Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wisconsin Reading

Minnesota, Wisconsin Diverge As Twin Cities Outpace Northern Peers
Scott Walker Dramatically Rewrites Election Rules In Wisconsin
Wisconsin Ranks 32nd In Five-Year Job Growth Report
Medicaid Expansion Would Save State $1 Billion
Walker's Assault On Open Records
Walker Signs Bills Dismantling GAB, Overhauling Campaign Finance Law

Walker's Grasp On Reality Even More Tenuous Than Previously Thought

In an article for the Journal Sentinel, The Wisconsin Comeback, Scott Walker repeated familiar talking points and platitudes. According to Walker, Wisconsin is flourishing.

The Journal Sentinel has their own editorial, Another Lousy Wisconsin Jobs Report and Little Action on Job Creation.
A new government report shows that our state ranked 32nd in private-sector job growth among the 50 states in the five-year period that ended in June. That's the entire recovery period since the last recession. 
Private-sector hiring in Wisconsin grew just 7.6% during those five years, far behind the national growth of 11.2% and behind nearby Midwestern states. Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa and Illinois all did better.
Joel Rogers (the Sewell-Bascom Professor of Law, Political Science, Public Affairs and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and director of the Center On Wisconsin Strategy) added:
According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, Wisconsin now leads the nation in destroying its middle class. Defining "middle-class households" as those with income 67% to 200% of their state's median, Pew showed Wisconsin leading all other states in the 2000-2013 period in its rate of loss...
Median worker wages here, for example, are now $17.38 an hour. In inflation-corrected terms, that's up only 71 cents from 35 years ago — equivalent to an increase of only 2 cents a year — despite a near doubling of worker productivity over the period. Job growth has been pathetic, among the worst in the nation. If Wisconsin had merely kept pace with the rest of the country's recovery from the Great Recession, we'd have 90,000 more jobs today than we do.
And job quality is through the floor. More than a quarter (27%) of Wisconsin workers now make $11.55 or less an hour. A full-time year-round job at that wage is not enough to keep a four-person family out of poverty, even on America's distinctively stingy definition of the poverty line.
In the sense that 'comeback' usually has a positive connotation, I don't think 'comeback' means what Scott Walker thinks it means. Hopefully Wisconsin can comeback from the Walker 'comeback'.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Wisconsin Reading

Scott Walker's Food Stamp Cuts Are Coming To A State Near You
In Wisconsin, Little Conserved By Radical Conservatives
Fewer Teachers, Less Experienced Teachers Mean Challenges for Wisconsin's Public Schools
Wisconsin's Public Sector is Leanest in Two Decades
Wisconsin Has Far Fewer State Employees Than Most States
Scott Walker Signs Bill Limiting Doe Probes As Records Are Released
The Use and Disclosure of Personal Email in the Walker Administration
"Wisconsin is Moving in the Right Direction"
Wisconsin Government Revenue is Not Out of Line
Slay The Wisconsin Gerrymander
Wisconsin Not High in Taxes, Spending
WEDC May Have Illegally Awarded $21 Million in Tax Credits
Wisconsin's Position Again Inflated in a Tax Ranking
Discovery of Census Flub Tempers State's Tax Hell Status

More On The Milwaukee Bucks Stadium Saga

It's time for the NBA to end its arena blackmail scam
Why Bucks' Entertainment District May Fail
Milwaukee Is Keeping Bucks, But Would It Have Been Better Off Without Them?
No, It's Not Cheaper To Keep Them
A Tale of Three Sports Facilities

Down With Wisconsin Air Quality

Brad Schimel Joins Suit Opposing Carbon Emission Limits
Wisconsin Joins Clean Air Rules Lawsuit

Interest Rates, Bureaucracy, Unionization & Inequality

Hike They Shouldn't
Principled Populism
Relationship Between US Productivity & The Decline in The Labor Share of National Income
Most Americans Get 'Free Stuff' From The Government
Hail to the Pencil Pusher
Union Power & Inequality


Molson Coors to buy full ownership of MillerCoors for $12 billion
A-B InBev to pay $107 billion to buy SABMiller

Saturday, October 31, 2015

GOP Zombies Lumber On

There is a zombie party, but it's not the GOP
"Dysfunction" was hardly the scene in the House last week as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan took hold of the speaker's gavel — an act unthinkable even to Ryan just a few weeks prior. The young, attractive Ryan always has been seen as the future of the Republican Party, able to bridge the gap between the GOP's more ardent wing and those more interested in governing. (In the end, only seven of the Tea Party's "Freedom Caucus" members voted against Ryan, proving the group's opposition to Ryan was overblown.)
WOW. Talk about trying to polish a turd. Nobody revises history quite like the Republicans.

Even Schneider, in the article, writes that Ryan becoming speaker was unthinkable weeks ago. But the Republicans did what they do best when between a rock and a hard place, a well-staged photo opportunity. Hence, even Schneider doesn't have much more to say about Ryan other than "young, attractive." Ryan's previous attempts at serious policy analysis have been shown to be nothing more than flim flam.

For the past few weeks (more so than usual), dysfunction was the entire scene for the Republicans. 20 or so presidential candidates, a Tea Party caucus holding the rest of the party hostage, and seemingly no one wanting to become the new speaker.

Paul Ryan was the only Republican left that the party felt the public may actually pay some attention to at this point. Because Ryan and Rubio are younger, the Republican party is alive and well, according to Schneider.

Schneider details how the Republican party still has a hold on America and the demise of the party is premature:
In fact, Republicans — y'know, the party that has ceased to function — currently hold majorities in the U.S. House, Senate and claim 31 governorships.
He forgets to mention much of this is due to gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. For Schneider, just like his new hero Paul Ryan, details aren't that important.

