Walker's plans for surplus would yield about $150 per homeowner; bill would curb Facebook creeping; 10 more state stories
MADISON -- Wisconsin homeowners would get their property and income taxes cut by an average of $150 a year, under a plan Gov. Scott Walker is expected to spell out Wednesday evening.
Walker told Milwaukee and Madison newspaper reporters Tuesday that he'll devote just over half of the projected budget surplus or $504 million, to tax relief.
The Republican Walker will give more details in his annual State of the State address at 7 p.m.
The property tax cut would be $101 a year on a home assessed at $151,000. The income tax cut would average $44 to $58 per filer.
Walker also wants to end the practice of withholding too much in taxes. It would give workers more money to spend now, but smaller refunds or higher tax obligations in the spring.
The governor also said he would add just over $100 million to the state's rainy day fund for emergencies. His proposal would add about $100 million to the projected $725 million deficit in the next budget. That goes against desires by Democrats and some Senate Republicans to scale down the deficit.
Walker and Assembly Republicans don't agree that the structural deficit for 2015 will be a problem. They believe that cutting taxes now would create enough economic growth to cover the shortfall.
GOP Senate President Mike Ellis said he wants to cut taxes without jeopardizing the state's long-term fiscal health. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Republicans in his caucus are quote, "united" in having the surplus go to tax relief and he does not Walker's proposal to go any lower.
Assembly OKs curb on Facebook creeping by bosses
MADISON -- Employers and college officials would not be able to snoop into their people's private Facebook accounts, under a bill endorsed by the Wisconsin Assembly.
On a voice vote Wednesday, the lower house approved a measure endorsed unanimously by the Senate last fall.
The Assembly did change it, to allow employers to ask their subordinates to list them as "friends" on social media sites like Facebook. The Senate must ratify the change before the bill can go to Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he'll sign it.
Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay said one of his constituents had a potential employer ask for a password to the person's private account. Bies said the bill ensures that "People can keep their private stuff private."
The bill's main sponsor, Assembly Democrat Melissa Sargent of Madison, warns that bill "cannot protect you from yourself."
Employers can still snoop on workers' company-owned computers -- and the boss can still investigate when an employee is suspected of keeping proprietary business materials in their personal e-mail and social media.
Also Tuesday, the Assembly unanimously agreed to eliminate the state's do-not-call list for telemarketers, and transfer the names to the federal no-call list. The bill now goes to Walker. Supporters say it would save money, and give state consumer officials more time to investigate violations of the no-call law.
State gets low marks for stop-smoking efforts
The American Lung Association gave Wisconsin the same grades as a year ago for its efforts to cut smoking, an "F" for state spending on tobacco prevention, another "F" for its stop-smoking programs, "A" for Wisconsin's public indoor smoking ban, and "B" for its high cigarette tax.
A year ago, the Lung Association scolded the state for spending only 11.5 percent of what the federal government recommends for smoking prevention.
In the report released Wednesday, the Lung Association said it was grateful that majority Republicans didn't cut prevention and cessation programs any further.
The group noted that smoking by Wisconsin teens continues to go down -- although one in every five adults are still puffing away, paying a state cigarette tax that's among the highest in the nation at $2.52 per pack.
The Lung Association said it failed to get Wisconsin lawmakers to raise taxes on other tobacco products, including candy-flavored cigarettes. The group says it will fight a proposed bill this spring to to exempt electronic cigarettes from the state's workplace smoking ban.
State Olympian leaving family behind over security fears JANESVILLE -- Speed-skater Tucker Fredricks from Janesville will compete in his third and final Olympics next month, but unlike the first two, his parents will not be there to see it.
Fredricks has asked his family to stay home from the Winter Games in Sochi Russia, due to security concerns stemming in part from suicide bombings last month in Volgograd, about 400 miles from the Olympic site.
Dan Fredricks tells the Janesville Gazette that his son is worried about his family, so and his wife Shawn will stay home so Tucker can concentrate on his skating.
The U.S. State Department is advising Americans traveling to the Olympics to "remain on alert regarding their personal security."
Fredricks will compete in the 500-meter speed-skating race on Feb. 10th. He finished 12th in the last Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.
His parents saw that in person, as well as his races in the 2006 Games in Torino Italy.
Changes to EdVest would expand contributor pool MADISON -- More people could make tax-free donations to the state's college savings program, under a bill that was expected to get a vote Wednesday in the Wisconsin Senate.
EdVest currently allows parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles to donate to a child's college fund.
The new bill would let anyone donate to a particular child's account, and get the tax benefits for doing so.
EdVest is growing more popular. The number of student accounts rose by 1.6 percent in the last fiscal year to almost 250,000. The total amount of money into those accounts jumped by 14 percent last year, to $3.3 billion.
Republicans sponsored the bill to expand EdVest contribution eligibility. If it's approved, it would go to the Assembly.
Student murdered at Purdue was Wisconsin native The student who was killed at Purdue University Tuesday was a native of West Bend and a graduate of Milwaukee Marquette High School.
Authorities said Andrew Boldt, 21, was working as a teaching assistant in a micro-processor design class when the gunman walked in, shot Boldt, and then left.
23-year-old Cody Cousins surrendered soon after the shooting, which happened around noon yesterday on the Purdue campus at West Lafayette Indiana. He faces a preliminary murder charge. Campus Police Chief John Cox said nobody else was hurt. He believes Boldt was specifically targeted -- but he's not sure why.
Boldt and Cousins were both students in Purdue's engineering school, and Cox said there's no immediate sign that the two had previous troubles.
Boldt majored in electrical engineering. He graduated from Milwaukee Marquette in 2010, and he was expected to get his college diploma this spring.
