Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recall ON: signature count defies expectations

More than 96 percent of recall signatures valid

The Government Accountability Board will officially recommend tomorrow moving forward the recall elections of Gov. Scott Walker, his Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and several Republican state senators, following the certification of millions of signatures submitted in favor of their facing special elections.

The GAB certified 900,938 signatures as valid against the governor specifically, striking less than four percent of those submitted as invalid. To put the size of that number into greater perspective, recall organizers needed only 540,208 signatures to trigger a recall, meaning the number they garnered was 166 percent greater than what was required of them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

February job numbers show improvement, but is it Walker's doing?

Effects of governor's "reforms" aren't responsible for job growth this year

The job numbers from February (and revised numbers for January) were released last week (PDF), showing a two-month growth in numbers thus far this year. Unfortunately, those numbers still fail to help the state recover from the disastrous "reforms" Gov. Scott Walker put in place last year.

With the revised January numbers and the preliminary February numbers from this year, Walker remains more than 8,000 jobs short of the number he inherited when he took office a year ago.

Walker touts economic forecast that shows we're "treading water" (at best)

Governor cites study his administration had previously ignored

Gov. Scott Walker recently took the time to tout a new report that says Wisconsin's economy is set to improve.

"Strong signals suggest we are turning things around for Wisconsin’s economy," Walker said, "and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s newest report of state leading economic indexes provides yet one more indication that our pro-jobs policies are moving us in the right direction."

That's an interesting study to choose, however -- previous Philadelphia Reserve Bank reports have been scoffed at by the Walker administration and his supporters after they have consistently shown Wisconsin heading in a more disastrous path. It's also highly misleading: the entire country is set to improve, and Wisconsin is going to be behind the rest of the pack once again.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sens. Jauch and Schultz threatened by recalls

Ironies exist within movement to oust Democratic, Republican lawmakers

Wisconsin State Sens. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) are both new targets of a recall campaign. The reason? Both senators co-authored a compromise version of a mining bill that would have kept intact the rights of citizens to voice their input on the mine, as well as preserve established environmental standards within the state.

The proposal, which had the support of 17 state senators (a majority), failed to pass because the Republican leadership wouldn't allow it to be voted upon in the Senate. Instead, those leaders insisted that only their bill, which had the support of 16 senators (a minority), could suffice.

Should judges who sign recalls recuse themselves?

Judges shouldn't be restricted from participating in the democratic process

Should judges be allowed to sign recall petitions? If so, should their doing so play a part in whether their rulings should be taken seriously, or whether they should rule at all?

A recent news article highlights the phenomenon in detail, noting that 29 Wisconsin circuit judges have indeed signed the recall petition against Gov. Scott Walker. Excluding appellate judges and State Supreme Court justices (none of whom signed the petition), that amounts to about 12 percent of the state's judiciary.

Prior to this discovery, the issue of judges signing the recall was brought up in a different context. Judge David Flanagan, who issued a temporary injunction halting the voter ID law that Republicans had passed last year, had also signed a petition (which his wife had circulated). Critics of his ruling held that he had a conflict of interest in the case, that his signing the recall somehow inferred that he had a personal bias in making his decision.

The specific issue has since been somewhat resolved since another injunction by a separate judge (who HADN'T signed the recall) was released last week. Still, the question lingers: can a judge participate in a political action like a recall and remain impartial?

The answer depends upon what issue is at hand. When a judge makes it clear that his or her intent is to rule in a political manner, then it's obviously flawed. Flanagan, for example, had many problems within his own ruling (citing Supreme Court Justice "William" Scalia, for example, when it's really Antonin Scalia). Judge Niess, however, utilized clear case law, citing examples from over 180 years ago to the present to showcase why voter ID was intolerable in our state.

Recusal also depends upon what the issue at hand is. If the case has to deal specifically with the recall candidate in question, or has to do with the recall itself, the judge should probably recuse him- or herself. But an issue that doesn't directly deal with the person in question or doesn't have anything to do with the recall shouldn't require a judge to needlessly step aside.

Judges ruling on voter ID bills, for example, shouldn't have to recuse themselves on the basis of signing a recall because (A) the opinion they issue won't directly impact the recall itself, and (B) the decision will affect the recall candidate and the candidate's opponent equally.

