Tag Archives: economy

Wis Dems: GOP’s push to eliminate prevailing wage threatens middle class

Democrats and unions say a GOP push to eliminate prevailing wage requirements on public projects would send skilled workers out of state and further erode the middle class.

Republican state lawmakers say their proposal would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Wisconsin Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory reform held a public hearing in April on a proposal to end minimum salary requirements on state construction projects.

The Legislature in 2015 ended prevailing wage on local projects, which took effect earlier this year.

State Sen. Leah Vukmir, the bill’s sponsor, said her measure would increase competition by giving non-union firms the chance to bid on public projects.

Republican Rep. Rob Hutton, a cosponsor, said prevailing wage requirements increase the costs of building projects by 10 to 15 percent.

“We have an income inequality issue in this country. Your bill makes it worse,” said Democratic state Sen. Robert Wirch.

Business interests, including the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, support the measure.

Eric Bott, a lobbyist for Americans for Prosperity of Wisconsin, said repealing the law would make taxpayer money go farther.

“Repealing prevailing wage laws reduces construction costs directly by eliminating hyper-inflated super-wages and indirectly by injecting greater competition into bidding,” he said.

Opposition to the legislation

But Democrats and union workers argue repealing prevailing wage on state projects would hurt middle-class workers.

Several union workers testified against the measure, saying it would drive skilled workers and veterans elsewhere.

Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, said removing the prevailing wages would open the door for firms from other states to win work and decrease local workers’ wages.

“A few lawmakers seem to feel that the way to achieve prosperity is by slashing middle-class workers’ wages,” Bukiewicz said.

“This race-to-the-bottom economic strategy means exactly what it says,” added Dave Branson of the South Central Building Trades Council. “But if Republicans truly believe cutting wages is key to economic growth, we challenge them to put their money where their collective mouths are and first cut their own lavish ‘prevailing wage’ package.” He was referring to the part-time legislators getting an annual salary of $50,950 and qualifying as full-time employees for retirement and health benefits — a total package worth $75,000.

Walker’s position

Republican Gov. Scott Walker in his budget proposed eliminating it for state projects, but the budget committee stripped out that proposal along with others that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau deemed non-fiscal policy items earlier this month.

That prompted Vukmir and Hutton to introduce a standalone bill.

Walker has said he didn’t care that the measure was removed from his budget and introduced as a bill as long as it passed.

Eliminating prevailing wage, he said, would be “one more tool to make sure taxpayers get a better bang for their buck.”

A 2015 analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said research on the impact of prevailing wage laws on construction costs is “mixed and inconclusive,” with findings ranging from small cost savings to insignificant differences.

Twenty states do not have prevailing wage laws. The federal government — for now — still requires prevailing wages on projects paid for with federal funds.

 

For the record…

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, issued the following statement after the hearing on a proposal to end minimum salary requirements on state construction projects:

“Once again, Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans are putting corporate cash and the 1 percent ahead of working families. This bill to eliminate prevailing wage requirements for public projects will literally take money out of people’s pockets and could allow companies to bring low-wage workers from out of state, undercutting wages throughout our state.

“We also know this legislation will do little to improve Wisconsin’s roads, which are ranked as one of the worst in the country. I hope my former colleagues in the Wisconsin legislature see this for what it is, another boost for big business that winds up costing working Wisconsin families, and reject it.”

Earlier in April, Pocan — along with Democartic U.S. Reps. Mark DeSaulnier of California, Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Donald Norcross of New Jersey — held a “Future of Work, Wages, and Labor” discussion at UW-Madison with academic professionals, policymakers, and labor representatives from around the country.

This was the first Wisconsin event in a series of discussions and town halls that are being held this year in congressional districts across the country.

Following the discussion on the UW-Madison campus, a listening session with labor leaders and local workers was held in Janesville, hometown of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.

— Lisa Neff

U.S. factory output falls, biggest decline in 7 months

U.S. factory output fell unexpectedly in March, charting its biggest decline in seven months as auto production contracted in a check on the manufacturing sector’s expansion.

The Federal Reserve said on Tuesday manufacturing production dropped 0.4 percent last month. February’s output was revised down to show a 0.3 percent gain instead of the previously reported 0.5 percent increase.

Analysts had expected a 0.1 percent increase in factory output in March. Still, smoothing out monthly volatility, factory production rose at a 2.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

Overall industrial production rose 0.5 percent because of an 8.6 percent weather-driven surge in utilities generation. That was the largest increase in utilities output on record, which resulted from heating demand returning to seasonal norms after being suppressed by unusually warm weather in February, the Fed said.

Manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the U.S. economy, had been regaining ground as a strong dollar and an inventory overhang faded.

Last month, manufacturing output was dragged lower by a 3.0 percent plunge in the production of motor vehicle and parts. Machinery output fell 0.5 percent.

Manufacturing capacity utilization, which measures how fully factories are deploying their resources, dropped 0.3 percentage point to 75.3 percent last month.

Overall industrial capacity utilization rose 0.4 percentage point to 76.1 percent.

Regulations help working people, deregulation serves corporate interests

Whose interests are served by repealing existing regulations and curbing future ones? In light of recent anti-regulation efforts pushed by Congress and the Trump administration, Economic Policy Institute labor counsel Celine McNicholas and director of policy Heidi Shierholz raise the question with a new fact sheet.

The following is comment from the Economic Policy Institute.

Regulations often help working people, while deregulation primarily benefits corporate interests and can have devastating consequences for the economy. Not only does regulation help make the economy more fair, but the lack of sensible regulations can lead to economic catastrophe and the loss of millions of jobs.

Regulations provide the structure and the details that a law needs to function. They are not static, and can be updated to adapt to changing norms. Research has found that regulations have a neutral or modestly positive effect on employment. While regulations may sometimes cause a reduction of jobs in one area, new jobs are will be created in another.

“The belief that financial markets can ‘self-regulate’ is a myth,” says Shierholz. “Deregulation and lax enforcement played a major role in the housing bubble and the financial crisis. Nearly nine million jobs were lost in the resulting Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.”

The fact sheet outlines various regulations that Congress is attempting to repeal or has repealed using a rarely used procedure called the Congressional Review Act — such as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order and the OSHA recordkeeping rule — which directly benefit working people and which hold private interests responsible for workplace rights and safety violations.

The fact sheet also explains proposed congressional actions that limit future regulations from being implemented — such as the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would make congressional approval required for a major rule to take effect. This would make it more difficult to hold private interests accountable.

“In examining efforts to repeal regulations, it is important to consider whose interests are served,” says McNicholas. “We should be skeptical of claims that regulation hurts the economy, because the truth is that deregulation often hurts working people and allows corporate interests to get a free pass on public accountability.”

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit Washington D.C. think tank, was created in 1986 to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers. Today, with global competition expanding, wage inequality rising, and the methods and nature of work changing in fundamental ways, it is as crucial as ever that people who work for a living have a voice in the economic discourse.

NBA says Charlotte is eligible to host 2019 All-Star Game

Charlotte will be eligible to host the 2019 NBA All-Star Game after a compromise deal to replace a North Carolina law that limited anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, the league’s commissioner said.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “The most recent change in the law does not mean the fundamental issues are resolved. But after considering all points of view, we determined that Charlotte will be eligible to host.”

The league’s Board of Governors discussed it during their meetings this week and made what Silver said was “not an easy decision.”

The league will develop an anti-discrimination policy that participating groups including host sites, hotels and businesses would have to abide by before the 2019 game is committed to Charlotte.

But Silver said it’s his expectation that Charlotte would get the game if those assurances are met within the next month or so.

Silver said he was proud the league opposed the law known as House Bill 2, but added: “And I’m also proud that we’re going back.”

“I understand that there is a segment of our fan base that believes that the change from HB2 to the new law is not enough, but it is change,” he said. “It’s incremental change. We were part of the movement, pushing for that change. It’s not everything we could have hoped for, but we’re prepared to go back.”

The NBA’s Charlotte Hornets issued a statement that the team would work with the league on returning the event, adding that “our city, our fans and our business community remain extremely enthusiastic in support of hosting.”

North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders said they would be OK with whatever hosting agreement the NBA strikes with Charlotte businesses.

Charlotte was scheduled to host the game this year, but the NBA relocated it because of the law also commonly referred to as the “bathroom bill.”

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority estimated the yanked event would have generated about $100 million in economic impact. That was part of more than $3.76 billion over a dozen years in lost business as a consequence of HB2, an Associated Press analysis found.

Gay-rights advocates have denounced the new North Carolina legislation to undo HB2 as inadequate.

The mayors of New York, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City and other cities announced that previous municipal bans on taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina will stay in place because discrimination persists in the replacement law.

The measure left some LGBT restrictions in place, including a moratorium until December 2020 on local governments passing broad nondiscrimination ordinances covering sexual orientation and gender identity.

While the new law ended the HB2 provision requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to their birth certificates, state lawmakers remain in charge of future bathroom policies.