I know this is the Republican playbook - claim the opposite of reality and always act as if everything is just what the Republicans planned and wanted (and Schneider's sole purpose is to regurgitate some version of this fantasy in every article he writes). But, aren't even the conservatives getting tired of the willful distortion of reality?

Weekend Reading

The Real Reason Germs Spread in the Winter
The Links Between Gut Microbes and the Brain
The Myth of Big, Bad Gluten
The Religious Right's Big Lie About the Founding of America
You're Not Irrational, You're Quantum Probabilistic
American Failure: The 401(K)
The 401(K) Crisis is Getting Worse
Inequality in Our Retirement Accounts
The Rage of the Bankers
Why Does Wall Street Want Higher Rates?
The Stock Market is Not the Economy
The Case Against Raising Interest Rates Before Wage Growth Picks Up
The Failed Reaganomics Experiment In Kansas Keeps Getting Worse
Red States Spent $2 Billion in 2015 to Screw the Poor

Friday, October 23, 2015

Another Wisconsin Corporate Welfare Failure

Harley-Davidson plans job cuts amid decline in quarterly earnings

Here's a link to Harley-Davidson's subsidy bonanza over the years.

Wisconsin gave Harley a $25 million subsidy (corporate income tax credit, rebate or reduction) in 2010.

Sadly (for journalism), the article mentions nothing about the millions in subsidies given to Harley-Davidson.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Wisconsin's Corporate Welfare

In keeping with the theme of corporate giveaways (see the previous post), there has been a lot in the Wisconsin media lately regarding company lay offs, closings and downsizings.

Jobs Lacking After State Subsidy Of Kohl's
Joy Global To Temporarily Close Milwaukee Department, Lay Off 113 Workers
Caterpillar Plans To Cut Thousands Of Jobs As Key Markets Slow

Perplexingly, Wisconsin has also been lavishing welfare on some of these same companies as they lay off employees or fail to create the promised jobs.

Caterpillar (and former Bucyrus) has received $40 million in state and local awards (subsidies) in Wisconsin.

Kohl's has received at least $87.5 million in subsidies from Wisconsin.

Mercury Marine received $123 million. Northwestern Mutual Life $50 million. Quad Graphics $46 million. Oshkosh Corporation $36 million. Uline $18.6 million.

According to a New York Times analysis, Wisconsin spends $1.53 billion per year on subsidies.

As Badger Democracy wrote:
In total corporate incentives, Wisconsin ranks 14th overall in the nation...Of the 903 reported corporate grants listed in the Times report, 300 (nearly one-third) have come in 2011-2012 alone, during the Walker administration, primarily through the WEDC “Enterprise Zone Jobs Tax Credit.” In fact, seven of the top ten grant awards totaling over $270 million are 2011 or 2012 grants.
But we're broke, remember?

For More Information:
Discover Where Corporations are Getting Taxpayer Assistance Across the United States

About Meijer Grocery Coming To Wisconsin...

Think you'll be saving money by shopping at Meijer? Think again.

Here we have yet another large corporation using their boardroom of lawyers to lower their property taxes...which means you'll be paying more.

In a long-building tax avoidance scheme, big businesses and their lawyers, with the help of malleable appraisers and tax representatives, are turning the appraisal profession on its head.

Some basic economic principles are imbued in property appraisal. Substitution is the idea that a comparable must not only be similar physically, but also economically (similar rents, expenses, etc.).

Typically the details and length of the lease are common factors a buyer would consider when contemplating the purchase of an income-producing property. The appraisal profession typically considers the rents a property can charge an outcome of the location - the land. Now, according to the lawyers, the value is due to goodwill and other intangibles...and, conveniently, most of these aren't taxable.

Take Walgreens, a court recently ruled that sales of Walgreens weren't good comparables or good indicators of value for ... Walgreens. Typical retail, a closed Blockbuster store, and mom-and-pop stores were deemed more comparable.

The City of Milwaukee recently settled a property tax dispute, dating back to 2010, with Walgreens, on 18 of their stores. The settlement was for $3.7 million dollars.

Opinions in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the topic (incorrect grammar and all) were things like: "Is it any wonder why citizens and businesses want to get out of the City?" or "This should be good news for mayor Berrett now he has another excuse for not fixing the pot holes on almost every street in the city. Waite for him to try increasing the wheel tax again. Which reminds me is he spending any of the wheel tax money on streets."

So, giving a business a refund of $3.7 million is a reason for a business to go away? Not to mention, the $3.7 million Walgreens is not paying, now has to be paid by other citizens. When corporations avoid paying their fair share, everyone else has to pick up the slack.

Much of what this case hinges on is that fact that Walgreens claim the leases they have are not market rate and actual sales of other Walgreens are also not comparable market transactions.

On the transfer returns (which names the buyer and seller; and separates real estate, equipment and business value) for the Walgreens sales, the Property owners claimed the total sale prices were for the real estate. Plus, in their actual leases on these properties, they specifically state these are real leases and not financing instruments. [Transfer returns and court transcripts, which contain this, are public information.]

Yet, in court they have claimed just the opposite. And the judge agreed in a City of Madison v. Walgreens court case. Although, if we're going to accept these revelations as true, this means that Walgreens has submitted falsified transfer returns and entered into bogus contractual leases.

Much of how a property's value is declared is based on accounting - wherever they can shift the supposed value to lower their taxes the most (based on things like depreciation, etc.), that's where they'll enter it in the ledger. A Walgreens is built to be a Walgreens, nothing else. Just as other special purpose properties (like gas stations, car washes, etc.) are built for a specific use. The builder/owner does this because they expect a certain return on their investment at that specific site.

Walgreens feels more appropriate comparable properties, to establish the value of their properties, are vacant buildings and and other neighborhood establishments.

This is like saying to find out what my Chevy Camaro is worth I should look at what Ford Taurus' are selling for. They're both cars, right?

