Monday, August 31, 2015

More layoffs from another WEDC "job creator"

We got a reminder today of how the failures of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) continues to waste taxpayer dollars by giving away funds to companies that not only go back on their promises of creating jobs, but watch those businesses cut jobs instead.

The story comes out of Pewaukee, where a manufacturer with multiple locations in Wisconsin won't make some of their products in the state any more.
Eaton Corporation, Pewaukee – Approximately 83 employees will be affected by permanently discontinuing the manufacturing of its Molded Rubber Products product line at Eaton Corporation, 1045 Hickory Street, Pewaukee. The Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington (WOW) Development Board and DWD TAA/TRA staff will provide assistance to the affected workers.
If the name Eaton Corporation rings a bell, it should, because they have been a central figure in one of the series of scandals involving the Scott Walker-created WEDC. Remember this story from last year?
A 27 News investigation has uncovered that both the Eaton Corporation and Plexus Corporation received millions of dollars in financial awards from WEDC, only to later lay off workers whose jobs were taken by employees at the companies' foreign facilities.

In 2011, WEDC awarded Eaton Corp. with up to $1 million in tax credits if the company met job creation and retention goals at its manufacturing facility in Menomonee Falls. WEDC officials say the company has received $190,000 in tax credits so far.

In April of 2013, Eaton laid off 163 employees at its Cooper Power Systems plant in Pewaukee and announced it was moving those jobs to Mexico. Less than a year later, WEDC awarded Eaton Corp. with up to $1.36 million in additional tax credits for a proposed $54 million expansion at that same Pewaukee plant. But on Wednesday, WEDC Spokesperson Mark Maley told 27 News Eaton Corp. "recently notified WEDC it will not seek any tax credits for this project."
So much for that expansion, eh? You may also remember that Eaton also put workers in Watertown out of a job earlier this year, less than two months after Walker and WisGOP Legislature pushed through (right-to) work-for-less legislation, which proponents claimed would save manufacturing jobs (but never seems to stop outsourcing).
Eaton Corp. announced last week it is permanently discontinuing the manufacture of printed circuit boards at its facility in Watertown, which will result in the elimination of 93 employees there.

"We first informed employees in April 2014, one year ago, that we would be moving the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) line from Watertown and consolidating it into another existing facility in Tijuana, Mexico," Eaton Corp. Spokesperson Ann Marie Halal told 27 News. "These actions are in response to ongoing business and market conditions and a continued challenging business climate. They will allow the business to continue to compete globally and meet market demand."
Oh, and now Eaton is laying off 83 more jobs in Pewaukee as they stop manufacturing a certain product line in Wisconsin. Wanna bet those jobs also end up in another country?

And no, there hasn't been any major change in policy at WEDC regarding having recipients of their handouts not outsource jobs, despite then-WEDC Board Chair Scott Walker claiming before the 2014 election that they would. Instead, Walker bailed out of being the WEDC Board Chair, and the majority oligarchs have refused to make any major moves. So as a result, Dem Reps Andy Jorgensen and Deb Kolste joined with State Sen. Dave Hansen in introducing a bill 3 weeks ago that would prevent companies from getting state aid for 5 years if they pulled a routine like Eaton did- getting tax write-offs and then outsourcing Wisconsin jobs. Not surprisingly, the GOP-run Legislature has refused to schedule a hearing for this bill, and they likely will bury it for the rest of the 2015-17 session (so much for righties being "fiscal hawks").

These Eaton layoffs are happening less than two weeks before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee has a hearing to follow up on yet another damning audit of the agency that came out in May. These findings convinced the GOP-run Legislature to turn down Gov Walker's budget request for more funding and reduced oversight of WEDC's responsibilities, and eventually led a panicked Walker to sign off on legislation to fire himself as the WEDC Board Chair, in a cagy way to try to dodge what is clearly and out-of-control tire fire.

We also found out last week that current WEDC CEO Reed Hall is quitting his job (though it won't stop him from taking a taxpayer-funded "trade trip" to Japan before he leaves), and you have to wonder if the upcoming audit and these layoffs are a "last straw" that's encouraging him to get out. Or if something much worse is lurking beneath that'll rear its head in the coming months.

Regardless, these Eaton layoffs are a reminder of the ongoing failure of the "hand out and hope" business model that Scott Walker and the WisGOP Legislature made when they created WEDC. It's also a reminder that you can't trust these companies when they make these "job announcement" plans, and need to make sure they actually construct the building and hire the people they say they would. A nice press release with a politician is nowhere near acceptable enough.

I wonder if any enterprising national reporters might ask presidential candidate Scott Walker what he thinks about companies that outsource, given Eaton's actions of today, and in recent years. And they might want to ask Scotty how that WEDC model is working in a Wisconsin that remains last in the Midwest for job growth.

Your Monday Charlie

Charlie Pierce's political blog at is one of the best political sites going, and if you're not reading him, you're just falling behind. One of Charlie's traditional Monday columns involves a rundown/evisceration of the idiocy that passes for the weekly Sunday morning "serious politics" shows. Another one of Charlie's long-running topics has been the rise (and now fall) of Scott Walker, and the scary combination of idiocy, cynicism, and abuse of power that has defined his 4 1/2 year reign of error in this state.

Well, both of these got put together this weekend in an epic showcase of Walker's foolishness, when he visited NBC's Chuck Todd on Meet the Press , and Charlie just had to respond.
Let's start with the single most hilarious thing said by any candidate in the current field. Asked about the possibility of building a fence, not along the country's southern border, but along the nearly 4000-mile border that separates the United States and Canada, this is what Walker told my man Chuck Todd.
"Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire…They have raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that's a legitimate issue for us to look at."
There is some ensuing flubdubbery about "securing the homeland" and about "counterintellig…er…ah…wubba…wubba…counterterrorism" in there, too, but consider the vast and staggering vista of stupidity opened up by the idea of building a fence from upper Maine to the shores of the Pacific. Leave aside the basic impracticality of the entire idea – What the hell are you going to do about that part of the border that runs through Lake Superior? Submarine nets? Sonar? Volunteer muskie fishermen with AK's in their boats? Yikes. Forget I said that last part. – and concentrate solely on the fact that, what Walker believes makes this a "legitimate issue for us to look at" is the fact that "some people" at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire brought it up to him. I will pay anyone a shiny buffalo nickel if they will show up at a future town hall meeting in New Hampshire and ask Scott Walker if we should fire sharks with frickin' laser beams on their heads into synchronous low earth orbit to prevent undocumented immigrants from Zontar from entering the country. It probably would be declared a "legitimate issue for us to look at."

(And this is not even to mention the fact that, apparently, Walker is opposed to people crossing our Canadian border but has no problem at all with the world's dirtiest fossil fuel being pumped across that same border and through the richest farmland in the United States. Tar sands don't kill people. People kill people.)
Oh yeah, the Enbridge pipeline! Remember the provision Walker and his WisGOP minions in the Legislature shoved into the budget as part of the Notorious late-night 999 measure? The one which was intended to keep us hippies in Dane County from requiring Enbridge to be adequately insured for costs related to cleanups that may happen? Small government conservatism at its best!

And apparently Chuckles ("It's not My Job to Tell People the Facts") Todd tried to cover up this wall-building statement, and didn't show it to the regular viewers of Press the Meat. C'mon Chuck! Walker is at 6% nationwide and has plummeted to 5th place in Iowa. I think you can risk going after this guy, because any star Walker had is spectacularly crashing to earth, and he won't be someone whose ass Chuck needs to kiss in order to keep access to Scotty at a later point.

Walker has gone far beyond absurd, and I'm sick of this dimwit "representing" my state, taking my tax dollars to do everything BUT work in the state's best interest, and making everyone else across the country ask "What the hell is wrong with Wisconsinites?" And this was entirely preventable, but our state's media decided that taking Walker's ad money and promoting him to the nation was preferable over keeping the state's economy and integrity intact. And they should pay every bit the price Scotty and his followers will as this campaign sinks out of sight at the national level.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Another one to add to the tab

Looks like there are more items Wisconsin taxpayers are on the hook for as a result of Governor Scott Walker's delusions of grandeur. Greg Neumann of Channel 27 in Madison had this report on Friday night on how the Governor stiffed his bodyguards on overtime.