The president of the Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, said: “It is deeply disappointing to see the NBA reward North Carolina for doubling down on discrimination.”

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has said it was the best compromise that the Republican-controlled legislature would approve.

The deal was done ahead of a deadline by the NCAA, which removed championship events from basketball-crazy North Carolina for the current academic year and threatened to exclude the state from hosting any new ones through 2022.

The the collegiate athletic association has expressed concerns about the new law’s provisions but said it “meets the minimal NCAA requirements” to keep North Carolina in consideration as a host for championship events.

 

New report: Clean energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels

As the White House touts plans for an executive order attacking the Clean Power Plan, new Sierra Club analysis of Department of Energy 2017 jobs data shows clean energy employs more American workers than the fossil fuel industry.

Clean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors, according to the Sierra Club report. This includes jobs in power generation, mining and other forms of fossil fuel extraction.

“Right now, clean energy jobs already overwhelm dirty fuels in nearly every state across America, and that growth is only going to continue as clean energy keeps getting more affordable and accessible by the day,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “ These facts make it clear that Donald Trump is attacking clean energy jobs purely in order to boost the profits of fossil fuel billionaires.”

He continued, “It’s clear this administration is talking about energy jobs the wrong way. If we truly want to grow our economy, reduce air and water pollution, protect public health and create huge numbers of news jobs for American workers, we must seize the opportunity that is right in front of our eyes: invest more in clean energy including solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency.”

Sierra Club’s analysis of DOE data shows that, nationally, clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1. Also, clean energy jobs outnumber all jobs in coal and gas by 5 to 1.

The report further demonstrates that 41 states and Washington, D.C. — 80 percent  of the total — have more clean energy jobs than fossil fuel jobs from all sources.

Some of the widest gaps where clean energy jobs vastly exceed fossil fuels jobs are in Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Right now, only nine states have more jobs in fossil fuels than in clean energy, while only six states have more jobs in coal and gas than in clean energy — and the growth of clean energy suggests that won’t be the case for long.

“As our transition to clean energy continues, we must ensure that the benefits experienced are equitably shared and that the jobs and opportunities it creates provide living wages, healthcare benefits, and union representation for workers” Brune said. “It’s also critical to work tirelessly to ensure that the communities and workers historically dependent on fossil fuels are prioritized and put first at every stage of our ongoing transition to an economy powered more fully by clean energy.”

All the data used in this analysis, which is entirely based on Department of Energy 2017 reporting and state by state jobs numbers, is provided open source here at this link.

On the web

Find the report here.

Trump budget threatens dream of buying, owning a home

The NeighborWorks Alliance of Wisconsin Chair Noel Halvorsen issued the following statement in response to President Trump’s budget proposal which would eliminate the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, commonly referred to as NeighborWorks America:

The proposal by the White House will have a detrimental impact on people in every part of Wisconsin when it comes to achieving and maintaining homeownership.

Communities throughout Wisconsin have experienced positive economic impact from the housing and community development activities provided by the NeighborWorks Alliance of Wisconsin, which is made up of six groups all chartered by NeighborWorks America.

In our most recent Economic Impact Study, it showed that in 2014 the impact of homeownership services and development activities from the NeighborWorks Alliance of Wisconsin sustained 495 jobs and generated more than $69.17 million in economic activity.

These findings demonstrate the value of NeighborWorks organizations in supporting homeownership and community development.

Losing NeighborWorks America would be a tremendous setback for communities across Wisconsin.

Although the agency’s budget is small, less than three thousandths of a percent of the federal budget, the 1.4 million that came to Wisconsin in 2016 was leveraged into tens of millions of direct investment in homes and neighborhoods and generated $13.8 million in real estate and income tax revenue at all levels of government.

Unfortunately, the White House proposal goes even further and includes elimination of:

• the HOME program.

• CDBG.

• CDFI.

• Funding for Habitat, Enterprise, LISC, and more.

Essentially, the budget proposal empties the federal toolbox for underserved market housing investment  and community revitalization.

That would mean fewer Wisconsin families buying homes and less renovation of blighted houses in at-risk neighborhoods.

The NeighborWorks Alliance of Wisconsin calls on Congress to reject the president’s proposal and craft a budget that maintains NeighborWorks America and other critical agencies and programs that help families achieve and maintain the American Dream and help all of us build stronger communities.

Things to know about Wisconsin’s state budget deficit

The budget Gov. Scott Walker submitted to the Legislature in February balances, as it’s required to under state law. But when that same budget is measured using generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, the picture is much different.

