WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Another tax cut could be in the works
Wisconsin homeowners would get their property-and-income taxes cut by an average of 150-dollars a year, under a plan Governor Scott Walker will spell out tonight. Walker told Milwaukee and Madison newspaper reporters yesterday that he'll devote just over half of the projected budget surplus -- or 504-million dollars -- to tax relief. The Republican Walker will give more details in his annual State-of-the-State address this evening. The property tax cut would be 101-dollars a year on a home assessed at 151-thousand dollars. The income tax cut would average 44-to-58-dollars per filer. Walker also wants to end the practice of withholding too much in taxes. It would give workers more money to spend now, but smaller refunds or higher tax obligations in the spring. The governor also said he would add just over 100-million dollars to the state's rainy day fund for emergencies. His proposal would add about 100-million dollars to the projected 725-million dollar deficit in the next budget. That goes against desires by Democrats and some Senate Republicans to scale down the deficit. Walker and Assembly Republicans don't agree that the structural deficit for 2015 will be a problem. They believe that cutting taxes now would create enough economic growth to cover the shortfall. G-O-P Senate President Mike Ellis said he wants to cut taxes without jeopardizing the state's long-term fiscal health. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Republicans in his caucus are quote, "united" in having the surplus go to tax relief -- and he does not Walker's proposal to go any lower.
New wind-chill advisories will take effect from late today through tomorrow, as another blast of arctic air moves into Wisconsin. Light snow fell in much of the state overnight, as another low pressure system zips through the Upper Great Lakes. Seven o'clock temperatures were close to the zero-mark statewide, with wind-chills as low as the minus-teens. More light snow is possible throughout the day, and lake effect snow advisories have been posted along Lake Superior. The Gogebic Range in Iron and Ashland counties could get over seven-inches of new snow from this afternoon into tomorrow. Superior expects 3-to-5 inches. Most of the state could get wind-chills as low as 35-below by early tomorrow. The National Weather Service wind-chill advisories cover all but about the northeast quarter of Wisconsin. Tonight's lows will range from zero to 21-below. A slight warm-up is predicted for Friday until another burst of snow and cold air is due in for the weekend.
More people could make tax-free donations to the state's college savings program, under a bill that's up for a vote in the Wisconsin Senate today. Ed-Vest currently allows parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles to donate to a child's college fund. The new bill would let anyone donate to a particular child's account, and get the tax benefits for doing so. Ed-Vest is getting more popular. The number of student accounts rose by one-point-six percent in the last fiscal year to almost a quarter-million. The total amount of money into those accounts jumped by 14-percent last year, to three-point-three billion. Republicans sponsored the bill to expand Ed-Vest contribution eligibility. If it's approved, it would go to the Assembly.
Employers and college officials would not be able to snoop into their people's private Facebook accounts, under a bill endorsed by the Wisconsin Assembly. On a voice vote yesterday, the lower house approved a measure endorsed unanimously by the Senate last fall. The Assembly did change it, to allow employers to ask their subordinates to list them as "friends" on social media sites like Facebook. The Senate must ratify the change before the bill can go to Governor Scott Walker, who has said he'll sign it. Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay said one of his constituents had a potential employer ask for a password to the person's private account. Bies said the bill ensures that quote, "People can keep their private stuff private." The bill's main sponsor, Assembly Democrat Melissa Sargent of Madison, warns that bill quote, "cannot protect you from yourself." Employers can still snoop on workers' company-owned computers -- and the boss can still investigate when an employee is suspected of keeping proprietary business materials in their personal e-mail and social media. Also yesterday, the Assembly unanimously agreed to eliminate the state's do-not-call list for telemarketers, and transfer the names to the federal no-call list. The bill now goes to Walker. Supporters say it would save money, and give state consumer officials more time to investigate violations of the no-call law.
The American Lung Association gave Wisconsin the same grades as a year ago for its efforts to cut smoking -- "F" for state spending on tobacco prevention, another "F" for its stop-smoking programs, "A" for Wisconsin's public indoor smoking ban, and "B" for its high cigarette tax. A year ago, the Lung Association scolded the state for spending only 11-and-a-half percent of what the federal government recommends for smoking prevention. In today's report, the Lung Association said it was grateful that majority Republicans didn't cut prevention and cessation programs any further. The group noted that smoking by Wisconsin teens continues to go down -- although one-in-every-five adults are still puffing away, paying a state cigarette tax that's among the highest in the nation at 2.52-a-pack. The Lung Association said it failed to get Wisconsin lawmakers to raise taxes on other tobacco products, including candy-flavored cigarettes. The group says it will fight a proposed bill this spring to to exempt electronic cigarettes from the state's workplace smoking ban.
The new federal budget restores funding for air traffic controllers at Wittman Airport in Oshkosh -- but not for the E-A-A's annual Air-Venture show. The Wheeler News Service incorrectly reported yesterday that the Federal Aviation Administration restored 447-thousand dollars that was part of last year's automatic sequester spending cuts. The E-A-A's Dick Knapinski (nuh-pin'-skee) said late yesterday that the cut remains in effect -- although Wittman Airport did get back funding for its tower operations for the rest of the fiscal year. The government normally provides separate controllers for the Air-Venture show, to handle the 10-thousand planes that fly in-and-out of Oshkosh that week. Last year, the E-A-A paid the cost under protest, and went to court to challenge it. Knapinski said a federal appeals court has yet to decide the case -- and for now, the government's fee for controllers remains in place for this year's show, to be held July 28th through August 4th.
For the first time in five years, people can walk right up to the sea caves at the Apostle Islands. Wisconsin Public Radio says the ice on Lake Superior is solid enough to walk toward the tall-and-deep sea caves -- but you might feel the ice moving a bit. The caves which are on the Wisconsin mainland are located about 18 miles west of Bayfield. The National Park Service says they now appear to be a quote, "fairyland of needle-like icicles." Superintendent Bob Krumanaker of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore says there are gorgeous rock formations covered by icy stalagmites and stalactites. If you crawl under them, he says the ice appears to be a glass floor -- and you can see the bottom of the lake through it.