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Report says aging workforce, tight-fisted investors stifle job growth; Health officials issue bat warning; more briefs

Wisconsin's problem in attracting new jobs goes deeper than most of us think. A new report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance blames an aging population and an apparent reluctance to take risks in starting new businesses.

In the past, Wisconsin consistently attracted larger percentages of new jobs than the national average. But that was back in the 1980's and early 1990's.

Since 1996, Wisconsin's annual percentage of job growth exceeded the national rate only 27% of the time. And from mid-2010 until last June, Wisconsin gained fewer jobs than the national average.

Politicians point fingers when they hear numbers like these, and Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry says both parties are "missing the forest for the trees."

He said the graying population and a lack of new businesses add up to a state that does not have enough working-age adults and enough new companies to maintain the growth rates seen elsewhere.

Instead of luring out-of-state firms with tax breaks, Berry said the state should take bold steps to retain its younger workers and make sure they're educated.

He suggested more apprenticeships, more competitive college tuition and more high-speed Internet service so professionals can work from anywhere in the state - even rural areas.

The Taxpayers Alliance says Wisconsin's working-age population grew by a third less than the national average from 2002 to 2011 - which means that other states find it easier to fill job openings.

Also, Wisconsin had the nation's second-lowest rate of new business startups since 2002, ahead of only neighboring Iowa.

Berry said the immigrants who settled here took fewer chances with their money, and throughout history, Wisconsinites have shown that they're less likely to take the risks necessary to start new businesses.


Health officials issue bat warning

A bat in northwest Wisconsin was recently diagnosed as being rabid, and that has state health officials warning folks about possible exposure to rabies.

State Veterinarian Jim Kazmierczak said it's not common to find a rabid bat this time of year, but a few have been spotted in previous Januaries.

Twenty-nine rabid bats were confirmed in Wisconsin last year.

Officials say the bats can transmit rabies if they have physical contact with someone. Most bats are considered to be inactive during the winter, but some find shelters indoors where they can touch people and pets.

A week and a half ago, a Marquette University men's basketball game was interrupted when a bat swooped down to the floor in Milwaukee, and players had to duck to get out of the way. The bat hid but was found and released a couple days later.


Economist: Immigration reform could help Wisconsin

A Madison economist says immigration reform could be a good thing for the state's business climate in the long run.

David Ward of Northstar Economics in Madison said Wisconsin's total workforce is reaching its peak, and he expects it to hold steady or even shrink in the coming years.

For that reason, Ward told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, immigration reform could be more of an opportunity to the state than a threat.

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry said it's worth considering as President Obama and Congress are about to tackle the immigration issue.

The Taxpayers Alliance has issued a critical report explaining why Wisconsin's job growth has lagged behind the nation as a whole since the mid-1990's.


Snow piles up as series of little storms continue

A parade of tiny snowstorms is adding up to a real nuisance in parts of Wisconsin.

As of Monday, it has snowed in La Crosse for six straight days, and it looks like today will be the seventh.

The city had almost five inches of snow last Wednesday. La Crosse then had three-tenths of an inch last Thursday, 2.4 on Friday, nine-tenths Saturday, 1.3 Sunday, and an inch yesterday.

This morning, an unofficial weather station near La Crosse measured two-tenths of an inch. If that becomes official, La Crosse will have had a total of 10 inches of nuisance snows over a seven-day stretch.

But that's far from a record. It snowed 11 straight days in La Crosse in February of 1962.

Today's snow is expected to drop one to two more inches, with central Wisconsin getting the most. It's supposed to clear out this afternoon.

Most of Wisconsin could be hit with the next low-pressure system tomorrow night and Thursday. That one could give us another two to four inches.

It's supposed to be dry on Friday and Saturday, but more precipitation could move in Sunday.

A warming trend will continue. Far southern Wisconsin could see 30 degrees today. Most of the state could get a few degrees above freezing starting tomorrow and at least into the weekend.


GOP says environmental protections added to mining bill; Dems say 'baby steps'

Majority Republicans say they've added more environmental protections to a bill aimed at bringing a new iron ore mine to northern Wisconsin.

But Democrats called them "baby steps" that don't do enough to avoid damage to water resources.

Assembly and Senate mining committees are expected to recommend the new package tomorrow and send it to both houses for approval in the next month or so.

The bill streamlines the procedure for issuing state mining permits with the goal of having Gogebic Taconite open what would be Wisconsin's largest mine ever - a large iron ore facility in Ashland and Iron counties.

