Thursday, March 28, 2013

Latest jobs data shows we were better off before Gov. Walker

State rankings and wage increases were higher under Gov. Doyle's last year of office

We knew Wisconsin’s job numbers were pretty bad. But recently released data sheds some light into how rough they really are.

From September 2011 to September 2012, Wisconsin jobs grew at an annual rate of just 0.9 percent. Only seven states and territories did worse than Wisconsin, ranking the Badger State at number 44 in the nation in terms of job growth.
A Walker-vs-Doyle comparison on jobs

Regionally, although not by huge margins, neighboring states did better than Wisconsin. Minnesota (1.0 percent) was the closest to Wisconsin’s rate, while Michigan more than doubled our growth (2.0 percent). Illinois and Iowa (1.4 and 1.3 percent, respectively) also showed higher rates.

Wisconsin also fared worst of the states in the region in terms of private sector wage losses. In all, in the one-year time period our state employee yearly wages dropped by $884 -- or about a 2.2 percent decrease.

Only three states nationally saw their workers’ weekly wages go up, with one of the three being Minnesota (an increase of 0.3 percent). Michigan saw a drop of 1.6 percent, Iowa a decrease of 0.3 percent, and Illinois saw wages go down by 1.4 percent. So while states in the area also saw decreases, none did worse than Wisconsin.

Overall, Wisconsin ranked 45th in wage gains/losses among the states, and fared worse than three non-state geographical areas, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In September 2011, we had ranked as the 31st best-paid private sector state to live in. Before Walker had taken office, our ranking was even better, at 30th in the nation. We have since dropped to 32nd as of September 2012, not a significant change but a definite step in the wrong direction.

Nearly 50,400 jobs have been created from the time Gov. Scott Walker took office to September 2012. That sounds like a significant number -- but keep in mind, that’s over a period of 21 months, amounting to about 2,400 jobs per month.

Remember that Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term in office. As of September 2012, we are 199,600 jobs shy of that promise. To reach his pledge, Wisconsin would need to triple its current rate of job growth over the next two years, a feat that seems unlikely to happen.

And while 50,400 jobs sounds like a lot to have created, keep in mind the number of people with jobs -- a different survey altogether, counting the number of people actually working in Wisconsin -- has been growing even slower.

In December 2010, the month before Scott Walker became governor, Wisconsin had 2,826,494 citizens working. The current estimate for December of 2012, two years into Walker’s first term, has 2,844,482 Wisconsinites working -- an increase of just 17,988 more people working in the state.

It’s remarkable that the governor thinks that jobs are a mark of improvement in his time in office. While it has been positive, job growth has stagnated under Walker's watch, slowing considerably compared to the last year in office his predecessor.

In fact, from December 2009 to December 2010, the last year of Gov. Jim Doyle’s last term in office, Wisconsin’s job growth was 1.5 percent. The state’s average employee wages also went up that year by $1,612.

So where exactly are things working? How is the state better off, in terms of job creation, under Scott Walker? Under his leadership, job growth has slowed, and wages have decreased. If that’s what he considers “the successes that we’ve had” under his tenure, then we’re in worse shape than we originally thought.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chapter ideas for Scott Walker's book

Highlighting the "greatest hits" for one of Wisconsin's worst

It's a standard for presidential candidates to write books about their lives and philosophies, so it's no wonder really why Gov. Scott Walker is planning to write one himself. According to the National Review, Walker recently hired former President George W. Bush advisor Marc Thiessen to help write the project.

