Monday, March 31, 2014

Two maps that say a lot about Wisconsin

A couple of interesting reports came out recently regarding Wisconsin counties in two huge categories- population and health. Looking at both can tell quite a bit about where this state is at, and the variations among the different counties, as it gives a pretty clear indication of which areas are on the way up, and which are on the way down.

The first goes off the Census Bureau's recent update of population figures for 2013, which has now drilled down to the county level. The Journal-Sentinel went over these new figures, particularly the change in population since the 2010 Census, and noted a striking pattern. First, we'll give you the map that they generated from this data.

In all, 40 of Wisconsin's 72 counties lost population, and as the map shows, the counties losing were in the northern half of the state. Here's a little more detail that the Journal-Sentinel had on the declines in Wisconsin's rural counties.
Only two counties with more than 100,000 people — Racine and Sheboygan — lost people since 2010. Rusk and Price counties shrank by the largest percentage, both by about 2.2%. Wood County lost the greatest number of people at 821.

Still, the growth in some of the larger counties counterbalanced the modest declines in rural Wisconsin. Overall, the state's population increased by 53,653, or less than 1%, to 5,742,713.

"We've been seeing some declines in the counties and small gains in the metro areas," said David Egan-Roberston, a demographer with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Applied Population Laboratory.

"It's been true since the start of the Great Recession."
Egan-Robertson also notes that a lot of younger people are moving from small towns into the bigger metro areas in Wisconsin and the neighboring states (note that Saint Croix County keeps growing as the county closest to the Twin Cities), and retirees are not flocking to smaller towns the way they did in the 2000s. Brain drain isn't just a problem from state-to-state, but from county-to-county in Wisconsin, and combined with the cuts to public education that are leading numerous rural Wisconsin school districts to have referenda tomorrow in an attempt stay afloat, and small-town Wisconsin is really getting squeezed out.

And you can't help but notice who's growing faster than anywhere else- that's right, us hippies in Dane County, who had more than 20,000 more people join our little commune in the last 3 years, bringing our population over 500,000. Milwaukee County also added people (mostly through immigration), and their increase was more than the Baggerlanders in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties combined. Gee, no wonder why the 262 Republicans want to restrict the vote in the 2 largest cities in Wisconsin- because the bright-blue areas of Dane and Milwaukee Counties are gaining population a whole lot more than their red-voting communities are. But what's also growing is the Green Bay area and the Fox Cities, which might the area that counterbalances the increases in Madison and Milwaukee- or it might be the light pink area that swings blue in coming years (as it did in 2008 and to a lesser extent 2012), which would be a significant game-changer in Wisconsin elections.

On a non-political level, it illustrates that urban areas are the ones where people are choosing to live and find opportunities, telling me that more than ever, communities need to forment an atmosphere that encourages high-quality work and invest in a high quality of life, as businesses and people will go to the communities that deliver, and leave the dead-end ones who won't.

The other interesting map comes from a recently-released study from the UW's School of Population Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who produced the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. This study gave a scorecard of health factors and outcomes across Wisconsin, and the factors include items such as:

Amount of healthy and non-healthy behaviors practiced
Access and quality of health care
Social and economic factors, including income, unemployment and education
Clean water, access to healthy food, and other environmental factors

As this map shows, there are clear contrasts among the various parts of the state, especially in Southeastern Wisconsin. The places with the most positive health factors are in white, and the worst are in the darkest blue.

Look at that contrast in Southeastern Wisconsin, where Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee Counties are in the top tier of pro-health factors (all are actually in the top 5), and Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha are in the bottom tier. Think income levels and healthier outcomes aren't related? Also notice that the faster-growing counties of Dane, Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago and St. Croix are all in white, as members of the top tier of health factors.

This is why it's especially disgusting to hear millionaires like Paul Ryan's ridiculous takes on poverty and to see the Waterford School District opt out of the federal school lunch program, claiming that they don't want to comply with federal rules that require healthier meals (FREEEEE-DUMMMM!). Yes, why would we want any kind of help for students and others who already are at a health disadvantage due to their lack of income? One look at that map should show why that's an idiotic mentality...and why so many in the 262 subscribe to it, because these sheltered fools don't have the health and food security concerns that poorer people do, and lack the empathy to realize why a lack of that security makes a big difference in life outcomes.

Also note the huge amount of northern Wisconsin counties in dark blue, and compare it to the counties in red on the population map. Out of the 10 counties that had the highest percentage loss of population between 2010-2013, 5 were in the lowest tier for health factors, and 8 of the 10 were in the bottom half. Kind of hard to attract people to live in your community when the health care is less available or affordable, incomes and education levels are stagnating if not declining, and the overall environment is declining.

These two maps seem to indicate that many small-town places in Wisconsin could be drying up, losing some of its more productive members to better opportunities in bigger places, or better services and quality of life. As a result, they may not stay as the community-oriented places we used to revere- but instead they'd resemble many places in the South and Appalachia that are more like the deserted Third World than something we usually associate with America.

This is a real concern that should be sounded far and wide in small-town Wisconsin, because a second term of Scott Walker would likely compound these difficulties over fixing them. Those policies would continue to favor the wealthy constituents in the Republican-voting suburbs of Milwaukee, and lead to economic stagnation and backwardness in much of the rest of the state that encourages many of the best and brightest in small-town Wisconsin to pick up and head to the bigger cities....or out of the state entirely.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's never a bad day to be a Badger, but.....

....some days are better than others.

In addition to the awesome fact that THE WISCONSIN BADGERS ARE GOING TO THE FINAL FUCKING FOUR!, it was a great game between two well-coached teams that played about as hard as you could for 45 minutes. Even the horrid officiating couldn't besmirch this classic, and Will Ferrell has now been replaced by Mr. Kaminsky in this town as the best Frank the Tank.

I watched it at a near-east side bar with friends, correctly gambling that we'd be able to get a table if we got there in time for the first game (Florida-Dayton), and beating the crowds that showed up over the next hour to jam the place. Even though it really wasn't a sports-centric place, it still went up for grabs after that final shot (which wouldn't have counted anyway).

About a half-hour later, I made it down to State Street, parking near the Plaza on Gorham near Henry. We were surprised not to see the road blocked, but that's because the real action was going on a couple of blocks west of there.

I did get down that direction eventually. Lots of people, but really nothing dangerous. Cops were out, but not overbearing, and things were remarkably non-chaotic (in contrast to the U of Arizona in Tucson, where riot police ended up shooting beanbags and tear gas at the crowd after the game). Having been a student on State Street on Tokyo Night when the Badgers clinched a Rose Bowl berth in 1993, it wasn't nearly as crowded or crazy as that one, somewhat because last night hoops game ended at 10pm instead of 2am, but also possibly because this wasn't as much of a "I never thought this would happen."

And it's that reality which makes this Final Four appearance feel even better than the Cinderella run in 2000. This isn't a fluke, this team is truly that good (especially with Kaminsky taking his game to an entirely new level, Sir Charles can't say enough good things about his game).

As Badger announcer Matt LePay put it in that video "I CAN believe I'm going to say it!" Because they are truly that good, there is no reason they should be merely happy to be in the Final Four, they should believe they can cut down the nets. As Joe Panos said in 1993, "Why not Wisconsin?" They've already beaten 3 of the 5 teams that are remaining in the Tournament, and didn't play the other 2. It is certainly possible that this Wisconsin can do what the guy who crashes into the lockerroom at the end of the video did for another Wisconsin-based team in the same North Texas Stadium 3 years ago- win it all.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Go get em Bucky (if I can find the broadcast)

Obviously, I'm growing impatient with waiting for the big Elite 8 showdown between Wisconsin and Arizona tonight. I plan on being out and about in Madison watching and (hopefully) enjoying myself at some establishment with friends. But I understand that a lot of you don't have that ability, and also might want to catch Lucas and LePay's call of the game. So let's see where we can find it?

In Madison- Is it on 1070, 1310, and/or 101.5 FM? Looks like it's certainly on 101.5, but since Badger hockey suffered a heartbreaker last night to get knocked out of the NCAA tourney, the Pucky Buckys won't be on there. So is Bucky going to be on 1070, or will 1070 have the national Westwood One broadcast, and the Badgers will be on 1310? Or will they not be on AM at all? If I can't answer that question, and I can't tell from going to those stations' websites, does that seem like the mark of a major program playing it's biggest game in at least 9 years?

