Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Tools" can't fill school budget holes in Brookfield

I was going to comment on this, but I see Capper beat me to it in his blog. Numerous Wisconsin school districts are already reporting huge budget deficits for next year, now that Gov. Walker's budget refuses to raise the revenue caps put in place in 2011. I'll let you read Capper's post for the big details, but I want to add a few words on one of those deficit-ridden district in particular.

The $2.3 million deficit in Elmbrook Schools always has relevance to me, as a Brookfield Elementary alum (class of '86 BIYATCH!). Those pro-Walker communities in Waukesha County gladly imposed Act 10 on their schools as soon as they could, cut its school property tax levy by $5.9 million that year and claimed that it received $5.3 million in savings from the measure by using Act 10 to dump those costs onto its teachers. And at the time I said those folks in Brookfield and Elm Grove were slitting their own throats with these short-sighted moves, and sure enough, there was a major run on retirements in Elmbrook after the 2010-2011 school year.

Fast-forward two years, and the damage is even worse than I feared. One Elmbrook elementary school closed before the start of this year, and parents were angered when they found out their children were in classes of 30 or more. Hope you suburban Baggers enjoyed that 1-year break on your taxes, because now you're out of tools from Act 10 to use, and your boy Scotty used your simple-mindedness at the voting booth to throw money money at voucher schools instead of the public schools your kids are attending.

Oh, and don't think of leaving either. Your home value is probably tanking if you live in a community like Brookfield or Elm Grove. In fact, the stupidly-red WOW Counties around Milwaukee were standouts in Wisconsin for home sales prices in the most recent Wisconsin Realtors home sales report, and not in a good way.

Year-over-year median sales price change, January 2012-January 2013
Statewide change +3.4%
Waukesha County -6.9%
Washington County -10.8%
Ozaukee County -11.2%

When you think about it, this shouldn't surprise you. Let's face it, other than some nice shops in Port Washington, many people wouldn't choose to live in any of these three counties except for 2 reasons:

1. To live in a community with like-minded, fearful white people.
2. High-quality public schools that your kids can attend, which also stabilizes home values.

Now, smart young families don't have Number 2 as a reason to go to these places, given that Walker wants to destroy this state's previously-strong schools. And they really don't want to hang around people that decided on Reason 1, so I hope you empty-nesters enjoy trying to sell your oversized home over the next few years, because I got a feeling the young families you need to replace your aging selves with are heading somewhere else.

But hey, you guys wanted to bash public school teachers and save $18 on your property tax bill for one year. I have no sympathy for you either, because you did it to yourself

In Brookfield, Glendale, Sheboygan, and several other places all over Wisconsin, the increases in property taxes and fees are coming now and for the next few years, along with school cuts that will deteriorate communities all over the state, encourgaing more people to leave. Expect this ugly cycle to continue for as long as the Age of Fitzwalkerstan is allowed to fester, and as long as pro-Walker suburbs like Brookfield refuse to invest in the one advantage their town had- quality public schools.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

#wiright Journalism- all the speech with none of the accountability!

Hey, look who was back in the news today- the loser GOP operative who tried to claim he was bullied by Mark Pocan's husband and got beaten up by "intolerant lib'ruls," but was later found to be lying about the whole incident. Now this POS is looking at jail time for his idiocy.
A former volunteer for a Republican congressional campaign who had claimed to be the victim of a politically motivated assault has been charged with obstruction.

In late October, Kyle Wood, 29, reported to Madison police that he was attacked in his home. Wood claimed the attack was politically motivated. He told police his face was smashed into a mirror and he was choked during the attack....

According to court documents obtained by WISC-TV, five days after the alleged attack while police were questioning inconsistencies in his story, Wood told police, "You're right -- I did it to myself."

For one of his injuries, to his eye and forehead, Wood told police he used a rock from an aquarium, one that looked most like a fist, placed it in a sock and struck himself with it, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint said Wood told police he hit his own head against a mirror, causing injuries to his forehead and eye.

The complaint also said Wood used a guitar string to create marks around his neck.
Those GOP campaign operative types are such well-adjusted folks, aren't they? Right, Tim Russell, Kelly Rindlfeisch, Hooters Girl, Keith ("I don't want a scrap of paper on this incident") Gilkes, and the Waukesha GOP campaign worker that was pulled over with a bottle of vodka in her car? WINNING!

But remember that there was a second part of this story, one that I find a lot more significant. That was where Media Trackers and Charles Sykes and Christian Schneider all used their media megaphones to give Kyle Wood publicity about being "attacked" in an attempt to smear Pocan and promote Republican chances. Schneider in particular was odious, as I cited at the time, because he printed Wood's false account of the alleged incident, and when he was called out on it when Wood was proven to be lying, kept the article online for a while with a "my bad" on it at the end.  Later, Schneider was even more cowardly, getting the whole slanderous article to be taken off the J-S site so others couldn't find it. Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee followed up on this BS, and allowed the Journal-Sentinel's David Haynes to contradict himself in the span of two paragraphs.
Editorial page editor David Haynes says the Purple Wisconsin columnists are not paid and are not edited or fact-checked by the paper. (By contrast, it pays Schneider a fee for his newspaper columns which are edited by the paper.) Yet Schneider in the past took down a Purple Wisconsin post he did, saying he needed to check the facts, and at the bottom it was notated “-Management.” Schneider did not reply to my email asking about this; Haynes says he suspects Schneider “was referring to himself.” That’s strange.

Haynes also says that had Schneider not taken down his erroneous story about Wood, “I would have done so. I see no value in continuing to circulate information that we have reason to believe is untrue. Christian’s follow-up post gave a sense of the original, which should satisfy curious readers.” But since when does the newspaper expunge erroneous stories? And if Haynes is not editing Purple Wisconsin columns, why would he be making decisions about whether to take one down?


Yep, still smarmy d-bags. And allowed to be smarmy d-bags.

Given that Schneider hurt the Journal-Sentinel's reputation by publishing this false garbage on its editorial pages, we can assume he was punished and had his role diminished by the Journal-Sentinel in an attempt to regaing the trust of the public, right? OF COURSE NOT. In fact, Schneider's role seems to have been expanded in recent months, including this absurd column promoting Walker's stupid income tax plan (guess he didn't read what I had to say about that), and Chrissy was allowed to use "unnamed sources" in a "news" story that let him leak Gov. Walker's decision not to take the expansion of Medicaid funding under Obamacare. (Gee, wonder why the Walker Admin sources chose ol' Chris to leak it to instead of someone who could do, you know, do journalism?)

Brian SiKKKma and Media Trackers? They're still putting out their BS, too including their attempted misdirection play on Obamacare's impact on Wisconsin's Medicaid budget (which the J-S included as part of its story on the the Walker "Work Makes You Free" plan until they were called out on it), and the J-S ran with Trackers' recent article on the Bad River Reservation's EPA issues on a wastewater treatment plant, as if it was somehow relevant to the giveaway of a mining bill that Walker and WisGOP is trying to shove through the State Legislature and impose on the Bad River Chippewa.

Of course, Charles Sykes still has his TV and radio shows peddling hate and GOP talking points day after day, and has even branched out into his own propaganda site at RightWisconsin (apparently overwhelming the J-S editorial page and intimidating its reporters wasn't enough for these guys). Chuckles the Clown is allowed to emcee events from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other pro-GOP organizations, complete with Republican candidates making campaign speeches.

At least Kyle Wood is suffering consequences for his pathetic actions, but I'm curious to know where Christian Schneider or Brian Sikkkma or Charles Sykes or any of these right-wing media types get held accountable for relaying these lies, and the horrible results that come out of the lies and deceptions that they choose to air. In the real world, if we screw up, we have to face the music and learn something from the screw-up. But in WisGOP bubble world? Not so much. They can keep selling their hate and BS and have it go unchallenged in the state's largest newspaper and over the airwaves in the state's largest market. And the corporate heads at JournalComm stand by and condone this unacceptable behavior because they're so terrified of the Milwaukee oligarchy abandoning them.

Given, that JournalComm doesn't to do their job, we'll do it for them. We must confront these lie peddlers and propagandists at every turn, exposing them as frauds to bystanders who do not have the time to look into these things themselves. And we must continue to denigrate the Journal-Sentinel, AM620, and TMJ-4 as the corporate, right-wing shills they are, and expose the money and scummy groups that are hiding behind these "news" organizations (I'm looking at you, Bradley Foundation), until they have no choice but to clean up their unaccountable act.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No, Walker's tax cuts won't help most of Wisconsin

To the surprise of no one paying attention, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau confirmed that Scott Walker's proposed income tax cuts will do next to nothing to the average Wisconsinite, and only give a boost to those who make big money.