Judges are held to higher standards because they are meant to look at the rule of law without bias. But judges are also citizens, and with that title they are granted the same rights that you and I are given. Judges must be able to discern when it is appropriate to play which role, and shouldn't play them both at the same time. But preventing a judge from having any input in the democratic process is itself an undemocratic restriction.

Mitchell's candidacy includes, goes beyond workers' rights

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor would work to restore Wisconsin's ideals

Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, announced today that he will run for the office of Lieutenant Governor against current office-holder Rebecca Kleefisch in her impending recall election late this spring. Mitchell's entrance into the race signals the first major name to challenge Kleefisch, giving Democrats a guaranteed full ticket against both her and Gov. Scott Walker.

Mitchell's candidacy is beneficial for two reasons. First, being the head of a respected union, Mitchell exemplifies the fact that the Democrats mean business when it comes to protecting workers' rights in the state.

But more than that, Mitchell represents those who WEREN'T affected by Gov. Scott Walker's attack on state workers. Firefighters weren't forced to take lower pay or lose their collective bargaining rights when Walker introduced his budget repair bill early last year. Even so, firefighters were among those that protested when hundreds of thousands descended upon the Capitol, recognizing the attack as one that would affect more than those directly hit by it. As the Democratic Party of Wisconsin notes, Mitchell was "a first responder to the Scott Walker emergency."

Mitchell has since been an ardent critic of the Walker administration, sounding off on various issues beyond the right to bargain contracts collectively. He's noted tax loopholes allowing new companies in the state to pay zero taxes and other tax policies that have benefited corporations while hurting the people of Wisconsin. He's touted the hypocrisy of the Walker administration on education, observing that "[Walker and Kleefisch] talk about improving education and then cut $800 million from our schools so they can give more money to private classrooms with no accountability."

Most of all, he's energized many progressive Wisconsinites who are eager to have a fresh face in state politics, particularly within this new movement itself. Much like Lori Compas has in her recall campaign against Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, Mitchell brings out an electrified element to the recalls overall, tearing the house down in nearly every speech he gives.

The candidacy of Mahlon Mitchell is about more than restoring collective bargaining rights to state workers -- Mitchell's union already has those rights respected. It will be a big part of his campaign for sure, but his goal will be greater than that, towards restoring the state of Wisconsin itself to what it was before Walker and Kleefisch took office.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wisconsin Judicial Commission files complaint against Justice Prosser

Embattled justice continues to face problems due to behavior issues

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has rendered a decision regarding Justice David Prosser's conduct on the State Supreme Court last year, during which the conservative justice wrapped his hands around a fellow female justice's neck and called another female justice (and head of the Court) a "total bitch."

The Commission has submitted an official complaint to the Supreme Court, which will decide how to further proceed.

Here are some excerpts from the actual complaint (PDF):
"The Commission has found probable cause to believe that Justice Prosser willfully violated SCR 60.04(1)(o), Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct. This provision states that a judge must cooperate with other judges of a common judicial system to promote the satisfactory administration of justice."

"The Commission has found probable cause to believe that Justice Prosser willfully violated SCR 60.02, Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct. This provision, in relevant part, states that an independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved."

"By his conduct, words and behavior, Justice Prosser willfully...engaged in judicial misconduct pursuant to Wis. Stat. 757.81(4)(a)."
Emphases added.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Prosser has consistently defended his actions, egregious as they may be. On the matter of calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a "total bitch," Prosser has gone on record saying, "I probably overreacted, but I think it was entirely warranted." And on the count of the altercation between him and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, Prosser again defends himself, claiming that he was merely putting his hands up while the female justice was charging him.

How one determines that a shaking of the fist means you should put your hands around someone's neck is up for debate (though most would come to the reasonable conclusion that it's unjustifiable). Clearly, Prosser made a mistake in his actions but is unwilling to account for them. Furthermore, his excuses border on sexist, reminiscent of the "old days" when it was typical for men to blame the abuse they carried out on their own victims (e.g. "she MADE me do it!").

David Prosser is unfit for the Supreme Court. It's not his ideology that is at issue, nor his lackadaisical judicial opinions, but rather the way he conducts himself in his official capacity within the state's highest judicial authority...especially, it seems, around women.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When criticizing his predecessor, Walker ignores global economic recession

Claims that Wisconsin was worse under Doyle exaggerated

Editor's note: the following post uses Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers. I tend to use BLS in every post on jobs I can. Yesterday, I wrote a post using DWD numbers since the BLS site hadn't updated yet. Though the two indicate different numbers for different months, the changes are almost insignificant to warrant edits to yesterday's post. Keep that in mind if you see discrepancies between numbers on today's post and Monday's.

