And here we go again in Wisconsin…of idiots and ideologues

Hear me, people: We have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our Fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. (Chief Sitting Bull, Powder River Conference, 1877)

Is there a better processional for the parade of idiots and ideologues in the 2013 Legislative Session? The People who were here long before Wisconsin became a state were led by visionaries that understood the motivation of a white man corrupt with power.

A Mining Bill is poised to pass out of both committees this week, on the fast track to a swift vote within weeks. A bill which would mean devastation to one of the world’s great supplies of freshwater. Water which means life not only to an indigenous people, but those who have since settled and call the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior Basin home. But damn the torpedoes, science, and those inconvenient geological facts…full speed ahead Mr. and Ms. Chairman/Woman, we have (paying) corporate constituents to serve.

The only hope for defeat of this bill lies in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the possibility that four of its members still listen to a little voice most of us hear as a conscience. Dale Schultz, Mike Ellis, Robert Cowles, and Luther Olsen may be the only sane Republicans left in this biennial assemblage of insanity we still call a “Legislature.” This writer holds out hope that the smokescreen of empty jobs promises is wearing thin in a state moving closer to honorable entry into socio-economic “Dixie”…and further away from its progressive roots.

Has there been a time in our state’s recent history which more closely resembles oligarchy than democracy? The unholy triumvirate of Walker, Fitzgerald, and Vos…let’s face it, in 2010 Jeff Fitzgerald was nothing but a figurehead. Vos is, and has been pulling the strings all along. I digress. This triumvirate has the state government in lockdown, controlling the message in and out, controlling debate, the media, and god forbid anyone should sing in the Capitol. Every moment of every day is a campaign. Public policy is built on a campaign strategy, and supported by money. Lots of it. If you are on the right (literally) side, the money pool is almost unlimited. If you are on the wrong side…well, money doesn’t follow losers. And no money, no access.

Even the Capitol press corps is being kept on a short leash, with passes and access being strictly controlled by the powerful few. Say the wrong thing, write the story the wrong way, come across as the least bit partisan (read – report what we tell you to), and no access for you. End of story, end of job as a Capitol correspondent. This sort of power concentration is rare in Wisconsin. Scott Walker has power, and he is using it.

Walker is raising unprecedented amounts of money, and spending a lot of it on his legal defense fund. Let’s all be honest here…something stinks about the way Walker has campaigned, raised money, and conducted his business in and out of office. His administration is loaded with insiders, fixers, and power mongers. No interest in governing, just power and money. Crooks, liars, sharks. The smart money is that there is something illegal here…but that same money doubts the political will of a Milwaukee County DA to take on the Walker machine. But the Feds? Reminds me of something…

Richard Nixon in 1972. Re-elected, destroying McGovern in a landslide. Everyone knew, but few said it, that Richard Milhous Nixon was a crook. The media knew – but sat on the story until after the election. Once there was blood in the water, the media went in for the kill. Before Watergate, Nixon was untouchable, and had concentrated more power than almost any other president in history. The scary part is, once the scab was ripped off, no one knew how bad the wound was, or how long it would take to heal. Maybe it never has…and maybe we failed to learn the lessons of too much power in the hands of a man like Nixon…or Scott Walker. And so here we go again…in Wisconsin.

There is some light, in this dark time of plutocracy. There are voices rising above the din, who don’t rely on a Capitol press pass. We are getting one back tomorrow. John “Sly” Sylvester is back on the air Monday, February 4th from 3 – 6:30 pm. Sly will be on one of the last remaining locally owned and independent stations in the entire country – 93.7FM WEKZ. He’ll now have a three state reach – Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Sly will also be contributing to the good fight against Democrats who are mere posers in our neighboring states – like Rahm “NAFTA, TIF King, Kill Public Schools” Emanuel, and Pat “screw the pension fund” Quinn. Station link to listen live here.

I’ll be listening. Why? Because in this time of incredible propaganda, Sly is honest about what he says and believes. He’ll question and confront both Republicans and Democrats who turn their back on Wisconsin working families. And that is important.

The new debate on economics and education will continue to demonize teachers and other public employees. It will perpetuate the myth of impending fiscal doom to preserve the wealth of those paying to spread that myth. Scott Walker will continue to do what Sitting Bull warned about in 1877: They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.” It is voices like Sly’s we need to call out the Walkers, Fitzes, Vos’ Emanuels, Ryans, and Johnsons of our time for what and who they are. Greedy, power-hungry, sharks and fixers who are out for blood. The life blood of Wisconsin – its people and resources in exchange for money and power.

A final quote before sign-off…a warning shot across the bow of our fragile democracy:

When democracy granted democratic methods to us in times of opposition, this was bound to happen in a democratic system. However, we…never asserted that we represented a democratic point of view, but we have declared openly that we used the democratic methods only to gain power, and that, after assuming the power, we would deny to our adversaries without any consideration the means which were granted to us in times of our opposition.

No, that was not from a Walker secret conversation with Robin Vos.

It was Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, 1935 propaganda pamphlet, quoted in Vol. I “Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression,” US Government Printing Office 1946 

Vigilance. Always vigilance.

Wisconsin really is “Open for Business,” so where are all the jobs?

Give Scott Walker credit. He made his campaign slogan “Wisconsin is Open for Business” a reality. In an administration rife with incompetence, corruption, and political patronage, he got this right. According to data compiled by The New York Times from state and federal agencies, Wisconsin is now one of the top corporate welfare states in the nation, second in the Upper Midwest only to automobile bailout-heavy Michigan.

In spite of all these “job creating” incentives and programs, Forbes Magazine recently dropped Wisconsin from 40th to 42nd in the nation in their annual business rankings, making Wisconsin one of the worst states for business in the nation. Just what is going on? By the numbers, Wisconsin should be swimming in jobs. Based on the conservative theory that tax breaks for the job creators will…well…create jobs…

Let’s let the numbers tell the full story.