The court completely ignores the concept of substitution. A property is only comparable if a buyer would actually consider it as an alternative investment. A vacant store does not have the same marketability and value as a store with a 25-year lease.

If a current owner of a Walgreens store were to sell, he/she would base the sales price on what the income stream is worth - how much he/she gets from the leases. Which is why most Walgreens sell at twice what Walgreens are claiming they are worth in court.

This whole fiasco ignores the general market that is the triple-net lease, investment grade properties. These are properties under long-term leases (usually 25 years) where the tenants pay the expenses. Thus vacancy (a typical deduction from the cash flow) is non-existent for the property owner. And, expenses are minimal to non-existent since they are the responsibility of the tenant. For these reasons, the standard Walgreens drug store sells for $467 per square foot at a 5.6% capitalization rate. The minimum typical footprint of a Walgreens is 12,000 square feet; this equates to a $5,604,000 value (or a rental rate of roughly $26 per square foot).

Even though the market evidence indicates this is what typical investors buy and sell these properties for, Walgreens astonishingly claims the stores are only worth half that.

All of these factors corroborated the City's assessments on the Walgreens' properties. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the judge bought Walgreens' self-interested and contradictory argument and decided rather than comparing apples to apples, one should compare apples and rotten apples. And, because of this, my fellow taxpayers, you will pay more since Walgreens is paying less.

And taxpayers should be upset over this (and start complaining to their city attorney office to fight back against this shakedown) because the ambulance-chasing lawyers tax representatives are trying to use these same arguments all over the country on restaurants, big box stores and a whole host of other properties. Which means, in the next few years, residential home owners will be paying a lot more, while commercial property owners will laughing all the way to the bank.

And, for big boxes (like Meijer, Target, Walmart, Lowes), some courts have decided the best comparable indicators of value are vacant, or "dark", stores. Somehow, a building that is closed and out of business is a viable alternative investment to an successfully operating one.

Olivia LaVecchia has more of the gruesome details:
Figuring out the value of a property can be a complicated business. In Michigan, town and county assessors typically use a property’s construction costs, minus depreciation, as a primary metric to determine its fair market value; taxable value is half that amount. Property owners sometimes prefer, instead, to use the sale prices of comparable properties. This was the approach that Lowe’s took—with a catch. Lowe’s looked at the definition of the word “comparable,” and decided to stretch it. It said that, because big-box stores are designed to be functionally obsolescent, comparable stores are those that have been closed and are sitting empty—the “dark stores” behind this method’s name... 
It’s an established part of the big-box retail model that the boxes themselves be custom-built, cheaply constructed, and disposable. If retailers decide that they need a bigger space, it’s cheaper for them to leave the old one behind and build a new one. When Walmart, for instance, opened its wave of new, twice-the-size Supercenters across the country in 2007, it left hundreds of vacant stores behind it. This means that new, successful stores like the Marquette Lowe’s are rarely the locations that are up for sale, and that when big-box stores do come on the market, it’s because they’ve already failed or been abandoned by the retailer that built them. In other words, Lowe’s was saying, it had built a property that, despite generating roughly $30 million in annual sales for the company, had very little value, and because of that, it should get a break in its property taxes... 
Despite all of this, cities and towns continue to buy into the myth, sold to them by the mega-retailers themselves, that big-box stores spark economic development. In service of this myth, local and state governments across the country have granted at least $2.6 billion in subsidies to just six large retailers, including $160 million to Walmart and $138 million to Lowe’s, according to another study from Good Jobs First.
When these businesses use their clout to avoid taxation, all other taxpayers pay more.

For Further Reading:
For Cities, Big Box Stores Are Becoming Even More Of A Terrible Deal
Multibillion dollar Meijer, Inc. finds another way to screw Michigan cities and kids
Unfair Comparisons? Meijer, other big-box retailers use ‘dark store’ loophole to cut their Michigan property tax bills
Big box stores ringing up property tax discounts
Are big-box retailers getting a tax break at schools’ expense?

Weekend Walker Reading

How Do You Like Unions Now, Gov Walker?
Scott Walker Back GOP Plan To Overhaul Civil Service System
Board Delays Decision On Land Sale To Walker Donor
Scott Walker Can't Be President, So He's Back Ruining Wisconsin
Irrelevant Scott Walker Hits New Low
GOP Presidential Candidate Scott Walker To Propose Vast Union Restrictions
Scott Walker Proposes National Right-To-Work Law and No Bargaining For Federal Workers
Scott Walker's Exaggerated Claims Of Employment Trends In Wisconsin
Wisconsin: Where Has The Labor Force Gone?
Wisconsin Still Has High Poverty

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Poor Scotty

"Scott Walker is still a disgrace, just no longer national," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a one-line statement as news outlets began reporting Walker's exit from the campaign.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Weekend Reading

Low-Income Workers See Biggest Drop In Paychecks
What Does The Average Rent Get You In These U.S. Cities?
Donald Trump Is Rich Because His Dad Was Rich
New Study Argues Hedge Funds Are Even Worse Scam Than We Thought
A More Accurate Measure Of Economic Output
The Stock Market Is Not The Economy
Wage Growth Continues To Be The Key To Social Security Solvency
Tax Cuts Do Little To Spur Job Growth
Waukesha Doesn't Need Lake Michigan Water
Waukesha Plans For Lake Michigan Water Raises Worries
Waukesha Request For Great Lakes Water Should Be Nixed
The Antidote To Economic Anxiety Is Better Government

The Latest Walker Wrongdoings

22-Year Political Veteran Scott Walker Says He Is Not A Career Politician
Walker Scandal: Who Got Convicted and Why
Principals Decry Loss of Funding, Local Control Under Scott Walker
Ex-WEDC Employees Say Politics, Haste Tripped Up Job-Creation Agency
Here's Why Scott Walker's Harley Davidson Love Is Pretty Awkward
The Most Gerrymandered State
Why Scott Walker Is An American Dictator In Waiting
Who Is Scott Walker?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

More On Scott Walker's Stadium Corporate Welfare

Scott Walker Takes $250 Million From U. Wisconsin, Gives $250M To Billionaire Sports Team Owners
On Wednesday, Walker signed a bill that would spend $250 million of taxpayers’ money to build the new arena. Last year, the team TISI +% was purchased by two billionaire hedge fund managers, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens. In what’s become a standard ploy, the new owners threatened to move the team if they didn’t get a new arena.