Likewise in Milwaukee- The Bucks are playing the Miami Heat tonight in a half-full Bradley Center (I don't care if LeBron and/or D-Wade is playing, people don't even know the Bucks exist any more, let alone see them get stomped by the indifferent two-time defending champs). But guess what's on AM620- that's right, the Bucks. Where are the Badgers? Looks like they're on AM920 tonight, but if I didn't know what UW's second or third-level station was in the state's largest media market, would I be able to find it? Or care to?

This type of jerking around with UW broadcasts is why I called for them to be off of WTMJ 4 years ago, and fortunately, this will be the case for good starting this Fall, as Badger sports will move entirely off the Sykes station, and onto 920 and FM 95.7.

In addition to having a permanent home, it is also heartening that UW sports won't be an enabling factor the 9 hours of hate, as AM 620 relies on listeners staying with the station after the previous evenings sports broadcasts, which gives those propaganda shows much higher ratings than they would otherwise get. It also allows their lying promos to be included as part of Badger broadcasts, giving a captive audience to their often anti-Madison lies.

However, other stations like 1310 in Madison still have Badger programming, which means Bucky enables trash like Icki McKenna, Rush Limbaugh, and Shawn WHAAAA-nity, even though Badger basketball is often pre-empted on that station. With that in mind, I believe it is well past time for a campaign of our own for this Spring and Fall, one that might include billboards like this.

There is no question in my mind that being associated with stations that broadcast sports is something right-wingers in Wisconsin exploit, using the sportscasts as a gateway to the hate and division that is driving this state into the ground. Drawing attention to that connection might make for more than a few uncomfortable conversations between Wisconsin's sports teams, their radio affiliates, and the stations that advertise on hate radio. And maybe that campaign will also wake up more than a few Wisconsin to the subliminal advertising that this destructive right-wing agenda has received, and maybe they'll ask some tough questions of their own.

But hopefully you can find the Badger broadcast signal in your neck of the woods, because if Bucky pulls this off (and I think they have a decent shot to do so), it'll be a helluva lot of fun to hear the postgame show.

More on the economic hole Wisconsin is in

I hadn't updated the information from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's coincident index for all 50 states- illustrating economic growth or contraction. Just to review, here's how this index is constructed.
The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.
The most recent update to this index only goes through January's numbers, but since we haven't talked about it here in the last 3 months or so, it's probably a good time to give it a look and see where we stand.

The state ended the year on a strong note, with good job numbers in the last 6 months of 2013, and it's reflected in the Philly Fed index, which rose 1.94% for Wisconsin between July 2013-January 2014. However, as this chart shows, it doesn't come close to making up for the awful first 2 1/2 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, which put Wisconsin in a major hole compared to every one of its Midwestern neighbors, as well as the U.S's. As a result we are still dead last among this group since Walker and WisGOP came to power in January 2011, despite the gains from the last 6 months measured.

It's also worth mentioning that this index doesn't include the 9,500 jobs lost in Wisconsin in February, which increased the Walker jobs gap to 54,000. Nor has it taken into account that month's drops in home sales, so it's likely that the coincident index numbers will be worse when the February report comes out in the next week or so.

It's actually been quite amusing to see the Walker Administration try to play whack-a-mole with their pathetic economic performance, propping up certain jobs numbers one month, then hiding them the next and trying to promote the Philly Fed index (either current or its outlook), and then going onto some WMC-funded survey or some other bullshit when that inevitably makes them look bad. If we had a real media or a Democratic Party that was playing to win in Wisconsin, these guys would be laughed off the stage, and would be fired for their 3+ years of underperformance.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What media didn't tell you- big Feb job losses in Wisconsin

Yesterday featured another monthly state jobs report, this time for February. And as the higher jobless claims portended, Wisconsin lost 9,500 jobs in February. and 1,600 in the private sector. In addition, January also had a downward revision of 200 private sector jobs, meaning that the state is now down 1,800 private sector jobs for the first 2 months of 2014, and 3,100 overall. Now, the 9,500 total job loss has a lot to do with a seasonal snapback in government jobs- a loss of 7,900 after a gain of 6,600 in January- but it doesn't change the fact that it's a huge number, and digs an even larger hole for the state in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Just how big a hole is shown by the Walker jobs gap, which has ballooned in the last 2 months. It's risen from less than 46,000 private sector jobs to 54,000, with the overall jobs gap going from 37,000 to 46,500.

And then today's state-by-state jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed just how bad things were in Wisconsin compared to everywhere else. And it's right in the 2nd paragraph.
In February 2014, nonfarm payroll employment increased in 33 states and decreased in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The largest over-the-month increases in employment occurred in California (+58,800), Texas (+37,600), and Florida (+33,400). The largest over-the-month decrease in employment occurred in North Carolina (-11,300), followed by Wisconsin (-9,500) and Georgia (-5,800).
So with the 2nd-most jobs lost in the country, you'd think that would be a big headline in the local newspapers, especially with job numbers being such a central part of the November governor's race (well, after the headlines about the former Assembly Majority Leader being charged with two felony counts of sexual assault).

OF COURSE THE MEDIA BURIED THE JOB LOSSES. The headlines and focus of the stories in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, and the Green Bay Press Gazette all led with the unemployment rate falling to 6.1% in February (not really significant), over the huge amounts of jobs lost. In fact, the Green Bay and Madison papers DIDN'T MENTION THE JOB LOSSES AT ALL. And by the way, last month the state also reported the unemployment rate was 6.1%, and it is only through an upward revision for January, that the same 6.1% in February can be considered a "drop." The Journal-Sentinel was the only one of the state's 3 largest newspapers to give that reality more than a passing notice.

This type of misreporting of the February jobs numbers goes past simple negligence into pure bias, because both numbers are part of the state report (although the Reggie Newson-led Department of Workforce Development tried to bury the job loss information as best they could), but only the unemployment rate is emphasized, despite the job losses being much more of a standout stat nationwide. And the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Mary Burke campaign needs to be bringing this issue to the forefront, through statements and ads, because it's pretty obvious the media in Wisconsin won't report on Scott Walker's failures unless they are forced to.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

$688 million in borrowing for $500 million in tax cuts?

I noticed this as well, but I'll direct you to Lou Kaye's Rock Netroots Blog that mentions the $688 million in debt that the state of Wisconsin issued earlier this month. $394 million will pay for highway projects and other DOT work, and $294 million is to refinance some General Fund debt and kick the payments into future years.

And this borrowing isn't even going to pay for our most immediate needs in the state- PLOWING AND FIXING THE ROADS after this brutal winter (which isn't over yet, looks like another 6 inches up North in the next 2 days). Just last week, WisDOT sent out a radio news release mentioning that there needs to be more repairs than normal in the coming months.
The state’s seen a 60 percent increase in the number of winter storm events compared to an average winter season. WisDOT officials encourage drivers to report potholes to their local or county highway department, but also understand there are plenty of holes to be filled and repairs likely won’t happen overnight. Crews are busy patching pavement and will continue to be as long as there’s a break from snow and ice. Permanent repairs will come once the weather warms up. Drivers are reminded to slow down for work crews and change lanes when possible; it’s all part of Wisconsin’s move over law.
So did we decide to use some of our one-time surplus to help pay for these extraordinary expenses, or cut down on our borrowing because the repairs take priority? Of course not! The only thing we're doing is putting in another $43 million to speed up a couple of state highway projects this Summer, but an amendment to add funds to help local governments pay for repairs got shot down.

Instead of choosing to reduce some of this borrowing or get the roads fixed, our fair Governor decided to fly 200 miles to Cecil, Wisconsin to sign into law a $500 million tax cut, hamstringing the chances of taking future action to catch up to the backlog in road maintenance and other local services that will certainly result from this Polar Vortex Winter.

Quite the Bush-like priorities and policies, aren't they? Fiscal conservative MY ASS!

State income report shows a better 2013, but track record still lags

A usually tame report was released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis today, but it's worth seeing, as it gives another indication on where the economy in Wisconsin stood as 2013 ended and the 2014 campaign season starts to heat up. This report was on the personal income by state for 2013, and featured a mixed bag for the 3rd year of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

First of all, here are 3 topline stats-
1. The state was 19th in income growth for 2013, and 3rd in the Midwest (behind Minnesota and Iowa). Pretty good, as the 2.73% increase was above the national average of 2.57%, the first time the state beat the country as a whole since 2008-09.

