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Here & Now for March 9, 2018

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March 9, 2018

Here & Now for March 9, 2018

On tonight's show, we examine: the results of the new Marquette Law School Poll with the poll's director Charles Franklin; how the proposed steel and aluminum tariffs will affect Wisconsin with UW economist Menzie Chinn; the cuts to academic programs at UW-Stevens Point with Vice Chancellor Greg Summers; and the status of WEDC's Chicago advertising campaign with WisContext's Scott Gordon.

Episode Transcript

Announcer:

The following program is part of our "Here and Now" 2018 Wisconsin Vote election coverage.

Frederica Freyberg:

I'm Frederica Freyberg. Tonight on "Here and Now," the latest Marquette Law School Poll. The impact President Trump's tariffs could have in Wisconsin. A look at the cuts planned at UW-Stevens Point. And WisContext reports on state efforts to recruit young Chicago workers. It's "Here and Now" for March 9.

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

Frederica Freyberg:

A first look tonight at how Wisconsinites feel about candidates in the running this year and about issues important to the state. This week, the latest Marquette Law School Poll came out and some of its results are surprising. We're joined by Professor of Law and Public Policy and Director of the Marquette Law School Poll, Charles Franklin. Thanks very much for being here.

Charles Franklin:

Good to be back.

Frederica Freyberg:

According to your polling, Donald Trump's approval rating has ticked up slightly since this time last year. But do his numbers depend kind of on the fluctuations in the news cycle?

Charles Franklin:

Well, they do, I think. He's been actually sort of surprisingly steady. Was at 41 in June. Is at 43% approval now. So just a little bit of a tick up. Nationally he ticked up a little bit over this period, too. He also ticked up just slightly in some other measures. But for the most part, people are divided as you would expect. 89% of Republicans approve. 89% of Democrats disapprove. Independents split 34/57, so that's maybe the more telling group, not the partisans, but those independents.

Frederica Freyberg:

57 disapprove?

Charles Franklin:

Yes.

Frederica Freyberg:

So if President Trump's approval ratings are expected to be any measure for the November vote, how does that affect Governor Walker?

Charles Franklin:

Well, Governor Walker is at about the same place he was last summer. He's at 47 approve, 47 disapprove. It was 48/48 last summer. A year ago he was just a shade down from that at 45/48. So slightly under water. He's come back up to even last summer and still is.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is it hard for him to move that needle even though he's seemingly trying very hard to moderate?

Charles Franklin:

I think it's important to realize this is a governor who has won his elections, including the recall, with 52%, 53%, 52%. This is not a blowout winner in any of these races. And very, very stable. So when we look at his first term, his average was just over 49 approve. Disapprove average just over 44. So maybe he's just a little bit tighter than he was in the first term.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, his challengers in the Democratic primary are many, so many that we didn't make a screen to fill out all their names. But who stands out?

Charles Franklin:

I think the real message here is voters have not yet tuned into this race or the Republican Senate race. And so over two-thirds of voters say they don't know enough to have an opinion about these. Tony Evers, the school superintendent, has the most name recognition but even for him, two-thirds of voters say they don't have enough information about him. He does a little bit better than the others in favorability and a little bit better in the primary trial heat but all of it's essentially inside the margin of error and when we look at the primary vote, 44% of Democrats say they don't know who they're going to vote for. And for most of the candidates, Dem and Rep alike, it's well over three-quarters who don't have an opinion about them.

Frederica Freyberg:

That holds true also in the Supreme Court race, your polling showed, though Rebecca Dallet did top Michael Screnock by four. But these "don't know" numbers seem pretty startling. And they don't have a lot of time.

Charles Franklin:

That's especially true. And especially remember we're coming off a primary that was held just a couple of weeks ago. Over three-quarters don't have an opinion about either one. I think it would be folly to read too much into the comparison of these two numbers given how few people know them. But also remember spring elections have an astonishingly low turnout rate. I believe it was about 11% statewide that turned out in the primary. Historically it'll be around 20% that turn out in April.

