half a billion dollars in additional federal Health Care funds, and there's even more added federal help in the state budget as a whole. If the concern about federal budget cuts was legit, then why wouldn't Walker demand a contingency fund be set up from the alleged budget surplus for just such an emergency (i.e., if his fellow Baggers pulled back federal money for the states)?

That's NOT what the GOPs are doing, as this budget keeps our rainy day fund at a tiny $65 million out of annual General Fund expenses of $15.55 billion (that's 0.42% for you scoring at home). Instead it blows the surplus on tax cuts that won't do anything to help the vast majority of Wisconsinites. So it's obvious that the only place Walker has these crocodile tears about federal funding for is Obamacare, proving that this is a shameless pander to the low-info right-wing bubble, because the rest of his budget shows he sure doesn't have a problem having us tied into federal funds for almost everything else.

When you see actions like this, and you realize that a big reason there's any alleged surplus to squander is because people like me had $300 a month taken out of our pocket due to Act 10, and you see the big picture take focus- Act 10 stole money from workers in order to give tax cuts to rich people. We know Act 10 didn't give relief to local governments and school districts (they had state aid cuts that offset any fiscal benefit they got from Act 10, and very little of those cuts are filled in for this budget), and our economy stagnated while the rest of the nation zoomed ahead due to the lack of demand.

The cuts in taxes and shared revenues also means our options are limited when the stock market bubble inevitably pops and our next recession hits - taxes will have to go up, either at the state level, or through the local communities having to make up for state aids being cut. The other option is massive reductions in services past what we already have, resulting in more economic distress, and/or the selling off of services (probably to GOP donators who would then jack around the public for big profits). What Walker and company are gambling on is that it doesn't happen until after the 2014 elections.

If this short-term thinking and bad fiscal policy sounds familiar it should. Because another Dubya signed similarly stupid tax cuts to blow our deficit sky-high last decade.

And this budget will screw us at the state level every bit that the Bush tax cuts cost us as a nation.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Polls show WisGOPs living in economic bubble world

UWM's quarterly Economic Report Card and poll for Wisconsin came out this week regarding the state of Wisconsin's economy and other transportation-related issues, and the topline result of 56% of state residents find the state to be "going in the right direction," is obviously a main finding. But there's also a large increase in the number of people who find this state's economy to be going down the drain, which seems to be quite a contradiction.

This may confuse you on first reading, but then you read the actual UWM report, and the answer becomes pretty clear. Wisconsin Republicans live in a delusional bubble and would rather root for their team than face the facts. Even "Independents" (many of whom are Baggers in hiding) are starting to see that it ain't working.
The two strongest predictors of opinion regarding the direction of the state continue to be political affiliation and personal economic situations....Most Democrats (69%) say the state is “on the wrong track,” while the vast majority of Republicans (87%) say the state is “headed in the right direction”. Opinion about Wisconsin’s general direction among partisans has not changed substantially since last quarter. Independents are evenly split on the question; 51% express a positive opinion regarding Wisconsin’s overall direction, while 49% hold a negative view. Opinion among political independents has changed significantly since last quarter, when 65% said the state was headed “in the right direction.”
Same trend shows up when people are asked about the current state of the Wisconsin economy.

Evaluation of current Wisconsin economy.

Dems 9% excellent/good, 91% poor/fair
Indys 25% excellent/good, 76% poor/fair
GOPs 56% excellent. good, 44% poor/fair

Even more hilarious is that the GOP numbers in both stats saying the economy is good is UP since February, despite the state LOSING 31,000 jobs in that times, the revelations that the state is dead last in job creation the last 12 months, and Philly Fed maps that look like this.



How can anyone look at these facts and stats and say Wisconsin's economy is good and getting better? But that's what a majority of GOPs believe (not think, beLIEve), in fact 20% MORE Republicans think the economy is good now compared to when they were asked in February. It shows how these dopes like to go into the bunker when their boys in WisGOP are being exposed instead of face up to the failure. Wimps.

But we shouldn't be surprised that GOPs live in a bubble. The Journal-Sentinel's Craig Gilbert hinted at it a couple of weeks ago where he quoted the findings in the May Marquette poll regarding views of the state's economy.
Take Wisconsin. The state trails the nation in job growth, only you’re a lot less likely to think so if you’re a Republican than if you’re a Democrat.

Wisconsin was 44th in private-sector job creation in the last quarterly census of employment. But in a statewide poll this month by Marquette Law School, just 26% of Republicans said Wisconsin was lagging behind other states in job growth -- compared to 70% of Democrats.
That's a full 3/4 of Republicans denying an unimpeachable fact- that Wisconsin isn't doing as well as other states. Admitting this fact doesn't assign blame to Walker policies or other factors, it's a simple yes/no question that can be found out through data.

Walker's budget massively increases borrowing for road projects (despite 77% of Republicans in the UWM poll opposing such a move- the largest percentage of any group), and you can bet the many failures and corruptions of WEDC aren't being discussed too often among right-wing world either (which explains why 84% of Republicans have "a lot" or "some" confidence in WEDC, while only 29% of Independents and 23% of Democrats do).