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

As Neumann brings up, this means an extra bill for the Transportation Fund that wasn't in the budget. Not a good thing when we're already borrowing between $500-$850 million in this budget for DOT expenses we haven't taxed for.

This OT payback is also on top of a significant increase of taxpayer-funded security for Walker over the last 3 years, as Neumann's report and associated web article brings up.
The cost for Gov. Walker's security detail jumped from $1.6 million in 2011 to $2.4 million in 2014. The out-of-state portion of that 2014 tab was $89,454, a number which is expected to jump up exponentially in 2015 with his run for the GOP presidential nomination.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) unveiled a new legislative proposal earlier this week that would require any state elected official who is running for - or even considering running for - higher office to submit a monthly travel form with the Government Accountability Board that explains what costs were incurred and who paid for them. Any campaign costs incurred by taxpayers would have to be reimbursed in a timely manner.
Of coruse, many of those expenses have been the result of Walker's self-promotion and fundraising for both his elections for governor, and in trying to hype up his 2016 bid for the president. In addition, workers at the DOT unit charged with protecting Walker and other "dignitaries" were given a $4 an hour increase earlier this year, making taxpayers pay even more as Walker embarrasses the state by the day with his foolish statement to GOP primary voters.

So add this to list of foolish Walker actions that we the taxpayer have to shell out for. Just this month, there's the $10 million paid out to Talgo for trains that will never be built or operated in Wisconsin, and $2.2 million to ignore a consultant's findings on the proposed casino in Kenosha.

And you can bet there are more of these types of wasteful expenses to uncover in the months and years to follow. And what needed services and state aids will end up being cut as a result of the imperial, arrogant behavior from a Governor's Office that clearly does not believe they will pay a price for their irresponsible actions?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Marquette Poll Pt. 2- Is WisGOP in even worse shape than we think?

There are also two crosstabs that seem to indicate that the Republican candidates are in even bigger trouble than the Marquette toplines would indicate. The first involves the ideological breakdown of the poll respondents.

Ideology, Marquette Law, Aug 2015.
Conservative/Storngly conservative 43.1%
Moderate 29.7%
Liberal/Strongly liberal 24.0%
Don’t know/refused 3.2%

This is quite a difference from the ideological makeup of the 2012 presidential electorate in Wisconsin, based on exit polls. Those numbers indicate more moderates and fewer conservatives than what made up the Marquette Poll.

Ideology, 2012 presidential exit poll
Liberal 24%
Moderate 40%
Conservative 35%

And this is important because Republicans and especially Scott Walker are dead in the water with moderates, and Democrats have an overwhelming advantage with this group.

Moderates, Marquette Poll Aug 2015
Walker approve/disapprove 22.4-74.1
Johnson favorability 16.8-41.1
Feingold favorability 51.0-21.4
Clinton favorability 47.1-42.2
Sanders favorability 41.5-9.1 (!)
Walker vs. Clinton Clinton 65.7-25.4
Feingold vs. Johnson Feingold 64.5-25.0

So logic tells you that if the electorate has a higher number of moderates and a lower number of conservatives in November 2016, the Dems will do better, and Feingold and Clinton would have even bigger leads in their races.

The last crosstab I’ll discuss is in regards to the Hispanic vote. This demographic is relatively small when it comes to the electorate (estimated at 4% in the last presidential election in Wisconsin, and they were 2.8% of the Marquette Poll), but they overwhelmingly favored President Obama by more than 2-1, which extended Obama’s lead by about 1.5 points over Mitt Romney- not a small number when you consider Obama won the state overall by about 7%.

And with the Republican Party taking a nasty, nativist turn in recent weeks with the rise of Donald Trump, including large-scale scapegoating of Hispanics for economic troubles and threats to depart millions of immigrants, many of which would be of Latino descent. Gov Walker got into this race-baiting act by threatening to remove the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship, before coming up with "modifications" of that stance, which led to this awesome CNN article titled: "Scott Walker on birthright citizenship: 3 positions, 7 days."

With that in mind, and the fact that the Democratic nominee for president won Hispanics by 35 points in 2012, do these crosstabs ring true to you?

Marquette Law Poll, Aug 2015 Hispanics
Walker approve/disapprove 54.5-45.5
Walker favorable/unfavorable 58.1-38.5
Clinton favorable/unfavorable 24.0-66.2
Clinton vs. Walker- Walker 52.5-44.2
Feingold vs Johnson – Johnson 69.0-21.6

Which Hispanics did Marquette Law talk to? Seems like the only ones they got on the phone were Scott Jensen’s voucher puppets at the Rodriguez clan, because those numbers don’t come close to anything that would match up with the historical Hispanic vote in Wisconsin. This is especially true after the racist garbage Walker, Trump and the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have been peddling in recent weeks.

If you turn those Hispanic figures toward the 2012 outcomes of 2-1 Democrat, that would drop Walker’s approval rating another 1-2 points, give Clinton another 1-2 points of advantage, and Feingold another 2-3 points. In particular, a normal advantage among Hispanics for Feingold over Johnson means that Russ goes up 8 points instead of 5, and this race is not perceived as close at all.

Sure, you can say I’m “unskewing” with this breakdown, but when I see numbers that run counter to recent history, don’t I at least have to flag it? If I’m right, then the Marquette Poll is masking what is an even worse situation for the Republicans in Wisconsin, and one that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin should jump all over during the next 14 ½ months.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sorry MacIver, Wisconsin's tax cuts did not raise revenues

I want to give props to John Peterson at Democurmudgeon for tipping me off to this claim, which follows this week's release of slightly higher-than-projected revenues for the state of Wisconsin in Fiscal Year 2014-15. It's from the right-wing propagandists at the "MacIver Institute", and it's a statement begging to be examined.

The statement should immediately strike you as dishonest, as it implies that tax cuts are the reason for this higher amount of revenue, and leaves out the reality of higher populations and inflation, which should raise revenues regardless of economic conditions. In addition, the Obama Recovery continues to roll on with GDP up 3.7% in the final quarter of Wisconsin FY 2014-15, which also should help revenues. But MacIver's BS tweet is much, much more lame and WRONG than that.

First of all, Wisconsin's total revenues didn’t even reach the levels that the Walker Administration told the public it would last Fall. The final revenue figures for 2014-15 still fell over $100 million short of the $14.643 billion that Walker’s Department of Revenue estimated last November, and in particular, the Walker DOR was way high on income tax revenues (which are the main tax cuts MacIver is allegedly trying to credit), missing that number by over $174 million.

In fact, the only number the final 2014-15 revenues beat were the even-lower estimates that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau sent out in January, and the LFB was still closer to the final numbers than the Walker’s DOR was ($71 million low vs $102 million high). But it is two previous LFB budget estimates from 2014 that illustrate just what a failure these tax cuts have been when it comes to raising revenue, and how they fell far short of the numbers that we were on track to have.

Let’s go back to January 2014, which featured the rosy LFB revenue picture that led the WisGOP Legislature and Gov Walker to put in a second round of Koo-Koo tax cuts before the 2014 elections. At the time, there was a projected surplus for the end of Fiscal Year 2014-15 of over $1 billion, with healthy revenue growth projected for both fiscal years of the 2013-15 budget.

January 2014 revenue projections
2012-13 actual $14,085.6 million
2013-14 $14,399.9 million (+2.23%)
2014-15 $15,017.2 million (+4.29%)

Then after the tax cuts and other measures were taken at the end of the 2013-15 biennial legislative session, the LFB returned in May to run the numbers again. At that time, revenues were projected to decrease compared to the January estimates (by $170 mil in year 1 and $292 million in year 2), but still anticipated to grow from the previous fiscal years.

May 2014 revenue projections
2012-13 actual $14,085.6 million
2013-14 $14,229.3 million (+1.02%)
2014-15 $14,725.0 million (+3.48%)

But that didn’t happen either. 2013-14 revenues ended up DECLINING to $13,948.1 million (-0.97%), and while the recently completed 2014-15 Fiscal Year had a nice bounce-back to $14,541.2 million (+4.25%), that figure is still $476 million below the projections that were under the status quo of January 2014, and nearly $184 million below the May 2014 projections.

So no, MacIver, the 2013 and 2014 Koo-Koo tax cuts did not come close to paying for themselves, and they cost the state nearly half a billion dollars in revenue compared to the projections that were out in January 2014. And as I mentioned earlier this week, Wisconsin’s 2014-15 revenue growth figures for income and corporate taxes are far below the U.S. rates of revenue growth in both of those areas, which shows that the higher revenues in Wisconsin have nothing to do with the state’s fiscal policies (if anything, it could be argued that they’re causing the state to lag), and a whole lot to do with “THANKS OBAMA!”

