Thursday, February 26, 2015

Polical Collapse in Wisconsin

I normally don't talk state politics, but lately you can't go anywhere without hearing that Scott Walker is the frontrunner for the Rebublican nomination for president by running Wisconsin into the ground. Seriously, despite all the corruption probes, Walker's term has been, from a purely objective, nonpolitical standpoint, an unmitigated disaster.

We lost an opportunity to invest in new infrastructure - the light rail money instead went to California and the jobs left the state. Job growth has been anemic. The very specific promises Walker made for job growth were conveniently forgotten (150,000 new jobs!!!). The emphasis on busting unions and holding down wages has - surprise, surprise - not caused the state economy to blossom, and the state is even back in the red, despite cutting services and raising fees, because Walker has doled out so many tax cuts to the very rich.

So here is a list of the most recent hits, starting with a 220 million dollar subsidy to the billionaires of the professional sports cartel while cutting 300 million from my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin:
Meanwhile in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker continues his efforts to carve up the state piecemeal. Walker is one of those governors and Republican presidential maybe-contenders whose entire reason for governance can be summed up as We Can't Have Nice Things Anymore.

    Gov. Scott Walker's plan to cut the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million over two years would likely lead to layoffs, but closing campuses is not on the table at this time, top school officials said Tuesday.

"At this time" is an interesting hedge, but the central premise is that the state university ought to be able to absorb budget cuts of $300 million over two years by eliminating "waste," which is a talking point that predates Scott Walker's birth by roughly an eon or so. Eliminating this waste, by which we mean people and services, will be accomplished in the usual Scott Walker way. The universities will be detached from state government and therefore the labor rules that regulate them, which will free up Walker supporters on the Board of Regents as they implement those rules in a manner more fitting of a kleptocracy.... 
If you are wondering why the Wisconsin university system needs to have its budget slashed by $300 million over the next two years, the proximal cause is that the previous Scott Walker tax cuts, which were going to pay for themselves what with the resulting boom in state growth caused by all the wealthy people needing new yachts to sail down the wider streets of Madison, instead continue to hemorrhage money. And we need that money to build rich people a new sporting arena.

    Calling his plan a "common-sense, fiscally conservative approach," Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday said new growth in income tax revenue from Milwaukee Bucks players, employees and visiting teams will generate enough money to cover debt payments on $220 million in state-issued bonds for a new arena. [...]

    A new arena had been expected to cost $400 million to $500 million. Based on the new calculations, it appears the cost will be at least $500 million.

    "There's absolute security for the taxpayers," Walker said. "No new taxes, no drawing on existing revenues, no exposure to the future..."

Because that $220 million of new state bonds are expected to pay for themselves, you see, what with the great gobs of money Milwaukee Bucks players will personally be paying in state income taxes, plus those hotel rooms for the other teams and whatnot. It's like printing money, and forking over hundreds of millions of dollars to build extravagant sporting venues for wealthy sporting team owners is a sure thing that has never, ever gone wrong, and Scott Walker is a Republican financial brain-genius whose past predictions on these things have been so spot-on that people can hardly contain their admiration for their man or wait for him to work his budgetary money-making voodoo on all of the rest of America.

Educating Wisconsin's residents, however, is just a gigantic money drain. How does getting an education help anyone? How does having a college-educated workforce help Wisconsin, especially when compared to the revenues that could be gotten by wooing hotel visits by visiting sporting teams? No sir, you young people and educated people need to learn that we in America can no longer afford to have nice things these days. If you wanted a high-paying career or want to work in a well-appointed, state-funded venue that the politicians of the state can devote themselves to building, you should have done something decent with yourself and become a member of a prominent sporting team and/or the owner of a sporting team. You know, a real career. Grab a ball, junior, and hope you make the cut.
Gov. Scott Walker seeks $300 million in university cuts, but $220 million to build Bucks a new arena (Daily Kos)  So 500 million for a sporting arena is a "sound investment", but connecting the state's capital and largest city by rail in a state whose climate is cold and snowy is a bad investment. Welcome to Tea Party America.

Scott Walker proposes big cut to University of Wisconsin System (MSNBC) And of course, not content with that, he exchanged the "Wisconsin Idea" of betterment of the human race to "meeting the state's workforce needs." None too subtle, eh?
It was not enough for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin suddenly to propose a destructive 13 percent cut in state support for the University of Wisconsin’s widely respected system. His biennial budget plan, released Tuesday, reached gratuitously into the university’s hallowed 111-year-old mission statement to delete a bedrock principle: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

The budget — patently tailored for the governor’s conservative campaign for the Republican presidential nomination — inserted language that the university should be more narrowly concerned with meeting “the state’s work force needs.”

