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State Government and Political Roundup: The future of the Circus World Museum debated during a budget hearing

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LAKE DELTON - The future of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo generated a debate yesterday among those testifying at a legislative hearing on the proposed state budget.

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The Joint Finance Committee heard comments in Lake Delton about Governor Scott Walker's two-year budget - which would put the State Historical Society in charge of the circus museum. The state now owns it, but a private group of donors operates it. According to WISC-TV in Madison, one donor accused museum directors of mismanagement during the budget hearing. But museum director Steve Freese said the remark was mis-information from those who support the Historical Society's takeover - and he said the current public-private set-up is best. The TV station said the museum and the Historical Society have had an ongoing dispute over debt. State Assembly Democrat Fred Clark of Baraboo has asked for a state audit of the museum's finances, and the relationship between the museum and the Historical Society. Before the hearing, jugglers entertained people and wore T-shirts reading, "Save the Circus." An antique circus wagon was parked outside while it rained - and a critic told the committee quote, "None of us would transport our prized car or antique in an open trailer in this kind of weather." Walker told WISC afterward that his only goal was to keep the Circus World Museum viable and open to visitors.

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Republican U.S. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville says President Obama's new federal budget plan shows that the two parties are quote, "operating from different planets." Ryan said he did like some of the ideas the Democratic White House put forward yesterday - including a means-test for Medicare benefits, and a new formula which would slow the increases in Social Security benefits. Ryan says he'd like to interpret it as an effort to get an agreement on the budget this year. Still, Wisconsin's highest-ranking House member calls the Obama package a "status quo" budget that spends too much, and does not embrace the entitlement reforms that majority House Republicans voted for. Many Democrats also criticized the Social Security benefit change. Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison said it would result in lower benefits for those just getting by. La Crosse House Democrat Ron Kind praised the Obama budget for making more investments in job training, education, and more high-speed Internet coverage. But Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner says the Obama package never balances - and he says it's quote, "irresponsible and not what the American people are looking for."

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President Obama's federal budget package would spend another $300-million to clean up the Great Lakes. The Restoration Initiative was a product of the second Bush presidency - but nothing was budgeted until Barack Obama took over, and allocated almost one-and-a-half billion dollars over the last four years. Since then, the project has given over 15-hundred grants to state-and-local governments, scientists, and non-profit groups to clean up Great Lakes shorelines in Wisconsin and seven other states. The clean-ups have improved sewage emissions, battled invasive species, reduced algae, restored wildlife habitat, and more. Chad Lord of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition says the new budget proposal keeps the restoration on track. This year's budget called for $300-million in clean-ups - but the total might drop under the automatic federal spending cuts which took effect March first. The EPA has not said how much funding might be cut.

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