This bubble-world denial by Republicans goes a long way toward explaining why Walker made a "surprise" call into Charlie Sykes' radio show yesterday to commemorate Chuckles the Clown's 20th anniversary of being head Bradley propagandist on AM620. Walker and WisGOP needs the supporters to keep being lied to in order to remain ignorant of fact, which will allow them to continue to support WisGOP's regressive, failing policies. AM radio explains a lot of the reasons why those listeners remain ignorant, because you can bet Chuckles and Belling and Icki and Bader and the others aren't telling their listeners about these disastrous statewide rankings, or about WEDC's 2 years of mismanagement, or of the huge borrowing increases and structural deficits that the WisGOP state budget has in it.

Reince Preibus gave the game away after the 2010 elections, when he rode the GOP's propaganda-assisted wins to his current losing gig as RNC Chair, and credited Charlie Sykes as a major contributor.

Notice how Priebus has totally flopped on the big stage now that national media covers him. Just like Paul Ryan flopped when he was picked as VP and he couldn't be protected by JournalComm and other Wisconsin media. Just like how Scott Walker will flop if he continues with his delusions and tries to run for president in 2016 as the ex-Governor of Wisconsin. You see, the Wisconsin media may have a lot of self-interest in promoting the Walker policies and keeping GOPs in their bubble world, it doesn't work so well with the big boys in DC and New York, who like things in THEIR bubble-world, and they won't allow themselves to be seen falling for a college dropout buffoon with years of lies, contradictions and economic failures on his resume.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Media catching up to the Funhouse

Couple of "breaking" headlines in the last few days that shouldn't have come as any surprise to all 5 of you who regularly read this blog.

The first dealt with the inevitable structural deficit that has shown up in the next 2-year budget, after JFC passed the Koo-Koo tax cut. The LFB reported the 2015-17 budget deficit at $505 million, and that's only because the state projects a $670 million surplus to be carried over at the end of this month, which adds up to a $1.175 BILLION DEFICIT OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS. As I mentioned last month, this surplus is a one-time fluke based on the booming stock market and an end-year bump due to corporations wanting to skip effects of the fiscal cliff, and has almost nothing to do with underlying economic growth in Wisconsin.

The media's finally caught onto this reality, with several articles pointing out the deficit (although some soft-sell it by comparing it to larger structural deficits in the last decade), but few bring up that the only reason the deficit isn't even larger is due to factors that are extremely unlikely to be repeated (unless you think we're going to have Dow 20,000 in months when interest rates go up- good luck with that). Bet on that 2015-17 deficit to be projected higher in the next 12 months.

Another LFB report led to the media discovering that the late-night JFC budget deal is going to lead to higher property taxes across the state. This was something I called when the bill was passed, because I noticed much of the allowed revenue increase for K-12 schools wasn't to be funded by state tax dollars, and immediately knew that higher property taxes were the clear result. So this is what we have to look forward to in the coming years.
As a result of the preceding changes, gross property tax levies are estimated to increase on a statewide basis by 1.7% in 2013(14) and 1.5% in 2014(15), and net tax levies would increase by an estimated 1.7% in 2013(14) and 1.9% in 2014(15). These tax changes would translate into tax bills for a median-valued home estimated at $2,973 in 2013(14) and $3,002 in 2014(15). These represent increases of $29 (0.99%) in 2013(14) and $29 (0.98%) in 2014(15).

Compared to the AB 40 [state budget] estimates, gross property taxes would be higher by $25.3 million in 2013(14) and $42.7 million in 2014(15) and net property taxes would be higher by $16.8 million in 2013(14) and $42.5 million in 2014(15). Tax bill estimates are higher by $4 in 2013(14) and $15 in 2014(15); therefore, over the two years of the biennium, estimated taxes on a median-valued home would be $19 higher under ASA 1 than under AB 40.
And sure enough, now the media's figuring this one out, although they are missing the obvious point that if we got rid of even half of the Koo-Koo tax cut and shifted it to schools with the same revenue limit, we could get real property tax relief(ARE YOU LISTENING, DEM LEGGIES?). Combine that with continued cuts in shared revenues, and 2014 shapes up as a year with reduced local services combined with higher property taxes. I sure hope that'll start getting people's attention in FitzWalkerstan.

And now we're seeing another item hit the news that I tipped you off to last month, as veterans group are now angry to find out that JFC Republicans are going to raise their taxes by more than $15 million in the next 2 years. Walker's already trying to run away from this provision (apparently talking to legislators isn't as important as pressing oligarch flesh out of state for Scotty), and Dems on the Assembly's Veterans Committee are asking for the property tax breaks for vets to be resumed. Of course, Scotty's record on dealing with veterans isn't the best, as Mal reminds us of this document that Walker signed putting Tim Russell in charge of funds for fallen veterans- funds that found their way into Russell's pocket and into pro-Walker campaign items.

Lastly, I'd like to thank Mike Ivey of the Cap Times for recognizing something I told you about last month- that Wisconsin was dead last in the nation for jobs over the last 12 months measured, from April 2012-April 2013. Hey Mike, you should just read this page and you'll be getting these "scoops" all the time.

