MADISON - University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross asked Gov. Tony Evers and legislative leaders Wednesday to call a special session of the Legislature to allow for UW to borrow money through a line of credit and possibly start classes earlier to help deal with "unprecedented financial and planning challenges" due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cross made the request for a special session in a letter sent to Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Vos would discuss the request with Republicans who control the Assembly. Evers and Fitzgerald did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The Legislature has adjourned its regular session for the year. Lawmakers did return in April to pass a bill in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and Evers said then that more work was to be done. The Legislature is widely expected to have to meet sometime this year to make budget cuts to deal with severe drop offs in state tax revenues due to the pandemic.
How severe the state budget shortfall will be is unknown. Between July 2019 and April, shortly after most nonessential businesses in the state were closed in reaction to the virus, tax collections were down $313 million compared to the same time period the year before. Even though businesses have slowly began to reopen, Evers has projected a $2 billion loss over the current budget that runs through June 2021.
The university system, like state government as a whole, is facing daunting budget challenges. It has already cut $40 million in a first wave of reductions ordered by Evers for the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. But more are coming. The flagship Madison campus alone is preparing for a loss of at least $120 million in revenue, with an unknown state-ordered cut on top of that.
Cross noted that campuses have already furloughed and laid off employees and reduced costs. In order to have more flexibility, Cross asked for three general law changes:
Grant a one-time exemption to allow for the school year to start earlier than Sept. 1, the earliest date allowed under state law. Cross noted that given the expectation of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the fall, many colleges want to start classes earlier and use an expedited scheduled to complete the fall semester by Thanksgiving.
Give the university the ability to take out a line of credit to allow it to borrow money to get through the budget crisis posed by the pandemic. Cross noted that other universities are taking this step. Any debt created would be the responsibility of the university to pay back, not the state, Cross said.
Relieve UW of many reporting requirements to free up resources, a move Cross said would "enhance the ability of our universities to be open in the broadest way possible this fall."
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - President Donald Trump will begin his Independence Day weekend on Friday with a patriotic display of fireworks at Mount Rushmore, an event expected to draw thousands where masks and social distancing aren't required as coronavirus cases spike across the country.
Trump is expected to speak at the event, which has issued 7,500 tickets to watch fireworks that he says will be a "display like few people have seen."
CRANDON - The Forest County Humane Society works around the clock to help animals find forever homes. But taking care of those animals during their stay doesn't just take a lot of time; it takes a lot of money, too.
The shelter got a helping hand, thanks to a $35,000 grant from the ASPCA. It's part of an initiative to help brick-and-mortar shelters improve their animals' quality of life.
Shelter director Angie Schaefer says that money paid for 20 new cat-condos, fencing for two new dog yards, and several other much-needed supplies.
"We're small, we're in a small community, so to raise that kind of money to get these items would have been quite a task. For them to step in and do that for us is amazing," said Schaefer.
Schaefer said the extra yards will allow dogs to spend more time outside and socialize with each other.
If you're interested in volunteering or donating to the humane society, visit its website for more information.
- The U.S. headed into the Fourth of July weekend with many parades and fireworks displays canceled, beaches and bars closed, and health authorities warning that this will be a crucial test of Americans' self-control that could determine the trajectory of the surging coronavirus outbreak.
With confirmed cases climbing in 40 states, governors and local officials have ordered the wearing of masks in public, and families were urged to celebrate their independence at home. Even then, they were told to keep their backyard cookouts small.
NORTHWOODS - Wisconsin's lakes have a lot to offer their visitors. But some, like aquatic invasive species, are unwelcome due to the damage they can cause to native ecosystems.
There's a growing effort to prevent, contain, and control the spread of these aquatic invasive species, especially this holiday weekend. As part of the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program, volunteers will be stationed across popular boat landings, doing inspections and educating boaters on how to properly clean their boats.
"Any type of holiday weekend, especially the fourth of July when there's a lot more boat traffic, there's an emphasis on getting more awareness out there," said DNR recreation warden Justin Bender.
Aside from volunteers, most boat landings also have information posted on aquatic invasive species and the laws regarding boat cleaning. Citations for not properly cleaning your boats typically run $200-300.
MADISON, WI - Cigarette smoking rates have dropped since Wisconsin's Smoke-Free Indoor Air Law went into effect 10 years ago.
In 2008, before the law passed, 20% of Wisconsin adults smoked cigarettes. By 2018, the rate had dropped to 16%. High school youth cigarette smoking rates dropped from nearly 21% in 2008 to nearly 5% in 2018.
State cigarette taxes were also increased during this time period and contribute to this reduction.
"Wisconsin is breathing easier today thanks to this law, but we know there are many people in our state who still smoke," said DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm. "We urge smokers to take advantage of the programs available to help them to quit, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people who smoke are believed to be more susceptible to the virus, and can become severely ill with it."
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