Friday, October 31, 2014

While the Obama Recovery picks up steam, Wisconsin sputters

If you looked at the national figures relating to the economy, things have been going very well. Just this week, 3rd Quarter GDP was released, and showed a gain of 3.5%. This is after the 2nd quarter gain of 4.6%, and all of a sudden, a decent last 3 months would mean we’d end up with growth near 2.5% for 2014, even with the polar vortex winter setting us back. It was a GDP strong report across the board, especially with increases in investment of 5.5%, and exports up 7.8%. Inventories were also drawn down, taking away 0.57% in growth, so the total gain in final sales was over 4.0%.

As these charts show, GDP growth is back on the growth track that it’s been over the last 5+ years of this Obama Recovery, and note the pickup in the last 6 months.

This has translated into increasing job growth, as the country is on pace to add more than 2.7 million jobs this year, the fastest since the Clinton presidency. Here’s a story from the last monthly jobs report, which covered the month of September (October’s comes out next week)
With hefty upward revisions to the prior two months, job gains have averaged 227,000 per month in 2014, the strongest pace since 1999. There were a few blemishes: The labor force participation rate sank to a fresh 36-year low of 62.7%.
And certainly the low participation rate is a bit of a concern, but it’s also a reflection of aging Boomers and related demographics. The job growth and demos reflect in unemployment that has dropped from 6.6% at the start of the 2014 to 5.9% in September.

New unemployment claims also are dropping in the U.S., as they reached their lowest one-week levels since 2000 earlier this month, and the four-week average is down to 281,000, a level never reached once during the George W. Bush presidency.

Even the U.S. budget deficit is now in much better shape, as Fiscal Year 2014 ended with the deficit down to $483 billion, the lowest it’s been since the Great Recession started in Fiscal Year 2008. This was in no small part due to increased revenues resulted from more jobs being created, and less need to pay for stabilizers like unemployment benefits.

So with all these good stats, why isn’t Wisconsin’s economy booming and it’s budget in great shape? We’re going the other direction- on pace for the lowest amount of jobs added in 5 years (at less than 2,000 a month), along with large budget deficits looming for 2015. Even the job growth that has come around since 2010 hasn't helped much, as UW-Milwaukee labor economist Mark Levine released a study this week showing that the jobs we are adding are low-wage, menial work instead of good, family-supporting jobs.

Levine’s study breaks down the job market in Wisconsin into three different segments- low wage (less than $12.50 an hour), middle wage ($12.50 an hour to $24.99 an hour), and high wage ($25.00 an hour or more). You will see that middle-wage jobs have been disappearing from the state over the last 14 years. What’s somewhat alarming is that since Scott Walker took over as governor in 2011, good paying jobs still have yet to come back to the state, despite the ongoing Obama Recovery.
Employment growth in Wisconsin between 2000-2007 was marked by the polarized pattern identified by David Autorand others nationally: jobs increases in low and high wage occupations, shrinking employment in middle wage occupations. During the 2007-2010 recession employment in Wisconsin declined across all wage levels, although the losses were heavily concentrated in occupations paying “middle wages” (90 percent of the 2007-2010 job losses in Wisconsin were in middle-wage occupations). Finally, between 2010-2013, employment continued to decline in both middle and high wage occupations in Wisconsin; all of the net job growth between 2010-2013 occurred in low wage occupations. More troubling still: over 60 percent of the 2010-2013 growth of employment in low-wage occupations in Wisconsin occurred in very low-wage occupations –those with median hourly wages below $10.00 (in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars). This marked a continuation of the decade-long trend: between 2000-2013, the number of Wisconsinites working in very low-wage occupations grew from 234,450 to 405,780, an increase of 73 percent.
In fact, Levine says that since 2010, the number of high-wage jobs in the state are down 2.9%, and the number of middle-wage jobs are down 1.3%.

Another scary stat from Levine’s report deals with the drop in wages for those who stay in the same job. And it doesn’t include the drop in take-home pay suffered by hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites due to the changes in Act 10.
Several occupations that were “middle-wage” in 2010 --such as laborers and freight, stock, and materials movers; nursing assistants; and driver/sales workers -- all saw their inflation-adjusted median hourly wages drop below $12.50 by 2013, thus adding thousands to the low-wage segment of the Wisconsin labor market. Moreover, perhaps as ominously, even in many occupations that remained “middle-wage,” especially in manufacturing, real wages fell noticeably between 2010 and 2013.The inflation-adjusted median hourly wage for production occupations in Wisconsin fell by 5.2 percent between 2010-2013. Even in occupations like welders or CNC machine tool operators, supposedly in such high demand that employers claim there is a “skills gap” in Wisconsin, real wages fell by 6.5 percent and 4.7 percent respectively between 2010 and 2013. While the median hourly pay in these occupations remained solidly in the middle-wage category through 2013, ranging between $15 and $18 an hour, the downward trend in real wages suggests a pervasive, continuing erosion of the middle-tier of Wisconsin’s occupational wage structure.
With this in mind, isn’t is obvious that things aren’t working out for the majority of us in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan? And isn’t it equally obvious that the answer isn’t more giveaways to corporations that’ll hoard profits for themselves and refuse to give the higher wages that lead to true economic growth.

So does this state want to keep lagging behind the rest of the country, and continuing down the same path? Let’s be honest, a second Walker term (for as long as it lasts) would be the same path, except possibly on steroids. Remember mega-donor Diane Hendricks asking Walker for "right-to-work (for less)" laws? Levine’s study showing the drop in wages indicates that’s the LAST thing we need to be considering in this day and age, and instead we should be following Mary Burke’s call for a higher minimum wage to help drive the wage scale back to where it was 4 years ago.

If I was on the stump as a Dem candidate, I'd probably close with something like this.

"Do we change directions, expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage above poverty level, and properly fund public schools? And do we stop the “divide and conquer” governance that leads to “winner take all” mentality which manifests itself in Wisconsin corporations taking all the profits from the Obama Recovery and keeping it for themselves, along with the passage of similar policies that don’t benefit anybody but the governor’s “inner circle?” This includes the end of giving big-money government appointments to hacks like the 2-time DUI recipient and college dropout that was the son of a lobbyist, or giving a 6-figure executive position at WEDC to a 32-year-old college dropout with no private sector job experience?

We can stay on this path, pick Walker, and keep losing ground on the rest of the country. Or we can change the path, and pick Burke. Those are the choices you have on Tuesday. Choose wisely, my friends.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Connect the dots on Marqutte Poll, and a pro-Walker result makes sense

I wanted to follow up from my article yesterday on the flawed analysis of what Marquette University called a “likely voter” (and we're already near 1,000 page views since I posted it). Let's flash back to 2012, to give you some perspective on why my BS detector was going off when I saw media running with the “Walker by 7” result that is nowhere near reality.

Let me guide you to a couple of articles showing how the Marquette Poll came to be, and the people who started it up. First of all, take a look at Bruce Murphy’s column in Urban Milwaukee from October 2012 where he described how the right-wing oligarchs at the Bradley Foundation got their stink tank at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute in bed with PoliSci professors in Wisconsin.
[Then-WPRI President George] Lightbourn brought on Ken Goldstein, a highly regarded professor of political science at UW-Madison with a national reputation as a top pollster, who was a frequent expert guest on broadcast media shows. Goldstein’s polls — which included surveys of cell phone users — didn’t come cheaply. The WPRI’s federal tax form for 2010 shows it paid him $398,250 for the year.

But liberals were suspicious of the university lending its name — and star scholar — to a conservative think tank. Scot Ross, who then ran the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, requested Goldstein’s emails with Lightbourn, and found a couple eyebrow raisers, as the Associated Press reported....

In reaction, UW officials asked the WPRI to stop using the university’s logo and stopped providing graduate students to work on these polls. Within a year, Goldstein stopped doing polls for WPRI and soon took a job as president of Kantar Media CMAG, a Washington, DC-based political consulting firm. He also teaches at George Washington University.

Not long after this the Marquette Law School cut a deal with Goldstein’s longtime colleague at UW-Madison’s Political Science Department, Charles Franklin, to do polls for MU. Franklin, who co-founded, is also highly regarded nationally, and has a deal to do polls through the entire 2012 year.
And the Journal-Sentinel then cut a deal with Franklin to have him as sort of their in-house pollster under the guise of his job at Marquette Law School. In addition, the J-S hired WPRI hack Christian Schneider as a regular columnist, and allowed Mike Nichols to continue to have regular column space in their paper after Nichols replaced Lightbourn as WPRI’s president in 2013. Between that and the pro-GOP and anti-Burke framing from “watchdogs” like Dan Bice and the increasingly absurd “Politi-crap” segment, and you wonder why we think there might be a right-wing bias afloat down at Fourth and State in Milwaukee?

