Friday State News Briefs: Mining bill could come to vote in Assembly on March 6Wisconsin News
-- The Wisconsin state Assembly could send the controversial mining incentive package to the governor in about a week-and-a-half. Republican Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says his leadership is aiming for a vote on March 6.
MADISON - The Wisconsin state Assembly could send the controversial mining incentive package to the governor in about a week-and-a-half. Republican Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says his leadership is aiming for a vote on March 6.
The bill is designed to make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The Joint Finance Committee is expected to endorse the package on Monday, and a vote in the Senate is possible on Wednesday of next week. Majority Republicans say the bill would provide jobs to a region that badly needs them. Democrats say it would hurt the environment in the north, take away the public’s ability to challenge the DNR’s mining decisions, and let Gogebic Taconite escape $170-million dollars a year in mining fees which are now required by state law for a host of environmental programs. Republicans say the fees don’t make sense in Gogebic’s case, because they apply to waste rock that would cover the pit when the mine closes. Democrats are livid after learning that Gogebic Taconite would get out of paying the fees for environmental protection programs.
Under current law, mining companies must pay just over seven-dollars for each ton of waste rock they produce – and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the GOP package would slash that fee to less than three-cents a ton. The revenue is used for local recycling programs, cleaning up industrial land, and bonding for other environmental clean-ups. Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst says Gogebic Taconite would use the waste rock to fill the pit after it closes its proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Therefore, Tiffany says the mining recycling fee doesn’t make sense. Gogebic Taconite said the fee is supposed to make up for trash put in a landfill, and it should not apply to mining waste rock. Company president Bill Williams called the fee quote, “a deal breaker for anybody … You put it in, and no industry will come.” But Assembly Democrat Fred Clark of Baraboo calls the proposed fee reduction “a free ride for a mining company.” He’s co-sponsoring a measure to replace the recycling fee with a tonnage tax on whatever minerals are extracted. Republicans are against the tonnage tax, saying miners should be taxed on their profits instead. But Democrats say the profit tax would not be levied in bad years, with profits of under $536-thousand-dollars. And they say the tonnage tax would apply on whatever minerals are extracted, in good years or bad. The Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to vote Monday on the GOP’s mining package.
There’s been no indication that the Senate won’t have the votes to pass the measure within the GOP’s three-member majority. And almost no suspense is expected in the Assembly, where Republicans have about a 20-vote majority.
Wisconsin Assembly Republicans say they’re looking to cut taxes even more than what Governor Scott Walker proposed in his two-year state budget. Finance committee co-chair John Nygren of Marinette says he and other GOP lawmakers will review the state’s tax code, and consider changes to at least 52 programs which offer tax credits. Nygren said some credits could go up, while others would end or be reduced. He says any new tax cuts would have to be paid for with lower spending in other parts of the new budget. Assembly Republicans Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield and John Klenke of Green Bay are working on the review of the tax code. State Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said Governor Scott Walker would welcome more tax cuts. The governor’s budget already includes $343-million in income tax reductions over the next two years.
A UW-Madison professor says there’s no evidence that Governor Scott Walker’s proposed income tax cut would spur economic growth in Wisconsin. The Republican governor has proposed a 2-to-3-percent income tax cut, by returning to taxpayers a projected surplus of $343-million in the current state budget that expires in June. UW professor Andrew Reschovsky says he cannot see how such a tax cut would help the economy grow and new jobs to be created, as Walker claims. UW-Milwaukee professor emeritus Mark Schug also says the proposed tax reduction is quote, “not sufficient.” Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor did the best he could, considering the constraints of the state budget. Walker has highlighted his plan as a tax cut for the middle class, but the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says it would help the rich a lot more. The Wisconsin State Journal says a family of four making $80,000 would get $106 a year back – while a family making $374-thousand or more gets $285 back. And the Wisconsin Taxpayers’ Alliance says the Walker plan does virtually nothing for families making $21,000 or less. Under current tax credits and exemptions, they’d pay nothing, and would get a $575 refund each year.
Here’s something we haven’t seen in a while – gas prices that didn’t go up from the day before. The Wisconsin Triple-“A” said the statewide average for regular unleaded was $3.80 a gallon today. That’s same as yesterday. And in the state’s largest metro, MilwaukeeGasPrices.com said the average price actually went down by six-tenths of a cent, at just over $3.78. The most expensive gas in Milwaukee was close to four-dollars a few days ago, but that’s down to $3.89 today. Erin Roth of the Wisconsin Petroleum Council says the price of crude oil is the main thing to watch, to figure out what will happen at the pump. He said gas prices should stabilize in March – but you’ll see an increased demand, and higher prices, when travel picks up in the spring and summer. The Triple-“A’s” Wisconsin average is 13-cents higher than a week ago, and 55-cents higher than a month ago.
A 43-year-old man is home from the hospital, after he was shot four times yesterday by a Milwaukee police sergeant during a domestic incident. Police were called to a north side home, where the man apparently threatened to shoot his girlfriend, children, and others. Officials said two sergeants were trying to negotiate with the suspect when he shot his girlfriend. One of the sergeants then shot the man – and the girlfriend and the suspect’s 65-year-old relative were also hurt. Police Sergeant Mark Stanmeyer said today that the suspect was hit by each of the officer’s four bullets. And one of those bullets most likely went through the suspect before hitting the older relative in the arm. He was also released from the hospital today, along with the suspect’s girlfriend. Stanmeyer said the suspect is in custody – and prosecutors will consider charges. The police shooter is on administrative duty while the case is being investigated.