The state also had per capita income growth of 2.44%, which beat the U.S. total of 1.85%, and placed 2nd in the Midwest (behind farm-heavy Iowa). But the flip side of that stat is that Wisconsin's coming from a lower start, as the state is still a mediocre 26th in per capita income at $43,149, which is more than $5,700 less than Minnesota and $3,600 less than Illinois (in fact, Minnesota's per capita income went up by a higher dollar amount than Wisconsin, it just had a lower percentage on its increase). Good luck competing with those places for talent if workers are getting a 10% premium on pay.

Despite the strong year-round figures, the state ended 2013 poorly, as it placed 43rd in income growth for the 4th Quarter, and 5th out of 7 Midwestern states. Even that masks how bad things were in Wisconsin, as the national report mentions "The fourth-quarter personal income decline in Iowa and six other states reflected lower crop prices which reduced the value of farm output and farm earnings." One of those other 6 states was Minnesota, which not surprisingly was the other state behind Wisconsin. Take out farm earnings for the 4th Quarter, and Wisconsin is dead last.

Change in non-farm earnings, Midwest, 4th Quarter 2013
Ind. +0.73%
Mich +0.71%
Ill. +0.69%
U.S. +0.67%
Ohio +0.59%
Iowa +0.51%
Minn +0.38%
Wis. +0.29%

So not a good ending, and that was before the brunt of the polar vortex hit, which already led to a 0 for private sector job growth in Wisconsin for January, and stagnated sales taxes for February.

The other item I want to look at is the income trends over 3 years of the Walker/WisGOP era in Wisconsin. 2010-11 will take into account the increased income that resulted from the 2-year cut in Social Security taxes that started in 2011, but it will also include the higher pension payments that Wisconsin public employees had to make due to Act 10, which reduced incomes. 2011-12 had a lower income growth with Social Security taxes staying the same, and 2012-13 featured declines all over the country as the Social Security tax cut ended. First, we'll go with total personal income.

Now we'll show you personal income per capita, which has a similar story.

In both graphs, Wisconsin started off in 6th place out of the 7 Midwestern states in 2010-11, and you'll note the flatter slope of the trend line for Wisconsin (in red) compared to Minnesota (in orange) and the U.S. as a whole (in blue). This shows that Wisconsin has "caught up and passed" other places not through booming incomes in our state, but because the other places fell back toward us in growth levels. And the larger difference with Minnesota on personal income vs. personal income per capita reflects the Gopher State adding nearly 110,000 people since 2010 while Wisconsin has only added 53,122 (in fact, Wisconsin's population growth has declined in each of the 3 years Scott Walker has been in office). The disparities in income could also lead to an attraction of talent to Minnesota, and brain drain and lower population growth would certainly be something to limit Wisconsin's economic vitality and income levels if it continues.

So in the short-term, Wisconsin came out reasonably well in the BEA's state income report. But the 3-year picture of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan still shows the state staying behind many of its neighbors and the nation as a whole, and with a weak 4th Quarter of 2013 and a cold 1st quarter of 2014, it doesn't look so good for the next reports that might emerge.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Basketball takes from Milwaukee

After heading to Milwaukee for some hoops this weekend (and having my voice recover yesterday), I had some reflections on the games played on the court, the product that was part of being an attendee at the Bradley Center "fan experience", and the scene outside of the BC. We'll alternate the good and the bad.

Good thing
The sea of red inside of the arena. I'd guess that out of the 18,000 in each of the Badgers' two sessions that 15,000 were supporting Bucky on Thursday, and probably 13,000 on Saturday. Michigan was easily the second-most followed team (hence the fewer amount of Badgers being less on Saturday), but the Badger presence was overwhelming, and engaged. Saturday's crowd was as loud as I can recall a Badger basketball game being, and I have little doubt that home-court advantage played a key role as Bucky came back from 12 down at halftime, and then found that second wind to push through for good in the last 70 seconds of the game.

It also showed if you went around downtown Milwaukee before, during and after these games, as the bars and restaurants were jam-packed with Badger red. Many seemed to be locals and fans that usually don't make it over to the Kohl Center very often, which made it all the more interesting and fun to be around and discuss things with (it felt like more of a Packer-ish crowd). I noticed the same type of situation when I went to the Rose Bowl back in 2011, and I'd guess some of that is related to many of these fans viewing the game as a one-time event as opposed to one of many games they've observed (like you would in Madison). I'm not saying that a filled Kohl Center wouldn't have been as loud or crazy, (given the stakes of the game, I bet it would have), but it certainly seemed the composition of the crowd was a bit different than your average home game for Bucky. I also bet the NCAA loved seeing that type of atmosphere and a sold-out crowd for the first two rounds, which is why they changed over to the pod system to keep top seeds like Wisconsin close to home.

The other games were fun to attend as well (although many ended up as double-digit games). I even got to see my first in-person March Madness Buzzer Beater to end Thursday night!

Now onto a thing that wasn't so great.

Bad thing
But there was another definite difference from a Badger game at the Kohl Center, and that involved TV timeouts. During March Madness, the NCAA fits in an extra minute of commercials during every regular scheduled timeout. A regular-season stoppage can cause a break in momentum, but it's not onerous. Add in another minute? It is a brutally long wait, and kills a lot of flow. It's even worse when there's a sequence where a coach may call a timeout a minute before the scheduled timeout, so that's one long break. Then play resumes, there's another stoppage, and you get ANOTHER extended TV timeout (much like the stupid TD-commercial-Kickoff-commercial sequence that you see in the NFL). It's absurd, and has stretched a typical college basketball game from 2 hours to 2:15 or further during this tournament. The product during March Madness is great, with tension and emotion and many excellent games. But these extended timeouts can really cut into the enjoyment of attending the event in person. This can be solved with 2 modifications.

1. STOP THE GREED- The NCAA and the networks don't need to slam in an extra minute of commercials. Use the principle of scarcity, keep the timeouts shorter, and charge more if you have to. It keeps the game moving, and makes the game more enjoyable to witness in person.

2. All called timeouts within a minute of the regularly-scheduled TV timeout has to be 30 seconds. The coach and/or players are usually just re-setting a play, subbing and trying to change momentum anyway. It's an easy change to shorten that timeout, and it won't affect the ability of a team to succeed or fail.

Good thing
On the flip side, given that the NCAA is largely running the show, you don't get as many of the silly in-game promotions that you would see at the Kohl Center and many other college arenas. Instead of Kimmy encouraging some college kid to "shoot for QDoba" during a timeout, we usually had highlights and/or a college band playing tunes. And I'll add that unlike UW, most of the bands had songs that were first recorded after 1975....some even came from the 2000s! It was somewhat refreshing to consistently hear pep band music during the game's breaks, even if those breaks were too long.

Bad thing
But the NCAA also needs to stop playing the same tune as they would have in the past in some ways. The highlights they would show on the video board were often things that had happened several minutes ago, and they refused to show live look-ins to tight games that were going on. For example, the Dayton-OSU game was tight and in the final seconds during a timeout in the Badgers' game on Thursday, and they wouldn't show live coverage on the video board. A notable amount of fans booed, expecting that type of info to be shown at a sporting event these days (they have at Badger football games, for example), and instead they had to check the updates on their phones or go back under the stands to find a TV showing the game. This is 2014, GO TO THE LIVE BROADCAST!

Also, when you got underneath the stands to watch other games end, the Bradley Center's TVs were horribly lacking. They were often located in the handful of lounge areas around the BC concourse, and those areas were not big enough for the crowds that would stand and watch the action. And this was on the more "luxury" 200 level- I imagine the 400 level was even worse. The BC can handle giving people room in the stands with convenient concessions, but fans are demanding more out of their in-game experience, and the NCAA needs to recognize this (the Badgers do, it's why they're spending $1.4 million for upgrades to Wi-Fi and adding TVs in Camp Randall's concourses for next year).

Good thing
Knowing the area makes for better parking and entertainment options. We found an off-street lot on Thursday morning at Water and Juneau and paid $10 for the rest of the work day- not too bad in big city, and the walk was only 4-5 blocks (if a bit brisk due to the weather). Between games around 5, we rolled out to a nearby street meter, paid $1, and we were good for the rest of the night. Saturday was even better, parked in the same area at 10-hour meters for FREE (since they don't charge for many meters on weekends) and had no problems. It also seemed like many of the out-of-towners didn't venture past a 1-2 block radius from the Bradley Center, which made it a whole lot easier to head across the River for postgame drinks and not have to squeeze through a mass of humanity (as I had to do at Buck Bradley's Thursday afternoon).

