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WTA forecast: Retiring 'boomers will drag down state's job-, financial outlook; toddler shoots self with Mom's pistol; more state news

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Hudson Star Observer
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

As the candidates for governor argue about their records for creating jobs, a new report spells out a dim future the politicians can do nothing about -- the rising numbers of empty jobs and schools in Wisconsin due to the retirement of the baby boomers.

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The state's Taxpayers Alliance says Wisconsin's working age population will shrink two-tenths of one percent between now and 2040, as retirees nearly double.

The alliance issued a report which was first publicized on the front page of Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

It warns of little or no job growth in Wisconsin, since not as many people will be around to fill new positions. The Tax Alliance says average incomes could drop.

State finances will become more strained, with a growth in seniors who are the biggest users of government services.

Many school districts are already seeing enrollment declines as baby boomers' children get older. The problems could be especially acute in northern Wisconsin, where over 60 school districts already have less than five students per square mile.

Tax Alliance president Todd Berry says it brings the current school funding formula into question, as Bayfield and Price counties expect to lose over 30 percent of their school-age populations by 2040 -- with 20-percent drops predicted in Lincoln, Rusk, Pepin, Ashland, and Rusk counties.

Sen. Harsdorf plans hearings about massive computer overhaul

MADISON -- After a much-publicized breakdown in the last decade, Gov. Scott Walker's people are moving forward with a massive overhaul of the state government's computer systems. It may sound like inside politics, but everyday taxpayers have a big stake financial stake in this.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the replacements of 120 state computer systems could end up saving $100 million in reduced maintenance costs and higher efficiency over a decade.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle suspended the program six years ago, in part due to over-optimistic savings' estimates that were five times the current estimates.

Officials have worked since 2011 to revive the computer upgrades, saying they're long overdue for things like keeping trade of government assets and paying state workers on time.

Auditors called for legislative oversight back in 2007, but the Journal Sentinel says there has not been much of that even to this day.

Senate Republican Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls co-chairs a joint legislative information technology committee which has not met in at least six years. She says she's planning hearings about the state's computer system, which is now called State Transforming Agency Resources, or STAR.

The program has spent around $33 million dollars of a total $139 million price tag. It's scheduled to be completed in three years.

Iconic Klement Sausage firm sold

MILWAUKEE -- The company that brought Wisconsin the famous Milwaukee Brewers' racing sausages has been sold to a private equity firm in San Francisco.

Tall Tree Foods, which is owned by Altamont Capital Partners, said Monday that it bought Milwaukee-based Klement Sausage. Terms were not disclosed.

The announcement said Klement would keep the offices, plants, and management team that it has in Milwaukee.

Klements' CEO Ray Booth will stay in that role. Former chairman John Klement said Tall Tree Foods will grow the brand. Among other things, that firm owns the Blue Ribbon Bacon & Sausage company in Texas, and Richard's Cajun Foods of Louisiana.

Altamont Capital Partners oversees $1.3 billion of investments. There was no immediate word on the fate of the Klements' racing sausages, which have enjoyed national notoriety for years. Other Major League teams have imitated the long-running Klements' sausage races at Brewers' home games.

Two incidents involving the sausages attracted heavy national publicity in recent years -- the tripping of a sausage by former Pittsburgh slugger Randall Simon, and the theft of a sausage costume from an event in suburban Milwaukee.

Mayor Barrett calls attention to homeowner tax burden

MILWAUKEE -- The mayor of Milwaukee says there's something missing in the debate over taxes in Wisconsin. Tom Barrett says homeowners have paid a higher share of the tax burden for years, as businesses get more and more tax breaks. Now, Barrett is spilling the beans on a state bill introduced late in the last session, but was never acted on.

Assembly Republican Mary Williams of Medford, who's not running for re-election, wanted to eliminate the local tax on a company's personal property and to cut off state aid to communities which is based on the value of computer equipment exempt from property taxes.

Williams' aide Charles Bellin said his boss never expected the bill to go anywhere now but she wanted to get the idea out there.

Barrett, a Democrat who lost twice for governor against Scott Walker, says he wonders if the GOP wants to push the measure through as part of next year's state budget. Walker's office says it has not looked at the proposal.