Now let’s go back to One Wisconsin Now’s lawsuit to get UW-Madison’s open records on its deal with WPRI and Ken Goldstein’s polls in 2010. Here’s what the people at OWN found out.
Scot Ross, a liberal muckraker who runs the group One Wisconsin Now, was critical of the deal from the beginning. He said his "worst fears were confirmed" after he obtained e-mails under the open records law showing WPRI President George Lightbourn lobbied Goldstein to publicize results from one question in a way favorable to its agenda.

The question asked whether government funding should be used for school vouchers, which WPRI supports. A majority of residents statewide were opposed, but those surveyed from Milwaukee County were in favor.

Lightbourn wrote Goldstein he was concerned critics would portray the data as showing a lack of support for vouchers and asked for the Milwaukee County results to be emphasized. The university's press release read: "School choice remains popular in Milwaukee."

And of course, Franklin’s setup with the private Marquette Law School comes with the perk of the public not having the right to know what’s really happening (much like the issues relating to Scott Walker leaving the school in 1990, come to think of it). In 2012, Ed Garvey at the old Fighting Bob blog discussed the ability to get info on these polls from UW and Marquette, with some interesting differences in disclosure.
We were intrigued by the partnership and asked the UW legal department, under Open Records, to provide all the details to Fighting Bob [in 2010]. The UW complied. We read the documents and learned a lot. For example, WPRI and UW Poli Sci tried to remain outside the reach of open records. Transparency was not a goal! They actually put in the memorandum of understanding that indeed they could keep all the information from the public. The memos were fascinating because it was clear that Poli Sci would do the heavy lifting but WPRI would own the material, frame the questions, own the results, and would give the poll results the "spin" desired. And WPRI could simply toss the results they didn't like, and no one would ever know. The partners agreed that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dave Umhoefer would get the data before any other reporters. After his story was written, other media people could obtain the polling results. JS pants on fire, soul missing in action.

But when the partners realized that their work would be subject to Open Records, the partnership immediately dissolved. They would find a new way to hide the polling material. Aha, go to private school Marquette--not covered by open records! Huzzah. Poli Sci prof Charles Franklin became ubiquitous throughout the recall process. The Journal Sentinel used the Franklin information to inform who was leading, who was behind, etc. The voters had no choice but to accept the Marquette findings.

We asked who was paying for the Marquette Law School poll but never got an answer. We asked who staffed the Marquette Law School polling operation. No response. Back to the money. It costs about $10,000 to do the calling for each poll. Who pays? Who designs the poll? Who frames the questions asked?
Hmmm, and notice Franklin always asks a few voucher questions in each of his Marquette Law polls, and he never mentions the reality that vouchers take away state funding from Wisconsin public schools. You don’t think the Jesuits at Marquette (whose schools benefit from voucher funding) and other Bradley Foundation-related funders of the Marquette Law Poll might want a certain outcome on that question, just like they did in 2010? I’m not saying Franklin’s lying or covering up when it comes to the voucher issue or pro-voucher candidates (like Scott Walker), I’m just saying it’s an interesting parallel to what happened with Goldstein at UW-Madison.

I’d also strongly encourage you to read Dom Noth’s write-up of the Marquette Poll and the pro-Walker Journal-Sentinel’s slavish devotion to it as the “facts on the ground.” Remarkably, Noth wrote this article 2 days BEFORE the last Marquette Law Poll.
The pollster and opinion makers recently discussed their thinking in an interesting Milwaukee Press Club panel. Watch carefully though and you will see justification rather than explanation for how well Burke as a political newcomer is doing against those entrenched politicos. Charles Franklin doesn’t dwell on the reasons (his final Marquette poll comes out Oct. 29), perhaps because he realizes that he got far more JS coverage when Walker was five points ahead Oct. 3 rather than recently when Burke eliminated the gap (and is ahead in some respected polling models).

But here’s a funny and it comes right back to JS honesty. Another respected polling company, Gravis based in Florida, had Burke up five points the same week Marquette had Walker up five points, yet not a mention in JS. The Gravis people told me they noticed and were amused since they thought their sample and methods were as comprehensive. (also noteworthy is how Gravis reversed course, and said they had a bad sample in their original poll, “correcting” to a 4-point Walker lead days after Marquette Law had “Walker +5.” No sketchiness there.)

There are unnoticed reasons why JS is playing up the Marquette poll so heavily. First, it is local and it is reputable, run by a university. But it is also advised by former Journal Communications regulars Mike Gousha and Alan Borsuk. During their tenure Journal Communications had its own expensive and careful Journal polling division, regularly used to headline newspaper and TV opinion reports, much as Marquette’s poll is used now. A private university has filled the gap of the newspaper’s fading fortunes and is being pumped into prominence equally hard.
Note that the oligarchical interests of Marquette Law and the Journal-Sentinel would likely be helped with a Walker re-election, and is it really ridiculous to think they might be encouraging a tweak there and a nudge here with this big newsmaking poll?

I freely admit that I may be biased and off-base here, and maybe there’s nothing sneaky going on. I credit Charles Franklin with making his poll results as available and in-depth as he does, because I wouldn’t have discovered the reasons behind the odd disparity between the two sets of polls yesterday if that wasn’t the case. Maybe all Franklin is guilty of is the innocent mistake of an overly-restrictive “likely voter” screen that overestimated Scott Walker’s support, and underestimated Mary Burke’s.

But you should admit that the 6-point gap between “likely” and “registered” voters in that poll gives Franklin an out regardless of what happens with the November 4 results. If Walker somehow wins by 5 points or more (which is well above what most thought the race stood a few days ago), any sketchiness in that number could be covered up by saying “See, the Marquette Law Poll said he was pulling away.” Likewise if the election results are close and/or Burke wins, Franklin could say, "Well, I did have it be a 1-point race with registered voters, and that’s within the margin of error. Looks like Dems that supported Burke ended up turning out."

Hey, you can credit Franklin’s registered and (to a lesser extent) likely voter polls for ending up right in 2012, and that is worthy of lending some creedence to these numbers (although I noted, MU Law was way off in the two presidential polls prior to the final one in October 2012). I also look at the interests of the people paying his salary for these polls and combine it with the pro-Walker bias that has been endemic to the Journal-Sentinel in this 2014 campaign, and that poll has an awful strong whiff of BS to it.

Bottom line, let’s get out and vote on November 4, and don’t let the sketchiness of one poll out of numerous ones that have been taken be something that prevents history from taking place.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guv's race still even, as "likely voters" =/= ALL voters

Yes, the numbers that were part of the Marquette Law School poll that came out today in Wisconsin for the governor's race was shocking, and there is a reason why. Because it doesn't reflect reality. Marquette’s definition of a “likely voter” does not capture all of the voters that will go to the polls, which goes a long way toward explaining how a 46-45 Scott Walker lead in a poll of registered voters can turn into a 50-43 lead among “likely voters.”

Why is there such an (absurd) disparity? Because the Marquette Poll thinks no one who says they aren’t 100% certain to vote isn’t a “likely voter.” The amount of people who responded that they were “Very Likely” to vote are 8.9% of the registered voters, and those that said they were “50-50” about voting are 4.9% of the voters. It is reasonable to assume a majority of this 13.8% will end up voting in the November elections, especially given the amount of attention that these races are being given. But the media lazily is running with the Marquette “ certain likely voter” screen as a snapshot of what things look like, and it’s simply not true.

Those “very likely” and “50-50” voters lean heavily toward Mary Burke. You’ve already gotten a hint at this with the difference in Party ID from the LV to RV poll shifting 5.5 points toward the Dems. But look at where the “will probably vote” types end up.

Very likely/ 50-50 voters
Burke 52.4, Walker 32.0

And unlike the “ certain likely voter” group, this group isn’t so approving of Scott Walker.

Walker approve/ disapprove
Likely voters- Approve 52, Disapprove 46
“Very likely, 50-50” voters- Approve 37, Disapprove 51

That’s a 20-point swing to the negative among a group that will have most of its members voting, but were not captured in the “likely voter” poll. The same dynamic shows up in the favorable/unfavorable numbers, where the “unlikely but in reality quite likely” voter really prefers Burke over Walker.

Favorable vs. unfavorable, Very likely/ 50-50 voters
Walker 33.0%-51.0% (-18)
Burke 34.3%-31.0% (+3.3)

There is also a racial element to this, as there is a notable difference in the ethnic breakdown of the electorate in these two polls

Race of respondents, Marquette Poll Oct. 23-26
Likely voters- White 86.1%, Black 3.7%, Hisp 3.7%, Other/Misc 6.5%
Registered voters- White 83.1%, Black 5.0%, Hisp 4.3%, Other/Misc 7.6%

Percentage of racial group that are “Very Likely, 50-50 voters”
White- 8.0%
Black- 25.1%
Hisp 22.2%
Other/Misc 21.2%

Gee, you wonder why the Dems are hitting on “TURNOUT” as a big theme the last two weeks? It sure helps explain why President Obama was on the north side of Milwaukee yesterday urging Wisconsinites to get to the polls.