Bad thing
Security lines were much worse than you'd see at a sold-out Kohl Center. Some of this is because the Bradley Center has you file in 2-3 lines at each entrance, while the Kohl has numerous gates inside the glass doors, which not only keeps fans warmer, but makes the individual lines much smaller. Plus, they were wanding people at the BC like you were going through security lines at the airport,(they just make you open your jackets and check your bags in Madison), which slowed things down even more. Maybe the thought is that security gets upgraded because March Madness is a bigger-profile event than a regular-season college game, but nearly 13 years since 9/11, do we still have to live with the fear mindset?

Good thing
The sights and sounds you see from the other fans and team-associated personnel at an event like this. Along with the hoops itself, I find it to be the most enjoyable part of going to March Madness- the out-of-towners getting to check out the town and make their presence known. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted two particular Michigan fans in a Bill Glauber "game atmosphere" story from Saturday's action. The first involved a guy who knows the Bradley Center well.
For Milwaukee fans, there was a compelling father-son story to savor. Sitting up in the stands with the Michigan fans was former Bucks player Glenn Robinson.

And down on the floor was Robinson's son, Glenn III, a silky-smooth 6-foot-6 sophomore forward who scored 14 points for Michigan.

"It's nerve-wracking," Robinson said as he described what it was like to watch his son. "You want to see him play perfect."
Big Dog was shown on the video board during both Michigan games, and got big ovations from the crowd. He broke into a smile and waved. He's still one of my all-time favorites since I saw him light up UW for 42 points in a double-OT game 1993.

But another Michigan fan was stealing the show on the video board during timeouts. They first caught her as the Michigan band playing the song officially known as "I Can't Turn You Loose", and she was joining the other folks in yellow in doing this.

An exuberant Michigan fan, 83-year-old Elaine Zatkoff,....was up and cheering throughout the game.

"I love it," she said of watching the Wolverines. "We're really big Michigan fans. We go to all the games."

Usually, a fuss is made over her husband, Roger Zatkoff, a renowned Michigan linebacker who played four seasons for the Green Bay Packers in the 1950s and was a member of the 1957 NFL Champion Detroit Lions.

Roger Zatkoff was delighted that his wife was cheered by the crowd.

"She's the same hot chick I married 63 years ago," he said.

There were hours upon hours of these types of crowd cutaway shots of good fans like Mrs. Zatkoff in between some good basketball this weekend (and to the BC's production crew's credit, they were pretty good at finding the fans). I thought Milwaukee acquitted itself quite well with the event, as it usually does when it gets to show off downtown to outsiders. Another 10-15 degrees of temperature would have been nice (especially Saturday), but it was a great way to spend a couple of days last week with a group of 4 other friends. And now I have 3 days to recover before the Madness starts again.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lost in the Madness- 2 Wisconsin Econ reports released

If you were distracted by March Madness like I was at the end of the week, you may not have noticed that the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released two reports on Friday. Both are interesting benchmarks of where our state's economy stands, and both show that a couple of Scott Walker's potential bragging points in November may not work out as his campaign wants to portray it.

The first was the Wisconsin Economic Outlook. This comes out a few times a year, with data updated to the latest information and forecasts, and the March 2014 version leads off by noting that Wisconsin's income and job creation has slightly lagged the nation, but may pick up over the next 2 years.
The Wisconsin economy grew at a moderate pace in 2013 and will gain steam in 2014. The Wisconsin economy, as measured by personal income, grew 3.9% in 2012, just below the 4.2% growth nationwide. Wisconsin personal income should post growth of 2.9% in 2013 and will grow 4.0% in 2014.

Employment in Wisconsin added around 30,000 jobs per year in 2012 and 2013. The forecast calls for increases of
more than 40,000 jobs per year in 2014 and 2015. Wisconsin employment will grow 1.5% in 2014 and 1.7% in 2015 and 2016.
The basis for the DOR's projected increase in Wisconsin's economic performance is mostly due to an improving economic recovery in the U.S. as a whole, as the report cites Global Insight projections of 2.7% GDP growth in 2014, 3.2% for 2015 and 3.4% for 2016. In fact, the DOR's report indicates that Wisconsin will continue to lag behind the U.S. rate of growth in both jobs and personal income, as it has done throughout of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Non-Farm job growth, U.S. vs. Wisconsin
2011 1.2% U.S., 1.1% Wis.
2012 1.7% U.S., 1.0% Wis.
2013 1.6% U.S., 1.0% Wis.
2014 (proj) 1.7% U.S., 1.5% Wis.
2015 (proj) 2.0% U.S., 1.7% Wis.

Personal income growth, U.S. vs. Wisconsin
2011 6.1% U.S., 5.3% Wis.
2012 4.2% U.S., 3.9% Wis.
2013 (Wis. not final) 2.9% U.S., 2.9% Wis.
2014 (proj) 4.6% U.S., 4.0% Wis.
2015 (proj) 5.0% U.S., 4.5% Wis.

It's also worth noting that even with the improved prospects the Wisconsin Economic Outlook cites, the 39,000 in projected private sector job growth for 2014 would mean that approximately 146,000 private sector jobs would be added in Wisconsin over Scott Walker's 4-year term- or more than 100,000 BELOW Walker's "floor" of 250,000 jobs added.

In addition, the Wisconsin Economic Outlook assumes that construction and housing growth will be a key factor for the U.S. and Wisconsin for 2014. That seems to be in question as of now, as the cold winter and rising interest rates have led to housing sales to fall, both in the U.S., and in Wisconsin, where last month's home sales were down more than 10% compared to February 2013, and 7.7% for the first two months of the year. Yes, some of this may rebound as the weather warms (assuming we do eventually have a Spring and Summer), but it also could throw some cold water on the hot expectations for 2014's economy, and would further dampen the already-lagging numbers.

The below-trend February was also reflected in the DOR's other release on Friday, as state revenues dropped 9.8% vs. the same month last year. Some of this was predictable, as the Koo-Koo tax cuts are taking effect in the form of higher tax refunds (WisGOP hopes you noticed), but it also includes a below-inflation increase of 0.5% in sales taxes, and a decrease in excise taxes (which previously had been going to the upside, largely due to avoidance of Minnesota cigarette taxes). These lower numbers should cause a bit of concern as the effects of the latest round of Walker-WisGOP tax cuts shows a $170 million cut in revenues for the 2013-14 fiscal year from those measures, which will go on top of the larger tax refunds resulting from the first round of Koo-Koo tax cuts. In addition, sales taxes need to increase 3.5% from March-June 2014 compared to the same four months of the previous year just to keep pace with projections, which is a whole lot more than the 0.5% rise we had in February.

Now perhaps there will be a boost in state revenues from all the tourism dollars that flooded Milwaukee from March Madness this weekend. But if things stay slow for sales like they were in February, or if we have another slow month for March job or income growth, or if the tax refunds are even bigger than the LFB thought, it becomes quite possible that we fall short of the rosy revenue figures the LFB released in January. And if a deficit starts to open up for the last year of the 2014-15 biennium, a big part of Scott Walker's 2014 election meme ("I balanced the budget and cut taxes") completely blows up.

Like a lot of you, I've been concentrating on the hoops for this weekend over wanting to care about politics or economic reports. But the documents released from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue on Friday certainly put the idea of a booming Wisconsin economy into check, and instead they seem to indicate that the state's performance will continue to be left behind the U.S. as a whole.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A note from the Madness

Made the roadie for all 4 games in Milwaukee yesterday, and as usual, it was enjoyable if a bit tiring (hey, you attend 10 hours of hoops with no beer being sold!). And downtown was hopping, including the morning session, where our sojourn into Turner Hall around 11am found the place a madhouse filled with people in red. According to the Journal-Sentinel, it was one of many places in the Cream City reaping the benefits of having the greatest annual sporting event in America in town.
At AJ Bombers on Water St., Thursday was a really good day.

The restaurant served 315 cheeseburgers, around double the daily amount.

"It was packed. We had a line out the door," said Ryan Packard, a manager. "We sold more beers than we do on a typical weekend day."

Over at Molly Cool's on N. Old World 3rd St., they were filled for breakfast on Thursday, as 110 American University alums showed up. The fans were serenaded by 30 members of the school's band and 15 cheerleaders.

