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More snow expected in some areas; UW reserves could hit $1.2 billion; Search goes on for kayakers missing in Eau Claire; more state news

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Forecasters now say up to 18-inches of snow could fall by tonight in parts of northwest Wisconsin.

Ellsworth already had 14 inches by early this morning, close to 11-inches fell near Hayward and nine inches at River Falls. Ashland had almost eight inches of snow this morning after it was 82-degrees in that city on Tuesday.

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Strong northerly winds prevented Minnesota's Twin Cities from getting the heavy snows it expected. Those snows moved to the east instead into much of northwest Wisconsin.

The National Weather Service now says the heaviest snows will end up in parts of Ashland, Bayfield, Washburn and Sawyer counties, and places to the south could get more than expected.

The weather might have played a role in a traffic death. The State Patrol said two semi-trucks collided around 1 a.m. while heading east on I-94 near Menomonie. One of the drivers was killed, and the other was taken to a hospital. The crash remains under investigation.

The snow was expected to continue all day in northwest Wisconsin with freezing rain possible in areas with lighter snow. Rain showers are in today's forecast for the rest of the state.

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UW reserves could hit $1.2 billion

The University of Wisconsin's total reserves could grow to $1.2 billion by the end of the state's fiscal year on June 30, according to what UW-System President Kevin Reilly and two members of the Board of Regents told lawmakers Wednesday.

They said the total reserves could rise by $150 million for the current year.

Legislators from both parties were incensed a week ago after learning that various UW accounts had over $1 billion sitting in them - including $648 million in unrestricted reserves. That's after students have been paying 5.5% more for tuition each year, and Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposed a $181 million increase in tax funds for the UW.

Walker has since said he wants a smaller increase but has not said how much. Lawmakers say tuition should be frozen for the coming year, and Assembly Republican Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield says the tax subsidies should also be put on hold.

Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said the reserves are proof that the UW will ask for more revenue whether it needs it or not. Senate President Mike Ellis said he thought the university was almost broke until now.

UW Regent Michael Falbo said the first goal of the excess funds should be to hold down tuition for students. He said there was not much talk about it previously because the reserves had just recently grown dramatically.

UW administrators say the reserves demonstrate prudent financial management.

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Search goes on for kayakers missing in Eau Claire

A search will continue today - weather permitting - for two men who apparently disappeared after their canoe capsized on a choppy Chippewa River in Eau Claire.

Rescuers spent just two hours on the water yesterday, hampered by high and rushing waters.

Also, authorities don't exactly know who they're looking for. Eau Claire police say they don't have any reports of missing persons. They've been checking license plates of vehicles at local boat landings, and that's been of no help.

Police are also asking UW-Eau Claire sources if they know who might have gone canoeing without coming back.

A kayaker saw two men cling to their capsized canoe on Tuesday, but when he threw a rope to them, the kayak tipped over and the canoe disappeared.

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Fishing season opens with frozen lakes

Gov. Scott Walker might have to wear a snowmobile suit to go fishing this weekend.

The sport fishing season begins Saturday on Wisconsin's inland waterways. The Governor's Fishing Opener will take place on Lake Namakagon near Cable - close to where over 14 inches of snow fell last night and this morning in Sawyer County.

But it's not just the new storm that's causing potential problems for anglers. It's been cold and snowy for most of 2013, including the month and a half in which spring was supposed to be sprung.

Officials say many lakes in northwest Wisconsin are still frozen. Lake Namakagon, where the governor will be, was just starting to open up yesterday along its north shore.

James Bolen of the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce joked that he asked a Coast Guard cutter from Duluth to break up the ice. But seriously, he said, the Namakagon River is open, and guides will paddle guests to that fishing spot.

In neighboring Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources has made some lake areas off-limits to fishing. That's because walleye are spawning later than normal, and officials say they need to be protected.

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Menomonie junior's prom date is Miss Minnesota

A Menomonie High School junior with Down's syndrome will take a dream date to his prom this weekend - Minnesota's entry in the Miss USA Pageant.

Charlie Gainey, 18, was nominated to the prom court. A friend set him up with Danielle Hooper, 20 who's from the suburban Twin Cities and attends UW-Stout as a junior in retail merchandising.

The friend is Julie Schultz. She has a child who swims with Gainey on a Special Olympics team, and she works with Hooper in Stout's financial aid office.

Hooper says she has a young cousin with Down's syndrome and knowing Charlie's story encouraged her to accept the date. She won her state pageant last fall and will represent Minnesota in the Miss USA pageant June 16.

Gainey said it doesn't matter whether or not he's elected prom king. He said he's just happy to be on the court and to spend time with Hooper.

They'll have dinner in Menomonie before taking part in the prom's grand march and dance on Saturday night. He'll wear a tuxedo from his grandfather. She plans to shop for a new dress.

Hooper said she thought about wearing the dress she wore in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, but it would be "too much for prom."

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New computer system expected to expedite veterans' claims

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said a new computer system will speed up the processing of claims for veterans compensation and pension benefits.

Shinseki said the Milwaukee VA office is among 36 using the new computers, which replace an old paper-based system. He says the other 20 regional offices will go online by the end of the year.

Officials have dealt for years with backlogs of claims for veterans' benefits. Over 880,000 claims are pending throughout the country and three-fourths of those cases involving delays of at least 125 days.

The Milwaukee VA office has 5,900 benefit claims pending, and almost 2,300 are at least 125 days old.

Shinseki said those delays have never been acceptable, and Wisconsinites are still waiting too long to get the benefits they deserve. He set a deadline of 2015 to get rid of the backlog - which is compounded by the length of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and expansions of those qualifying for benefits.

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After six days, searchers still looking for woman

A search continues for a Merrill area woman missing for six days.

Yesterday, state and local law enforcement officers and rescue divers were looking for Anita Bucki, 48, of the town of Corning.

Sheriff's deputies said her husband woke up early last Friday to discover that Anita was gone. He said all of her personal items were left at home, including her purse and cellphone.

The State Crime Lab had a unit on the scene, but officials were not saying that a crime may have been involved. Lincoln County deputies still considered it a missing persons case.

Anita Bucki is originally from Rapid City, S.D. The Wausau Daily Herald said the Buckis have owned their present home for 14 years, and neither of them have had any legal actions against them.

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Auditor shows development corporation's failings

State lawmakers from both parties say the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has no more room for error, after a condemning report was issued yesterday by non-partisan state auditors.

The report shows that the state's two-year-old job creation agency did not adopt policies required by law, gave job creation grants to companies that were not eligible, did not follow up to see if the required jobs were being created, and hired two firms with conflicts of interest.

The Legislature's Joint Audit Committee will hold a hearing on the report a week from today.

WEDC Director Reed Hall said the audit's findings were similar to other recent reports, and he says they're working to fix the problems.

But lawmakers say that doesn't put the agency off the hook. Republican audit committee Co-Chair Rob Cowles said there's no excuse for not following state laws and not being accountable to taxpayers.

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca, a WEDC board member, said another audit should be done in a year to see if the agency improves, and if it doesn't, it should be scrapped and the old commerce department should be brought back.

Development corporation officials said they tried to report properly on the jobs being created, but they were hampered by old accounting and computer systems.

Hall also said the agency had incomplete policies from the start, and it didn't help that many old commerce employees had left, leaving the new agency with little institutional memory.

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