These discrepancies show up in another category in this poll that I’ve discussed before -the “Party ID with leaners” category, where the vast majority of Mary Burke’s “rally” from 5 points down to even in the last Marquette Poll was simply a function of not oversampling Republicans, and shifting the sample back toward a more typical party ID for a midterm. Well, the same dynamic holds here, where the overly white, more pro-Walker poll of “likely voters” has a heavily Republican slant.

Likely voters- R +2.7, Result: Walker +7
Registered voters- D +2.8, Result: Walker +1.4

And as mentioned in that same article, a typical midterm electorate is likely to be around D+2 or so. So take the registered number as the one more likely to be reality.

In addition, a wonky figure showed up within one of the ethnic groups in the poll that I don’t trust. It’s related to the Hispanic respondents. This goes back to a point I made in light of a article 3 weeks ago, where Hispanic respondents in polls can be disproportionately Republican (based on who will pick up and answer and English-speaking poll), and not fit the reality of the Hispanic electorate.

All Hispanic voters- Walker 48-39
Hispanic voters who already voted- Burke 78-15
Hispanic voters favor Voter ID 53-37.

May I remind you that Hispanic voters went 66-32 for Obama in Wisconsin in 2012, so unless there’s been a 40+ point swing to the GOP in the last 2 years in the Hispanic community, and that they’re now agreeing with the xenophobic backers of voter ID who want to “catch the illegals,” I’m going to guess that these figures a little off as well.

Bottom line, there’s really no change with this poll, and do not buy into the lazy media memes that will try to claim “Walker takes a lead” in order to discourage Dem hopes and Dem turnout. Now maybe Walker leads by 1 or so in aggregate in the polls, but as I’ve brought up, Dems have outperformed the polls in November by 3 points in each of the last 2 November elections in Wisconsin. Which means with a good Dem turnout, Mary Burke and Susan Happ (who’s tied in the RV polls) will likely be victorious on Tuesday night.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Walker's ad shows his FAIL on unemployment, not success

I was watching Monday Night Football last night in bed with my wife (it’s never a bad thing when the Cowboys lose), and a Scott Walker ad came on. Since the wife had the remote for the channel, I had to throw up my phone in front of my face to avoid having to deal with most of the BS in the ad, but I did catch one part of the ad where Walker talks about Wisconsin’s unemployment falling from a peak of 9.2% to the 5.5% today, and Walker takes credit for it.

Of course, Walker is being dishonest from the start, because he was 1 year from taking office as governor in January 2010, and those final 12 months of the governorship of Jim Doyle and a Dem-controlled Legislature featured the largest 1-year drop in Wisconsin unemployment during the recovery from this recession. Wisconsin’s unemployment was down 7.7% by the time Walker took office, a decrease of 1.5%, and has only fallen by 2.2% in the 44 months measured since then.

Bad enough that Walker is trying to take credit for the work that Jim Doyle and the Dems did to get the start going in the right direction in 2010 (we also added more jobs in 2010 than in any year under Walker), but he’s also taking credit for the Obama Recovery that has dropped unemployment all over the country, and especially in the Midwest. Take a look at this chart, which compares the rise and fall in unemployment for the U.S. as well as Wisconsin and three of our Midwestern neighbors since before the start of the Great Recession, which began at the end of 2007.

It’s interesting to note that Wisconsin’s unemployment started at 4.8% (the “bad old days” when Mary Burke headed up the Department of Commerce), and actually stayed below 5% until September 2008- 5 months after all of the other states had broken that barrier, and the U.S was shooting past 6%. You can also see that Wisconsin never reached the double-digit peaks that both Indiana (10.8%), Illinois (11.4%), and the U.S. as a whole (10.0%) would hit, and started dropping in 2010 faster and farther than the country as a whole.

With this chart in mind, here’s how Wisconsin shaped up compared to these Midwestern neighbors and the country as a whole when Scott Walker took office in January 2011.

Unemployment rates, January 2011
Ill. 9.4%
U.S. 9.1%
Ind. 9.0%
Wis. 7.7%
Minn 6.8%

So Wisconsin was 0.9% higher than Minnesota, 1.4% below the U.S. average, 1.3% below Indiana, and 1.7% below Illinois. Now compare that to where we are at the last month that was measured, in September 2014.

Unemployment rate, September 2014
Ill. 6.6% (-2.8% vs Jan 2011)
U.S. 5.9% (-3.2% vs Jan 2011)
Ind. 5.7% (-3.3% vs Jan 2011)
Wis. 5.5% (-2.2% vs Jan 2011)
Minn 4.1% (-2.7% vs Jan 2011)

So all of these places, as well as the country as a whole, have reduced unemployment at a notably faster rate than Wisconsin has since Scott Walker took office in January 2011. Minnesota is especially interesting to note, as they started from a lower rate and yet have reduced its rate further, to full-employment levels of 4.1%. Wisconsin is not close to doing the same.

Here’s another way to look at it, where we compare these four states with the U.S. rate. So a number below 0 would indicate a rate below the U.S’s amount, and a number above would be a higher rate. In addition, if a state is losing ground to the rest of the nation, the number on this chart will move “up”, while if they’re reducing unemployment at a faster rate, the number will drop. Take a look at the trends since the start of 2007.

Look at how Wisconsin’s numbers dive from early 2009 through October 2010- the time period that Jim Doyle and the Dems had complete control of Wisconsin’s government. Sure, these weren’t great times because we were undergoing the worst economy in 75 years, but compared to the rest of the nation, us and Minnesota were doing pretty darn good. By comparison, look at how first Indiana and later Illinois got hammered with the recession, and while both recovered by late 2010, Illinois missed out on the drop in the unemployment that followed nationwide over the next 3 years, but has dropped by quite a bit recently.

You also can see that Wisconsin has missed out on a significant amount of the nation’s 3.9% drop in unemployment during the last 4 years, as our “advantage” over the next of the nation declined from 1.9%, when Walker was elected in November 2010, to 0.4% by the end of 2013. It’s varied between 0.4% and 0.8% for all of 2014, while Minnesota’s “advantage” has stayed between 1.6% and 1.9% for the year, and is still 1.2% below us. With the exception of a few good months at the start of 2014, Indiana has mostly been in tandem with the U.S. rate over the last 4 years, and now sits exactly between the unemployment rates for the U.S. and Wisconsin, at 5.7%.

So in looking at this chart, it is absurd for Scott Walker to take credit for any of the drop in unemployment that has happened in Wisconsin in the 56 months since unemployment topped out in January 2010. The first 12 months featured the fastest drop in the state’s unemployment under the Jim Doyle Administration and Democratic control of the State Legislature, and the lower unemployment in the 44 months since comes down to two words- “THANKS OBAMA!”

In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that Wisconsin should be in a much better spot than we are today, with our neighbors in Minnesota continuing to add jobs to the point of full employment, and Indiana and even Illinois getting a sizable amount of their people back to work in 2014 after particularly tough times. The fact that Walker has to cherry-pick these figures and be this dishonest at this point in the campaign should give you an idea just how bad this guy’s record is. And it's also why he needs to be gone before the Obama Recovery ends, and our region and our country faces the next economic slowdown.

Wisconsin righties still clinging to joke of trickle-down

I try to avoid seeing or listening to Scott Walker on my TV when I can, but apparently he gave some more insight and excuses into his economic theories when he was interviewed by Mike Gousha over the weekend. I got word that Walker said cutting taxes would raise revenue for the state, and he cited something called the "Kohl's Curve" in doing so.

Now, a quick check of the Google didn't show a hint of this "Kohl's Curve", but I think I've heard a similar thing from the retail world, and it basically has to do with putting items on sale. That there's some point where people start buying enough items as prices drop that revenues go up for the store.

Translated over to the tax world, this means that lowering taxes to some point makes people earn more money, and then tax revenues go up for the government. Or in other words, the Laffer Curve, discredited garbage from 40 years ago which has not worked anywhere since federal tax rates for the rich were lowered past 50%.

And there's a second part to Walker's statement that is extremely offensive, because he's implying that the average person can randomly work harder when taxes go down and they'll magically be paid more. Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy? Just snap your fingers and hey, we get paid more! There's only one group of people that get the luxury of picking their own compensation- trust funders and CEOs who decide how much money they can skim off the top for themselves before giving any compensation to the people below them.