The tax cuts would appply to all dollars of income up to $161,180 for single people or $214,910 for those married filing jointly, and dollars of income above those levels will stay at the same marginal rate as before. The LFB report reiterates that the tax cuts would be tiny reductions of marginal rates, but they'll add up to a big bill for the state.
In AB 40, the Governor proposes to reduce the rates that apply to the three lowest tax brackets, beginning in tax year 2013. The respective rates would decrease from 4.60% to 4.50%, from 6.15% to 5.94%, and from 6.50% to 6.36%. The Administration estimates that the proposed reductions would cause individual income tax collections to decrease by $172.6 million in 2013-14 and $170.6 million in 2014-15...the tax rate changes for 2013 would apply retroactively to January 1.
Then the LFB goes on to break down various income levels in Wisconsin and the amount of the tax cut they'd get. Here are a few selected ones for you, and I assume the LFB uses 2014 in their examples because they want to show a full-year effect.

Average income tax cut in Walker budget, 2014
$27,500 AGI, married jointly- $11
$27,500 AGI, single- $25
$55,000 AGI, married jointly- $63
$55,000 AGI, single- $71
$100,000 AGI, married jointly- $129
$100,000 AGI, single- $133
$200,000 AGI, married jointly- $239
$200,000 AGI, single- $223
$300,000+ AGI, married jointly- $303
$300,000+ AGI, single- $221

You can see that for lower-level Wisconsinites, this cut is virtually nothing (about $6 a month for the median income earner), but once you get to the higher incomes, they start becoming somewhat meaningful. However, it also slants the tax cuts toward the top incomes in the state, and the LFB illustrates that skewing as well (this will combine single and joint filers).

Distribution of tax cuts as % of tax returns.
$25,000 AGI and below 2.1% of tax cut, 16.9% of returns
$25,000- $50,000 AGI 4.7% of tax cut, 16.8% of returns
$50,000 AGI- $70,000 AGI 9.9% of tax cut, 14.5% of returns
$70,000 AGI- $100,000 AGI 22.4% of tax cut, 20.8% of returns
$100,000 AGI- $150,000 AGI 31.0% of tax cut, 18.9% of returns
$150,000- $200,000 AGI 14.0% of tax cut, 6.1% of returns
$200,000+ AGI 17.8% of tax cut, 6.1% of returns

So despite the fact that only 1 out 8 Wisconsin tax filers have over $150,000 in income, they stand to get nearly 1/3 of the the proposed Walker tax cut. Conversely, the bottom 48% of filers (those at $50,000 AGI and below) get 1/6 of the total tax cut. Nice distribution, isn't it?

And given the small amount that will go to the lower half of Wisconsin income-earners with these tax cuts, and that the changes in withholding probably won't come until at least July, two experts say this won't change much in terms of growing the economy.
"The governor has argued that by putting more money in people's hands, the tax cuts will spur economic growth in Wisconsin," said Andrew Reschovsky, a UW-Madison professor of public affairs and applied economics. "There is no evidence that the tax cut will do much to encourage growth and job creation."

Mark Schug, a UW-Milwaukee professor emeritus who now consults in the area of economic education, agreed such a cut is not likely to be an economic boost.

"I do tend to think that the income tax reduction is not sufficient," Schug said.
You know what would be sufficient? 1 of 2 things.

1. A tax credit for all 2012 tax filers- Probably of something like $200-$300. And the best way to do it would be paid would be as a rebate that goes directly to taxpayers immediately, instead of having to wait to file taxes the next year in order to receive it (a big mistake made in the stimulus). And you don't have the long-term deficit problem caused by keeping the rates at the lower levels, and the pain in the ass required to raise them back once the deficits sprout up.

Of course, this still means more cuts that we can't afford to make in Wisconsin for the next two years. So I'd prefer to do...

2. Send that $340 million to back to the schools, local governments, and universities that suffered cuts in the last budget. Not only are these better places to invest state funding in (due to the continued employment it would ensure in these fields and the higher productivity from a better-educated work force), but it also can limit the potential tuition hikes, property tax increases and fees that are resulting from Walker's cuts now, and will continue in the future (tax increases that will more than offset any Walker income tax cut for 2013-2015).

But this would go against Gov. Dropout's plan to funnel money to his rich contributors, and FUBAR state services by robbing it of revenue, causing it to have to be sold off to more campaign contributors. Plus, he wants to cynically say that he tried to lower taxes, no matter what it does to our state's budget deficit (the GAAP deficit is slated to rise another $600 million over these 2 years).

Heck, making things worse in the long-term just to strike some Confederate-style "low-tax" poses is a win-win for ol' Scotty, since it'll be harder for the Dem that replaces him to clean up his mess, and because this delusional fool thnks he can run for president in 2016. The dingbats who vote in GOP primaries love to live in Fantasyland, and this type of big-talk, small-result tax cut is right in their wheelhouse.

Granted, it could be difficult to run for president if he's in a jail cell or having it come 1 year after getting run out of office by angry voters, but when has reality gotten in Scott Walker's way before? And this idiotic tax cut that has the vast majority of benefits going to the richest Wisconsinites is just another example of it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Trickle-down failure, pt. 35128

As if we didn't already know this, but another report came out recently proving the failure of trickle-down economics, and the inequality that these policies have caused.

Thomas Hungerford of the Congressional Research Service (a non-partisan organization that does policy studies for Congress) points out that the lowering of capital gains taxes from 1991 to 2006 were a huge driver in the increases in inequality that have happened over the last 20 years. The time frame is important, as capital gains were taxed at 28% in 1991, but that rate had dropped to 15% by 2006, giving an indication of how the changes in policy affected outcomes.

Clue number 1 comes from the declining importance of wages when it comes to overall output and income.
Wages are by far the largest source of income, but accounted for a smaller share of income in 2006 (77 percent) than in 1991 (92 percent). In addition, the wage share appears to be counter-cyclical—the share is higher in the recession years of 1991 and 2001 than in the expansion years of 1996 and 2006. Interestingly, the decline in the wage share during the economic recovery after the 2001 recession (2001 to 2006) was considerably larger than the decline during the years after the 1990–91 recession (13 percentage points versus 4 percentage points).
That last point is VERY interesting, because in the 1990s, President Clinton had tax rates raised on the richest earners, while in the 2000s, President Bush had the income tax rates cut for the highers earners.

And the flip result happens for capital gains as a percentage of income- it went up as the tax rates on the rich went down.
Capital gains and dividends as a share of income increased from 5.4 percent in 1991 to 15.6 percent in 2006—a 287 percent increase. The capital gains and dividends share appears to be pro-cyclical, increasing during the expansions and falling during recessions. Business income also greatly increased as a share of income between 1991 and 2006 by 265 percent (from less than 2 percent in 1991 to over 5 percent in 2006). There does not appear to be a strong cyclical pattern to the trend in the business income share. Overall, income from capital increased as a share of income from 16.7 percent to over one-quarter over this 15-year period.
So when tax rates on the rich have been higher, workers tend to receive a bigger share of income than if tax rates are lower, and the rich are more likely to hoard or speculate their added incomes on things that generate capital gains instead of paying the workers that made it possible. In other words, the exact OPPOSITE of trickle-down happened in the 2000s- the extra money went away from those who work, not toward them.

And Hungerford lays this out in simple terms later in the paper, describing the effect of tax policies on the Gini Coeffifienct, which measures inequality in a country (the higher it is, the more unequal the distribution of income is).
Consequently, changes in wages had an equalizing effect on income inequality (i.e., reduced the Gini coefficient). Most of the equalizing effect occurs over the final 5-year sub-period. Changes in capital gains and dividends are the largest contributor to the rise in income inequality over the 15-year period, with most occurring between 2001 and 2006. Changes in taxes had an equalizing effect on overall inequality between 1991 and 2006. Most of this equalizing effect occurred between 1991 and 1996 due the [Clinton] tax increase; the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts had a disequalizing effect between 2001 and 2006.
This trend toward higher inequality has continued since Obama has taken office, in no small part since the Bush tax rates have also stayed in effect during this time. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute released a study last month showing that the richest Americans have been virtually the only group to have their incomes grow during the first 2 years of our recent recovery.
Those at the top are seeing their wages rebound quite strongly in the recovery. Following a 15.6 percent decline from 2007 to 2009, real annual wages of the top 1.0 percent of earners grew 8.2 percent from 2009 to 2011.

The real annual wages of the bottom 90 percent have continued to decline in the recovery, eroding by 1.2 percent between 2009 and 2011.
The study goes on to note that this continues a trend that started with the Reagan years where the richest 1% of income earners grab more and more of the pie.