What's funny is that I don't have any inside information to "scoop" our state's media on these stories. The info is hiding in plain sight for those who know where to look (mostly the Wheeler Report, LFB releases and regular national economic data). There's a whole crapload of stuff you can find if you simply break down the LFB papers on where the budget stands now that the JFC is through with it, and I'll probably write some on it if I have the time. So stay tuned, read up, and then impress your friends when you "break news" ahead of the lazy Wisconsin media as the budget and other big economic news comes from Wisconsin these next 2 weeks.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"What kind of damage could WisGOP cause in 2 more years?"

Remember the line of thinking of some Wisconsinites, claiming that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP deserved the chance to see the end of their term, and therefore Walker shouldn't have been recalled in June 2012. Well, today showed a good reason why that thinking was bullshit.
Republican state senators in Wisconsin on Wednesday silenced Democratic lawmakers while passing a bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before being able to receive an abortion.

Wednesday’s Senate session began with state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D) reading letters from several constituents who opposed the bill.

“The idea of — quote — small government is in direct conflict with big government Republicans sticking their nose my vagina,” one voter named Suzanne wrote. “How can we get the conservatives — mostly men — to quit blaming women, many times girls, solely for unwanted pregnancies?”

A second letter pointed out that the bill’s provision excluding rape and incest would not be effective because only 16 percent of rapes were reported to police.

Vinehout said that she had been touched by the letters because she had also been a victim of sexual assault at the age of 15.

“And if we truly want to make abortion rare, Mr. President, why are we defunding Planned Parenthood?” the Alma Democrat asked.

Republican state Sen. Mary Lazich, who sponsored the legislation, however, encouraged her fellow lawmakers to ignore “the theatrics surrounding” Vinehout’s presentation and then launched into an impassioned speech of her own.

“If you have a loved one that’s thinking about terminating their pregnancy, for crying out loud, you want them to have full information, you want them to have an ultrasound, you want them to know what’s going on in that womb and what they’re doing, and that they’re not going to be able to change that for the rest of their life!” she exclaimed. “They make that decision, it’s over! It’s over in a few minutes. And then later on they can live with the fact that they terminated their pregnancy and it was the best thing for them or they killed their child and they made a horrific decision and they regret it and they wish they never would have done it!”

Following Lazich’s remarks, Democrats tried to continue debate but Senate President Mike Ellis (R) called for a vote.

“It’s non-debatable! Call the roll!” he shouted. “You’re out of order!”

“You’re out of order!” someone on the Senate floor shouted back.

“You’re interrupting a roll call! Sit down! Right now!” Ellis yelled, repeatedly banging his gavel in anger.

That pic is wrong on so many levels. If Mike Tate and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin aren't showing that picture from now until Ellis is up for re-election in November 2014, they deserve to be fired immediately and replaced by someone with a clue.

Yes, weak-minded Wisconsinites, THIS what you voted for when you decided it was mean to try to remove Scott Walker and the Republicans from office. Not one GOP Senator voted against this case of big government at its worst, including the allegedly "moderate" Dale Schultz and Luther Olsen. They've got no problem forcing this thing onto women and their doctors.

And Governor Walker's totally cool with this bill, as he told the Associated Press yesterday.
The support from Walker, a longtime abortion opponent, was no surprise.

"I don't have any problem with ultrasound," Walker told reporters after a school choice meeting in Milwaukee. "I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine."
Of course you think it's "just fine", Scotty. Because YOU'RE NOT THE ONE WHO HAS TO GET IT JAMMED UP INTO YOU, you self-absorbed prick.

This is the type of damage that happens when you elect Republicans and give them even a few months of power. And I'm not even going into the $500 million structural deficit that the Joint Finance budget has, or the rising property taxes that this budget will cause, or the "49th in the nation" economic outlook and 2 year track record of total economic failure.

Never again. We have to pledge and pound this message into the heads of every low-attention voter. NEVER LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Corporate actions speak louder than words or "studies"

It's quite funny to me to see various corporate entities release things and then note the reaction from the media to said information. 3 good examples of it have popped up in the past week.

The first was today's release of the Manpower Incorporated survey, which talks to employers and tries to predict hiring for the upcoming three months. The Journal-Sentinel headline of the story mentions that Wisconsin employers expect "vigorous" hiring to occur from July through September, although to John Schmid's credit, his story is a bit more balanced on the issue.
For Wisconsin, Manpower's latest quarterly poll found that 24% of the companies interviewed plan to add more employees, while 5% expect to reduce payrolls, resulting in what the Manpower survey calls a "net employment outlook" of 19%.

Another 70% expect to maintain their current staff levels, denoting relative stability in the state economy, and 1% are undecided.

The state's improvement was only a notch above the net outlook of 18% for the current quarter, noted Manpower analyst Nicole Langley. And by another measure, Wisconsin employers are less optimistic than the same quarter one year earlier, when the index reached 21%, which was its highest level in the current recovery.
So what did employers do last year when 1% more of the employers said they were going to hire between July and September, when Scott Walker said jobs should "take off like a rocket" after the recall elections?

Wisconsin job change Q3, 2012
Overall +6,000
Private sector -900

So, these "job creators" may have been talking the same big game this time last year, but they sure didn't put it into action.