Yesterday I looked at jobs during the first year of Gov. Scott Walker's term, noting that two budgets were active during that time (the tail end of Gov. Jim Doyle's and the first six months of Walker's). Those two budgets produced very different outcomes in terms of jobs in 2011, with the current governor's budget (and other reforms) producing great losses for Wisconsin overall.

It was suggested to me that I should look further back, to compare Doyle's numbers even more with Walker's. After all, as Gov. Walker has pointed out in his latest (misleading) ad, we lost more than 150,000 jobs in the three years before he assumed office. Wouldn't those years be worth looking at, then, to investigate whether or not comparisons can truly be made between the two?

The answer, frankly, is that any comparison between the two would be like comparing apples to oranges -- Doyle was governor during a global economic recession, while Walker has thus far reigned during a time of recovery. Still, it's worth looking into to see just how bad things were then, and how bad they are now.

As usual, when looking at the details of job numbers, I find it's easier to graph it out. Here's the job numbers, looking only at the totals in bar graph form:

It's clear where the recession hit Wisconsin -- and hit it hard -- and where the recovery begins. From December of 2007 (the recognized start of the recession) to June 2009, there are significant drops in job numbers in the state. After June 2009, these drops lessen, and we begin to see a recovery take shape in the form of positive job numbers from the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2011.

Beginning in the second quarter of 2011, however, jobs again went south.

The graph below illustrates the job changes in terms of which governor was in place (Doyle and Walker):

Aside from what we discussed above, this graph demonstrates a change once governor Walker takes office. But what caused that change is unnoticeable at first glance. Indeed, the first three months of Walker's term shows that there were increases. What caused those increases, and what caused the subsequent decreases in the remaining months of Walker's first year?

The graph above puts it into a bit more perspective. The quarter that follows passage of Act 10 (the removal of collective bargaining rights) sees a dramatic drop, the first quarterly drop since 2009. The next two drops in quarterly job numbers follow Gov. Walker's implementation of his budget, which cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations by billions of dollars.

This isn't to say that the Doyle years were perfect -- I have many criticisms of former Gov. Jim Doyle, and feel he could have governed in a much better way. But the implications that many Walker supporters make of the years Doyle was in charge (and the job losses suffered "under his watch") are baseless, and neglect to remember that it was an economic meltdown, not the actions of Doyle, that caused jobs to diminish so substantially.

What's more, Doyle's job losses came at a time when the rest of the country was experiencing similar losses. His gains, too, came when the country was recovering. But while the country continued to improve when Walker assumed office, Wisconsin suffered.

Compare the graphs above with the famous "bikini graph" detailing the Obama recovery:

Where there's substantial losses during the last year under Walker, the rest of the nation has seen consistent increases, indicating that the problems we have are seen here alone. In fact, Wisconsin led the nation in job losses during Walker's first year, a sad reality that our state needs to address.

The governor and his supporters can dress it up all they want, describing the years that proceeded Walker as worse than what his first year was like. By doing so, Walker hopes to make his job losses seem less severe. But Walker's losses came at a time when the nation was in a recovery; the losses of Doyle came at a time when everyone else was losing jobs, too.

The two are incomparable...though for losing jobs during a time of economic stabilization and positive numbers at the national level, Walker has failed on one of the biggest campaign pledges he made.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lacking argument, Walker calls Judge Niess a "Dane County activist"

Governor fails to make feasible argument regarding content of judge's voter ID decision

A second Wisconsin circuit court judge has ruled the voter ID law passed last year as unconstitutional.

Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs -- the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization -- Judge Richard Niess determined that the voter ID law was in direct conflict (PDF) with the state's constitutional mandates for who is and isn't a qualified voter.
Article III is unambiguous, and means exactly what it says. It creates both necessary and sufficient requirements for qualified voters. Every United States citizen 18 years of age or older who resides in an election district in Wisconsin is a qualified elector in that district...