"After the Badgers game, it was standing room only," said Stacey Fleming, director of sales and marketing
I can also attest that the picture in the article from Buck Bradley's is not between games around 4:30, because you couldn't have fit another person in that place at that time. And given the good weather today, I'm very happy to see Milwaukee get a chance to show itself off to a number of out-of-towners, as it is a great city (regardless of what the race-baiters on AM radio try to tell you).

And as the article mentions, the Big Dance is in town at an opportune time for the downtown eateries and hotels, as the Bucks continue to be at the bottom of the NBA standings and NBA attendance, and Marquette hoops now faces uncertain future with coach Buzz Williams making a surprising move to ACC bottom-feeder Virginia Tech. So I'm glad the area and its many tipped workers are getting the help.

But may I also remind you that city government will not get an extra dime of tax revenue from being such good hosts of this event, and the only benefit can come later in the form of positive word of mouth and better business prospects that result. That won't stop me from (hopefully) having a great time in the city tomorrow for two interesting second-round games, and I hope you do the same, but it's something worth keeping in mind as you enjoy the Milwaukee Madness.

P.S. And can the NCAA stop the greed with the extra minute of TV timeouts? It turns a 2-hour game into 2:15, and reduces the enjoyment of those of us who shell out to watch the games. Learn the economic principle of scarcity and charge more for less ads if you have to.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

35 the magic jobs number for Wisconsin's QCEW

Today's big headline in Wisconsin job news involves the release of the feds' Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW). The Wisconsin DWD had pre-released some of these numbers in February, but now we got to look at how we measured up to the rest of the nation (use the handy BLS map to make your own stats and comparisons). You'll notice a certain pattern when it comes to looking at how we fared nationwide over the last 12 months.

33rd (of 50 states) in total job growth (+1.1%)
35th in private sector job growth (+1.2%)
34th in manufacturing job growth (-0.2%)
35th in average private sector wage ($795)

Hey, we may suck in these job metrics, but at least we're consistently sucky! We also remain near the bottom of the Midwest for these stats (by the way, I define Midwest as the original 7 states that had Big Ten teams, not the 10 states I saw in other stories today)

Private sector job growth, Midwest, Sep 2012- Sep 2013
Mich +2.7%
Minn +1.9%
Iowa +1.6%
Ohio +1.6%
Ind. +1.4%
Wis. +1.2%
Ill. +0.9%

Manufacturing job growth, Midwest, Sep 2012- Sep 2013
Mich +3.6%
Ind. +1.7%
Iowa +1.6%
Ohio +0.8%
Minn +0.0%
Wis. -0.2%
Ill. -1.6%

Average Weekly Private Sector Wage, Midwest, Sep 2012- Sep 2013
Ill. $959
Minn $938
Mich $875
Ohio $837
Wis. $793
Ind. $784
Iowa $772

The amount and rate of 12-month private sector job growth does seem to have steadied in the last few months, after declining for most of the first 2 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. This chart shows that stabilizing (bottoming?) trend, and you can also clearly see the 1-month delay in hiring caused by the cold, rainy April, which is something to keep in mind as we still see snow on the ground with sub-freezing temperatures in mid-March.

The last 3 months of 2013 initially looked strong in the monthly job releases, but I wouldn't expect a major increase from the 28,351 jobs gained from September 2012 to September 2013, just because a lot of those jobs seem to be seasonal, and the QCEW picks up a lot of these differences in the raw data. And even if the state measures up stronger than 35th place in the one-year report for all of 2013, it also will give us a complete look of the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 for all states, and given the poor performance the state put in for job growth in 2011 and 2012 (especially after Act 10 got passed), I'm not thinking that would be a report the Fitzwalkerstanis would be interesting in propping up.

Despite the happy talk from yet another lame and misleading DWD press release (still doing the "23rd in total number of jobs increased" thing when we're 20th in population? REALLY?), the 3rd Quarter QCEW did not have much good news for the state of Wisconsin. We're still in the bottom third for private sector job growth, we continue to trail most of our Midwestern neighbors, and the overall result of Walker/WisGOP job creation policies leave the state well below where it should be.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Time for March Madness in Milwaukee- and for the city to get screwed again!

I, along with tens of thousands of others, will be descending upon downtown Milwaukee this weekend to watch games in the NCAA basketball tournament this weekend (and yes, got tickets to both sessions on Thursday, including good tix to see the Badgers). And I, like many others, will be spending cash at downtown establishments and staying at a nearby hotel. So with all of these tourists coming into town, you know how much tax revenue the City of Milwaukee will get off of all of us attending the Madness at the Bradley Center? A big fat ZERO.

How's this possible? Well, I'll explain it.

First of all, there is no question that March Madness will give the Milwaukee area an economic boost for the weekend. The Milwaukee Business Journal had an article yesterday detailing the impact the Tournament will have on the area's tourist-related industries.
The NCAA toured hotels last year in anticipation of the event, said Tim Smith, general manager of the InterContinental Milwaukee. It tries to put higher seeded teams closer to the event venue, in this case the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

The InterContinental, located a few blocks from the Bradley Center, will host a couple of big-name teams: Wisconsin and Michigan, Smith said. Each team will take up about 40 rooms for players, coaches and other people traveling with the team....

Visit Milwaukee predicts March Madness visitors will occupy nearly 6,000 hotel rooms and spend $2.5 million. Indirect economic impact, including supplies sold to vendors, will total about $4.7 million.

Obviously not a pic from this Bucks season

So where does all the tax revenue related to the Madness's visitors go? Well, there's the 0.5% Milwaukee County sales tax, so they should get a nice bump from all of the visitors' spending. But none of that money has to be shared with the City, and in fact, many County services are intentionally separated from the City's purview, even with the City being the majority of the County's population.

Much of the rest of the tax money generated from this week's Madness goes to a separate level of government known as the Wisconsin Center District. This district has been in place for nearly 20 years now, and is related to the Milwaukee tourism and convention industry.
The mission of the Wisconsin Center District: to maintain, and continuously build, our professional reputation in the convention, entertainment and sporting events industry on all levels, both locally and nationally; to present first class facilities in the twenty-first century; to provide the most effective use of space for our clients by utilizing the collective talents of all Wisconsin Center District employees; and to create and sustain jobs, income, and prosperity in the Greater Milwaukee community.....

WCD is governed by an unpaid, fifteen-member Board of Directors statutorially appointed by the Governor, the Milwaukee County Executive, the Mayor of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Common Council President. The co-chairs of the State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee and the City of Milwaukee Comptroller serve on the board automatically, and two appointed members represent the hotel and restaurant industries, which derive the most benefit from a convention center.
So what does this unelected board get to administer? We'll let the Wisconsin Department of Revenue explain.
- 2.5% basic room tax (2% prior to on January 1, 2011)
- 7% additional room tax (City of Milwaukee only)
- 0.5% food and beverage tax (.025% prior to July 1, 2010)
- 3% rental car tax
These taxes generated $27.6 million for the Wisconsin Center District last year, and the idea behind is that it'll go into District facilities like the convention center, Milwaukee Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre. Yes, these are investments into downtown Milwaukee buildings and leads to several downtown-area events, but other than (hopefully) a benefit from improved property values near the district, the City of Milwaukee doesn't get a cent back in revenue from it - the funds go to the District and Visit Milwaukee (the area's tourism agency). This is in contrast to what several other Milwaukee suburbs are able to do with their room taxes, which is to use the money to pay for services in lieu of property taxes.
In Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, many cities use the grandfather clause to keep additional revenue in their general budgets. For example, in 2011 Wauwatosa kept 68 percent, or $620,000, of room tax revenue for its general budget and gave 32 percent, $288,000, to Visit Milwaukee, according to a 2012 report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Franklin keeps 95 percent of room tax revenue, which was $176,000 in 2011, for its budget and allows hotel operators to keep 5 percent for administrative expenses. Oak Creek keeps all of its room tax revenue....

The city of Brookfield uses 75 percent of room tax revenue for its operating budget and 8 percent for economic development, said Robert Scott, finance director. The other 17 percent goes to the Brookfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Of course, the Bradley Center has been in the news for other reasons recently, as the Bucks' lease ends there in 3 years, and the Milwaukee oligarch community has been trying to drum up support to get funding for a new arena. Let's leave aside the obvious question ("Why would you build a new arena after the old one's barely been open for 25 years and hosts the team with the worst record and attendance in the NBA?") and look into which public entities might fund such an arena. It seems the Wisconsin Center District is a logical partner, given that the Bradley Center is right next to its facilities and the District would financially benefit from the bigger events that an updated arena might offer.

