WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: New Richmond the coldest spot in the state this morning
The much-talked-about cold snap is just starting to take hold in parts of Wisconsin. At six this morning, New Richmond was the state's cold spot at six-above. Nearby Osceola had a wind-chill factor of minus-11. Milwaukee and Racine were both basking in 31-degree warmth -- and those readings were expected to hold steady today. The National Weather Service says a strong high pressure system will stick around at least into Sunday, with clear skies which make it easier for the cold temperatures to settle in. Below zero readings are expected tonight in northern Wisconsin. The coldest early morning is expected to be on Saturday, with 16-below predicted for Hayward and lows in the single digits in the south. Another low pressure system is due in Sunday night, with light to moderate snow possible.
Fast food workers in at least four Wisconsin cities will walk off their jobs today, as part of a national campaign for higher wages. "Wisconsin Jobs Now" is coordinating rallies in Milwaukee, Madison, Wausau, and Stevens Point. Similar events are planned in 100 U-S cities, to mark the one-year anniversary of a movement aimed at paying fast-food workers 15-dollars an hour to start, with the right to unionize without retaliation. Yesterday, President Obama called on Congress to address what he calls a growing economic inequality, and raise the federal minimum wage from its current 7.25-an-hour. Iowa Senate Democrat Tom Harkin has a bill to raise the minimum wage to 10.10-an-hour over three phases -- and to tie future increases to the rate of inflation. Fifty-three congressional Democrats wrote to a number of fast-food companies yesterday, expressing support for higher wages. Industry leaders say it would restrain job growth, and lead to higher prices. The National Restaurant Association says the demonstrations are quote, "a coordinated P-R campaign engineered by national labor groups." It says relatively few workers have taken part in demonstrations over the past year.
State officials are trying to let uninsured Wisconsinites side-step the troubled Obama purchasing exchanges to get the coverage they'll need come January first. Two weeks ago, Governor Scott Walker asked Washington to let people buy insurance outside of the federal government's exchanges, and still get the subsidies to which they're entitled under Obama-care. He's still waiting for an answer on that. Also, state Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel asked the federal government this week to include Wisconsin in a pilot program with three other states. It would let folks deal directly with insurance companies to buy any policy that's currently offered on the federal government's exchange. Those people would not get subsidies for their coverage. A federal health official said the pilot program is more plausible than granting subsidies for insurance outside of the exchanges. Florida, Texas, and Ohio are in the program. Officials say those involved are sharing detailed feedback aimed at improving service for everyone else involved with Obama-care. J-P Wieske of the Wisconsin insurance office says both proposals should be considered in light of the computer problems in getting folks signed up for Obama-care. Yesterday, the state Assembly voted 64-to-32 to let 100-thousand Wisconsinites wait until March 31st to sign up for coverage on the exchanges before their tax-funded Badger-Care and high-risk insurance is dropped.
Wisconsin's two largest public university campuses are having a tougher time keeping their best professors. U-W campus leaders at Madison and Milwaukee say they've seen more of their top talent get bigger job offers over the past decade. Madison, the state's largest campus, has kept a lot of its best instructors and researchers from bolting, thanks to a two-million dollar retention fund. It covers market pay hikes for highly-regarded professors who either get job offers, or are likely to be recruited. Milwaukee has no such fund -- and chancellor Mike Lowell says his school has seen both professors and research funds leave U-W-M. Today, the university's Board of Regents will discuss faculty turnover and salary adjustments when it meets in Madison. Records show that almost 320 professors, or around five-percent of faculty throughout the U-W system, received market pay hikes in the last fiscal year.
Deer hunters might have been hampered by a recent cold wave, but ice fishing enthusiasts are enjoying an early start to their season. The state D-N-R says folks are already putting lines through holes-in-the-ice on smaller lakes, back-waters, and bays. Experts say the early part of the season provides the best chances to catch northern pike and walleye -- especially in shallow lakes where the fish are more likely to bite better. Another cold wave is moving into the Upper Midwest today, with lows tomorrow night expected to be around 10-below in parts of the Badger State. Still, officials say there's a risk of anglers and others falling through the ice and drowning this time of year. D-N-R officials suggest that ice fishers stay clear of inlets, outlets, and narrows that might have currents. They say clear ice is best, because it's generally stronger than ice that's covered with snow, or has bubbles. One national survey indicates that almost 600-thousand Wisconsinites are into ice fishing.
One of five people aboard an airplane that went missing in Idaho is from the Madison area. Almost 100 volunteers and rescuers were expected to keep searching today for Jonathan Norton of Sun Prairie and the other four missing people. Media reports said the group spent Thanksgiving together, and their single-engine plane left Baker City Oregon on Sunday. It was heading to Butte Montana when pilot Dan Smith reported engine trouble over a remote area northeast of Boise near Yellow Pine Idaho. Smith's sister Amber is engaged to Norton, and they've been planning to get married January fourth. Both go to B-Y-U-Idaho, both major in accounting, and they expect to graduate next year. Daniel Smith's wife Sheree and her father Dale Smith are also among the missing. Norton's uncle, Matt Dayton, says he has asked people of various religions to pray for the group.
You probably didn't need the federal government to tell you this -- but the U-S-D-A said Wisconsin had a year full of extreme weather in 2013. Farmers endured a severe drought to start the year, followed by a wet spring, a rainy summer -- and finally, another drought. In a report issued yesterday, the U-S-D-A said Wisconsin had its fourth-wettest April since 1895, and its 12th-wettest May. That included both rain and snow, as winter dragged itself out. It delayed the spring crop planting -- but it also resulted in a record production for maple syrup, as cold nights and warm days kept the sap flowing in the spring. The heaviest rains came in late June, when parts of southern Wisconsin had around a foot of it. After that, the state wilted into its 12th driest July in the past 119 years. The southwest half of the state returned to having drought conditions in August. They eased up in the fall with more rain, and measurable snows that came a few weeks early in the North. The U-S Drought Monitor said this morning that the western third of Wisconsin remains abnormally dry or worse, along with some central areas.
Remember when Wisconsin's Indian casinos used to be pole-buildings with small burger joints? Over the past two decades, they've become Las Vegas-style gaming facilities, most with hotels. Now, more are adding big-name, signature restaurants and entertainment facilities -- the latest being the Oneida casinos. That tribe is in the midst of a 28-million dollar expansion to its facilities in Green Bay and Ashwaubenon. By the time it's done next spring, the main casino at the Radisson Hotel will have a sports bar named for Packers' legendary coach Vince Lombardi -- along with a Boar's Head restaurant and "Dick Clark's American Bandstand Express." Also, the tribe's casino on Highway 54 in Green Bay will have a Countryville Bar-and-Grill. Those improvements were announced yesterday. Ovations food service of Florida will manage the four new eateries. They're expected to add up to 140 jobs. To make room, the Oneida's Mason Street poker room will move to its main casino.
The only Wisconsinite who's reported to have died from this week's snowstorms is now identified as 20-year-old Cody Schuster of Wausau. Marathon County sheriff's officials said one vehicle slid across a center line and struck an oncoming vehicle. Investigators said it's not clear yet which vehicle crossed the line. One of the drivers was taken to a Wausau hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The crash happened late Tuesday afternoon north of Wausau on County Trunk "K." Marathon County officers said they handled over 40 vehicle crashes on Tuesday, when parts of the Wausau area got almost six-inches of snow in the region's first major storm of the season.