In total corporate incentives, Wisconsin ranks 14th overall in the nation. At least $1.53 billion went to corporate subsidies in the past year (the state cut $1 billion in public education funding in the 2011 – 2013 budget). These subsidies cost the average taxpayer $268 per year. Remember that number the next time you complain about a $30 per year property tax hike to fund public education. A full 10% of the state budget went to pay these corporate subsidies.

Of the 903 reported corporate grants listed in the Times report, 300 (nearly one-third) have come in 2011-2012 alone, during the Walker administration, primarily through the WEDC “Enterprise Zone Jobs Tax Credit.” In fact, seven of the top ten grant awards totaling over $270 million are 2011 or 2012 grants:

Corporate subsidies

Where has the $1.53 billion in “job creating” investment gone? Could this be the end of the myth surrounding corporate subsidies and incentives spurring job growth? Wisconsin under Scott Walker could be an example of an epic failure of this economic policy theory. Over the past two years, Wisconsin has been far behind the nation in employment recovery, and early 2013 is not looking any better.

Wisconsin employers will slow the pace of hiring in the first three months of 2013 even as the nationwide outlook for job creation is at the most promising levels since the recovery began nearly three years ago, a new survey says.

In Wisconsin, “employers are slightly less optimistic about their staffing plans,” said Manpower spokeswoman Mary Ann Lasky. Nationally, however, “optimism among U.S. hiring decision makers continues to improve,” according to the Milwaukee-based global staffing services company. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 12/10/12)

The December 1, 2012 unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed Wisconsin with the most first time unemployment claims in the nation for the week ending December 1.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending November 24 were in Wisconsin (+5,876), Oregon (+2,328), Ohio (+2,252), Washington (+2,107), and Iowa (+1,262), while the largest decreases were in New Jersey (-23,966), California (-7,053), New York (-6,682), Texas (-6,425) and North Carolina (-2,609).

On December 12, 2012 Scott Walker appeared at a Waukesha County Business Alliance lunch and claimed to be “just under 100,000″  jobs created since he took office. It did not take long for Politifact to rate Walker’s claim “Pants on Fire.”

However, several within his own administration, including his primary spokesman, have said that is the wrong way to measure jobs — you can’t combine partial and full year data sets. As one aide said: It would be “misrepresenting the truth.”

By his administration’s own yardstick, his statement is false. We think it’s ridiculous to — after private admonitions — publicly present it this way. Pants on Fire.

Walker’s continued denial  of his policy failure is becoming sociopathic. In spite of his administration awarding literally billions of dollars to corporate subsidies, Wisconsin continues to lag behind in the recovery. The jobs crisis in Wisconsin is very real – and will not be cured with $10-$15/hour jobs, right-to-work legislation, or ideological social engineering.

Just how bad is it? Recent BLS data from measures the Walker Administration accepts (LAUS, QCEW) show that the money being given to corporations and “small business” to create jobs is not. The question remains…where is the money going?

First, the Quarterly Census (QCEW), Scott Walker’s favorite.

QCEW 1

Since 2010, there is a very moderate upward trend. The actual data show a non-existent job recovery in Wisconsin.

QCEW table

 

According to the latest verified QCEW data, Wisconsin has gained about 40,000 jobs January 2011-March 2012. The yellow highlights indicate the peak pre-recession employment in 2008 – 2,840,648. It is imperative to understand that Wisconsin still has a 200,000 job deficit just to get back to pre-recession employment levels, without accounting for population growth.

But this is December. The QCEW data is slow to be verified and released. The Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) gives a more current measure based on unemployment data – which the Walker Administration has accepted as an accurate measure. The LAUS paints a similar picture:

LAUS graph

Again, the actual LAUS data shows a jobless recovery:

LAUS table 1

 

The yellow again highlights peak employment, pre-recession. The green highlights the last QCEW data entry in March 2012. According to the LAUS data, from January 2011 – October 2012, less than 20,000 jobs were created since Walker took office. The same data shows a jobs deficit of only about 100,000 to get to pre-recession levels.

While the baseline for each measure is different, the result is the same. Since taking office, Scott Walker has only created 20% of the jobs needed to just get back to pre-recession levels, not accounting for population growth.

The untold story of Walker’s tremendous job failure in relation to corporate welfare is the anemic labor force. Since Scott Walker took office, the total labor force has been virtually stagnant:

labor force graph

 

Once again, the actual data show an anemic labor force – not what a recovery looks like with over $1 billion a year in corporate subsidies being granted.

LAUS table 2

 

Note the high point of the labor force shortly after the recession took hold, in yellow – nearly 3.14 million people. When Scott Walker took office in January 2011, the number had dropped to nearly 3.07 million. As of October 2012, there are only 3.06 million people in the labor force. While the adult population has grown since April 2009, the labor force has dropped by over 70,000.

An 80% deficit in job growth, coupled with a decline of 70,000 people in the labor force. Is this the employment climate over $1.5 billion per year in corporate subsidies gets us?

The people of Wisconsin would be better served investing that $1.5 billion back into public schools. Because the question still remains, what has Wisconsin received for that $1.5 billion “investment?”

 

John Doe Investigation and a Rice Lake Harley Dealer…all roads lead to Scott Walker

On the day Timothy Russell pleads guilty to embezzlement as a result of the Milwaukee County John Doe Investigation, another John Doe related story flew under the radar. Christopher Brekken owns a Harley Davidson dealership in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and he is now suing Assistant Milwaukee County DA Bruce Landgraf. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report:

Brekken has sued Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, seeking damages for false imprisonment and abuse of process related to a 2010 subpoena for records about some credit card purchases from Rice Lake Harley-Davidson.

The suit, filed in Barron County Circuit Court in September, claims that Brekken could not produce or obtain the very specific information that had been subpoenaed, and that he told Landgraf he could not.