For 99% of us, the ability to choose your own compensation is rare (at best), and not that related to the effort you've put in for the last few months. But such ridiculousness is fitting of someone who hasn't worked a real job in his adult life other than living off of the largesse of right-wing donors and GOP bubble-worlders.

So keep this in mind as the election nears next week. After 4 years of underperforming job numbers and revenue shortfalls after last year's tax cuts, Scott Walker is still listening to the 1%ers and PACs that fund his campaign when it comes to economic growth, and he thinks of people's take home incomes to be as disposable and optional as clothes or appliances. These people have no clue, and must be removed from positions of power as a result.

Monday, October 27, 2014

George Will's rant reiterates right-wing money-laundering in John Doe

DC right-wing bubble-worlder George Will decided to wander into the governor's election in Wisconsin, as well as the issues surrounding campaign finance in the ongoing John Doe investigation. You can click here if you want to read Will's rant, which is really no different than the spin you could get on any AM right-wing GOP-aganda station in Wisconsin. The great Charlie Pierce responded to that article by showing the absurdity of Will's argument and the conflicts of interest that Will didn't disclose to the readers. That conflict comes from the fact that Will is on the Board of Directors for the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, whose president and CEO is Michael Grebe. The Bradley Foundation has funneled dark money to a large number of right-wing groups to influence policy and elections, and Grebe has also been the chair of Scott Walker’s three campaigns for governor since 2010.

As this chart from One Wisconsin Now’s shows, Grebe and Bradley Foundation influence (and their money) goes far beyond the walls of its downtown Milwaukee offices and the Walker campaign.

These funds include a $250,000 Bradley Prize that George Will received in 2005, which was given out for “strengthen[ing] the legacy of the Bradley brothers and the [corporatist, right-wing] ideas to which they were committed.” As the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch noted back in June, the Bradley Foundation has also backed many of the people under investigation in the John Doe investigation.
[The Bradley Foundation] has given $3,006,220 between 1998 and 2012 to groups directed or founded by Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe, who sued in federal court to halt the investigation.

Bradley has donated $205,000 between 2003 and 2010 towards the George Mason University “judicial junkets” attended by Judge Rudolph Randa, the federal judge who ordered the destruction of evidence gathered in the probe (the judge whose ruling Will mentions in his article, a ruling later overruled by the Court of Appeals. Randa also has suspended rules prohibited coordination between parties until after November’s election). This includes $115,000 during the years that Randa is known to have attended.

Bradley Foundation board members have donated over $100,000 to Walker in his two gubernatorial races. Other Bradley board members have close ties to Club for Growth.
And another one of the places PR Watch notes that the Bradley Foundation has thrown large amounts of money to is organizations that print right-wing propaganda rags like the Wisconsin Distorter Reporter- a publication that has written numerous articles attempting to discredit the John Doe investigation as well as Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm.

Now, I may have taken my Journalism classes at UW-Madison 20 years ago, but I seem to recall that we were supposed to disclose any potential conflicts of interest to our editors when we wrote columns about organizations we might be involved in. Will apparently doesn’t believe those ethics apply to him, nor does he reveal that it is likely that the Bradley’s Foundation’s doings over the last 4 years are a part of the elaborate right-wing money-laundering and tax-evasion scheme in Wisconsin that the John Doe investigation is all about. Not that we didn’t know Will was a fact-challenged right-wing DC shill who hasn’t had an thought-provoking idea in decades, but to not reveal that he belongs to an organization that is engaged in the sort of activities being investigated is sleazy, and does a disservice to unknowing readers (well, if anyone still reads George Will in a serious manner).

And speaking of John Doe.... the Center for Media and Democracy isn’t just shining the light on what the Bradley Foundation does, they filed a complaint today with the IRS against the John Doe targets at Wisconsin Club for Growth. The CMD claims that CfG abused its tax-exempt, 501-c-4 “social welfare” status by collecting and funneling millions of dollars to help Walker and other GOP politicians in Wisconsin.
For example, Walker and his staff referred to fundraising for WiCFG for the purposes of “raising money for Walker’s possible recall efforts.” When Walker raised funds for WiCFG, he was instructed to tell potential donors that, in contrast with direct donations to his campaign or those of state senators, “donations to WiCFG are not disclosed and [it] can accept corporate donations without limits.” Walker boasted to Republican operative Karl Rove about the role of WiCFG in the 2011 senate races, writing “We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9 Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities).”

WiCFG spent at least $9.1 million on Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections, and funneled almost $10 million more to other politically-active groups—some of which were controlled by WiCFG officials—yet told the IRS that it spent $0 in political activity in 2011 and 2012. Almost the entirety of WiCFG’s $20 million budget over those two years was spent on influencing elections rather than on “social welfare.” WiCFG’s primary focus was political campaign activity, CMD’s complaint alleges, thus making it ineligible for tax-exempt status.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that WiCFG operated primarily to advance the private interests of the Walker campaign and the Republican Party. An organization is not eligible for tax-exempt status if it operates for a substantial private purpose, and activities undertaken to provide a partisan benefit are considered to serve private interests, rather than the common good.

WiCFG was led by Walker’s top paid campaign advisor, R.J. Johnson, and campaign staff instructed Walker to refer to WiCFG as “your” 501(c)(4) when fundraising for the organization. Donors gave to WiCFG for the purpose of supporting Walker’s agenda; the memo line of one $50,000 check to WiCFG reads “501c4-Walker.” Millions in WiCFG funds were transferred to groups that campaigned for Walker, and millions more were spent protecting the seats of the Republican senators who supported Walker’s agenda.
You can read more on the CMD’s complaint against the CfG in these documents here, and you can even access all 200+ pages of exhibits (most of which come from previously-released John Doe documents) at the website as well.

And this is where it all traces back to DC and George Will’s interest in this Wisconsin John Doe case. Because it doesn’t just involve Will using the media to GOP-agandize for his fellow Bradley board members, it involves the entire dark money train that is the lifeblood of today’s Republican Party. Look who's at the top of that picture showing Michael Grebe and the Bradley Foundation's money-laundering- it's former Wisconsin GOP Chair Reince Priebus- the current head of the Republican National Committee. There is little doubt that this is going on in a much larger scale at the national level, and this is why Congressional Republicans shrieked and obstructed the IRS’s investigations into whether these organizations were illegally ducking taxes and laundering money, because it would give away just how nefarious and deep-reaching these schemes are, and would reveal to the public just who gives the orders that these politicians follow (HINT: it’s not anyone you or I associate with on a daily basis).

George Will, Michael Grebe, Scott Walker and the other oligarchs that they front for don’t think we deserve to know who the puppetmasters are in this country and in this state, and that’s why they’re doing everything in their power to get in the way of justice in the John Doe investigations. It has nothing to do with “free speech” (that somehow costs millions), but it has everything to do with hiding who these people are, who they’re working for, and what agenda they’re really up to.

And it won’t change till they are voted out, and/or indicted and made to pay a severe price for their law-breaking. And that’s why PR Watch’s move to demand an IRS investigation is such a good one, because an IRS audit and the information that comes out of it could be what blows the entire right-wing money-funneling operation wide open.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This week in WisGOP corruption- selling DOT building to buddies

The Capital Times' Mike Ivey deserves credit for unearthing a big story this weekend. It relates to the plans the Walker Administration has for the DOT's Hill Farms State Transportation Building, and it's not something they wanted us to know about before this election.
he state earlier this month quietly posted a request for proposals (RFP) for a developer to design and construct a 600,000 gross square foot office building on the 21-acre site along Sheboygan Avenue. Parking would be a mix of a ramp and surface spaces.

As part of the deal, the developer selected by a special committee would purchase the remaining land at Hills Farms along with the existing 400,000 square foot Department of Transportation office building that would be vacated.....

“This is the first I’ve heard of the RFP ….. and I’m on the State Building Commission,” state Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) told The Capital Times late Friday afternoon.

The RFP was posted online Oct. 13 with interested parties required to register by Oct. 15 for a mandatory tour of the facility. Proposals are due Nov. 7.
Hmmm, 2 days' notice for a "mandatory tour of the facility?" I'm guessing there was a guest list in mind, since it'd be pretty hard to have decision-makers at an organization to drop everything to go on this tour, and then put together a multi-million dollar package for such a large property in a matter of three weeks.

In addition, Ivey's story mentions that the RFP asks for the purchaser to also buy the state's property on Badger Road that houses the Department of Employee Trust Funds, and eventually the Public Service Commission would move into the newly-renovated Hill Farms Building. And the 2013-15 capital budget included the remaking of the Hill Farms property in it, adding $147 million in borrowing, bringing its total cost to $197 million. Sounds like it would be helluva project for someone to get their hands on it, and to a piece of a state contract to do the construction on it.