And the same disconnect between wages and incomes is happening here in Wisconsin. Almost every bit as important as the Walker Administration's admission that even their favorite job stat shows Wisconsin's year-over-year job growth was cut in half in the 3 months after the recall election, is the fact that it also showed a drop in wages.
Wage information: Total wages by covered employers, including private and public, experienced a 1.8% decline in the 13-week third quarter of 2012 as compared to the 14-week third quarter of 2011. Included is a 6.2% percent decrease in covered government employer wages, reflecting the phase-in of additional public employee retirement and health insurance contributions for state and many local government employers during the third quarter of 2012.
So you might think that a results-oriented administration would try to do things that would lessen inequality and increase the chances of funds going to the working class over the idle rich. And when it comes to the Walker Administration, YOU WOULD BE WRONG, MY FRIEND. In fact, these assclowns want to increase this losing trend.

Check out the rundown from the Wisconsin Budget Project as Walker's first budget was on the verge of passing in 2011.
The first investor tax break provides a deferral on capital gains taxes if the profits are reinvested in Wisconsin businesses. Under this provision, investors can sell off assets and reinvest the proceeds without being taxed on income from profits. Investors would only have to pay taxes on these profits after the new, Wisconsin-based assets are sold. The cost of this provision is $36.3 million over the next two years and $197.9 million over the next 10 years.

Under the second tax break, investors would pay no state taxes on profits resulting from the sale of Wisconsin assets if purchased in 2011 or later and held for at least five years. Because of the five-year holding rule, this provision would not cost taxpayers until fiscal year 2017, when the state would lose $6 million in revenue. The full price-tag of this provision will come into effect in fiscal year 2021, when it is expected to cost $79.4 million annually.

We can predict who would take advantage of these new tax breaks by seeing who benefits from similar tax breaks that already exist. Under current Wisconsin tax law, 30% of capital gains are exempt from taxation (60% in the case of farm assets). The chart below, based on our analysis of data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and Legislative Fiscal Bureau, shows how much individuals of different income levels take advantage of the current exclusion on capital gains.

•Those making $200,000 or more make up less than 2% of all tax filers, but account for more than 46% of all profits excluded from taxes.
•Those making $90,000 or less – 88% of all tax filers – account for only 36% of all excluded profits.
And this doesn't even include the tax increase given to low-income working Wisconsinites in 2012 due to the lowering of the Homestead and EITC credits.

Walker has now added to this trickle-down foolishness by sticking his nose into the federal fiscal fights, and saying that the sequester isn't the best way to handle the country's deficit (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the $188 million hole that would open up in his budget if it were to go through). No, Scotty would rather cut Social Security and Medicare benefits to the same individuals who have had their pensions slashed and stolen. And they were slashed and stolen by the same lucky few who have greatly benefitted from the last 30 years of "profit-over-pay" tax policy that has gone a long way toward explaining the mess that we're still trying to drag outselves up from.

The jury has been back on this one a while- trickle down economics does nothing but steal from the vast majority of us who actually do work and gives money to those who don't need the help. But politicians like Scott Walker (who has never had a real job for pretty much his whole adult life, and has only created jobs for cronies who kiss his ass) are still trying to cling to this failed philosophy. It needs to be put into the dustbin of history NOW.

Friday, February 22, 2013

See ya, Denny

A week after Gov. Walker releases a Medicaid plan that has cost Wisconsinites more tax dollars to cover fewer people, DHS Secretary, gutless liar, and mistress-hirer Dennis Smith has abruptly resigned to "pursue an exciting opportunity in the private sector" (which we now know is a position at a DC lobbying firm). Hmmmm, guess this guy figures he's FUBARed Wisconsin's previous-strong health system enough, and now needs to grab some wingnut welfare. That, or Scotty just threw a guy under the bus for his failures in the health care issue. Guess Scotty has to do something as his administration reveals job numbers that are even worse than the "42nd in the nation" jobs report.

In honor of Mr. Smith (in name only) and his 25 months on the job. I recommend a little Radiohead on this. This is what you'll get, when you mess with us.

Hope you and your mistress have a good time in DC as you make big bucks lying for a living. D-bag.

Walker to local governments- drop dead

There are a lot of places to rip on Governor Walker's budget, given that it's clearly designed with national interests in mind, and couldn't care less about the fate of the Wisconsinites that pay into it. But I want to focus in on one particular area of the budget- shared revenues with local governments and the inevitable damage that will result.

In Wisconsin, our local governments are heavily reliant on two sources of revenue- payments from the state through shared revenues, and property taxes. We don't have much in terms of local sales taxes (0.6% is the max in the Milwaukee-area counties that pay the Miller Park tax), and by law Wisconsin communities cannot have local income taxes. So state shared revenues are a big deal, and any changes in that amount will inevitably change the property tax burden and the level of services a community can provide. In the 2011-2013 budget, Governor Walker cut state shared revenues to most communities, and by 7 percent statewide, but the argument at the time was that if communities simply used the "tools" in Act 10, that would make up for the cuts, and there wouldn't be much of a problem. There were also mentions that shared revenue payments would increase once the tools were in place, because the state and local governments would be on better fiscal footing.

And we now know that argument is a LIE, as the League of Wisconsin Municipalities estimated in April 2011 that Act 10 only covered 3/5 of the cuts to shared revenues, and it was also false because Act 10 exempted police and fire department workers (for political reasons) and later transit workers (after WisGOP realized that it would cost the state tens of millions of dollars in transit aid), while not making up the difference in cost for not being able to renegotiate the benefits for these workers.

Then you look at the Walker budget for 2013-2015, and you see it is so damaging that shared revenues will barely change in this budget. The LWM has a good breakdown of the effects and big-government mandates from Madison that are part of Walker's campaign pamphlet budget.
Governor Walker recommends in his proposed state budget maintaining current funding levels for shared revenue, general transportation aids, expenditure restraint, and the payment for municipal services programs. The last state budget made substantial cuts to all but the Expenditure Restraint Program. The Governor has declined in this budget to restore any of those cuts.

Other items in the Governor's budget include:

Levy Limits. The Governor recommends leaving in place current property tax levy limits so that municipalities may only increase their levies to match any growth in equalized value due to net new construction. The Governor recommends extending the supermajority vote requirement for authorizing carrying over of unused levy capacity. The maximum carryover of unused levy capacity is limited to .5% of the previous year's total levy.

Preemption of Local Residency Requirements. The Governor's budget proposal prohibits municipalities from imposing or enforcing residency requirements on municipal employees. It also makes the issue of employee residency restrictions a prohibited subject of bargaining.

Rules Governing the Rehiring of WRS Annuitants. The Governor's budget includes language addressing municipal hiring of WRS annuitants by increasing the break in service requirement from 30 to 75 days and requiring anyone returning to state or municipal employment at two-thirds of full time to stop his or her annuity and rejoin the WRS.

Shifting Mass Transit Operating Aids out of Transportation Fund. The Governor recommends funding transit operating aids from the general fund rather than the transportation fund, beginning in fiscal year 2014-2015.

Expenditure Restraint Budget Adjustment for Contracted Services. The Governor's budget includes language excluding expenditures provided by a municipality on behalf of a school district or other unit of government pursuant to a contract from being counted as an increase under the expenditure restraint program's budget growth test.

Gotta love that last one, where privatization of services is not only allowed, but openly encouraged whether it's cheaper to do so or not! You can bet that campaign contributors stand to gain from that little giveaway, much like we saw in the last budget when a provision was thrown in trying to prohibit local governments from working together on road projects, and forcing it to be privatized, even if it was more expensive to do so!

And Milwaukee and Milwaukee County will especially be hurt by this ideological budget. Bruce Murphy wrote a great article last year discussing just how much the City of Milwaukee has been screwed by these shared revenue cuts over the last 15 years.
In 1995, 53 percent of Milwaukee’s general purpose budget was paid for by shared revenue; today, just 39 percent comes from this. Most of that decline occurred in just the last decade, under governors Scott McCallum, Jim Doyle and Scott Walker. In the 1992/93 budget year, figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show, 13.1 percent of the state budget went to shared revenue; by 2012/13 it accounted for just 6.3 percent of the state budget.

This has had dreadful consequences for Milwaukee. In 1995, Milwaukee’s $224 million in shared revenue was enough to pay the entire cost of Milwaukee’s police and fire departments, plus another $38 million for other costs. By the time Barrett was running for mayor in 2003, shared revenue to Milwaukee had dropped to the point where it was only enough to pay for the police department’s budget.

Today, nine years into Barrett’s service as mayor, shared revenue to Milwaukee doesn’t even pay for the police; it now falls $114 million short of paying for the police and fire department budgets.

If it had risen at the rate of inflation, that shared revenue payment of $224 million in 1995 would be $340 million today; in fact, Milwaukee now gets $218 million. That’s a drop of 36 percent in real dollars in state aid to Milwaukee.
And given that inflation is sitting around 1.7% a year, keeping shared revenues flat continues that trend of cuts in real dollars to the state's largest city and economic center.