Since Walker has to spend all his time making Wisconsin better, creating economic conditions that make jobs, traveling across the country and ignoring his home state, he may need some help coming up with chapter titles for his book. Here's some suggestions:
  1. My Dad was a pastor, how about that?!
  2. Didja know I’m an Eagle Scout too!? (or, how I achieved a remarkable feat as a young person but failed to live up to the standards it represented in subsequent years)
  3. My years at Marquette Nothing to see here!
  4. Becoming Scott Walker: Recalls are an important fixture of Wisconsin’s identity
  5. Dropping the “bomb,” part one: I’m Ronald-FREAKIN’-Reagan, baby!
  6. Dropping the “bomb,” part two: conversations with “David Koch”
  7. Becoming Scott Walker: Recalls are a terrible fixture of Wisconsin’s identity!
  8. I won the recall! Everything’s better! Especially jobs!
  9. How things didn’t really get better -- blame the recalls, the debt ceiling, Europe, Obamacare, and anything else you can think of
  10. $200,000 means I didn’t do anything wrong, got it?
  11. Hey, maybe I should be president, I mean, look at all the things I did!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recalls, "uncertainty" didn't hinder Wisconsin job numbers

Gov. Walker's excuses for slower job growth carry little merit

Revised jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that growth in Wisconsin has been dismal, demonstrating that Gov. Scott Walker’s record on job creation is mediocre at best and lackluster at worst.

When lined up against the rest of the states in our region, there is no comparison: the annual rate of change in job growth in Wisconsin barely squeaks past 0.8 percent per year since 2011, while states surrounding Wisconsin all have rates between 1.1 and 1.8 percent.

States whom Walker has been openly critical of have also done noticeably better than Wisconsin -- both Minnesota and Illinois have higher rates as well as higher numbers of jobs created during the same time period as our governor’s first term.

Minnesota ranks 10th overall nationally in job growth since 2011, and Illinois ranks 30th. Wisconsin, on the other hand, remains in the bottom ten, ranking 44th in job growth over the past two years.

Beyond these observations, the excuses that Gov. Walker has offered up for Wisconsin’s poor performance seem to have fallen flat on their face. Walker had previously blamed everything he could for the state’s lagging numbers, from European economies to Obamacare to Capitol protestors to the various recalls we witnessed (both within the legislative and executive branches).

But the numbers show that, during the time period that Walker blamed his dismal record on, job growth was actually at its strongest in the state, suggesting that the recalls and the protests didn’t have such a negative effect after all.

From the time that the protests began (February 2011) to the month of Gov. Walker’s own recall (June 2012), Wisconsin saw a growth of 38,400 jobs in the state. That amounts to about 2,258.8 jobs per month.

Contrast that with the rate following the recall. In the seven months since Walker won the right to carry out his term in office, the state has gained an additional 3,800 jobs -- or just above 542 jobs per month.

That means that, since the recalls ended, Wisconsin’s rate of job growth has been reduced by more than 75 percent of what it was during the so-called “uncertain” times.

The numbers show the opposite of what the governor has claimed -- and while it’d be wrong to say the protests and recalls helped job growth, certainly they didn’t hinder it, and definitely not to the extent that Gov. Walker has tried to explain previously.

The facts cannot be disputed: job growth was never affected by “tumultuous” or “uncertain” times due to protests or the recalls. And supposed “reforms” by Walker, including reducing take-home pay of state workers through Act 10 and tax giveaways to wealthy corporate interests, have failed or even stymied job creation in the state.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scott Walker’s tax cuts are a bad choice for Wisconsin’s working families

Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit would benefit the state better

Scott Walker’s tax cut is a terrible plan for Wisconsin’s working families.

Now I know what you’re thinking: how can a tax cut be a bad thing, especially for middle and lower income families?

The answer is simple: when it fails to work in their interests, an income tax cut won’t do them any good. A simpler, much less expensive plan, would do much more good for working class Wisconsinites.

To explain this point further, some background is needed: in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker reduced the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working families. The 2011 budget reduced the EITC by $56 million total. Keep that number in mind for later.

The gutting of this popular tax credit amounted to significant losses for the middle class and poorer Wisconsinites -- a single mother with three children working minimum wage, for example, saw her tax credit reduced by more than $500 last year. A two-parent household with two children saw their credit reduced by $154.

Let’s now consider Gov. Walker’s tax cut proposal. In practice it would affect how the state’s income tax brackets calculate what is owed by taxpayers. By reducing those brackets, however, it also reduces the taxes of not just the working class but also the wealthy as well.

