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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Milk production was lower in December than in December 2012

For the second month in a row, Wisconsin's milk production was lower in December than it was a year earlier. According to new federal figures, Wisconsin pumped out two-point-three billion pounds of milk last month -- down one-point-nine percent from the previous December. The state's dairy herd remained steady at one-point-two-seven million cows, but the production per cow dropped 35-pounds to an average of 18-hundred-15. Nationally, the year-to-year milk output was unchanged for the second straight month. The nation produced 16-point-eight billion pounds last month. The 23 major dairy states had a slight increase from a year ago, with 15-point-seven billion pounds produced. California remains the Number-One milk state, making almost three-and-a-half billion pounds in December. That was up by one-point-six percent from the year before, as the Golden State widened its production gap over second-place Wisconsin.


Governor Scott Walker says he's frustrated that a convicted felon and sex offender stood with him, while Walker called him an example of the state's economic recovery. 32-year-old Christopher Barber of Two Rivers was among 13 workers the Republican governor brought in for his State-of-the-State address on Tuesday night. Yesterday, it was reported that Barber was convicted of charges including third-degree sexual assault and three drunk driving cases -- and he violated probation twice. Walker said his office assumed Barber's employer, the Ariens' snow-blower and riding lawmower plant in Brillion, did a background check on him. The firm said it didn't -- but it said Barber was an example of how an unemployed person turned a part-time opportunity into a full-time job. Ariens' says it's now reviewing Barber's job status, now that his criminal record has been revealed. Walker said most of those appearing with him had background checks, but Barber was one of the last people added -- and he came from a credible employer who suggested him at the last minute. In Walker's words, "There were thousands of other examples we could have used, and that would have been preferred."


New efforts to raise Wisconsin's minimum wage were slammed yesterday in a speech by Governor Scott Walker. The Republican Walker brought up the subject to a friendly audience of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, which also opposes a higher minimum. He said it was nothing but a "misguided political stunt" that would quote, "put a buzz saw on the economic recovery we've seen in this state." Representative Cory Mason of Racine and other Democratic lawmakers have sponsored a bill for a staggered increase in the state's minimum wage from 7.25-an-hour to 10.10 over two years. Democrat Mary Burke, Walker's election challenger, said she supports a more modest 35-cent increase to 7.60. The governor told reporters it's a quote, "political grand-standing stunt" from people who claim they're helping workers when they're really not. Mason said that if Walker's really that out-of-touch with people struggling to get by, he shouldn't be governor. Majority Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature are tying up the bill in a committee.


Neighboring Minnesota expects an increase in federal funds for its low-income heating assistance program -- and it's doubling the grants available for the propane fuel that's in short supply. The Gopher State's Commerce Department is making crisis grants available as early as next week, providing up to a-thousand dollars instead of the maximum-500 for the winter. That applies to those heating their homes with propane. Wisconsin has not announced such an increase, but Governor Scott Walker plans to meet on Monday with those involved in the propane shortage which is being exacerbated by the cold-and-snowy winter we're having. State Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center says Walker should use some of the new billion-dollar surplus to address the matter, but Walker said money won't solve the problem. For now, the Republican Walker has waived weight limits for propane trucks, and he's letting drivers who deliver propane to work longer hours. He's also asking folks to check on their neighbors and loved ones who use propane to heat their homes. Walker says people should contact their fuel suppliers once they get down to 30-percent -- and conserve the fuel they have, possibly by turning down the thermostat a degree-or-two. Over a quarter-million Wisconsinites use propane to hear their homes.


Wisconsin's new unemployment rate is the lowest since November of 2008, when the Great Recession was just starting to hit home for most of us. State officials said yesterday that the jobless rate for December was six-point-two percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis. That's down one-tenth of a percent from November. It was also similar to the decrease at the national level for December. The U-S unemployment rate is six-point-seven percent, and Wisconsin continues to be below the national figure -- just like it's been since the mid-1980's. Officials also said the state added about three-thousand private sector jobs last month. That's a preliminary figure based on a survey of just three-percent of Wisconsin employers, and it often gets revised later.