When the Miss Wisconsin Pageant is held in June, folks in Racine should know the field pretty well. That’s because three present and former Miss Racines have earned spots at the state pageant in Oshkosh. UW-Parkside student Elise Elmblad won this year’s Miss Racine title at the local pageant in January. The 2012 Miss Racine, Paula Kuiper, won the Miss Madison-Capital City pageant last weekend. And the 2011 Miss Racine, Brittney Henderson, was recently named as Miss Holmen, which is near La Crosse. The Holmen and Capital City pageants are open to any contestants from the state. Debra Morrall, head of the Miss Racine Scholarship Organization, says she can’t speak for other places – but it’s really unusual to have three of her city’s pageant winners go for the Miss Wisconsin crown at the same time. And they all have different talents. Elmblad sings. Kuiper plays an instrument. And Henderson dances. The Miss Wisconsin winner will advance to next January’s Miss America pageant in Las Vegas.
Bird flu researchers at UW-Madison say they’re getting closer to ending a voluntary moratorium on their studies. That’s after the federal government published new funding guidelines for future research. UW virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka has been waiting for the new guidelines, so his team could get back to work on creating a strain of the H5N1 virus that’s being tested on lab birds. A major scare developed overseas a decade ago. Since then, about 600 people were infected by a virus that was previously was limited to birds. About 60-percent of those people died. Studies at both Madison and the Netherlands involved the virus that was deadly when introduced to ferrets. Once the news of that virus got out, a controversy arose among scientists which led to the new federal guidelines for paying for such research. Kawaoka stopped his work voluntarily a year ago to give officials time to develop the new guidelines, which call for funding the research only if there’s a reasonable chance it will generate new data that can be openly shared. The UW’s studies are funded by a five-year federal grant. Officials say the work will not resume immediately.
Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank is one of four finalists to become the next chancellor at UW-Madison. University System President Kevin Reilly announced the finalists yesterday after a search-and-screen committee reduced the field. The other finalists are Michigan State provost and vice president Kim Wilcox – University of Chicago Law School dean Michael Schill – and Johns Hopkins’ engineering dean Nicholas Jones. The four will take part in a series of public forums starting on March fifth. Reilly and a committee of the UW Board of Regents will then interview the finalists on March 15th. The group’s top choice will then be submitted to the full Regents’ panel for approval. Former UW-Madison chancellor David Ward has been filling in for almost two years after Biddy Martin left to become the new president of Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Schools in Medford were open today, but with a stronger police presence after a threat was made at the high school yesterday. School official Joseph Greget said on Facebook, quote “a specific threat to the safety of our students and staff was discovered in a girls’ bathroom.” Police and sheriff’s officials would not elaborate. Medford school officials said back-packs and coats will be checked for everyone entering the high school today, and classes will continue with a strong police presence throughout the day. Parents were given the option of keeping their children home without penalty.
Wisconsin had the nation’s fifth-largest decrease in new claims for unemployment benefits during the week ending February ninth. That’s the latest state data available from the U.S Labor Department. It said the Badger State had 1,670 fewer new unemployment claims than the week ending on Groundhog Day. State officials did not give a specific reason. California had the nation’s largest drop in new jobless benefit claims, with 4,830. Kansas was the only state reporting an increase of more than a-thousand. It had almost 2,350 layoffs in the last reporting period. That was due to layoffs in transportation manufacturing.
A plea deal has been reached for a 76-year-old Sheboygan woman charged with killing a baby daughter 55 years ago. Ruby Klokow had rejected a plea bargain as recently as November, but she changed her mind as her trial was about to begin on Monday. Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco announced the deal yesterday – but he would not give details in advance of a plea hearing to be held on Monday. Klokow is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of seven-month-old Jeaneen Klokow in 1957. The mother was charged after her son James went to police in 2008 with graphic stories of child abuse within his family. Klokow’s sister Judy says she’s relieved that there won’t be a trial.
Derek Williams’ family was ecstatic after an inquest jury recommended criminal charges against three Milwaukee police officers suspected of letting Williams die in their custody. His mother, Sonya Moore, said it took a year-and-a-half for an official to recognize that what the police did was wrong. But a police union leader still contends that the officers performed “admirably” and did all they could to save the 22-year-old Williams. The jury heard more than a week of testimony before asking special prosecutor John Franke yesterday to file misdemeanor counts of failing to render aid while performing law enforcement duties. Milwaukee officers Richard Ticcioni, Jason Bleichwehl, and Jeffrey Cline face those possible charges. That’s after a police video showed Williams struggling to breathe for at least eight minutes before collapsing in a squad car in 2011. He had just run a block-and-a-half to avoid being nabbed for a street robbery. The inquest said there was probable cause that the 22-year-old Williams died from sickle cell crisis. Before the video came out last year, police officials and prosecutors found that the officers had done nothing wrong. Cline’s attorney said a lot of the inquest testimony was not cross-examined – and it’s impossible to tell how much of it influenced the jury. She said that if the officers are charged, they’ll probably take the case to trial.
A former Dane County man accused of killing his autistic half-brother is now charged with intimidating a witness. Prosecutors said 28-year-old Jeffrey Vogelsburg threatened his grandfather James Robar in a letter last week. Yesterday, a judge added 20-thousand dollars to Vogelsburg’s previous bond as a result of the new charge. A preliminary hearing on the felony intimidation count is set for next Wednesday. Robar first told police last July that Matthew Graville of Mazomanie was missing. Graville’s body was found a few months later in a shallow grave in a wooded area near Lone Rock – and prosecutors said Vogelsburg killed his half-brother and helped hide the body. Vogelsburg reportedly warned Robar that reporting Graville’s disappearance meant war. Prosecutors said Vogelsburg sent Robar a detective’s report on the jail remark – and Robar said the letter disturbed him. Vogelsburg is charged with homicide and hiding a corpse. He’s due back in court on those charges May sixth.