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
39.4-57.2

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.
Revenues
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 $76.7 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
TOTAL CHANGE OUTSIDE CORP TAX – UP $1.4 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 WAOW.com, 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.