Barrett tells the Journal Sentinel that bills like Williams' do nothing to lower total taxes and he wants a full debate over having homeowners pick up a growing amount of the tab.

Brutal winter conditions blamed for evergreen discoloration

MADISON -- We're starting to see greener lawns in much of Wisconsin but not greener trees yet.

DNR specialist Todd Lanigan said lots of evergreen trees have turned brown throughout the Badger State while others are dropping brown needles and dead branches.

Lanigan blames the high winds, extreme cold, and heavy snows that were the hallmarks of this past winter.

The DNR has been getting lots of questions from folks about their evergreens -- so many that the agency has put out a statement urging folks to wait before doing anything rash, like overly trimming their trees or cutting them down.

The winter has also affected one of the nation's largest Christmas tree crops.

Cheryl Nicholson of the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association says growers are seeing widespread damage, and more of it than most years. Officials say the recent rains in most of the state will help. Lanigan encourages folks to cut open a bud and if there are signs of green, the tree should grow back.

Political observer predicts continued Republican majority here

MILWAUKEE -- As Wisconsin Republicans went home Sunday from a rousing state convention, at least one political scientist said the GOP should keep full control of the state Legislature after this fall's elections.

UW Milwaukee analyst Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic lawmaker, said the odds are against Democrats in their quest to regain the majority in the Senate.

The GOP is losing at least three veterans, in an upper house that has a slim 18-15 Republican majority. Lee said the Republicans firmed up their chances to win a number of Senate seats in their 2011 redistricting.

Also, he said the November contests in non-presidential election years tend to skew Republican because those elections tend to attract more voters who are wealthier and older.

The Associated Press says most observers expect the Assembly to keep its GOP majority, even though 14 Republican incumbents will either leave politics or seek higher office this fall.

The Assembly has a 60-to-39 GOP majority.

Majority of Wisconsin Republicans favor Walker for president

Almost two of every three of Wisconsin's most active Republicans favor Gov. Scott Walker for their party's presidential nomination in 2016.

That's according to a straw poll by staff from the wispolitics.com web site at the GOP state convention in Milwaukee over the weekend.

Walker received 97 of 315 votes from delegates, alternates, and guests in attendance.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was a distant second with 50 votes. Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2012, was third with 49 votes.

The only other race in the Wis-Politics straw poll was the Sixth U.S. House District Republican primary in August. State Senator Glenn Grothman of West Bend took first with 159 votes. Sheboygan Senator Joe Leibham was second with 85, and Assembly Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville was third with 32.

Among delegates who live in the district, Grothman out-polled Leibham 44-26. Just over one-of-every-four people at the convention took part in the straw poll.

Card game ends in double-shooting; man held in cousin's fatal stabbing

WAUSAU -- A central Wisconsin man was expected to appear in court Monday, after he allegedly shot and wounded two relatives during a card game.

Marathon County investigators are still trying to figure out why the shootings occurred Saturday night in the town of Maine, northeast of Wausau.

Officials said at least three shots were fired into the victims' chests. Two shots hit a male, and one struck a female. Both were taken to the Wausau hospital with serious injuries.

The suspect is a 21-year-old man who remained in jail pending a court appearance.

Meanwhile, a man is under arrest for allegedly stabbing his cousin to death in far southern Wisconsin.

The incident occurred just after 3 a.m., Sunday in Delavan.

Several people were in an apartment when officers found the victim. He was taken to a Janesville hospital where he was pronounced dead.

One other person suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene without being sent to a hospital.

Toddler shoots self with Mom's unsecured handgun

MILWAUKEE -- A three-year-old boy was hospitalized at last word, after shot himself with a handgun in Milwaukee over the weekend.

Police said the youngster was playing outside Saturday afternoon, when he got into his mother's vehicle and grabbed a gun from her glove compartment.

The boy's condition was not immediately disclosed.

Debris-strike by train blamed for 4,000-gallon fuel spill

WATERFORD -- A Canadian National freight train spilled about four-thousand gallons of diesel fuel, when it hit a piece of metal on a railroad line near Waterford.

The mishap occurred about 10 p.m., Sunday on Honey Creek Road, off Highway 20 in the Racine County town of Waterford.