And the biggest "all hat, no cattle" posers among corporates in this state are the members of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which seems to have no problem throwing millions to right-wing legislators and judges, but sure isn't too keen on giving out anything to hire people and grow their businesses (as evidenced by our "50th out of 50" job standing for the last 12 months). And this might stun you, but a survey of WMC members indicated they like the policies of the Republicans they give millions to, and oppose the Democratic president.
The WMC Economic Outlook Survey of CEOs throughout the state found that 26 percent of CEOs said health care was the top policy problem, followed by taxes at 24 percent, the weak economy at 20 percent and regulations at 11 percent.

Some 94 percent report Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, and 84 percent say state government is pro-business. In Wisconsin, 47 percent say they are increasing employment, 47 percent said they are not adding workers, and 6 percent are cutting, the survey found.

“Clearly, the oncoming federal health care mandate has employers mired in uncertainty,” said WMC President/CEO Kurt R. Bauer. “CEOs in Wisconsin are looking for certainty, predictability, lower taxes, less regulation, and they see our federal government as making things worse. They are more optimistic about our state’s improving business climate, but that enthusiasm is dampened by the storm clouds generated by Washington, D.C.”
Hilarious that WMC whines about Obamacare uncertainty and then backs a governor whose refusal to take Obamacare's expanded Mediciad funds leads to a large amount of uncertainty when it comes to how much can be covered by the state. In addition, on what planet can you look at these charts and say that Wisconsin is fine and the US is hurting?

Even better is the right-wing bubble-world feedback loop that comes from this, as TMJ-4 ran a headline on the WMC survey with the subtext of "Governor Walker's economic strategy is working and leading to prosperity." Now a quick check of any reported data would tell you that theory is total bullshit, Well, unless Walker and WMC wants Wisconsin's economy to stay so bad that employees get desperate enough to take peanuts for wages, while corporate slime stash the resulting profits (maybe that's what they mean by "it's working"). But WMC did get what they wanted out of releasing their one-sided survey - a one-sided report by a media too lazy to question the source, and to look into whether the reality WMC was describing matches the numbers.

Another example of one-sided "research" trying to be passed off as news happened out of the Arkansas, where the pro-voucher heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and others tried to organize a study that showed voucher schools outperform public schools. Unfortunately for them, Logan Carlson of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wasn't as gullible as most JournalComm media, and called out the clear conflict of interest.
Research conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas is paid for primarily by special interest groups that also donate to elected officials who are advocating for expansion of the voucher program.

A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report on school choice special interest money shows that individuals with ties to foundations that have funded the School Choice Demonstration Project have donated more than $630,000 to Wisconsin lawmakers, most of them Republicans, during the past decade.
Not surprisingly, state Sen. Leah (ALEC Legislator of the Year) Vukmir says the Arkansas study is great, and its findings of increased graduation of voucher students are "done in a reliable and statistically accurate manner." But first of all, the alleged increase of 4 to 7 percent of a relatively small cohort of students is statistically insignificant, and doesn't prove vouchers do a better job than public schools. In addition, the GB paper also notes other flaws in the Wal-Mart-funded study.
• More than 56 percent of students it tracked didn’t stay in the voucher program for the length of the four-year study;

• Wolf, the lead researcher for the school choice project, used looser statistical standards in some cases than commonly accepted for academic studies of this type;

• Students were matched on certain demographic data rather than randomly assigned, meaning researchers could have missed a key factor that could have significantly altered the study’s results.
These are oversights that would get you tossed out of any college statistics course, but in Wingnut Welfare-land, it's good enough, as long as it comes out with the "right" result. (Shades of Reinhart-Rogoff, isn't it?)

But this is the way the right-wing corporate complex works these days- 1. Say things that fit your agenda, 2. Pass off these things as legitimate news and study instead of hope and spin 3. Have lazy media run with your take, because they figure you as a "job creator" must know what you're talking about (when in reality, you're just an oligarch looking to get paid without having to work hard and excel).

Sorry, but past is prologue, and facts really are independent things. Unlike right-wing bubble-world, RESULTS AND DATA are the items that matter in the above-ground world, and they cannot allowed to be shaped by propaganda and biased sources. If the media won't do it, we'll have to do it for them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

So Why Do I Write This?

As I've referenced in passing, I had a major life event this weekend (it was a splendid time for all), but it also can make a person reflect on where they are and what they're doing. Combine that with the fact that I've gotten over 900 pageviews in the last 48 hours on my last post regarding the horrible record that Wisconsin's economy has had not just with the last 3 months, but pretty much ever since Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP took over state government. So thank you to whoever decided to post this to Facebook, and I think now is a good time to review why I decide to take the time to rant on these pages.