With that measurement, the state’s true budget deficit would grow to more than $2 billion by 2019 — the largest it’s been since 2012.

HOW COULD THE BUDGET BE MISLEADING?

For the budget to be truly balanced, the state would have to cut spending by the amount of the GAAP deficit _ the shortfall when the budget is translated into GAAP.

“There are a lot of budget manipulations you can use to make the budget look better,” said Daniel Neely, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who specializes in governmental accounting.

Namely, the budget is prepared in a way that counts millions and sometimes billions of dollars the state is temporarily holding for taxpayers and smaller units of government as its own.

WHY DOES A DEFICIT MATTER?

A large deficit tends to mean cash reserves are low, which means the state is vulnerable to any kind of economic downtown or political shock, said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

A large deficit is also one of the reasons credit agencies haven’t raised Wisconsin’s bond ratings in years.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WALKER?

When he was running for governor in 2010, Walker vowed on his campaign website to “require the use of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to balance every state budget, just as we require every local government and school district to do.”

During his first few years in office, he did chip away at the deficit, which had ballooned to $3 billion in 2010 under former Gov. Jim Doyle. By 2014, the deficit had dropped to $1.4 billion.

But it inched back up the following year and hovers around $1.7 billion in the most recent estimate. If Walker’s budget is adopted, the deficit would reach $2.1 billion — $365 for every person in the state — by 2019.

HOW DO OTHER STATES COMPARE?

Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states with deficits when using GAAP. It was one of 10 states in 2014, which is the most recent data available from the Department of Administration.

And Wisconsin had the third largest deficit that year, after California and Illinois, two states with well-known, perpetual funding woes.

There are a few contributing factors, Berry said. Wisconsin provides more aid to local governments and tends to solve cash flow issues through excess withholding of income taxes, both of which increase the deficit.

WHAT DOES WALKER THINK ABOUT IT?

Walker’s spokesman, Tom Evenson, did not comment on the fact that Walker’s budget would add to the GAAP deficit. Instead, Evenson highlighted that Walker will have decreased the deficit by more than 30 percent, from $3 billion in 2011 to around $2 billion in 2019.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER LAWMAKERS?

The CPA Caucus, a group of Republican lawmakers who are also certified public accountants, has proposed requiring the state to reduce the deficit or use GAAP several times in the past. Caucus member Sen. Chris Kapenga said it’s possible they will try again this session.

“If I were in the governor’s spot, and I had some things I wanted to get pushed through, it’s an easy way to get what I need done,” Kapenga said. “But we’re saying, ‘Let’s fix the accounting of this so that people know this is how much (that’s) actually going to be spent.’”

Obamacare came to Montana Indian Country and brought jobs

The Affordable Care Act created new health coverage opportunities for more than half a million Native Americans and Alaska Natives — and jobs have followed on its coattails.

In Montana, this is playing out at the Blackfeet Community Hospital. It’s the only hospital on the Blackfeet reservation and has been mostly funded — and chronically underfunded — by the Indian Health Service, which has been in charge of Native American health care since its founding in the 1950s.

But now, many Native Americans have been able to afford health insurance on the Obamacare exchange, and last year, Montana expanded Medicaid. Now, about one in seven reservation residents gets Medicaid.

Blackfeet Community Hospital needed to build an infrastructure to deal with the byzantine bureaucracy that comes with taking Medicaid and private insurance. The tribe’s community college started a new curriculum to help meet the growing demand for people in Indian country to process insurance claims.

Blackfeet tribal member Gerald Murray took the courses. “I got a contract before I graduated in April, and then the day of graduation in May it became permanent so I applied for it,” he said.

Murray’s experience is an example of the health care law’s transformative power in Native American communities, said Montana’s director of American Indian Health, Mary Lynn Billy-Old Coyote.

“To me, there’s opportunity there to not only build health care, but to build your entire community and build jobs,” said Billy-Old Coyote.

Unemployment on most of Montana’s Indian reservations is at least double the rest of the state. And people who are working don’t always get health insurance with their jobs.

So ACA subsidies that bring down the cost of insurance premiums are a big deal, Billy-Old Coyote said.

Most Montanans, Native or not, can now get policies for about $75 a month. It is a big change for the reservation communities where people are accustomed to the underfunded IHS, which often didn’t pay for care unless someone was in immediate danger of losing life or limb.

“Now you’ve got an opportunity for American Indian people to truly have access to private insurance,” she said. “You have access to greater networks of providers and specialists, and all the things we generally don’t see you have access to.”

