WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Petri proposing raising the federal gas tax
As gas prices fall, a Wisconsin House Republican says some of the savings should go to new pavement instead of your pocketbook. Fond du Lac Republican Tom Petri and Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer have proposed a federal gas tax hike of 15-cents a gallon -- almost a doubling of the current 18-point-four cent tax which has not been changed since 1993. Petri is retiring in a month after 36 years in office. He has not always followed the party line -- and critics may see this as one final dig at conservatives like Glenn Grothman, who replaces Petri in January. But at a news conference yesterday, Petri put up a photo of the late tax-cutting President Ronald Reagan to back his position. Petri said the Gipper supported a gas tax hike in 1982 as a responsible way to maintain the nation's infra-structure. The federal gas tax is bringing in about 34-billion dollars a year, 16-billion short of what's needed to cover federal road projects. Wisconsin uses it for a quarter of its transportation spending. Craig Thompson of the state's Transportation Development Association says he'd love to see a gas tax hike. But he doesn't believe it has the political fuel to pass in Congress. Thompson tells the Wisconsin Radio Network that states will most likely have to come up with their own answers. The D-O-T has proposed millions in state tax-and-fee hikes, more borrowing, and more general tax dollars now spent on other things. Governor Scott Walker has said his budget will include something different -- but he's not saying what it is.
Winona State student Brooke Baures died after she got trapped in the machinery of a food-service elevator at the western Wisconsin restaurant where she worked. That's what the Winona Daily News said yesterday, citing 9-1-1 calls and a statement from the lead police investigator in the case. Other details of Baures' death were not immediately known, as Fountain City Police continue to investigate. The 21-year-old Baures, of Chetek, died Monday night while working at the Wing-Dam Saloon and Grill in Fountain City. Her body was discovered in an elevator that employees used to deliver food to diners on two floors. The cause of Baures' death remains undetermined, as autopsy results are pending. There was a report that the U-S Occupational Safety-and-Health Administration was investigating, but the Winona paper said it was not known for sure as of yesterday. There was also no word on whether anybody saw the incident, or if there was any malfunction with the elevator. Police were asking for the public's help in getting answers. Baures, a standout gymnast, was a senior at Winona State. The school held a vigil in her honor last night. The vigil's organizer said virtually everyone on campus had some kind of connection to her.
Seventeen states, including Wisconsin, filed suit yesterday to stop President Obama from preventing up to five-million undocumented immigrants from being deported. Republican Governor Scott Walker convinced outgoing state Attorney General J-B Van Hollen to join in the legal action from Texas Governor-elect Gregg Abbott. Abbott said Obama's recent executive order "tramples" on key parts of the U-S Constitution. The Republican Van Hollen says it's clear that the president exceeded his authority. Governor Walker said he agreed the nation's immigration system is broken -- but he believes the problem should be addressed by what he called "collaborative federal action." Previous presidents have issued executive orders on immigration, but Abbott said they responded to actions by Congress. In this case, he said Obama acted in lieu of Capitol Hill's approval. The other 16 states in the lawsuit are mainly from the Midwest and South. None of Wisconsin's neighbors are involved.
The U-S House will vote on a defense policy bill today that would bring more business to Marinette Marine. The bill authorizes three new littoral combat ships -- two of which would be built by either the Marinette ship-maker in northeast Wisconsin, or Austal U-S-A of Mobile Alabama. It's not known which company would get the double-order. Both firms have been busy building littoral combat ships for the Navy. They're designed to operate in shallow waters in order to locate-and-disable mines, find quiet diesel submarines, and face down rapid surface craft. The additional ships are part of a 585-billion dollar package aimed at countering Islamic State militants in the Middle East. Michigan Senator Carl Levin said a bi-partisan agreement increased the number of littoral combat ships to be built from two-to-three. After today's House vote, the Senate is expected to act on the appropriations bill next week.
