Monday, July 26, 2010

A Crumbling County Executive

Scott Walker repeatedly cut maintenance funds from the Milwaukee County budget.

These budgetary decisions were supposedly examples of tough choices and leadership.

Then part of a parking structure caused a horrible tragedy and now a panel at the airport hit a teen in the head. Not to mention the other known infrastructure issues the County has ignored over the years to which they've simply applied the patch and pray method.

Now Walker plans to include $1.5 million in his 2011 budget for an assessment of County buildings. Chris Liebenthal, at Milwaukee County First, feels past Walker budgeting was merely a political ploy. It seems Walker's latest $1.5 million proposal is more of the same.

I'm sure Walker's recommendation will be for the State or municipalities to take over maintenance. (But, if he became governor whom would he pass the responsibility onto?)

Walker has left the County in shambles, as we're discovering more and more each day. Plus, this alleged anti-tax crusader was the biggest spender amongst himself, Governor Doyle, and Mayor Barrett. Walker's campaign drivel is more a fanciful narrative and flat-out lies rather than any true depiction of reality or the actual consequences of his policies (just like Republican policies in general).

For Further Reading:
Democrats Are Better For The Economy
Economy Fares Better Under Democrats
Five Questions For Scott Walker
Partisan Politics & U.S. Income Distribution
Poor Infrastructure Fails America
Small Government Facade Falls In Milwaukee
Small Government Rhetoric, Our Infrastructure Is Falling Apart Around Us
Stock Markets Historically Do Better Under Democrats
U.S. Infrastructure Crumbling

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Having It Both Ways

The Journal Sentinel sure has been talking the 'big spender' game lately. Often, the self-proclaimed Watchdog is preaching about cutting government spending, firing public workers, pretty much bashing anything the public sector does (other than corporate welfare).

They've discussed Misplaced Priorities, regarding the maintenance of public infrastructure. They've talked of Maintenance Required concerning our roadways. In The Bigger Concern, they even proclaim the government should spend now, rather than institute a period of austerity, to help the economy.

Quite the flip-flop for the tax-averse newspaper. Yet, I haven't seen any articles speaking of the need for increased taxes to help pay for these needs. (I've actually never seen an honest discussion of taxes in the Journal.)

It's not class warfare to say the rich should pay more. Especially in times of war and dire need. Decades ago some felt it was their duty to their country to help, to give back. If you can afford to, you should pay more.

So, how can the Journal be for all these public projects without also supporting the tax dollars which allow such? And, maybe if they extolled the virtues of everyone paying their fair share, our infrastructure wouldn't be in such sorry shape, because we'd have the tax dollars to have properly-maintained and world-class amenities.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Democrats: Better On Taxes

Some interesting facts from a Bruce Murphy April 2010 post:
  • Wisconsin's total tax burden is lower than it has been since 1962
  • Wisconsin ranks 26th in total spending and 19th in total taxes and fees
  • When taking Federal aid into account, Wisconsin's total spending ranks 32nd
  • When only taxes and not fees are considered, Wisconsin ranks 14th
  • Wisconsin has ranked comparatively low in total business taxes ever since the 1970s
  • Governor Doyle has been considerably more frugal than Tommy Thompson (Scott Walker voted for all of Thompson's budgets)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scott Walker: The Failure

County Could Face Another Budget Crisis In 2010
Different View On The State Of The County
Fact-Checking Scott Walker
Lipstick On A Pig: The Scott Walker Story
Political Environment: Scott Walker
Process Of Elimination
Scott Walker: Milwaukee County In Shambles, Give Me The State
Scott Walker's Slippery Rhetoric
Walker Hits The Trail Again
Walker Lives Large As Workers Get The Shaft
Walker Spending Increase Eclipsed Doyle, Barrett

Weekend Reading

Social Security Crisis? Not If Wealthy Pay Their Way

Foreign Policy:
BP In The Gulf - The Persian Gulf
Iran & Guatemala, 1953-54
Regime Change: The Legacy

Move To The City

Joel Kotkin is trying to revise the recent history of increasing city populations, awareness of sprawl, and the actual negatives associated with suburbs. He published a diatribe filled with half-truths and misinformation, The myth of the back-to-the-city migration, recently in the Wall Street Journal. Kotkin feels there is a war against suburbia. Although, more so, it seems, he's out to attack any positive growth and reporting regarding cities. His attitude, is generally, 'the suburbs have won, they are the optimal living arrangement, let's not upset the natural order.'