Brazenly deleted as well from the mission statement, which is nationally appreciated in education circles as the Wisconsin Idea, were the far from controversial goals “to educate people and improve the human condition” and “serve and stimulate society.” It was as if a trade school agenda were substituted for the idea of a university.
Gov. Walker’s ‘Drafting Error’ (NYtimes) Because we certainly don't want people to think, now do we? Walker and his ilk would never get elected.

About those tax cuts and red ink:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker touts the generous tax cuts he's pushed through since 2010 to bolster his image as one of the 2016 GOP presidential field’s most high-profile fiscal conservatives. (One economically conservative activist told Slate's Betsy Woodruff that Walker's 2014 gubernatorial election was more important to him than every other election in the country combined.) But those tax cuts have not created the hoped-for economic growth, and even after big reductions in public spending, Wisconsin is in the midst of a budget crisis: Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the Walker administration will skip a debt payment of $108 million that is due in May.

Spokesman Cullen Werwie told Bloomberg that the state will restructure its debt obligations to avoid default, but the delay will result in a substantial increase in the cost of the loan for Wisconsin taxpayers.  
Scott Walker, Fiscal Responsibility Candidate, Orders His State to Skip Debt Payment (Slate)

But I'm sure the new agenda will bring economic growth - "right to work" legislation, voter ID laws, and drug testing welfare recipeints (it will actually cost the state more money to demonize welfare recipeints, putting us further in the red):
Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who is considering a Republican presidential run, has promised to sign into law an anti-union bill targeted at the state’s private sector workers that is an almost verbatim copy of model legislation devised by an ultra-rightwing network of corporate lobbyists.

On Friday, Walker dropped his earlier opposition to a so-called “right to work” bill, which he had described as a “distraction”, signalling that he would sign it into law should it succeed in passing the Wisconsin legislature. Republican members are rushing through the provision, which would strip private sector unions of much of their fee-collecting and bargaining powers.
Wisconsin anti-union bill is 'word for word' from rightwing lobbyist group (The Guardian)
Are Food Stamp recipients in Wisconsin failing to get jobs because they are on drugs? That’s the story Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is peddling. He favors drug testing all working age adult welfare and food stamp recipients to send a message to recipients to “get yourself productive and stop asking the taxpayers to help subsidize your lifestyle,” as he put it.

Gov. Scott Walker has also embraced this proposal and wants to expand it to include all adults receiving Medicaid and unemployment benefits. “This is not a punitive measure. This is about getting people ready for work,” he noted. “I’m not making it harder to get government assistance, I’m making it easier to get a job.”

To the casual observer this might sound sensible. But the closer you look at the proposal the more nonsensical it appears. For starters, many recipients of Medicaid and even Food Stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) already have a job, but it pays so little they need assistance. Statistics show that as high as 58 percent of those getting food stamps are employed. As for Medicaid, the data shows that 83 percent of this funding to goes to the elderly, disabled, or working poor. If the goal is to help the working poor and lower government subsidies, raising the minimum wage would accomplish far more than giving a drug test.

The idea that public assistance recipients have are prone to drugs or have a “lifestyle” problem, as Vos puts it, has been disproven in other states that tried testing. In Florida, just two percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests of their urine, compared to 8 percent of the general population that uses illegal drugs. In Tennessee, just one of 800 tested had a positive result, a rate of 0.12 percent.

Then there is the cost of doing drug screens. In Florida, it cost $30, and the cost of the tests has pretty much equalled the small savings realized by throwing a tiny percentage of welfare recipients off the rolls.
Hey, Let’s Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients (Urban Milwaukee) I've been on unemployment in Wisconsin. Nice to know that next time I'll have to take the bus downtown and regularly pee in a cup in between those job searches!
In many respects, the point of Walker’s anti-union crusade was to destroy the electoral muscle of the main opposition to his conservative agenda. But the most important impact of the creeping death of public unions in Wisconsin may be on take-home pay.

The Washington Post didn’t take note of this, but according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, median household income in Wisconsin is $51,467 a year, nearly $800 below the national average. And it has fallen consistently since the passage of the anti-union law in 2011, despite a small bounce-back nationally in 2013. The Bureau of Economic Analysis puts Wisconsin in the middle of the pack on earnings growth, despite a fairly tight labor market with a headline unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.