A classic argument there is that the wealthy deserve an income tax break, too, seeing as they pay most of the income taxes the state collects. Indeed, many Wisconsinites don’t even pay income tax after their credits are calculated into things.

But the poor do pay other taxes -- sales tax, property tax, and other excise taxes that help fund the state. And when you calculate those taxes into the totals, you get an effective tax that’s overwhelmingly regressive wherein the poor actually pay a higher percent of income than the rich.

Wisconsin's effective tax rates burden the working class
According to a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (PDF), the lowest 20 percent of income earners in the state pay 9.6 percent of their paychecks towards state taxes. That’s significantly lower than the top 5 percent of taxpayers, who pay an effective rate of 8.3 percent of their income towards taxes. The top 1 percent pays even lower: 6.9 percent.

In short, it’s the state's poor who bear the burden, paying a larger chunk of their pay towards taxes than the wealthy.

But a tax cut is a tax cut, right? Walker’s proposal to cut the income tax will benefit middle class and poorer Wisconsinites, will give them SOMETHING back, so we should quit complaining.

Well, not so fast. What Wisconsinites receive back from this supposed tax cut (PDF) pales in comparison to what they lost two years ago.

A family with a median income in Wisconsin (roughly $50,000 annually) will receive a whopping tax cut of $74, and that single mother working minimum wage won’t even see more than $21 back in tax cuts per year under this proposal.

Obviously that $21 is a significant difference compared to the nearly $500 she lost in tax breaks from Walker’s gutting of the EITC. But wouldn’t it cost the state more to restore her lost EITC than to give her the tax break Walker is proposing?

Surprisingly, no -- it’d actually be economically better for the state to restore the EITC to pre-2011 levels than to implement Walker’s tax cuts. Remember how I said to keep in mind the $56 million that Walker took out from the EITC in 2011 above? That’s because Walker’s proposed tax cuts will end up reducing state revenues by more than $300 million.

So for the cost of restoring the EITC to what it previously was -- about one-sixth the cost of what Walker is proposing in tax cuts -- we could double a working family’s tax savings, and increase the tax savings of a single mother of three children (working minimum wage) more than 20 times over.

The choice should be obvious: we should restore the EITC and invest the remaining costs of Walker’s tax cuts into other programs that have seen cuts as well, such as education and health care. But that’s not the choice Walker wants to make. Why? Because it doesn’t give tax breaks to the rich, his core base.

That’s what this is all about in the end -- who gets the tax breaks. As I already mentioned, it’s the poor who are really burdened by the tax code in our state. They have a higher effective tax rate even if they don’t pay a significant portion of the income tax.

We should do what’s best for the people of Wisconsin who are still struggling. What’s more, we shouldn’t give crumbs to those in need when the costs of giving something substantial back to them is less.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hypocrisy of Walker exposed following John Doe investigation

Current governor once called for the removal of former gov. following criminal investigation

The fallout from the John Doe investigation seems to be the job of Graeme Zielinski, the (now) former Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Communications Director. Zielinski, who made malicious tweets comparing Gov. Scott Walker to serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, was promptly removed from his position on Monday to a lesser role as “media consultant” for the DPW.

While his demotion was understandable, all of the hubbub from the Zielinski tweets seems to have masked the bigger picture: what does the closure of the investigation really entail?

Though conservatives across the state saw the end of John Doe as vindication for their beloved governor, the end of the investigation does not necessarily mean he’s innocent. We need to keep in mind that a handful of his workers, in the very same office that Walker himself was occupying, have since been found guilty of using taxpayer dollars for political purposes.

And while no criminal charges have been brought to Walker himself, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t know about it or actively looked the other way: it could very well mean that there’s just not enough evidence for the prosecution to bring forth such a case.

Still, such notions are mere speculation; Gov. Walker came out of the investigation unscathed and untouched, and it does us no good to look back when we must look forward.

But before we do move on, it’s important to note one last thing: by Scott Walker’s own standards, he is unfit to serve as governor.