But a bench warrant was issued for Brekken’s in October 2010 that required him to travel to Milwaukee in November 2010 to again affirm under oath that he couldn’t find out the full credit card number used by a specific person on a specific date at Rice Lake Harley.

What does this have to do with the John Doe and Scott Walker? Recall May, 2010.

Scott Walker as Milwaukee County Executive heads out on his annual “County Executive’s Tour.” Even in 2010, there were criticisms and questions about the tour really being a campaign jaunt on the Milwaukee County dime. This from Graeme Zielinski on May 15, 2010:

So we’re in Greenfield and surrounded by Milwaukee County staff — all of whom are on county time. There’s a county park a few blocks away where they could be mowing the lawn, but instead they’re here to fuss about Scott Walker’s taxpayer-funded campaign junket. Walker, before the horde leaves, makes holy sounds about how this ISN’T a campaign event and how this is about promoting Milwaukee County tourism. If that were true, of course, he’d be headed down to Chicago, the biggest pile of cash in the Midwest. Instead, he’s going to all the media markets that will be involved in his race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, as well as stops in Rockford and Dubuque.

Meanwhile, a county department head is traveling with Walker, who also is shilling for AirTran, the airline with which Walker is negotiating a lease deal. Walker is wearing an AirTran hat and singing the praises of the airline. Who knew the job of the Milwaukee County executive was as corporate pitchman?

The “county department head” travelling with Walker was Timothy Russell. But wait, there’s more.

Badger Democracy has obtained two videos of Scott Walker on his Rice Lake tour stop – at the Rice Lake Harley Davidson.

The first video shows Walker interacting with supporters. At about one minute in, former Assembly Rep. Dave Zien appears, followed by then Assembly Rep. Mike Huebsch, and Assembly Rep. Sheila Harsdorf. A member of the press is seen trying to interview Mike Huebsch, and is told to talk to “Scott” Walker. Tourism – not so much.

The second video continues Walker’s interaction with his supporters. Throughout the second video, Walker is discussing potential gubernatorial scenarios with supporters. He makes half-hearted efforts (nudge nudge, wink wink) at saying “I can only talk about tourism.” At 3:15, one supporter actually tells Walker, “…next time your up here we can talk about legislative initiatives and local governments.” Watch at 3:30 in as Walker supporter Doreen McDonald gives Walker a gift. Try buying your Legislator a cup of coffee sometime and see what they say.  That’s a big no.

At 4:38, former Assembly Rep. Dave Zien begins discussing the “big mining project.” Zien states that Jim Doyle “never did a thing about” a proposed Gogebic Taconite mine expansion. Sounds more like Walker is campaigning for Governor than enjoying a tourism trip.

At the end of the video, Walker can be heard saying, “…see you on Friday,” meaning at the State Republican Convention. Walker’s 2010 stop in Rice Lake had nothing to do with tourism. It had everything to do with mobilizing his supporters. This mobilization was done on the Milwaukee County taxpayer dime.

The Barron County case filing has redacted the name, date, amount of purchase, and partial credit card number.

Scott Walker knows the rules. His hope for the John Doe to end tomorrow is complete denial. Prior to today, no one would have connected Walker’s 2010 County Executive tour with the John Doe proceedings. In 2010, there were already red flags about Walker’s campaign and County office being in violation of state law.

Look like the chickens are coming home to roost.

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Scott Walker’s “I am not a crook” moment

This morning, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Scott Walker insisted that he was not a target of the ongoing John Doe investigation. Walker went further in saying that if he had knowledge of wrongdoing in his office, he would have put a stop to it.

Gov. Scott Walker tells The Associated Press that he remains “absolutely” confident that he is not a subject of a criminal investigation involving former aides in his Milwaukee County office.

Walker says he had no knowledge of county workers doing campaign work while on the clock for their county job. He says if he had known what Rindfleisch was doing, he would have taken action to stop it.

Less than twelve hours after Walker made that statement, news broke about former top Walker aide Timothy Russell, scheduled to go on trial December 3rd.

A plea agreement has been reached in the felony embezzlement case against Timothy D. Russell, a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker.

Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf said Monday a hearing on the plea deal is set for Thursday but declined to discuss terms of the deal. Russell’s lawyer, Parker Mathers, didn’t immediately return a phone call late Monday.

Russell, 49, was charged in January with embezzling more than $20,000 from a veterans group through a nonprofit organization that Walker assigned him to lead. He’s accused of siphoning money raised for Operation Freedom, an annual veterans fair and picnic at the zoo hosted by Walker during his time as Milwaukee County executive.

Russell served as deputy chief of staff and housing director at the county during the period he’s accused of plundering the veterans money. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Thursday will be an interesting day. Of more immediate concern is Walker’s claim on the record that he is a complete innocent. The record will show, eventually, that today was Scott Walker’s “I am not a crook” moment (shades of Nixon). There are several emails that make it abundantly clear that only one of two possibilities is true. Either Scott Walker lied today, or he is an incompetent fool duped by his campaign staff whom he had no control over. You decide…to the exhibits.

Power Point Slide #42

Email from Walker Campaign Manager (Friends of Scott Walker) Keith Gilkes (kgilkes@scottwalker.org) to candidate Scott Walker (skw@scottwalker.org). Copied to County Exec Walker’s staff including Kelly Rindfleisch, now guilty of campaigning on County time, in this case 11am on a Friday. The email is coordinating an official statement from County Executive Walker regarding the County tax levy, prepared for political expediency by his campaign. This goes beyond schedule coordination, and directly involved Walker.

Power Point Slide #44

Email from Rindfleisch on County time (1:30pm  on a Wednesday), from her “secret” Gmail account to bypass County email systems, to Scott Walker and Campaign Manager Gilkes (among others). More direct coordination of messaging and strategy for a WTMJ radio spot, even recommending “SKW might want to do a letter…asking for an appeal.” Noteworthy is that Walker and his state Capitol staff have continued message coordination and control with conservative talk radio pundits, as previously reported.