A big reason why is that I believe most people really don't understand Economics and in particular economics stats. I sure didn't for most of the first 27-28 years of my life. It took me going back to school to teach the subject at the High School level to be able not just to identify economic stats and their meaning, but also the source documents themselves, which are available at government websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Later, I started grad school for Public Policy, and got to know Wisconsin state sources like the Legislative Fiscal Bureau or the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Then I got out of grad school in 2008, and Wall Street collapsed soon after. Two previous jobs gave me some extra insight into this that I felt could help a casual reader understand these things. I had a prior background in the financial industry (so I recognized how some of this BS had come about, and how screwed up things really were), and found the situation fascinating. I also observed how the regular political media was now giving extra attention to these issues, and often didn't have a clue what they were talking about. How did I know that? Because I once was a 22-year-old radio guy just out of school who was doing a one-man news crew setup for my station, and I HAD NO CLUE ABOUT HALF OF THE THINGS I WAS REPORTING (with corporately-demanded layoffs and pay cuts for many outlets, this has just gotten worse in the media over the last 15 years, by the way).

Then the 2010s came, and the rise of the know-nothing Baggerism, especially in Wisconsin. I realized that our media refused to speak the truth about the cluelessness of these people (either because they were naïve, or because they didn't want to), and often would let debates devolve into "he said, she said" and false equivalencies when it was obvious that there were objective facts out there. As someone who tries hard to live in the reality-based community, this incensed me, especially when media narratives and laziness led to one of this state's greatest Senators being removed from office and our state government being headed by a corrupt college dropout who was allowed to throw any claim against the wall he wanted.

And then said dropout "draw-ped the bawmb", claiming a budget crisis existed. As someone who could actually read a state budget, I went right to the LFB source, and within a week pointed out there was no actual budget crisis, and ID'd Act 10 for the union-busting bill that it was. I don't necessarily say that to blow my own horn, but it definitely marked a turning point for this page. A lot of it was to document the historic times of the Uprising, but a lot of the rest of it was to examine and challenge the debate that was going on in media at the time regarding austerity and the radical Koch and ALEC-led agenda that Walker and WisGOP was carrying out.

At the start of the Uprising, I and many others naively felt that fact and explanation could win the debate over Act 10 and this agenda. Then, when I realized that things had grown into a propaganda war, and that Wisconsin media truly didn't know what half of these issues were or were trying their best to stay at false equivalencies (like when they represented 3,000 TeaBaggers and 60,000 Uprisers as similar crowds) I decided this page would partly be a journal of the historic times in the town I was living in, partly an outlet to educate people on the economic issues and facts involved, and also be a way to fight back against the right-wing noise machine that had been allowed far too much of a megaphone. And when me and hundreds of thousands of my fellow Wisconsinites were ignored, I got mad.
I didn't think these dimwits at WisGOP could top themselves in incompetence and bubble-thinking, and boy was I wrong. I guess it's on, now.

I went from writing 2-3 posts a month to 2-3 a week, and then 20 a month. Yes, the Uprising and its aftermath angered and radicalized me on certain things, and sometimes that comes out in my writing. Yes, it's a great way to keep from unloading on these lying, evil people in person and having my life get upended in an undesirable way. But the biggest reason I do this was illustrated in last month's Marquette Law School poll which Craig Gilbert reported on a couple of weeks back, and it's why I feel I must continue to speak up.
Take Wisconsin. The state trails the nation in job growth, only you’re a lot less likely to think so if you’re a Republican than if you’re a Democrat.

Wisconsin was 44th in private-sector job creation in the last quarterly census of employment. But in a statewide poll this month by Marquette Law School, just 26% of Republicans said Wisconsin was lagging behind other states in job growth -- compared to 70% of Democrats.
Now that tells you 3/4 of Republicans are simply ignoring reality, because you could not chart the jobs numbers for the state and the U.S. for the last 28 months (as I have done) and say Wisconsin was pulling its weight.

The constant spin job that this administration continues to try to put out to misdirect and explain away its economic failures also means the good guys have to keep responding in kind (which I do often to somewhat unhealthy levels), because I see the media willing to allow clear contradictions and falsehoods go in the name of maintaining "objectivity" (and/or the good graces of WMC and MMAC corporate oligarchs). This is destroying my state's economy, its competitiveness, and it's regard in the rest of the nation. It is making what was previously an awesome place to live a depressing and horrifying place to live for all of us with any shred of decency and compassion for our fellow citizen. And that saddens and disgusts me.

So this is why I've been doing this, and intend to keep doing this, even in a state of happily wedded bliss. And thanks to all of you for reading, following along, and most hopefully, learning something. We'll crush 'em sooner than later, I'm just tired of waiting on the inevitable.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Wisconsin economy- it hasn't just sucked for the last 3 months

Been intriguing to see how people have caught onto the Philly Fed surveys of the state-by-state economy, both the coincident index, which measures economic activity in last 3 months, and the leading index, which projects the next 6 months.

These reports were released nearly 2 weeks ago, but got new life as more people looked over the numbers, and the Journal-Sentinel ran a large headline relaying the fact that the leading index survey showed that Wisconsin is expected to have the second-worst economy in the U.S. the next 6 months. And note that the Philly Fed survey has Wisconsin lagging all of its Midwestern neighbors between now and October.

But the "economic outlook" part only tells half the story. The other half is where we've been, and that's even worse. First off, Wisconsin also had the 2nd-worst economy in the nation the LAST 3 months, which also lagged everywhere else in the Midwest, and was well behind the country's solid growth.

