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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Burke, Walker tied in just released poll

MILWAUKEE - A new Marquette University Law School poll released this afternoon shows that Governor Scott Walker is in a tight race with Democrat Mary Burke.  Forty-seven percent of the 800 registered voters surveyed are willing to give the Republican Walker a second term when the election rolls around in 372 days.  Forty-five percent said they'd vote for Burke, even if they don't know yet where she stands.  The two-point difference is within the poll's three-and-a-half-percent margin of error. 

Poll director Charles Franklin calls the race a toss-up -- even though 70-percent are not sure whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Burke.  For now, the former state commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive has shied away from the hot-button issues of job creation and the future of the Act-10 public union bargaining limits.  Burke did say she would have taken the Obama-care Medicaid funds that Walker rejected.   Meanwhile, state Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout of Alma trails Walker in their own Marquette poll, 47-44.  Vinehout -- who ran in the Walker recall contest last year -- plans to announce early next year if she'll run again.  Almost 8-of-every-10 surveyed said they didn't have an opinion of Vinehout.  The poll also pitted Walker head-to-head with State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha.  Walker leads that comparison, 48-42.  The Marquette poll was taken last Monday through Thursday.


Almost half of Wisconsinites don't like Obamacare -- and three-fourths were against shutting down the federal government to try-and-weaken or kill the health reform law.  A new Marquette Law School poll released this afternoon shows that 48-percent of the 800 voters surveyed last week did not favor the Affordable Care Act.  Forty-two percent support it, and 10-percent still aren't sure what to think.  Seventy-six percent objected to how the shutdown played out -- with Republicans trying to de-fund Obamacare and Democrats refusing to negotiate or compromise.  Nineteen-percent of state voters supported the shutdown tactic.  Nobody in Congress scored any points on this.  Thirty-three percent in the Marquette poll give Democrats in Congress a favorable rating.  Only 17-percent did the same for Republicans.  All of the Obama-care results are beyond a three-and-a-half percent margin of error on the subject.


Governor Scott Walker's approval rating is a tad higher than in July.  That's according to the latest Marquette Law School poll this afternoon.  Forty-nine percent of the 800 voters surveyed last week gave the Republican Walker a favorable rating.  Forty-seven percent disapproved of him.  In the last poll in July, 48-percent approved of the governor's job performance, and 46-percent disapproved.   The new poll's margin of error is three-and-a-half percent either way.


A moderate in the Wisconsin State Senate is thinking about running as an independent.  Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center was already facing a primary challenge from conservative Assemblyman Howard Marklein of Spring Green.  Today, Ernie Wittwer announced his candidacy as a Democrat for Schultz's seat.  Wittwer spent two dozen years in the state Transportation Department, and was once the agency's budget director.  Long-time Schultz aide Todd Allbaugh said his boss is still deciding whether to run next fall -- and if so, he's deciding whether to shed his GOP label.  Through the end of June, Marklein raised $116,000 dollars this year to Schultz's $684-dollars.  Schultz has spent three decades in the Legislature.  He angered conservatives in 2012, when he cast the deciding vote that killed the bill which paved the way for Gogebic Taconite's proposed iron ore mine.  Last November, Republicans increased their Senate majority from one vote to three with the election of conservative Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac.  They then passed the mining bill despite Schultz's opposition -- along with a conservative budget Schultz voted against.


Enbridge Energy expects to file applications this week for the okay to build a crude oil pipeline it's considering between North Dakota and Superior.  However, farmers and others along the route are banding together to fight the two-and-a-half million dollar project.  Minnesota Public Radio says the Gopher State's Public Utilities Commission will spend a year weighing the pros-and-cons of the new 610-mile Sandpiper oil line before making a final decision.  Enbridge says the line would ship over 200-thousand barrels of crude each day from the Bakken oil fields of western North Dakota to the firm's terminal in Superior.  The company says the new line is crucial, because its current pipelines are struggling to keep up.  Meanwhile, organic farmers and other landowners in northeast Minnesota say they're worried the new pipeline will ruin their land, and hurt their way of life. 


The Wisconsin crop harvest is still behind schedule.  The National Ag Statistics Service said 39-percent of the state's corn-for-grain was harvested as of Sunday.  That's 11-percent more than the previous week, but it's still eight-percent behind the normal for this date.  Corn-for-feed is 93-percent harvested, five-percent behind the norm.  Moisture levels are still relatively high in some places.  Ninety-two percent of the corn is mature, only three-percent below the norm.  Sixty-nine percent of Wisconsin soybeans are harvested.  That's about 10-percent behind schedule.  