So what did Wisconsin get for those tax cuts in 2014? 6th out of 7 Midwest states for job growth, and 38th in the nation. This put the state in a major hole for the 2015-17 budget, which resulted in crippling measures such as the $250 million cut to the UW System, further limitations to K-12 education that are helping lead to teaching shortages throughout the state, and borrowing up to $850 million for Transportation.

Do I think the Bradley Foundation's propagandists at MacIver will ever admit these facts? HAH!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Marquette Poll pt. 1- Wisconsin GOP and Dem voters are truly different groups

You may remember last week's Marquette Law School Poll, which was the first large-scale poll of Wisconsin voters that had been released to the public over the last 3 months. The big headlines came from these figures.

Scott Walker approval vs. disapproval

Scott Walker vs Hillary Clinton, 2016 president
Clinton 51.8-41.5

Russ Feingold vs. Ron Johnson, 2016 U.S. Senate
Feingold 46.9-41.6

But as usual, the more interesting stories with these polls are hidden in the crosstabs. Here are a few items that jumped out at me when I looked at those figures.

First of all, there is a massive gender gap in the state. Take a look at the splits in the 2016 presidential and senate races, as well as the favorability ratings for various poiticians that are in those races. The one exception is Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t have as big of a male/female gap, but also is less known than the other candidates (by the way, Marquette did not ask how Bernie matched up with the GOP candidates. And I've seen no explanation why).

Male vs Female, Marquette Poll August 2015
Walker vs. Clinton
Male: Walker 49.3-42.9
Female: Clinton 59.6-34.7

Feingold vs. Johnson
Male: Johnson 49.7-40.4
Female: Feingold 52.5-34.6

Walker approve/disapprove
Male: 43.2-55.0
Female: 36.0-59.2

Walker favorable/unfavorable
Male: 44.7-52.3
Female: 34.0-61.6

Sen. Tammy Baldwin favorable/unfavorable
Male: 29.2-48.2
Female: 41.2-33.5

Feingold favorable/unfavorable
Male: 38.1-39.2
Female: 45.8-22.2

Clinton favorable/unfavorable
Male: 29.1-61.0
Female: 46.3-45.1

Sanders favorable/unfavorable
Male: 35.0-24.5
Female: 29.2-17.0

Other major dividers are education level, and age. Democrats tend to do markedly better among the younger and more educated, while Walker and Republicans do better among those of middle age, and those with limited education. The one exception is young voters in the John son-Feingold race, which seems to be a function of both candidates being less known among younger voters.

Walker approval/disapproval
18-29 22.8-77.2
45-59 49.0-48.6

HS diploma last grade completed 44.4-51.8
Bachelor’s degree+ 32.8-65.2

Clinton favorable/unfavorable
18-29 47.3-43.0
45-59 34.4-58.6

HS diploma 32.4-60.0
Bachelor’s degree+ 45.0-47.6

Sanders favorable/unfavorable
18-29 47.0-14.6
45-59 27.2-22.5

HS diploma 25.0-22.4
Bachelor’s degree+ 44.9-19.4

Walker vs Clinton
18-29 Clinton 66.2-26.8
45-59 Clinton 47.7-46.6

HS diploma Walker 48.3-47.2
Bachelor’s degree+ Clinton 58.7-35.0

Feingold vs Johnson
18-29 Feingold 40.0-39.0
45-59 Feingold 49.1-43.4

HS diploma Johnson 48.7-37.0
Bachelor’s degree+ Feingold 57.6-36.3

So basically, the only Wisconsinites that back Republicans are low-educated, older men (and in particular WHITE men, since Walker has 21% approval among African-Americans, and that group favors Clinton over Walker by nearly 60%). These are major deficits that the GOP needs to make up, and given that Gov Walker is running scared due to the rise of Donald Trump and throwing out a new far-right absurdity nearly every day, I don't think those gender, youth or educations gaps are going to close any time soon. And it's something the Democratic Party of Wisconsin should hammer on and contrast continually over the next 14 months, to paint the Wisconsin GOP as the stupid, regressive party that is causing the state to fall behind its neighbors as a state that people want to make their future in.

There are a lot more crosstabs, as well as a few items that may even be understating just how bad things are for the Wisconsin GOP right now. I'll have a second post up in the near future going over that, and feel free to add your own reactions from the crosstabs in the comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Slight uptick in revenues doesn't fix Wisconsin's budget mess

The long-awaited Wisconsin revenue figures for Fiscal Year 2014-15 were released today, and I’d categorize it as a lukewarm positive. Total revenues for the fiscal year were $71.4 million above the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s projections from January (or just under 0.5%), and as the Wisconsin State Journal’s Mark Sommerhauser points out, it’s almost entirely due to a strong showing in corporate taxes.
Greater-than-expected corporate tax revenues fueled the increase. It totaled slightly more than $1 billion -- about $69.9 million, or 7.5 percent, more than projected.

The corporate tax long has been among the state's most volatile revenue sources, making it difficult to project, according to fiscal bureau director Bob Lang. That's partly because the tax is collected on corporate profits -- not income, as is the case with individuals.
But despite what WisGOP spinmeisters might say, it appears the upside revenue growth has little to do with Walker/WisGOP policies, but instead is a reflection of a strong U.S. economy. This was illustrated in yesterday’s release of the Congressional Budget Office’s Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook, where the CBO said the federal deficit will be at its lowest levels since before the Great Recession, largely due to higher-than-expected revenues in this fiscal year.
Federal revenues are expected to climb by 8 percent in [Federal Fiscal Year] 2015, to $3.3 trillion, or 18.2 percent of GDP. Revenues from all major sources will rise, including individual income taxes (by 10 percent), corporate income taxes (by 8 percent), and payroll taxes (by 4 percent). Revenues from other sources are estimated to increase, on net, by 5 percent. The largest increase in that category derives from fees and fines, mostly as a result of provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Changes From the March Projections Receipts from individual and corporate income taxes have been greater than anticipated, which largely explains the $60 billion reduction in the projected deficit for 2015; revisions to CBO’s estimates of outlays had almost no net effect.
Which is why it is all the more interesting that Wisconsin’s income tax growth was relatively tepid, at 3.7% while the U.S. income tax revenues were up 10.4%. And even with the higher corporate tax receipts saving Wisconsin’s 2014-15 budget, that growth of 3.9% is still less than half of the 8.4% growth the U.S. Treasury saw in corporate taxes. So once again, seemingly positive Wisconsin economic numbers should be punctuated with two words “THANKS, OBAMA!”

(an earlier mention of an alleged deposit to the Rainy Day Fund has been removed, as noted in the comments. We continue)

In addition, remember that we were looking at a $283 million in-year deficit for ’14-’15 back in January, so let’s see what kind of difference has to be made up now. We’ll also use projections from Table 4 of Gov Walker’s Budget in Brief to update a couple of figures.

2014-15 adjustments since January
Projected balance -$283.4 million
Additional 2014-15 revenues +$71.4 million
Unbudgeted Potatwatomi Payments +$49.0 million
Reduced Comp Reserves to Employees +$98.1 million
New projected balance, 2014-15 -$64.9 million

Theoretically, there may be enough unspent money and/or skipped debt payments to make up that last $64.9 million. We will wait for the October 15 Annual Fiscal Report to see if that’s the case, or see how far in the red we were when this new budget started.

Also noteworthy is that once you remove the surprise increases in corporate tax revenues, the LFB estimates from January were basically bang-on.

2014-15 Final revenues vs LFB projections
Income tax – DOWN $24.2 million
Sales tax – UP $12.1 million
Cigarette tax – UP $13.0 million
Tobacco Products – UP $2.6 million
(Way to go smokers! Thanks for stocking up!)
Liquor, wine, beer – UP $1.2 million
Other taxes – DOWN $3.3 million

The income tax falling short should be a major concern, as that reflects the lack of jobs and wage increases (perhaps at the expense of higher corporate profits?). Because income tax makes up more than half of the state’s overall tax revenues, this puts us a bit further behind the 8-ball for this fiscal year. Walker’s budget already counted on income taxes going up by 6.7% in 2015-16 before this income tax shortfall, and now it has to go up 7.1% just to stay on track…or nearly twice the increase we had for this fiscal year.