Power Point Slide #45

Perhaps one of the most damning email chains of all. This email chain is initiated by Scott Walker from his campaign email (skw@scottwalker.org) to combined County/Campaign staff including Rindfleisch and Gilkes. While we are unable to view the full first email, Walker is unhappy with how corporate counsel is handling media inquiries. The end result is Campaign Manager Gilkes telling Rindfleisch that the Walker campaign would “…like him to stop being a lawyer and think political.” Understand, this is a political campaign telling the County government how its corporate counsel should respond to public record inquiries from media, through Scott Walker, candidate. Again, on County time.

Power Point Slide #70

Extremely revealing email. Sent from campaign manager Gilkes to candidate Walker, Rindfleisch, and other County staff.  Sent on Friday afternoon May 14, 2010 when Walker would know Rindfleisch would be on County time. The subject is Darlene Wink, who had just left her County job under fire days earlier. This email is coordinating damage control and spin between the County Executive and Walker Campaign. The exact text (emphasis added):

Scott – we would like to discuss this further. We got a briefing from Kelly (Rindfleisch).

There are a few key thoughts on this that our (sic) critical to a response and diffusing this report.

Make no mistake, this is the start of a cover-up, with Scott Walker fully in the loop. Each of these email slides shows not only knowledge, but full participation in this activity. It is little wonder Kelly Rindfleisch’s attorney Frank Gimbel was beside himself, wondering how his client is the only one currently facing jail time in this scandal. As the emails on display were several of thousands, it is highly likely things are going to get very heated for Scott Walker.  This scandal will end up being of unprecedented scope in Wisconsin politics. A scandal that makes the Caucus Scandal look like a childish kerfuffle…

It comes down to this, and we must consider not only the emails referenced in the Rindfleisch sentencing, but the full record of Scott Walker.

He is one or the other…Walker is either lying; or he is an incompetent fool, completely ignorant and immune while his minions run roughshod over the law and the office just steps away from him.

Which is it?

 

 

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John Doe Power Point implicates Walker; Source Discloses Continuing Pattern of Corruption

The seventy-eight slide Rindfleisch power point presentation given by Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf is now available for public viewing (follow link). There can be no more speculation as to whether Scott Walker had firsthand knowledge regarding campaign activity occurring in his Milwaukee County Executive office. There was, and he did. Walker’s private campaign email address appears on numerous slides, and the campaign/county staff were one in the same. Significant questions remain.

Does the Milwaukee County DA have the goods on Walker? Or is this part of a coordinated chess match to “flush out” Walker for the Feds? Will the indictment come from Milwaukee County or another law enforcement agency? If this revelation came out in the Rindfleisch sentencing (she is a fairly small-time player in this network), what will come out in the Russell trial starting next month?

The one certainty in all this is that Scott Walker has continued his pattern of building an appointed, political network at the state level to carry out his policies unencumbered; and likely coordinate with his campaign. We already know the investigation has expanded to Madison, and Badger Democracy has previously published an email from Keith Gilkes’ state email account discussing campaign assistance from a Walker supporter.

A highly placed Administration official has recently communicated information to Badger Democracy which confirms Walker’s pattern of crony appointments and corruption continues in Madison. As additional information is disclosed, additional blogs will be posted. Of specific importance are recent events at one of Walker’s newly reorganized agencies – Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS – formerly Regulation and Licensing). All information has been confirmed through independent inquiry.

Cronyism

The Walker Administration has replaced all Division Administration heads at DSPS with political appointees. The last non-appointee left on April 12, 2012. Former DSPS HR head Martha Zydowski retired from her $90,000/year + job earlier this year. Shortly after her “retirement” she was rehired at a part-time job working 3 days a week, earning $67,000/year. She is assigned to working “special projects.”

Only two raises have been awarded since 1/1/11 for full-time exempt employees. One was to Angela Herl, who is married to Dane County GOP chairman Mike Herl. The other was to Kathy Sotak, who was promoted to a Bureau Director. Just months after her promotion, she resigned. State records show Sotak formed “Sotak Solutions LLC” in 2010 – while working for the state. Sotak’s LinkedIn profile claims to have worked at Sotak Solutions since 1999. Her business specialty:

Chemical management and industrial hygiene, risk management, safety, training programs

This is identical to the work she was performing at her state job. Badger Democracy found state Vendornet records showing Sotak as a state subcontractor in 2007 (Kathy Sotak as Safety Consultant 2004-2007). It is apparent that Sotak has spent her time in state government coordinating subcontract opportunities for her own LLC. The revolving door of state government at work.

Further cronyism exists in the appointment of Bill Wendle as Assistant Secretary of DSPS. Wendl is the former CEO of the Wisconsin Builder’s Association (WBA); one of Walker’s largest donors, supporters, and lobby for Scott Walker’s policy agenda. According to Badger Democracy’s source, through Wendle, WBA “bought the codes.” Wendle is said to be planning to write and update the new building codes, favorable to WBA interests “after the committee hearings” are held. Current code updates are said to be receiving “little to no oversight” due to “lack of manpower.” Building Code review is 6 months behind any updating activity.

Secrecy and Corruption

Badger Democracy has received information that a private Gmail network has been set up in more than one Administration Agency – including DSPS. There is also an initiative being pushed to eliminate the IT support at DSPS and transition all IT/Email to DOA. This would place control of IT at DSPS into the hands of DOA. Noteworthy is the private email account which Kelly Rindfleisch conducted her illegal campaign work on was a Gmail account. Also, greater opportunity for corruption exists now that DSPS is led by political appointees of Scott Walker.