Milwaukee County will also continue to feel the squeeze, as transit aids would stay at the same reduced levels they were at for the last 2 years, and are slated to remain 10% below the amounts it received in 2011. And it is important to remember that the County can't make up for those cuts in any way other than fares (already high at $2.25 a ride) or property taxes (where it has to fight it out for funding with all the other county needs, and is still under the shared revenue constraints). And remember that Walker lobbied against having a 1% Milwaukee County sales tax dedicated to transit, parks, and EMS services, even though Milwaukee County voters approved of such a measure in a 2008 referendum, and even though such a measure would have been the best way to maintain services while keeping property taxes in check.

The damage Walker's budget is doing to the Milwaukee area is especially sick given that Walker was County Executive for Milwaukee County for 8 years before becoming governor. I guess he's not planning on coming back there after he leaves office, is he? He's probably planning to "make some real money" in the private sector as a Faux News Contributor or some other wingnut welfare position. Meanwhile, we'll be left having to clean up from this sicko's mess, and having to spend a lot of time and money to restore our communities' services back to the level it was at before the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began in 2011. And if we don't rise up in the next 2 years and shoot down these sell-offs and ridiculous ideas that handcuff local government in Wisconsin, it may end up being too late to ever getting the state back to a recognizable place that we care to live in.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To preview budget, let's do a review

With the Governor's budget being released within the next 90 minutes, I wanted to give you a brief reminder of where we stand, and what our Governor is likely to do in reaction to it.

This budget is the continuation of the radical budget of 2009-2011, which cut education funding by more than $800 million, and featured numerous corporate tax cuts and incentive programs designed to make Wisconsin "Open for Business". The result? The state finished 42nd in private sector job growth for the first full year of the Walker/WisGOP budget, and the Walker jobs gap has ballooned to well over 100,000 as the rest of the country has zoomed ahead in economic recovery. So we know the last budget did nothing to help the economy, but let's see if the argument of "we're in better fiscal shape" holds up.

The overall budget is already likely in deficit before we even see any tax cuts or other giveaways that reduce revenue. Walker's foolish plan not to take the Obamacare Medicaid expansion will play into the budget. We already know that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated Walker's plan will cost Wisconsin taxpayers an extra $14.4 million for this budget, and a total of $320 million in the next 7 years. And this doesn't even take into account the slowing in economic growth that Walker's plan will cause due to low-income Wisconsinites having to pay more for their health insurance premiums, which will keep them from spending their money on other types of goods and services.

Also recall that less than a month ago, the LFB told us that fiscal cliff resolutions led to over a quarter of a billion dollars of revenue being taken off of Walker's DOA's original projections.
...aggregate general fund tax collections will be $259.1 million less than those reflected in the report ($37.1 million higher in 2012-13, $152.7 million lower in 2013-14, and $143.5 million lower in 2014-15).

The primary reason for the $259.1 million reduction is due to the enactment of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. At the time of the November 20 report, under state and federal law, Wisconsin's estate tax would have been restored for deaths occurring in 2013 and after. It was estimated that this restoration would have increased tax collections for the state by $219.0 million ($94.0 million in 2013-14 and $125.0 million in 2014-15). The $219.0 million was included in the November report. However, Congress modified federal law so that this will not occur.
In addition, Walker's DOA said Congress's looming sequester would cost the state $188 million in federal funds for the next two years if it is not fixed in the next 9 days. Let's see if Walker's budget staff assumes a deal gets made, because if they do, and the sequester happens, that's a $188 million hole that has just opened up.

Last week also featured Walker's rollout of his Transportation budget. This was quickly exposed as the dog of a proposal that it is, because while it slightly increases funding for highways and other road projects, there won't be any tax increase to go along with it. Apparently Walker's DOT increases will rely on the sale of state-owned power plants and other assets, as well as increased borrowing, which will cause increased debt service costs both for this budget, and later ones (and WisGOP Baggers are the guys who complain about debt hamstringing our kids?). And if the sale of assets doesn't go as planned (a game those of you who suffered through Walker in Milwaukee County should be familiar with), then there's another deficit that opens up, and has to be mended.

I am also VERY interested in seeing what kind of shell game goes into the DOT and the Transportation Fund in general, because Walker has been insistent that there will not be a gas tax increase. This goes against the nickel-a-gallon recommendation that his own Transportation Finance and Policy Commission had, in attempt to Keep Wisconsin Moving. In addition, the Journal-Sentinel story indicated Walker would again attempt to move public transit aids from the Transportation Fund to the General Fund, which would suck another $212 million out of the General Fund and increase the deficit even further.

And then the last blow was Walker's recently-announced expansion of school voucher funds with very little increase in K-12 public school funds to go along with it. But if you're a "balance the budget first above all other priorities" type, this may give you a ray of hope, as the Department of Public Instruction asked for $580 million more dollars for this budget (which still was 1/3 less than the $800 million cut from it in the last one), and will probably get a whole lot less than that.

So cutting and devaluing education seems to be a spot where some of those budget holes are to be filled. Of course, that's a pretty sick set of values (choosing roads, corporate tax giveaways and failing voucher schools over public education), and more importantly, it doesn't play to Wisconsin's advantages.

As if you needed more proof of that, the ACT just released a study last week showing Wisconsin was 2nd in the nation for ACT scores among high schoolers in states that use it as its primary college admissions test (trailing only Minnesota). The ACT also said Wisconsin high schoolers scored 6 to 8 points higher in than the national average in all subjects when it came to college readiness. Maybe more impressively, Wisconsin students have scored significantly better than the national average in ACT scores, even though 71% of Wisconsinites take the test every year versus many states that only have 10-25% of their top students taking the ACT.

And yet this Governor's trying to end the huge boost our strong public education system gives to Wisconsin. Can you tell this guy's never had a real job?

So these are the known failures and deficits that already exist in the budget. The scary question is, what other surprises are hiding deep inside that huge document? I'll be giving it a look in the next few days and weeks, and hopefully we can get out ahead of the lies and lazy journalism that is sure to come for the next 4 months.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Education in Walker budget- declining again

I know our governor is paid off and wants to wreck public services any chance he gets, and nowhere is this more flagrant that it is with the K-12 education budget. Our media originally tried to protray Walker's proposed education budget as some kind of "increaed investment", because it plans to slightly increase K-12 funding to public schools between 2013-2015, but still leaves us around $600 million under the total amount we had in the 2009-2011 budget.

Even the Journal-Sentinel had to tell its readers the truth about how Walker's education plans add little to public education, has the money go toward property tax relief and not instruction, and it sends huge amounts of money to voucher schools.
For public schools, Walker is proposing a 1% increase in state general aid, though he has also proposed several other separate increases in state money for specific items.

But Walker is also rejecting an increase in the state-imposed cap in revenues that public schools are allowed to raise from both the state and local property taxpayers. That means that school districts would have to hold a voter referendum to spend any more in public money than they do now.

Walker's proposed increase in state general aid for public schools would be $129.2 million over two years. For the much smaller system of voucher schools, the increase would be $73 million - $45 million from the state and $28 million from local property taxpayers.
Walker's giveaway to the voucher organizations (who have the last 3 GOP Assembly speakers lobbying for it at the Capitol) is made even more obvious when you look at the Department of Public Instruction's budget request for 2013-2015.

When the DPI made their budget for 2013-2015, it asked the Governor to give back $574 million in general K-12 school aids and tax credits. Walker didn't even give them half of that. Likewise, Walker would raise the amount of money going to voucher schoos above and beyond the $56 million increase that DPI asked for. And scarier, Walker's education plan would allow other districts to be opened to vouchers, whether the majority of taxpayers in those places want it or not.
Among the choice programs and initiatives funded in Governor Walker’s budget are:

Wisconsin Parental Choice Program: Open the choice program to school districts with at least two underperforming schools (those receiving school report card grades of "fails to meet expectations" or "meets few expectations"), at least 4,000 students, and at least 20 students intending to participate in the program. This expansion will be capped at 500 students statewide for fiscal year 2014 and 1,000 students statewide for fiscal year 2015. Eligibility requirements for students would be similar to current choice program eligibility requirements.
Now explain to me how these schools will be judged to be "underperforming?" Through test scores? Graduation rates? Not doing enough Louisiana and Florida-style "teach to the test" curricula to placate the Michelle Rhee crowd? It's a system that is set up for massive cheating and distorted outcomes that have little to nothing to do with preparing students for further learning and the adult world. Instead, it is a blatant scam intended to defund and deligitimize public education, and it is a pathetic giveaway to campaign contributors. We'll see if it's allowed to get through as is (a similar attempt died in the Senate last budget, and there are fewer GOPs in the Senate now than there were in 2011).

If vouchers worked, I wouldn't be so forcefully against this plan. But as the Public Policy Forum showed again last week, vouchers do not improve educational outcomes, and many of these schools in Milwaukee do worse than Milwaukee Public Schools.