So my topline conclusion from today’s revenue release is that we’re slightly better off than we could have been, mostly due to the Obama Recovery continuing through June 2015. But we are still in a ditch when it comes to paying for future needs, and if the recent dive in the stock market translates into economic weakness (or even a drop in collections due to write-offs of stock losses), a budget that already relies on $1.1 billion in lapses will have even more cuts and adjustments that will need to be made. And that is the last thing Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP want to deal with ahead of the 2016 primary and general elections.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More proof of Fitzwalkerstan's shortage in K-12 public ed

The fallout of 4 ½ years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan is continuing, as the first day of school in most Wisconsin districts looms next week. We'll start with Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee discussing how the pipeline for new teachers in the state is running dry, leading to more vacancies at schools and the prospect of huge classroom sizes when the first bells ring.
The Spooner school district saw 25 percent of its faculty retire, resign, or not have their contract renewed this year, and the Madison and Milwaukee districts are also losing high numbers of teachers, as Paul Doro reported for Urban Milwaukee. Experts say there will be a huge number of openings to fill in the coming years because 22 percent of the state’s current teaching base is aged 55 or older.

Meanwhile, the supply of new teachers is shrinking, providing fewer new teaching applicants. At UW-Oshkosh, which has one of the state’s largest teacher training programs, the number of students majoring in education has declined by 25 percent over a four year period.

UW-Milwaukee’s School of Education has seen a 23 percent decrease in enrollment in a five-year period from more than 3,000 in 2010 to a little more than 2,300 in 2015, as Jeremy Page, assistant dean of student services in the School of Education, told Urban Milwaukee. Marquette’s College of Education has decreased steadily, from 445 students in 2010 to 385 in 2014, the JS reported.

UW-Stevens Point has seen an 18 percent decline in students are studying to become teachers. “In fall 2010 we had about 1,409 students, now we have about 1,150 students,” the university’s head of education Patricia Caro told, the ABC affiliate in North Central Wisconsin.
Murphy goes on to quote most of those same deans giving the same reason for this shortage – Act 10, which lowered take-home pay for teachers (in a time when the economy has improved and more job options are available), and brought to light regressive, anti-education attitudes from Gov Scott Walker and his supporters. Many college students simply believe it’s not worth the hassle to try to become a teacher in 2010s Wisconsin.

Even before this school year, Wisconsin had seen a significant drop in staffing and funding for its K-12 public schools, turning a state that used to be a leader in investing in education into a mediocre one that is being passed by many other places. The Wisconsin Budget Project released a report today with several statistics noting these changes.

To add to that final chart, the Budget Project notes that many longtime teachers left the profession after Act 10 became law, which lowered the cumulative level of experience in the classroom compared to a decade ago.

Teachers in Wisconsin school districts have less experience than they did a few years ago. In the 2013-14 school year, the teaching staff of 39% of school districts had an average of 15 or more years of teaching experience. That share has fallen dramatically since the 2004-05 school year, when 58% of school districts had teaching staff with and average of 15 years or more experience. Most of the decline in the average number of years of teaching experience occurred in the 2011-12 school year, after lawmakers passed changes that limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to collectively bargain for salary increases, and boosted the amount of money that teachers contribute to their health insurance and retirement benefit costs. (aka Act 10)
And these changes were what hap0pened before the current state budget took effect this July. The Budget Project notes that there are items in this budget that make Wisconsin likely to slide down these rankings even more in future years.
In the state budget that runs from July 2015 through June 2017, lawmakers approved an increase of about 2% for K-12 education in Wisconsin, compared to the previous budget period. Much of that money was allotted in a way that will prohibit schools from using it to educate students in classrooms. Instead, schools will be required to use much of that money to offset property taxes and to funnel money to private schools to pay tuition costs for students participating in the state’s school voucher program. In the 2015-17 state budget, lawmakers approved an expansion of the state’s school voucher program, which will drain an estimated $600 million to $800 million from public schools over the next decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

In the budget, lawmakers also limited property tax increases by freezing the amount of money per student that Wisconsin school districts may take in between the combination of general state aid and property taxes. In general, school districts will not be able to increase property taxes to deal with increases in fuel costs, to address maintenance needs, or to help deal with other rising costs. As spending capacity lags behind educational needs, many districts will be forced to reduce academic offerings, further reduce salaries for experienced teachers, or find other ways to cut corners.

At the same time lawmakers were approving minimal increases in state support for public schools and tight controls school budgets, they were focused on cutting taxes. In the 2015-17 budget, lawmakers passed tax cuts that will reduce tax revenue by more than $250 million a year when fully implemented, draining revenue that could be used to help Wisconsin’s public schools educate the next generation of workers.
Huh, it’s almost like the Walker/WisGOP destruction of Wisconsin’s high-quality and high-service public schools is by design. Like they want the schools to fail so they can privatize the school system even more, selling it off to their campaign contributors so it can be run at a profit, and drive down the skill level and critical thinking ability of whoever decides to stay in the state.

Nah, that can’t be it, can it….?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stock market crash exposing Walker idiocy on another issue

You may have heard there was some wackiness on Wall Street today, with the DOW Jones industrial average going down as much as 1,000 points this morning, before gaining 900 of those points back in the midday, and then plummeting again at the close to end up down nearly 600 points on the day. The crazy day followed large drops on the previous Thursday and Friday, which means the DOW has now shed nearly 10% over the last week, and nearly 2,300 points since peaking a couple of months ago.

Naturally, our fair Guv couldn't avoid making an ass out of himself in light of the bloodletting on Wall Street.

First of all, who the fuck is Scott Walker to tell President Obama to cancel this meeting, especially on such specious grounds? Walker also shows remarkable ignorance about the reasons for the stock market's fall, because it implies that somehow the Chinese are interfering in the U.S. market to cause the selling. And it also shows a reckless disregard for diplomacy and a lack of understanding about the interconnectedness between our two countries- scapegoating a major trading partner every time a shaky economic period comes along does not make for steady policy or good outcomes.

But the bigger reason our Governor looks like a complete moron with this statement is because he completely contradicts his past actions, as well as the plans of his administration back in Wisconsin. WKOW's Greg Neumann was among many noting the pathetic irony.

Even Dan ("Scott Walker's a Good Guy") Bice tweeted out what an absurd flip-flop Walker's new "blame China" statement represents. Just four months ago, Bice noted that Walker was all about attracting investment and talent from China.
The program — known as EB-5 — puts wealthy foreigners on the path to U.S. citizenship if they invest at least $500,000 in an American commercial project that will create or preserve 10 jobs.

Critics have called the abuse-riddled program a "scam" that essentially sells green cards to the affluent and their families, with more than 80% of those in the program coming from China.

But Walker has long been a champion of EB-5 visas, which grant permanent U.S. residence.

You can find Walker prominently featured on the website of FirstPathway Partners, a Milwaukee firm that helps foreigners find local development projects in which they can park their half-million dollars.

Walker was the featured speaker at events for several Milwaukee-area projects involving the company, including the opening of the Global Water Center and the downtownMilwaukee Marriott. In addition, FirstPathways sponsored the Republican governor's reception in Shanghai during his 2013 trade trip to China, describing it as a "historic moment" for the firm and the state....
And what makes Walker's reaction to the stock market crash even more stupid is because it should remind you that Walker and his fellow Republicans have consistently tried to monkey with the fully-funded pension system that Wisconsin public workers currently are entitled to. You may recall this part of the notorious 999 motion that the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee tried to jam through at the end of state budget deliberations.
Changes the state’s pension board: One provision would alter the composition of the state board tasked with assessing any potential changes to Wisconsin’s retirement system for public employees. Currently, the board, known as the Joint Survey in Retirement Systems Committee, is made up of a mix of lawmakers of both parties, representatives from relevant state agencies and a citizen who is not participating in the state retirement program. If Motion 999 becomes law, it will instead consist of only legislators, with the number chosen by the majority party proportional to the ruling party's majority on other legislative committees, in effect politicizing the board.

