WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Weather projected to be bitterly cold for the next week
The calendar says it's supposed to warm up -- but instead, Wisconsin has fallen into the freezer again. It was 11-below zero in Superior at seven o'clock this morning. Wind chill factors were in the minus-single-digits in southern Wisconsin, and in the teens-and-20's below zero in the north. Today's high temperatures are expected to be in the single-digits and teens -- around 20-degrees colder than normal in much of the Badger State. It could stay that way for a while. Under the current state forecast, no place in Wisconsin will see 20-degrees again until next Monday -- and then only in the Madison and Milwaukee regions. Wind-chill advisories are in effect from tonight until late tomorrow morning for virtually all of Wisconsin. By tomorrow morning, the wind-chills are expected to get as low as 30-to-35 below.
Thousands of jobs in northeast Wisconsin could be at risk, after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a new military budget yesterday. The 2015 package would reduce the numbers of littoral combat ships built in Marinette and Mobile Alabama from 52-to-32. If approved by Congress, the cuts could put a major dent in Marinette Marine's workforce of two-thousand employees within six years, and eliminate jobs at hundreds of the boat-maker's suppliers. Marinette has built two of the Navy warships, and is working on four more. They're designed to operate in shallow waters, with speeds approaching 50-miles-an-hour. Questions have been raised about the boats' capabilities. Hagel said the Navy must determine whether the littoral ships have the firepower to survive against more advanced adversaries. Marinette's congressman, Republican Reid Ribble, said the program's future is far from settled -- and it will have numerous debates on Capitol Hill. The defense package is part of the next federal budget that President Obama will propose to Congress, and it's due to take effect in October. Hagel says his new defense budget is designed to preserve a technological edge over other nations which are modernizing their militaries. Among other things, the active Army would be cut from 522-thousand soldiers to around 450-thousand -- its lowest level since 1940.
______________Schools are closed for a second straight day in a west central Wisconsin community hit by a series of broken water mains. W-E-A-U T-V in Eau Claire said another main broke in Thorp during the night -- and schools were again shut down due to the unstable status of the community's water pressure. Residents of Thorp -- in the northwest part of Clark County -- have been under an advisory to boil their water before drinking, cooking, or brushing their teeth with it. Deep frost has caused five water main breaks to occur the past couple days.
Most Wisconsin Indians get at least some benefit from the casinos their tribes operate, but the amount varies greatly. Gannett Wisconsin Media examined mandatory audits submitted to the federal government. They showed that in 2012, members of the Forest County Potawatomi got 80-thousand dollars each in profits from their casinos in Milwaukee and Carter. The next-highest payments were about 12-thousand to each Ho-Chunk tribal member. Menominee Indians received the smallest reported casino profits, around 75-dollars each. Some tribes reported annual pay-outs of 500 to two-thousand. Others did not list their member payments in their 2012 audits. Gannett, which operates 10 Wisconsin daily newspapers, said tribes with the lowest payments are concerned that the money can cause drug-and-alcohol problems within the tribal communities. Potawatomi officials said the payments reflect wise management and re-investments in its casinos over the last quarter century. Gannett said the Potawatomi's gaming operations netted 226-million dollars in 2012 -- and its 14-hundred members received about half those profits. The Potawatomi's Milwaukee casino has a monopoly in that market -- something the tribe has fiercely protected in its long opposition to a new Menominee tribal casino about 30 miles down the road in Kenosha.
Farmers in Wisconsin and four other Midwest states could soon get federal funds to make their pastures more attractive to honey-bees. The U-S-D-A will try to prop up a struggling industry in which bee-keepers bring hives to the Midwest to be fed, before sending them to places like California where they help pollinate a variety of produce. It's a 15-billion-dollar a year industry. To give it a boost, the A-P says the U-S-D-A will announce today that dairy farmers and ranchers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and the Dakotas will share about three-million dollars. They'll use it to re-seed pastures with alfalfa, clover, and other plants which appeal to both honey-bees and livestock. Farmers can also get help in providing facilities which improve animal movement from pasture-to-pasture, so vegetation does not get worn out. The U-S-D-A is reportedly focusing on Wisconsin and the other four states because two-thirds of the nation's 30-thousand commercial bee-keepers bring their hives to the Midwest for at least part of the year.
Wisconsin utility companies do not agree on a proposal to change the way the state D-N-R grants permits for electric transmission lines. A proposed bill would force the D-N-R to either approve-or-deny a permit for a transmission line within 30 days after it's requested. Right now, the process can take months. Also, the D-N-R would have just one opportunity to seek more information about a project. X-cel Energy and the Dairyland Power Cooperative favor the measure. X-cel's Matt Pagel says it would streamline the process, and avoid delays that can cost more for electric customers. Not all utilities and power line companies agree. The American Transmission Company tells Wisconsin Public Radio the bill could reduce the D-N-R's involvement in the permit process -- and it may have effects on the environment. We Energies, Alliant Energy, and Madison Gas-and-Electric also oppose the bill. Some say the current process works fine.
Wisconsin communities that don't want roundabouts would have the right to veto them under a bill that's up for a public hearing this afternoon. The Assembly's Transportation Committee will take testimony on a measure introduced last July by West Bend freshman Republican David Craig. It would require local government approval before the state D-O-T can install the circular intersections. Right now, state and county officials can decide where-and-when to build the roundabouts. Craig says the developers should have to consider the concerns of local businesses and motorists before putting them in as replacements for intersections with stop signs and traffic lights. Most of the bill's co-sponsors are Republicans. Wisconsin has about 200 roundabouts -- some of which are almost right next to each other in groups of three. State officials say drivers normally don't like the circular corners -- but they favor them once they get used to them.
The state Revenue Department is encouraging folks to use its new mobile-app. Income tax filers can check the status of their refunds there, as well as on the Revenue agency's Web site and automated refund line. Officials expect four-of-every-five state tax returns to be filed electronically, with the filing deadline just over a month-and-a-half away. The Revenue Department is also urging college students to file electronically as soon as possible, so they get their refunds for their spring breaks. About three-million Wisconsin returns are expected to be filed this year.