Friday State News Briefs: State projects surplus by 2013Wisconsin News
-- Governor Scott Walker’s administration said yesterday that the current state budget is no longer in the red – and the state will have a 154-million-dollar surplus when the budget expires next June.
MADISON - Governor Scott Walker’s administration said yesterday that the current state budget is no longer in the red – and the state will have a 154-million-dollar surplus when the budget expires next June.
Legislative finance co-chair Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said the surplus shows how honest budgeting pays off. But Assembly Minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the timing of the news is quote, “highly suspect” with Walker’s recall election just 25 days away. Barca also said the Legislative Fiscal Bureau probably won’t put out new budget projections until early next year. But the administration said it was using April’s tax collection figures from the Revenue Department. Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler said the final job numbers from last fall were higher than originally reported – and his department revised its income tax revenues accordingly. Also, the state took in $78-million by refinancing debt. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said most of it came from delaying state payments, causing long-term interest payments to rise. Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said $45-million of the new surplus will go into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for future emergencies. Tom Barrett, the Democratic finalist in the Walker recall election, says he would use some of the money to help foreclosure victims. Barrett said he would also wipe out tax hikes for low-income workers hit by a reduction in the earned income tax credit.
An attorney for a Merrill gas station owner disagrees with a state appeals court ruling yesterday that upheld Wisconsin’s minimum markup law for gasoline. But Robert McNamara of the libertarian Institute for Justice stopped short of saying he would appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court. The Fourth District Appellate Court in Madison rejected gas station owner Ray Bhandari’s argument from 2007 that the markup law is unconstitutional. He said it wrongly singles out gas retailers for a requirement to mark up their prices above wholesale. The 1930’s law is designed to keep mom-and-pop gas stations from being priced out of business by large retailers who can afford to charge less. The appellate judges agreed that a plausible reason exists for treating gas stations differently than other businesses. The markup law requires gas outlets to charge six-percent more than what they paid, or nine-point-one-eight percent more than the local wholesale price – whichever is higher. A federal judge struck down the law in 2008, but an appellate court restored it a year-and-a-half later.
A Washington County woman and her boyfriend each face eight new criminal charges for allowing the woman’s toddler to die from a massive infection, and running a drug house. 25-year-old Leann Leszynski and 24-year-old Justin Streicher appeared in court yesterday on counts child neglect and drug charges that include possessing cocaine, heroin, and Oxycodone. Prosecutors said Leszynski allowed her three-year-old daughter Haley to die from a strepto-coccus infection throughout her body last month, because she was afraid she’d be charged with child abuse. And officials said her boyfriend ignored symptoms in the girl that kept getting worse. An autopsy showed that the infection spread from a cut in Haley’s finger. Prosecutors also said the two sold numerous drugs from their apartment. A judge increased Streicher’s and Leszynski’s bonds to 100-thousand-dollars from earlier amounts of 10-thousand. And both defendants are due back in court June 20th.
A Washington County woman and her boyfriend each face eight new criminal charges for allowing the woman’s toddler to die from a massive infection, and running a drug house. 25-year-old Leann Leszynski and 24-year-old Justin Streicher appeared in court yesterday on counts child neglect and drug charges that include possessing cocaine, heroin, and Oxycodone. Prosecutors said Leszynski allowed her three-year-old daughter Haley to die from a strepto-coccus infection throughout her body last month, because she was afraid she’d be charged with child abuse. And officials said her boyfriend ignored symptoms in the girl that kept getting worse. An autopsy showed that the infection spread from a cut in Haley’s finger. Prosecutors also said the two sold numerous drugs from their apartment. A judge increased Streicher’s and Leszynski’s bonds to $100,000 from earlier amounts of $10,000. And both defendants are due back in court June 20th.
A 22-year-old man will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing an Oshkosh woman to steal her prescription painkillers. Donald Martin was sentenced yesterday to a life term with no chance for a supervised release. Prosecutors said he pounded 22-year-old Emily Wayman with a hammer, smothered her, and slit her throat. He was trying to steal her Oxycontin. It happened in April of 2010 while his fiancée, Samantha Rew, looked on. Martin was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery. The 20-year-old Rew was sentenced last fall to 15 years in prison, after pleading no contest to felony murder and armed burglary.