This is where the second part of the story comes in, because there's a reason this story should be ringing some bells for you. Remember a story from the AP's Scott Bauer last year, where failed GOP Senate candidate and general scumbag Terrence Wall wanted to use his backroom connections to come up with a heckuva business opportunity?
One of Wisconsin’s largest real estate developers wrote to Gov. Scott Walker to express his interest in buying several prominent state office buildings at the same time the Legislature was considering doing away with competitive bidding for such sales, according to newly released records.

Terrence Wall offered his cellphone number in the letter, urging that the “appropriate person” call him to discuss possible deals for properties including the state crime lab, records obtained by the Associated Press show. Wall also offered his support for the change in the bidding process, an idea that originated with Walker.

Wall sent the letter on June 10. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed 11 days later to allow no-bid sales of state properties over the objection of Democrats, who argued that it opened the door for political cronies to be cut special deals....

Walker called for legalizing no-bid sales of state properties in the budget he proposed in February. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed in June, after adding a requirement that any sale negotiated by the governor be approved by the budget committee. The state Building Commission, which Walker chairs and is controlled by Republicans, would also have to approve.
And what was one of Wall's biggest targets that he mentioned in the letter? The Hill Farms complex. Funny how these things work out, isn't it? Might not be a bad situation for T. Wall to buy this land from the state at a reduced price, then lease it back (along with any other development around it) for a whole lot more profit once the new building is built.

The timing of the RFP is also VERY interesting, trying to be snuck through while the elections are going on and much of the media is looking elsewhere. It also could lock in a "pennies on the dollar" kickback for campaign donations deal for the connected developer that might get those properties before new governor Mary Burke and a newly-configured Joint Finance Committee (which could be split between Dems and GOPs) would get a chance to veto such a deal, because all decisions associated with the RFP are expected to take place by the end of this year. Which would be before Mary Burke or Susan Happ or any new state legislators would take office.

And if Walker were to somehow survive the election, selling state properties could be a source of a one-time shot of revenue to fill the massive budget holes that lurk in the next budget- while shortchanging taxpayers of the true value of those properties, and leaving an even bigger budget hole for later years (after Walker has gone on to his bigger paycheck at Fox News or some other GOP wingnut welfare).

It seems fitting that the Greater Wisconsin Committee released this ad, describing Scott Walker's "private club", which gives its members big-time benefits.

So yes, this story on the plans for the Hill Farms Building is a big f-ing deal, because it shows that the corruption and cronyism will not change in a second Scott Walker term, and the plans for such schemes have already been drawn up- most just haven't been revealed to the public yet. The way these and future Chicago-style deals can be stopped? Voting in Mary Burke, Susan Happ, and Dems in the Legislature. Period.

Is Burke leading? Past November elections indicate yes.

There is no question that this governor’s race is as tight as they come when you look at the polls. But there’s an interesting trend in Wisconsin over the last 2 November elections that may be understating Mary Burke’s level of support.

Take a look at this page of Talking Points Memo’s Poll Tracker, which has the Walker/Burke race along with the figures from the two big statewide races in 2012- the presidential race between Obama and Romney, and the Senate race between Baldwin and Thompson. Now let’s compare what the Poll Tracker said with what the final results were in 2012.

Polls vs actual results, Wisconsin 2012
Obama-Romney Polls- Obama +5.3%
Actual Result- Obama +6.9% (Dem +1.6% vs polls)

Baldwin-Thompson Polls- Baldwin +0.1%
Actual Result-Baldwin +5.6% (Dem +5.5% vs polls)

That’s a pretty significant swing to the upside for the Dems in 2012. But that was a presidential election, which Dems tend to do better at in Wisconsin (Dems are 12-0 in Senate and Presidential elections in Wisconsin in presidential years since 1984). Let’s look at the GOP year of 2010 and see how the Dems did against the polls. In that year, we had the Governor’s race between Scott Walker and Tom Barrett, and the Senate race between Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold. We’ll use TPM’s Poll Tracker again.

Polls vs actual results, Wisconsin 2010
Walker-Barrett polls- Walker +8.7%
Actual Result- Walker +5.7% (Dems +3.0% vs polls)

Johnson-Feingold polls- Johnson +7.7%
Actual Result- Johnson +4.9% (Dems +2.8% vs polls)

Hmm, so even in a strong GOP year with Dems demoralized, the Dems still outperformed by the 2010 polls by about 3%.
That being said, the pollsters largely got the recall election of 2012 right.

Polls vs actual results, Wisconsin recall 2012
Walker-Barrett polls- Walker +6.8%
Actual Result- Walker +6.7%

But let’s be honest, a lot of Walker’s win was due to people who voted against the concept of a recall, and likely would not have voted for Walker otherwise. I think the polling in that election was a different animal, because there was a different reason to vote FOR Walker- to vote against recalls. If you think the final numbers are legitimate, there is little doubt that many late-breakers stuck with Walker solely out of fear of pulling the trigger on his governorship because his term was up. In 2010 and 2012, it's worth noting that Walker led in all polls in the final month of that race, and generally by 5 points or more.

That is definitely NOT true in 2014, as 3 polls this week all showed a 1-point race- Walker winning 2, Burke winning 1. Add in the fact that Dems have overperformed the polls in statewide Wisconsin November elections by an average of about 3 points in both 2010 and 2012, and if the "likely voter" polls continue to say it's an even race, it makes it quite likely that Burke would win on November 4.

The Capital Times has been performing a similar analysis, adjusting for Wisconsin's voting history and polling house effects, and they have Burke winning by 3 points at this time.

Gee, you wonder why Walker and WisGOP have been sounding increasingly desperate in the last week or so? All of those polls have had party IDs with electorates around D+0 or D+1, and if the Dems turn out at a more-typical midterm electorate of Dem +3 or Dem +4 on November 4, Scott Walker and the GOP can't win.

So make that happen, and GOTV.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happy Homecoming!

Ordinarily, I might write about more serious items in this space. But when it's 65 and sunny on the last Saturday in October, combined with a 45-point Badger blowout, and a lot of good times with a variety of friends, nerdy numbers stuff takes a backseat.

Don't worry, I'll get back to business over these next 10 days, and well beyond. But today was a great day to take a break from it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Transportation Fund- looking up for now, lot worse later

One item that's lurking under the surface in the 2014 elections in Wisconsin deals with how to handle the state's issues in funding transportation. And that was part of the news that was buried within the state's Annual Fiscal Report that was released last month. The major news relating to the AFR was the General Fund situation (click here for a rundown on that and the looming General Fund deficits over the next 3 years), but the Transportation Fund’s condition statement is also in Page 4 and 5 of the Appendix, and let's take a look at it to see what it says for the 2013-14 July 1- June 30 fiscal year.

Starting balance +$153.48 million
Ending balance +$101.49 million
CHANGE -$51.99 million

This would seem worrysome to be $52 million in the hole for last year, but it’s actually better than the $120.7 million decrease that was projected, based on the Transportation Fund’s projections when the budget was passed in 2013, as well as a $43.0 in additional highway repair that was passed over the winter (and now you know why you've seen orange cones everywhere the last few months- who says Republicans don’t believe in stimulus?).

A big reason for the better numbers is because of a surprising increase in fuel taxes (up $32.4 million from the prior fiscal year, and $27.6 million over projections) and in net vehicle registration fees (up $29.8 million). Expenses also were slightly below projections (by about $39.7 million), which allowed the Transportation Fund to get by without $25.75 million in expected transfers from the General Fund. I mentioned that delay last week, and it was done in no small part by the Walker Administration to artificially prop up the state’s year-end General Fund in time for the AFR report, but they also could get away with holding that money back given the large carryover balance.

That extra payment is coming in for this fiscal year, and it’ll boost up Transportation Fund revenues accordingly (hurting the General Fund in the process). Combine that with an assumption that fuel tax and vehicle registration fees will stay at the high level they were at in the last fiscal year, along with expenses staying within budget (which would be a 2.34% increase, not unreasonable) and you get a year where the Transportation Fund would take in more than they spend out by around $46.82 million.

So plug those numbers in, and we get this for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Starting balance: +$101.49 million
Change in FY 2014-15: +$46.82 million
Projected ending balance: +$148.31 million

Now, this doesn’t fix the long-term problems of added debt and unfunded future projects, which still means there would be a budget hole in the Transportation Fund of somewhere between $530 million and $1 billion to fill in the next budget, if we use the estimation of a $680 million- $1.1 billion deficit from before. And unlike the $689 million of General Fund taxes and borrowing that's been put into the Transportation Fund over the last 4 years, the upcoming deficit-riddled budget should not be relied upon for similar moves to bail out the Transportation Fund in 2015-17. with the amount of highway funding from Congress yet to be determined, since their money only runs through May 2015, the possibility of an extra $100 million cushion will be a welcome sight.

