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Walker says $759 million surplus shows state ‘on the right track’; Kickstarter funding for new businesses? Senate votes today; More state news briefs

Gov. Scott Walker said "tough but prudent decisions" are why the state government had a surplus of $759 million when the last budget expired June 30.

Officials said Monday that the surplus was $89 million more than what was expected when Walker prepared his new budget last winter.

The governor said he promised to be a good steward of the taxpayers' money, and the new report shows, "We're on the right track."

GOP leaders vaguely mentioned the higher surplus a week ago when they announced a $100 million property tax cut over the next two years. The Senate is scheduled to vote on it today.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson said his party would most likely support the tax cut. Still, he took the opportunity to blame the higher surplus on "historic cuts to education spending for Wisconsin children."

He was referring to the $800 million in state school aid that was cut in 2011 -- two-thirds of which schools later got back due to the union bargaining limits and higher payments for employee pensions and health care.

Also, the state added $153 million to its "rainy day fund," creating a total of $278million for emergencies. That's still lower than other states. It's enough to keep the state going for about a week.


Kickstarter funding for new businesses? Senate votes today

‘Crowd funding’ for business Wisconsin senators are scheduled to give final legislative approval today to a bill that allows businesses to sell stock online.

The Assembly approved the measure last week on a voice vote.

The bill relaxes some state laws on stock purchases to let investors make online donations to firms needing capital. Companies could raise up to $1 million on Websites like Kickstarter -- or $2 million if they're willing to be audited and let investors see the results. Donors would not get direct returns, but they could get things like free products that a funded company sells.

Supporters say it would let new businesses get donated capital in place of more traditional financing like grants, loans and venture capital -- all of which can still be hard to get in the aftermath of the Great Recession.


‘Heavy Metal’ tour encourages kids to consider manufacturing jobs

Wisconsin's governor and lieutenant governor led the way as school students in Wisconsin Rapids toured local manufacturers Monday.

It was called the "Heavy Metal Bus Tour," aimed at encouraging youngsters to consider manufacturing careers and get the high-tech skills needed for lots of jobs which now sit vacant.

Eighth, ninth and 10th graders joined Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson, business leaders and officials of Mid-State Technical College on the tour.

Walker told the youngsters they can have decent-paying careers even with less than a four-year college degree. He said the average pay in manufacturing is now $52,000 a year, 25% more than other labor sectors in Wisconsin.

Walker said the current state budget has funding to encourage youngsters as early as sixth grade to start thinking about manufacturing careers and the classes they'll have to take to prepare.

The Wisconsin Rapids tour included stop at Domtar Paper, Corenso North America, Mariani Packing and ECC Corrosion.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Assembly to vote on bill to weaken law prohibiting use of Indian mascots

Wisconsin schools would find it much easier to keep their Indian nicknames and mascots under a bill up for a vote in the state Assembly today.

The Republican bill would weaken a 2009 Democratic law in which the state takes complaints about Indian names, decides if they discriminate and can order school boards to change the names or face heavy fines.

The bill's supporters say it would force Indians to prove they've been discriminated against. Opponents say the state would tolerate more discrimination.

The GOP bill would make Indians prove they've been hurt by their school nicknames, instead of school boards having to prove otherwise. Also, one person would no longer be able to file a complaint. The bill requires petitions with signatures totaling at least 10% of a school's population.

The Department of Administration would handle the complaints instead of the Department of Public Instruction after a judge ruled that the DPI's process was biased against the schools. The bill also nullifies the DPI's previous orders to change Indian names.


Woman accused of resisting officer after her pit bulls bite deputy

A central Wisconsin woman has pleaded innocent to resisting an officer after her two pit bulls attacked a Wood County sheriff's deputy.

Cora Fuller, 48, of Pittsville was arraigned Monday on her misdemeanor charge. She's due back in court Nov. 15.

The deputy tried stopping Fuller in late September for not wearing a seatbelt, but she drove home. According to prosecutors, the deputy convinced Fuller to come out of the house, and he smelled alcohol and asked if she was drinking. She tried going back in when the officer allegedly grabbed her.

During the tussle, she managed to open her door and two pit bulls came out and bit the deputy. He shot both, and one was later euthanized.

In court yesterday, Fuller's attorney said she would file a damage claim for what he called an unwarranted entry onto her property and the shootings of her dogs.  Circuit Judge Todd Wolf called that a civil allegation which has nothing to do with the criminal case against Fuller.


Pastors ask Milwaukee to buy back guns

Saying they're fed up about an increase in shootings, a group of pastors in Milwaukee has asked the city to start a gun buyback program.

Those with unwanted weapons could turn them in and get a $100 gift card for a turning in a handgun and $200 for turning in an assault weapon.