As the Washington Post reported on Thursday, one of the team’s other owners is Jon Hammes, one of Walker’s top campaign fundraisers. Hammes’ son recently donated $150,000 to a pro-Walker super PAC. For the Hammes, this must feel like a pretty good return on investment: $150K plus some fundraising work in return for $250 million. (Obviously, Walker will deny that there’s been any quid pro quo. But Walker has been working on this deal for months: according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, he included $220 million in state money for the arena in his budget back in February, but state lawmakers took it out.)
Scott Walker's Misguided Stadium Deal
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday signed a bill approving $250 million in public funding for a new arena serving the Milwaukee Bucks, which seems to fly in the face of both Walker's presidential campaigning as a fiscal conservative and his insistence that there isn't enough money for things like public education or living wages. In July, when Walker signed the state's new budget, he cut funding to the University of Wisconsin by $250 million.
The usual pitfalls involved in stadium financing are apparent here: unrealistic calculations of return on investment, an underestimated true cost to taxpayers, misplaced priorities, fishy-looking political relationships. Walker can talk all he wants about lowering taxes and cutting waste, but when all is said and done and you include $174 million in bond interest over 20 years, he's sinking upwards of $400 million into a stadium for a team owned by billionaire hedge-fund managers in a state with a projected $2.2 billion deficit. Owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry will kick in $150 million, while former owner and senator Herb Kohl is contributing $100 million, but $93 million in bonds by the Wisconsin Center District will be paid for by an extension of taxes on hotel rooms, car rentals, and food and beverage sales.
Scott Walker is America’s biggest hypocrite: The “fiscal conservative” is giving $450 million to wealthy sports owners
Tomorrow, Scott Walker will stand on a stage at State Fair Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and betray virtually every conservative economic principle there is by handing out up to $450 million in taxpayer money to wealthy sports owners to pay for private infrastructure at a time when public infrastructure is crumbling.

The massive sum will go toward the building of a new sports arena for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball franchise, pleasing the team’s billionaire hedge-fund-manager owners, who threatened to move the team if they weren’t given taxpayer tribute. Conservatives in recent years have feigned concern about corporate welfare, and this deal is really the ultimate expression of it: hundreds of millions of dollars from teachers, waitresses, factory workers and shop owners funneled to pay for an aristocrat’s show palace rather than needed public service. 
Of all the things desperately wrong with this, perhaps the most salient is the fact that the “old” arena, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, is only 27 years old, inaugurated in 1988. Incredibly, this makes it the 3rd-oldest arena housing a professional basketball franchise, behind only Madison Square Garden in New York and the Oracle Arena in Oakland, both of which have been substantially renovated over the years. 
We don’t upgrade anything in this country after 27 years. There are pipes carrying water to homes that date back to the 19th century. In Milwaukee, in fact, hundreds of those pipes burst at a record pace in 2014 due to the cold weather. Seventy-one percent of Wisconsin roads are in mediocre or poor condition, and fourteen percent of its bridges are structurally unsound. If you wanted to prioritize infrastructure projects needing attention in the Badger State, “replacing the arena we built in the late 1980s” would fall down the list, somewhere below “make sure the thing Wisconsinites are riding on in cars doesn’t crash to the ground.”
Scott Walker Push For Milwaukee Bucks Arena Subsidy Could Benefit His Fundraising Chief
Real estate mogul Jon Hammes, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes, is a prominent member of the investor group that owns Milwaukee’s NBA team. Last week CNN reported that he also will serve as the Walker campaign’s national finance co-chairman. Days after that appointment, Walker’s Republican allies in the Wisconsin state Senate backed the governor’s proposal to spend public funds on a new arena for the Bucks.

In his speech announcing his presidential candidacy, Walker presented himself as a free-market conservative and derided what he called a “top-down, government-knows-best approach” to economic policymaking. Hammes serves on the board of a conservative think tank called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute that says “competitive free markets, limited government, private initiative and personal responsibility are essential to our democratic way of life.” 
But under Walker’s proposal, the government would redistribute taxpayer money to a project benefiting Hammes and other Bucks investors.
Did Bucks Investors Pay Off Walker?
“However, before Walker proposed the arena deal, Hammes had donated more than $15,000 to his gubernatorial campaigns, according to state campaign finance data,” the publication reported. “Federal records also show that over the last decade, Hammes has donated almost $280,000 to Republican candidates and third-party groups — including more than $14,000 to the Wisconsin Republican Party. Hammes Company in 2010 donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which that year spent heavily in support of Walker’s first run for governor. Jon Hammes also contributed $500 to Walker while he was a Milwaukee county executive… Hammes became one of the part owners of the Bucks in 2014. A little more than three months later, Walker unveiled his proposal to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a new arena for the team.”

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Ol' Switcheroo

Jason Stein did a nice job a highlighting Scott Walker's brazen hypocrisy. Further confirmation of what many Wisconsinites already know - Scott Waker is a self-serving, opportunist, liar.

