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Regents hear $34 million was overpaid to UW workers; Lawmakers balk at governor's job-creation plan; more state briefs
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New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

Another $1.1 million was overpaid to University of Wisconsin employees.

That brings the total to $34 million in overpayments caused by glitches in the UW's two-year-old centralized computer payroll and benefit system.

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The Board of Regents was told Thursday that the latest overpayments resulted from billing errors as well as Social Security and federal income taxes that were not withheld from student employee paychecks.

Board members criticized UW officials. Regent Gerald Whitburn said the problems with the new Human Resource System were much broader than what the panel was originally told.

System President Kevin Reilly told the Regents to expect even more bad news during the year as more reviews take place.

The UW decided not to try to collect around $700,000 in taxes owed by the students, and the university paid the bill.

The rest of the latest overpayment was due to excess benefit payments. Employees on extended leaves were supposed to pay for their own benefits, but many didn't. Some of it was paid back, but the amount was not disclosed, and it's not part of the $1.1 million in new net overpayments.

A state audit report last month disclosed the original $33 million in excess health premiums and retirement benefits given to UW employees. The retirement benefits were recovered, but employee contracts have held up the collecting of some of the excess health payments. The total recovered so far is about $20 million.

The benefit system writes checks for 79,000 employees at 26 UW campuses, 72 county Extension offices and other university facilities.

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Lawmakers balk at governor's job-creation plan

Gov. Scott Walker's idea to give millions of dollars in grants and state tax breaks to new and expanding businesses got a cautious reception from legislative leaders.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Republican majority would probably support more tax credits for programs that achieve their job creation goals. But in general, Vos said he's more interested in simplifying state taxes rather than expanding programs.

Walker said Thursday he would put a number of new business tax breaks in his proposed state budget. They include an extra $75 million to replenish a fund for business investment credits that would run dry in a couple months.

There's also an extra $11 million to help market Wisconsin to new businesses, plus matching funds for mentoring and business networking programs and $500,000 to help veterans start their own businesses.

Walker also wants to provide venture capital to high-tech startup firms, but he has not decided whether to make it part of the budget or create separate legislation that would get more scrutiny from lawmakers and taxpayers.

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said he supports venture capital, but he said it should be a separate bill. And he said the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation should not control the venture capital fund, given its past failures to keep track of business loans that became overdue.

Barca is a member of the WEDC Board, and he said that group is "on probation."

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Job-search website now easier to use

A website that helps Wisconsinites find jobs is being reworked so it's easier to post resumes.

The Department of Workforce Development said the Job Center website attracted 6,500 more job listings than a year ago.

But to apply for them, candidates had to key in their resume information to a standard form.

Now they can post their resumes directly onto the website. Or they can write links to external webpages where their resumes are located.

Officials say the job's site has other new improvements as well. People can search for job openings with keywords. They can create profiles that potential employers can find, and they can tie social media into their data.

The site has been online since 2008, and officials say they've made a lot of improvements since then. Its address is jobcenterofwisconsin.com

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GOP leader says expect year-round campaigning

In the past, voters got a break every once in a while from all the political campaign sniping. But the head of the Republican National Committee says those days are over.

Kenosha native Reince Priebus told conservative Madison radio host Vicki McKenna on WIBA that the GOP will have to campaign year-round if it wants to win elections.

Priebus said Republicans have to attract more of what he calls "low-propensity voters," including African-Americans and Hispanics.

"It's nothing that you can parachute in on three months before an election," said Priebus. "It's got to be all the time."

He called it the "new world of the Republican party ... a coast-to-coast, granular, community-based campaign year-round including this year and next year."

The GOP's immediate goals are to take control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 as well as maintain its majority in state governors' offices.

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Former Packers cheerleader target of Facebook bullying

A former Green Bay Packers cheerleader has found out that bullying is not what it used to be.

Somebody put a photo of Kaitlyn Collins on a Facebook page for Chicago Bears' fans. Its caption was "Like if you agree the Packers have the worst cheerleaders in the NFL."

Over 18,000 comments followed. Most supported Collins, but some were very critical, and one called her an "eyesore."

Collins told WLUK TV in Green Bay she couldn't believe some of the things that were said. She and her friends tried to get Facebook to remove the page, but it wouldn't.

So Collins put a video on YouTube to highlight the offensive remarks and call attention to cyber-bullying. Yesterday the Facebook photo and remarks were deleted.

The Bears' fan page - which is not produced by the team - issued an apology.

In the meantime, the Packers issued a statement calling the commentary "extremely offensive." It said the team expressed support for Collins and urged others to do the same.

