WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Treasurer candidates say returning people's property should return ot the office
Three of the four candidates for Wisconsin state treasurer say the task of returning people's unclaimed property should be returned to the treasurer's office. Lawmakers transferred that duty to the Revenue Department last year. Since then, media reports said a backlog of property claims rose by over 600-percent, to 78-hundred-25 as of yesterday. For years, returning property like uncashed tax refunds and forgotten bank accounts was the treasurer's most high-profile job. But the Republican governor and Legislature eliminated virtually all the duties of the treasurer and secretary-of-state, after previous constitutional amendments to eliminate both offices went nowhere. Now, after the news of the backlog, Republican candidate Randy Melchert and Democrats David Sartori and Dave Leeper all say the unclaimed property returns should go back to the treasurer's domain. Republican Matt Adamczyk favors eliminating the treasurer's post entirely. Adamczyk does not deny that property claims have risen -- but he says the Revenue Department has apparently been completing them within the 90-day time limit set by state law. The four candidates hope to replace Republican Treasurer Kurt Schuller, who's not running again.
Door County's fruit crops took a big hit from Wisconsin's latest hailstorm on Monday night. Bob Fellner of rural Sturgeon Bay tells W-L-U-K T-V that his 60-acre apple crop was wiped out. Not far away, Debbie Musil said about half her cherry orchard was lost. At the Peninsula Ag Research Station, officials said every type of crop on its 20-acre site was damaged -- including corn, wheat, and perennial fruits. Witnesses said hail stayed on the ground for hours into yesterday -- when Cherry Hills Golf Course closed its front nine holes because they were unplayable. The storm was accompanied by a large drop in temperatures. Sturgeon Bay was among several cities which had record-cold high temperatures yesterday, with 63. Madison, Marshfield, Oshkosh, Appleton, and Rhinelander also had record-low afternoon highs, none of which hit 70. Tomahawk had the state's coldest reading at five a-m today -- 37-degrees, just five above freezing. It's supposed to be a bit warmer today, with highs in the low-to-mid-70's statewide under partly cloudy skies. The gradual warming continues for the rest of the week, but forecasters say we won't see 80 again until Saturday.
Wisconsin's average gas price dropped by another penny-a-gallon this morning, as tensions ease over possible cuts in Iraq's oil production. The Triple-"A" said the average statewide price was 3.61 this morning for regular unleaded. That's five-and-a-half cents less than a week ago, and almost 12-cents less than in mid-June. Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy-Dot-Com says the price drops should continue. He says some stations could cut their prices by 20-cents over the next week or two. DeHaan says the big rise in U-S oil production puts the country in a good market position. He says the domestic output is on pace to surpass what Saudi Arabia produces.
Taxpayers in Wisconsin's largest county spent two-and-a-half million dollars last year to pay replacements for employees who took unpaid leave. The national Family-and-Medical Leave Act allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific health-and-family reasons. The leave kicks in after workers use up their vacations and other paid time off. A new report says about one-of-every-five Milwaukee County employees took family and medical leave in 2013. The ratio was much larger than a similar-sized county that includes Pittsburgh, where one-in-17 workers took family leave. Milwaukee County is dealing with the subject after Sheriff David Clarke reportedly tried to fire a woman who performed activities on leave that a medical certification had said were restricted. County Executive Chris Abele said those who abuse the Family-and-Medical Leave Act have been reduced following the hiring of the county's new risk management director Amy Pechacek.
Educators were among those who warded off a G-O-P effort to drop Wisconsin's Common Core school standards. Now, some school officials wonder if they'll be ready for the state exams that will be based on those standards next spring for the first time. The Cedarburg School Board is expected to decide this week if it will ask the state to delay the new testing -- which will be online for the first time. Rural school districts like Antigo wonder if they have enough bandwidth in their new wireless Internet service to adequately run the exams. Technology consultant Carol Hughes, a former official in the Oak Creek-Franklin schools, wonders if students are ready for the new type of testing -- in which more questions will be require text writings, instead of mainly multiple-choice items. The state reading and math tests are scheduled to be based on the tougher Common Core standards. The Department of Public Instruction recently sought proposals from outside firms to create formats for the new tests. Most Wisconsin schools are said to be making varied progress of aligning its instruction to the Common Core standards. Some youngsters have taken practice exams with the new format.
Wisconsin Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Reid Ribble voted no yesterday, when the U-S House approved emergency funds for transportation projects. The vote was 367-to-55 to approve eleven-billion dollars in new money, amid a threat that funds for 117-thousand projects would start drying up at the end of July. The bill would transfer almost ten-billion dollars from the federal government's general fund, plus a billion from another trust fund. The general fund transfers would be paid for with higher customs' fees, and a pension "smoothing" process that critics call "smoke and mirrors." The Senate is working on its own package which would tap into a host of other federal pots of money as well.
Two state lawmakers have each raised over 300-thousand dollars to try and win Wisconsin's only open U-S House seat this fall. Campaign reports filed yesterday show that state Assembly Republican Duey Stroebel of Saukville raised 368-thousand dollars from April through June -- and all but 27-thousand came from his own pocket. Senate Republican Joe Leibham of Sheboygan raised about 303-thousand dollars. Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend raised about half as much as the others, and he put in about ten-thousand of his own money. Grothman was the first to join the race, before incumbent Tom Petri of Fond du Lac said he would retire. The lone Democrat in the race, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, raised around 37-thousand dollars. Leibham had 277-thousand-dollars on hand as of June 30th -- Strobel 176-thousand -- Grothman 70-thousand -- and Harris 25-thousand. The Republicans are squaring off in an August 12th primary. Leibham said he was "honored and humbled" by the support he has received from residents of the Sixth Congressional District. Strobel defended using his own cash by saying, "I'm willing to spend my own money in an effort to stop Washington D-C from spending all of yours."
For the first time in Wisconsin, the invasive Asian crazy worm has made itself at home -- and it picked a beautiful target at the U-W Madison arboretum. Officials said the eight-inch worm known as "Amynthas Agrestis" survived the rough winter. The arboretum's Brad Herrick tells the Wisconsin State Journal that the worms devour nutrient-rich soil at the forest floor. Erosion occurs, and native plants have a harder time surviving. Invasive plants often grow in their place. U-W employees found the worm last October while showing night-crawlers to visitors. The Asian worm is called "crazy" because it wriggles heavily when it's handled. Until now, the pest had been spotted in the Eastern and Southeast U-S for about the last half-century.