Frederica Freyberg:

Contrary to that, 75% of respondents did have an opinion on Tammy Baldwin and her numbers have slipped just a little bit.

Charles Franklin:

Slipped a little bit. She's two points more unfavorable than favorable right now, with 20% plus not having an opinion about her. That's down barely at all from June, but down a little bit from a year ago in March. There has been advertising by outside groups criticizing her over that period, and I think you might look at it and say is that enough to account for a three or four-point move in those two numbers. Yeah, maybe it is. But also she has just begun her advertising campaign. So in the world of these campaigns, hers is sort of the first one to heat up.

Frederica Freyberg:

For her Republican challengers that will be doing a faceoff in a primary, Republican voters that you surveyed, you found that nearly half didn't know them?

Charles Franklin:

Far more than half were unable to rate them. 83 and 85% unable to rate each of them. And in the vote question, 49% said they didn't know how they were going to vote. So just as with the Democratic primary, voters aren't tuned into this. The candidates haven't been advertising enough, haven't been in the news enough, have not yet made themselves known to voters.

Frederica Freyberg:

All of that will tick up in the coming days, no doubt. I want to skip along to one of your issue polling questions and that has to do with guns. You found that 81% of your respondents favored universal background checks and 56% support bans on assault rifles. Were those numbers surprising to you?

Charles Franklin:

Actually, they're in line with what we've seen before. They hadn't gone up. In fact, the background checks was down a couple of points from two years ago. But they show the consensus on background checks. It's sort of a common sense thing to do. 78% of gun households favor background checks. 86% of non-households. So that's as close to a consensual issue on a divisive topic as you're ever going to see. The issue is the state legislature here and the national Congress in Washington, despite this huge consensus on this one particular topic, is unable to craft a legislative majority to move on it. Assault weapons, on the other hand, are more likely divisive issue with a majority of gun households opposing a ban, a majority of non-gun households favoring a ban.

Frederica Freyberg:

Charles Franklin, thanks for your work.

Charles Franklin:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

Despite causing consternation among leading Republicans, President Donald Trump this week formally announced his protectionist plans for steel tariffs.

Donald Trump:

Today I’m defending America’s national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum. We will have a 25% tariff on foreign steel and a 10% tariff on foreign aluminum when the product comes across our borders. At the same time, due to the unique nature of our relationship with Canada and Mexico, we're negotiating right now NAFTA. And we're going to hold off the tariff on those two countries to see whether or not we're able to make the deal on NAFTA.

Frederica Freyberg:

Speaker Paul Ryan opposes the president's tariffs, saying, quote, I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences. The better approach, he says, is targeted enforcement against those practices. Our economy and our national security are strengthened by fostering free trade with our allies and promoting the rule of law. Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin says this. Quote, I believe the best way to support Wisconsin workers is to put in place strong "Buy American" standards, renegotiate a better deal on NAFTA and take on China cheating. I also want an exemption, she says, for our European trading partners so Wisconsin’s manufacturing and farming economy isn't hurt going forward. For his part, Governor Scott Walker used a visit this week to Janesville’s Seneca foods to stage his opposition to higher steel and aluminum tariffs. Seneca, with nine plants in Wisconsin, makes their own steel cans for their food products. Higher tariffs may impact their bottom line.

Scott Walker:

That just means that each of these companies are going to have to pay more, dramatically more. In the case of Seneca, you're talking about $25 million more annually to pay for the ten-plate steel they need to use for the products they make here.

Frederica Freyberg:

So just what are the stakes for imports and exports flowing in and out of Wisconsin? Exports that include Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Company officials say retaliatory tariffs on Harley bikes overseas would have a "significant impact on sales, customers and retailers." We take those tariff questions to UW-Madison Professor of Public Affairs and Economics, Menzie Chinn. Thanks very much for being here.

Menzie Chinn:

Thank you for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Was this announcement by President Trump on these tariffs a surprise?

Menzie Chinn:

I mean, he gave sort of a warning shot last week, so to that extent, it wasn't a surprise. But the very fact that he went through with it in the nature that he did was surprising. And then the very fact that it's not even over, even as we speak, is yet another surprise. That is, he left a lot of wiggle room. And in a way that actually makes things more unsettled than you would have thought a week ago.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because there's a lot of uncertainty as to what it could all mean.

