WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Day 2 of government shutdown starting to impact state
It's Day-Two of the federal government's partial shutdown, with no end in sight as the two parties stand their ground. For Wisconsin, it has meant more limited recreation opportunities with the closings of national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges -- a reduction of in-state troops with the furloughs of 840 National Guard members and 900 civilians at Fort McCoy -- and a warning of possible cuts to a popular federal nutrition program.
Milwaukee U.S. House Democrat Gwen Moore said the shutdown puts funding at risk for the Women, Infants, and Children food program. Sherri Tussler of Milwaukee's Hunger Task Force says the program for low-income people should have enough money for a few more weeks. If the shutdown keeps going and the funding lapses, Tussler says a lot more people will turn to food pantries -- and those facilities will be hard-pressed to keep up. A separate federal program that provides food to 10,000 Wisconsin seniors could also be affected if the shutdown drags on. As for the national forests, state DNR wardens are continuing routine patrols -- keeping people out, since the sites are closed. The federal conservation service is also closed, cutting off service for Wisconsin farmers that have $120-million in conservation work.
The last package of federal farm programs expired yesterday -- and the urgency to pass a new Farm Bill has taken a back seat to the government's partial shutdown. For Wisconsin farmers, the impact could be staggered over the next few months. Some things are already cut off -- including the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which provides federal subsidies when milk production costs drop below certain levels. Wisconsin's family farmers have been among the top users of that program. Pat Westhoff of the Food-and-Agricultural Policy Research Institute says the end of the Farm Bill has cut off some smaller conservation and nutrition programs -- with possibly more to come. The impact could be felt at the grocery store, as some observers predict six-dollar milk by January. Those who rely on the Farm Service Agency were out of luck yesterday, when its offices closed due to the shutdown. That agency also provides data for commodity reports which are vital to farmers and processors. At least some reports may not been issued until the congressional deadlock ends. As for the Farm Bill, Minnesota Congressman Colin Peterson says it might be the end of October before House-and-Senate negotiators are named to work out a final package. Iowa Senate Republican Charles Grassley says there's a large gap between the two parties -- but he's still confident that a new Farm Bill could come by the end of the year.
The people who brought you the U.S. government shutdown will continue to get paid while most federal employees won't. Members of Congress are still drawing their $174,000 annual salaries -- but at least three Wisconsin lawmakers say they won't take the money. U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh and House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse both say they won't take paychecks during the shutdown. Wausau area House Republican Sean Duffy has asked the House chief administrative officer to withhold his pay -- something that may not be constitutional. According to the Washington Post, the 27th Amendment says salaries of House and Senate members cannot be changed until after the next elections for their seats. There's also a permanent law that requires everyone that's not on annual appropriations to keep getting paid. Congress is part of that exception, because their salaries only every change every 2-to-6 years. Some lawmakers have said they'll donate their pay to charity during the shutdown. Meanwhile, congressional staffers are not getting paid. Those found to be essential are staying around, and are expected to get retroactive pay after the shutdown is over. The rest are being sent home.
Governor Scott Walker will talk to business leaders today about the state of Wisconsin's economy. The Republican Walker will speak at a meeting put on by the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce, the state's largest business group. About 450 executives will be on hand. Walker's address comes on the second day of the federal government's partial shutdown -- as well as the second day of enrollments for the Obama-care health insurance exchange. It also comes just a few days after Wisconsin was found to have the 34th-lowest job growth during the year ending in March. Last Friday, Walker said last year's effort to recall him is still affecting the job numbers -- and he expects them to be better when the complete year-end job totals come out next June.
Authorities are looking for a convicted murderer who walked away from a work-detail yesterday. 54-year-old Todd Brecht is an inmate at the Camp McNaughton state prison in northern Wisconsin. Officials said he was part of a work crew on Highway 70 in Vilas County, when he left the site around noon yesterday. Brecht is serving a life sentence for killing his brother-in-law in 1985, by shooting him in the back with a .22-caliber rifle during an argument.
Wisconsin taxpayers are still being left in the dark about some of the money they're giving to private firms to help them create jobs. As of last month, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says one-of-every-five companies failed to file reports on the numbers of jobs they've created. That leaves taxpayers uncertain about whether their investments are paying off in the form of higher tax revenues. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation said 79-and-a-half percent of almost 1,500 companies getting job grants filed their required state reports on time. A year ago, 66-percent of around 16-hundred recipients filed their job data. Officials said the numbers of companies dropped because assistance that involves federal money is now handled by the Administration Department, since the WEDC is both a private-and-public agency. Tom Thieding of the WEDC says all of the agency's current loans are now being tracked -- and when they're past due, they get referred for collections. Thieding said the reporting will be much improved in a year from now, since the agency has become much more diligent.