Under the proposed environmental changes, more tests of waste rock would be required to avoid polluted runoff and that runoff would be limited in existing waterways.

Mining firms would pay to see how their projects affect wetlands. The Department of Natural Resources could not issue exemptions to environmental rules if a mine could cause major damage outside its property. And new studies would determine the impact of mines for the following 250 years.

The state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have to agree to work together on their reviews.

But the state's faster deadline for decisions on permits would remain, with a 480-day maximum.

Also, the public would still be barred from challenging DNR mining decisions.

Republican Assembly Leader Scott Suder said his party made its changes in discussions with Democrats, and the compromise includes pieces of an alternative bill from Janesville Senate Democrat Tim Cullen.

But Cullen said he won't support it. He said it only took a small step in the right direction.

"It's an ever-so-slightly better bill," said Cullen.


Feds say medical van company stole $1.5 million from Medicaid

A transportation company from Monroe is being sued in federal court for allegedly defrauding $1.5 million from the state's Medicaid program.

The government says Anglin Transport submitted over 100,000 claims to Medicaid for false reimbursements for just over four years, ending in May of 2010.

Officials say the company's owner, Anthony Anglin, spent the money on SUV's, a sports car and boats for himself; an ATV and SUV for a female friend; and supplies for a construction company he owned.

The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in Madison. It says Anglin filed almost 56,000 claims for transporting patients by cots and stretchers to medical facilities, but investigators said the company's vehicles were not able to fasten those devices in.

The government also said Anglin Transport submitted 46,000 Medicaid claims for rides on days when patients never used the service.

Media reports say Anglin Transport stopped providing specialized medical rides in May of 2010 when the alleged fraud ended. The state dissolved the company in mid-2011.

The construction business is still operating. Anglin has not commented.


Accused murderer's bond raised to $6 million

A new $1 million bond was set Monday for Marshfield murder suspect Gabriel Campos on a charge that he tried to have a fellow jail inmate kill a man Campos' ex-girlfriend was seeing.

Campos, 21, was already charged with homicide in the stabbing death of Maisie McCullough, 18, last September.

Monday he appeared in Wood County Circuit Court on a new charge that he offered an assault rifle, a car and $4,600 to a jail inmate if he would kill a 24-year-old Junction City man. All those items were impounded after Campos was arrested a day after McCullough was killed.

Campos also changed his plea on his original homicide count to insanity, and Circuit Judge Todd Wolf ordered a mental exam.

Campos allegedly told the cellmate he stabbed the woman because she was seeing another man. He and McCullough had broken up before she died. The inmate went to authorities with Campos's alleged request, and Campos was charged Friday with soliciting a homicide.

Wolf increased the defendant's previous $5 million bond to $6 million. Campos is scheduled to enter a plea to the new charge on Feb. 26. A four-day trial on his homicide charge is set to begin June 24.


Badger football game raises scholarship money

Pharmacy students at UW-Madison will get at least a little help paying their tuition debt from Badger football fans.

For the third straight year, Wisconsin will charge $5 to see its annual Spring Game. This time, the proceeds will go to the "Great People Scholarship" program in the pharmacy school.

Dean Jeanette Roberts said the program offers financial aid to those in need. She said the UW is committed to training prospective pharmacists regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The Pharmacy School is celebrating its 130th anniversary, and the scholarship program started a couple years ago.

Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said the game generated at least $40,000 in each of the last two years for the UW Nursing School and the Non-Profits Center.

Just over 10,000 fans attended last year's Spring Game, which has become a national trend thanks to ESPN.

The cable network has highlighted other schools' spring games that have practically sold out. Wisconsin's event has never been that popular, but by tying it to a charity, UW officials hoped it would generate a least a little more buzz.

Among other things, those at this year's Spring Game will get their first look at new Badger coach Gary Andersen.


Synod warns churches to tighten financial controls

A Lutheran synod in Milwaukee is urging its local churches to put tighter controls on their finances after a parishioner admitted stealing $200,000.

The Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has recommended changes in bylaws for congregations to safeguard their money.

That was after a member of Zion Lutheran Church at Ashippun in Dodge County reportedly stole $200,000 from an endowment fund he was overseeing. He said he used to pay bills and help struggling relatives. The man has promised to pay it back.

Pastor Bob Thays said the main concern of fellow parishioners has been about the man's family.

Thays wrote in a newsletter, "It's one of the things that make me proud to be the pastor ... We all stumble ... We will need the forgiveness of others."

Authorities may not be as kind. Dodge County sheriff's officials are investigating, and they expect to refer the case to the district attorney's office within the next two weeks for possible charges.