WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Gas prices likely to keep falling
Wisconsin gas prices continue to take their biggest plunge of the summer. The Triple-"A" said the statewide average for regular unleaded was 3.46-a-gallon this morning. That's four cents cheaper than a week ago, and 22-cents less than at this time in July. Gregg Laskoski of GasBuddy-Dot-Com says the price cuts should continue at a slower pace over the next few weeks, as supplies remain high. Laskoski expects larger declines after the middle of September. Most folks have their vacations done by then, and refineries will start switching to winter grades of fuel.
Millions of dollars of cargo remain at a standstill on the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin -- but officials hope to get the barges moving again by the weekend. The Army Corps of Engineers says at least 350 barges are stuck north of Winona Minnesota, while crews remove large deposits of sediment that accumulated from a late thaw and heavy rains over the spring and summer. Steve Tapp of the Army Corps said four dredges and two other crews were brought in to clear out massive sediment deposits, which are being placed onto boats and carried to shore. Experts say the delays are dangerously close to the grain harvest season -- when the barges will be needed to carry corn, soybeans, and wheat down to the Gulf of Mexico for exporting. Retired Minnesota economics professor Jerry Fruin says it's got people on "pins and needles" due to the enormity of the grain crop. Dredging is always a part of the maintenance work on the Mississippi, but Tapp says this year's cleanups are by far the biggest he's seen in his 25 years on the river.
Governor Scott Walker went on the defensive yesterday, after U-S Senator Ron Johnson said his fellow Republican should highlight his own successes instead of attacking challenger Mary Burke's wealth. Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his party should talk about making Wisconsin a better place for business investments. He said there are "far better areas to address" than the criticism of the Democrat Burke's wealth and business record by Walker's re-election campaign and the state G-O-P. The governor later said he was only trying to highlight what he called Burke's "hypocrisy" about things like slamming outsourcing while her family's company did it itself. Johnson said he didn't want to "demonize or demagogue" Burke's wealth or the outsourcing at Trek Bicycle, the company run by Burke's family which makes most of its bikes overseas. Johnson also said Burke should not be criticized for the way Trek handles its federal taxes, by passing them onto stockholders at a lower rate under an I-R-S sub-chapter. Johnson's own plastics firm in Oshkosh also passes down tax obligations to owners in a limited liability corporation. After an appearance in Wauwatosa, Walker said he never called Burke "Millionaire Mary" -- but the Journal Sentinel said his campaign and the state G-O-P has used that tag numerous times. Walker also denied saying that Trek never paid taxes. He also said he doesn't care how much money Burke has made.
Wisconsin's best-known butter producer has been ordered to pay a 300-thousand dollar penalty for breaking state water pollution laws. Attorney General J-B Van Hollen announced a settlement yesterday in a state lawsuit against Grassland Dairy Products of Greenwood in Clark County. The state said Grassland discharged excessive water pollutants beyond its D-N-R permit more than 100 times from 2006 through last year -- and the company reported only three of those incidents. The pollutants went into the Black River, which is listed as an impaired waterway due to low oxygen levels. The Justice Department said Grassland failed to address the pollution issues when it built a 70-million dollar expansion of its facility in 2010. Grassland has not commented. The firm is one of the world's largest makers of butter.
A new report says Wisconsin counties and towns are being shortchanged on state highway funding -- and it's causing real problems in maintaining local roads. The Wisconsin Towns Association says the local share of state road aids dropped from 36-percent in 1993, to 24-percent in the current state budget which ends in mid-2015. The group's attorney, former state Senator Tom Harnisch, said he found a trend over the past several years -- in which the state has shifted funds from local roads to state highways and facilities, mainly in urban areas. Harnisch says one reason is the state's tighter taxing limits on local governments, which has made it harder to spend money on upgrading roads. In the meantime, he says rural Wisconsin is "becoming industrialized" -- and many rural roads were never designed to handle the increases in logging, frac-sand mining, and agricultural activities. Harnisch's report comes as state D-O-T officials consider ways to raise more revenue for highways and other forms of transportation.
Over a half-million people attended last week's E-A-A Air-Venture Show in Oshkosh. Organizers said yesterday that the total crowds were up five-to-six percent from last year -- and they were up 20-percent for this past weekend, when the Air Force Thunderbirds made their Oshkosh debut. E-A-A chairman Jack Pelton said the aircraft parking and camping areas were full for the first time in several years. More than ten-thousand planes flew into Wittman Airport for the week-long gathering. The numbers of show-planes, around 26-hundred, were up by more than ten-percent. Visitors from 69 countries attended. Pelton says the planning is already underway for the 2015 E-A-A. He said aircraft innovator Burt Rutan wants to return, and the soon-to-be-restored B-29 "Doc" aircraft is expected to appear during what will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.
U-W Madison received a record number of freshman applications for this fall -- almost 30-thousand-500. Just under 15-thousand were offered admission, for a rate of 47-and-a-half percent. Wisconsin residents will be well-represented in the freshman class. About 37-hundred Badger State freshmen are expected at Madison. That's down slightly from last year's total of 38-hundred-43, which was the largest Wisconsin freshman contingent in 12 years. These numbers don't reflect the final enrollment totals, since growing numbers of students apply at more than one college or university. Still, undergraduate recruitment director Adele Brumfield said it's exciting to have so many of Wisconsin's best and brightest attend the state's largest campus.
You still hear lots of grumbling in Wisconsin about Obama-care -- but a survey shows that the reform law is indeed meeting its goal of reducing the numbers of uninsured. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, nine-point-six percent of Wisconsinites surveyed did not have health coverage at the start of July. That's down from 11-point-seven percent at the end of 2013, as the Affordable Care Act began in earnest. Wisconsin's two-point-one percent drop is higher than 17 other states. The question was part of an ongoing survey of 88-thousand Americans, which asks the same people about various health trends year-round. In general, Gallup said states which embraced Obama-care had higher percentage declines in their uninsured -- while smaller drops were seen in states like Wisconsin which rejected both higher Medicaid funds and the creation of its own purchasing exchange. However, the Badger State still fared better than three of its neighbors which accepted the Obama-care state options. Gallup said Minnesota had a seven-tenths-of-one-percent drop in its uninsured since Obama-care began. Michigan had a six-tenths percent drop. And Iowa saw its uninsured increase by six-tenths of a percent to over ten. Arkansas had the biggest drop in its uninsured, ten-point-one percent, after saying yes to both Obama-care state options.