The question of where the Transportation Fund stands is different than asking what it should be used for. This part of the issue came to the forefront again earlier this week when numerous community and pro-transit groups came together at the Capitol to complain about priorities on what state government is using its Transportation funds for.
“Instead of spending billions on new mega-highway expansion projects that we can’t afford, don’t want and don’t need – and especially before considering new transportation taxes – we should focus transportation funds on fixing what we have first,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Director....

Four dubious highway expansion projects, including the double-decker expansion of I-94 in Milwaukee, would cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion. For just a third of that, we could repair local roads, upgrade transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and finance the urgent rehabilitation of state-owned roads – for the next 10 years.

“Let’s be clear: We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” concluded Speight. “We are here today to call on Governor Walker to tell us why he is talking about taxes when we are wasting precious transportation dollars on wasteful highway expansions, AND our local roads and transit systems are crumbling. Governor Walker, will you cancel wasteful and unneeded highway boondoggles, and get our transportation priorities right?”
And that question will face whoever the new governor is. Because regardless of whether the Road Builders get their amendment passed on November 4 preventing transfers into the General Fund from the Transportation Fund (I am a big HELL NO on that one due to its one-sided nature), the Legislature and Governor will still have to decide which items to fund from those monies...and which items not to fund. Identifying those priorities will prove every bit as important as coming up with the funding to take care of those needs.

School vouchers- straight cash to those who didn't need it, homey!

This story shouldn't surprise you, but it's still absurd and disgusting all the same.
The vast majority of students receiving a taxpayer-subsidized voucher to attend private school this year did not go to a Wisconsin public school last year.

Data released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction shows that just over 19 percent of the 538 students who entered the statewide program this year attended a public school last year.

Over the two years of the program, just under 20 percent of those receiving a voucher came from a public school.
This relates to the expanded voucher program that was taken statewide starting in 2013-14, and you can take a look at the report from the Department of Public Instruction yourself. It gives a good summary of the figures from the last two years, and it's also worth noting that while the number of vouchers in this program were expanded by 500 for this year, but in both years less than 1 in 5 students that received vouchers attended public schools the prior year.

In other words, this program is largely using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the private educations of students who are already in these schools. That applies for both the student's families, and the religious organizations that run these schools. And it's being done at the expense of public schools throughout the state that could use those millions of dollars to defray property tax increases and keep the lights on.

I listen to Sly's show online on occasion, and I noticed the voucher lobby is constantly running ads propping up Howard Marklein for Senate and (drunk as hell) Todd Novak for State Assembly. But the commercials feature nothing but lame GOP pablum about "taxes," and never mention they're promoting this candidate because that guy will vote to give more taxpayer money to these unaccountable schools. Now why do you think the voucher people are trying to hide what they're REALLY about in these rural Wisconsin districts? Couldn't have something to do with their role in creating the red and beige in this map, could it?

And never forget, the number one money-funneler for these voucher ads? None other than convicted criminal Scott Jensen, who was let off the hook from serving serious jail time in Waukesha County by... GOP Attorney General candidate Brad Schimel. Funny how things work out that way in the WisGOP machine, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Journal-Sentinel shirks its responsibility, blows off Walker's failure

James Rowen wrote a great blog post at the Political Environment calling out the latest disgrace that was placed on the Journal-Sentinel's editorial page, thought he is far from the only one. First off, Rowen reminds us what the Journal-Sentinel said when it endorsed Scott Walker for governor in 2010.
Scott Walker has said repeatedly during his campaign for governor that he will develop strategies to create 250,000 new jobs during his first term.

It's a big promise - one that has been derided by his critics. But for the sake of Wisconsin, Walker had better be right.
Well now we know that we will be lucky if we even end up halfway to Walker's goal by the end of his term. And the J-S made that endorsement without knowing the corruption, divisiveness, and massive budget deficits that have resulted from Walker's policies as governor. So you'd have to think they'd be back before the 2014 to scald Walker's failures, and say "You've had your chance, you failed, and you must go."

Well, not exactly. The headline in yesterday's newspaper reads: "Gov Walker's false promise of jobs growth not that big of a deal."
The Walker critics argue you should care about this. But you shouldn't. It's just not that important. Walker's promise was always more rhetoric than reality, a nice sound bite.

Here's a fact: There isn't that much a governor can do in one term to bend the arc of fortune. It takes more than shoe polish, a grin and a few tax cuts.

What governors do matters, of course — whether they maintain the schools, the roads and the social safety net. And tax incentives, tort reform, reasonable regulation and incentives to raise risk capital all can help create jobs, especially if married to a disciplined strategy that recognizes the state's strengths and deploys scarce public dollars efficiently.
ARE YOU SHITTING ME WITH THAT LINE OF CRAP? The J-S goes from "Walker'd better be right" in 2010 to "Oh, that was just idle talk and it shouldn't have been taken seriously." What a cynical cop-out by David Haynes and company.

Let's not forget what the Walker jobs gap shows- that Wisconsin would have added 190,000 private sector jobs during Walker's time in office if we had merely kept up with the national rate of growth during this Obama Recovery. How can he NOT be held to account for it?

And if there "isn't that much a governor can do in one term to bend the arc of fortune," then explain to me how Wisconsin taking up the rear in this chart?

And why shouldn't the economic geniuses at the J-S editorial page be asked to explain to me how our neighbors in Minnesota can have a lower population base and similar climate to ours, but ended up adding nearly 52,000 more jobs in the same time period, and has an unemployment rate 1.4% below ours? That's not a normal result. And Walker has not "maintained the schools, the roads and the social safety net", as he has presided shared revenues to all of these services, causing the quality of local services to be cut.

Now, the J-S deserves minor credit in the editorial for ripping into Walker's belief in failed supply-side philosophies and tax cuts that do nothing help job growth, but do drive up the deficits that are in the process of exploding in state government. But it's buried late in the editorial, and it further makes their excusing of his failures all the more pathetic, because THEY KNOW HE'S NOT DOING IT RIGHT, but won't hold him accountable for being misguided. While the editorial board says they agree with Mary Burke's thoughts on improving the level of education and start-up of new businesses, they then pull a false equivalence by throwing in a sentence saying her "record at the Commerce Department is less than impressive." And naturally, the J-S editorial doesn't say why it was "less than impressive," other than showing an acceptance of right-wing framing of Burke's 2 1/2 years there.

I have little doubt that Haynes and company are operating under orders of the Journal-Sentinel's corporate owners. It cannot be pointed out enough that Journal Communications CEO Steven Smith sits on the Board of Directors of the Walker-supporting Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and there is little doubt that the newspaper identifies and is in constant contact with the Milwaukee corporate oligarchy that is Walker's go-to constituency.

But even with the J-S's pro-Walker bias in mind, to blow off his failures as merely "a nice sound bite" after endorsing him because of his "bold plans" is hypocritical weak sauce, and transparent garbage. It exposes yet another reason why the state's largest newspaper is crumbling before our eyes, both in its subscriber base, the quality and experience of their writers, and in its reputation among people who have been paying attention. I don't give it a dime, and I recommend you don't either.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sorry, WisGOP. Still DEAD LAST for jobs

It wouldn’t be a monthly release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' state-by-state jobs numbers without another taxpayer-funded cheerleading job from Gov Scott Walker’s Department of Workforce Development. Here are some of the stats they prop in their release.
· Wisconsin ranked third in the Midwest for rate of private sector job growth year-over-year.
· Wisconsin's 12-month gain in [rate of] total nonfarm jobs ranked ahead of Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
· Wisconsin's rate of year-over-year manufacturing job growth ranked 15th highest in the country, ahead of Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.
And Wisconsin is indeed third out of the 7 Midwestern states when it comes to these stats since September 2013. Total private sector job growth in September 2014 looks great on the surface Wisconsin added 8,400 jobs private sector jobs in the month, allowing us to rank third in the Midwest for the month as well. But then look at the two blue states bordering us, who both had blowout numbers.

Private sector job change, Sept 2014
Ill. +18,400
Minn +11,400
Wis. +8,400
Mich +5,300
Ohio +3,000
Iowa -200
Ind. -1,900

The same pattern expands when you look at the last two months combined, as Minnesota has added 14,700 more private sector jobs than Wisconsin since July, and Illinois 33,700 more jobs! Despite only gaining 4,800 private sector jobs over that time period, Wisconsin still stands as third in the Midwest here, because the 3 other states that are completely run by Republicans (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio) have actually lost jobs in that same time frame.

Moving out to all of 2014, Wisconsin still rates third for private sector job growth in the Midwest, but it is still less than half the national rate of job growth of 1.72%, and behind our more progressive friends to the west.

