WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Lawmakers to decide today whether or not to spend $27 million extra for snow removal costs
State lawmakers will decide today whether to spend 27-million dollars to pay for extra road salt and snow removal costs during the brutal winter. If the Joint Finance Committee does not approve the funding, county highway officials say they'll have to cut back on road maintenance to make up for what they spent this past season. The extra funds could be provided by an unexpected D-O-T surplus of up to 37-million dollars for the current fiscal year. Also today, the finance panel will be asked to approve a new system to make sure U-W campuses cannot sit on millions-of-dollars in surpluses like they did a year ago. That upset lawmakers who responded by freezing the university's tuition. The finance committee will also consider a contract to have a firm administer 25-million dollars in tax money to help new Wisconsin businesses get off the ground. Sun Mountain Kegonsa -- a joint managing firm based in Fitchburg and Santa Fe New Mexico -- would contribute 300-thousand dollars to the state's new venture capital fund, and raise five-million more. Half of the pot would have be invested in new companies within a year, and all of it within two years.
The car ferry that crosses Lake Michigan at Manitowoc will open its season on May 16th with a cleaner-burning coal, as ordered by the federal government. The owners of the S-S Badger spent over a million dollars to install new combustion controls, as part of a consent decree with the federal E-P-A and the U-S Justice Department. The boat must reduce its coal-ash emissions this year, and eliminate them next year. The Badger has carried vehicles for decades between Manitowoc and Ludington Michigan. It's the nation's last steam-fired coal-burning vessel. C-E-O Bob Manglitz said the new controls were installed over the winter -- and after the Badger sets sail, they'll know if it will reduce coal usage by the goal of 10-to-15 percent. Manglitz said it would not only meet the terms of the consent decree, it would also save on fuel costs. The Badger was ordered a few years ago to stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan. It has received federal extensions while looking for the most efficient method.
The U-W's new vice president for university relations started his new job yesterday, as concerns continued to surface about his hiring. Jim Villa, a former Milwaukee County aide and campaign adviser to Governor Scott Walker, will make 178-thousand dollars a year to lobby lawmakers and improve the U-W's public image. The Associated Press reports that at least two members of the Board of Regents expressed concerns about Villa in e-mails the university released. He was hired by U-W President Ray Cross among five finalists. The A-P said the e-mails it obtained showed that Regents John Drew and Tony Evers were both concerned about Villa. Evers wrote that he had read "scary" information about the new appointee -- but Regent Chuck Pruitt tried unsuccessfully to assure Evers that Villa was not considered an "ideologue." Villa told the A-P that he appreciates that candidates' strengths and weaknesses are discussed in a competitive process -- and he looks forward to working on behalf of the university and earning stakeholders' respect.
Bicyclists can enjoy an historical experience this summer. Starting June 14th, Old World Wisconsin will let visitors ride replica bikes and tricycles from the 1890's, work in a repair shop from that era, learn bicycling songs from the 19th century, and check out road maps from the day. The experience is called "Catch Wheel Fever." Old World Wisconsin is the state's largest historic site, located near Eagle in Waukesha County.
The extended cold-and-snowy winter had at least one positive effect -- fewer people dying in Wisconsin traffic crashes. According to the D-O-T's preliminary figures, 27 people were killed in 21 mishaps throughout the Badger State last month. That's the lowest number of traffic deaths for an April since the end of World War Two in the 1940's. The total was two less than a year ago, and 15 less than the average for the past five years. For the first four months of this year, 115 people have died in crashes -- 18 fewer than the year before, and 22 less than the five-year average. Six motorcyclists and 16 pedestrians have been killed in Wisconsin crashes so far this year. Meanwhile, the annual Memorial Day "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign is about to begin. It runs from May 19th through June first.
Almost a quarter of the Wisconsin corn crop is normally planted by now -- but thanks to our cold-and-wet spring, only two-percent of the corn was in the ground as of Sunday. Six-percent of the spring field tillage is done, up from just one-percent a week ago as tractors spent most of last week in the sheds again. About 18-percent of the Wisconsin oat crop has been planted. That's five-percent more than a week ago, but it's well below the norm of 59-percent by this date. Thirty-seven percent of the state's farm fields have surplus moisture, up from 35-percent a week ago. All of the state's crop reporters say we need sunny-and-warmer weather. Oneida County still has frost in the ground.
Wisconsin financial analysts said the Target data breach was not the only thing that resulted in C-E-O Gregg Steinhafel's departure. Tom Bakas of the U-W Madison Applied Security Analysis Program said Steinhafel failed in his leadership role, and fewer people were shopping at Target even before last December's hacking incident. Marquette marketing professor Syed Akhter said Steinhafel had been with Target for a long time -- and the nation's third-largest retailer needed somebody with a new orientation and vision. Other analysts cited problems with Target's expansion into Canada -- and the pervasive role that computers play in American business. Steinhafel had been with Target for 35 years. He became the C-E-O in May of 2008, and was the board chair since February of '09. He's a native of the Milwaukee area, and is from the family that owns the Steinhafels' furniture chain. Almost 40 million Target customers -- including Wisconsin child support recipients -- were exposed to possible fraud when hackers invaded Target's purchasing terminals during last year's holiday shopping season. In his departure letter, Steinhafel noted a number of accomplishments -- including new store formats and the introduction of fresh food at Target, and expanding its red card program.
Milwaukee is the home of this year's best chef in the Midwest. Justin Aprahamian, who owns the Sanford restaurant, received the award from the James Beard Foundation last night in New York. He was the only nominee from Wisconsin, and he beat out five other chefs from Minnesota and Missouri. Aprahamian grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, and he graduated from the culinary program at Waukesha County Technical College. He bought Sanford in late 2012 from the D'Amato family. The fine-dining establishment specializes in seasonal dishes -- plus meals inspired by the new owner's Armenian background.
About 500 balloons were placed throughout Milwaukee overnight. The people who find them are getting goodies from the Brewers as part of their upcoming "Spring Madness" promotion, which includes various discounts for three games next week. Fans were invited to search around Miller Park and other Milwaukee landmarks for the balloons starting at five this morning. In past years, the team held scavenger hunts for lawn ornaments of Bernie Brewer and a couple of the Klements' Racing Sausages. The first year, people hoarded multiple Bernies -- and some tried selling the free characters on E-Bay. The balloons prevent that kind of thing -- and each fan can only claim one voucher. Most vouchers are for two free tickets to one of three Brewer games against Pittsburgh next Tuesday through Thursday. A few also had vouchers for larger prizes like a night in a stadium suite, a game-used Brewers' jersey, and autographed baseballs.