The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses those qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily-created qualifications not contained in Article III, such as a photo ID.
Yet the judge's ruling wasn't enough to satisfy Gov. Scott Walker, whose Facebook account (as typed out by his staff members) shows us just why he opposes Niess's judgment:

Within that update, something very obvious is missing: an argument against Niess's ruling based on content. It's easy to argue that a judge's ruling is based on ideology, that some "Dane County liberal" is ruling in a radical way. It'd be more interesting if Walker and his staff were able to look at the ruling and make an argument based on the content within.

Perhaps they attacked Niess's ideological/geographical positioning because they COULDN'T argue against the ruling. The ruling is utilizes a strict constructionist interpretation of law -- a theory of jurisprudence common among conservatives, not liberals, that states that what's read in the Constitution must be what's implemented, nothing more and nothing less.

Article III of the state Constitution specifically states what qualifies an elector and what doesn't. Niess points out that the legislature doesn't have the power to change the qualifications of an elector:
"The elector possessing the qualifications prescribed by the constitution is invested with the constitutional right to vote at any election in this state. These qualifications are explicit, exclusive, and unqualified by any exceptions, provisos or conditions, and the constitution, either directly or by implication, confers no authority upon the legislature to change, impair, add to or abridge them in any respect"
Emphasis added.

That quote, from Niess's opinion released today, isn't his own interpretation of the state Constitution. It's from a ruling made by the State Supreme Court in 1880, 132 years ago.

Niess goes on, in his ruling, to point out that the provisions in the voter ID law in no way stand the scrutiny of the state Constitution's standards:
To be sure, the Wisconsin Constitution empowers the legislature and governor to enact laws regulating elections, both expressly and by implication. The express authority is found in Article III, Section 2 and is limited to (1) defining residency, (2) providing for registration of electors, (3) providing for absentee voting, (4) excluding from the right of suffrage certain convicted felons and adjudicated incompetents/partially incompetents, and (5) extending the right of suffrage to additional classes of persons, subject to ratification by the electorate at a general election.

Act 23’s photo ID requirements do not fall within any of these five categories.
Utilizing stare decisis and a strict interpretation of Article III of the Constitution, Niess exemplifies arguments that are oftentimes made by conservative judges. But Walker's staff fails to point that out, or even argue against those interpretations, opting instead to question Niess's ideological preferences and geographical location.

That argument tends to stand on its head, however, when you take a look at another controversial judgment that Niess has made. In 2008, he upheld the Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Wisconsin (and relationships similar to them), despite the fact that amendments must pass one clause at a time (the ban included two separate clauses in one vote).

A Dane County judge who has previously ruled against a hard-line progressive standard is now somehow an "activist Dane County judge" simply because he rules against Scott Walker?

The implication Walker's staff "Facebooked" makes little-to-no sense. Niess's judgment in the case against voter ID is a sound one to make, utilizing arguments that conservatives themselves would have made had they held firm to their beliefs. The Constitution is very clear on this matter: any unnecessary obstruction to a qualified elector's right to vote is undemocratic, and should be stricken from the law within our state's borders.

Visual evidence of Scott Walker's failed first year on jobs

Graphs show that Wisconsin is worse off on job creation under conservative governor's leadership

Last week, I published a post regarding my sentiments on the recently released January jobs report. I noted that, even though the first month produced a great deal of jobs, it still wasn't enough to overcome the devastating first year of Gov. Scott Walker's term in office.

The visual evidence provides a clearer picture of what a torrential year it truly was:

It was feared that Walker had had six months of losses, totaling more than 35,000 jobs disappearing in that time. But the revised numbers show that the state suffered much worse under Walker than was previously thought, adding another month of losses (for a total of seven) and 40,100 jobs gone.

The months of net gains were notably diminished from earlier estimates as well. In fact, the total from the five months where there were net job increases totaled 19,500 jobs -- or less than half the total losses in the other seven months. The result is a net loss of 20,600 jobs for 2011.

As the graph directly above demonstrates, under the two budgets that were in effect last year -- the tail end of Gov. Jim Doyle's budget and the start of Gov. Scott Walker's -- more jobs were lost under the new governor's budget than his predecessor's. In fact, the first half of 2011 (Doyle's budget) saw a net gain of 2,100 jobs. The second half (Walker's budget) saw a net loss of 22,700 jobs.

More than 72 percent of job gains from last year came under the Doyle budget, while more than 70 percent of job losses came under Walker's.

