Afternoon State News Briefs: Walker budget has a $300 million plus tax cut
MADISON - Governor Scott Walker said today that an estimated 342-million-dollar surplus in the current state budget should be given back to the taxpayers. Walker and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said they would approve an income tax cut as part of the next state budget to be approved by the end of June.
Walker said on Mike Gousha's statewide TV show that a middle class family can expect a tax cut of around $200-dollars. Vos said the total tax cut would be at least $300-to-350-million, spread over the two-year budget period. And the speaker said quote, “I hope that’s a low end of the number.” Vos said the first part of the income tax reduction would begin in 2013, and folks would see it on the state tax returns they file in just over a year from now. Vos said he did not expect any problems balancing the current budget by returning the surplus to taxpayers. He said the state can still afford to provide more money to public schools, and take care of low-income and elderly people in Medicaid health programs. But Democrats have said any tax cut should be paid for with either new revenues or spending cuts – and low-income people who lost part-or-all of their earned income tax credit two years ago should be the first to get any surplus.
It’s been a lot colder than this in Wisconsin – but this week’s cold snap was still enough to kill two people, break water mains, and freeze water pipes. The worst of the cold is over, but forecasters say it will still get down to 13-below in the north tonight, while the south hovers around zero. It’ll be a few degrees warmer tomorrow night – and then temperatures should hold about steady through the weekend. In the meantime, folks are dealing with the weather as best they can – with sometimes disastrous results. In southern Wisconsin, a dairy barn and a mobile home were destroyed when people started fires when trying to thaw out frozen pipes. Madison has had at least four water mains broken. Authorities in Milwaukee have been routing up homeless people are urging them to go to shelters – and Milwaukee’s United Way has provided $50,000 for two shelters to open overflow facilities. Meanwhile, authorities say two deaths are attributed to the cold. A 38-year-old man died early yesterday near his Green Bay home when residents said he was under-dressed in the sub-zero cold. And a 77-year-old northern Illinois woman died in her car Saturday night in Lafayette County, as temperatures were falling but before the sub-zero readings hit.
A watchdog group has been trying for eight years to get a Wisconsin legislator to sponsor a one-year waiting period for lobbying by former lawmakers after they leave office. Common Cause says it will try again in the new session – and group director Jay Heck says the need is bigger than ever. That’s because three former speakers have registered as lobbyists for groups that favor tax-funded vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools. Scott Jensen’s been at that for some time. And Jeff Fitzgerald – who left the Assembly in early January – registered as a lobbyist just eight days later, and is representing a school voucher support group among others. Former Speaker John Gard is also representing the same group as Fitzgerald. Heck says it’s amazing that three former Assembly leaders are now lobbying their ex-colleagues on school vouchers. Heck is especially bothered by Fitzgerald getting ahead of constituents in bending their lawmakers’ ears. Heck calls it a “problem that feeds cynicism to citizens, and makes them feel as if legislators are using public service as a stepping stone.” Fitzgerald has not commented. But his former Assembly aide Jim Bender – who’s now the head of School Choice Wisconsin – defended his former boss’s move. He said it takes a “stiff spine” to change the status quo in education. And he said Gard and Fitzgerald are two strong supporters on the issue.
The Walworth County Sheriff’s Department says Alfredo Villarreal was trying to escape while making a hospital visit when he was shot to death. The 18 year old inmate from Janesville was undergoing tests for an unspecified medical issue when he attacked a deputy last night at about 7 p.m. He reportedly punched and kicked the deputy in the face several times and when the deputy tried to use a stun gun on Villarreal, it failed to stop him. The deputy says Villarreal tried to break a window by using a chair and when that didn’t work, he hit the deputy over the head with the chair. That’s when the deputy shot him. Villarreal died at the scene. The investigation has been turned over to the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department to avoid a conflict of interest.
A leaking sprinkler in the basement of Milwaukee’s City Hall has left about three to four inches of water standing. That water damaged some of Milwaukee’s information technology mechanical systems. An evacuation alarm was set off when the sprinkler head froze at about 11 a.m. today. However, no evacuation was necessary. City officials say the damaged area is in the basement under the south end of the historic downtown building. City Hall computers lost Internet access, but the total amount of damage is still being assessed. The problem briefly closed the tunnel connecting City Hall with the Zeidler Municipal Building and a second city building at 809 North Broadway.
A judge said a former Walker aide showed no regret, remorse, repentance, or even shame for being caught embezzling $21,000. Those were the words of Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher, as he sent Tim Russell to two years in prison today for stealing money that was intended for Wisconsin veterans. The 49-year-old Russell served as Governor Scott Walker’s chief-of-staff when Walker was the Milwaukee County executive. Russell apologized for taking money from a group that put on Walker’s annual fund-raising picnic for veterans at the County Zoo. Judge Hansher said he found Russell’s apology insincere. Russell’s lawyer tried to get his client to escape prison time. The defense wanted three years of probation, saying Russell did not have a criminal record until now. He pleaded guilty in November to an embezzlement charge, and three other counts were dropped in a plea bargain. Russell was the fifth Walker aide or associate to be convicted in a long-running John Doe probe into Walker’s former Milwaukee County assistants.