Menzie Chinn:

Exactly. Last week he said 25%, 10% on steel and aluminum respectively as tariffs over the entire spectrum of imports from all sorts of countries. What he did yesterday in his announcement was to exempt Canada and Mexico subject to an acceptable negotiation on NAFTA. And then he also let the door open for further negotiations for any countries that might apply for whatever particular reasons that would come to their minds.

Frederica Freyberg:

So does exempting for a period of time, unclear as to how long yet, Canada and Mexico, does it soften, you know, the tariffs that he has imposed? Does it soften the whole thing for critics of this?

Menzie Chinn:

Well, certainly it would because a good portion of the imports coming into the United States, in fact, Canada is the major supplier of steel imports into the U.S., to the extent you're limiting the number of countries that are being covered by the tariffs, then of course, the average price of imported steel is going to be less than it otherwise would be if you imposed it across all countries.

Frederica Freyberg:

So if the exempting Canada and Mexico is quid pro quo for renegotiating NAFTA, what is that, to your knowledge, President Trump or the administration wants to get out of NAFTA?

Menzie Chinn:

Well, they've said they want to renegotiate some of the terms by which NAFTA is implemented. To me, the biggest ones have to do with domestic content requirements. So, for instance, if you look at an automobile that's made in North America, what proportion of it has got to be U.S. sourced, as opposed to some parts are from Mexico and Canada. And they want to jack up that ratio a lot higher. And so that's a major point of contention.

Frederica Freyberg:

Okay. Back to the tariffs on steel and aluminum. Many Republicans as you know, including our governor, say that this is going to hurt Wisconsin businesses, from beer to motorcycles to cranberries to other kind of agricultural products. How real are those concerns?

Menzie Chinn:

Absolutely. I think there are two sets of concerns you have to address. First is the direct implication of higher steel and aluminum costs. So those are going to feed directly into the cost of production of motorcycles, for instance, or construction, where you use imported steel. So there's this direct impact. Whatever jobs you might say in steel, in general in the other industries that use steel, which are more labor-intensive, you're probably going to have offsetting or more than offsetting job losses. On net you have this direct impact of higher prices for the final goods plus reduced employment in those steel and aluminum-using industries, of which Wisconsin is one of those states that is primarily -- has a lot of this susceptibility to steel prices. Then there's the retaliation issue you alluded to earlier.

Frederica Freyberg:

And that's a real threat as well, even though there's this kind of wiggle room now?

Menzie Chinn:

Well, yes, because, for instance, we have not exempted the European Union and we know what the European Union’s preliminary hit list looks like. As you mentioned, cranberries, but also motorcycles. So in not exempting the European Union, we're on a collision course with them, at least for now. That's definitely a worry for our exporters.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, is there any concern or likelihood that if this kind of cheap steel isn't available from China without this 25% markup that domestic U.S. producers of goods that use that Chinese steel would move out of the country?

Menzie Chinn:

I don't think it's primarily at this point the access to Chinese steel. In point of fact, China exports a pretty small proportion of steel to the United States at the moment, partly because we have implemented a number of antidumping and countervailing duties against Chinese products. That's the irony of the situation. China is to blame for low steel prices worldwide in part because they have so much excess capacity. They've built so many factories that are putting out steel and to a lesser extent, aluminum that it's depressing the world price. But of that steel, very little comes to the U.S. because we've already implemented protections against that steel. So who are we hitting? Well, before yesterday's announcement preliminarily, we were hitting our allies, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the European Union as well as the UK. Now you've taken off Mexico and Canada temporarily, but essentially you're not hitting the target you say you want to hit. And an extra point is the measures are being implemented under this national security provision.

Frederica Freyberg:

Right.

Menzie Chinn:

Which is a whole new ball game. We have not had an investigation along these lines for at least 15 years and we've not implemented protections based on this section 232 for as long as I know, many, many decades.