Walker once spoke ill of his Democratic predecessor, who had in his own administration a low-level purchasing agent that faced criminal charges -- who wasn’t even hired by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, but by Scott McCallum, the Republican governor BEFORE Doyle.

The purchasing agent, Georgia Thompson, was eventually acquitted of all charges thrown against her. In fact, the appeals court called the case against her as “beyond thin,” but that didn’t stop then-County Executive Scott Walker from railing off against a Democratic governor whom he wanted out of office:

“The indictment handed down today shows how corruption can infiltrate all areas of government,” Walker said. “[It] provides further confirmation that the Doyle administration is damaged and must be removed from the Capitol.”

Walker saw one conviction -- which, again, was overturned in an appeals court -- of a public servant several steps away from the executive office as reason enough to justify the removal of an entire administration.

Imagine what he’d have said of a half-dozen people close to the governor being charged with crimes.

That’s how many were convicted in John Doe. Today, however, Gov. Walker, ever the hypocrite, maintains his innocence, in spite of his feelings on Gov. Jim Doyle just a few short years ago.

Were he consistent on the issue, were he to hold true to his own sentiments from 2006, perhaps Walker would have a better understanding of why so many today are skeptical of the outcome of the John Doe investigation.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Unless change comes soon, state Dems will struggle to stay relevant

Comments from communications director among the many challenges the party faces

The history of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin is remarkably shorter than some realize. Largely dormant for much of the state’s lifetime, the party itself didn’t become a significant player until after World War II. Before that time, the Republican Party and the Progressive Party (founded by Fighting “Bob” La Follette) sparred for the votes of the Badger State.

The Progressives eventually merged with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin mid-20th century, and since that time the dual-party system consistent with the rest of the nation has been in place: Democrats representing the left and Republicans representing the right.

To say that the DPW's presence is relatively young in our state would be no exaggeration. Though the Democratic Party is the oldest political organization in our nation’s history, in Wisconsin it’s still considerably new, despite always being around in the background. It’s relevance as a political actor in our state is still being tested.

That test is all-the-more evident this week. Following the “exoneration” of Gov. Scott Walker in the John Doe investigation (if you can call it that), DPW officials acted less than cordially over an issue they banked on in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Specifically, DPW communications director Graeme Zielinksi railed off a series of “tweets”, some of which were aimed at comparing the governor to the infamous Wisconsin serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

DPW spokesman Graeme Zielinski and Chair Mike Tate
There can be no doubt that Zielinski’s tweets crossed the line. He has since apologized for them, but the damage has already been done.

Instead of taking the opportunity to re-examine the next move to make, the DPW looked foolish, becoming the subject of mockery across the state -- and deservingly so. Scott Walker is many things, but comparing him to a serial killer is a ridiculous notion to make. Such comments come off as childish, and fail to win over any Wisconsinites who might consider becoming or supporting Democrats.

Zielinski could have pointed out that the length of the John Doe investigation implies that Walker was under consideration for criminal behavior, and that the closing of the case at this point merely means that his guilt couldn’t yet be proven. Though a remark of that nature still could come with some questioning glances, it pales in comparison to what Zielinski actually said:
@GovWalker had better lawyers than Jeffrey Dahmer in beating the rap. Clear that he committed crimes
It may be forgivable of the party to let this action slide were it the first instance -- but Zielinski’s words have previously been over the top. It’s nothing new for DPW Chair Mike Tate to have to make excuses, to apologize for his Communications Director’s uninspiring temper.

Some have called for Zielinski to be fired; others have called for Tate himself to be replaced. Perhaps those calls are justified, and perhaps they aren’t; but unless some significant action is taken soon, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin may once again be finding itself in the same position it was a century ago: as an irrelevant player in state politics.

Whatever course of action that is taken, it needs to go beyond merely detailing what Gov. Walker has done, beyond the destruction his administration has wrought, to what the party itself would actually do in his place. When that message becomes clearer to understand, and when it’s shown how it will work positively for the people of Wisconsin, the problems that Democrats face will be far easier to overcome.