There's even reason to ponder whether losses that WERE seen last year during the Doyle-half were due to flaws in that budget or because of Walker's supposed reforms. The following graph shows two major events from 2011 as they relate to the overall jobs picture (from two graphs above):

After March, there's a significant dip in the total number of non-farm jobs in the state. Causation and correlation are two separate items, and should be observed cautiously...but it is interesting to see that the dip occurs at the exact point when Act 10 is passed by the Republican legislature and signed into law by Walker.

Also worth noting is a deeper dip corresponding around the time Walker's budget passed. As mentioned before, it was under Walker's budget that most of the job losses we saw in the state occurred, and the graph above demonstrates that further.

Admittedly, we're only taking a look at Walkers performances in 2011. His 2012 performance has had a great start (12,500 jobs gained in January). But even those numbers can't put the governor's job totals in the black: from December of 2010 (Doyle's last month in office) to January of this year, Walker's net jobs total is -8,100. It's worse when you look at his budget alone: from July 2011 (first month of the Walker budget) to January, the governor's net total is -10,200. Both figures include the gains made two months ago.

In the end, you can simplify the jobs situation in Wisconsin as this: under Walker, we've gone backwards. Wisconsin is hurting, and Scott Walker, it seems, is not the cure he claimed to be on the campaign trail.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Voter ID compromise proposed in Minnesota

Idea would "protect" imagined threat while protecting voter access to the polls

A lot of hubbub is being made over the controversial voter ID bill in Wisconsin, with good reason: the law disenfranchises thousands of voters, mostly minorities and the elderly. In one case, an octogenarian woman from Brokaw, Wisconsin, will have to pay $200 to get an ID because she wasn't ever given a birth certificate and never needed an ID previously.

In all, over 177,000 elderly Wisconsinites could be affected by the new voter ID law, as well as half of all African Americans in the state.

This past week, a judge placed a temporary injunction against the law. It was announced yesterday that a decision would be made Monday over its legality.

Wisconsin's voter ID law is similar to many others that have been passed or proposed in the rest of the country. With the potential to affect millions of voters across various states, the impact could potentially change the outcome of countless elections.

But our state's neighbor to the northwest has a different proposal. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has put out an idea that is a compromise of sorts to the two sides, possibly appeasing both those concerned over disenfranchisement and those who want to ensure that fraud doesn't occur (despite it's already-low occurrence rate):
With an electronic "poll book," eligible voters who have lost an ID or no longer carry one could come to the polling place and have their electronic information pulled up from state records, [Secretary of State Mark] Ritchie said.

He said about 84,000 Minnesota voters don't carry photo ID, but in many cases, they would have photos in the state drivers' database. For those who don't, another ID could be scanned in or a photo could be taken at the polling place.

"We would not be disenfranchising anybody and we would not be breaking the bank," Ritchie said.
It will be interesting to see if this idea takes off. If it does, it could move on to other states where voter ID is liked without disenfranchising as many people. If it's not adopted by Republicans, however, it seems clear that the idea of voter ID is more about restricting access to the polls than any true concerns over imagined voter fraud.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Good news and bad news in January jobs report

State gained in January, but revisions show 2011 was much worse than we thought

There's good news and bad news regarding the latest job numbers for Wisconsin.

The good news is that the state gained 12,500 jobs in the first month of the year. Pushing politics aside, we should be happy that more jobs have come to the state during that time, regardless of whether it helps one party over another.

Yet there is bad news as well: revisions from last year show that Wisconsin did a lot worse on the jobs front than was previously thought -- so much worse that our total numbers from January, despite the spike that we saw overall, are lower than what we previously perceived we were at in December.

In fact, since Walker took office our economy has only grown 6,000 net jobs in the private sector. Overall, total non-farm employment is actually lower now than it was under the previous administration, meaning that we have less jobs now than when Walker took office. In short, we're going backwards.

As I've pointed out before, most of those losses came about at a time when Walker's budget and other reforms were being implemented. Though the six-month streak of continuous job losses is broken by these revisions, it's still valid to assess that Walker's policies didn't do squat to create jobs, most likely hindering growth overall, especially given the fact that the rest of the country saw modest gains during that time.

Some may find it unfair to criticize Walker this deeply. Yet the criticism is entirely warranted -- Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature took over both branches of government at a time when the state was experiencing a small but noticeable "upswing" in job growth and employment. In one year's time, the policies that Walker & Co. implemented have decimated that upswing, even dipping into some of the gains we saw before they took office early last year.

