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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Spring? Not yet, says Mother Nature

If you think it's spring, you haven't been outside this morning. It was 22-below at seven o'clock in Land O'Lakes, near Wisconsin's border with Upper Michigan. Eagle River and Hayward were both at minus-13. Those were the exceptions, however. Most places in the north were above zero, with temperatures ranging into the teens elsewhere. Prairie du Chien was the warm spot with 21 at seven a-m. Wind-chills were not a factor, with either calm air or light breezes. The National Weather Service said a polar high-pressure system caused temperatures to nose-dive, after cold readings yesterday. Highs ranged from 17 at Manitowish Waters to 31 at Middleton -- well below the normal highs for the date of 40-to-45 statewide. It will remain cold for the next couple days, as light snow moves into western Wisconsin this afternoon. The snow is supposed to move eastward by tonight. Most areas could get around an inch of new snow. After another cold day tomorrow, forecasters say it will warm up on Wednesday. The 40's are due to return on Thursday -- along with some rain.  


Wisconsin taxes will be cut by over a half-billion dollars, under a new bill Governor Scott Walker will sign into law today. He chose a northeast Wisconsin farm as the place where he'll highlight the measure. A late morning ceremony is planned at the Horsens Homestead Farms near Cecil in Shawano County. It's where the Republican Walker can promote an average property-and-income tax cut of 177-dollars a year for state workers and landowners -- plus additional tax breaks for farmers and businesses which were added by lawmakers after Walker proposed his tax cut in January. The money comes from an expected surplus of almost a billion-dollars in the current state budget. The tax cut package also adds over 100-million dollars to the state's coffers, and cuts spending by 38-million dollars to avoid a deficit to start the next state budget in mid-2015. Only two Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the measure -- Representatives Nick Milroy of South Range and Stephen Smith of Shell Lake.


Thousands of Wisconsinites still need to sign up for Obama-care before the deadline a week from today. That's when the open enrollment period ends on the federal government's online exchange. Those not covered after next Monday could face penalties from 95-dollars to one-percent of their incomes, whichever is greater. Having kids without coverage could add even more fines. Wisconsin had over 560-thousand uninsured residents as of last year. State officials are not sure how many have signed up under the Affordable Care Act. As of March first, around 71-thousand Wisconsinites picked up coverage under the federal exchange, and all but a couple thousands were eligible for Medicaid. Wisconsin is among 13 states exceeding its sign-up goals. But observers say the numbers may be skewed by the fact that over 70-thousand people were thrown into Obama-care by a recent state law. Those folks will lose their Badger-Care and state high-risk coverage at the end of the month. Mary Testin of Wausau's Bridge Clinic says lots of north central Wisconsin residents have been putting off their mandatory sign-ups. Testin says many feared they wouldn't be able to afford the coverage on the exchanges -- and they walked away surprised and grateful.


Wisconsin's two U-S senators want the Army Corps of Engineers to get going on a short-term solution to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin are among 11 Midwest senators who wrote the Corps. They also asked the agency to quote, "move aggressively toward a long-term solution." The Corps was hoping to pass off the hot-button issue to Congress in early January, by giving them a plethora of options. The most popular plan among Great Lakes advocates is to close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, so it no longer provides a water link between Lake Michigan and the carp-infested Mississippi River. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said much of that option hinges on major upgrades to the Chicago area's sewage and storm-water system. And none of it has to do with keeping the Asian carp or other potential invasive species at bay. Chicago area officials say closing the canal would hurt commerce in their region. Senators from Illinois and Indiana were not among those signing the letter to get something started. The Corps' options also include modifying a navigation lock downstream from Lake Michigan, to block the migration of invasive carp into the Great Lakes. Senators Johnson and Baldwin are among critics who fear that a long-term project would be scrapped if the lock goes in.


Wisconsin's honey bees were not nearly as busy last year as in 2012. The U-S-D-A said the Badger State's honey output dropped by 14-and-a-half percent, to just over three-and-a-half million pounds for the year. That's the tenth-highest in the nation, down from ninth in 2012. Wisconsin had 59 bee colonies, one fewer than the year before -- and each colony made 60 pounds of honey, nine pounds less than the previous year. The Badger State's output was still higher than the national average of 56-and-a-half pounds per colony in 2013. The data is collected from those with five-or-more colonies. Wisconsin producers were able to sell their honey for 12-percent more than in 2012, with an average price of 2.31-a-pound. That's above the national average of 2.12, a record-high that was six-percent more than the year before. Nationally, honey production totaled 149-and-a-half million pounds, five-percent more than in 2012.


One river in Wisconsin was said to be above its banks this morning. The Trempealeau River at Dodge was predicted to get about four-inches above its nine-foot flood stage before receding. Officials said a combination of ice-jams and runoff caused the Trempealeau to rise. As of last evening, the river was still a couple inches below its banks. Marshes and farmlands are expected to have minor flooding, and National Weather Service is continuing a flood warning until tomorrow afternoon. Last week, the Fox River in Kenosha County went over its banks. Flood warnings have been canceled for that location. Colder weather appears to have kept things in control for now. A warming trend is expected statewide on Wednesday. 


It's about to get a lot more expensive to live near Wisconsin's flood-prone rivers. Almost 77-hundred home and business owners in the Badger State face huge increases in flood insurance premiums -- even after Congress scaled back those price hikes. The federal government is the only one selling flood insurance. That program is billions of dollars in debt, because the revenues from premiums have not kept up with claims. Teresa Secord of La Crosse tells the A-P that she paid 525-dollars for flood insurance last year. She was expecting to pay 37-hundred dollars this year, under a law passed in 2012. However, Congress reduced the big price hikes earlier this month. Premium increases are now limited to 18-percent a year until the appropriate rates are charged. Owners of businesses and second-homes are paying 25-percent more.


If you know what a frog sounds like, you can help the state estimate how many frogs and toads we have in Wisconsin. The D-N-R is looking for volunteers to spend up to three hours listening to frog sounds at 10 wetland areas this spring and summer. The volunteers will record the different types of croaks they hear, and describe weather conditions when they're listening. D-N-R officials say it will help them determine the frogs' populations, where they hang out the most, and trends from the past. The D-N-R is also conducting a study on how frogs adapt to various areas. Volunteers can pick a lake, stream, or wetland -- and listen for five minutes seven times a week. More information is at the D-N-R's Web site, accessible at Wisconsin-Dot-Gov.