You would be wrong my friend! The District said last year that it wouldn't ante up for a new Bucks arena, and claimed that it was barely making ends meet as it was.
[In 2013], the district expects to pay $18 million in debt service, and that will increase 4.5% next year and 4% each year after that.

"We have a finite number of dollars that we collect for taxes," [District Chairman Franklyn] Gimbel said. "We don't use one single dollar to operate these three buildings. We do, however, use those revenues to pay our bondholders, which is a fixed amount."

But the district also allocated an estimated $6.2 million for Visit Milwaukee, which acts as the sales agent for recruiting conventions and other business to Milwaukee. Add in a capital maintenance reserve fund each year and there is little left over, Gimbel said, which is why some capital improvements projects have been postponed.
You can bet the future of the Wisconsin Center District's funding will be included as part of the big-picture conversation that'll come up with the downtown arena issue coming to a boil (especially once the "Bucks to Seattle" rumors get hotter), and this will probably also include the question on what to do with the 0.1% Miller Park tax after it can't pay for the Brewers' stadium in a few years.

But no matter the result of the Wisconsin Center District's finances and a new downtown arena for the future, it doesn't change this central fact. The City of Milwaukee will be providing law enforcement, streets, parking, and many other services to help the NCAA put on the Big Dance this weekend, and won't get a dime back in tax revenue to do it. And given that there's no market for a facility like the Bradley Center without the population center and jobs associated with the City of Milwaukee, that seems to be more than a bit unfair to me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Will gov't jobs get Walker closer to 250,000? Not likely

The follow-up to January's big Wisconsin jobs report came today, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics releasing the state-by-state jobs report. Given that this includes the updated 2013 numbers for all states, it's a big benchmark to see where Wisconsin is measuring up to everyone else. What this report indicates is that 2013 was an improved year for state job creation, but the Walker Administration shouldn't break out the party hats. And that reason is because a lot of the added jobs weren't in their beloved private sector, but instead in government, and the first two years in Fitzwalkerstan were so bad that Wisconsin still greatly trails most of their neighbors.

Page 8 of the BLS report shows Wisconsin as one of 28 states in the country with "statistically significant employment changes from January 2013 to January 2014," with 56,100 jobs added in that time. Wow, 56,100 jobs! That's a pace nearing the 250,000 goal that then-candidate Walker set in 2010. Maybe it really IS working, and all of a sudden businesses are hiring right and left, just like this desperate Governor has been trying to tell people as the November race has tightened?

Ahh, maybe not. If you go to Page 16, you'll see this statistic on the right-hand part of the page.

Government jobs, Wisconsin
January 2013 408,600
January 2014 423,800

That's right, the "small government" Walker Administration has overseen the addition of 15,200 government jobs in the last year. This accounts for more than 27% of the job growth in the state in the last year, which is a stat you can bet won't be brought up by Walker at any of the "job announcement/ campaign events" that he's been frequenting in recent weeks. In fact, only one other state has added more public sector jobs in the last 12 months than Wisconsin, and that one state is a whole lot bigger than we are.

Most government jobs added, January 2013- January 2014
Tex. +28,500
Wis. +15,200
Haw. +5,100
Mo. +4,900
Cal. +3,900
Utah +3,900

It still wasn't a bad year for private sector job growth in Wisconsin, as the 40,900 jobs added are the biggest increase of Walker's 3 years in charge. This 1.71% increase landed Wisconsin 3rd in the Midwest for private-sector job growth behind first-place Minnesota (2.14%) and Indiana (1.78%). However, this decent performance in the last year doesn't make up for the 2 awful years before it, as Wisconsin still lags nearly every one of its neighbors- only the FIBs keep us out of the basement. And our blue-voting neighbors in Minnesota have massively outperformed the folks on the other side of the St. Croix.

Private sector job growth, Midwest Jan 2011- Jan 2014
Mich +6.96%
Minn +6.52%
Ind. +5.74%
Ohio +5.55%
Iowa +4.67%
Wis. +4.52%
Ill. +3.37%

Even with the increases in the last year Wisconsin has still only added 107,400 jobs since Walker took office, and 105,100 in the private sector. Neither of those numbers are even halfway to 250,000. And with the unemployment claim increases that we saw in February, it's unlikely that month's report will be one with good job numbers when that comes out later this month, putting them even further behind the 250,000-job pace.

In addition, Wednesday's release of the "gold standard" Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages through September won't include the big job increases of the 4th Quarter, so Wisconsin will likely have another national ranking in the 30s or 40s. No wonder that the Walker Administration rushed out a lame press release touting cherry-picked numbers from this month's BLS report, because the big picture over the last 3 years sucks, and the stats coming out for the rest of this month likely will as well. No wonder this flailing Administration is trying to shove out the good news wherever they can find it, because it's still dismal overall.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The numbers show why WisGOP is suppressing early voting

The Wisconsin GOP's recent bills attempting to limit early voting hours and other methods of voter suppression is scummy enough on the surface (seriously, how can someone oppose the Constitutional right to vote and look themselves in the mirror?). The hypocrisy inherent in these bills were further showcased when One Wisconsin Now released voting records showing that 15 of 17 GOP Senators that voted to restrict early voting had themselves voted early in recent years. I understand that the GOP's 21st Century motto is "Our rules don't apply to us," but it's still a shameless thing to do.

But Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee went into great detail to also show the math behind these voter suppression acts, and to no surprise, it makes it a lot tougher for people in urban (and Democratic-leaning) areas of Wisconsin to vote early than people in smaller and often (Republican-leaning) areas. What's doubly interesting about this is that Murphy mentions that red-voting suburban Milwaukee is more likely to take advantage of early voting than the blue cities of Milwaukee and Madison, probably because it's already easier for them to do so.
If you were concerned about making sure everyone in the state has a chance to vote, you might want to look at the quaint city of Delafield in Waukesha County, for a fine example. For the 2012 presidential election, it had just 4,975 registered voters. It has one place where voters who want to vote early can do so, and 26.4 percent of those voters, or 1,159 people, appeared in person to do so. There were no reports of any problems for these voters.

Compare this to the city of Milwaukee, which had 66 times more registered voters than Delafield, with a total of 328,202 such voters. You might think Milwaukee would have far more polling places where voters who wanted to vote early could do so, but you would be wrong. By state law, all early voters must appear at one place (the downtown municipal building) to vote early. And they must get there within a limited period of time: in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers cut back the early-voting period from three weeks, including three weekends, to two weeks, including one weekend.

That meant there were often long lines and delays for Milwaukee citizens who wished to vote early. Not surprisingly, the percentage of voters in Milwaukee who showed up to vote early was far lower — less than half the rate — than in Delafield. Just 12.6 percent of registered voters in Milwaukee voted in person early.

This is not an anomaly. State-wide, 16.7 percent of voters showed up to vote early in the 2012 presidential election, according to figures from the Government Accountability Board. Typically the percentage was higher in suburbs and small towns and lower in the state’s big cities. The percent showing up to vote early, according to GAB statistics, was 34.5 percent in Whitefish Bay, 28.2 percent in Menasha, 26.5 percent in Brookfield, 26 percent in Port Washington, 25.8 percent in Oconomowoc and 25.3 percent in New Berlin — all much higher than Milwaukee’s 12.6 percent or Madison’s 12.5 percent.
Since the Cities of Milwaukee and Madison have a helluva lot more people than any red-voting municipality does, but each place gets only one spot to have their early voting, this clearly shifts the advantage to the red-voting places if each place gets the same amount of hours to vote early. Murphy quotes a remarkable stat from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett that states if early voting is limited to 45 hours a week (as it is under the current bill)
...given the number of people voting early in [the Waukesha County Village of] Big Bend in 2012, they would have had 47 minutes per person to vote. In Milwaukee you would have a person voting every nine seconds.
Of course, in a large November ballot, you won't be able to vote every nine seconds, which means it becomes a lot more likely that people will be pushed into voting on Election Day, whether they want to or not. And that means much larger lines on Election Day in blue areas, if everything else is left the same. And when Election Day isn't a national holiday where people get the day off to vote at their leisure (ridiculous in its own right), that means some people may be forced to choose between work and voting, or other necessities being forsaken in order to have to wait in line to vote.