It's great that we gained jobs in January, but it's unclear whether the credit belongs to Gov. Walker, to President Obama, or if it's simply a fluke. Given the disastrous losses that are now evident during the first year he was in office, however, it's highly doubtful that those gains were due to any reforms the governor put into place.

The facts are there for everyone to see: we're worse off under Gov. Scott Walker's watch.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Don't blame Dems for GOP mine bill disaster

Blame belongs to those who didn't compromise

Amid the failure to compromise on conditions for a decent mining bill and the news that the company involved is abandoning the project altogether, it's only natural that the two sides involved in the political struggle over the bill would cast blame on one another.

But let's assess that situation deeper. Republicans are upset that all 16 Democratic senators (plus moderate-Republican Sen. Dale Schultz) didn't vote to accept their bill, which was written in part by Gogebic Taconite itself, the company that would have carried out the actual mining (maybe?). Their bill, it should be observed, would have relaxed environmental standards and loosened the ability of citizens to voice their concerns or challenge decisions that the company would make that would affect their lives.

On the Democratic side, things are equally frustrating. The Democratic/Schultz compromise bill would have made reforms as well, but also would have preserved a process acceptable to the people, keeping in line values of environmental respect and citizen involvement.

What's most frustrating of all is that the compromise bill had the 17 votes needed to pass in the Senate. The only reason it didn't pass was because Republican leaders refused to let it stand for a full-chamber vote.

With this in mind, who is truly to blame here? The party that had a bipartisan plan with the backing of a majority number of duly-elected legislators? Or the party that controlled the Senate but had a minority number of lawmakers refusing to let any legislation pass that wasn't their own?

The Republicans would like to have you blame Democrats for not accepting their own bill. But the Democrats had a bill with bipartisan and majority support, ready to pass and put people to work. It's not the Democrats' fault that Republicans couldn't budge, not even a little, on the issue.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Distortions in new Walker ad, part 2: the budget and taxes

In my previous post on Gov. Scott Walker's newest ad asking you to help him "oppose" the recall, I took a look at job claims the Republican executive made. Namely, I took issue with Walker pretending that he was responsible for any job gains made in 2011 (because those gains occurred under a different governor's budget) and casting blame on the previous administration for losing 150,000 jobs in the state when it was due more to a global economic recession.

It's clear from that assessment that Walker isn't being honest with the people of this state within his latest ad campaign. Sadly, his dishonesty goes even further, into claims that he balanced the budget and didn't raise taxes. In fact, the first claim is murky, at best, and blatantly false at worst; the second claim is an outright lie.

The Budget

In his latest ad, Walker makes a claim that he resolved the budget problems the state saw when he took office:
We kept our promise to balance the budget...eliminating a $3.6 billion deficit.
Walker contends that his actions as governor eliminated the deficit. But there are many problems with his statement, beginning with how big the deficit was in the first place.

When Walker took office, the deficit was indeed projected at $3.6 billion. But in May of 2011, it was discovered that the state's estimates had changed due to increased revenue projections from the Doyle budget the year before. About $600 million dollars was discovered that had previously been thought of as part of that deficit. So the real deficit was $3.0 billion.

With $3 billion to make disappear -- it's a Constitutional requirement in Wisconsin to balance every budget -- Walker had a huge task ahead of him. How did he handle it? In a very impractical way: he gave tremendous tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations in the state, even as two-thirds of all businesses didn't even pay taxes at all. These tax breaks cost the state $2.3 billion in revenue.

Not only did Walker have to make up for the budget deficit that proceeded him -- he also had to trim the budget to make up for his own tax cuts, which increased the size of the budget hole by 76 percent.

In 2010, Walker had campaigned on balancing the budget using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. A little background here is important: Budget items that push deficits down the road are considered deficits under GAAP. Think of it like using a credit card. Under GAAP, the money you spend on the card would be considered part of your household budget (rather than when you got the bill a month from now).

So Walker had made using those principles a staple of his candidacy. But when it came to balancing the budget, Walker DIDN'T use GAAP, breaking a campaign promise, and keeping the state in debt under those conditions. How far in debt?

$3 billion, the exact amount he started out with.

And this is somehow a victory for Walker?