Fire-fighters have stopped the spread of what was supposed to be a controlled burn that got away in northwest Wisconsin. The DNR wanted to blacken about 500 acres to restore wildlife habitat in the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area near Grantsburg in Burnett County. Spokesman Kevin Harter said an additional 600 acres were burned yesterday including grass, marsh, and upland forests that included jack-pine. No buildings have been affected, and no injuries are reported. DNR fire crews got the fire under control with help from an air tanker from nearby Minnesota. The crews kept working through the night, and they expect Mother Nature to help put out the fire this evening when rain is due to arrive. Officials said yesterday's field conditions were warm and dry. The DNR's Web site says the fire danger is only moderate in most of the northern half of Wisconsin, and it's low elsewhere in the state. The fire is located about 80 miles southwest of this spring's major fire in Douglas County that burned over seven-thousand acres and destroyed 17 homes.
The University of Wisconsin System says it will convert its data to a new high-speed computer network over the next year-and-a-half. As part of the new state budget, Republicans ordered the UW to pull away from its current broadband provider -- WiscNet -- by January. Wisc-Net provides high-speed Internet service to schools and other public institutions like libraries. GOP lawmakers said the UW was subsidizing the non-profit network improperly by providing employees and infra-structure. In a briefing yesterday, university officials said the UW is no longer represented on the WiscNet board -- and its employees will stop working for the provider by January. They're also asking legislators to extend their deadline until 2015 to stop using Wisc-Net altogether. That will give the System time to arrange its new high-speed network, which will be more expensive. The UW says it will cost around $33-million to build and run the network over its first five years. That's about $13-million more than what it would cost to stay with Wisc-Net.
A Portage County man now claims he was insane when he allegedly helped cash a missing relative's Social Security checks for the last 30-plus years. 67-year-old Charles Jost of Amherst pleaded innocent-by-insanity yesterday, changing an earlier plea of innocent. A judge ordered that a psychiatrist examine Jost, and the status of the case will be reviewed November 11th. Charles Jost is accused of conspiring with his sister Delores Disher and her husband Ronald to cash Marie Jost's Social Security checks, after she and her son Theodore vanished in the 1980's. The checks totaled 175-thousand dollars. Prosecutors believe the three defendants may have killed Marie and Theodore Jost, and buried their bodies on the family property. Bones were found on the site, but lab tests could not link them to the missing relatives. Charles Jost was scheduled to go on trial later this month, but the insanity plea delays that. He's charged with four felonies including theft by fraud and forgery. The 72-year-old Disher is now scheduled to go on trial January 29th. Delores Disher was found to be unfit to stand trial this summer, after she had a stroke.
A summit on cyber threats will be held a week from Friday at Marquette University in Milwaukee. The state's Homeland Security Council is hosting the event. State and local government leaders will learn how they can protect their computers from cyber threats. The FBI will give its perspective on cyber criminals, and South Carolina officials will explain their response to a hacker who stole tax information from millions of residents-and-businesses. Wisconsin's homeland security chief, Major General Don Dunbar, says the summit offers a chance to analyze the current environment in cyber-space -- and define the Badger State's role in responding to cyber emergencies.
A classic, old-style luxury boat is about to made in Manitowoc. The Burger Boat Company has won a contract to build a 98-foot steel passenger vessel for Chicago's First Lady Cruises. It will be called the "Classic Lady" -- a sister ship to the "Leading Lady" that was made by Burger Boat two years ago. Seacraft Design of Sturgeon Bay is designing the new boat. It will be styled after the luxury cruising yachts of the 1920's. Once it's ready, the "Classic Lady" will be dedicated to the Chicago Architecture Foundation's River Cruise line. It will be used for upscale private parties, weddings, and corporate events.
A jury resumes deliberations this morning in the trial of Jeffery Trevino -- the Saint Paul man accused of killing his wife, Wausau area native Kira Steger. After hearing closing arguments yesterday, the jury of eight men and four women deliberated for seven-and-a-half hours before they called it a night around 9 p-m. In his final argument, Ramsey County prosecutor Richard Dusterhoft outlined three reasons the 39-year-old Trevino is guilty of killing the 30-year-old Steger. Dusterhoft said their marriage had already fallen apart as Kira was having an affair with Ryan Wendt -- the timeline of events left no room for anybody else to commit the murder -- and there's too much physical evidence that can only point to Trevino as he allegedly killed his wife in a bloody fight at their home. Defense attorney John Conard said no one heard an assault, only a small amount of blood was found in the bedroom, and Trevino's body showed no evidence that he defended himself in a brawl. Conard disputed the significance of the blood evidence, and said that Steger's actual killer has not been captured. Steger had been missing for two-and-a-half months before her body was found in the Mississippi River in Saint Paul in early May.
A ticket sold in Maryland won the $189-million dollar Mega Millions jackpot last night. Nobody from Wisconsin won the 250-thousand dollar second prize. There was no immediate word on how many Badger State players won smaller prizes. Last night's numbers were 7, 10, 30, 37, and 53. The Mega Ball was one, and the Megaplier was three. The jackpot was the second-highest of the year for Mega Millions. It goes back to $12-million dollars for the next drawing on Friday night. In Powerball, the top prize is $70-million for tonight.