Private sector job growth, Midwest, Jan-Sept 2014
Ind. +1.03%
Minn +0.91%
Wis. +0.74%
Ill. +0.63%
Mich +0.55%
Ohio +0.53%
Iowa +0.27%

And what can’t be left out is just how lousy Wisconsin’s numbers were before the start of this year. In fact, we can now use the “gold standard” Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages numbers from the end of 2010 to the end of 2013, and add in these 9-months of seasonally-adjusted data, and likely get a good idea just which Midwestern states have done best since the gubernatorial elections of 2010, which featured many changes as to who ran a state’s government.

Oh hey, look at that. Wisconsin is still DEAD LAST for jobs in the last 45 months. Even with many of these other states backing up in recent months, Scott Walker’s policies put Wisconsin in such a ditch for job growth, that we still are behind everyone else in the Midwest, 2 weeks before the 2014 elections.

This is where we are, and no matter how much the Walker Administration wants to spin it, or narrow the timeframe of the Governor’s performance, what happened in those first 3 years matters. That underperformance is also likely to be the pattern that would continue if the voters of this state were foolish enough to give this wrecking crew another 4 years in power.

You know WisGOP and their allies at Politi-“fact” are going to try to change dates or provide some other excuse for this, but the bottom line is that they have only themselves to blame for their punishing, austerity policies, and failed, trickle-down mentality. Maybe we need someone who realizes that job growth begins by investing in items that attract TALENT, such as a high quality of life, and strong public schools that gives everyone a chance to get ahead, and is willing to be flexible enough to adjust to the realities on the ground if things aren’t working.

That sounds a whole lot more like what you'd get under Governor Mary Burke than Governor Scott Walker, doesn’t it?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Johnny Rotten's right- step up and VOTE

This is great stuff from John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.), emphasizing the importance of voting and getting involved. He's talking about British politics, but it's scarily accurate for our situation today.

"You have to vote. You have to make a change. You’re given lousy options, yes. But better that than nothing at all. Vote. Stand up and be counted. My advice to any member of the working class is to get smart, read as much as you can, and find out who’s using you. I did. What’s wrong with you?"
- John Lydon
100% correct. The oligarchs want us in 99%-land to be 1. misdirected, so we take out our resentments to "others" instead of the people who have been screwing us (what Lydon says about UKIP could easily be translated over to young, working-class men in America that vote Republican). And then the owners of the country hope years of people being let down by the system leads to 2. Cynicism and hopelessness, which shows in non-voting.

I say let's all vote out the scumbags and Koch-suckers instead. There's a whole lot more of us than them, so why not use that power of numbers to make them fear us? There's a reason they want to suppress our votes, because they can't win on their own. Unlike Going to non-voting and/or revolution should only happen when there are no other legal options left. We're close to that point, but we're not there yet, and we can start turning the tide back in 15 days.

Walker tries zombie lie to deflect from exploding deficit

It is remarkable to see our Governor desperately trying to convince people that his policies are somehow working, particularly involving his deficit-ridden budget. Check out this whopper from a press release trying to sell how “Wisconsin’s Economy is on a Comeback Under Governor Scott Walker." Among the list of "accomplishments" (most of which is due to the Obama Recovery, by the way), is this gem.

· Wisconsin is estimated to have a $535 million surplus in the 2015-17 state budget. Governor Walker has also built a rainy day fund that is the largest in state history ($279 million). (LFB, 2013-15 and 2015-17 General Fund, 9/18/14).

This links to the list of “what ifs” that GOP Joint Finance Co-Chairs Alberta Darling and John Nygren tried to throw at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau last month. The problem is that those numbers are based on BS that has little to no connection to reality, something I pointed out at the time.

But for the sake of argument, let’s go over those figures again, in light of last week’s releases of the state’s Annual Fiscal Report and the first three months of revenue figures for the fiscal year that started on July 1.

1. From the AFR, we know the year-end balance was $516.9 million, after the Walker Admin held back $25.75 million in payments to the Transportation Fund to beef up this balance, so plug that number in (this is $35.9 million better than what we had on revenues only).

2. Once you adjust for lower withholdings that are now in effect, the first three months of revenues are basically in line for the 3.5% revenue growth that LFB is projecting for Fiscal Year 2014-15. If that number were to hold up, we would be at $14.436 billion in tax revenues, or $289 million short of what the first assumption in that paper says.

3. If this is the case, then the balance that would have to be made up by “reducing appropriations” to the level of $0 would be $371 million, not $116 million. And this includes that extra $25.75 million that has to go in the Transportation Fund. This is also past the $279 million in the Rainy Day Fund, so Walker and WisGOP need to NAME THE CUTS.

4. 2.9% revenue growth on $14.436 billion in taxes with no change in expenses means the following balances for the 2015-17 budget (starting from $0)

a.2015-16 balance -$196.4 million
b.2016-17 balance +$144.4 million
c.TOTAL -$52.0 million + $65 million = $117 million deficit.

5. But that’s definitely not all, because it is only in Fantasyland that we won’t spend more money on our current programs. Don’t forget that budget requests for 2015-17 have now come in, which total over $1.1 billion in new spending required just to keep doing what we’re currently doing ($760 million for Medicaid alone). So that now makes the deficit in the next budget reach $1.217 billion.

6. And then you have at least $680 million in deficit for the Transportation Fund, and more likely $1 billion that'll have to be taken care of. But we’ll be kind and only add in the $680 million for now.

7. Put it together and the TOTAL DEFICITS IN NEXT BUDGET ARE $1.897 BILLION.

For Scott Walker to even try to pull that “we have a budget surplus” talk when the numbers have already been debunked, and with new information in the last week making that scenario even less likely, it shows a level of cynicism that is sickening. And for Walker to be allowed to pull this zombie lie out in Friday’s debate, in his press releases, and likely in his scripted interviews with AM radio shows how pathetic our state’s political media is when it comes to discussing economic issues.

So if any of your media types are reading this, learn something from these posts, and challenge Walker whenever he tries to BS his way around the huge budget hole he and his WisGOP have put this state into.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wisconsinites moving West, and not always to warmth

Jud Lounsbury at Uppity Wisconsin observed an interesting number in the recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau on net migration. If you click on the report, you will see where people that move from one state to the other goes to, and what the trends are over the last several years. As Lounsbury points out, a sizable amount of Wisconsinites moved across the St. Croix River to Minnesota last year, home of a 4.1% unemployment rate and more progressive politics.
According to the latest U.S. Census state-to-state migration report, 9,352 more people moved out of Wisconsin than moved into Wisconsin and a large share of those leaving-- 1,972 to be exact-- are going to our next door neighbor, Minnesota.

Most people in Wisconsin would hate to suffer the embarassment of becoming a Gopher and this bucks a national trend of people moving from colder to warmer states. In other words, people in Wisconsin are so hard-up that they're willing to move to Minnesota!
In fact, Wisconsin and Minnesota trade people quite a bit, with Wisconsin losing more people to the Land of 10,000 Lakes more than any other state, including our neighbors to the south in Illinois. As these stats will show, Wisconsin loses people to the three less-populated Midwestern states, while gaining from the higher-population states (which makes some sense- there's more people that could potentially move in the bigger states than the smaller ones).

Wisconsin vs. neighboring states
Minnesota- 15,722 IN, 17,649 OUT (-1,927)
Iowa- 4,172 IN, 5,219 OUT (-1,047)
Indiana- 1,515 IN, 2,490 OUT (-975)
Michigan- 5,920 IN, 5,297 OUT (+693)
Ohio- 3,331 IN, 2,390 OUT (+941)
Illinois- 25,364 IN, 15,844 OUT (+9,520)

Of course, the Midwest has been losing in net migration for several years. Some of it due to struggles in the post-industrial economy, but also many of the losses have been to places with warmer climates (think retirees). One state in particular is losing more than others (Illinois), in levels far beyond what you would expect from the most populous state in the Midwest. Also interesting is that Minnesota's relatively high net migration is largely due to movement to the oil boom states of the Dakotas, which is something the other Midwestern states have generally not had.

Net migration for Midwest
Iowa- 77,470 OUT, 75,650 IN (-1,820)
Indiana- 135,472 OUT, 133,508 IN (-1,964)
Wisconsin – 110,198 OUT, 100,846 IN (-9,352)
Minnesota- 119,221 OUT, 104,825 IN (-14,396) (-8,096 to Dakotas)
Ohio- 201,515 OUT, 185,749 IN (-15,766)
Michigan- 166,996 OUT, 144,091 IN (-22,905)
Illinois- 304,644 OUT, 223,605 IN (-81,039)

Lastly, here's a look at other popular destinations for Wisconsinities to move to, or for people to come from when they move to Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, most are warm, with one notable exception.