Let's go back to the start of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, in January 2011, and compare how Wisconsin has done with our neighbors and the U.S. as a whole. And yes, Wisconsin are those red marks on the bottom.

What's especially interesting here is that Minnesota was barely ahead of Wisconsin's growth through July 2012, 3.75% to 2.97%. Then Scott Walker was retained in the recall election, Dems took over both houses of the Legislature in Minnesota, and look where we are now.

Change in state coincident index, Jan 2011- Apr 2013
Minn +6.51%
Wis. +3.19%

Guess "job creators" made their choice after Walker's recall election, and that was to go to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Lastly, let's combine the past with the outlook for the future, using the Philly Fed's leading indexes. And you'll see that the gap between Wisconsin and everywhere else yawns even wider.

For you that are math-challenged, the Philly Fed is saying all of these places will grow AT LEAST 3 TIMES FASTER THAN WISCONSIN in the first 33 months Scott Walker will have been in office. While I'm a bit skeptical of the prediction of Illinois' economy taking off, they're already well ahead of us as it is, and I wouldn't doubt that the gap would grow in the coming months. So I want to know on what planet Walker can claim to his followers in the 262 that "we're moving forward." (Yes, I know the answer, Right-Wing Bubbleworld) There is not a shred of numerical economic evidence that Wisconsin has advanced in any way the last 27 months, and in fact we've greatly regressed and been passed by everyone else.

So while I'm glad to tell the Journal-Sentinel "Welcome to the party, pal!" when it comes to relaying how bad Wisconsin's economy is, they need to go back to 2011 to give the full picture on just how much this state has been held back by an Administration that continues to rely on talk-radio poses over policies that might work.

P.S.- Here's one last picture for you. The BEA released GDP by state for 2012 on Wednesday, and check out who's the only Midwest state in tan, then compare it with the 'Sotans and their 3.5% growth.

And oh yeah, Wisconsin was also dead last in the Midwest in 2011 GDP growth as well, at 1.3% growth. Any fucking questions?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Quick rundown of JFC budget bunko

There was so much crap thrown into the budget by the GOPs on Joint Finance last night that I could write for a number of hours and posts. But it'd drive all of us crazy and when you're getting married in 3 days, there's plenty of other items that can make you lose your mind when your wedding's 3 days out with a huge amount of people coming in, and I don't need the selfish suburb trash that is today's GOP to add to that feeling.

But here are some highlights, based on the great work from Wispolitics along with the Progressive. Yes, K-12 public schools got a minimal increase in general state support of $75 per student, but about 2/3 of that increase is intended to come from property taxes and with the statewide allowance for vouchers, it's cynically intended to make public schools first raise property taxes to keep the doors open (you thought Act 10 would lower property taxes? HAH!!!) and then take additional cuts and overcrowded classrooms. In fact, the LFB admitted that last night's actions will raise school property taxes near 2 percent statewide, even with the revenue cap constraints, and probably much more than that in many communities.

Of course, the voucher lobby got what they wanted out of the JFC, the ability to have privateers open up schools statewide without having to go through the same "take every student" requirement that public schools do, or have to deal with the same testing and accountability measures the public schools do. There was also a goodie thrown in to the rich suburb boys in the 262, where they would receive a tax deduction for parents of $4,000 for sending their kid to a K-8 private school and $10,000 for a private high school. This is regardless of how much money that parent makes, so this could give a massive write-off to some exec in Mequon sending their kids to $20,000-a-year University School.

Interestingly, there is no such deduction for parents who have their kids attend public schools, which is quite a tell as to how private schools are getting preferential treatment. Let's face it, if you were a true believer in the "choice" theory of schools, you'd either give a tax break to a parent to have his/her kid attend any type of school, or give no tax break at all. But giving a tax break to one type over the other? Obvious one-sided bullshit, and straight out of the "separate but equal" system that was found illegal nearly 60 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education.

As for other tax issues, the basic framework of the Koo-Koo tax cut was passed, with people making over $100,000 getting a majority of the benefits, (by comparison, the median household earner is Wisconsin will get about $10 a month), and as I mentioned last week, it guarantees a major hole in the state budget by 2015. Even more appalling, while there appears to be very few tax credits closed up as a result of this Koo-Koo package, the biggest one regards a $21 million reduction in tax credits given to property taxes and related write-offs for veterans and their surviving spouses (see item 2). Nice priorities.

The coming deficit could show up sooner than that, if this stock market bubble pops in the next 12 months. Remember, most of our "upside revenues" are not based on wage or job growth (we suck at that), but one-time boosts from Wall Street legalized gambling. With the market being down nearly 500 points in the last week on nothing more than speculation of the Fed party ending, don't count on that fluky revenue continuing.