As with WEDC, it is apparent that DSPS is now in disarray, sacrificing effective administration for cronyism and secrecy. Badger Democracy will have more information in future posts.

While the John Doe investigation continues to roll on, it is unclear what the next move for the Milwaukee County DA will be.  We now have confirmation that Scott Walker had direct knowledge of campaign work happening in his County executive office. We also know that Walker has continued this at least immoral, possibly illegal activity in Madison.

It is also known that Walker is also being investigated at the Federal level. Of that, we have heard nothing…yet.

 

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Expect more of the same from Scott Walker on Health Insurance Exchange Plan

If there was ever a time for Scott Walker to prove he is willing to work with “both sides of the aisle,” tomorrow is the day. Friday, November 16 is the deadline for states to announce their plan to implement state-run exchanges, or face implementation of a Federal Exchange. Walker and other GOP Governors went all-in on a Romney win, and subsequent repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  

Romney lost. “Obamacare” was declared constitutional. Don’t expect anything from Scott Walker – except business as usual.

Once again, Scott Walker and the extreme far-right GOP Legislators are choosing ideology over good governing, and it is the majority of Wisconsin taxpayers who will pay. Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way. The structure of an exchange has been in existence for over one year.

On November 1, 2011 State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) introduced 2011 SB 273 “Badger Health Benefit Authority.”  From the Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis:

This bill creates the Badger Health Benefit Authority (authority) that is a public body corporate and politic that is created by state law but that is not a state agency.

Under the bill, the authority must establish and operate a Wisconsin Health Benefit Exchange in this state, must make qualified health plans, with effective dates on or before January 1, 2014, available to qualified individuals and qualified employers, and must seek federal grants and other funding for the purpose of the exchange. A qualified health plan is defined in the bill, generally, as a health benefit plan that covers the costs of health care services and that meets the certification criteria described in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

In the past, Legislators from both side of the aisle would have spent the year hammering out an Exchange unique to, and to the benefit of Wisconsin. This is how Badger Care came into existence. Not today.

Enter the ideological crusaders. So extreme are these ideologues, nine of them have gone on public record as promoting legislation authorizing the arrest of any Federal Employee who would attempt to enact ACA in Wisconsin – including a Health Exchange.

Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin; Reps. Don Pridemore of Hartford; Erik Severson of Star Prairie; Tom Larson of Colfax; Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids; and three Republicans elected for the first time last week who will be sworn in early next year – Rob Hutton of Brookfield, Mark Born of Beaver Dam and Dave Murphy of Greenville. (MJS)

These are not responsible legislators. They are hacks.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin recently released an email from DHS to Walker Administration officials containing a Power Point presentation – the closest thing we have seen to a blueprint from the Governor’s office.

We can be certain of one thing. The Walker plan for a Health Exchange will be consistent with his previous governing record. The WEDC Block Grant fiasco, the current Talgo breach of contract lawsuit, cronyism in Administration appointments and State Agencies, and corporate patronage at the expense of fiscal responsibility are now the hallmarks of the Walker Administration.

The Walker plan for a Health Exchange will be nothing more than a sub-contracted, privately operated online market “clearinghouse” serving existing for-profit insurance companies – and doing nothing to reduce costs or increase access to the nearly 500,000 uninsured Wisconsinites.

The result will be the same as well – a giant boondoggle which will set up a significant battle with the Federal Government over whether the Wisconsin Exchange conforms to the ACA. And we all will lose.

Scott Walker will again live up to our expectations of him, which are continually decreasing.

Walker, Vos and Darling Train Fiasco – Everybody Pays…twice

The day before Election Day, Badger Democracy reported on the train maker Talgo filing a lawsuit against Governor Scott Walker, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb, and the state for “default of contract.”  In brief:

Train manufacturer Talgo filed a “Default of Contract” suit against Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb in Dane County Circuit Court today. Court documents filed today show that the Washington-based train manufacturer notified the state on April 4, 2012 that the “trainsets” were ready for required service testing to be conducted by WisDOT.

The state has attempted to claim that Talgo is responsible for testing, but the contract makes clear that WisDOT bears that responsibility.

The trainsets in question were not ordered for the controversial rail expansion to Madison. These trains are for use on the highly traveled Milwaukee to Chicago “Hiawatha” line. Coming on the heels of the WEDC/HUD block grant fiasco, DOT Secretary Gottlieb quickly issued a statement on November 5 to Badger Democracy, in full damage control mode:

The Department of Transportation participated in a formal mediation process with Talgo just last week in a good faith effort to resolve disputes related to the delivery of completed trainsets. We are disappointed that process was not successful.

Talgo has failed to complete or test the trainsets and they do not meet even basic federal standards, such as those required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The department will defend against this action and continue to act in the best interests of Wisconsin taxpayers.” (emphasis added)
Badger Democracy forwarded Secretary Gottlieb’s response to Lester Pines, Attorney for Talgo. In an interview, Pines offered the following response:
1. As stated in the lawsuit filing, the State of Wisconsin failed to make a $4.5 million contract payment to Talgo, as a means to attempt to force Talgo into conducting “pre-revenue” testing of the trains. Per the contract, this “pre-revenue” testing is the state’s responsibility. Contract excerpt below:
All parties acknowledge and accept that 49 CFR 238.111 provides that the Operator (or railroad, as the case may be) not the Contractor is responsible for performing a pre-revenue service acceptance testing plan. Contractor will diligently work with Department and such Operator to ensure that the Operator’s pre-revenue service acceptance testing plan is efficiently implemented.
2. The state is alleging in the statement that the trainsets do not meet ADA accessibility requirements. This is not true. The trains have been warranted by Talgo to meet every FRA and ADA standard. One minor deficiency has been corrected by a simple part replacement.
3. The state has had an escape clause in the contract which it could have used at any time. It did not. The state could also have declared Talgo in breach of contract at any time for legitimate reasons. It did not.
4. The state of Wisconsin put up a $50 million capital bond issue to pay for the trains. If the state is found in breach of contract, Talgo gets their trains back, and the state no longer will own the capital for which the bond issue was made. The state would be required to repay the $50 million – out of General Program Revenue.
A Legislative Fiscal Bureau March 14, 2012 memo to Robin Vos and Alberta Darling’s Joint Committee on Finance (JCF) confirm many of Talgo’s assertions. The memo also  gave legislators plenty of advance notice on this issue, and made specific recommendations (emphasis added):

The state purchased two passenger car train sets in 2009 from Talgo, a Spanish train manufacturer.