Top 5 other states for Wisconsin-related migration
Florida- 4,423 IN, 7,321 OUT (-2,898)
Texas- 3,799 IN, 6,646 OUT (-2,647)
Arizona- 3,749 IN, 5,694 OUT (-1,945)
California- 5,149 IN, 4,704 OUT (+445)
Washington- 1,616 IN, 4,190 OUT (-2,574)

Climate may explain the first 4 on that list, but it does not explain why Minnesota and Washington should be gaining thousands of Wisconsinites, which leads back to Lounsbury's theory about higher quality of life and a stronger economy being reasons for certain states to attract talent from Wisconsin. And it's also worth mentioning that both states have higher minimum wages than Wisconsin, and were ahead of us in instituting progressive policies such as strong public transit and marriage equality.

Maybe we should look into bringing that mentality back to Wisconsin, and elect the governor that'll promote those items, instead of playing "divide and conquer" and denigrating the progressive policies and high quality of life that attracts talent. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday reading- Dom Noth on our pathetic political media

I highly recommend this article from Dom Noth for today. It starts out asking why the most extreme voices are given legitimacy and air time over more reasoned statements (if any exist today for the GOP). And he rightfully points the finger at a media in America and especially Wisconsin in how the game is slanted in favor of these ridiculous GOP politicians and their statements. As an example, Noth points out the double-standard that comes up with the non-story regarding Mary Burke's jobs plan, and Scott Walker's actual absurd and dishonest statements.
When [Walker]said Wisconsin “doesn’t have a job problem, we have a work problem,” he demeaned a million hard working low-income workers or job hunters hoping for action from a governor who failed to deliver the 250,000 new jobs he promised. (There is no question those boners helped Burke win their first debate and will draw more desperate attacks by his side, probably reaching back in time to her tenure under Jim Doyle – but that’s the painful politics of today.)

Consider how minor and common was Burke’s error yet what hard play it got from the media – a paid consultant quoted himself verbatim with jobs ideas from other states he suggested for her jobs program, but he didn’t change a word. That got him promptly fired and Burke accused of plagiarism, though candidates borrow ideas from each other all the time – in this case good ones, in Walker’s case clones from ALEC or from policies that have failed here. Yet the reporters gave the Burke issue more space than what Walker said, forcing the voters to dig out the balance the media failed to deliver.

Across the county similar examples of disparate coverage abound. So my complaint is simple. Journalists should be a bulwark against this leap toward instant gratification and obviously false statements. But when Politifacts flails around more than Tilt-o-Whirl, when news interviewers fail to pin the big lie or follow up with the vital question, journalism becomes just another transient pastime in a world filled with escapist opportunities.

Reporters electronic and print should scoff at a political dodge but bury with invective sheer hypocrisy, which is far more damaging to America in the long run. That would satisfy both their “gotcha” eureka for ratings and the public’s need to separate a small sin from a major one.
But what if those reporters are paid off and are under orders not to tell it like it is? The best examples being Dan (I Follow Up on Any GOP Smear) Bice and the increasingly-absurd Wisconsin Politi-crap - both have made extra efforts in the last month to go out of their way to try to make Burke and Walker seem equally deceptive, when any honest assessment would expose Walker as a seamy liar that is far more dishonest than Burke.

For example, Walker last night went on and on about how he backed ShotSpotter- a tool used by Milwaukee Police to locate where gunfire may have come from, with strong results in identifying shooters and reducing the number of "shots fired" incidents. Except anyone with a modicum of memory would recall that Gov Walker actively worked to take money away from Milwaukee Police that was designated for SpotShotter, as this article from Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy in 2013 points out.
But even as the police look to beef up its policing, the state legislature has been cutting back funding to the department, which originally went for police overtime and community policing. State funding was $750,000 in 2006 but began to decline in the years since.

In the most recent budget, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee included $445,500 for community policing in Milwaukee, which [Milwaukee Police Chief Ed] Flynn hoped to use for ShotSpotter. But Walker removed it from his executive budget and legislators declined to restore the money. Walker has suggested that every city will want a special program like Milwaukee’s.

But Flynn responds that Milwaukee is the state’s only city with such a high level of crime or so great a need for funding. He charged that the governor’s response is political, and caused by “the apparent desperate need of the (Walker) administration to exact political payback on Milwaukee. Because the mayor had the temerity to challenge for the governor’s job. What else could it be?”
The public pressure and lobbying from legislators on both sides finally allowed $175,000 of the $445,500 of requested ShotSpotter funding to be restored and Walker signed it after feeing the heat. For him to stand up there last night and take credit for his "investment" was disgusting, and insulting to anyone who had a clue about his attempts to remove that item from the budget.

So what did the four white guys from Milwaukee media (guys who you'd think would have a bit of background on this issue) do at last night's debate when Walker tried to take credit for SpotShotter funding? They nodded and did absolutely nothing, like the good tools they are.

Now more than ever, we gotta watch the watchmen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

As rural schools have it tougher, Walker cares even less

A couple more bits of information out in the last couple of days starkly illustrate how rural Wisconsin schools are being left behind in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and it's interesting to see these events and stories hit ahead of the election.

Earlier this week, the Department of Public Instruction gave their finalized aid amounts for this school year based on enrollment numbers (you can click for your district here). And while there were some minor modifications to what had been projected earlier this Fall, the tale is largely the same- most school districts in Northern and Western Wisconsin are looking at aid cuts for this year, and many above 10%. (I'll gladly take the updated version if someone has it, but it pretty much looks like this)

The pro-Walker Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tried to spin this situation with a headline stating "52 percent of Wisconsin districts will get an aid increase." But many of these increases barely cover inflation, and the silver bullet of one-time Act 10 savings has already been used in almost every district. With many districts looking at lower aid amounts for at least the second or third time in the last four years, Wisconsin Public Radio looked into this issue in greater detail, describing the squeeze many of these smaller districts are feeling.
Schools in small, rural towns across Wisconsin are struggling. Enrollment is declining, poverty is rising, and transportation costs are considerable.

Jerry Fiene, the executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, says that limited school funding has exacerbated the situation.

“Really for the last 20 years since the revenue limits went into effect, rural schools have been faced with significant challenges in being able to maintain the programs and offerings that they're providing for their students,” he said.

The current school funding formula places a lot of emphasis on enrollment and property values, meaning that when rural districts lose students, they also lose money. Fiene said that often the only good choice they have is to appeal directly to local taxpayers.
And that explains why there might be more than 80 referenda questions on the November ballot across the state related to school funding- in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, these schools have no choice but to ask the voters to raise property taxes to merely keep operating as they are. And money that could offset those property tax increases for schools is instead being used to give tax cuts that have not created jobs, but instead merely led to a looming budget crisis due to exploding deficits.

And we found out today that Governor Walker won't take even the smallest step to help alleviate this situation. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan sent out a press release describing how negligence in the Governor’s Office will cost many districts a better chance to fund and improve preschool programs.
Last week, Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02) sent a letter, with Reps. Gwen Moore (WI-04) and Ron Kind (WI-03), urging Governor Walker to apply for a Preschool Development Expansion Grant. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker failed to submit an application before Wednesday’s deadline depriving Wisconsin of up to $60 million for preschool programs. Since taking office in 2010, Governor Walker has turned down or ignored federal grant opportunities to expand Medicaid for 87,000 Wisconsinites, to expand high speed internet service for schools, to build a high speed rail system between Madison and Milwaukee, and refused to increase the amount of heating assistance given to people in poverty resulting in cuts to Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“I’m very disappointed Scott Walker has put Tea Party politics ahead of doing his job as Governor,” Rep. Pocan said. “Playing political games with these federal grant opportunities, while neglecting our infrastructure, ignoring our most vulnerable citizens and running up a projected $1.9 billion deficit is inexcusable. Too many people from Wisconsin are being left behind as Walker prioritizes his higher ambitions.”
And a whole lot of those people live in small towns where the schools are being underfunded. In addition to the fiscal irresponsibility of not trying to get tens of millions of dollars in federal aid to help pay for these programs, improving pre-K education is a move which often pays strong dividends in improving the quality of education as those children get older. In many cases, strong public education and the sense of community those schools generate is all those places have going for it. We used to identify institutions like schools as a key part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin, and it sure seems to be in danger of slipping away under this crew.

In addition, the underfunding of rural schools and shifting of more and more taxpayer dollars into the failed voucher program shows how little the Walker Administration understands or even cares about people who don’t fund their campaigns. I sure hope the residents of the rural areas that are being screwed over by these regressive privatization and defunding policies keep this in mind when they go to the polls in 2 ½ weeks.