Former state Senator Joe Leibham will run the lobbying operation for Wisconsin's largest law firm. Foley-and-Lardner says the Sheboygan Republican will join the firm on Monday, and he'll take over the head lobbyist post on January first. Leibham did not run for re-election to the Senate because he ran for Congress, and lost to Glenn Grothman in the G-O-P primary in August. Leibham had about a month to go in his final term when he announced his resignation this week. He said he was barred by state law from discussing job offers in the private sector while he was still officially in the Legislature. Leibham spent almost 16 years at the Capitol, 12 of those in the upper house. Foley-and-Lardner C-E-O Jay Rothman said Leibham's legislative experience would help its clients navigate what he called the "regulatory and political landscapes in Wisconsin state government." The firm's lobbying clients include Aurora Heath Care, S-C Johnson, the Wisconsin Public Service utility, General Motors, American Express, and Kwik Trip.
Wisconsin outdoor lovers have started buying their state park admission stickers for next year -- but out-of-state residents will have to wait a while. The D-N-R said a printing issue delayed the first day of non-resident admission sales to December 12th. In-state residents started getting their stickers on Monday. They provide admission to over 60 state parks, forests, and other recreation sites throughout the Badger State. High school students enter a contest to provide each year's design for the stickers. The 2015 edition features a butterfly on a purple cone-flower, created by junior Josie Tollaksen of Poynette High School. Out-of-state residents pay 10-dollars more than Wisconsinites for the park stickers. State trail passes also went on sale this week. They cost the same for everyone.
Wisconsin has over 18-hundred cities, villages, and towns -- and Governor Scott Walker carried almost 80-percent of them in last month's elections. The state Government Accountability Board released its final certified results this week from the November fourth voting. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which analyzed the data, found that almost half the voters lived in places where either Governor Scott Walker or Democrat Mary Burke won by 30-percent or more. Only about one-of-every-five voters lived in places where the governor's margin was less than 10-percent. The Republican Walker defeated Burke by five-point-seven percent statewide -- a margin reduced by Burke's landslide victories in the state's two largest cities. She won by 58-points in her home city of Madison, and 53-points in Milwaukee. Burke also had double-digit victories in Superior, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Stevens Point, Janesville, Racine, and Kenosha. But Walker carried most Wisconsin cities, including Muskego by 48-percent and Waukesha by 32 points. The governor also won in two-thirds of Wisconsin villages and 90-percent of rural and suburban towns.
It's another January-type morning in far northern Wisconsin. Manitowish Waters in Vilas County was down to 10-below at seven o'clock, and Land O'Lakes was at minus-nine. Fortunately for them, there were no winds to speak of -- and therefore, no wind chill. Lake Superior kept folks in that region a little warmer. Superior was at five-above and Ashland was at zero, also with calm air. Other parts of the north were in the single digits at seven a-m, while the rest of the state was in the teens and 20's under mostly cloudy skies. The National Weather Service said skies were mostly clear last evening, which allowed the cold temperatures to blow in before things clouded up. Forecasters say it will warm up today in the 20's-and-30's statewide, with lows tonight in the teens-and-20's. Even warmer readings are predicted for tomorrow and into next week. Drizzle and freezing drizzle are possible tomorrow -- but the Weather Service says it should be mainly dry statewide for about the next week.
Tommy Thompson once called Wisconsin the place "where Harleys roar." But only a relative peep could be heard yesterday, when Harley-Davidson's new electric motorcycle rode into a conference in Milwaukee. About 400 people attended the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council at Milwaukee's Harley museum. Company president Matt Levatich rode the quiet "Project Live-wire" bike into a meeting room -- surprising those in attendance. The electric Harley was first unveiled in June. And while it's getting good reviews from riders, Levatich says it's too limited in its range -- and too high in cost -- to put it on the market yet. Still, Sustainable Business Council president Tom Eggert liked what he saw. He said businesses need to get more engaged in climate change, and the types of corporate opportunities that can embrace sustainability. In Eggert's words, "The cost of in-action is now greater than the cost of action" when it comes to addressing carbon pollution.