The change comes as Walker has struggled to push through measures that would alter the state’s current pension plan. Though Wisconsin’s retirement program is one the most financially sound in the nation, Walker has signaled he would be willing to overhaul the system, only to receive pushback. Officials at the agencies represented on the board have previously said changes to the state’s retirement plan weren’t necessary, however a board made up of entirely partisan legislators might be more likely to greenlight such a plan. Both houses of the Wisconsin legislature and the governorship are currently controlled by Republicans.
That provision was later dropped from the state budget after an outcry from numerous groups, but as Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee notes, Walker has long wanted to modify and/or sell off the fully-funded pensions, and even snuck in a provision in 2011's Act 10 to try to open the door to changing the system- an option that was quickly shot down once the evidence showed how foolish an idea it was.
Nevertheless, Walker and other Republicans believed the state should consider a 401(k) system like most private companies now have. To that end, the language of Act 10 commissioned a study of the state’s current pension system that would also compare its “defined benefits” plan for employees to an optional “defined contribution” plan like a 401(k) option.

The study found Wisconsin has “one of the lowest pension system costs for taxpayers in the nation” and “contains many pension policy best practices, such as a disciplined funding model and risk-sharing mechanisms that have allowed it to minimize the risks for taxpayers.”
Naturally, this report was revealed one month after the recall election of 2012, keeping Walker from having egg put on his face before the election for trying to mess with something that worked for both taxpayers and retirees.

But you can bet Scotty would want to help out campaign contributors who would love to get their hands on managing those pensions, or to use the excess funds in the pension to fill budget holes. And that's where the recent stock market drop should set off warning lights, because moving people from pensions to 401k's puts them in a lot more danger of losing their retirement security, and damaging the economy from the changes that would result from people being forced into the poor house from another Wall Street crash. That type of distress for constituents and economic upheaval is something that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP do not care about, and in a sick way, they may welcome it. Because reducing retirement security forces people to be more desperate when it comes to seeking and accepting work- which is just the way the ALEC puppetmasters like it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

More "TeaBaggery leading to long-term failure"- rural broadband edition

Here's a nice article from the Journal-Sentinel's Rick Barrett regarding Wisconsin's attempts to help its rural areas join the 21st Century when it comes to broadband availability. The state has started to set aside a few million dollars to help businesses set up the cables and related infrastructure for upgraded Internet, and with my aunt and uncle having a lake home near Sayner, this part of the article was something I could relate to firsthand.
Three of the seven grants in 2014 were for Vilas County, including the Eagle River area that's a popular tourism destination.

"Extending broadband is one of the most important things not only to Vilas County but also the surrounding counties. It's sorely lacking in places," said Carl Ruedebusch, chairman of the Vilas County Economic Development Corp....

The population in Vilas County increases to about 200,000 people in the summer from 20,000 residents other times of the year, according to Ruedebusch.

If the area had better Internet access, he said, some of the summer residents would stay longer, or they might move to the area and establish businesses.

"The economic impact on our area would be huge," Ruedebusch said.
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout also mentioned the need for more rural broadband in her weekly column, and discusses how the issue came up as she appeared at county fairs in Western Wisconsin this summer. Sen. Vinehout talks about a constituent named Tammy who mentioned that she could not receive broadband at her rural home in Pierce County, which would help in her efforts to operate her nonprofit organization out of her house. Vinehout says that the lack of higher-speed internet service is a common complaint in rural Wisconsin.
I spoke with two county board members who were working the booth next to me. One of them said, “It’s like electricity territories. The FCC set up where telephone companies originally put their lines and that company totally controls that territory.” These territories don’t follow any natural or political subdivision borders – different companies could serve people in the same township. I learned that seven different companies serve Pierce County. Tammy described this piecemeal system as creating “little pockets of nowhere.”

Why do phone companies that control a certain territory not provide Internet service to their customers? The county board members told me, "AT&T has no interest in expanding."

Problems are so great that a year ago University of Wisconsin - River Falls teamed with local economic development folks to do a survey of Internet service. The survey results showed half of the respondents were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their current Internet provider. Half of businesses surveyed did not have broadband service. The vast majority of these businesses were interested in obtaining fiber optic access. The UWRF team estimated about 13% of households and 16% of businesses responded to the survey.

I learned the town of Troy used stimulus money to lay fiber optic cable to every house in the Township. A recent FCC ruling may allow municipalities to cross the “walls” demarking territory and build out into neighboring territory.
Now let's flash back to Rick Barrett's article from today. It triggered a memory from 2011 for me, and it should have also triggered something from Rick Barrett, because he wrote this article in February 2011.
State officials are returning $23 million to the federal government, saying there were too many strings attached to stimulus money that was supposed to be for expanding high-speed Internet service in schools, libraries and government agencies.

The money was to have boosted broadband connections in 380 Wisconsin communities, including 385 libraries and 82 schools. It also could have been used to improve police, fire department and hospital communications in rural areas....

Wisconsin received the grant a year ago from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included about $7 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees to extend broadband to underserved rural areas and was compatible with President Barack Obama's goal of making high-speed Internet available to 98% of Americans by 2016.

The money would have been used for the BadgerNet Converged Network, which brings the Internet to schools, libraries, and state and local government agencies. It would have paid for 200 miles of fiber-optic cable, improving the Internet connections at hundreds of public facilities.
(Author raises hand) Call me crazy, but perhaps some of these areas would already have broadband if Walker HADN'T TEABAGGED ITS EXPANSION 4 YEARS AGO. Once you have service established, it's a whole lot easier to expand it from there. Yet again, this administration was too concerned with scoring points on talk radio and trying to submarine the Obama Administration before the 2012 elections instead of promoting infrastructure that would help rural areas of the state compete and have a better chance of attracting and retaining talent.

Once again, the shortsightedness of this reckless administration rears its head, to the detriment of the state's economic performance and competitiveness. And it's something that must be repeated again and again by us, because apparently our media will refuse to give the proper context and history surrounding an issue to give the complete picture of why we have gaps in broadband coverage in this state. And also to reveal and remind voters of who made the decisions that put us in this hole that we stand in today.

Lower Wisconsin unemployment claims - economy, or chicanery?

I noticed this tweet from our fair Guv on Friday as he tried to pump up his flagging presidential campaign.

On the surface, there's a truth behind that claim. Wisconsin's unemployment claims have dropped to low levels, although the recent figures are related to seasonality, as late Summer is usually the lowest time of the year for the amount of new claims, and those numbers will swing up as the weather cools in the coming months.

However, a lot of this reflects the Obama Recovery that the country is seeing, as the U.S. recently had its lowest amount of seasonally-adjusted unemployment claims since 1973. So bragging about the lowest Wisconsin claims since 1990 isn't exactly a huge accomplishment for Governor Walker, but in his typical dishonest way, he won't give you that context in order to take credit for something that is more a symbol of the stronger national economy of recent years.

But there may be more behind Wisconsin's drop in unemployment claims than just the Obama Recovery. The Capital Times' Pat Schneider had an excellent article on Friday discussing the increased regulations and barriers during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan that may be preventing Wisconsinites from getting unemployment benefits after they have been laid off.
The new rule will require workers making weekly unemployment benefits claims by phone to begin faxing or mailing in a log of their weekly job search efforts, according to a notice on the state Department of Workforce Development web site.

The Unemployment Insurance Division of DWD “will validate your work search before issuing payment,” the notice states about the new practice that goes into effect this Sunday.

The notice says that the process could take up 10 days and encourages people to make their unemployment claims online, instead of by phone.

People making unemployment compensation claims by phone previously have been required to keep a job search log that state officials could require them to produce.
Not surprisingly, this could be an issue for people that lack Internet access (especially in rural communtiies) , and makes the DWD the decider of benefits Pat Schneider's article also notes additional burdens put onto Wisconsinites in recent years in order for them to receive their unemployment benefits. This includes a 2013 change that lowered the standard for denial of benefits from "willful misconduct" to "substantial fault", and the wasteful requirement in this year's budget which forces unemployment and food stamp applicants to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits.

In addition, there was a hearing this last week on a GOP bill which would keep people from receiving unemployment benefits if they "intentionally concealed" information on their application. WKOW-TV in Madison had a good rundown on the bill and hearing last week, and this key segement shows the differences in how both Wisconsin parties view unemployment applicants.
"I didn't want to penalize them on the first strike," said Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem), who co-authored the bill. "I thought, you know, seven years, if they do it more than once it's giving us as taxpayers and people who are utilizing the system some measures of accountability."