Media reports said nobody was evacuated while crews cleaned things up.

Town fire chief Richard Mueller said about 1,600 gallons were recaptured and the balance soaked into the ground. Officials said there was not a threat to the public.

WPS customers seize rebates to upgrade wood heat systems

WAUSAU -- At least some Wisconsinites have found that it can pay to improve the air quality of their homes and neighborhoods.

The Wisconsin Public Service utility is giving grants of $1,000 to $6,000 to folks who trash their old wood-heating stoves, in favor of more modern equipment.

The utility's Lisa Prunty said about 220 customers in northeast and north central Wisconsin have applied for grants in the first six weeks of the program, totaling around $600,000.

WPS serves about 450,000 customers in the central- and northeastern portions of the state.

Public Service received funding from the American Lung Association to encourage folks to either buy more efficient wood-pellet stoves and outdoor boilers, or repair their old stoves with inserts. Read more about it at http://www.wisconsinpublicservice.com/home/woodstove.aspx.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

Century-old Green Bay Symphony to disband

GREEN BAY --The Green Bay Symphony will be disband after next year, in part because fewer people appreciate orchestral music as a key part of the arts.

he 101-year old group has seen drops in both attendance and donations in recent years.

As a result, the Green Bay Symphony plans to go out with a bang, with a Star-Spangled Celebration on Sept. 13th as the first of five farewell performances.

Executive director Dan Linssen said disbanding was a hard decision but the orchestra cannot keep providing high-quality concerts while not knowing if they can cover their costs every time.

He said the symphony has lost $30,000 to $50,000 in recent years, due to lost sponsorships and drops in ticket revenues.

Linssen calls this an "evolutionary phase in the arts."

He said orchestras must be sensitive about what the next generation appreciates in the arts and clearly, it's not symphony concerts.

Foundry trimming its workforce

BERLIN -- The Grede Foundry in Berlin plans to lay off just over a third of its workforce on July 1st.

Seventy-seven employees learned their fates on Friday, leaving 136 who can stay on.

Grede blames the job cuts on a declining market. The company has 14 foundries throughout the nation, including four in Wisconsin.

The Berlin facility produces sand castings in a variety of flask size, depth, weight, and patterns to meet customers’ molding specifications. Castings are used to produce molds for brackets, engine components, valuves, water works hardware, turbocharger parts and pump bodies, according to the firm's web site. Read more at http://www.grede.com/about/locations-berlin.aspx.

Contaminated chicken salad under recall

Chicken salad that was made in Missouri and sold in Wisconsin is being recalled due to possible listeria contamination.

The USDA said over the weekend that Schnucks Kitchen of O'Fallon Missouri is recalling 130 pounds of curry white-meat chicken salad with walnuts.

Officials said the product was made April 24th, and shipped in three-pound bags to delis in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri.

There was no immediate word of people getting ill from the chicken salad.

Officials said the listeria symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, and fever.

Walker casts line into Balsam for annual Governor’s Fishing Opener

BALSAM LAKE – Gov. Scott Walker traveled to Balsam Lake in Polk County Saturday for the 49th annual Governor’s Fishing Opener.

Each year, the governor kicks off the new fishing season with a local guide who leads them to the best fishing spot on the lake.

“It’s wonderful to get back out on the water and drop a line,” Walker said. “Fishing is a great Wisconsin tradition and offers a big boost for our tourism industry, and I am proud to be here to kick-off the 2014 season. I’d like to thank our private and tribal fishery partners, as well as those at the Department of Natural Resources, who are working hard to greatly increase the number of walleye fingerlings for stocking Wisconsin lakes under our Wisconsin Walleye Initiative. Together, we’re making a great day on the lake even better!”

Balsam is a 1,900-acre lake with a maximum depth of 37 feet. It's home to panfish, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye.

Anglers in Wisconsin catch 88 million fish each year. The state fish is the muskelluge, commonly called the musky, and Wisconsin has recorded more world record musky catches than anywhere else. Wisconsin is home to over 13,000 miles of trout streams and sportfishing has a $2.3 billion annual economic impact on the state.

The press release from Walker's office offered no insight as to whether he caught any fish.

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