Walker also made another hefty campaign promise -- to balance the budget without raising anyone's taxes. We've already seen that Walker failed to really balance the budget, at least according to his own standards, but did he at least keep the no-tax pledge intact?

As pointed out above, Gov. Walker gave billions of dollars in tax breaks to the rich and to corporations. However, when it came to the opposite end of the economic spectrum -- that is, the working poor -- Walker didn't take the same tone. In fact, the governor diminished how much of the Earned Income Tax Credit these workers could claim, meaning their total taxes would go up this year.

In other words, Walker raised taxes on the working poor. A single mother earning minimum wage could see her taxes go up by as much as two percent of her income this year due to the "reforms" in the tax code within Walker's budget.

When confronted with this fact, the Walker administration tried to say that a reduction in a tax credit wasn't a tax increase, but rather a reduction in spending. But try telling that to the people who have to pay higher taxes this year. A reduction in a credit is an increase because, in the end, those individuals will pay higher taxes. By definitional standards alone, that's a tax increase.


On two more issues within Walker's latest ad, the governor has misled the public. He failed to balance his budget by his own standards that he campaigned on. He raised taxes on the working poor and then minced words when he was caught. And the governor has the audacity to place a new ad claiming he's a positive force for Wisconsin's values?

These issues, as well as the issue of job growth (decline) while he's been office, demonstrate without question that Walker has failed our state. Is it any wonder he's chosen to lie and distort in his campaign ads? He can't run on his record -- so what choice but to misinform the public does he really have?

Distortions in new Walker ad, part 1: job growth

Campaign ad misleads on a plethora of job claims made by Wisconsin governor

UPDATE (March 10): New job numbers are out that make the data below different. To read a new blog post on the updated numbers, click here.

A new Scott Walker ad is out, and it's full of the same old lies that the other ads have been notorious for.

It's beyond reproach that Gov. Walker would lie so blatantly to the people of Wisconsin. With graphics and selective wording that promotes his cause, Walker asks that you "help [him] oppose the recall" efforts by supporting his campaign.

Yet the ad, engrossed in so many lies and misleading statements, serves as a standalone reason itself why the governor deserves to be removed from office.

Though it gives the viewer attempting to view the it great headaches (at least this viewer), it's worth examining closer, line by line, to demonstrate just how baseless Walker's argument to stay in office really is.


Walker starts off the ad by stating the following:
In the three years before I was elected, Wisconsin lost 150,000 jobs. We promised to help employers create jobs. Today, Wisconsin's unemployment rate, it's the lowest it's been since 2008.
As Walker states this fact, a counter next to him rises by tens of thousands of jobs being lost, labeled as "Under Doyle" in a red arrow above them.

What the governor is saying is a technically true statement: Wisconsin lost that many jobs in the three years before Walker took office. Yet this statement lacks significant context -- namely that the nation itself (and really, the world) was embroiled in an economic market crash that diminished jobs across the country, not just in Wisconsin. As such, the loss in jobs wasn't primarily Gov. Jim Doyle's fault (the way Walker makes it out to be).

The lowest point (in terms of number of jobs) Wisconsin got to during that time was in January of 2010, when we had 2,723,600 jobs. But Doyle was able to turn that around, to a high of 2,741,500 jobs total. Even by the end of his term, that number didn't diminish much, staying at more than 2.36 million jobs by the time Walker took office.

That's a significant jump worth noting: from December of 2009 to December 2010, Wisconsin grew by a total of 12,000 jobs, a lot more than what Walker can claim.

In fact, from December of 2010 to December of 2011 -- that is, the entire year of Walker's first year in office -- Wisconsin only gained 3,200 jobs, one-third of the number gained the year before under Walker's predecessor.

Remember: Walker was critical of the last three years of job growth. Doing worse than the last of those three years means that Walker should be critical of himself as well. Yet that's not the approach Walker takes; instead, he makes bold talking points about how he turned the state around from the "mess" he inherited.

But even THAT assessment isn't even accurate. Jobs that were created in the first six months of Walker's tenure -- approximately 38,800 -- were created during a time that Doyle's budget was still operating. As soon as Gov. Walker's budget came into play (late June/early July) and the law ending collective bargaining was in full-force (July being the first full month of its implementation), we saw jobs decrease dramatically, almost erasing completely the gains that had been made in the first half of the year.