It will cost much less than expected to repair the sagging Leo Frigo Interstate bridge in Green Bay.  The state DOT initially figured it would cost $50-million to prop up the high-rise bridge over the Fox River.  Instead, the low bid was only about one-seventh of the cost estimate.  WLUK-TV of Green Bay said three firms submitted bids.  Zenith Tech of Waukesha offered the low bid of seven-and-three-quarter million dollars to fix several corroded support piers under the bridge -- and to extend the sagging support pier further into the ground so it rests on bedrock.  Lunda Construction of Black River Falls submitted the second-lowest bid of almost $8.3 million dollars.  Edward Kraemer-and-Sons of Plain bid $8.8 million.  The DOT is reviewing the bids to make sure they meet the state's requirements.  The contract is expected to be awarded tomorrow.  Repairs are due to begin next week, and a January 17th re-opening date for the Frigo bridge is targeted.  It's been closed since late September, when one of 51 support piers slipped more than two-feet down.  


Supporters of Wisconsin's school voucher program say it gives low-income kids struggling in public schools a chance for a better education in private schools.  However, that's not happening this fall with the 500 students who received vouchers to attend private schools outside of Milwaukee County and Racine.  The state Department of Public Instruction said today that 73-percent of the 500-plus youngsters were already in private school a year ago.  Only 21-percent made the jump from public schools.  The other six-percent came from out-of-state -- or they were not in school at all last year.  The 73-percent figure for private school holdovers was higher than the 67-percent the DPI had predicted in August.  Appleton and the Green Bay-De Pere areas had the highest private school enrollments in the voucher program with 53 each.  The voucher expansion was limited to 500 students this year.  It will be a-thousand next year.


A $350,000 bond has been set for a Kenosha man charged with choking his girlfriend to death, and leaving her body in a car trunk in Chicago.  40-year-old Matthew McDowell appeared in Kenosha County Circuit Court this afternoon on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse.  Kenosha Police arrested him yesterday, after 30-year-old Erin Ziemendorf of West Allis was found dead in a car parked at a bus station near Chicago's downtown Loop.  According to prosecutors, McDowell went to police on Sunday, after claiming that his girlfriend accidentally died while they argued.  Officials said the spat was about money, their relationship, and an impending trip to Hawaii.  The criminal complaint said Ziemendorf swung a corkscrew at McDowell -- and he choked her.  After realizing she was dead, prosecutors said McDowell panicked, placed the body in a large duffle bag, and drove it to Chicago where he left her.  McDowell is due back in court a week from today, when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.


Sheboygan County hopes to improve its air quality numbers, by measuring them away from Lake Michigan.  Sheboygan and Kenosha counties are the only ones in Wisconsin that don't meet federal limits for ozone pollution.  Sheboygan blames its numbers on the polluted winds that blow northward from Chicago.  Because of that, the Sheboygan Press says the county is moving its air quality monitor from Kohler-Andrae State Park -- right along the lakeshore -- to a site a few miles inland off Highway 42.  Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen says the current ozone data forces local industries to spend thousands-of-dollars more than they should on pollution control equipment.  He also says the pollution data might discourage a prospective business from locating there.  Gail Good of the state DNR says Sheboygan County would need three years of data from its new testing site to have its federal ozone rating changed.  


In La Crosse, a private contractor will look for neighborhoods where people don't shovel their sidewalks like they're supposed to.  The city's Board of Public Works has agreed to let the firm of Midwest Roll-Off go through the city 24 hours after a snowstorm, to see how many folks followed the shoveling requirement.  In reality, La Crosse engineering assistant Doug Kerns says the city hopes sidewalks can cleared in three-to-four days after a storm.  In recent years, it took city staffers up to a week to check for problem areas.  That's because of a lack of staff resources.  With many homeowners waiting a week to shovel, Kerns says it causes real problems for the elderly, disabled, and others to walk around town.  Midwest Roll-Off has been clearing snow in La Crosse for the last three winters -- and for the first time, they'll have the authority to identify problem areas.  Those not shoveling in a reasonable time will pay to have the contractor do it.  The charge is $50 plus two-and-a-half dollars a foot.


Wisconsin's oldest refrigerator dates back to 1931.  Three General Electric ice-boxes from that year won the "Oldest Fridge Contest," sponsored by the state's Focus-on-Energy program.  Mary Walgenbach of Middleton, Sue Gilmore of Hartland, and Monica Tighe of Nashotah each won a-thousand-dollars.  Everyone who entered also got their old fridges hauled away and recycled for free.  The goals of the contest were to get more people to buy today's energy-efficient refrigerators -- and to promote the state's appliance recycling program run by Wisconsin Focus-on-Energy, which utility customers help pay for.  Walgenbach's 82-year-old fridge was donated to a monastery where she lives.  Gilmore's refrigerator was a gift to her son when he was in college, and was later moved to the family farm.  Tighe inherited her fridge from a grand-father.  The family used it for extra storage when guests came to visit.