Scott Walker Touts Local Power, But Doesn't Always Defer To Local Governments.
On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks about shifting power from the federal government to state and local officials. 
But as governor, Walker hasn't always favored more power for local officials. While often giving local governments more options, Walker hasn't been afraid to take a wide range of powers away from liberal local officials in Wisconsin who adopt policies unpopular with conservatives...
Walker and GOP lawmakers have passed a number of limits on local elected officials, drawing frequent criticism from Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie). 
"He cut the power of city councils, village boards, county boards. It's shameful. These are big-government Republicans," Wirch, a former county board member, said of the governor and legislators. "They drive up to the Capitol with small-government bumper stickers and make big-government Republican decisions..."
Walker and legislators from his party have: 
■ Set limits on tax and spending increases for schools and municipalities.
■ Pre-empted Milwaukee's residency rule, which dates back to 1938 and requires city employees to live within city limits. That law was reinstated last month by a state Appeals Court in a decision that is likely to be appealed.
Voided the paid sick leave law passed by Milwaukee voters in a referendum.
Restricted the duties and staff of the liberal Milwaukee County Board with a May 2013 law. That law also put to voters a proposal to cut the pay of elected board members by 50% and eliminate their future health and pension benefits, which county voters approved a year later.
Prohibited election clerks in urban areas from allowing early voting on the weekends. Walker did use his partial veto power to nix language restricting early voting hours in Milwaukee and other cities to 45 hours a week.
■ Limited local control over the siting of cellphone towers.
■ Given responsibility for liberal Dane County's water quality plan to the Walker administration while leaving the other 71 counties in Wisconsin alone.
Republicans blather on and on about local control and putting the power back in the hands of the people. But empowerment isn't their true aim. Rather, Republicans merely want whichever policy best allows them free rein to use federal, state and local government coffers as their personal piggy banks.

Republicans talk of personal freedom, lower taxes and other platitudes from their playbook, but their end game is keeping power in their hands. The folksy, "you know better than the government" line they repeat ad nauseam is simply the candy-coating of the bitter pill they'd like us all to swallow.

Keep Republicans Away From Social Security

Here's yet another prime example of why Scott Walker and the Republican party are wrong for America.

Scott Walker Suggests Raising Age To Qualify For Social Security.

There is so much misinformation out there regarding Social Security. Much of it pushed by conservatives who would like to end the program.

For starters, hopefully everyone is aware that the current full Social Security retirement age (for those born after 1960) is 67.

As Ezra Klein stated:
But “cutting” Social Security is unpopular and people don’t like to talk about it. So folks who want to cut the program have instead settled on an elliptical argument about life expectancy. Social Security, they say, was designed at a time when Americans didn’t live quite so long. And so raising the retirement age isn’t a “cut.” It’s a restoration of the program’s original purpose. It doesn’t hurt anything or anyone. 
The first point worth making here is that the country’s economy has grown 15-fold since Social Security was passed into law. One of the things the richest society the world has ever known can buy is a decent retirement for people who don’t have jobs they love and who don’t want to work forever. 
The second point worth making is that Social Security was overhauled in the ’80s. So the promises the program is carrying out today were made then. And, since the ’80s, the idea that we’ve all gained so many years of life simply isn’t true…. 
[S]ince 1977, the life expectancy of male workers retiring at age 65 has risen six years in the top half of the income distribution. But if you’re in the bottom half of the income distribution? Then you’ve only gained 1.3 years.
Christian Weller adds:
Workers who have paid into Social Security have to wait until a specific age before they can receive full retirement benefits. In the past, the full retirement age was 65, but it has been gradually increasing and will eventually reach 67 for people born in 1960 and later. Retirees can still claim Social Security at age 62, but their benefits will be reduced significantly if they do. These permanent benefit reductions are greater the earlier somebody claims Social Security and the higher the full retirement benefit age is. Some conservatives, including Cruz and Paul as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have now called for raising the full retirement benefit age even further –- for instance, to 69 years. This translates into across-the-board benefit cuts due to Social Security’s formula, which yields a larger amount for every month a worker delays claiming retirement benefits up to age 70. And it translates into especially deep cuts for workers who must retire early. These cuts are particularly harmful to lower-income workers and people of color.
David Rosnick and Dean Baker have found that increasing the Social Security qualification age also increases inequality:
The full retirement age for Social Security benefits – originally 65 – is currently 66 years, and is scheduled to increase over the next 15 years to age 67 for workers born in 1960 and later. Every year of increase in this “normal” retirement age (NRA) is equivalent to a cut in benefits of 6-7 percent.1 Despite this increase, there has been discussion of raising the retirement age even further – to 69, 70, or even higher.
Rosnick and Baker, in their research, also address the falsities regarding solvency and life expectancy:
The primary justification for such an increase is that the Social Security Trust Fund faces a looming shortfall. Yet the Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security will be able to pay all promised benefits through 2038.2 Thereafter, even with no changes whatsoever, Social Security will be able to pay more than 80 percent of benefits until 2070. Under current law, a young worker planning to retire at age 70 will receive a monthly benefit 24 percent larger than if the same worker retired at age 67. However, those credits for delayed retirement would be eliminated if the retirement age were increased to 70, resulting in a 19 percent cut in benefits. In addition, workers who start collecting benefits at an earlier age would see a reduction in benefits of roughly 18 percent compared to current law.
Another justification for an increase in the retirement age is that life expectancy is increasing, and the retirement age has not kept up. But this makes little sense when discussing workers in physically demanding jobs who are often unable to continue working into their late 60s. Additionally, as we reported in earlier work, there has been considerable widening of the gap in life expectancy between high- and low-income workers. As a result, the already-scheduled increase in the retirement age has effectively wiped out the gains in expected years of retirement (if workers retire at NRA) for males in the bottom half of the income distribution.
Paul Krugman elaborates:
Start with Mr. Christie, who thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer? 
No, it doesn’t. This whole line of argument should have died in 2007, when the Social Security Administration issued a report showing that almost all the rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers, who are precisely the Americans who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore, while lawyers and politicians may consider working into their late 60s no hardship, things look somewhat different to ordinary workers, many of whom still have to perform manual labor. 
And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. In fact, a 2013 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that raising the Medicare age would save almost no money at all.
The bottom line is that we all need to be very leery of Republicans claiming to have the best interests of social programs at heart when they propose increasing eligibility ages, reducing payouts or any of their other trojan horses. Social Security is too important to be left to the whims and disproven ideas of Republican apparatchiks.