For example, the Public Policy Forum study showed that MPS and Milwaukee vouchers schools have similar levels of students from economically disadvantged backgrounds (MPS 84%, vouchers 79%) and minority students (MPS 86%, vouchers 80%), so it's pretty much an apples-to-apples group of students. But when it came to test scores on the annual WKCE test, MPS was the clear leader. MPS students had slightly higher numbers of students scoring at "proficient" or "advanced" at virtually every grade level between 3rd and 10th grades in both years than voucher schools did. In math, MPS destroyed the voucher schools, having between 7 and 20% more of its students be proficient in Math than voucher school students did.

The one advantage the Public Policy Forum says voucher schools have is that they have a lower per-student cost when it comes to education than public schools do, partly because voucher schools pay their teachers less and generally offer lower amounts of benefits (with the lower test scores, you could also argue it's proof of "you get what you pay for"). But the PPF also says that a reason voucher schools have low costs is because the offer fewer classes than public schools do.
MPCP schools may opt to control costs by not providing expensive instructional offerings, such as teacher specialists (art, music, etc.), or by offering only certain grade levels.

For example, in this year’s census, 39 of 110 MPCP schools report having no art, music, PE, library or technology specialist teachers. Schools report a total of 52 art teachers, 52 music teachers, 72 PE teachers, 30 librarians, and 51 technology teachers, which represents a program average of less than one of each type of specialist per school.

Of the 18 schools reporting five or more specialist teachers on staff, two-thirds are high schools. For many years school choice advocates have noted that the voucher value is too small to fully fund comprehensive high school costs, which likely contributes to the relatively few high schools participating in the program. As a result, schools are now able to charge high school students whose families earn above 220% of the federal poverty level the tuition difference.
So yes, voucher schools may be slightly cheaper than public schools, but its students have a whole lot fewer classes to choose from, and they don't perform as well on tests. And if the school is run poorly or goes under, there is little recourse for the school or the taxpayers that paid into them (unlike public schools, which will continue to exist year after year, and have school boards that can hold teachers and administrators to account).

With this in mind, there is no legitimate reason to expand this failing program, and to throw more taxpayer dollars at it. But we all know Scott Walker's never really cared about results, but instead cares about what gets him and the voucher interests PAID. So that's why this garbage is slated to end up in the state budget. It's up to us to expose this failure and shut it down before it takes hold and debases all types of education in this state. Because if the Walker education plan comes in, we will be less competitive economically as the level of talent coming into the workforce declines, and the most talented people will leave Wisconsin for somewhere that values critical thinking and quality education. We can't let that happen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Walker Medicaid plan- it's even more expensive than you thought

  The state budget hasn't even been formally introduced, and Governor Walker's "Work Makes you Free" Medicaid plan is already falling apart under scrutiny. The Journal-Sentinel's Jason Stein got a sneak peek at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's evaluation of Medicaid plans, and reports that Walker's plan would cost taxpayers an extra $250 million over the next 7 years vs. taking Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. That's a whole lot more than Walker promised to his buddies at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce last week, and would push the 2013-2015 budget as well as future years into larger deficits.

  The J-S's Stein broke down  the LFB paper on Medicaid options that was released late Friday, and the paper shows that Walker's plan will cover fewer people, while costing state taxpayers a whole lot more. In the paper, the Walker plan is similar to Scenario 2, where parents with children that make between 100% and 200% of the poverty line are thrown off of BadgerCare, and adults without kids that make up to the poverty line get covered. By comparison, the scenario where the state takes the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is best exhibited in Scenario 5B. Here are the overall changes from current law under those two scenarios.

   Walker Plan vs. Medicaid expansion stats
   Change in state taxpayer costs
  Walker plan: +$14.4 million 2013-2015 budget, +$320.3 million by 2020.
  Expand Medicaid: -$43.7 million 2013-2015, +$66.7 million by 2020

  Change in number of enrollees in Badgercare by 2015 
   Walker plan: 9,000 LESS
   Expand Medicaid: 155,00 ADDED

   So if we took the Medicaid expansion, Wisconsinites would save $58 million in this budget over the Walker plan, and we'd have 164,000 more people covered on the BadgerCare rolls. And the LFB says these savings aren't even taking into account the "uncompensated costs" that states and local governments rack up when the uninsured use ER services in order to get treated. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated the cut in uncompensated costs that Wisconsin taxpayers would see as a result of taking the Medicaid money would be at $247 million over the next decade (as shown on page 53 of this report).

Now certainly there are other variables that could come into play, and in the J-S article Assembly Speaker (and ALEC Cabin Boy) Robin Vos along with a speaker for the Department of Health Services both claim the LFB analysis doesn't tell the whole story.
The report made public late Friday lays out figures that both Republicans and Democrats will reach for in the coming months as they debate how the state should respond to President Barack Obama's health care law. Republicans Friday rejected a key assumption of the memo as requested by [Rep. John] Richards - that the federal government would have the financial ability to carry through with its pledge of bearing the vast majority of the cost of a Medicaid expansion for states like Wisconsin.

"I just absolutely do not believe the federal government is going to keep its promise once it sees the full impact of the (health care law)," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said....

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services, Stephanie Smiley, said that the Fiscal Bureau study didn't account for important factors, such as increases in the state's administrative costs due to a Medicaid expansion. "The governor deserves credit for ensuring that people in poverty are covered under his plan while also realizing that there is instability with regard to federal funding," she said.
Well sure, maybe tomorrow Dems in Congress and President Obama have a complete change of heart and throw out Obamacare...and maybe Ohio State will be credited with a win at the Kohl Center today instead of having the record show Bucky blew their doors off. And if we want to be consistent, why doesn't Vos use that same "uncertainty" excuse when it comes to the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that the state gets from the Feds in highway funding, especially with a Tea Party-backed sequester looming in 12 days?

Look, I know you TeaBags don't like Obamacare - people like what's in it, what's in effect seems to work, and it makes the GOP look really bad as a result - but just because it hurts your feelings doesn't mean it won't be the law of the land through at least 2017 (and probably well after that, given that the GOP Congressmen currently have a brand name that is equivalent to low-grade horse meat). Besides, Walker tried that routine in Wisconsin last year, delaying work on the Obamacare health exchanges in the hopes that Mitt Romney would be elected president and GOPs would also run Congress, so Obamacare would be repealed. That gamble didn't quite pay off, now did it?

I'm not even mentioning the flip side of the "future federal funding" question- what if Congress decides one day to punish states that decide to try to screw with Obamacare in this way, and cuts the Medicaid reimbursement rates to states that DON'T want to expand Medicaid, to give an incentive to take up Obamacare regulations? Strangely, that more plausible scenario is ignored by GOPs in this issue.

And as for Ms. Smiley's comment on Administrative costs, the LFB admits they don't have a figure on the subject, but it would only be more costly if more people were being covered.
Administrative Costs: The increased or decreased MA enrollment that would occur under the alternative scenarios could impact administrative costs to the state and to the multicounty income maintenance consortia responsible for making MA eligibility determinations and providing ongoing case management functions. Due to uncertainties regarding the extent of those impacts, they are not included in the preliminary estimates.
What the LFB memo doesn't mention is that it is likely that many of these positions that would take care of the extra administrative work in signing up new people for Badgercare and Obamacare coverage would be FEDERALLY-FUNDED (most federal programs fund positions to make sure the state can carry out its provisions), so the cost to state taxpayers would be relatively small. And any extra costs in administration would be more than made up for in the savings that would result in lower uncompensated care costs, as the Kaiser Family Foundation mentions ($24 million a year in savings in Wisconsin).

The LFB report and the GOP's lame excuses on Medicaid expansion give you a good idea just how much of a dog this Walker alternative plan is. It is clear that the Walker Medicaid plan is a horrible deal for taxpayers, insures fewer Wisconsinites, overloads the Obamacare exchanges, and makes outcomes for low-income individuals worse, not better. And I'm betting Scotty won't care to realize just how much more work will need to be done to correct the obvious flaws in the plan, and will double down on this failure even as the holes in his deficit-addled budget become even more apparent when it's released on Wednesday.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cover up in the Wisc. Supreme Court?

In between the fog of all the budget talk, our screwed-up and corrupted Supreme Court also was in the headlines this week. First was the release from Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley recusing herself from a potential discipline hearing against the "man" accused of choking her, fellow Justice David Prosser. Bradley said that when Prosser attacked her
what happened in my office on June 13, 2011 was not an isolated event. Rather, it is one event in a history of abusive behavior in our workplace that has escalated from tantrums and rages, to threats, and now to phyiscal contact.
Bradley went on to say that she and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson have taken to locking themselves in their offices out of fear of their safety, as they find Prosser unstable.

The Walker Administration tried to run interference and claim that they couldn't find a record of such a request, no doubt to try to feed the Charles Sykeses and Mark Bellings a meme that Bradley was lying. But former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs backed up Bradley's account Friday afternoon, saying that Capitol Police were indeed contacted by a "Supreme Court official," and put in a security plan soon thereafter.