Walker is essentially taking credit where it isn't due, exaggerating how he's been responsible for the economic turnaround the state has seen since the end of the national recession. What he fails to point out is that Doyle wasn't responsible for job losses in the state at that time, and that since his own (Walker's) policies were implemented we've gone downhill again (the only state in the union to do so for six straight months).

Nearly every time Walker touts himself as a leader for job growth in Wisconsin, it's a myth. The governor simply has not done a thing to grow jobs, despite his promises to do so during his campaign.

It's difficult to see how January's jobs report will be positive

Conditions for turning Wisconsin's economy around haven't been created under Walker's watch

The much anticipated January jobs numbers for Wisconsin are set to come out this week. Given the six months of continuous losses, many are hoping that January will signal a turnaround for the state, that we will finally see a change that will be congruent with the positive news on jobs seen at the national level.

Yet, given the path Gov. Scott Walker and state Republican legislators have carved out for us thus far, there's reason to be skeptical.

Don't misunderstand what I mean to say here: I'd LOVE to be wrong. If being wrong on my prediction means that more people and more jobs come into our state, then I'd gladly deflate my own ego and have egg on my face later on this week.

But the fact of the matter is that Walker & Co. has done zilch in producing the conditions necessary to grow jobs in our state (much less grow jobs themselves) since his budget passed in June. In fact, his reforms have caused more damage than anything else, preventing Wisconsin from benefiting from any positive swings seen elsewhere across the country.

Consider the Walker tax cuts for corporations. These cuts, numbering in billions of dollars of lost state revenue, have been touted by many Walker supporters as necessary for growing jobs. Yet that logic is flawed -- how would giving more money to businesses, whose sole goal is a growth in capital, encourage them to spend that capital to make more hires? The answer is it won't -- only demand will spur job creation, a factor Walker has failed to promote through either of his special sessions on jobs.

In fact, Walker has actually hindered demand through the most controversial bills he pushed early in his tenure. Though the major problem with Act 10 was that it removed collective bargaining rights for state workers, the economic portion of it (requiring said workers to contribute more of their income towards their pension and health care plans) reduced the amount of take-home pay they received.

That reduction in pay predictably diminished the purchasing power that these workers had in their communities, dwindling demand for products and services from businesses across the state.

Again, I'd prefer to be wrong here, would like jobs to increase in spite of basic economic models that show it's doubtful they will. But Gov. Walker is failing the state by removing incentives to create jobs and stifling demand.

Wisconsin needs more sound leadership to restore our values and get our economy back on track again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

DA Ozanne challenges collective bargaining ruling

Conflict of interest may have played a role in one justice's decision-making

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a motion with the State Supreme Court this week to contest the legality and implementation of Act 10, putting into doubt whether the law ending collective bargaining rights for state workers was done so legitimately.

The law had been argued before the court last year, when the conservative bloc of justices, in a convoluted decision, ruled that open meetings were subject to the rules that lawmaking bodies placed on them, and as such only those bodies (and not the courts) should decide whether or not the law was broken. In short, the conservative bloc of the court rendered longstanding and respected open meetings law as insignificant, more of a mission statement than any type of legal policy.

But new evidence in the case suggests a conflict of interest in that ruling. Justice Michael Gableman, one of the conservatives on the court, received free legal services from the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich, a strong violation of judicial ethics standards (ironically, these services came about during an ethics investigation against Gableman). Receiving such services, free of charge, can put into doubt any ruling a judge or justice makes in the future, especially in cases where those lawyers are principal litigants.

As it turns out, Michael Best & Friedrich WAS involved in the case that the court heard regarding the illegal passage of Act 10. Gableman in effect cast the deciding vote in favor of their position, overruling a lower court's previous decision that found the legislature passed the bill unlawfully.

Was Gableman's ruling based on the flawed reasoning that became the majority opinion, or did he rule based on the fact that he owed the petitioners of the case a favor? It's hard to imagine the conservative Gableman coming to any other decision than he had. Yet, basic judicial norms dictate that Gableman's actions violated the public's trust in him, that he acted in bad faith by refusing to recuse himself from the case that involved a law firm that he was essentially indebted to.

Ozanne's decision to appeal the court's decision based on these grounds is the right one to make. The people of Wisconsin deserve a judiciary that will rule impartially and without bias, something they may not have gotten the first time around. Gableman should step aside, and the State Supreme Court should rehear the case.