Medicaid expansion had a lot to do with the number of health care jobs in Montana growing by 3 percent last year, according to state statistics. And schools in Montana, including tribal colleges, are offering more classes in health care fields.

At Blackfeet Community College, 23-year-old Leroy Bearmedicine is working toward certification as an emergency medical technician.

“I’d like to become a registered nurse at some point, maybe even work my way up to flight nurse — something to get the adrenaline going,” he says.

Native American leaders have seen the Affordable Care Act as a means to remedy a series of broken promises by the federal government to care for them. They now fear that promise, too, will fade. One estimate suggests Montana will lose 3,000 health care jobs if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, Montana Public Radio and Kaiser Health News. It is published here under a creative commons license agreement and courtesy of KHN.

Reducing food waste is good for the Earth AND your wallet

Remember how it was when you were a kid sitting at the kitchen table and your mother served up a healthy helping of rutabagas? Gross, right?

You slipped them to the family dog or spooned them into a napkin to get them out of sight. But there was no fooling Mom. Your failed sleight-of-hand resulted in a guilt trip and membership in the Clean Your Plate Club.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that wasting food has costly consequences extending well beyond your plate.

“Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental advocacy group says that cutting food waste by just 15 percent would help feed more than 25 million people a year “at a time when 1 in 6 Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.”

Alice Henneman, an extension educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, puts it another way: “Food tossed is money lost.”

Food rots when dumped in a landfill, and produces methane, a greenhouse gas said to contribute to climate change. Food wasted in stores and restaurants cuts into profits.

But incentives have been introduced to reduce food waste, many of them financial.

“Tax benefits are available for restaurants and stores for donating food,” Henneman said. “People are buying ‘ugly food and vegetables,’ or produce that is misshapen in appearance, in stores because stores are offering them at a discount.”

Michigan State University has been aggressive about fighting food waste in its 10 dining halls, where more than 30,000 meals are served daily.

“Food is expensive,” said Carla Iansiti, sustainability projects manager for MSU’s Culinary Services. “We train our staff members to get the most volume out of their product, only cut what you need for a recipe and be creative about using all the products.”

The university remodeled several of its dining halls to be trayless and stocked them with smaller dishes. “It makes a difference with smaller plates and fewer plates, and people always have the option to come back for more,” Iansiti said.

Additional tips for minimizing food waste:

• Think landfill diversion. Compost your leftovers for better crop or garden production, or mix them with animal feed. Freeze or can surplus garden produce or donate it to a food bank.

• There is value in sizing. Buy things that won’t spoil in quantity.

• Check your garbage. Cook dishes that have proven popular and don’t end up being thrown out.

• Buy often and buy fresh, eating as much as you can before it goes bad. Shop your refrigerator before purchasing more.

• Practice portion control. Share rather than discard leftovers. Ask for a sample when dining out if you’re uncertain about ordering something. Don’t rush through meals.

• Plan “cook-it-up” menus. Check expiration dates and move older food products toward the front of your shelves so they can be used first.

On the Web

For more about reducing food waste, see this Natural Resources Defense Council issue paper.

U.N.: Tourism to suffer under Trump’s travel ban

The U.S. travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries will affect demand for travel to the United States, the UN World Tourism Organization said this week.

Alongside widespread protests at airports, the executive order by President Donald Trump has led to criticism from airlines and the travel industry.

“Besides the direct impact, the image of a country which imposes travel bans in such a hostile way will surely be affected among visitors from all over the world and risk dumping travel demand to the United States,” UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai said in a statement on Tuesday.

Seeking to capitalize on the restrictions, companies and officials in Asia said they would target greater tourism and education ties with Muslims worried about the curbs.

The White House has said the move to put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, is to protect U.S. citizens.

UNWTO’s Rifai said it may worsen security risks.

“Global challenges demand global solutions and the security challenges that we face today should not prompt us to build new walls; on the contrary, isolationism and blind discriminatory actions will not lead to increased security but rather to growing tensions and threats,” he said.

U.S. airlines’ shares dropped on Monday over concerns on the impact of the immigration order, although analysts have said they did not expect a material impact for now.

The World Travel and Tourism Council, representing travel industry executives, also on Tuesday urged the Trump administration to rethink the ban, saying the travel and tourism sector was responsible for the livelihoods of millions worldwide.

“The U.S. has suffered in the past from similar isolationist policies. We urge the Trump administration to reconsider this ban,” WTTC President and CEO David Scowsill said in a statement.

The WTTC estimates the travel and tourism industry directly contributed 2.7 percent of the U.S. total gross domestic product in 2015.