WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Partisan bickering begins over rural school funding
Wisconsin lawmakers have made it clear they'll have partisan battles over how the state should help its 259 rural school districts over the next two years. Meanwhile, the people who run those schools plead that lawmakers do something in the session that begins in January. Democrats held a news conference yesterday to say that this week's recommendations from a bi-partisan task force on rural schools don't go far enough -- and they put out their own suggestions. Among other things, they said the state's school aid formula needs a lot more than the minor tweaks suggested in the report from G-O-P task force chairman Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander. Democrats said the current formula penalizes smaller districts, plus those with large numbers of vacation properties. Rhinelander school superintendent Kelli Jacobi said her district cut 11-and-a-half million dollars over the last 11 years just to keep its budget balanced. Assembly Democrat Mandy Wright of Wausau said many rural schools don't have technical education classes or ag programs, at a time when welders and future farm leaders are badly needed. She also said many rural students don't have access to higher learning opportunities, and those going to college start at a great disadvantage. Baraboo Assembly Democrat Fred Clark notes that declining enrollments are a problem. Swearingen said the ideas from his task force are a step in the right direction, and they could have "serious traction" in the next session. His report included calls for more busing dollars and more high-speed Internet in rural schools.
Poverty in Wisconsin continues to drop -- but the rates are still higher than before the Great Recession. That's according to a new U-W Madison study, which found that ten-point-two percent of state residents were in poverty as of 2012. That's much lower than the federal government's official rate of 12-point-eight percent. The difference is that the U-W study considers the impact of tax-funded benefits, like food assistance and refundable tax credits which don't require certain levels of income. Timothy Smeeding of the U-W Institute for Research on Poverty says Wisconsin has a safety net that enhances low earnings for families, puts food on the table, and encourages self-reliance. But the report said the safety net has shrunk due to the recovery, and cutbacks in recession-related tax credits. The U-W said the 2012 poverty rate for children was eleven-percent statewide, and just over six-percent for the elderly. The study said ten counties in northwest Wisconsin had poverty rates higher than the statewide figure -- and so did Milwaukee and Dane counties. Most counties in the eastern third of the state were better off than the state as a whole, along with much of west central Wisconsin.
Starting yesterday, railroads are ordered to give states the heads-up when they're about to pass through with trains full of crude oil from North Dakota. Wisconsin is among those affected, as shippers send highly-combustible crude from the Bakken fields through the Badger State to East Coast refineries. Oak Creek Fire Chief Tom Rosandich says millions of gallons go through Milwaukee County each month. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has analyzed federal data about train accidents -- and it found nine trains spilled crude oil in the Badger State since 2012, causing over 25-thousand dollars in damages. Six of the spills took place at Portage, including one in February when a loose or missing valve caused 75-hundred gallons of crude to leak out. Wisconsin Emergency Management has training sessions around the state to help local officials deal with crude oil train mishaps. A dozen sessions are scheduled from now through the end of June.
It's been decades since we've seen so many Wisconsin legislators step down. Twenty-two of the 99 Assembly members have said they won't seek re-election to their current posts this fall. That's the most in 32 years. Seven of the 33 senators are bowing out after this year -- the most in about 60 years. Marquette political science professor Charles Franklin says the mass exodus comes after a tumultuous four years in the Republican-controlled Legislature. He says it will be interesting to see if the heavy turnover results in a change in the level of conflict and animosity among the two parties. Franklin says one thing you won't see is a lot of competitive contests come November. The 2011 redistricting loaded most districts with Republican voters. Franklin says any strong disagreements among legislative candidates should come in the partisan primaries in August -- and even then, disputes will probably be worked out before more than one name gets on a party ballot. Most of those leaving are getting out of public office altogether. Some, like Janesville Senate Democrat Tim Cullen, lament that there's no longer room for compromise on the major issues. Others, like Sheboygan Senator Joe Leibham, are running for higher office. Yesterday, Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater said he would seek a promotion to the Senate this fall, running for the seat vacated by Elkhorn Republican Neal Kedzie.
Another former Wisconsinite will try to right the ship at Target. John Mulligan, who grew up in Eau Claire, has become the interim president and C-E-O of the nation's third-largest retail chain. He replaces Milwaukee area native Gregg Steinhafel, who departed earlier this week -- mainly over Target's customer data breach when hackers broke in during the last holiday shopping season. Mulligan will at least temporarily hold the top spot at Target, where he's been for 18 years. He joined the Minneapolis-based company as a financial analyst in 1996, and was most recently its chief financial officer. Mulligan graduated from Eau Claire Regis High School in 1983, and later earned a bachelor's degree from U-W Madison. He also has a master's of business administration from Minnesota.
Five finalists have been named for the chancellor's opening at U-W Green Bay -- and none are from Wisconsin. University System President Ray Cross announced the finalists yesterday, after they were endorsed by almost two dozen members of a search-and-screen committee. Two candidates are from Illinois -- Provost and vice president David Glassman of Bradley University in Peoria, and arts-and-sciences dean Aldemaro Romero Junior of Southern Illinois at Edwardsville. The other finalists for the Green Bay opening are Beth Rushing, a vice president and dean-of-faculty at Saint Mary's College in Maryland -- senior vice president Gayle Ormiston of Marshall in Huntington West Virginia -- and North Carolina-Wilmington Chancellor Gary Miller. All five are appearing in public forums on the Green Bay campus through May 16th. They'll be interviewed May 28th. The new chancellor will replace Tom Harden, who's leaving in August.
Milwaukee's remaining mega-brewer reports a higher quarterly profit, despite a drop in sales revenues. Miller-Coors said yesterday that it netted 291-million dollars from January through March -- just over seven percent more than the same time a year ago. Its revenues were five-hundredths of one-percent lower, falling to just over two-billion dollars. C-E-O Tom Long said Miller-Coors is facing challenges in sales of its most popular brands of beer, Miller Lite and Coors Light. Meanwhile, the firm is gaining market shares for higher-priced brands like Redd's Apple Ale and Miller Fortune. Miller of Milwaukee and Coors of Colorado merged its U-S operations a few years ago and moved its headquarters to Chicago. Miller still has corporate offices and a large brewery in Milwaukee.
And baby makes nine. That's how many members there are in Congressman Sean Duffy's household, after his wife Rachel Campos Duffy had their seventh child on Tuesday night. The Wausau area Republican posted a photo on Facebook with the proud parents and their baby girl posing in a hospital bed. They also said the six siblings could "hardly contain their excitement" as they held their new sister for the first time. They also thanked people for their prayers and support. Duffy's office confirmed the birth yesterday, but did not release details such as the girl's name.