Also remarkable was that the JFC decided to undo almost all of their extra oversight of WEDC, letting this failing agency continue to hand out funds to corporations with no real rules and regulations in place. In fact, if you look at the GOPs' 6am wrap-up bill, they said WEDC doesn't have to follow state procurement rules, and threw these screwballs even more money that they could hand out. Not only did the JFC send $16 million of General Fund taxpayer cash back into WEDC (instead of having it come out of the state's Economic Development Fund), but check out this tidbit.
Aircraft Company Job Creation and Retention Grants. Provide $2,000,000 in economic development fund SEG in 2013-14 and 2014-15 in the Joint Committee on Finance Supplemental SEG appropriation for an aircrafy maintenance and repair company grant program to be administered by Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Require that the program be used to provide grants to companies included in the 2008 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
Hmmm, so we're going to throw another $2 million a year into WEDC for one specific industry, which happens to be the same industry that Kestrel Aircraft is in, a company WEDC and WHEDA gave away millions to in order to have Kestrel say it would set up shop in Superior nearly 18 months ago. One problem, as of last month Kestrel still hadn't opened in Superior, and was claiming it needed more state help to finish the grand opening. Sure sounds like a special interest giveaway to someone who's more interested in shaking down governments than creating jobs, doesn't it?

But hey, that's what most of this budget is- a series of right-wing poses, power-grabs, and money-funneling to campaign contributors. There is almost nothing here that will directly create jobs, but there's a whole lot here to make people want to get away from Wisconsin, including major borrowing and future budget deficits, and continued increases in inequality, continued defunding of state aids to local municipalities and public schools that'll kill services, drive up property taxes, and drive down property values. It is sickening, and it is not the state that I knew and loved.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Medicaid foolishness on tomorrow's agenda

Big day at Joint Finance tomorrow, as the Committee plans to discuss the last 3 huge issues still remaining in the state budget- Medicaid, voucher school/K-12 public school funding, and possible tax cuts. I want to focus on the Medicaid part in this post, as there are a lot of options on the table, and (in a stunner), our governor seems to continue to be set on preferring the one with the most cost to state taxpayers, with the least amount of coverage.

The Medicaid budget paper goes over all of the options on the table, including the Governor's "Work Makes You Free" plan. Basically what Walker's plan does is turns down the Obamacare offer (listed as the ACA in the paper) of expanded Medicaid funds to people with incomes at 133% of the poverty level or below, and instead limits fully-paid BadgerCare (the state program) to individuals making 100% of poverty, and pregnant women to 133% of poverty (it was previously at 3 times the poverty level). On the flip side, it also has a possible expansion of the coverage amounts for children, particularly younger children, and adults without kids who make poverty level or below could now join the Badgercare core plan. I ripped that plan as an expensive and pointless pose for right-wing bubble world when it was first announced in February, and the LFB says it looks even worse today. Ironically, some of the reason Walker's plan won't get savings is due to the fact the Wisconsin DHS kicked off numerous potential Badgercare recipients in the last year by raising their premiums.
As to aspects of the Governor's proposal expected to reduce MA costs, the most significant is the reduction in MA eligibility for parents and caretakers from 200% to 100% of the FPL [Federal Poverty Level]. Funding in the bill assumes approximately 98,900 such adults would lose their program eligibility effective January 1, 2014 due to this change. Broadly stated, the bill assumes that savings realized by removing these individuals from the program will offset the cost of extending MA coverage to childless adults under the revised Core Plan in the 2013-15 biennium.

Based on additional review by this office and DHS, several of the bill's assumptions should be adjusted. As noted, the bill assumes savings from ending MA coverage for 98,900 parents and caretakers effective January 1, 2014. That estimate was based on the income distribution of BadgerCare Plus adults as of March 2012. Since then, the number of adults in the program with family incomes greater than 100% of the FPL has declined, largely due to the premium changes DHS implemented in July 2012. The current figure, which continues to decline each month, is approximately 88,500. Because there are fewer adults in the program with incomes greater than 100% of the FPL, less state savings would be realized by terminating their coverage on January 1, 2014.

Furthermore, that current enrollment figure of 88,500 includes approximately 19,300 adults in transitional MA with incomes above 100% of the FPL. The bill assumed all these adults would lose their MA eligibility on January 1, 2014, despite permanent provisions in federal law that require states to provide four months of transitional MA benefits. In recognition of this federal requirement, the administration has recommended the changes to the bill described in Discussion Point 5 (basically, the Walker folks got caught trying to break the federal rules, and now will have to pay up through April 30, 2014 in order to follow those rules). It has also adjusted its cost projections [higher] for this item accordingly.

The bill also misallocated the projected total cost of the Governor's MA proposal between the MA cost-to-continue item and this item. This related to the manner in which the bill accounted for projected ACA-related enrollment effects. While this did not change the total funding in the bill for the Governor's proposal, it had the effect of assigning too great a share of those costs to the cost-to-continue item, and too little to this item. D'oh!
The Walker plan also overassumed the amount of Federal money it was going to get under this plan, because they thought they could sneak off with the higher Obamacare coverage rates for certain people. Turned out, they were wrong, and so that'll also cost us more money. Here's the upshot.
The revised estimate for the Governor's combined MA proposal (the MA cost-to- Health Services -- Medical Assistance and Related Programs (Paper #321) Page 15 continue and this item) is $734.1 million GPR in the 2013-15 biennium. That is $73.5 million GPR higher than the funding provided for those two items in the bill.
Oops. Then the LFB compares it with the option that would take Obamacare's expanded Medicaid funding, and expand coverage to all people with incomes of 133% of poverty or below. The LFB calls this the "133/133" option, and it's an obvious win-win of additional people covered, and less cost to state taxpayers.
...the administration estimates that, on average, 37,500 more individuals would be enrolled in BadgerCare Plus and the revised Core Plan in 2013-14 under the 133/133 alternative than under the Governor's proposal. In 2014-15, the administration estimates there would be, on average, 84,700 more individuals enrolled under the 133/133 alternative than under the Governor's proposal. These additional enrollees would be non-elderly adults with family incomes between 100% and 133% of the FPL.