This actually undercounts the problem a bit, because it doesn’t cover total compensation. For example, in the wake of the anti-union law, public employees lost the equivalent of 8-10 percent in take-home pay because of increased contributions to healthcare and pension benefits.

Moreover, the meager earnings growth that has come to Wisconsin has mostly gone to the top 1 percent of earners. Another Wisconsin Budget Project report shows that the state hit a record share of income going to the very top in 2012, a year after passage of the anti-union law. That doesn’t include the $2 billion in tax cuts Walker initiated in his first term, which went disproportionately to the highest wage earners. (This is precisely the agenda Walker is likely to run on in his presidential campaign.)
Scott Walker’s economic mess: How worker wages were gutted in Wisconsin (Salon)

Expect more of that, here's what he's doing while we're paying his salary: Scott Walker to attend private dinner with supply-siders in New York (Washington Post)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to attend a private dinner Wednesday with longtime advocates of supply-side economics. Economists Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore will host Walker, according to several people with knowledge of the event. For decades, that trio of friends — all associated with President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies — have been high-profile proponents of using tax cuts to boost economic growth.
Yes, kids, there's no limit on how far you can go by being a shill for the rich! You can even be a college dropout, unlike working-clsss people.
Set aside, for a moment, his repeated refusal, in the past few days, to say whether he believes that President Obama loves America, or whether he believes that the President is a Christian, and look instead at Walker’s record running what used to be one of America’s more progressive states. Having cut taxes for the wealthy and stripped many of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights, he is now preparing to sign a legislative bill that would cripple unions in the private sector. Many wealthy conservatives, such as the Koch brothers, who have funnelled a lot of money to groups supporting Walker, regard him as someone who’s turning his state into a showcase for what they want the rest of America to look like.
The Dangerous Candidacy of Scott Walker (The New Yorker) Wisconsin is now the Koch bother's "laboratory."

This article delves a little deeper into the reason for Walker's success in Wisconsin, which I can tell you from being here, is totally accurate. It's basically divide-and-conquer, along with mining the bottomless pit of white racial grievance and directing anger against urban dwellers and minorities:
Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee has developed into the most bitterly divided political ground in the country—“the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation,” as a recent series by Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it. Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. These trends predate Walker, but they have enabled his ascent, and his tenure in government has only served to intensify them. Anyone who believes that he is the Republican to save his party—let alone win a presidential election—needs to understand the toxic and ruptured landscape he will leave behind.
Scott Walker's Toxic Racial Politics (New Republic) A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star. Long, but a must-read. I can't escape from Wisconsin soon enough!

Incidentally, to see an alternative style of governance in action, see neighboring Minnesota: This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage -- Now, His State's Economy Is One of the Best in the Country (Huffington Post) The difference is, of course, that because the governor of Minnesota is wealthy and not a college dropout, he does not have to climb the greasy pole by being an empty shill for plutocrats.


  1. It's not about results. The man is a ruthless power hog, and that's what counts with "them."

  2. Scott Walker's governorship has not been an unmitigated disaster. He's done precisely what the ruling elite put him in there to do. They now want him to do the same thing to the rest of the country from the White House. No surprise.

    Scott Walker isn't "wrong-headed" or "incompetent" or "misguided". Walker did what he was put there to do, he did it extremely well, and in gratitude the overlords want him immortalized as POTUS.

    I go through life amazed at how much vicious people are allowed to get away with. There's plenty of complaining to be heard, of course, but the heads don't hit the basket until the vicious ruling elites have committed terrible crimes for decades.

    If I were to recommend anything, besides getting money out of American politics, it's that psychological testing be mandatory for all political offices (branching out from there, I hope), and any markers for sociopathy be widely publicized. Sociopaths should be utterly prohibited by law from holding public office. If they have no empathy, they have no business being there.

  3. I actually think he has been a political success so far. He has been a governmental disaster.


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  5. "We lost an opportunity to invest in new infrastructure - the light rail money instead went to California and the jobs left the state."

    That prompted me to search my blog for posts about Scott Walker and the first one to catch my eye was Why do Tea Partiers hate high-speed rail? That was four years ago and he has only gotten worse.

    Now that he's a leading GOP candidate for President, I need a label for him. How does Total Recall sound? It will fit right in with calling Romney Willard the Rat, Santorum The Froth, and Rand Paul Aqua Buddha.


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