Frederica Freyberg:

Lots of new ball games out there. Menzie Chinn, thanks very much.

Menzie Chinn:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

Related to all this, "Here and Now" reporter Marisa Wojcik has this background on exports from the badger state.

Marisa Wojcik:

Wisconsin exports totaled $22.3 billion in 2017. Industrial machinery was the state's largest export, at $2.4 billion. The majority of Wisconsin exports went to Canada, totaling $6.9 billion. Mexico was the next highest, receiving $3.2 billion in Wisconsin exports. Exports to Canada grew by 4.3% from 2016 to 2017. Exports to Mexico grew by 4.8%. Other top exports from Wisconsin include electronic equipment, vehicles and plastics. Other top countries Wisconsin exports to include China, Saudi Arabia and Japan. Find more at wpt.org.

Frederica Freyberg:

An inside look now from someone in the middle of big changes proposed at UW-Stevens Point. That's where 13 majors have been put on the chopping block even as 16 new or expanded programs have been proposed. The cuts include majors in art, political science, English and languages, including French and German. Expanded programs include finance and computer information systems. Additionally, new programs would include an MBA and doctor of physical therapy. These changes could lead to tenured faculty layoffs. All of this must be approved by the UW Board of Regents. Greg Summers is the UW-Stevens Point Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Thanks very much for being here.

Greg Summers:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why this move?

Greg Summers:

Well unfortunately, we're no stranger to budget reductions here at UW-Stevens Point. Back in the 1970s when the UW System was first created, we got about 50% of our budget from the state, from taxpayers. And tuition was almost free and fees were relatively modest. Today we get about 13% of our budget from the state and fees and tuition have become quite a burden for our students. There's not much new there. What has changed recently though are several other factors. We're in the fifth year now of a six-year tuition freeze, which is certainly constrained our ability to raise revenue. The demographics of the state do not favor recruitment. The number of 18-year-olds graduating from high school has been going down, not up. And most interestingly for us, we've recently dramatically increased our four-year graduation rate. In 2011, we had a 22% graduation rate. Today it's more like 34%. That's really emptied out the university and led to some of our enrollment decline. So we're having to make some real strategic changes.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so what kind of budget crunch are you looking at?

Greg Summers:

We have about a $4.5 million structural deficit presently.

Frederica Freyberg:

What's been the reaction from students and families to these changes?

Greg Summers:

This is easily the most painful process that I think I’ve been through as either a faculty member or an administrator. I've been on campus now for 17 years and it's a very difficult process to let a major go, particularly in some of the disciplines that we're talking about. These are the traditional liberal arts disciplines. Even though it remains true that we're going to be offering all of these courses and curricula in the form of minors, and in our general education curriculum, to let go of the majors themselves is a very difficult process. And so it's been kind of a thunder clap for the campus to absorb.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because in fact one of those majors is history and that is a department you came out of before you went into administration. So what is your response to critics who say that those humanities are important to education?

Greg Summers:

Oh, they're critically important. I wouldn't disagree with that at all. I think we need to be careful to acknowledge the loss here. When I was a student in the Ohio state system, I went to school at a public open enrollment university and I got to major in history and study the discipline and I went on to become a college professor. The fact that that particular journey may not be possible here at Stevens Point is kind of heartbreaking for me personally. But again, I want to emphasize that we're maintaining large parts of the curriculum in history, in philosophy, in sociology and political science. We're going to continue to offer a very strong liberal arts core in our general education program. We're going to preserve a lot of minors and certificates rooted in those disciplines. And we're going to be developing new disciplines grounded fundamentally in the humanities and the liberal arts.

Frederica Freyberg:

How many layoffs might result?

Greg Summers:

We don't yet know yet. There's a process that's going to be unfolding in the governance structure here. There's a very formal policy that has been mandated by the Board of Regents that we'll be following. We're going to be fine-tuning the proposals. We simply wanted to give the campus a sense of what our recommendations were and to ask for their help in the next six months or so to work together on shaping up the proposals that we need to move forward.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is this the direction that other campuses across the state are looking at as well, to your knowledge?

