Strong Storms Push Through the Midwest
5/23/11 – The National Weather Service has confirmed at least two tornadoes from yesterday – and several more should be confirmed today. It was the same path of tornadoes that virtually destroyed Joplin Missouri and killed more than 80 people there. No serious injuries were reported in the Wisconsin storms. A weak “E-F-One” twister hit Sparta in Monroe County. A stronger “E-F-Two” tornado was confirmed just to the east near Tomah, but the full path won’t be known until today. Damage was much worse in La Crosse, where an unconfirmed tornado hit the south side and damaged at least 200 homes and businesses. A gas leak forced an evacuation, and one report said several apartment dwellers had been trapped in the rubble of an apartment building in La Crosse. Other tornadoes were reported near Nekoosa and Plover in central Wisconsin, where several homes and barns were destroyed. And there were twisters near Mather in Juneau County, and east of Phillips in northwest Wisconsin.
Virtually no part of Wisconsin was untouched by rough weather. In Dodge County, there were numerous reports of minor damage including in Hustisford where strong winds brought down some trees, created power outages, and damaged a fence. In Watertown, hail nearly 2-inches in diameter was reported while Fall River saw half-inch hail. It was larger than a softball at Winchester, northwest of Oshkosh. In Allenton, a trained weather spotter reported wind gusts as strong as 60-miles per hour. In the far south, Rusty Kapela of the Weather Service said winds hit 80-miles-an-hour. A hotel lost its roof near Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport. Tens-of-thousands of Wisconsinites lost their power. Half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties spent hours under tornado watches through last night.
Death Toll on Dodge County Roads Reaches Eight
5/23/11 – The driver killed when he intentionally drove his truck around the railroad crossing gates in Reeseville Saturday night, and was hit by a train, has been identified as 41-year-old Dennis Bachim. His passenger, a 48-year-old man from Reeseville, was also killed. Authorities are trying to determine why Bachim, who was from Reeseville, went around the gates. The two deaths bring the total number of those killed in traffic accidents in Dodge County this year to eight, including five in the past three weeks. Sheriff Todd Nehls says for as much as they try to prevent these types of incidents the recent run is baffling. The death toll doesn’t include Richard Dilley of Fitchburg who was killed after a pickup struck his motorcycle in Columbus on Friday.
Gas Prices Down
5/23/11 – Wisconsin gas prices are falling nicely, just as analysts predicted a couple weeks ago. The state’s Triple-“A” says the average price is 3.83-a-gallon this morning for unleaded regular. That’s 18-cents lower than a week ago – and it’s 28-cents below the state’s all-time high price of 4.11-and-a-half set on May fifth. It’s also $3.83 in Beaver Dam this morning. The Triple-“A” expects about the same number of Wisconsin travelers as a year ago, despite the rise in fuel prices. Around 700-thousand Wisconsinites will travel at least 50-miles one way during the weekend. That’s 14-percent more than the recession-plagued year of 2009. Triple-“A” spokeswoman Pam Moen says it’s a good sign for the economy that people are willing to hit the road despite the higher gas prices. A national Triple-“A” survey said 40-percent would spend less on lodging and souvenirs.
Cain, Kanavas Get Republican Support
5/23/11 – Wisconsin’s Republican insiders want Herman Cain to be our next president. Cain — a former C-E-O of Godfather’s Pizza — won a straw poll commissioned by Wis-Politics-Dot-Com at the G-O-P state convention over the weekend in Wisconsin Dells. Eighty of the 301 delegates who responded gave Cain their nod to replace Barack Obama in 2012. Cain announced his candidacy on Saturday. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was favored by 50 G-O-P delegates, before he bowed out of the race yesterday. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was third with 35. Also, former State Senator Ted Kanavas of Brookfield got the conventioneers’ nod to replace U-S Senate Democrat Herb Kohl next year. He received 73 votes in the Wis-Politics survey. Former Governor and Bush Health Secretary Tommy Thompson got 61 votes. But current Governor Scott Walker told the delegates that the U-S Senate contest is not nearly as important at the moment as the nine state Senate recall elections this summer. Walker warned the Republican activists not to take those contests lightly — or else the G-O-P’s agenda could be derailed. Democrats need to win six-of-the-nine elections to win back the majority in the state Senate — which the G-O-P snared from the Democrats last November.
Petri Working to Make Air Travel Less Intrusive
5/23/11 – Congressman Tom Petri says the government is working hard to make air travel less intrusive. The Republican from Fond du Lac, who chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee, told Craig Warmbold on WBEV’s Community Comment that he’s “not a happy camper” that we’re spending so much time and money for people to poke each others laundry as they go through airport security. While there may be a purpose for it, he says we can get the job done more effectively and his committee is doing its best to lower the boom and find a less intrusive way of doing things. Petri says they are studying the Israeli approach to screenings which starts when you first buy your ticket and incorporates behavior at the airport. And when it comes to the full body scan, the U.S. is moving closer to the European model, where they have similar technology but use different and less invasive programs. He is hopeful that the intrusive regulations will not be permanent; especially given the fact they were put in place quickly after 9-11, have grown clumsy and are very expensive. Petri says he’s not sure they’re particularly effective either other than giving travelers a little peace of mind.
Grothman Slams Republican Tax Breaks
5/23/11 – One of the state’s most conservative Republicans is slamming a plan to give 200-million-dollars in tax breaks to help create venture capital for new-and-innovative companies. West Bend Senator Glenn Grothman calls it the most “dubious” corporate giveaway he’s seen in his years in the Legislature. And Grothman was the only one of 26 people to speak against the plan at a recent public hearing on it. Senate Republican Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and freshman Assembly Republican Gary Tauchen of Bonduel are pushing what’s called the “Jobs Now Fund.” It gives the 200-million in tax to certified capital companies, many of which are out-of-state. The insurance firms would not have to pay back the state money – and they could keep 80-percent of the profits they generate. Tom Hefty, a former C-E-O of Blue Cross-Blue Shield, calls it the “largest special interest Wisconsin tax cut in history masquerading as an economic development initiative.” But Hopper says it would create good jobs in the state, and G-O-P Governor Scott Walker’s office says it would avoid the pitfalls of similar programs in other states. But Wisconsin has tried this before, without much success. The state began a 10-year, 50-million-dollar program in 1999. And according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, nobody in the government was willing to brag about it – and they accepted a trade firm’s report that it indirectly created up to 17-hundred new jobs in the state.
Value of Farmland Rising in the Midwest
5/23/11 – The value of farmland in the Upper Midwest is rising faster than it has in 32 years. That’s according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which said farmland in five states jumped 16-percent at the end of March, compared to the same time a year ago. Wisconsin’s increase was nine-percent. Iowa had the biggest rise, at 20-percent. For the first three months of this year, Wisconsin’s farmland values rose four-percent from 2010. Illinois and Indiana had the biggest quarterly increases at eight-percent. Cash rental rates for farmland are up 20-percent from a year ago — the largest jump in the Upper Midwest, and four-percent above the average. The Chicago Reserve Bank also said there’s a growing number of cash rental deals in which the landowners benefit when crop prices go up. Fifty-six percent of bankers surveyed in the district expect farmland values to keep rising in the current quarter, generated by high commodity prices. Those prices are also improving the farmers’ credit status.