But Democrats on the committee said many people who make simple mistakes on their forms will be penalized unnecessarily. They also want some distinction between lower and higher dollar fraud amounts.

"The author told me that she views someone stealing a dollar from their mom's purse and a bank robber totally the same," said Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Milton). "So we aren't even going to be able to talk about the amounts of fraud in this bill."."
Funny how the GOPs care more about how "those people" might cheat the system, while Dems are more concerned with the real-life outcomes on people that may have fallen on hard times. We really do live on two separate planets.

These GOP moves against the unemployed receiving benefits leads to an obvious question. Is the Walker Administration and the Wisconsin GOP intentionally trying to keep people from receiving unemployment benefits they are entitled to, and is it being done in part to deceive Wisconsinites and the nation on how bad Scott Walker's record truly is when it comes to job creation (or destruction)? The policies and the outcomes certainly seem to match up with what the Walker 2016 campaign would like to see, but it may be the result of questionable methods that they don't want people to know about.

It sure seems like this requires more examination from state officials...if we could find WisGOP officials that are interested in doing so. Instead, we are busy wasting $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars to pay a private contractor from Boston for a jobs data site that won't be used. Is this cluelessness, incompetence, or just plain hating and possible discrimination against those who have lost their jobs? I don't find any of the three answers acceptable in its current form.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Weekend reading: UW grad "most dangerous man in football" (UPDATED WITH VIDEO)

This is an amazing read. It takes a while to get through, but I was engrossed the whole way through, partly because it involves former UW and San Francisco 49er linebacker Chris Borland, but mostly because of the depth of Borland's thoughts on why he walked away from the game, and what kind of sport football really is. I like the game, and I'm going on my 16th season as a Badger season ticket holder, but I admit there are really deep concerns I'm starting to get regarding concussions, CTE, and the gladiator-like nature of the sport.

What's grabbing to me about the article is that pretty much the only thing left in football that's not somewhat icky is what goes on between the lines. Yes, the hits can be brutal, but it's nothing compared to the "piece of meat" that it seems like far too many players are treated like, and the lengths that people go through to get back on the field. This passage about painkillers and former UW linebacker Mike Taylor is especially gripping to me.
Near the end of his freshman year, Borland discovered Toradol, the controversial painkiller used widely in college and the pros. "It was life-changing," he told the BU researchers, chuckling, when they took his medical history. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that Toradol should be used sparingly, for severe acute pain. Borland, who had shoulder surgery three times while at Wisconsin, said he would sometimes use the drug every other game.

Some of Borland's teammates were worse off, and that concerned him more. Taylor, his close friend, was also one of the best linebackers in the nation, twice all-conference, a future pro. But it became harder and harder for Taylor to stay on the field. In 2011, he tore his meniscus on a blitz against Minnesota. The Monday after the game, he had knee surgery to remove half of it.

The next Saturday, with Wisconsin fighting for the Big Ten title, Taylor played against Illinois. "I remember that morning I was thinking, 'This is f---ing stupid. What am I doing?' " he recalls. "They shot Toradol in my ass. And I remember covering up my knee with bandages, just so I couldn't see blood. The first half was shaky for me. If you watch the game film, it's like, 'This dude should not be playing football.' "...

The next season, Taylor developed a hernia but continued to play. Wisconsin faced Stanford in the Rose Bowl that year. "I'm just laying on the table before the game, buck naked, just taking shots of s--- I don't even know," he says. "Taking pills, putting straps on, putting Icy Hot on. People were coming in and looking at me like I'm a f---ing robot, like I'm dead."
There's also great stuff on how Borland decides to walk away from the game after 1 season in the NFL, and some of the influential books about sports and life that he read at UW that helped lead to his awareness, not just of CTE and concussions and the risks of football, but bigger issues in the world.

As a UW grad, I'm damned proud to have someone like Chris Borland be a rep of my school, and not just for the 4 years he kicked ass on the field. Read the article, and I think you'll agree with me.

EDIT- I found video relating to the blocked punt referenced in the story vs Wofford, where Borland jumps over 3 guys to block a punt that gets recovered for a UW TD. It's at around 2:05, and you see an interview with then-freshman Chris Borland afterwards. A lot of these pics seem to be from a long time ago, but it was only 6 years ago.

Friday, August 21, 2015

On train and casino, Walker poses still costing taxpayers millions

This week featured two more examples of how Scott Walker's "posing politics is the premier priority" doctrine continues to cost Wisconsin taxpayers big money. To start, let's go back to last year, and go over an excellent summary written by former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz about Walker's first big blunder as a statewide elected official - his steadfast refusal to proceed on a stimulus-funded high speed rail line which would have brought passenger rail between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and the Twin Cities. This resulted in the state losing $810 million dollars in federal stimulus funds, and by last year had ended up costing state and local taxpayers tens of millions to make up for it.
In 2009, then-Gov. Jim Doyle joined forces with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to convince train manufacturer Talgo to locate in Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee invested $10 million for site improvements at the old Tower Automotive plant in a neighborhood that needed the jobs and the reinvestment. Wisconsin ordered two trains for the state-sponsored Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha service. In addition, Talgo had an order for two trains for use in Oregon and Washington that would also be built in Milwaukee....

A year later Barrett vied for the governor's office against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. The train plan was a centerpiece of Walker's campaign, in which he essentially ran against the interests of his own county. Walker portrayed the train as a boondoggle, but he was essentially using it as leverage to exploit resentment in the rest of the state against its two largest cities.

Walker won and trains lost. He quickly moved to kill the Milwaukee to Madison part of the project, but he claimed to support upgrades to the Hiawatha line. Meanwhile, Talgo was already well along in the construction of two sets of trains to serve that line. In fact, the state has already paid Talgo $40 million for those trains, and it paid another $12 million to other vendors, for a total cost so far of $52 million.
Flash ahead to this week, and we saw that Talgo and the State of Wisconsin finally settled a lawsuit Talgo slapped on the state for breach of contract, and lost revenues.
Under the agreement, Talgo will keep the two trains it built for the state of Wisconsin, and receive a $9.75 million payment from the state to close out the contract, said Lester Pines, attorney for Talgo. Talgo will attempt to sell the trains, and the state can collect a portion of the revenue from that sale to recoup up to $9.75 million, he said….

The disputes between Talgo and the state resulted in the two never changing hands. Talgo in May 2014 rolled the trains out of Milwaukee, ending the company’s operations in the city. They remain in storage in northern Indiana, Pines said. With the lawsuit cleared up, Talgo can now advance efforts to sell them, potentially to another state, for passenger service.

Wisconsin, under the settlement agreement, can collect up to 30 percent of the price of their sale, not counting any costs Talgo takes on to prepare the vehicles for sale and close the deal, Pines said. Depending on the final sale price, the state can collect up to $9.75 million, which represents its final payment owed to Talgo under the manufacturing contract.
So that brings the total price tag taxpayers have given as a result of Walker's pose to $62 million, and what did we end up with? NOTHING, including no commercial train service for the fastest-growing city in Madison that's filled with tens of thousands of non-driving college students (Madison), and the need for the state to pick up the tab for future rail upgrades, instead of using the new lines for freight as well as passenger rail.

We also found out this week about another example of the WisGOP crew’s “fiscal prudence,” and it included another higher-than-expected bill for the taxpayers.
The state paid the Michigan law firm of Dykema Gossett $2.2 million to advise the Walker administration on the Menominee tribe's application to open the off-reservation casino and for other legal work involving tribal casinos, according to figures released Wednesday in response to an open records request by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel....

The firm also represented the state during an arbitration hearing over language in the Potawatomi compact dealing with how the tribe would be reimbursed if it lost business to a new competitor, Boldrey said, noting that some of the fees were used to pay expert witnesses.

Dykema also used $473,808 of the cash it collected from Wisconsin to pay Nathan Associates, a California consulting firm that studied the economic impact of the proposed Menominee casino.

When Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch in December 2013 first said the administration would be hiring outside counsel, he said the contract would be capped at $500,000, although he noted that limit could be increased.
Funny how these consultant contracts always end up more than expected, doesn’t it? It literally pays to have connections in Fitzwalkerstan.

We the taxpayer shelled out for that, only to find all of that analysis took a back seat once Scott Walker decided to curry favor with fundies in Iowa and shoot down the casino anyway. So workers and taxpayers got next to nothing in return for this effort, other than more money taken out of their pockets and into the hands of a connected law firm and their connected consultants in California.