It's also worth giving a look to see if there is a similar disparity of access on Election Day, and the state of Wisconsin has an interesting data set that shows numerous population statistics for every Wisconsin ward as of the 2010 redistricting, including voting-age population. At first glance, it appears there's a bit of a disparity, as several wards in the Cities of Milwaukee and Madison have voting-age populations between 2,500 and 3,500, and wards in the blue cities of Racine and Kenosha are often between 1,500 and 2,500. By comparison, most small cities and rural towns have voting-age population below 1,000 per ward, so that would seem to make longer lines also be more likely in those blue areas. That being said, I'm going to hesitate to say a bit say that's an absolute, as many wards are combined into one voting area in both the city and out in the country, and that changes based on the community, so it's not a definite disparity, but I would say it makes it possible.

Certainly when you combine the higher voters-per-ward likelihood in cities with the Wisconsin GOP's efforts to restrict early voting in those places, it seems that it would likely lead to longer lines and less access for urban people in the Dem-voting cities than in the suburban and rural areas of the state. This makes for higher opportunity costs to vote when a person lives in a large city in Wisconsin, which to me is a very good basis for a lawsuit (after all, Brown v. Board of Education wasn't voted down because of discrimination of "separate but equal", but because separate but equal clearly led to different levels of access and different outcomes).

So a look at the numbers backs up the gut feeling of "this is partisan bullshit." The fact that these GOP bills would make it easier for the areas that have recently been more likely to vote Republican is not a coincidence, and they should pay a price for trying to rig fair elections in this manner.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jobs stronger last few months, but still way down in Wisconsin

Wanted to throw this out there before I leave to watch some hoops today. Wisconsin's January jobs and 2013 benchmarked figures came out on Thursday. This is a bigger-than-normal report since it features last year's numbers being reconfigured to match more available data. Last year this worked to Gov Walker's benefit, as tens of thousands of more jobs than previously thought were added in 2012 (although it still left the numbers below-trend).

Well, the news wasn't quite as good for the Fitzwalkerstanis this time, but there were a few more thousand jobs in Wisconsin for 2013 than previously thought. And while the new benchmarks also showed that the last 6 months of 2013 had best job growth of the Walker era, it also should be noted that it followed the worst 12-month stretch of job growth in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Wisconsin job changes, 2011-2013
Dec 2010-June '11 +11,300 total jobs, +13,800 private sector
Jun 2011- Dec '11 +18,000 total jobs, +22,900 private
Dec 2011- Jun '12 +21,400 total jobs, +21,000 private
Jun 2012= Dec '12 +13,200 total jobs, +13,200 private
Dec 2012- Jun '13 +11,700 total jobs, +14,100 private
Jun 2013- Dec '13 +34,800 total jobs, +25,300 private

So where does that put us compared to the rest of the nation, who also has had updated benchmarks? It means the Walker jobs gap has narrowed a bit in recent months (note the upslope near the end of both graphs), but we're still nearly 50,000 private sector jobs below the national rate, and the gap is 33,000 for all jobs.

So far the data for 2014 hasn't been very promising. It says there were 0 jobs created in Wisconsin's private sector for the first month of January, and February's higher layoffs could also portend a relatively weak report for that month. With the U.S. still creating more than 300,000 jobs combined for those two months, a chilled February jobs report (which comes out later this month) would put the state further in the hole. And that's nothing WisGOP needs to hear when right-wing polls already put the governor's race at 45-45 this week.

With that, I'm off to head downtown for hoops and a little pre-St. Pat's revelry. Hope you have some of the same.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

At long last. more Wisconsin jobs numbers tomorrow!

Tomorrow is scheduled to include the release of the first Wisconsin jobs numbers for 2014. As usual, these have been delayed for the start of the year because the Bureau of Labor Statistics goes back and benchmarks 2013 and other years to more data, and they also update the seasonal factors that they use to translate raw data into the more commonly-used seasonally-adjusted data

As I've said before, I don't expect too many changes out of last year's numbers, as it appears to largely match the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages, unlike in previous years when the QCEW was coming in higher than the monthly numbers, which led to higher revisions with the annual benchmarking.

As for January's numbers, a good indicator is the amount of unemployment claims that have been coming in. As you can see here, the numbers for the first 4 weeks of the year were less than previous years (to be expected in a growing economy), spiked up in early February (including a jump of more than 5,000 in one week), and has since retreated to a more normal number for late winter.

What's also worth mentioning in that January jobs "increases" are usually a reflection of lower-than-normal post-Holiday layoffs. For example, here are last year's figures.

Change in jobs, Wisconsin, January 2013
seasonally-adjusted all jobs +1,800
non-seasonally-adjusted all jobs -74,100

seasonally-adjust. private jobs +12,300
non-seasonally-adjust. private jobs -49,500

So the drop in new unemployment claims may be a sign of a decent January jobs report, except that Michigan and Illinois have both reported their numbers for January, and both had significant losses. Neither of those states were reporting unemployment claims that were all that different than what they had this time last year, so maybe the bad weather kept anyone from hiring at the start of the year, even at January's suppressed rate.

It'll be sure to ignite the progress report on Gov. Walker's failing promise of 250,000 new jobs, but the benchmarking will be even more of an indicator of how that's going than the seasonally-adjusted January report will. Stay tuned on it, because you can bet whatever the number is, a whole lot of people will spin it as bullshit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

This week in WisGOP corruption, Ashley style

As what often happens in Wisconsin these days, connections to Governor Scott Walker are repaid with state action and Walker campaign appearances, and our media doesn't call him on the carpet for clear pay-to-play. It happened again yesterday, when Walker visited Ashley Furniture as a "special guest" for a media event (i.e., closed to the public) touting its recent expansion in the Trempealeau County community of Arcadia. But in fact, the expansion was just an excuse for Walker and Ashley's TeaBagging founder to hold a "Walker 2014" campaign event.
The governor cited initiatives such as a manufacturing tax credit, which will eliminate virtually all tax liability for production in Wisconsin by 2016, and worker training for helping keep companies like Ashley.

Walker also said he’s working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a plan to move a creek away from a planned expansion of Ashley’s plant in Arcadia.

“(Those) are things that we can do that are legitimate things that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the DNR can work on and help them grow and expand,” Walker said.

Ashley and the DNR came under fire from environmental watchdogs for a 2005 addition there that required filling 13.5 acres of wetlands. Without that expansion, the company said later, most of the company’s 2,000 Arcadia-based jobs would have been moved out of state.

From a table of literature spread out for visitors, [Ashley Furniture founder and board chair] Ron Wanek grabbed a flyer decrying federal regulations, including environmental, workplace and health care rules, saying, “This is what’s going to kill industry in the United States.”
Yes, why would we want environmental regulations in scenic Western Wisconsin? I mean, look at how well lowering those regulations in the similarly-scenic environment of West Virginia worked out earlier this year, when 300,000 residents couldn't drink their tap water after a chemical spill. Or in North Carolina, where the Dan River looked like this after a coal ash spill from Duke Energy last month.

Bad enough that Ashley Furniture's founder is promoting policies that lead to results like what we've seen in Appalachia over the recent months. But there's also plenty of history between Walker and Ashley Furniture before yesterday's meeting. This wasn't the first time Walker pulled the "business visit/campaign stop" routine at Ashley's plant. Walker was also there a week before the 2012 recall election to commemorate the plant's groundbreaking, meeting with captive employers. It called to mind a similar incident in Ohio when right-wing CEO Bob Murray made his Murray Energy coal miners at a plant listen to a speech by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Romney later used those images of workers in attendance in a commercial.

Wanek had thanked Walker in other ways before that visit. Wanek, his family and other Ashley employees had given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Walker over the last 3 years. They also like nearby State Rep. Warren Petryk, whose district is outside of Trempealeau County, but that didn't stop him from getting 4 max donations from Wanek family members in June 2012.

And Walker has paid back Wanek and his company for that support. First of all, Walker is the chairman of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's (WEDC) Board of Directors, and as One Wisconsin Now points out, Ashley was one of many Walker donators that received tax credits in the unaccountable organization's first year. Ashley could get up to $650,000 written off on its taxes based on this unilateral action, which isn't a bad return on investment in Walker's campaign if you're the Wanek family.

Walker also tried to help Ashley Furniture and related industries by trying to deregulate Wisconsin's rent-to-own industry in his last budget. This proposal would have allowed companies to hide from consumers just how much interest they were being charged, among other reductions in disclosure, and let me direct you to a story from Jack Craver of the Capital Times from last year, which talks about a proposal that was so heinous, even Legislative Republicans found themselves backing away from it.
Mike Mikalsen, chief-of-staff to state Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, one of the few Republicans who have opposed rent-to-own deregulation in the past, said the policy was made entirely as a favor to Ashley Furniture, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of low-cost furniture that supplies many of the products in rent-to-own outlets.