A total of $68.9 million in passenger rail development bonds has been approved for the purchase of the rail cars ($48.5 million), as well as other costs related to construction management, purchase of maintenance equipment, and a temporary maintenance facility.

The train sets are now nearing completion, and are scheduled to be delivered to the state for initial testing in mid-March. Following testing, the cars would be ready for use on the Milwaukee to Chicago service, likely in late 2012.

Under that agreement, the state is responsible for providing a facility for the maintenance and for making payments to Talgo for
ongoing maintenance costs. [In anticipation of the completion of the Talgo cars, 2011 Act 32 provided $4,450,000 SEG in 2011-12 and $6,700,000 SEG in 2012-13 in the Department's passenger rail service appropriation for start-up maintenance costs.]

According to the LFB memo, maintenance costs were an issue of significance. Alternative solutions were offered, including a renegotiation of the maintenance agreement:

ALTERNATIVES

1. Approve the Department’s request for the approval of $2,500,000 in passenger rail development bonding for final design engineering for a permanent maintenance facility for the
State’s passenger rail cars.

2. Deny the request.

3. Deny the request and direct the Department to reimburse any expenditures for the maintenance facility preliminary engineering that were made with bonds from the Department’s SEG appropriation for passenger rail service, to the extent that unencumbered funds are available in that appropriation.

4. Deny the request for additional funding and direct the Department to attempt to renegotiate the maintenance agreement with Talgo to reduce ongoing maintenance costs and, if feasible, the cost of the permanent maintenance facility. Direct the Department, in any subsequent request for funding for maintenance-related services, to report to the Committee on
the status of these negotiations.

Walker, Vos, and Darling all knew exactly what this contract entailed. They wanted to kill any new rail development as payback to their transportation construction political cronies, so they did nothing – even though it would cost taxpayers millions above and beyond the cost of honoring the contract. Vos and Darling were very vocal about how they were “saving taxpayers money” in a May 2012 edition of the Conservative-Digest.

Unfortunately, they failed to tell the whole story about the Talgo contract, and the specific issues surrounding the inevitable trainset replacement costs. You can read the entire LFB memo linked above. The LFB estimates do not include extra costs associated with continuing to use Amtrak maintenance – so the Vos/Darling  article is conveniently leaving out key details. The last few lines of their joint article are the most important:

Luckily, the state has options. According to
the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if no funds were
given for the Talgo maintenance facility, the
“agreement can be terminated by either party.”
So that’s where we are now.

Wisconsin taxpayers were taken for a ride by
Doyle and the Democrats. We’re proud to say
that the ride is coming to an end.

Not quite Governor Walker, Representative Vos, and Senator Darling. When Talgo wins this lawsuit, Wisconsin taxpayers will be the ones paying back the $50 million in revenue to replace the bond issue – as you will have lost the capital purchased by those bonds.

And the trains – they will still have to be replaced in just a few short years anyway. In essence, we will end up paying for them twice. Though, after defaulting on the Talgo contract, will anyone do business with Wisconsin? Maybe we’ll be able to ride Chinese trains from Milwaukee to Chicago.

Lost loans at WEDC, federal block grant money distributed without authority, contract breaches, lost capital from bond issue, former aides convicted…

This is acting “…in the best interests of the taxpayers of Wisconsin…?”

Walker Administration “Default of Contract” cost to taxpayers nearly $50 million

Train manufacturer Talgo filed a “Default of Contract” suit against Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb in Dane County Circuit Court today. Court documents filed today show that the Washington-based train manufacturer notified the state on April 4, 2012 that the “trainsets” were ready for required service testing to be conducted by WisDOT.

The state has attempted to claim that Talgo is responsible for testing, but the contract makes clear that WisDOT bears that responsibility (emphasis added):

All parties acknowledge and accept that 49 CFR 238.111 provides that the Operator (or railroad, as the case may be) not the Contractor is responsible for performing a pre-revenue service acceptance testing plan. Contractor will diligently work with Department and such Operator to ensure that the Operator’s pre-revenue service acceptance testing plan is efficiently implemented.

Wisconsin was sent an invoice for $4.599 million dollars on April 23, 2012 which has remained unpaid. On July 25, 2012 Talgo served a “notice of default” on Mark Gottlieb, DOT Secretary. The notice gave the state 30 days to cure default (emphasis added):

In short, Wisconsin is in default of its testing obligations under Section 14.02 of the Purchase
Contract, which has caused significant and costly delays on the project. Talgo is also very concerned with WisDOT’s stated intent to place the train sets into storage rather than in revenue service, which also constitutes a material breach and default under the Purchase Contract, as the Purchase Contract clearly requires WisDOT to place the train sets into revenue service (see, for example, Article 9 of the Purchase Contract).

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is also in default of its payment obligation regarding Invoice number 2012- 1.6, dated April 23, 2012. In addition, WisDOT has also wrongfully terminated the December 30,2009 Maintenance Agreement between WisDOT and Talgo - constituting an Event of Default under both that agreement and the Purchase Contract - which Talgo will address by separate letter.

