WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Sen. Johnson believes states should decide social issues
Wisconsin's Republican U-S senator says it should be up to the states to decide social issues like same-sex marriage. Ron Johnson went on the C-N-B-C "Squawk Box" show yesterday to continue pushing his focus on economic issues. When the subject was changed to social matters, Johnson said would not get in the way of same-sex marriages if the voters decide they want them. He added that he's a "traditional" man who personally believes in one-man, one-woman marriage. Still, Johnson said he would support whatever the people want on matters like gay marriage and abortions. On immigration, Johnson said the country needs "a functioning legal system" that seeks to reduce or get rid of incentives for undocumented immigrants. Still, Johnson said none of Wisconsin's many migrant workers have ever asked for citizenship. He said they just don't want Washington to deport their "moms and dads, their husbands and wives." In Johnson's words, "I don't think we're going to do that."
The largest electric utility to be acquired by We Energies is trying to assure customers that they don't have to clutch their wallets -- not now, anyway. Lisa Prunty of the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation says the utility's proposed acquisition by the parent firm of We Energies does not carry a rate increase. That's a sensitive subject -- and as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out, it's the big reason that a planned merger of Wisconsin Energy and what's now X-cel Energy of Minnesota was scrapped in the mid-1990's. At the time, Public Service and smaller utilities worried about the effects of a possible power monopoly in the Upper Midwest. The Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board said yesterday it would "fight" to make sure consumers are protected in the proposed new deal. Wisconsin's paper industry is also worried about rising prices. An official of the state's Paper Council says it's too early to conclude anything, however. The We Energies parent plans to buy Integrys Energy of Chicago for over nine-billion dollars. Wisconsin Energy C-E-O Gale Klappa said it's a consolidating industry right now, and the new deal would help make the new utility become more efficient and as "price-competitive" as possible. Numerous regulatory approvals are needed. The two parties say the deal could be finalized in about a year.
A central Wisconsin native who played N-F-L football is lucky to be alive, after a plane crashed into his brother-in-law's house near Minnesota's Twin Cities. Mosinee High School standout Kole Heckendorf and his new wife were planning to start their new home, and were staying at Jeff Hille's house in Sauk Rapids Minnesota when a small plane hit the house last Friday. Both people in the plane were killed instantly, along with Heckendorf's dog Storm. Hille was away at a golf tournament, and Heckendorf said he didn't have time to do much of anything before he jumped out of a second-story window and escaped unhurt. Much, but not all, of his belongings were at the home -- and everything inside was lost in an explosion. From Mosinee, Heckendorf went on to play college football at North Dakota State. The Green Bay Packers signed him as an un-drafted free agent in 2009. Over the next three years, he spent time with Detroit, Seattle, San Diego, and Indianapolis before leaving football without playing in a regular season game.
The state will help local governments pay for road damage caused by the clean-up of a massive windstorm almost three years ago. Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker gave the D-O-T approval to pay disaster aid to officials in Burnett, Washburn, and Douglas counties in northwest Wisconsin. It will cover up to 70-percent of damages to local and county roads, caused by trucks and other equipment that removed timber from hundreds of thousands of trees that were blown down. Those road damages alone totaled 14-million dollars. Straight-line winds of over 100-miles-an-hour damaged 130-thousand acres of trees in a half-dozen counties during the July Fourth weekend of 2011. An 11-year-old girl was killed by the storm in Spooner. In the enusing months, much of the state government's concern was saving millions of dollars worth of timber which had the potential to rot had nothing been done.
Wisconsin Realtors say housing remains relatively affordable, even with prices going up. Yesterday, the state Realtors Association reported its fifth straight month of declining home sales compared to the previous year. Sales were down almost seven-percent statewide, while the median home price rose by almost four-percent to 150-thousand dollars. The group said new homes have become slightly less affordable, based on the state's Housing Affordability Index -- but Realtors' president Michael Theo said new listings and inventory levels both rose slightly last month. He said both factors should continue to make Wisconsin homes relatively affordable. Realtors' board chairman Steve Lane said the higher home prices were partially why sales have declined. He also cites higher interest rates, and tighter federal mortgage regulations.
Last week's tornadoes and heavy downpours kept Wisconsin farmers out of their fields most of the time -- but it stayed warm, so the crops kept growing nicely. The National Ag Statistics Service said 79-percent of the Wisconsin corn crop remains in good-to-excellent condition. After a cold spring, the corn is already as high as 36-inches at Washburn County in the far northwest. Southern Wisconsin reports 12-to-30-inch corn. All but four-percent of the Badger State's soybean crop is planted, and 79-percent of it is rated good-to-excellent. The state's first hay crop continues to make nice progress, with 82-percent harvested. However, the rapid growth is causing some of it to mature too quickly, and lose quality. Obviously, soil moisture is not a problem. Officials said 39-percent of Wisconsin fields have surplus moisture, up from 15-percent a week ago.
The wreckage of a fatal plane crash was removed yesterday from the deep waters near Duluth-Superior. The body of the pilot, 47-year-old Alexander Obersteg of Steinfeld Germany, was recovered on June 9th -- two days after the crash. Officials said the man's kit-built Lancair Four was heading to Goose Bay in far eastern Canada when it plunged into Lake Superior, about a half-mile east of a beach in Duluth. Rescue divers from northwest Wisconsin helped pull Obersteg's body from the water -- but it took two weeks longer to pull the plane's wreckage from 140-feet below the lake's surface. The F-A-A will examine the aircraft before determining how the crash occurred. A medical emergency by the pilot has been ruled out.
Douglas County is the latest to endorse a long-running effort to create a National Heritage Area in the Saint Croix River valley. Supervisors in Superior recently voted to include the southern part of Douglas County in a proposed National Park Service zone. It would recognize the region's fur-trading and logging heritage, and would cover 17 counties in northwest Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Northwest Regional Planning agency is coordinating what Jason Laumann calls a grass-roots effort that's been going on since 2009. The goal is to highlight the region's heritage, with an eye toward improving the local economy. With the federal government's help, Laumann says the nation's 49 other heritage areas attract five investment dollars for every one that's spent. A public comment period ends next Monday. Laumann says the next step would be to encourage Superior's congressman, Sean Duffy, to work with others on congressional approval that would be needed to establish the new Heritage Area.