But hey, maybe Bradley was overreacting. I mean, look at the grace in which Prosser handled being interviewed on the incident.

That doesn't look like an unstable maniac, does it?

What kept Prosser from facing criminal charges for the incident was the fact that the other 3 right-wing members of the Court - Michael Gableman, Annette Ziegler and Pat Roggensack - claimed the incident did not happen or that Prosser was somehow provoked and threatened by Bradley (who is significantly shorter and smaller than Prosser), so there wasn't enough unquestioned evidence against prosser to charge him.

Roggensack was also called out by Bradley in her complaint, as Bradley said Roggensack deceived investigators about what happened that June day, and was lying when Roggensack claimed earlier this month that things really aren't that bad between the justices. Given that a key attack against Roggensack in the upcoming Supreme Court election will be that she is part of the problem with the Court's embarrassing dysfunction (along with her partisan, conservative record), you can see why she might want to say something like that.

But an ethics case remains from the incident, with Franklyn Gimbel as the head prosecutor for the state's Judicial Commission. That was also in the news this week because the Journal-Sentinel had a story where Gimbel said he had been told not to add any new evidence or scopes to the Prosser investigation by the state's Judicial Commission.

This is where things get interesting, and the cover-up angle becomes more obvious. As Patrick Marley writes in the Journal-Sentinel,
Since Gimbel began work on the case, the makeup of the commission has changed so that it is now controlled by Walker appointees. Among the commissioners are people recommended by John Gard, a lobbyist, former Republican Assembly speaker and former aide to Prosser when he was in the Legislature. In recommending the appointees, Gard told an aide to the GOP governor they were "fiercely conservative" and would "never wimp out."

Gimbel would not disclose what other options he provided to the commission to consider for continuing the case. Some legal observers have said the effort should be directed at [Judge Richard] Brown, the chief of the appeals court, because state law says the appeals court chief "shall select the judges" on the judicial panel and does not specify a role for the Supreme Court in establishing the panel.
One of those that has called for Brown to take case on his own is Tom Foley at the Illusory Tenant blog, and his breakdown of this ongoing saga is worth the read from an "inside the legal profession" standpoint.

But in addition to "fiercely conservative" judges, know what else John Gard lobbies for? The school voucher movement, which has already thrown over $20,000 toward Justice Roggensack's re-election campaign, a contribtuion Roggensack didn't report until One Wisconsin Now tracked and exposed the contribution themselves. Roggensack is often the swing vote that favors Gov. Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, like she was in the Act 10 decision in 2011 (which lifted off the whole "Prosser choking Bradley" incident). The right-wingers in Wisconsin know they might need Patty's vote for issues such as voter ID, domestic partnerships and marriage equality, and worker rights.

When you put this together with the Walker Administration "not having a record" of Bradley's complaint against Prosser, you can see where there might be more than a little coordination between the Governor's Office, the Judicial Commission, and the Roggensack campaign in making sure nothing else happens. Because these guys don't want people to be reminded of how this Court has fallen apart under right-wing rule, and how it has been a willing partner in the breakdown of Wisconsin's former reputation of clean government, as they might become very willing to kick out one of the people who has allowed the corruption and unchecked power to go on- Pat Roggensack.

The fact that the Wisconsin righties are going to such lengths to lie and protect Prosser and Roggensack is all the more reason you should throw her out, and pull the lever for Ed Fallone this Tuesday, and on April 2. I know I will.

Walker's ALEC-fueled transportation budget

It was remarkable to see how yesterday's rollout of Gov. Walker's 2-year DOT budget went as the day progressed. Early on, the story was about the initiatives itself- extra money for the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee, and also plans to work on the Hoan Bridge and freight railroads. The concentration was on the $6.4 billion price tag over 2 years, and it seemed to be a relatively typical Walker puff piece where he took credit for things that were already asked for.

And then a little segment showed up way down in the original story.
Presenting the broad outlines of his roads plan, Walker said he will not recommend raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees - ideas advocated by a commission he and legislators set up two years ago. Walker made the announcement at the headquarters of the 9,000-member International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 in Pewaukee.

Walker said state property could be sold and the proceeds used to pay off an undisclosed amount of highway bonds. Asked if he envisioned selling the state plants as a means of raising more money to repay bonds, Walker replied, "Could be."
And amazingly, the Journal-Sentinel used that quote and did some real journalism to follow up on it. Within hours, we found out that Walker wants to repeat the selloff of state power plants similar to the 2011 scheme, where he tried to give our state assets to his buddies at Koch Industries. In 2011, the plan was to have it be a no-bid, negotiated deal, but that was too much, even for GOP Senators like Rob Cowles and Mike Ellis, so it went under. By the end of the day, it reminded me of that Friday 2 years ago when Walker "dropped the bomb" and as I kept reading the bill and learning more about what was in it, I was constantly like "What the hell is this? What the hell is that?"

In 2013, the Koch selloff part of the bill will allegedly allow for bids on the plants (just ask Skyward and service providers bidding against Logisticare how well THAT'S going under this DOA) But I sure want to take a look at the full budget when it's released next week to see just how much Walker is counting on getting from these sales, and what shell game results from it.

And even projects such as the Hoan and the Harbor Assistance Program and the Freight Railroad work are nothing more than OKing what projects that DOT said they needed to get done. In fact, the Freight and Harbor Assistance approvals seem to be lower than what they asked for- with Walker yanking out any costs associated with tax revenue and deciding to borrow for the whole thing.

Because it's not like Walker is adding a lot of cushion for projects in this budget, if you look at the DOT's budget request. Walker's announcement does raise the request by another $500 million, but since he's claiming he won't raise gas taxes or other forms of income, it makes you wonder where the funding will come from.

So if Walker doesn't want more taxes for this and federal funding from above is declining (and the budget request says it will by $50 million...before any sequester), how do we pay for these $500 million in extra expenses? This is where the ALEC-style selloff of state assets plays in. And it might not just be power plants. Check out this item, buried deep inside the DOT budget request.
Request a statutory modification to create a program revenue appropriation for the receipt and expenditure of revenue from private or governmental sponsorship and partnership agreements and to give the Department explicit authority to execute such agreements, subject to limitations of federal and state law. Under such agreements, the Department would receive revenue from a sponsor in exchange for recognition of the sponsor through signage on a state highway or roadside facility (such as park-and-ride lots and rest areas) or the placement of the sponsor's logo on a Department product, equipment, or website. Revenues could be expended for maintenance of roadside facilities or for state highway maintenance and traffic operations.
Hey cool, it's the Diane Hendricks/ ABC Supply interchange in Beloit, and the Charlie Sykes Park n' Ride lot in Ozaukee County! And you thought the movie "Idiocracy" was a satire.

Debt and a rosy revenue scenario from ALEC-style selloffs of assets seem to be the main methods of paying for things if you look at this Transportation budget, which will kill it for the future. The budget request already includes $48 million more for debt service in the next 2 years (item 6 in the budget request). Not a good sign when you realize projects already are running behind schedule, and according to the state's Transportation Finance and Policy Commission the state has to invest another $680 million a year for the next decade just to keep up with needs. And with local governments constrained with tax levy limits and shared-revenue cuts, they can't make up the difference to keep on fixing the streets.

But corporate front men like Walker never care about the future, they just want to make their numbers for the short-term. Once the profits are used up, they get to "parachute out a rich man" as Gordon Gekko would say, and we get left having to clean up whatever's left of it. There's even damage in this DOT budget to the General Fund Budget, as noted in the Journal-Sentinel article
Walker wants to fund mass transit with money from the state's main account instead of its separate transportation fund, as has happened for years. Walker tried that in 2011, but failed to get the proposal passed. Transit advocates say keeping their funding in the transportation account provides them more protection in the long term.

In all, Walker wants to use $129 million from the general fund for transportation, the vast majority of it - $106 million - for transit.
This has the double-whammy of making transit have to fight out schools and prisons and Medicaid and related services for funding, leading to inevitable cuts from the state side, and also raising costs to the general fund by $212 million for the next 2 years. We already know that Walker's 2013-2015 budget is in deficit, perhaps by as much as $332 million, so this now means $544 million has to be cut from budget requests that already aren't meeting all needs.

So within 24 hours, what Governor Walker expected to be a good press event designed to show hs "moderate" credentials has collapsed, and exposed him as even more corrupt and fiscally reckless than we already knew him to be (and those of you in Milwaukee sure know it). Makes me wonder what we'll see when whole budget get released, because between the Medicaid and Transportation disasters of this week, we know it's already an unsustainable, deficit-ridden budget that'll leave us further in the hole and economically behind much of the rest of the nation. How many other departments are getting their services and budgets destroyed over the next 2 years?