The electrical engineering building was closed for the afternoon, while other campus buildings had a "stay in place" order lifted around 45 minutes after the incident.
Purdue President Mitch Daniels ordered classes canceled at least through today. He cut short a week-long school trip to Colombia to deal with the tragedy.
Correction: FAA controllers restored to Wittman Field but not EAA show OSHKOSH -- The new federal budget restores funding for air traffic controllers at Wittman Airport in Oshkosh -- but not for the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Air-Venture show.
The Wheeler News Service incorrectly reported Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration restored $447,000 that was part of last year's automatic sequester spending cuts. The EAA's Dick Knapinski said late Tuesday that the cut remains in effect -- although Wittman Airport did get back funding for its tower operations for the rest of the fiscal year.
The government normally provides separate controllers for the Air-Venture show, to handle the 10,000 planes that fly in-and-out of Oshkosh that week.
Last year, the EAA paid the cost under protest, and went to court to challenge it. Knapinski said a federal appeals court has yet to decide the case -- and for now, the government's fee for controllers remains in place for this year's show, to be held July 28th through Aug. 4th.
Shawano man draws life sentence for double slaying GREEN BAY -- A Shawano man will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his former lover and her brother.
Daniel Schmidt, 30, was sentenced Tuesday two life terms with no chance for a supervised release.
An Oconto County jury found Schmidt guilty last fall on two counts of first-degree intentional homicide. He shot 32-year-old Kimberly Rose and her 22-year-old brother Leonard Marsh in 2009 at Rose's home near Gillett.
Prosecutors said Rose was murdered for threatening to expose that Schmidt cheated on his wife and to keep her from revealing his marijuana-growing operation.
Investigators also said Rose loaned Schmidt $1,000 for a motorcycle, and he never paid her back.
Battered wife dragged while trying to escape WAUSAU -- A 27-year-old man is free on bond, after a woman reportedly got her hand caught in the man's car door while trying to escape, and she was dragged along a street.
The alleged incident occurred last Friday in Rothschild, near Wausau.
Michael Speirs is charged in Marathon County with felony counts of false imprisonment and strangulation and suffocation, plus misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct. Online court records list Speirs' address as Madison.
Prosecutors said the woman tried breaking off her relationship with Speirs at a house in Wausau and he tried strangling her as the woman's child watched.
Officials said Speirs was apparently going to take her to a hospital but when she tried to get out, he reportedly caught her, slammed her hand in the door, and drove off as the woman hung outside.
Speirs posted a $2,000 cash bond to go along with a signature bond. He's due back in court a week next Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Teacher's job restored, wins $200,000 in back pay, attorney fees CROSS PLAINS -- A southern Wisconsin teacher who was fired for downloading sexually-explicit material at school will return to the classroom next Monday.
Officials in the Middleton-Cross Plains district say Andrew Harris will attend a professional development session on Friday. On Monday, he'll start teaching seventh-grade science at Kromrey Middle School -- the same subject and grade level as before, but in a different building.
Harris was let go in 2010, but an arbitrator later ruled that Harris should have only been suspended for two weeks.
The School Board appealed, and the State Supreme Court said last week it would not consider overturning the arbitrator's decision.
Harris will get around $200,000 in back pay. That, plus legal fees, caused the Middleton-Cross Plains district to spend close to $1 million on the case.
The School Board endorsed the reinstatement plan on Monday night. It was given to the teachers' union Tuesday, and Superintendent Don Johnson said Harris accepted the terms.
Train mishap ties up Janesville traffic JANESVILLE -- A minor train derailment tied up traffic in downtown Janesville during Wednesday morning's rush hour.
Police said two grain cars overturned and the spilled grain did not pose a health risk to anyone nearby. Traffic was diverted ahead of the morning commute.
Among the roads to close was one of downtown Janesville's major arteries, Court Street.
Sunday shootings at Hudson were gang-related, police say Authorities now say the shootings of three people at a Hudson liquor store involved members of rival gangs from nearby Minneapolis.
St. Croix County prosecutors filed a total of 30 felony charges Tuesday against Guled Abdi, 22, and Ahmed Hirsi, 26.
Both are remain in jail in Bloomington, Minn., awaiting extradition to Wisconsin.
When they return, they'll each face six charges of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, six counts of reckless endangerment, and three counts of reckless injury.
The shootings occurred Sunday morning outside Spirit Seller Liquor in downtown Hudson.
Investigators said six members of the Somali Outlaws gang were partying Saturday night, and they drove their sport utility vehicle to Hudson to buy booze the next morning because liquor stores in Minnesota are closed on Sundays.
Two people went in the store to buy the liquor, but their credit card was rejected. Outside, two men in a car approached and offered the group alcohol and cigarettes.
A derogatory remark was apparently said during the exchange, and shots were fired at all six in the SUV. Three were wounded.
The only victim still hospitalized is Fartun Aidid, 28, of Hopkins, Minn. She was still in critical condition at last word at Regions Hospital.
Deep freeze has made Apostle sea caves walkable BAYFIELD -- For the first time in five years, people can walk right up to the sea caves at the Apostle Islands.
Wisconsin Public Radio reports the ice on Lake Superior is solid enough to walk toward the tall-and-deep sea caves but visitors might feel the ice moving a bit.
The caves which are on the Wisconsin mainland are located about 18 miles west of Bayfield, near Cornucopia.
The National Park Service says they now appear to be a "fairyland of needle-like icicles."
Superintendent Bob Krumanaker of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore says there are gorgeous rock formations covered by icy stalagmites and stalactites. If you crawl under them, he says the ice appears to be a glass floor -- and you can see the bottom of the lake through it.