Greg Summers:

Well, I don't know. I know that we're all struggling to recruit new students and many of the institutions in the UW System are dealing with the demographic issues that are making us really work harder to bring in new students. And we're all seeing some declines in enrollment. I think what's different about this institution is that graduation rate issue. Because we've so dramatically increased our graduation rate, our situation has been a little bit different and a little bit more acute than some of the other institutions. That's a great thing for students. We're really proud of that accomplishment. Students are getting out of here sooner and with less expense. But financially, it's really put a crimp on our budget.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We leave it there. We wish you luck. Greg Summers, thanks very much.

Greg Summers:

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin is spending millions of dollars to lure millennials out of Chicago and elsewhere to come here to work. In tonight's WisContext, a look at how arguments in the state's ad campaign, which trade on cost of living comparisons, stack up. We are joined by Scott Gordon, whose reporting appears this week on WisContext.org. Thanks a lot for being here.

Scott Gordon:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you looked at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's ad campaign to lure millennials out of Chicago to live in Wisconsin. And one of the figures that was used in the ad said that Wisconsin rents are 55% less than in Chicago. What did you learn about that claim?

Scott Gordon:

Well, no doubt it's cheaper to live in just about any place in Wisconsin than it is in Chicago. But we wanted to find out where the state was getting its numbers and if we could replicate some of these comparisons about rent. And the folks at WEDC did tell us some of their sources for this data, and we had a hard time exactly replicating that. And the kind of Chicago to Wisconsin as a whole thing was something I wasn't really able to dig into and is a little bit difficult, you know, to compare a city to a whole state in terms of rent. So that jumps out at me.

Frederica Freyberg:

So the ads also boast that in Milwaukee the cost of living is 22% less than Chicago. Do you know how WEDC determined that?

Scott Gordon:

They've been using some different figures from different websites and things. There's one that they use for rent data called RentCafe.com. There's another site called Sperling's Best Places that does a lot of comparisons between different cities and the economics and advantages and disadvantages and so forth. So they weren't necessarily the sources I would have expected the state to use, such as government sources or the cost of living index from the Council from Community and Economic Research, which is something of a standard.

Frederica Freyberg:

So that there are kind of gold standards, but my understanding from reading your reporting is that sometimes you just can't make this apples-to-apples comparison because some of the standards kind of compare different inks this. Is that accurate?

Scott Gordon:

Right. Yeah. And one thing I was really trying to ask at the outset of this, because I didn't know, was is this whole concept of cost of living a really hard and fast measurement in the, you know, economics world or is it something that's a little more nebulous. I think it's closer to the latter. You know, you have organizations like Council for Community and Economic Research that they put out a quarterly index of cost of living, where they're weighing together sort of housing costs. That's always the big one, of course, in any cost of living calculation that's credible. And also all kinds of things that kind of represents a whole mix of needs and wants that a household might have any given place.

Frederica Freyberg:

And you suggest in your reporting that often people move for a new job, obviously because of potentially a significant pay bump and that cost of living calculations may not be something that millennials are looking at if they're going to Chicago say for kind of a big-time job.

Scott Gordon:

Right. I mean, the numbers can't necessarily account for sort of the more nuanced and intangible decisions that people are making about where to move or where to take a new job or what they want out of life and the place that they live. People have obviously pointed out to me that people will be willing to shoulder a higher cost of living often if they're getting kind of the amenities and features that they like or if they feel that they're in a labor market that gives them more places to go.

Frederica Freyberg:

That's right. Well, Scott Gordon, thanks very much for your reporting. It can be seen again on WisContext org.

Scott Gordon:

Thanks very much.

Frederica Freyberg:

And a quick program note before we leave you tonight. On Friday night, March 30th, the candidates running for state Supreme Court will be here for a one-hour debate produced by WPT and Wisconsin Public Radio. The debate will be live streamed as well as broadcast from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. That's all for tonight's program. I'm Frederica Freyberg. Have a great weekend.

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

For more information on "Here and Now's" 2018 election coverage, go to WisconsinVote.org.   

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