For Further Reading:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

More Scott Walker Shenanigans

Scott Walker Sues Feds Over Food Stamp Drug Testing
Doug LaFollette Sues Scott Walker Over State Budget Measures
Wisconsin Deserved Better Than This Budget
The Attack On Government Pensions
Walker And GOP Just Took Away The Weekend
Scott Walker Strips Wisconsin Workers Of Living Wage In New State Budget
Walker Supports Boy Scouts' Ban On Gay Adults Because It 'Protects' Children
Who Is Scott Walker?
Scott Walker's Revolt Back Home
Behind Scott Walker, A Longstanding Conservative Alliance Against Unions
Scott Walker And The Fate Of The Union

Walker's Minions Giving Wisconsin The Business

Just in time for Scott Walker's presidential campaign kick-off, his economic revisionists are spinning yarns about steady improvement and a bright future due to Walker's policies.

Tom Hefty (conservative shill, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute affiliate and Journal Sentinel contributor) started this wishing-and-hoping form of policy analysis back in March. As I described his actions then, "He just rattles off numerous surveys that say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction, Wisconsin is poised for job growth and Wisconsin has a bright job outlook. More or less, opinions masquerading as statistics."

Kurt Bauer, chief executive officer of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, continued the wishing-and-hoping analysis.

First he claims it's really too early to tell if Walker's economic policies are working. Funny, when the data aren't on their side, conservatives are suddenly patient in their proclamations. Yet, the entire time Scott Walker has been governor has coincided with his cronies unrelenting boosterism, despite the fact that reality (the data) disproves their optimism.

Then, like Hefty, Bauer talks of many good business climate rankings and surveys showing good potential for Wisconsin. For conservatives, simply becoming a right-to-work state will somehow transform the economy. Too bad all the research looking at right-to-work has found no such definitive benefit. And, surveying conservatives about whether the policies they favor will be good for the economy is like asking a cocaine addict if he would like more cocaine. Despite the evidence of the damage being done, they still want more, more, more. 

Next, though, he details all of the actual economic metrics where Wisconsin trails Minnesota. You know, reality. Those unimportant things like per capita income, unemployment rate, and education levels. Take that, Minnesota!

This is followed by a host of historical excuses/reasons why/how this has hamstrung Wisconsin. Surprise! Cities and states have histories and experiences that have shaped their progression. Poor Milwaukee is caught between Chicago and Minneapolis. Yet, having these two economically vibrant centers nearby has been good for Milwaukee, not bad. And we would have an even more regional economy, drawing more from both of those cities and strengthening the region as a whole, if we had improved rail transit amongst the three cities. A terrible Walker policy (killing the train) that will have implications in the region for decades.

Bauer then abruptly switches gears claiming Wisconsin is more business-friendly and therefore Wisconsin has a brighter future. "A better Wisconsin business climate will lead to a better Wisconsin economy. The opposite is true for Minnesota."

Doesn't the fact that Minnesota's economy has been performing better than Wisconsin's for the past few decades tell us that they have a pretty good business climate and a productive set of economic policies in place? Wisconsin has improved in the business climate ranking - we're now 32nd. Minnesota's ranking is 9th.

Wisconsin ranks dead last for start-ups, despite Governor Walker’s goal of creating thousands of new companies [post]

Wisconsin is hardly even nipping at Minnesota's heels, even using the supposed indicators that the boosters claim show such promise for Wisconsin.

As was noted back in April, "Even the former mayor of Minneapolis, writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, felt the need to highlight the differences between Minnesota and Wisconsin policy-choices since Scott Walker took office:"
In Minnesota, Dayton turned a $5 billion budget deficit into a more than $1 billion budget surplus in just one term. By raising taxes on the wealthiest earners, Minnesota is now in a position to invest more resources into the state’s schools and infrastructure. 
In Wisconsin, Walker was unable to take his state out of the red and is still facing a $2 billion budget deficit. Walker made the decision to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, while slashing programs and refusing investments at the expense of middle-class families and Wisconsin’s financial well-being. 
In Minnesota, Dayton has moved forward Democratic policies like increasing the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and investing in the middle class, and now we are seeing one of the most business-friendly states in the country. Just this year, Forbes ranked Minnesota as the ninth best state for business, seventh in economic climate and second in quality of life. 
In Wisconsin, Walker opposed a minimum-wage increase and equal-pay legislation, rejected federal funds to expand Medicaid, and attacked Wisconsin workers with right-to-work and anti-collective-​bargaining policies. As a result, the cost of doing business in Wisconsin is higher than the national average, and median household income is thousands less than in Minnesota. 
The facts are clear: Walker and the Republican trickle-down economic policies have made it practically impossible for Wisconsin to recover from the recession, and the state consistently sits at the bottom of the region in private-sector job growth.
Bruce Thompson's article, at Urban Milwaukee, asks, Why is Minnesota outperforming Wisconsin? He ultimately concludes Minnesota is doing many things correctly and, "Empirical evidence can lead to better solutions—but not if it is treated only as grist for a pre-determined position." Minnesota is following the evidence, Wisconsin republicans are merely digging in their heels continuing to push policies they know are unfair and inefficient.

