News – January 9, 2009

4-7 Inches of Snow Expected Today

1/9/09 – Winter weather will make its presence known throughout the day. We are currently under a winter weather advisory that will remain in effect until 6am tomorrow. The National Weather Service expects snow to spread throughout the region this morning and will continue throughout the day before tapering off this evening. Snow totals are expected to be between 4 and 7 inches. Strong winds are also expected meaning blowing and drifting snow could be a problem when you hit the roads today. Official remind you to take it slow when roads are slick and wet.

State and Local Government Retirees to see Reduction of Pension Checks

1/9/09 – For the first time in its 26-year history, the state retirement system will reduce pension checks for its state-and-local government retirees. Preliminary figures said the state’s Core Fund lost 26-percent of its value last year, ending with about 58-billion-dollars. That means pensions entirely funded by the core account will be reduced two-and-a-half percent. And those who had up to half their investments in the state’s Variable Fund could get double-digit reductions. The more aggressive Variable Fund lost 39-percent of its value in 2008. The exact amount of the benefit cuts will be determined next month. They’ll affect about 145-thousand retirees from state-and-local governments and school districts throughout the state. State Investment Board director Keith Bozarth said last year was one of the most challenging ever – and the state’s money managers probably handled it as well as most others. He also said the state will not abandon its investment strategies, in order to be in a solid position once a recovery begins.

Salt Still in Demand

1/9/09 – Despite the influx of more than 5,000-tons of salt the Dodge County Highway Department will continue to use a salt/salt mixture on County Roads. Highway Commissioner Brian Field says they need to manage the quantities they have because unlike previous years salt is not available in unlimited amounts. Field says the management of state roads will remain the same, meaning they’ll continue to get 100-percent salt treatment. Field says in the end, no matter how well the roads are maintained drivers need to be aware of changing road conditions and slow down.

New Prison System in Wisconsin Needed

1/9/09 – A consulting firm says Wisconsin is in dire need of a more modern prison system. Mead-and-Hunt says the state should spend one-point-two billion dollars in the next decade to add almost nine-thousand new prison beds, and replace 27-hundred old ones. Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch says the proposals will be used as a future guide. But with the next budget over five-billion-dollars in the hole, Raemisch says there’s no way the state could afford everything. He says they’ll need to do something, though – because the demand and the cost for prison space both keep growing. Wisconsin started the year with almost 23-thousand prisoners – 27-percent more than its facilities were made for. Raemisch says it would cost 160-million-dollars to build just one new medium-security lock-up for two-thousand inmates – and that doesn’t include the maintenance. But Mead-and-Hunt says taxpayers are already spending way more than they should on its facilities. It says the Waupun, Green Bay, Fox Lake, Kettle Moraine, and Oak Hill prisons are so old, they cause major problems in maintaining and staffing them. And the consultants say there’s way too much overcrowding, with two inmates now in cells meant for one at Waupun and Green Bay. Mead-and-Hunt says that’s far below accepted correctional standards, and it’s a practice that needs to be discontinued.

New Years Holiday Sees Fewer Traffic Fatalities

1/9/09 – Traffic fatalities over the New Years Holiday weekend were among the lowest in recent years. According to preliminary data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, crashes

claimed six lives during the 102-hour period starting at 6 p.m. New Years Eve and lasting through midnight Sunday, January 4th. The six deaths are one-third the total recorded during the 2003-2004 New Years holiday, the last time New Years fell on a Thursday. Last year, five people died in traffic crashes during the New Years Holiday.

Kohl Wants November Election on a Weekend

1/9/09 – Legislation from U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) would move Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to the first full weekend of the month. Andrea Kaminski with the League of Women Voters says it’s worth considering, since it could improve access to the polls for many people. She says the large number of people in Wisconsin who voted early before the 2008 election shows the convenience a more open schedule can have in helping more people make it to the polls. The first Tuesday Election Day has been used since 1845. Kaminski says society has changed greatly since then, with a move away from an agrarian society and improvements in transportation.