Collins is a former UW-Green Bay student who cheered at Lambeau in 2009. The team uses cheerleaders from the UWGB and nearby Saint Norbert College.

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More low-income students dropping out of state universities

New figures show that a growing number of students from low-income families are not able to finish their degree programs at Wisconsin's public universities.

The UW Board of Regents reviewed a report on the subject from university officials Thursday.

The report found that low-income students and those not eligible for federal Pell grants graduated in smaller rates since 1998. And the gap between those students and the more well-to-do grew by 3% for whites and 4% for minorities.

The UW has had hefty tuition increases in recent years, while federal Pell grants for low-income students have shrunk a couple times.

Also, UW-Madison has the smallest need-based financial aid fund among all 12 schools in the Big Ten Conference. UW Senior Vice President Mark Nook told the Regents that the access gap is due mainly to larger tuition hikes from 2005-2007 and the Great Recession which hit afterward - while tuition was still going up 5.5% a year.

"We pretty much dared these students to finish" with the large tuition hikes, said Nook.

The access gap comes at a time when the UW is trying to increase its number of degree-holders to boost the state's economy.

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Bickering is issue at Supreme Court campaign debate

Justice Pat Roggensack says any talk of incivility on the State Supreme Court is "gossip at its worst."

If were true that justices are constantly yelling at each other, she said, she never would have sought another 10-year term.

Roggensack gave her most impassioned defense of the state's highest court at a candidate forum put on by the Milwaukee Bar Association in Milwaukee yesterday.

Her opponents in the Feb. 19 primary - Ed Fallone and Vince Megna - questioned Roggensack's presence on what they called a dysfunctional court in the wake of Justice David Prosser's reported choke-hold on fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in 2011.

Fallone, a Marquette law professor, said he's seen the justices personally sniping in their legal opinions.

"This dysfunction has had an effect on the quality of their work," said Fallone.

Both challengers also criticized Roggensack for withdrawing from a possible ruling on an ethics violation against Prosser. But Roggensack said she had no choice because she was a direct witness to the incident.

The court's other conservative justices also withdrew, and not enough justices are left to rule.

Fallone said there are other procedures in which the court could sit in judgment of Prosser.

He also said justices should explain why they withdraw from cases, but both Roggensack and Megna disagreed. Megna, a liberal Milwaukee attorney, criticized the court's conservative majority. He said it's "inappropriate and causing significant problems in the state."

Yesterday's forum was the only one scheduled before the primary.

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Green Bay's homeless rate climbs

The Green Bay area has at least 10% more homeless people than a year ago, according to a recent survey by the Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition.

The survey counted 481 people living in shelters or on the streets as of Jan. 30. At least one coalition member thinks count might be low.

Meika Burnikel said last week's count took place while it was snowing, and some homeless people could have riding out the storm in 24-hour grocery stores and other places where they could have gone undetected.

The survey found that all five of Green Bay's emergency shelters were at their capacities or close to it. They counted 470 people in the shelters, up from 425 during a milder winter a year ago.

The city gave a citation to a homeless shelter in December for being over its capacity. The city and the Green Bay Catholic Diocese have been working to resolve the case.

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Death row inmate asks for clemency

The Parole Board in Ohio was scheduled to decide today whether to spare the life of a death row inmate who committed a crime spree in Ohio, Wisconsin and four other states.

Frederick Treesh, 48, is asking for clemency almost a month before he's scheduled to be executed on March 6.

Treesh was condemned for shooting a 58-year-old security guard to death while robbing an adult bookstore at Eastlake in northeast Ohio in August 1994. It was the final crime in a series of bank and business robberies, sexual assaults, car-jackings and another shooting death in Michigan.

There was no immediate word on what the Wisconsin crimes were. The courts have no record of them since Ohio was the only state where Treesh was prosecuted.

Last month, his lawyers made their case for clemency. They told the Ohio parole board that Treesh was high on cocaine at the time of the bookstore killing, and he regrets what happened.

But prosecutors said it's clear that Treesh has still not taken responsibility for what he did. The board's recommendation will go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who makes the final decision.

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New conservationist appointed

Wisconsin has a new state conservationist for the first time in 18 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has named Jimmy Bramblett to the post. He'll oversee the agency's 55 offices throughout the state plus a budget that includes $50 million a year in federal conservation aid to Wisconsin farmers and producers.

Bramblett has worked in numerous USDA conservation posts. He was most recently the national chief of staff to regional conservationists in Washington.

Bramblett is Wisconsin's ninth state conservation since the agency began in 1935. He replaces Pat Leavenworth, who retired last year after almost two decades serving the state.

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