Just as the move to the suburbs was a decades-long metamorphosis, the movement back to cities is also going to take time. Kotkin quotes Wendell Cox's (a thoroughly debunked quack and privatization proponent) numbers regarding permit counts before and after 2008 as further evidence of the myth of city growth. Permit counts have dropped. I guess he hasn't heard we're in a recession. Permit counts have dropped everywhere. We have, in general, overcapacity, particularly in real estate - overbuilding. Which leads us to Kotkin's next jewel of evidence - condos.

He repeatedly touts the overbuilt condo environment as evidence that the return the the city will be short-lived. Are there no condos in the suburbs? Also, what about the increased vacant commercial space in the suburbs? Does that mean the growth period for suburban business is over? This all is more correctly simply the story of overbuilding, common during periods of manias and bubbles.

Kotkin quips about "mislead developers" and the "subsidies lavished on many [city] projects." He always conveniently ignores the subsidization that has been almost completely responsible for suburbs. Yes, let's bash environmentally conscientious (dense) projects in cities, and projects contributing to the economic engine of most metro economies - the city. Better we keep sprawling, paving over land, and polluting the environment, all in the most inefficient and irresponsible manner possible.

We have been handcuffed by an auto-centric, suburban lifestyle over the last half-century. To claim this a "preference" is a jump in logic. People used to flock to trains in the late 19th and early 20th century. As auto companies tore up rail lines, and the Federal government subsidized highways, people started driving more. This was primarily a policy choice, not a public choice. As we reconfigure rail transportation to connect metro areas and regions, density will be reinstated near stations (transit oriented development) and in cities as it had in the past.

With gas prices inevitably rising and highway commutes becoming more time-consuming, people are rediscovering denser city living, with closer proximity to jobs and everyday activities. As evidenced by suburban edge cities having actually seen the steepest decline in real estate values.

Endless highway building and unmitigated sprawl are dinosaurs. The cries of the likes of Kotkin, Cox, et al, are the last whimpers of the out-of-touch and those unable to adapt to the new metropolitan realities. Rather than forming constructive ideas - helping to make suburban areas denser and connected within regions to other cities by rail - these suburban advocates would rather pretend this is still the 1950s. The end of these misguided voices influencing development policy will be an welcome extinction.

For Further Reading:
Blood On The Tracks
New Milwaukeeans
Responding To Critics Toolkit
Response To Wendell Cox
Suburban Cowboys
Suburban Office Construction, Vacancy Hurting
Suburbs Struggle With Industrial Blight
Vacancy Rates Climb

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Self-Indulgent Swindler

Poor Big Business, our mean ole' President is out to get them. At least that's what John Torinus is whining about (yet again!). He claims President Obama does not like business and there has been over-regulation due to the financial crisis.

As Paul Krugman explains, U.S corporate taxation is not overly burdensome compared with other countries. Krugman's latest column also highlights the fact that corporate profits are up 44% from the previous year.

Paul Volcker stated, “The thing went from what is best to what could be passed," regarding new financial regulation. Russ Feingold said, ""It doesn't do the job, and I'm not going to be part of basically defrauding the American people into thinking it does."

Torinus throws in the ludicrous claim, "Tommy Thompson was a governor in the 1990s who understood pro-business policies, but also the value of positive signals and strokes." Tommy Thompson left office with a $3.2 billion deficit. Oh yes, quite the businessman. Even during the second most horrific recession this country has seen, the current state deficit is just $2.7 billion.

These are simply more tactics and propaganda of the Coddled Class trying to protect the status quo. Everyone is out to get them. Taxes have their hands tied. They've done nothing to give us reason to question their intentions nor motives.