I just hope there's something left for this state's finances to redeem when the new person takes over in 2 years. Then again, FUBARing services, funneling taxpayer dollars to campaign contributors and eventually forcing those services to be sold them off to campaign contributors is right out of the ALEC playbook, so why would we NOT be surprised to see a pile of debt-ridden junk in the Transportation budget?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Walker's Medicaid plan- even worse than you thought

Something wasn't adding up to me when I looked at Governor Walker's plans for Medicaid over the next 2 years. It wasn't just the stupidity in turning down the Obamacare-related Medicaid expansion (though as I said yesterday, that decision was stupid enough on its face). But what was bothering me was because the "increases in state spending" weren't ringing true, as Medicaid costs would go up on their own over the next 2 years without much expansion of services, simply because costs go up year-over-year.

Then I took a look at Page 3 from the "Work Makes you Free!" slideshow that Walker gave to WMC oligarchs yesterday, and it started to fit together. The slide makes a big show about mentioning that Walker's plan will increase General Fund revenue for Medicaid by $221.4 million next year, and another $200.9 million on top of that in fiscal year 2015, meaning a net increase of $643.6 million from what is projected for 2013 (+$221.4 million year 1, +$422.3 million year 2). Sounds like a lot, but it's really about 15% over 2 years.

After seeing that, I then looked at the Department of Health Services' budget request for the next 2 years, and my suspicions were confirmed. WALKER IS BARELY ADDING MORE THAN WHAT DHS SAID THEY NEEDED! Here's the comparison:

DHS budget request for Medicaid- $635.9 million increase
Walker Medicaid plan- $643.7 million increase
Difference- $7.7 million.

That's right, instead of increasing the Medicaid budget by 15.8%, which is what DHS said it needed just to keep up, Walker's taking all the credit for asking for an increase of 16.0%, and added increase of...0.2%. Basically nothing at all.

The DHS request also increased coverage in a much more responsible way than Walker's plan would, just assuming current law would continue as it were.
The funding requested in this item is based on MA caseload and intensity projections developed by DHS for the 2013-15 biennium. Those projections assume that current law pertaining to the MA program will remain in effect throughout the 2013-15 biennium. For these purposes, "current law" includes changes to the BadgerCare Plus program that were approved by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that went into effect July 1, 2012. Those changes relate primarily to the premiums and "other insurance" rules for non pregnant, non-disabled adults in the program with incomes greater than 133% of the federal poverty level. The Department's projections assume that any approvals needed to keep those changes in effect throughout the 2013-15 biennium will be obtained. Current law also includes continued enrollment in the Family Care, Family Care Partnership, PACE, and IRIS programs since the enrollment cap for those programs was lifted on April 3, 2012. The Department's request does not include an expansion of Family Care and related programs into additional counties during the 2013 15 biennium.
So they basically assumed a status quo budget, on Medicaid, which already pushed more than 11,000 off the Badgercare rolls due to higher premiums demanded by the state. But at least it covered people making up to 133% of poverty.

Walker's plan doesn't even do that. I'll start with this passage from the Governor's press release on the Medicaid plan.
Governor Walker’s proposal will cover people living in poverty through Medicaid and allow individuals above that level to access affordable health insurance coverage through the federal health insurance exchange. This proposal affects non-elderly, non-disabled adults. Under this plan, Wisconsinites in poverty will be covered by Medicaid and those above poverty up to four times the poverty level would receive federal health insurance premium subsidies to purchase health insurance offered in the exchange. By doing so, Wisconsin is projected to reduce the number of uninsured adults, ages 19-64, by 47 percent with 224,580 fewer people uninsured.
So the plan is to expand state Medicaid eligibility for some groups (particularly childless adults), and shove low-income recipients with children out into the Obamacare exchanges starting in 2014...and into the hands of Walker's buddies in the insurance industry.

Let's go back to page 5 of the "Work Makes you Free" plan. and note the graphic.

Amount of uninsured, Walker plan vs. taking Medicaid funds
Through Wisconsin Medicaid-
Taking ACA Medicaid funds- 90,691 LESS
Walker plan- 5,417 MORE

Through private insurance and Obamacare exchange-
Taking Medicaid- 161,987 more
Taking ACA Medicaid funds- 229,997 more (68,010 more than taking Medicaid)

The goal with this is two-fold.

1. Much like how they did in raising premiums to get people off of Badgercare, this puts more low-income individuals into the hands of the private insurance industry. (you wonder why the corporate greedheads at WMC love this plan?)

2. Overload the Obamacare exchanges that start next year, and then take advantage of the complaints of individuals that can't afford the premiums, or complain that "Obamacare is costing more than it should." Which is then an excuse to dismantle it and leave even more people at the mercy of the insurance companies. This is what makes the whole "I'm encouraging independence" line Walker's giving such bullshit, because it's actually discouraging people from having options and more disposable income in their pockets (which is true freedom), and instead leaving them to have to beg insurance companies and corporations for help. Which is just the way Republicans want the world to run.

And remember, Walker had the chance to formulate a state-run insurance exchange that would complement Wisconsin's Medicaid plans, but he and DHS delayed doing any work on it, gambling that the Republicans would win the White House in 2012 and end Obamacare, and when that failed spectacularly this November, Walker turned down creating a state exchange, and will let the feds set it up instead. But that's all part of the design, because in right-wing bubble world, they can't have people be helped through Obamacare, because then it becomes a lot harder to privatize health care once people see how it works and gives them economic security. Always remember, social outcomes don't matter when it comes to TeaBags like Walker- only political outcomes do.

Lastly, you know what's missing from the "Work Makes you Free" Powerpoint? A request of the WMC oligarchs to hire and insure low-income individuals, so they don't have to take up space on the Medicaid rolls and reduce the burdens of health insurance on the state budget. No, having the WMC types do their share to help solve this problem is never asked. You know, for a bunch of guys who claim to idolize Reagan, they sure seem to forget this statement.

"The best social program is a productive job for anyone who's willing to work"

In fact, the WMC crowd doesn't want to create jobs, but instead hoard profits and funnel the money upwards into their pockets. Walker and the WMC crowd want the working poor to stay destitute so they are stuck into low wages, and a low number of options for coverage. And God Forbid that low-income people actually do one of the best acts of independence- unionizing to demand higher wages and benefits. That is absolutely not part of the Walker plan, and will be actively discouraged, even though unionizing and getting higher wages would go a long way toward solving the uninsurance problem that exists in this country (failing the best solution, which of course is Medicare for all).

These people are the sick ones, not the Medicaid recipients. This Walker plan will not work, it'll throw even more people into desperation than even keeping the status quo Wisconsin Medicaid program would, and turning down the Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers more in the short and long runs. The Walker Medicaid plan is a total lose-lose scenario, and much like with the turning down of high-speed rail, it'll cost Wisconsin taxpayers more money in exchange for less services. It is the work of someone who wishes to destroy the state, with Walker and his contributors grabbing the leavings and skipping town, which is the real Walker plan. Unless we expose it and stop it.

  EDIT: The Journal-Sentinel continues to imitate an actual news organization, as they grabbed a Fiscal Bureau estimate, and it shows Walker's plan would cost Wisconsin taxpayers an extra $250 million over the next 7 years,   and that 9,000, not 5,000, Wisconsinites would be kicked off of the state's Medicaid rolls. This really plan really is the worst of both worlds- higher cost and lower service.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

WisGOP lies, chooses wrong on Medicaid and Obamacare

   I can't put it any simpler than that. I recognize that Governor Walker picks ideology and poses over anything that would work for Wisconsinites, so his decision to turn down the federal Medicaid expansion that's part of the Affordable Care Act didn't shock me. But the lies his associates are telling to try to justify this stupid move, as well as the costly, set-up-to-fail solution that Gov. Dropout is proposing in its place are the things that have reached a new level of disgusting insanity.

   It's not a coincidence that the day before Walker made his announcement (at an event funded by the greedhead oligarchs at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, naturally), the lying propagandists at Bradley Foundation front group Media TraKKKers shot out a release that got my bullshit detectors ringing loud and clear.
Supporters of expanding Medicaid have argued that by taking advantage of federal money appropriated through ObamaCare, the state can save up to $95 million. But that statistic, taken from a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report, isn’t completely accurate. The Kaiser Foundation study found that just the first 9 years a Medicaid expansion would cost the state of Wisconsin $725 million.

One of the reasons the LFB report reached a savings was because it only looked at the first 3 years of an expansion. The vast majority of the rising costs that state will bear because of the expansion come over time, well after the first three-year period is up.
So I went to the source to figure out where  smarmy d-bag Brian Sikma came up with the $725 million figure, and you also can go to the source by clicking right here.