And these two examples are far from the only ones where Walker has thrown away taxpayer dollars on purely political motives. This includes having to give $1.1 million to the Wisconsin ACLU as the WisGOP Department of Justice tried to fight against marriage equality, more than $2 million to Michael, Best and Friedrich and other law firms for their secret, off-site redistricting work in 2011, and the hundreds of DOJ person-hours wasted from 2013 to 2015 on unconstituitional arrests of protestors in the State Capitol.

This is why it is insulting when you hear Walker and the Wisconsin GOP claim they don’t have the money to invest in education or local roads. The money is there, it’s just being thrown at other things as a result of this administration’s pig-headed desire to impose its power and ideology any chance that it can. And they've done it without regard to the very-predictable future costs and damages that results from these selfish, political actions.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another WIs jobs report has "Good, Bad and Ugly"

It's been a bit buried with the release of the Marquette Law Poll showing our Fair Guv with a 39% approval rating, but there was another monthly Wisconsin jobs report released this afternoon from the Department of Workforce Development. It showcased a mixed bag, with good topline numbers, and not so good figures behind the numbers.

The good- Solid gains in July, as there was a seasonally-adjusted gain of 12,400 total jobs, and 8,200 private sector jobs. There was growth among most sectors of the state's economy, and manufacturing gained 1,700 jobs, after not adding any jobs in that area since January. The increase in government jobs by 4,200 is a bit misleading, because much of that is due to lower-than-normal July layoffs, but all in all, these figures are pretty good, and a major change from the downward trend we had been on in prior months.

The bad- Those July gains were from a much lower level, as June’s jobs figures were revised down by 4,800 overall, and 4,300 in the private sector, with over half the revised losses were in the tourist-driven Leisure and Hospitality sector (the same sector dropped 700 additional jobs in July). These revisions mean Wisconsin LOST 12,800 private-sector jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in the four months between February and June. It also means the private sector Walker jobs gap has grown from what we knew it to be yesterday, and is now past 97,000.

The bad June numbers also likely drop Wisconsin to dead last in the Midwest for job growth the first half of this year, as we only gained 5,200 jobs in the first 6 months of 2015. This is after coming in dead last over the first 4 years of the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

The ugly- The trend of Wisconsinites dropping out the work force continues. 7,500 more people left the Wisconsin work force in July, and June’s already-huge decline went from 11,200 to 11,400. The total drop in the work force is over 48,000 from the peak that was reported, in January 2015, and it’s the lowest it’s been since April 2012. The number of Wisconsinites listed as “employed” has dropped by nearly 39,000 since February, and is only 2,000 more than it was 12 months ago, which is a far cry from the addition of 40,000 jobs being put in the monthly report (a number that will likely be revised down itself, as I noted yesterday).

Sure, the work force dropouts allow Gov Walker to hide behind a talking point of “4.6% unemployment in Wisconsin,” but if we’d kept the workforce at the same levels we had back in January, and these employment numbers were the same, our unemployment rate would be 6.1%, and not 4.6%.

As I’ve said before, the only reason Wisconsin’s unemployment rate isn’t jumping in 2015 is because people are RETIRING AND/OR LEAVING IN DROVES. At some point, this reality has to reflect in continued slower growth, or the labor force snaps back and drives the unemployment rate higher. Neither will help the argument that Scott Walker is trying to sell to the out-of-state rubes on the campaign trail.

So one good month of July job growth doesn’t come close to making up for a horrendous first half of 2015 in Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see how this measures up when the state-by-state figures are released tomorrow by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as you’d have to think we measure up terribly, since the country was adding well over 200,000 jobs a month in that same time period. And with teaching shortages abounding, Summer job season ending, and the stock market tumbling, I don’t see where a spark comes that can shake this state out of its fiscal and economic doldrums, certain not with this regressive rew of lawmakers in charge.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Surprise Wis jobs release tries to conceal more failure

With a raft of economic and poll data coming out in the coming days and weeks in Wisconsin, I found it very intriguing that Scott Walker's Department of Workforce Development sent this out a day ahead of the monthly jobs report that hits tomorrow.
New quarterly census job count data shows Wisconsin gained almost 40,000 private-sector jobs from March 2014 to March 2015, including almost 6,300 jobs in manufacturing. In addition, quarterly wages by covered private-sector employers grew by 4.5 percent over the same quarter in 2014.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) today released the state's Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages (QCEW) covering the first quarter of 2015. The data is based on actual job reports from over 135,000 Wisconsin employers.
At first glance, that seems pretty good, since the last "gold standard" QCEW report had Wisconsin adding 35,759 in the previous 12-month period, and because the lowest amount of total jobs usually happen in the first three months of the year, it means Wisconsin's rate of growth picked up to its fastest levels over the last 3 years measured.

Without context, these improving job stats would lead to an argument that Wisconsin's economy was finally turning the corner in early 2015. BUUUUT, we know there is context that has to be said, and it makes these QCEW figures look even much less impressive. First of all, the U.S. job market was still growing much faster than Wisconsin was in this time period - with private sector growth peaking at around 2.6%, well above Wisconsin's 1.72%. And this type of lagging also likely means Wisconsin continued to be in the bottom half of job growth in the U.S. when the nationwide QCEW figures get released next month, which will be yet another strike going against the Walker 2016 campaign.

Even more alarming is that the QCEW's tale of job growth is much less than what was being reported in the monthly jobs reports that came out of the DWD back in Spring.

Wisconsin job growth Mar 2014 - Mar 2015
Monthly report private +48,200
QCEW report private +39,652 (-8,548)

Monthly report total +53,300
QCEW report total +39,599 (-13,701)

That's quite a big difference, and likely means that Wisconsin's monthly job totals will be revised down early next year, which would make the already-huge Walker jobs gap even larger. That number stood at well over 96,000 private sector jobs after June's report and the U.S.'s upward revisions, and we find out tomorrow if it got even bigger in July. As you can see in this chart, we'll need another 4,500 private sector jobs added in tomorrow's report just to keep pace.

And the fact that the always-political Walker DWD chose to release the QCEW figures a day before that regular report should give you pause. They usually just include it as part of the regular release, which indicates they wanted the news to talk about this separately from the July jobs report, and get some positive headlines ahead of the Marquette Law Poll that also comes out midday tomorrow. Think these guys might have an idea that both of tomorrow's reports won't reflect very well on the Dear Leader?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Outside of super-rich, few Wisconsinites will get tax, fee breaks

Even though the state budget was signed over a month ago, there are still recent releases that are putting some of the last-minute tax moves into perspective. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently put out its report on tax and fee changes in the 2015-17 state budget, and you will find that Walker’s budget actual did raise net taxes and fees, albeit by a small amount in a total budget of more than $73 billion.
In summary, the changes included in Act 55 [the state budget] would increase net taxes by $19,205,000 ($30,145,000 in 2015-16 and -$10,940,000 in 2016-17) and would increase net fees by $10,046,600 ($4,057,500 in 2015-16 and $5,989,100 in 2016-17). In addition, it is estimated that measures included in AB 21to enhance the collection of current taxes would generate an additional $124,710,000 ($35,270,000 in 2015-16 and $89,440,000 in 2016-17).
The largest share of the fee increases come from $7.7 million in raised admission fees to State Parks, Forests and Trails, along with higher camping fees on those lands. The budget bill also has $1.45 million in additional surcharges/fines that are slapped onto refunds of fraudulent unemployment payments, as well as $1.41 million from a $50 additional surcharge for DUI convictions, which will go to the state’s Safe-Ride Program. Also noteworthy is the largest decrease, a $2.1 million reduction due to a cut of $75 on the fee assessed to health care providers to give data to the Department of Health Services.

As for the $19.2 million in tax "increases" - most of it is actually made up of limitations of certain corporate tax cuts. One is a pause in the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit, which puts off a cut in that tax rate by 0.501% for this tax year, and adds $16.8 million in revenue for this fiscal year (but has a larger cut coming to make up for it in 2016). Another is $21.8 million resulting from a 2-year delay in a 2014 bill that allowed lenders to get refunds of sales taxes paid in cases of bad debt (seems like a very narrow giveaway). Very few areas in this budget have actual increases in tax rates compared to prior years, but instead are modifications from previous giveaways that have blown such a hole in current and future budgets.