A man accused of robbing 17 banks in Wisconsin and six other states while wearing distinctive Ray-Ban sunglasses is in jail in Chicago. Jeremy Evans is charged with one count of bank robbery, so far at least. Evans was called the “Ray-Bandit” because of the shades worn during his alleged hold-ups. The FBI said he got away with over 75-thousand-dollars in robbing banks in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Virginia, and California. He was arrested last week in a car that was said to be used during a bank robbery just moments before, in the Chicago suburb of Elgin. Evans is being jailed without bond for now. Authorities said the robbery spree began last July 30th at the Community State Bank at Salem in Kenosha County – and his victims also included the First National Bank-and-Trust in Janesville.
A man who died outside his Green Bay home in sub-zero temperatures was identified today as 38-year-old Brian Hicks. Police are still trying to determine what led to his death – but investigators have ruled out foul play and trauma. Preliminary autopsy results showed that alcohol might have been a factor, but complete test results won’t be known for a couple weeks. Authorities said his vehicle was found at an east side Green Bay tavern – and his neighbors told WLUK-TV they saw Hicks’ body without a coat and barefoot. A number of Wisconsin schools were closed today, while others started classes a couple hours late due to the bitter cold. Overnight lows fell to 23-below at Hayward, and 21-below at Balsam Lake in Polk County. The wind chill factor hit minus-40 at Rhinelander. It was still below zero at noon in about the northern half of Wisconsin. Rice Lake was the cold spot at minus-eight, and Antigo had the coldest noon-time wind chill at minus-24. In Madison, a coalition of religious groups plans to house about 20 people tonight who’ve been camping at an “Occupy Madison” site at Token Creek Park. Observers say it’s a small contingent of the Occupy group that was evicted last year from near the State Capitol. The “Shelter from the Storm” Ministries are keeping those people warm. Tonight is not supposed to be as cold – but the far north will still get down to 15-below. A slight warm-up is predicted for tomorrow, with highs in the single-digits and teens.
About 20 Wisconsin lawmakers met with all seven State Supreme Court justices this morning – and the issue of student loan debt arose. State Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said the amount of debt that students graduate with is scandalous. And he suggested looking at less expensive ways to get licensed to practice law. One plus for Wisconsin’s law graduates is that they don’t have to take the State Bar exam in order to get licensed. Wisconsin is the only state which grants that privilege – and justices spoke highly of the practice, which has been in place since 1870. Today’s Supreme Court meeting with lawmakers was a traditional function at the beginning of each two-year session.
More than two dozen Catholic elementary schools in southeast Wisconsin will get a thorough review. The Milwaukee Archdiocese said today it would join consultants from the University of Notre Dame in reviewing 26 urban schools. The schools will be graded on the strength of their academic programs, their governance and finance structures, and their identities with the Catholic faith. The church says the reviews will provide an objective diagnosis of each school – but the archdiocese did not name the schools in their announcement.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. And while President Obama made abortion rights a big part of his re-election campaign, pro-lifers have turned to state capitals like Madison, where supportive Republicans have clamped down on the procedure. The Guttmacher Institute said 19 states approved 43 measures last year to restrict access to abortion services. That’s the second-highest number on record – but it was a sharp decrease from 2011, when 92 abortion restrictions were enacted. Guttmacher said six states accounted for more than half the 43 restrictions a year ago – Wisconsin, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Arizona led the way with seven abortion restrictions, and Wisconsin and the other states made at least three changes. Among other things, the Badger State was among four that banned abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges under the federal health care act. And Wisconsin joined two others in 2012 in banning teleconferences for administering the drugs that induce abortions. In 2011, Wisconsin and six other states were the first to disqualify family planning providers from getting state funds for at least some abortions. Wisconsin’s restrictions came at a time when abortions were going down in the state. They dropped by seven-percent in 2011 to 72-hundred-50. That was the seventh such decline in the last eight years. Still, Wisconsin Right-to-Life says over 540,000 unborn babies died in abortions since the Roe-Versus-Wade Supreme Court ruling came down in 1973.
State officials say a recent ruling by a Madison judge will both help and hurt their efforts to crack down on loud protests in the State Capitol. Police have been trying to get protestors to get permits for their activities at the Capitol – but the Solidarity Singers have refused to go along. Dane County Circuit Judge Circuit Judge Julie Genovese says the rule that requires state permits only applies to those who “conduct” things rallies and protests. And because Jason Huberty was merely singing with the group, the judge said the rule didn’t apply to him – and she dropped his final citations. Stephanie Marquis of the state Administration Department says the judge’s decision may result in some citations being dismissed while quote, “other cases are strengthened.” Capitol Police have issued around 120 citations for protest activities without permits. The Madison Capital Times says those who’ve actually conducted the daily sing-alongs by the Solidarity Singers may be in the biggest trouble. And Brandon Barwick could be the one hurt the most. He faces 21 citations, plus two others not related to his conducting. The potential fines run up to $4,600 – with extra penalties possible. A trial on five of Barwick’s citations is set for February 27th.
Police in Muskego say alcohol might have caused a one-car crash that killed a recent high school graduate. An investigation continues into the mishap, which occurred early last Saturday. Muskego Police said 18-year-old Kayla Corona lost control of her auto, and it hit a utility pole. She died a short time later at a Milwaukee hospital. Corona graduated from Muskego High School last spring.
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