For Further Reading:
Scott Walker & Wisconsin's Slow Job Growth
38th, For Republicans, Is The Head Of The Class

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Proposed Milwaukee Arena Musings

These are just a few more of my thoughts regarding the Milwaukee basketball arena boondoggle playing out.

A recent Milwaukee Biz Times article, Milwaukee County comptroller's report raises questions about arena funding, raises a number of issues, but fails to analyze the implications.

Part of the arena plan is for the county to contribute $4 million per year for 20 years. As Dan Bice explains in a separate article, "The county would 'certify' its uncollected debt, allowing the state to hit up Milwaukee County residents for at least $80 million over the next 20 years. The state would cut its aid to the county if it failed to gather up at least $4 million in any year under the proposal."

As the Milwaukee County comptroller, Scott Manske, reported, "While the county is able to make a $4 million annual payment out of existing cash flows from receivables, it is unlikely the county will be able to generate an additional $80 million over 20 years for payments on the arena debt based on the changes to the collection of its receivables."

The Biz Times article does give space to Patricia Jursik's view that this funding mechanism for the county is a "trick" and "a con game." Jursik stated, "The county executive's deal is unconscionable since this bad debt collection will fall mostly on the poor, the elderly, those suffering medical setback or loss of a job. Does the Buck's organization really want to be associated with such a deal?"

Sadly, this is followed by quotes from the usual cast of characters bloviating the usual arena platitudes. The arena will improve quality of life and it will create temporary and permanent jobs.

If work associated with development creates jobs and grows the property tax base, what is the excuse for not spending more on other development projects - roads, bridges, trains, greening public buildings, etc.? If public spending has such good a return on investment, why do the proponents only support such spending when the primary recipients are privately-owned developments?

The article continues, "Arena supporters also say the county should sell 9.8 acres of land in the Park East corridor to the Bucks ownership group for $1 to assist the plans for $400 million in ancillary development around the arena." The article then gives Tammy Maddente, VP at First Weber Group, space to opine how $1 for the land would be a great deal.

Should the state, county and city now have to pay for the sites of private developments. If this arena proposal is such a great deal for everyone involved, shouldn't the Bucks have to at least pay the market rate for the land. Should the public just give away its assets to private developers?

It's amazing how many professional stadiums have been built in Wisconsin, yet it seems we've learned nothing and logic is absent from the discussion.

As I've said many times, if these arena developments were such no-brainers, economic catalysts, why aren't market forces lined up to grab a piece of this low-risk, high-reward income stream? If, comparatively speaking, this arena-investment has such a great return, greater than alternative investments, why is the public footing most of the costs and taking on most of the risk? Why, suddenly, when it comes to building sporting arenas, is the market so bad at allocating resources?

Of course the answer is because these are bad investments. They money spent is basically corporate welfare and the supposed benefits are always exponentially exaggerated. And, don't forget, the costs are always much more than initial estimates.

To borrow a descriptor from Antonin Scalia, this arena-funding scheme for the county, along with the assumed and inflated ancillary outcomes, is complete jiggery-pokery.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Republicans Slash Public Records Access

Lawmakers slash public records access in budget bill
In one of their final votes on the state budget Thursday, GOP lawmakers approved sweeping limits on public access to records that would shed light on future actions of legislators, Gov. Scott Walker's administration, state agencies and local governments. 
The proposals were tucked into an expansive measure that passed the Joint Finance Committee 12-4, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against. Hours later, with another party-line vote, the committee early Fridaysent the overall budget to the Senate and Assembly. 
The GOP plan would limit public records requests for lawmakers' communications with their staff and for drafting records of legislation after it's been introduced. It would also exempt a host of records created by the Walker administration, state agencies and local governments and put new limits on public access to information about dismissed criminal charges in some instances. 
The measure would also give lawmakers a broad legal privilege that would allow them to refrain from releasing records when they are sued and bar their current and former staff from disclosing information legislators wanted kept private.
More self-serving policy from Walker and his cronies. Way to cover your tracks, criminals.

For Further Reading:
To Celebarate the Fourth, Scott Walker's GOP Declares Secrecy

Jiggery Pokery

Greece Explained

Greece Over The Brink
A Primer On The Greek Crisis
Some Stuff You Should Know About Greece Before You Lose Your Shit
12 Charts & Maps That Explain The Greek Crisis
The Forgotten Origins Of The Greek Crisis Will Make You Think Twice About Who's To Blame
A Very Short History Of The Crisis
Argentina Shows There May Be Life After Default
Bernie Sanders Blasts Greece's Creditors
What Makes The IMF Think It's Right About Greece?
The Greek Crisis, Austerity And A Post-Capitalist Future
When Greece Forgave Germany's Debt
9 Myths About The Greek Crisis

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Underfunding Tarnishes Milwaukee County Parks

The Journal Sentinel reported, Neglect tarnishes county jewel Boerner Botanical Gardens. Saying Boerner Botantical Garden is "neglected" implies malicious intent. As if the Parks administration is aiming to hinder and tarnish Boerner.

As with almost every other issue facing modern society, this, too, is a taxation issue. Just as diminishing taxation (of corporations and the wealthy) has led to increasing income inequality and crumbling infrastructure, declining funding has restrained park maintenance and upkeep.

The article talks of "limited staff...a dramatic drop since 2003 in the number of hours worked by seasonal staff at Boerner, declining from more than 26,000 hours in 2003 to 7,000 in 2014, according to the audit."

It's awfully tough to overcome losing almost 20,000 hours of work each year.