The U.S. Postal Service is considering a plan to reduce hours at 385 rural post offices in Wisconsin over the next two years. It’s part of a national proposal to save about a half-billion dollars a year. And it comes after the Postal Service scaled back its previous plans to close numerous post offices and distribution centers, amid pressure from Congress. The postal agency reported a quarterly loss of three-point-two billion dollars yesterday – and it blamed Congress for blocking its other cost-cutting measures. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said his department is pursuing new revenue streams and cutting those costs it can control. He says they’re not enough to return the Postal Service to profitability – and they’ll need Congress’s help to adopt broader cost-cutting measures, to try and turn a profit by 2015. The Senate voted last month to give the agency $11-billion, with the ability to reduce its health care costs in exchanging for a two-year delay in scrapping Saturday mail service.
A judge refused yesterday to drop charges against a Dane County pastor found guilty of conspiring to commit child abuse. 55-year-old Philip Caminiti was convicted in March on eight conspiracy charges, for telling parishioners at the Aleitheia Bible Church in Black Earth to punish kids by hitting them with wooden dowels on their bare buttocks. He said it teaches children how to behave properly, and it’s in line with the church’s interpretation of the Bible. Caminiti asked Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi to drop the convictions, saying it deprived him of his rights to religious freedom. But the judge said Caminiti failed to slow that the state’s child abuse laws put a burden on his sincere religious beliefs. Caminiti is scheduled to be sentenced on May 25th.
A national conference will be held in Madison today-and-tomorrow on openness in government – and the freedom to report on it. The FOI Summit will focus on growing concerns about the ability to obtain open records, plus other freedom-of-information issues. Among other things, there will be a panel discussion on a trend by some state-and-federal agencies to resist openness. Those who fight for transparent government will lead the discussion. The summit will also look into concerns involving anonymous groups taking out political ads, as allowed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision a couple years ago. The keynote speaker will be former USA Today editor Gene Policinski, who’s now with the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.
For the 10th month in a row, home sales rose in April in Metro Milwaukee. The Metro MLS Service said over 15-hundred existing homes were sold last month in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties. That’s up 44-percent from the same month a year ago. Mike Ruzicka of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors said April is normally the first busy month for home sales after the winter. But this year, he said real estate agents have been active much earlier than usual due to good weather, low interest rates, and rising consumer confidence.
A Fond du Lac County hobby farmer faces a possible animal neglect charge, after authorities found several dozen starving animals on his property. Sheriff’s deputies said a calf wandered onto a road in the town of Friendship on Wednesday night – and that led officers to a place called “Howlin’ Winds Siberians.” A deputy reported that he saw dead goats on the farm, and dozens of troubled animals both outside, and in barns-and-sheds. Social Services’ officials took a 10-year-old boy into custody. The next day, workers removed 65 dogs and 50 goats from the property. Two of the dogs were euthanized. The farm also had 10 chickens, plus geese, peacocks, and a horse. The Fond du Lac Reporter said Howlin’ Winds Siberians has been breeding and showing champion Siberian Huskies since 1985. Sheriff’s officials said the main owner would not be arrested, but animal neglect charges have been referred to prosecutors.
Hitting the trails on all-terrain vehicles is a favorite summer-time activity in Wisconsin. But a Madison hospital has seen a large increase in youngsters getting hurt on ATV’s – and they caution parents about the risks. Since the beginning of March, seven youngsters have been taken to the American Family Children’s Hospital at UW-Madison, after riding or driving ATV’s. One of those patients, a nine-year-old Lafayette County boy, died from his injuries. The hospital is on pace to surpass last year’s total of 13 young people under 16 who were hurt in ATV crashes. Pediatric emergency medicine director Joshua Ross says adults must never forget that ATV’s are motorized vehicles that are hard to operate safely – and they need special training and safety equipment to drive or ride them. State law does not require training or special equipment when kids are riding ATV’s on family farms. But on the trails, state law requires those 12-and-older to take a safety training course before riding ATV’s by themselves. Those under 12 can operate vehicles with smaller engines under a parent’s supervision.