Wisconsin did not reply within the required 30 days to cure default. The Maintenance Agreement referenced in the default letter between Wisconsin and Talgo was terminated by the trainmaker on November 1 as another breach of contract (emphasis added). Gottlieb was hand-delivered notice of Purchase Contract termination on November 1. If the state is found in breach of contract, Wisconsin (and its citizens by default) would lose all rights under the contract, and be on the hook for nearly $50 million plus court costs(emphasis added):

It has been more than one hundred days since Talgo served its Notice of Default upon Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has still not cured its default.

Accordingly, pursuant to the terms of the Purchase Contract, Talgo is hereby immediately
terminating the Purchase Contract. Wisconsin remains obligated to pay all its “previously accrued liabilities” under the Purchase Contract. You have received invoices for the balance of the Purchase Contract prior to your receipt of this Notice of Termination.

Talgo CEO  Antonio Perez hits the nail on the head with his statement today (emphasis added):

“We invested in the State of Wisconsin by building a manufacturing facility in
Milwaukee and creating manufacturing jobs. We built the trains and
otherwise performed our obligations under our agreements with the State of
Wisconsin. In return, rather than being “open for business” the State used
every conceivable excuse, whether fair or not and whether lawful or not, to
ensure that Talgo did not receive what it bargained for, including by refusing
to pay for the trains that Talgo completed. I don’t see how any company
would in the future choose to do business with the State of Wisconsin when
the State has shown that it cannot be trusted to honor contracts that it
signed.”

“Talgo has become the innocent victim of a political agenda. Before
Governor Walker was inaugurated, he wrote an open letter to President
Obama saying, “Governor Doyle and Secretary La Hood say we can’t stop
the train. I say, just watch us.” The Governor chose to “stop the train” by
breaching its contract with Talgo.”

WEDC and Walker’s budgeting tricks are just the tip of the iceberg. Ideology and cronyism over responsible governance have become the hallmarks of the Walker Administration. Not only did Walker’s actions regarding Talgo COST jobs, they will now COST taxpayers millions of dollars payable long after he is out of office.

The Office of DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb emailed the following comment to Badger Democracy:

The Department of Transportation participated in a formal mediation process with Talgo just last week in a good faith effort to resolve disputes related to the delivery of completed trainsets. We are disappointed that process was not successful.
 
Talgo has failed to complete or test the trainsets and they do not meet even basic federal standards, such as those required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
 
The department will defend against this action and continue to act in the best interests of Wisconsin taxpayers.”

The Walker Administration has yet to respond to request for comment.

 

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Fake Democrat will be elected to the Assembly…a picture is worth 1000 words

On August 9, 2012, Badger Democracy wrote a story questioning the legitimacy of former Monona Mayor Robb Kahl running as a Democrat for the 47th Assembly District. Kahl easily won his primary as a Democrat, and is expected to easily defeat his Republican opponent Sandy Bakk in next Tuesday’s General Election. Badger Democracy has obtained exclusive photos which every elector in Kahl’s District must see before casting their ballot.

The photos confirm that Robb Kahl has hoodwinked not only his future constituents; but every good progressive Democrat and organization who has endorsed him. While fraud may be too harsh a term, Kahl can now truly be called a “Dem-in-name-only.” Worse yet, his future constituents will have no idea who he will serve if elected. This writer’s advice – vote for the Republican. At least you will be certain what she stands for. Every progressive who has endorsed Kahl should withdraw their support, and he should be shunned as a self-serving opportunist.

On the night of November 2, 2010 most Democratic candidates and voters were overwhelmed by the nature of the GOP/Tea Party surge in Wisconsin. Most were experiencing emotions running the gamut from anger to depression to shock. Where was Robb Kahl? Celebrating at a victory party. The party was not for a Democratic candidate. Not Tim Cullen, or Kathleen Vinehout. Kahl was celebrating a Scott Walker victory. And he wasn’t celebrating in private. He was on stage – with Scott Walker.

The following photographs obtained by Badger Democracy show Robb Kahl in the back row, left hand side, as the victory confetti drops, holding his Scott Walker campaign sign over his head. He is above, and between Joel and Rebecca Kleefisch in the shot (sign is circled in black). This has been confirmed and is not photo-shopped:

Robb Kahl at Walker victory party 11/2/10 – 1

Here is a closer view of Kahl after the confetti drop (Kahl is circled in black):

Robb Kahl at Walker victory party 11/2/10 – 2

If you need one more view (again circled in black):

Robb Kahl at Walker victory party 11/2/10 – 3

The archived video of the Walker speech from 11/2/10 can be viewed for confirmation. Kahl’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

In case there is any doubt – a file photo of Kahl:

If you want more information on Kahl’s ties with Walker since the 2010 election, the Badger Democracy article from August 9, 2012 referenced above provides the necessary background.

The question is – will Kahl be held to account by the electorate and those who have endorsed him under false pretenses?

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Investigation: Walker Administrations in Milwaukee and Madison – incompetence or corruption?

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee held a public hearing today to take testimony and commence an audit of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Unfortunately, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) left the hearing prior to the testimony of outgoing WEDC CEO Paul Jadin. If he had stayed, Vos would have heard Jadin call for “more legislative oversight and accountability” of WEDC in his testimony.

The recent criticism of WEDC and the Department of Administration (DOA) mismanagement of the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) from US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) directors uncovered what appears to be a pattern following Scott Walker from his County Executive office in Milwaukee to the Governor’s office in Madison. Is it sheer incompetence, or inherent corruption and cronyism?

On March 15 2012, just one month prior to HUD suspending WEDC from administering the block grant program, HUD sent a letter to the new Milwaukee County Director of Health and Human Services Hector Colon (Full March 15 2012 letter here).  The letter informed DHHS Director Colon that after a HUD review of additional information supplied by the County, 23 of 29 block grant awards failed to meet federal requirements, and the County could face repayment of over $500,000 in grants. An additional 3 programs required further documentation.

