GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Low turnout expected for Election Day tomorrow
Almost nine of every ten Wisconsin voters will stay away from the polls tomorrow, in what could be a watershed moment for the state's rural public schools. The Government Accountability Board predicts a 12-percent turnout. There are no statewide contests. But we'll see how taxpayers respond to maintaining their public school programs, as 26 of the 428 districts have referendums to exceed their state-mandated revenue limits. Many of tomorrow's votes are in rural districts which have fallen behind under the 20-year-old revenue caps. Almost 20 school districts also have bonding requests for various building projects. The largest is in Kettle Moraine near Milwaukee, where voters will decide the fate of an almost 50-million-dollar package of technology, security, and maintenance items. State officials say there are nearly 38-hundred elections for local government and school board seats, including the unopposed ones. Three state appeals' judges are running by themselves for new terms, along with over 40 circuit judges in the various counties. The only judicial incumbents with opponents are in Jefferson and Forest counties.
A big deadline looms at midnight for Wisconsinites who either don't have health insurance, or will soon lose their state-funded coverage. Today is March 31st, the last day that most uninsured people can enroll for insurance under the Affordable Care Act without facing penalties. Wisconsin began the Obama-care program with about 560-thousand uninsured residents -- including over 70-thousand who will lose their Badger-Care or state high risk insurance after today. As of March first, Wisconsin exceeded the federal government's enrollment target for Obama-care by 113-percent. Many of those signing up were 55-or-older -- and the program's been trying to get more younger people covered so their premium revenues can help pay for older people who are more likely to have health problems. Those who are supposed to sign up but don't will pay the piper at tax time next year. Their 2014 income tax returns will carry penalties of 95-dollars or one-percent of their incomes, whichever is higher. After today, only people with limited circumstances will escape those penalties.
A bus tour will stop in Milwaukee today, to make a pitch for raising the federal minimum wage. The Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, is urging folks in 11 states to "Give America a Raise." That's the theme of President Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from 7.25-an-hour to 10.10. The group has rounded up Milwaukee labor leaders and low-income workers to help state their case in a program this afternoon at the Coggs Human Services Center. An effort by Wisconsin Democrats to raise the state's minimum wage is all but dead, with the current legislative session coming to an end this week. That proposal would have raised the state's minimum from 7.25-to-10.10 in phases over the next two years.
Wisconsin did not have any flood warnings or advisories as of this morning. But state agriculture officials say the risk is still high for farm manure running off into lakes, rivers, and streams. A few weeks ago, forecasters were fearing heavy floods in the Badger State, due to the heavier-than-normal snowfall we received this winter. However, both the D-N-R and the Agriculture Department say the run-off problems have been kept to a minimum by a colder-than-normal March, and a more gradual snow-melt than expected. Thunderstorms are in the forecast today for much of Wisconsin, and officials say the new rain -- plus warmer temperatures in most areas -- could cause run-off problems. Both state agencies have advertised on radio this month, urging farmers to use proper manure-spreading practices.
Wisconsin law enforcement agencies have at least two portable devices which can secretly collect personal data from your cell phone in real time. Gannett Wisconsin Media reports that Milwaukee Police and the state Justice Department have had the Stingray systems for a number of years. The state Justice Department has had a unit since 2006, which it lends to other agencies throughout Wisconsin. Police around the nation use Stingrays to track murder suspects and look for missing persons. The portable units are like cell towers, sapping up data not just from a targeted person -- but others within about a mile radius, including cell phones in people's homes. Gannett, which publishes ten daily newspapers in Wisconsin's mid-section, said police agencies and the unit's manufacturer won't comment on the machines -- how they're used -- or what they do with the information they soak up. Milwaukee Police normally obtain warrants before gathering cell-phone records. The State Supreme Court is currently considering the validity of one Stingray warrant. In February, the state Legislature voted to require warrants in most cases before tracking people with their cell-phones. Governor Scott Walker has not signed-or-vetoed the measure.