Ashley, a large state employer, is not registered to lobby this session, but last session it reported spending $94,000 lobbying the Legislature just on the rent-to-own issue.

The other big backer of the measure is Rent-A-Center, a rent-to-own chain based in Plano, Texas. Last session it reported spending $192,000 lobbying the Legislature. Representing its interests is one of the top lobbyists in town, Eric Petersen, who, in addition to having an impressive array of powerful corporate interests on his client list, seems to be the go-to guy for stigmatized interest groups — payday lenders, tobacco companies, bail bonds, to name a few.
The Joint Finance Committee eventually removed this deregulation of the rent-to-own industry from the budget, so it hasn't become law yet. But when we see Walker showing up at Ashley Furniture for his 2014 campaign like he did his 2012 campaign, you gotta ask- what's the payback that's expected this time? Both from the Wanek family and other Ashley execs when it comes to contributing to Walker's campaign, as well as what kind of legislation is Walker thinking of cooking up if he slips by both John Doe Deux and Mary Burke and gets re-elected. You know it can't be anything that helps us 99%-ers.

And it's also yet another indictment of the Wisconsin media. Yes, Chris Hubbuch of the La Crosse Tribune deserves some credit for giving context of Ashley Furniture's favoritism, and in relaying Ron Wanek's TeaBagging speech (even more disgraceful is that Wanek did this in front of a captive audience of employees). However, it wasn't nearly good enough, and if we had a real media in this state, they'd ask "Gov. Walker, given that you've already had sketchy dealings with Ashley Furniture, why did you decide to show up at this event? Was something promised?"

They may not be asking that, but you sure should. And the next time you get some furniture, you might not want to go to Ashley Furniture and put the cash into Ron Wanek's pockets.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Yep, these people are sick

Uppity Wisconsin had a post yesterday that hits at something that is apparent about a whole lot of today's corporate executives and the GOP politicians that they buy. These folks just aren't wired like most of us.

The Uppity Wisconsin post references an excellent article by Paul Rosenberg titled "The Sociopathic 1 percent: The Driving Force at the Heart of the Tea Party." The article first discusses the mindset that many high-income CEO's have, and it's dished out from one of their own.
Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer — who has advocated a $15 minimum wage and for raising taxes on people like him “to reward the true job creators,” ordinary middle-class consumers — rightly called them sociopaths when he recently appeared on “All In with Chris Hayes.”

“These are the people who did not go to their kid’s soccer games. These are borderline sociopathic people and they don’t care about other people,” Hanauer said, to which Hayes responded, “I don’t want to diagnose anyone from afar, I just want to stipulate.” That’s an honorable, well-meaning liberal sentiment. But it’s a bit misplaced, particularly since it meant a missed opportunity for deeper understanding. The point isn’t to stigmatize any one particular individual, but to identify and arm ourselves against a pervasive, corrosive mindset. It’s a mindset devoid of empathy or conscience, for whom other people simply are not real, a mindset that has gripped us collectively, ever more tightly, over the past 30 to 40 years, regardless of how much mayhem it creates, as the richest 1 percent has roughly tripled its share of income, while the rest of us, collectively, have seen our incomes stagnate, despite rising productivity, year after year after year.

Remember Margaret Thatcher’s remark, “There is no such thing as society, only individuals”? That’s the sociopathic mindset in a nutshell. Of course, Thatcher added, “and their families,” an obligatory conservative feel-good trope. But as Hanauer told Chris Hayes, “These are the people who did not go to their kid’s soccer games.” In short, Thatcher was lying when she tacked on “families.” Sociopaths are like that — they lie a lot.
Near the end of the article, it talks about the influence of Ayn Rand on right-wing policy-makers, and the often-delusional self-belief and superiority complex that those individuals would have. This includies former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and a certain Wisconsinite.
...there’s an eerie similarity between [Rand's] loathing for the public with their unnamed “worse sins and crimes” and the contempt shown by the likes of [Tom] Perkins and [Sam] Zell (billionaires who complained they were being persecuted) for average Americans who simply long for the promise of the American Dream that their parents and grandparents once took for granted. How dare some of them seek food stamps to feed their children! Or seek unemployment insurance, simply because there are three job-seekers for every job! Surely, they are guilty of worse sins and crimes than the wheeler-dealers of the 1 percent who destroyed the economy in the first place.

As for Rand’s direct connection to Greenspan’s thoughts and actions, in May of 2012, Gary Weiss, author of “Ayn Rand Nation,” wrote a most illuminating piece, “Republicans and Ayn Rand, a love-hate affair,” in which he dealt with Paul Ryan and Alan Greenspan’s attempts to distance themselves somewhat from Rand. For Greenspan, this was particularly difficult, considering how close they were. “Greenspan wrote essays for Rand’s newsletters, including one in which he espoused an extremist vision of capitalism, in which all forms of regulation, even building codes, would become a thing of the past,” Weiss noted. “That essay, written in 1963, was published in an anthology called “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” which is still in print.”

Weiss also took note of Greenspan’s so-called “flaw speech” in October 2008, when he said he had found a “flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.” Adding that “those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

But after some research, Weiss concluded it was “less a mea culpa than it was a public relations exercise,” saying, “He backtracked on his ‘flaw’ remarks almost as soon as he made them, and he contradicted them at every opportunity.”

Ironically, [U.S. Rep.] Paul Ryan was far more dishonest, which paradoxically made him a better psychopath, and hence truer to Rand’s ideal. Unfortunately for him, he was swiftly caught out. Ryan had once been such an open Rand enthusiast that he assigned her books as reading material for all his staffers. Weiss noted that Ryan had tried to pass off his allegiance to Rand as an “urban legend” in an interview with The National Review, but that the Randian Atlas Society shot back by releasing a recording of Ryan praising Rand, saying, “But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”
Now that we see what kind of self-absorbed sickos these people are, let's take a look at Paul Ryan's latest foray into the news. At last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Ryan relayed a story told to him by a woman in Wisconsin, and used it to explain Ryan's belief in the (lack of a) role for government.
She once met a young boy from a very poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise, he didn't want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper bag, just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid who had a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.
You're right Pau-lie, I really don't understand your statement at all. Is Rep. Ryan saying that the kid doesn't want to be so poor he has to be on free school lunch? Well, that may be true, but that doesn't change the fact that HE'S A KID WHOSE FAMILY IS POOR, and just because Paul Ryan doesn't want that situation to exist does not mean that it doesn't exist. Is Ryan saying that this kid should go hungry because this somehow "teaches him a lesson"? Big talk from a man who's the son of a millionaire that never had to worry about going hungry, and Pau-lie apparently has never spent a day in a classroom with a teacher (despite having kids of his own), as any teacher would tell you that a hungry kid is much less likely to learn and excel in the classroom and have a chance of lifting themselves out of poverty.

It's also telling who Paul Ryan got the story from- the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Eloise Anderson. In addition to apparently plagiarizing the story from a book titled "The Invisible Thread" by Laura Schroff, Anderson apparently misinterpreted Schroff's point, where Schroff said "It is the story of how two people who needed each other somehow became unlikely friends, against all odds. It is the story of the mysterious, unseen connections that exist between people who are destined to meet—and how, if only we open our eyes and our hearts to them, these connections can be the great blessings of our lives." This is the exact opposite of the Thatcher-like "there is no such thing as a society" mentality of people like Paul Ryan and Eloise Anderson.

And it speaks volumes that Scott Walker would appoint someone like Eloise Anderson to head up an agency that deals with child care, pre-Kindergarten education, and W-2. When you have such a warped mentality that you believe feeding hungry children makes them lazy, you don't worry about cutting off lifelines to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin families. You just see them as bucks on a balance sheet. Anderson is hardly alone in this manner of thinking in Walker World. Look at the released emails from Walker's inner circle, including a comparison of welfare recipients to dogs, and whose first concern when a teen was killed by falling concrete was to worry about political ramifications for Walker 2010 and drag their heels on releasing requested information. And those people weren't just rogue low-level staffers, they were people Walker personally put into those positions and got promoted.

THIS IS WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE, and they aren't anybody that should be expected to do what's right for anyone other than themselves. Because to today's elitists and GOP politicians, if you're not in the inner circle, you don't matter. There is no you, there is only me.