Despite these additional enrollees, the projected GPR costs in 2013-14 are $26.5 million less under the 133/133 alternative than under the Governor's proposal. The reason is that beginning January 1, 2014, the childless adults under the 133/133 alternative would qualify for the ACA's "newly eligible" FMAP, whereas the childless adults with family incomes up to 100% of the FPL under the Governor's proposal would not. The projected GPR costs in 2014-15 are $92.5 million less under the 133/133 alternative than under the Governor's proposal, again due to the ACA's enhanced FMAP for childless adults. Over the 2013-15 biennium, the estimated GPR costs for the 133/133 alternative are approximately $119.0 million less than the Governor's proposal.

The revised estimates also indicate that the state would receive approximately $489.0 million in additional federal MA matching funds in the 2013-15 biennium under the 133/133 alternative than under the Governor's proposal. This projected FED increase is greater than the projected GPR difference between the two proposals because the additional FED would stem not just from the ACA's enhanced FMAP for the childless adults projected to enroll in MA under both proposals, but also from the following: (a) the ACA's 100% federal match for the additional childless adults projected to enroll in MA under the 133/133 alternative, compared to the Governor's proposal; and (b) the federal matching funds (at the state's standard FMAP) for costs associated with the additional parents and caretakers projected to participate in MA under the 133/133 alternative.
The LFB also estimates that taking Obamacare's expanded Medicaid will bring in another $708 million to the state from the feds in the next budget for 2015-17 And what about the talking point from RW propagandists regarding worries that Obamacare won't be fully funded for the future? (leaving out the fact that the only group that would do this would be....fellow TeaBaggers) The LFB takes that on as well, and shows it's still much cheaper to take the Obamacare funds.
If members are concerned about the state's ability to claim the ACA's enhanced FMAP for "newly eligible" individuals in the 2013-15 biennium or after (in the event Wisconsin decides to implement a "full expansion"), one option would be to require DHS to reduce eligibility for non-pregnant, non-elderly childless adults who are not otherwise eligible for MA from 133% to 100% of the FPL if either of the following occurs: (a) CMS determines that the state cannot claim the ACA's "newly eligible" FMAP (the % of costs covered by federal dollars) for these individuals; or (b) the ACA's FMAP for "newly eligible" individuals is repealed or reduced (not including the scheduled decline in that FMAP beginning in 2017).

A related concern with respect to federal funding is that after 2016, the ACA's enhanced FMAP for newly eligibles is scheduled to decline to 95% in 2017, then to 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019, and 90% in 2020 and beyond. Therefore, states that expand MA today will face an increasing share of the costs for those expansion populations starting in 2017.

It is difficult to project MA expenditures into the next decade. Based on the revised estimates cited above, however, the GPR share of MA benefit expenditures in the 2015-17 biennium would be approximately $170.0 million less under the 133/133 alternative than the Governor's proposal. That projection is based on the estimated GPR cost difference between the two proposals in 2014-15 ($92.5 million), doubled to reflect a two-year biennium, and adjusted to incorporate the scheduled decline in the ACA's enhanced FMAP to 95% starting January 1, 2017. Thereafter, the projected GPR cost difference between the proposals narrows to $110.3 million in the 2017-19 biennium and $60.5 million in 2019-21.
So let's do the numbers on this- taking the Obamacare funds would not only cover many more people in Wisconsin, but it would also cost state taxpayers a helluva lot of money

Extra GPR expenses, Walker plan vs. taking Medicaid
2013-2015 $119.0 million ($73.5 million extra from the Guv's budget numbers)
2015-2017 $170.0 million
2017-2019 $110.3 million
2019-2021 $60.5 million
TOTAL EXTRA COSTS $459.8 million

It is absolute foolishness for the state of Wisconsin not to take Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, from both a fiscal point of view, and in getting more Wisconsinites covered. But as we've seen for the past decade, Scott Walker Republicans don't care about liberally-biased things like numbers or facts, as long as they can satisfy the brain-deads who spend all day getting their "facts" from places like AM620 and AM1130.

So we'll see tomorrow if the JFC chooses to "create their own reality," and potentially screw more than 84,000 Wisconsinites in need, or if they swallow their pride, and actually do the right thing for their state. We are watching.

P.S. This is far from the only waste of taxpayer dollars associated with GOP schemes on Medicaid. I didn't even mention Sen. Alberta Darling's plans to bail out hospitals by throwing tens of millions of state dollars to make up the difference in payments resulting from serving the uninsured and other uncompensated costs. Not only is this corporate welfare using our tax dollars, these costs would also be drastically reduced if you simply took the Medicaid expansion. It's the type of move that screams "UNFIT FOR OFFICE!"