   If you do, you'll see that Media Trakkkers is using a ridiculous apples-to-oranges comparison to come up with that claim. The reference is on page 42, but it doesn't deal with the question of "What will happen if Gov. Walker takes the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare?" Instead it compares what would happen IF THERE WAS NO OBAMACARE AT ALL. This is a non-issue when it comes to Walker's decision to take the Obamacare Medicaid money, because Obamacare is the law of the land and will not go away anytime soon (and probably not ever). Amazingly, the Journal-Sentinel's Jason Stein fell for Media Trakkkers line in his recap of Walker's absurd plan. (Update: Stein has taken down the "$725 million more expensive" reference from the story after being alerted to the faulty comparison. Golf clap.)  

   And what Media Trakkkers leaves out of that faulty comparison is the number of uninsured in Wisconsin is more than CUT IN HALF with Obamacare in place and with Wisconsin taking the Medicaid expansion- 300,000 people getting insurance (see page 51), and the improved economy and stability that comes from having more people insured pays back that projected $72.5 million a year extra many times over.

Now that the false Trakkkers claim has been put to bed, let's do the apples-to-apples comparison. First, how could states save money by choosing to expand a service? It seems counterfactual, but the Kaiser Foundation explains
The ACA Medicaid expansion aims to extend Medicaid coverage to most low-income people. Specifically, beginning in 2014, the ACA expands Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three in 2012) for citizens and qualified immigrants. The Medicaid expansion is 100% federally funded for the first three years (2014-2016) and at least 90% federally funded thereafter.

If all states undertake the ACA Medicaid expansion, they can extend coverage to their residents with minimal or no increase in state spending due to new federal Medicaid funds. If all states expand Medicaid under the ACA, total national Medicaid spending would increase by about $1.0 trillion over the 2013-2022 decade, with the federal government paying 93% of these costs. Most additional spending would be for the newly eligible. Of the total increased costs if all states implement the expansion, the federal government would pay $952 billion over 2013-2022, and the state share would be $76 billion (Figure ES-1). Under the ACA, the federal government will pay between 90% and 100% of the costs for those made newly eligible for Medicaid. While total Medicaid spending would increase by 16%, federal spending is expected to increase by 26% and state spending would increase by 3%, though resuls vary among states.  
And if you go further into the Kaiser Family Foundation Study, you'll see that Wisconsin varies to the good side, and that choosing to take the Medicaid money and covering more people would have been set up to be a huge money-saver for the state, had Walker decided to do so.

    Wisconsin change in Medicaid costs, Medicaid expansion vs. no expansion
   In 2016- Taking Medicaid expansion saves $116 million
   2013-2022- Taking Medicaid expansion saves a total of $248 million

   Wisconsin reduction in uninsured
    By 2022- Taking Medicaid expansion reduces uninsured by 123,000.

 The Kaiser Foundation adds another factor that doesn't show up much in the balance sheets of government, but sure has real economic effects. The Kaiser Foundation mentions that expanding Medicaid would allow for a major decrease in uncompensated care costs, which it defines as
spending on behalf of the uninsured that they did not pay themselves. Earlier research found that states and localities finance 30 percent of the uncompensated care.

Spending by states and localities on uncompensated care comes from grants to hospitals and clinics, the state share of Medicaid DSH payments, state and local support for graduate medical education, public hospitals, and indigent care programs.
In other words, it tries to reflect the cost and extra needs that result from treating the uninsured at hospitals, because by law they have to be treated. In Wisconsin's case, the Kaiser Foundation estimates that expanding Medicaid would cut these uncompensated costs by $248 million over the next 10 years, in addition to having more room freed up in emergency rooms to treat people that are truly in dire need. Seems like a no-brainer from any honest assessment. But when you have a no-brainer governor that's more concerned with making symbolic poses in order to raise campaign money from oligarchs who can't wait to take advantage of those in need, often the smart thing is not the thing that is done.
I'll go into just how loaded with fail Walker's substitute plan is at a later point (and no Journal-Sentinel, it is not a "middle ground," Walker's planting his flag high above the top of Bullshit Mountain), but we saw another example of Walker's "death to medical care by a thousand cuts" method this week. Lutheran Social Services announced it could not continue to provide services in the Eau Claire area due to low reimbursement  costs, and is closing 4 facilities and laying off 44 employees. This goes along with last month's closing of Eau Claire home health care provider Lifenet,  and the loss of 360 jobs announced this Fall by Community Health Partners, due to CHP not being able to make ends meet on the state's low-payment contracts.    
 And oh yeah, the bid to replace Logisticare (with Logisticare at a higher expense?) closes next week, with plenty of questions about the fairness and scope of services laid out in the bid, and a lack of flexibility on the Walker boys' desire for a "one-broker-for-the-entire-state" approach.  So do you trust this administration to perform policy that helps people's health outcomes and is cost-efficient? I sure don't, and I bet we end up with the worst of all worlds for the next 2 year in Wisconsin- fewer people covered with higher taxpayer costs, and our economy slowed due to higher health insurance premiums and related uncertainties taking up too much of the pie.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wisconsinites packing it up?

  One of the many reasons Scott Walker's austerity policies have failed in Wisconsin came to light in a Forbes magazine slideshow last week. Wisconsin ranked Number 10 in the nation for "States people are fleeing" for 2012, with 10% more people leaving the state than coming into it.  The stat comes from United Van Lines' annual survey, which they've put on for 36 years, and is drawn from over 125,000 moves throughout the United States.

  What makes the number remarkable for Wisconsin is not that a lot of people are leaving- that's been fairly common in some parts of the Midwest for the last few decades due to deindustrialization and people seeking warmer weather (and indeed, Illinois and Michigan end up on this Top 10 list as well).  But what it does show is a reversal of the trend of the last 20 years in Wisconsin.

  When I saw this Forbes article, I went to the Census Bureau's site, and saw that it had recently come out with its annual list of state-to-state migration patterns for 2011,  and I wanted to take a look and see how Wisconsin measured up. What I found out surprised me when I compared Wisconsin to our Midwest neighbors. The figure of net migration compares the number of people who leave vs. those who come in.

   Net migration, Midwest 2011  
   Wisc +4,069
   Minn -2,224
   Iowa -4,111
   Ohio -14,271
   Ind. -15,354
   Mich -47,347
   Ill. -52,804

   That's right, Wisconsin was the only state in the Midwest to get more people coming in than going out in 2011. And as the Wisconsin DOA wrote last year, that was basically the trend we'd had for the previous 20 years, attracting people from other parts of the country.  The Wisconsin DOA did its latest demographic projections last July, and page 11 of the report notes that Wisconsin gained an average of more than 20,000 people a year in both the 1990s and the first part of the 2000s, before starting to have people leave with the declining economy in the later 2000s.

   Wisconsin net migration, 1990-2010
   1990-2000  +227,637
   2000-2005 +105,834
   2005-2010 -25,897

   What's also interesting in the DOA report is that a lot of the moves are very specific to age, as Wisconsin often have youth move in, college grads leave (often for bigger cities like Chicago or New York), and then have many young families "boomerang" back to the state once they get their careers and families established.  
In Wisconsin, recent decades have been marked by net gains of young people ages 0-4 through 15-19 (the latter group being affected by the influx of out-of-state students attending Wisconsin’s many universities and colleges), out-migration in the post-college cohorts ages 20-24 and 25-29 (sometimes through 30-34), and then gains in "young families" cohorts starting with ages 30-34 or 35-39. Adult migration tends to taper off through about ages 60; beyond that age—early retirees onward—migration tends to be neutral, slightly higher in some decades and slightly lower in others...This pattern, or "signature," tends to hold across time: in decades with strong positive net gain, all of these rates will rise, usually with the strongest increases in the young-adult categories; in decades of net out-migration, all of these rates will fall, with the largest drops occurring among younger adults.
  And this is where the policies of Fitzwalkerstan come into play. How are you going to get those young adults and young families to come back to Wisconsin when the state's education, open-mindedness reputation, and high quality of level have been debased? Young adults of age 20-40 in particular have a lot of choices when it comes to where they want to live, and they're not going to stick around or return to a place that has a regressive social and economic policy.

 I know, I was one of those "boomerangers." I left Wisconsin at the start of 2000 to go to Indianapolis to try my luck there at age 25. And it worked in the sense that I improved my job status, education and salary. But I also missed the quality of life that existed in Wisconsin, and wanted to move back to a place that valued education and held a value system that seemed to be closer to my own. Being single, I had that opportunity at age 30 in 2005, and moved back to Madison, later Milwaukee, and then back to Madison.  

   But that was at a time when Wisconsin was still holding to the Progressive tradition and had Jim Doyle in office. And this is where you have to worry about what Walker in inflicting on this state, and its long-term effect. Because what former Badgers are seeing from outside is the state being turned upside-down, and turning into the type of neo-Confederate state that we used to rip on other places for being, saying "Thank God Wisconsin isn't like that." Well now it is, and the Forbes survey showing net migration of -10% may be an awful harbinger of what's really happening in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. The people with talent and options are leaving, and not being replaced, which not only drives down the level of talent that is left in the state, it also stagnates any chance for growth in the future.