Those budget holes also limited the chances for the Wisconsin GOP to throw in even more tax cuts, but a couple of initiatives got through that’ll have a bigger punch in the future. Steven Walters at Urban Milwaukee has a good rundown on these new tax measures, and while many of these will be familiar to you, it is nice to see it all in one place.

Here are the largest-ticket tax breaks that were included in the budget.
*More than 690,000 taxpayers will get a new tax break worth a total of $21 million, but not until they file 2016 income taxes. The first step on fixing the so-called “marriage penalty” will only be worth about $30 per taxpayer, however.

*About 35,000 tax filers will save about $24.2 million when they file their 2017 income taxes, because they will no longer be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Without that new break, the number of taxpayers owing the AMT would have soared from 7,656 in tax year 2012 to 38,500 in tax year 2017. As a result of the change, about 2,100 taxpayers will pay the AMT in tax year 2017.
Of course, this AMT tax cut was the fallout from prior WisGOP tax cuts which reduced the rates on upper-income Wisconsinites, forcing many more of these richer Wisconsinites to be susceptible to the AMT. Both I and the Wisconsin Budget Project have previously noted that this “make-up” bill on the AMT ends up almost exclusively helps Wisconsinites who make over $200,000.

This revenue cut from the AMT change is relatively small for the 2015-17 budget, but the hole gets much larger in the next budget, as the Fiscal Bureau notes:
When fully implemented in the 2017-19 biennium, these provisions would reduce income tax collections by an estimated $25.4 million in 2017-18 and $29.9 million in 2018-19.
But that $55 million budget hole does’t seem to faze State Rep. Dale (Koo-Koo) Kooyenga, who was the heaviest promoter of this AMT tax cut. In his typical smug style, Koo-Koo gets off a partisan shot in Walters’ column, and somehow exempts himself and the Wisconsin GOP from the screw-up that resulted from the previous rounds of Koo-Koo tax cuts that he and his party voted for.
"Politicians didn’t realize what they had created," Kooyenga said. "Not a single Democrat understands the AMT."
Dale’s such a silly boy. This Dem understands the AMT completely- it’s designed to make sure rich people don’t avoid paying income taxes. And this situation presents itself because the rich and connected are more able to lobby for, create, and take advantage of targeted tax breaks than the average everyday worker does. Your reckless tax cutting policies may have convinced enough rubes to vote GOP in 2014, but it sure screwed up things for now and the future.

Call me crazy, but maybe Koo-Koo should worry a bit more about delivering an economy that’s going to grow rather than come up with new ways for his rich campaign contributors to game the tax code. Especially when the “solutions” to rigging the tax code in favor of the lobbying classes ends up gutting services and raising taxes and fees for the everyday Wisconsinite, and stagnating the state’s job and wage growth.

Wisconsin housing bubble = higher property taxes this winter?

A couple of interesting items have recently hit regarding Wisconsin’s housing market, and the change in property values that have resulted from that. The first is the recent release of the Department of Revenue’s list of equalized values for every Wisconsin community (feel free to click here to download it, and see how your community did).

With the release of the DORreport, the Wisconsin Taxpayers’ Alliance summarized these figures last Wednesday. WisTAX notes that total property values throughout the state are up for 2015, but still are about 4.6% below the pre-recession peak value in 2008. The Taxpayers’ Alliance also noted the differences within the state on the property value list.
Value changes were far from uniform across the state. Among the state’s 20 largest cities, only Beloit (5.9%) and Kenosha (5.2%) had growth above 5%. Eau Claire (4.5%), Madison (4.3%), and La Crosse (3.6%) rounded out the top five. Most large cities in the Fox Valley recorded increases in the 2.5% range. The exception was Oshkosh.

In addition to Oshkosh, values in six other large cities fell. With the exception of Wausau (-0.7%), all were in the industrial southeast. The state’s largest city, Milwaukee, was off slightly (-0.6%), though municipalities in its suburban ring generally grew, save Greenfield (-0.2%).

The state’s 40 most populous counties reflected regional trends found in major cities. Counties in the west and northwest generally outperformed the state, with the Twin Cities’ bedroom counties of Pierce (6.7%) and St. Croix (6.2%) leading the wayEau Claire, Chippewa, and Dunn counties all increased over 4%.
And if the newly-released home sales report from the Wisconsin Realtors Association is any indication, those values will continue to go up in the near future. The WRA's July report says sales are up by double-digits in the state for 2015, with values also rising, and the Realtors are warning potential home-buyers that markets near bigger cities are in bubble conditions getting tighter.
Every region of the state was up in July, with the strongest growth seen in the Northeast region where sales grew 30.3 percent compared to July 2014 as well as the South Central region where sales were up 21.8 percent over that same period. Other strong regions were the West, up 14.6 percent; the North, up 2.5 percent; and the Southeast, up 11.9 percent. Modest growth was also recorded in the Central region, which was up 5.8 percent.

July saw median prices grow 3.8 percent relative to last July. “While median prices have been growing throughout the year, it’s actually good to see the pace settle down a bit,” said WRA President and CEO Michael Theo. For the first half of the year, median prices increased 6.9 percent, which could ultimately erode affordability in the state if this trend continues. "Fortunately the minor changes in prices coupled with slight improvements in mortgage rates and income levels have kept affordability almost unchanged over the year," said Theo. The Wisconsin Housing Affordability Index shows the percent of the median-priced home that a buyer with a 20 percent down payment and median family income can qualify to purchase. The index stood at 218 in July, which is nearly identical to its level during July last year.

Although new listings of homes for sale are up slightly for the year, they dipped somewhat in July, which put some pressure on inventories. "The supply of available housing continues to tighten and has become a more serious problem in the cities," said Theo. Available inventory is down 14 percent to 8.7 months statewide, but counties that are part of metropolitan areas had just 6.5 months of available supply in July, which will continue to put upward pressure on home prices. REALTORS® advise that buyers in such markets will need to consider what the market might look like a year from now. "There are still great opportunities out there, but buyers need to be prepared to move quickly when the opportunity presents itself," said Theo. "Working with an experienced REALTOR® who knows the local neighborhood remains the best way to identify the best values in a tight housing market," he said.
A standout in that home sales report is St. Croix County, which is home to many Twin Cities commuters, which not only has been a big contributor to the strong numbers in 2015, but also has had massive increases throughout the last 4 years in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

St. Croix County home sales and prices
Year-to-date, Jan-July 2015 vs 2014
Home sales +18.2%
Median Home sales price +12.8% (+$23,100, to $203,000)

2011 vs 2015
Home sales +66.2% year-to-date
Median Home sales price July 2015 vs July 2011 +40.4% (+$61,000)

Somehow, I didn't see a reference to the boom in St. Croix County when Gov Walker unveilied his ridiculous, unfunded health care plan across the river in Minnesota today. It's understandable, as it shows just how well the Twin Cities metro area and Minnesota as a whole has been economically outperforming Wisconsin (with the possible exception of us hippies in Madison).

The kicker in these rising home sales and prices is that there could be some sticker shock when Wisconsinites get their property tax bills this November. Yes, the increase in home sales may spread some of these extra costs and burdens around, if it reflects new houses being built in an area. But when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau made its projections of Wisconsin tax bills last month (with a whopping tax cut of $3 expected over the next 2 years) , they anticipated only a 2.5% increase on the median home value for this year, and 3.2% for next year. Obviously, if values go up more than that, it would seem that total property taxes paid would also be likely to go up (especially if new construction is part of that increase, since total levies are given more room to go up if new construction goes up).

Let’s also note that if sales prices for a home in a certain community keep going up, that makes it likely for assessments for other nearby homes also will go up, which also could lead to a surprise property tax increase for this year and/or next year. So while Gov Walker may be trying to claim that he’s presided over property tax cuts in his time in office, let us not forget that many of those lower taxes were because of lower property values that we are just now recovering from. In addition many of those tax reductions were the result of unfunded gimmicks (like the $406 million giveaway to tech colleges and the increased school levy credit in this budget) that have led to future budget cuts and reductions in services, which are now causing serious damage to Wisconsin’s economy and its economic competitiveness.

So let’s see if Wisconsin’s housing bubble continues to grow in the coming months, and what effect that’ll have both on homeowners, as well as struggling local governments that are seeing increases in needs, but aren’t getting increases in aid from the state. It may lead to a very different reality than the one Scott Walker is trying to sell outside of Wisconsin.