The Milwaukee County program was being administered during that time period by Timothy Russell, at the time Walker’s housing director now facing trial in the John Doe investigation. Another key Milwaukee Walker Administration person in the block grant program was Lisa Jo Marks, director of DHHS under Walker. Marks is now the DOA Housing director in the current Walker Administration.

Lisa Jo Marks was Walker’s Child Support Enforcement Director from 2007 – 2009 before being named interim director of DHHS. Marks replaced Corey Hoze as DHHS director when Hoze left for a job as Associated Bank Vice President of Government Affairs.   Hoze also now serves on the WEDC Board of Directors – another agency currently involved in CDBG program controversy under Walker. Marks and Hoze undoubtedly work together in their capacities in DOA and WEDC (respectively) grant programs. Marks has also appeared as a presenter at the ultra-conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute during her Walker Administration tenure.

Badger Democracy has obtained a 2009 HUD spreadsheet from the CDBG program demonstrating continuing administration problems with accountability in the program. The spreadsheet lists 2008 programs for “LMJ and LMH” (low-mid income housing and jobs) which failed to document accomplishments as required under federal law. HUD analysts informed Badger Democracy that two of the three had eventually fulfilled the reporting requirements. One had not. Program number 3254 in the amount of $12,258.52 was made to Wisconsin Community Services in 2008. WCS has received no block grant money since 2008, and to this day has not fulfilled the reporting requirement.

Key individuals in the Milwaukee Walker Administration not under investigation in the ongoing John Doe investigation have been selected by the governor to be involved in the current CDBG program. A series of department memos from May-June 2010 show that Timothy Russell, Lisa Marks, and Cynthia Archer were all involved in the block grant award process, and had to have firsthand knowledge of grantors and awards. Only 29 awards were distributed in 2011.

A subsequent memo from October 2010 shows that Walker, Russell, and Archer were directly involved (along with the County Board and DHHS) in grant awards. A full list of past and present grants are included in the memo. On September 10, 2010, DHHS Interim Director Lisa Marks presented the list of CDBG awards to the Committee on Economic and Community Development for approval.  In spite of the numerous checks and balances in the system, the grants were made and approved on the basis of trust in the Walker Administration’s assurance of their qualifications.

A close examination reveals a pattern of questionable awards, personnel, and activities. County CDBG funds must go to non-city programs in Milwaukee County. The basic violation of the programs is that they serve constituents in the city of Milwaukee, not the county (non-Milwaukee city). Of note is the money awarded to similar organizations for similar purposes. A vast majority of the grants are awarded to private charities for either job training or facility improvements/construction. While the mission of these charities is largely legitimate, who receives the grant money at the contractor level is a very large question. Under the circumstances, it should receive much greater scrutiny – especially in the following three cases.

Milwaukee County Community Business Development Partners (CBDP) is a county agency that administers the Disadvantaged Business program, and is a public/private partnership. The CBDP received over $27,000 in federal block grant money in 2011 for “micro-enterprise development.” HUD has determined that this violates the program guidelines, as all clients are in the city of Milwaukee, not the County (non-city). On July 19, 2012, then director of CBDP, Frieda Webb, was arrested by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department. Webb stands accused of defrauding the County through falsifying contracts for services not fulfilled and double-billing the county for some classes and services rendered. The FBI has been  involved in the investigation. Webb was hired by Scott Walker to serve as the agency’s director.

Webb allegedly conspired with Homer L. Key, owner of 5 Star Construction and Renovation in Milwaukee in the scheme to bill the County for thousands of dollars in services. While neither Webb or Key have yet been charged, the Milwaukee County DA’s office “could not comment on the investigation.”  All indications are this is an ongoing investigation. Webb has since been released from county jail. Key is having extensive legal issues in Milwaukee County. Neither party returned calls for comment.

Northcott Neighborhood House received $27,720 of block grant funds for renovation and construction in 2011. Executive Director of Northcott, McArthur Weddle, has recently been appointed to the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) board for a four-year term by Scott Walker. Weddle joins close Walker associate and ally Wyman Winston (WHEDA Director) on the WHEDA Board.

Winston recently came under scrutiny after a report surfaced that he was over one year late in paying property taxes on rental property amounting to payments over $30,000. 

The WHEDA connection leads to a third grant award in question – in Milwaukee’s Park East Corridor now under development using millions of dollars in tax credits, subsidized loans, and grants. For years, the city and county have been on the hook for development in the corridor amid a series of lucrative financing deals for developers.

The St. Catherine’s Residence received a veto override vote from the County Board in 2007. Since that Walker veto, St. Catherine’s has even received donations from the Walkers on an annual basis. The residence has been built and continually renovated, remodeled, and expanded largely with public money from block grants and WHEDA. St. Catherine’s recently received a share of 2012 grant awards from WHEDA to “expand security measures, remodel kitchens and bathrooms, replace or repair roofs, elevators and boilers, and make restrooms handicapped accessible.”

It is not the charitable organizations themselves that should receive heightened scrutiny. Both Walker administrations rife with cronyism have demonstrated a consistent level of incompetence – or they are corrupt. It cannot be both. Walker has taken the same people with him to Madison to run these programs, and they should (by now) know the rules. Which makes the WEDC/HUD/DOA fiasco even more outrageous.

Who are the contractors who have been paid millions of dollars over the years from the CDBG program in Milwaukee County  under Scott Walker, and has this program become a giant boondoggle for them? How many no-bid contracts have been awarded by allegedly corrupt officials like Frieda Webb? Is this what Walker hoped to accomplish with WEDC – on a statewide scale? At risk are millions of dollars to municipalities which are critical to local development – particularly in areas of poverty.

No one from the previous Walker Administration in Milwaukee, WEDC, DOA, or WHEDA returned calls for comment. An open records request pertaining to this information has been filed and acknowledged with WEDC and DOA.

This story will be updated as it continues to develop.

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