WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Lawmakers being asked again for emergency funding to help fix potholes
Wisconsin lawmakers are being asked again for emergency funding to fix the larger number of potholes created during the rough winter. The Urban Alliance and its president, Racine Mayor John Dickert, said many communities are struggling to keep up with needed repairs -- and his own crews are "absolutely slammed right now." The Urban Alliance is a coalition of Wisconsin mayors. Dickert said the group's members estimate it will cost an extra 12-million dollars to fix roads, water mains, and other infra-structure damaged by the extreme cold and deep frost. Earlier this month, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made a similar request for state aid on behalf of his city -- but the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee never took it up a couple days later. Dickert says cities have no choice but to make the repairs -- and if the state doesn't help, the money would have to come from somewhere else. Last week, Governor Scott Walker said local communities were already given more state funds that should be used for fixing potholes. He said a four-percent funding increase for local road repairs was approved in the current state budget that was adopted a year ago. He told Wisconsin Public Radio it was a "pretty substantial increase" from previous years.
Governor Scott Walker has made his support for Wisconsin veterans a big part of his re-election campaign. However, a number of service members are upset that Walker signed a bill they say will hurt their ability to recover damages in court from exposure to cancer-causing asbestos. Also, the Associated Press says a number of veterans remain upset over Walker's reversal of a 2009 law making it easier for job discrimination victims to win damages in state courts. They're also bothered by the governor's refusal to grant a pardon to decorated Iraqi war veteran Eric Pizer, who cannot become a police officer because he has a felony conviction from an old tavern fight. In all cases, Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said the governor's actions involved larger issues that had nothing with to do with veterans -- like Walker's refusal to grant all pardon requests. She added that not a single veteran filed a lawsuit under the 2009 job discrimination act before it was repealed. Walker himself has said that veterans misinterpreted the asbestos law, saying it was meant to prevent defense lawyers from double-dipping in damage awards. State American Legion Commander Ken Rynes said Walker has done a lot for veterans. Among other things, Walker has spent millions to prop up the state veterans' benefit fund, provided incentives to help former service members start businesses or find jobs, and added staff at veterans' nursing homes.
Zoey Brooks of Waupaca graduated yesterday from U-W Madison -- and her first job out of college will be to promote Wisconsin's 59-billion-dollar agriculture industry. Brooks was chosen Saturday night as Wisconsin's 67th Alice-in-Dairyland during a banquet in Curtiss. She was among six finalists who competed for the Alice job at the finals in Clark County. Brooks is part of the sixth generation of her family's dairy and grain farm in Waupaca County. Her U-W degree is in animal science. For the next year, Brooks will travel about 40-thousand miles for interviews, speaking engagements, and numerous public appearances to promote the state's food products. She has been the Dane County Farm Bureau's Ag-in-the-Classroom coordinator, and was a director at-large for her collegiate Farm Bureau. Brooks also had internships with the U-W Extension and the Export Association of the Midwest. She replaces Kristin Olson as the next Alice-in-Dairyland.
Wisconsin Democrats have joined a national call to close the gender wage gap in the U-S. In the party's most recent state radio address, Stevens Point Senator Julie Lassa said the next Legislature should revive the 2009 law which made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to win lawsuits in state court. Governor Scott Walker and majority Republicans repealed the law in 2012, saying victims can still get relief in federal courts -- even though it's more expensive to use that system. Lassa says it all boils down to equal pay for equal work. She said women still make only 77-percent as much as men in comparable jobs, even though most Wisconsin homes are led by two wage-earning adults. The gender wage gap was given renewed national attention after Jill Abramson was recently fired as the New York Times' first female executive editor. There was speculation that she complained of making much less than her male predecessor. On A-B-C's "This Week" yesterday, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison said entire families are hurt when women are underpaid. Even if the minimum wage was increased, he said women would benefit more.
A former editor of Wisconsin's largest newspaper died yesterday. 92-year-old Richard Leonard worked at the old Milwaukee Journal for 39 years, and was the top editor for 18 years before retiring in the mid-1980's. Under Leonard's watch, the newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes, established an ombudsman for readers, and boosted international coverage by sending the Journal's reporters and photographers to cover the Vietnam War and other foreign assignments. Former editor Sig Gissler said Leonard believed in bringing the world to Wisconsin. Former Milwaukee Sentinel editor Bob Wills said Leonard was good-humored and wanted a newspaper that would be of interest to everyone in Metro Milwaukee. Funeral services are pending.
Wisconsin's largest company will try to get a little smaller, by merging its auto interiors business with a Chinese firm. Johnson Controls of suburban Milwaukee signed a merger agreement yesterday with Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems of Shanghai. Yanfeng will have a 70-percent share of the new company -- which will make instrument-and-door panels and a host of other vehicle interior components. Johnson Controls C-E-O Alex Molinaroli said the move is in line with his company's efforts to scale back its auto interiors business, to put more emphasis on its building controls and hybrid auto battery operations. Molinaroli said Johnson's total sales would be cut by around three-billion dollars a year -- but the merger with Yanfeng would still give his firm more of a presence in China. Johnson Controls has 26-thousand employees in China, 170-thousand worldwide, and 32-hundred in Wisconsin -- where the firm says there would not be a significant impact from the merger. Yanfeng is affiliated with Japan's largest automaker. It has seven-and-a-half billion dollars in annual sales.
Wisconsin's two biggest lotto games both have jackpots of 100-million-plus going into the new week. The top prize in Mega Millions is 149-million-dollars for the next drawing tomorrow night. The Powerball jackpot is at 114-million for Wednesday night. Nobody won the top prizes in either game during the weekend, and nobody from Wisconsin won either of the million-dollar second prizes. In Powerball, the Badger State had almost 93-hundred winners ranging from four-dollars to 300. The cash options are 86-and-a-half million dollars for Mega Millions, and almost 68-million for Powerball.
An eastern Wisconsin soldier will be buried today, ten days after she was shot and killed at her Army base in Kosovo. A funeral service begins at five this afternoon for 33-year-old Sergeant Heidi Ruh of rural Kiel. Visitations begin at one p-m at Saint Peter's Church of Christ in Kiel, where the service will take place. The Pentagon has still not announced her death, as it remains under investigation. Her family said Ruh spent 11 years in the Army, and she repaired surgical machines in a medical unit.
Wisconsinites finally had a nice weekend to spruce up their yards and-or enjoy the great outdoors. Temperatures yesterday rose to the mid-60's and 70's, about normal for this time of year. It felt cooler in parts of the far north, where winds gusted to 25-miles-an-hour. But it was dry for a change in most areas, thanks to a high-pressure system over the Ohio River Valley. Parts of northeast Wisconsin did get a few afternoon showers yesterday -- and another band of rain is expected to reach central and northern Wisconsin later today and tonight. From there, thunderstorms remain in the forecast at least through tomorrow. Highs are expected to be in the 60's for most of the week.