Other than their corruption, fraud, and greed that has sunk the world economy and led to the most inequitable situation this country has seen since the Gilded Age.

Torinus and his ilk want to dismantle social programs, punish public workers, relieve themselves from paying taxes, and have their profits assured into perpetuity (at taxpayer's and worker's expense).

More On Torinus' Misinformation:
Obama Making Corporate Hacks Nervous
Torinus' Taxed Reality

Sewage Squabble

I often hear comments about how disgusting it is, and sad, that Milwaukee dumps sewage into the Lake during heavy rainfall. Often implying that Milwaukee is unique in such a practice.

What these people, and I assume many others, are unaware of is that "a third of U.S. sewer systems are operating beyond their capacity and are regularly dumping waste into rivers and lakes."

This is a national issue, aggravated by sprawl. The more we pave over the land, it's ability to absorb declines significantly, and our waterways suffer.

Forum Unable To Avert Recession

Tom Daykin reports the findings of a new study of the Main Street Milwaukee program, conducted by the Public Policy Forum, shows the program has unclear goals and is in poor condition.

The study focuses on the years 2005 through 2009. Now, the program may have coordination, funding, and vision issues. But to draw any definitive conclusions from data gathered in which half of the years being studied were recessionary is unfair.

To knock business and job creation during such a period is ridiculous. Is the Public Policy Forum unaware that the country, and the world, has been losing jobs? Do they really believe "more expertise in economic development" would have changed the program's outcomes during this recession?

This is analogous to saying the Public Policy Forum is failing the public because it hasn't developed public policies to help Milwaukee avoid the negative consequences of the recession. So, according to their own logic, the funders of the Forum should demand more accountability of the Forum managers, hire people with more public policy expertise, and specify the Forum's mission.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Irish Cultural And Heritage Center

The Irish Center Faces Loss of Building.

Times are tough, but please do/give all you can to help a beautiful, architecturally significant building and important community center.

Irish Cultural & Heritage Center
2133 W. Wisconsin
Milwaukee, WI 53233

Milwaukee Should Focus On Infrastructure

The Journal Sentinel has recently wondered Does Milwaukee Have Enough College Graduates To Thrive? and also claimed that To Prosper, Milwaukee Should Focus On Degrees.

I'm not arguing against going to college or against education, in general. But the 'education as a silver bullet' to all our problems has been oversimplified and oversold.

As I have written before, "Most of the new jobs being created require an associate's degree or less. 85 percent of the population in the U.S. has at least a high school degree. Over 27 percent has a bachelor's. The percentage of high school and college graduates has increased since 2000. We have neither an unskilled nor an uneducated workforce. Education as a corrective to the employment problem seems minimally significant."

The so-called "skills crisis" is a myth. Some of this push toward getting more degrees and college graduates seems more of a PR push for diploma mills. Which is what our technical colleges and universities are becoming. We're graduating students and training workers for jobs that aren't there. It may be that we need to reconfigure our curriculum to fit more with the needs of the marketplace, than just continuing to garner degrees.

Milwaukee's percentage obtaining a bachelors degree, among different cohorts, is as follows: 18-24 years old, 8.4%; 25 and over, 13.6%; 25-34, 25.1%; 35-44, 21.7%; 45-64, 20%; 65 and over, 11.9%.

The City of Milwaukee's population ranks only 26th among American cities. Yet, the Daily Beast recently ranked Milwaukee the 15th smartest city in America. Milwaukee ranks 25th in bachelor and graduate degree density per square mile.

The 10 most literate cities are all blue cities with progressive taxation and modern infrastructure. We need the infrastructure and environment where research and innovation can thrive. As Marc Levine, UWM Professor of History, stated (when asked what should be done to close the education gap), "Maintain infrastructure investments (transportation, parks, etc.) vital to neighborhood quality of life."

It's great to have a highly educated workforce. But they need employment. A knowledgeable workforce is only a benefit if it can be put to use.