As a Public Policy Forum report discovered:
The county’s financial commitment to parks, recreation and culture was two-thirds of what it was in the 1970s, after adjusting for inflation. Spending for these functions peaked in 1975 at $77 million and reached a low point of $43 million 20 years later.
In current dollars, tax levy support for parks was $30.6 million in 2000, less than half the $65.8 million in 1975. The tax levy supported 47% of park spending in 2000, down from 78% in the 1980s. The difference was made up by other sources of revenue, including privatized park functions and increased user fees. This outside revenue nearly doubled between 1975 and 2000, to more than $16 million.
As we can see from a study done by the Trust For Public Land, Milwaukee County Parks spending per resident is below the median ($73) of the 50 largest cities. Milwaukee spends $71 per resident. Detroit, the lowest, only spends $10. The highest, Washington D.C., spends $287 per resident.

It's also very tough to uphold certain standards with a comparatively low and declining budget.

The title of the article should have been Underfunding Tarnishes Milwaukee County Parks.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Government & The Economy

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republican legislators have already declared that they want to make the state park system more costly for users. Now they're revealing their plan to allow more of our state forests to be cut down
Currently, there are 296,775 acres designated for intensive timber harvesting in the Brule River, Black River, Coulee, Peshtigo River, Northern Highland American Legion and Flambeau River state forests. 
State forests have other categories not earmarked for the most aggressive type of logging, but the changes sought by lawmakers would lump in other land for heavier cutting. 
The changes could mean adding more logging on nearly 37,500 acres.
Yet another proposal from the Republicans without discussion or public input. Another case of making significant changes without any deliberation.
The proposal was one of several amendments to a funding package for forestry programs the 2015-'17 budget that was approved, 12-4, by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on May 7. The measure must still go to the GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate and Republican Gov. Scott Walker. 
Democrats on the panel objected to the changes, which they didn't see until the amendments were introduced at the meeting. 
"You are going to do it without allowing the public to weigh in and you are going to do it without letting us hear from the industries that are impacted," said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison.) 
"This is not the right way to make law."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sneakers And Hardwood Over Fresh Air

In Scott Walker's Wisconsin, public dollars should be spent on a basketball arena, but state parks aren't as deserving.

State parks, which enhance communities throughout the state and can be enjoyed by all, have had it too easy. Park-users need to pay higher fees.

As the Wisconsin State Journal notes:
As part of his 2015-17 state budget, Walker is proposing to remove all general-purpose revenue to operate Wisconsin state parks, trails and recreation areas — a cut of $4.6 million, or nearly 28 percent, of their current $16.7 million operational budget, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Here's some history on Wisconsin state parks:
The state park system in Wisconsin includes both state parks and state recreation areas. Wisconsin currently has 66 state park units, covering more than 60,570 acres (245.1 km2) in state parks and state recreation areas. Each unit was created by an act of the Wisconsin Legislature and is maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation. The Division of Forestry manages a further 471,329 acres (1,907.40 km2) in Wisconsin's state forests...

Wisconsin became the first state to have a state park in 1878 when it formed "The State Park". The park consisted of 760 square miles (2,000 km2) in northern Wisconsin (most of Vilas County). The state owned 50,631 acres (205 km2), which was less than 10% of the total area.
Yet another Wisconsin tradition Scott Walker is dismantling.

Why can't we just increase the price of basketball tickets to pay for the new arena? Following the  increased park-user-fee logic, let the basketball game attendees pay for the arena.

Walker has proposed bonding over $200 million for a new basketball arena, but $17 million for our state park budget is too much?

State tourism spending is increasing. People are increasingly visiting to see Wisconsin's beautiful coasts, forests and lakes. The park system is an integral part of Wisconsin's allure. Cutting funding makes absolutely no sense.

The Call Is Coming From Inside The House

Karen Madden, of the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, recently reported, Wisconsin Roads Third-Worst In Nation
The numbers mark a dramatic decline in road quality. As recently as 11 years ago, Wisconsin's roads ranked No. 22 in the nation, and their deterioration affects almost every industry and motorist in the state, according to the study commissioned by the Local Government of Wisconsin Institute. 
Poor roads in the Milwaukee area cost drivers $700 a year in extra vehicle repairs, according to the study; in the Madison area, road conditions cost drivers an additional $615 in annual tire wear, maintenance and accelerated deterioration. Nationally, substandard road conditions cost drivers an average of $377 per year, the study found.
The primary culprit: State budget cuts that have slashed the amount of money dedicated to repairing both state highways and local roads, which has left fewer than half of Wisconsin's roads rated as "good" or better, the report found. 
The numbers come as no surprise to Emily Wattson, a 48-year-old Wisconsin Rapids woman who recently hit a pothole in Rudolph and wrecked the suspension on her 2008 car. 
"I paid more than $500 to get it fixed," Wattson said. "It threw the car out of alignment, ruined a tire and did some other stuff. 
"I don't think anybody is doing anything about the roads." 
Bad roads hurt manufacturing, farming and transportation, three industries that are vital to Wisconsin's economy, according to the Local Government Institute study entitled Filling Potholes: A New Look at Funding Local Transportation in Wisconsin. The group is a coalition of members of the Wisconsin Counties Association, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Wisconsin Towns Association and Urban Alliance. 
The study found that if the state's roads aren't brought back into good condition, it could harm Wisconsin's struggling economy, which is rebounding from the Great Recession more slowly than other states in the Midwest. Companies that are considering moving to Wisconsin could choose to relocate in states with better infrastructure that doesn't cost them as much in annual repairs.
Yet, Republican Wisconsin legislators are proposing cutting road projects. (Which is understandable for any new road projects. But with the conditions of the current roads we have, it's borderline criminal to not repair them.)

If Wisconsin actually wants to be "open for business" we need to be maintaining, repairing and improving our infrastructure to attract businesses and workers. Defunding rail and road projects, alongside suppressing worker wages through union-busting, does nothing to improve the long-term health of Wisconsin's workforce or its built environment.

Despite all their bluster, Republican policies are actually hurting Wisconsin in every way possible. Wisconsin can't keep cutting off its own nose to spite its face.