The pastors held a news conference about the idea yesterday after meeting with city officials about it recently. The pastors have asked the city to budget $50,000 next year for a one-time buyback in which those returning guns could stay anonymous.

A spokesman for Mayor Tom Barrett says the mayor and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn both favor a buyback, but they'd have to figure out where the money would come from.


Bill would modify medical informed-consent law

Wisconsin doctors could give patients less information about alternative treatments under a bill that's up for a vote in the state Senate today.

The Assembly passed the measure in May. It would nullify a State Supreme Court decision from 2012 which ordered doctors to tell patients about all alternative treatments that might benefit them -- even if they're not related to their diagnoses.

Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon authored the bill after Thomas Jandre won $2 million in court. Jandre has Bell's Palsy. His jury agreed that his doctor failed to tell him about an ultrasound that could have warded off a stroke he suffered.

Ott said his bill still requires what a reasonable doctor would tell a patient. Opposing Democrats say the bill goes too far in changing Wisconsin's informed consent rules.


Teen pleads not guilty in attempted robbery of 96-year-old store owner

A teenager has pleaded not guilty to organizing the failed robbery of a 96-year-old woman and her corner grocery store in Marshfield.

Cordell Ellingson, 17, of Arpin was ordered yesterday to stand trial in Wood County Circuit Court. He then entered his plea to an adult felony charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

A police detective testified that Ellingson drew up a plan to rob Wolf's Grocery in mid-July and encouraged a 13-year-old boy to pull it off. Ellingson was living with the younger boy's family at the time.

Investigators said the 13-year-old wore a mask as he demanded money from store owner Marge Wolf at knifepoint. She offered him Tootsie Rolls instead. The incident made national news. The boy is facing juvenile court action.

The judge and attorneys in the Ellingson case will have a pretrial conference Nov. 22. A trial date could be set at that time.


State asks for its own Mexican consulate office

The Mexican government has been asked to give Wisconsin its own consulate office.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wisconsin has a growing number of Mexican nationals and many have to wait two months or more to get required documents from Mexico.

Wisconsin is currently served by a mobile consulate office plus a permanent facility in Chicago that also serves Illinois and Indiana. Walker asked for a separate Wisconsin consulate in a letter to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Mexico's ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina Mora.

Walker told them Wisconsin has had a "tremendous relationship" with Mexico over the years. He said Mexico is Wisconsin's second-largest trading partner, and Hispanic-owned businesses have grown by almost 8%a year in the state. Walker said a new consulate would continue the economic growth pattern.

As of last year, Hispanics made up around 6% of the state's population.


Toy gun confiscated from 8-year-old on school bus

An eight-year-old La Crosse elementary student caused quite a scare yesterday morning by taking a toy gun onto a school bus.

A parent called North Woods International School after hearing that a youngster boarded a bus with two BB guns. The parent then approached the bus driver, who confiscated a single toy gun and removed the child.

School officials didn't know that so they notified parents and called the school district's bus company. A company employee called police and told the bus driver to stop. Police said the driver had the toy gun ready for the officers when they arrived.

La Crosse School Superintendent Randy Nelson said the incident showed that its internal reporting systems worked. When the bus got to the school, officials and counselors met with the youngsters to explain what happened and answered questions.


Milwaukee parking ramp trial starts

A judge in Milwaukee has said no to a defense request to delay a trial in the death of a teenager at a downtown parking garage.

A month-long civil trial began yesterday to determine who's at fault for a freak accident in 2010 in which a decorative concrete panel fell from the second floor of the O'Donnell Park ramp.

Yesterday, Advance Cast Stone asked to delay the trial, saying it just recently contacted witnesses who saw a tow truck at a ramp exit two weeks before the collapse. The firm said it needs time to get sworn statements from two tow truck drivers.

Circuit Judge Christopher Foley said it would probably not help the defense even if one of the drivers admitted hitting the ramp. The judge also said the company had more than two years to prepare its case and delaying it now would hurt the plaintiffs.

The family of Jared Kellner, Eric Wosinski and Eric's mother are suing Advance Cast Stone, which installed the fallen panel, and Milwaukee County, which owns the parking ramp. Kellner died in the mishap. The two Wosinskis were hurt.


Kenosha takes title to Chrysler plant land

The city of Kenosha has acquired the land where Chrysler used to build cars and engines. Last night, the City Council voted to accept a title for 109 acres.

The plant ran for decades until it shut down for good three years ago. Now, the city and state will spend around $30 million to clean up the site.

Mayor Keith Bosman said there are no exact plans for the property right now. He expects it to be a business park in the future.

Officials say it could take five to seven years to clean up the old Chrysler property. Most of the buildings are gone, but City Administrator Frank Pacetti said there are still tons of concrete and other things to be removed.