For Further Reading:
America's Smartest Cities

Weekend Reading

Health Care:
U.S. Ranks Last In Health Care

Real Estate:
Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are The Rich

As Oil Industry Fights A Tax, It Reaps Subsidies
What Oil & Gas Companies Extract - From The American Public

Corporate Loopholes:
Will The Carried Interest Loophole Finally Be Closed?
Loopholes For Subchapter S Corporation Will Not Help Small Businesses

Income & Taxation:
All Americans Pay Taxes
Art Laffer: Make Up Your Own Facts Here
CBO Data On Taxes And Income

Budgets & Unemployment:
What Is Driving State Budget Woes? Unemployment
Unemployment, Not Budget Practices, To Blame For State Woes

The Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries

Urban Issues:
Downtown Population Boom
Foreclosures Point To Waning Of The Suburban Era
Sprawling Cities Experience Hotter Summer Temperatures
Suburban Population Growth Slows

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pension Petulance

Mike Nichols, former Journal Sentinel columnist turned Wisconsin Policy Research Institute talking-point parrot, derides public workers (a common Journal Sentinel theme) in a recent Journal opinion piece.

Nichols and WPRI are trying to get the 'get rid of pensions' scheme out in front of the Scott Walker campaign. One of Walker's big, budget-saving ideas is to have public workers pick up a greater share of their pension cost. Basically, transforming the pension system into a defined contribution - 401K-style - plan.

Nichols scornfully claims, "Chances are also pretty good that if you had a government job in Wisconsin and are 63, you've already been retired - and collecting a nice, big, taxpayer-funded pension - for years." He is upset that people whom have worked at their job for 25 to 30 years can retire with some peace of mind. The implication here is that public workers perform unnecessary and unproductive jobs, hardly worthy of a decent retirement.

He then makes mention of his "paltry, private sector 401(K)." He doesn't mention that the 401K system is relatively new, since roughly 1980. (A period including numerous other unfortunate policy choices which Jacob Hacker discusses in The Great Risk Shift.) This began a rapid shift from employer based, defined benefit plans, to employee managed, personal retirement accounts. The 401K originally came about as a 1978 congressional provision intended to offer tax breaks on deferred income; which tends to benefit wealthy individuals.

Also, just as public workers have chosen better benefits over hourly wages, Nichols along with other private sector workers could have done the same - that is, work in the public sector. Recent studies have concluded, when considering total compensation among similar aged and experienced private and public sector workers, public sector workers earn less.

He insists the French have to work until they're 62, and the Germans until they're 67. Thus, Nichols admonishes Wisconsin public workers for having it better than the "debt-riddle Europeans." In one sentence he inaccurately bashes Wisconsin public workers while incorrectly generalizing about "debt-riddled Europeans."

From this fantasy he has created he concludes, Wisconsin is a "social welfare state." Mike has been watching too much Glenn Beck.

His last deception is the claim that we have a well-funded pension system thanks to taxpayers. Although, collected taxes fund government, our pension system is well-funded because of wise investment decisions. While others made risky bets and lost money during the recent economic downturn, our system has stayed strong, or "well-funded." Wisconsin is one of only four states with a fully funded pension system, according to the Pew Research Center.

It's amazing that we can be in the most severe recession since the Great Depression and our media and "senior fellows" are decrying public worker retirement plans. No mention of CEO compensation, bank bailouts, income inequality, corporate tax breaks and evasion, nor unaffordable health care. No, those are the concerns of "the little people." And, discussing such in a public forum, like a major metropolitan newspaper, might actually draw some attention to such inequity.

That's no good. Better to just keep battering the middle and working class of society. And, better yet, to keep the middle and working classes battling each other...instead of reclaiming their productivity gains from the uber wealthy.

The Watchdog that is the Journal Sentinel seems more concerned with protecting wealth (or at least ensuring there is always enough public money available for private speculation) than with ensuring equality of opportunity and fairness.

For Further Reading:

Obama, The Conservative?

[From the Dylan Ratigan Show] President Obama out-conservatives the conservatives.