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Battle lines already forming over Walker's rumored income tax cuts; Trempealeau marathoner joins elite club; more state briefs

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker is preparing Wisconsinites for a discussion about tax cuts as he stands for re-election next fall.

He's laying out a host of possibilities for the state budget he would propose in 2015 if he wins a second term.

Options include getting rid of the state income tax altogether -- or paying for technical colleges with the state sales tax instead of local property taxes.

Walker's office recently held a recent series of private meetings with business leaders to get their take. Early next year, the Republican governor plans to involve the public with meetings, an interactive Web site, and more.

Walker tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he does not have any preconceived notions. He just wants to keep his promise of cutting taxes every year he's in office.

Meanwhile, financial analysts and critics are raising questions about the effects of eliminating the income tax. Dale Knapp of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says the rich pay a disproportionate share of the income tax -- and they'd get a huge break if the tax is eliminated, while the poor would take a major hit if sales taxes are used to fund the government.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the state sales tax would have to jump from 5 percent to 13.5 percent -- the highest in the country -- if the income tax is scrapped.

Lawmakers have tried numerous times to get more sales revenue by taking away exemptions that various groups enjoy. Lobbyists for those groups helped kill every one of them.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says any tax cuts for next year should be modest, depending on the state's revenue picture which we'll know more about in mid-January.

He has mentioned a sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases.

Courthouse fire source may remain a mystery with evidence gone

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee County employee may have thrown away a piece of electrical equipment that might have determined what started the courthouse fire in July.

Two supervisors told the Journal Sentinel that the lost component was discussed during a closed-door meeting of the county's Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. Board member Khalif Rainey said he saw no need for the secrecy.

Supervisor John Weishan said equipment was thrown out that should have been saved -- and he fears that Milwaukee County will be dragged into civil suits over the courthouse fire. The blaze resulted in $11million in clean-up and replacement costs and the estimate is expected to keep going up.

Recently, officials said we may never know what started the fire, which began in a complex basement electrical center.

Two insurance companies agreed to cover the damage, and they were planning to go after the makers of the electrical equipment. Now, the Journal Sentinel says County Board members are questioning whether they were given the whole truth about the fire and its aftermath.

Administrative services director Don Tyler is not commenting on the latest revelation.

Christmas Day fire damages Oconto tavern OCONTO -- The state Fire Marshal is helping local authorities figure out the cause of an early Christmas morning blaze that heavily damaged a bar in downtown Oconto.

Oconto, a city of 4,500 people, is located about 35 miles north of Green Bay on Hwy. 41.

Firefighters were called just after midnight to the Log Jam Tavern. The bar was closed for Christmas Eve. Nobody was inside, and no one was hurt fighting the blaze.

Officials said the building was over 100 years old. Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlarnik said it appeared to have started on the second floor, in an area most recently used for storage. He said apartments used to be there, but that was no longer the case.

An adjacent furniture store had minor smoke damage. Total damage was estimated at over $100,000.

Broken water mains plague Madison residents

MADISON -- Madison's water utility has asked residents to look for signs of water problems related to the cold-and-snowy weather.

Crews spent much of Christmas Eve repairing at least a half-dozen water mains that broke due to temperatures that fell to 12-below in Madison.

Officials also blame a lack of deep snow cover which normally insulates the ground, and prevents the water pipes from freezing. Madison residents are being asked to call their water department if they experience a sudden loss of water pressure -- of if they see large puddles of standing water or bubbling through pavement.

Things got warmer on Christmas Day, after a couple of bouts of light snow went through. It was 15 degrees in Madison at 4 a.m., Thursday, while Racine had 20 degrees. Superior was the only Wisconsin reporting station below zero with -1. Highs were expected to be in the teens and 20's throughout Wisconsin Thursday.

Canadian Pacific's Holiday Train brought record food bank gifts

The Canadian Pacific Railroad's Holiday Train brought in record donations for food banks.

Wisconsinites and others along the train's route gave a total of $2.1 million plus over 300,000 pounds of food to help feed the hungry.

This was the 15th year of the Holiday Train, filled with holiday lights and decorations. It provided box-car entertainment at all of its 150 stops throughout the U.S. and Canada, traveling about 6,000 miles.

The train's stop in nearby Cottage Grove, Minn, on Saturday, Dec. 14th, featured a free outdoor performance by nine-time Grammy Award winning singer and actress Sheryl Crow. An estimated 15,000 people turned out for her show, staged in a CP rail yard.

View a photo gallery of the show here:

The Wisconsin stops were all in early December at Sturtevant, Milwaukee, Hartland, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Mauston, Tomah, Sparta, and La Crosse.

Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison said the Holiday Train has brought in almost $9.5 million and 3.3 million pounds of food over its 15 years of existence.

Feeding America and the Breakfast Club of Canada each received a $250,000 from this year's event for their national food programs.

Wisconsin CDL-holders face big deadline

MADISON -- Wisconsin's commercial truck drivers are being reminded about an important deadline coming up. CDL license holders have until Jan. 30th to certify to their state agencies about the categories of deliveries they plan to make in 2014. And for the first time, CDL interstate drivers must submit copies of medical examiner's certificates -- known informally as the "Fed-Med Card" -- to their state driver licensing agencies.

Alison Lebwohl of the Wisconsin DOT said about two-thirds of the state's 300,000 commercial drivers have met the requirements.

She said many truckers are letting their Fed-Med cards expire, so her agency is notifying about 20,000 drivers about the deadline.

Lebwohl said truckers who might have interstate commerce should certify as "Tier One." Drivers can upload their Fed-Med cards online and through a smartphone app -- and the DOT will remind them when their cards are about to expire.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Researchers poring over wolf-hunt data

MADISON -- Now that Wisconsin's second wolf hunt is in the books, wildlife experts are starting to analyze a host of data to see what it all means.

State DNR wildlife management director Tom Hauge says the wolf population is healthy, and the state wants to keep it that way. Hauge says anything experts can learn from the harvesting process will help.

Hunters and trappers took just over 250 wolves between Oct. 15th and Monday, when the last of six zones reached its quota in northwest Wisconsin.

Every wolf that's shot or trapped has a number of samples taken. Biologists can tell where each animal has been, how old it is, and its overall condition.

Hauge says the DNR is not sure what "normal" is yet. After all, there have only been two years of wolf hunts, while experts have 50- to 60 years of deer hunting experience to draw from.

Hauge says the method for registering wolves is working well. Hunters call the DNR within 24 hours of a harvest, allowing the agency to quickly determine when quotas are getting near.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

Elderly Racine-area woman found save in Illinois grocery store

CALEDONIA -- A Racine County woman is okay, after she went missing earlier this week and collapsed in a grocery store near Chicago.

Jean Fox, 82, left her home in Caledonia to go shopping on Monday. Her family never heard from her again until Tuesday afternoon, after she collapsed at a store in Wheaton, Ill., and she told employees she thought she was in Racine. Jean's daughter Myra tells the Racine Journal Times that her mom had early signs of memory loss -- but she didn't notice anything major until now.

The two were planning to go to church on Christmas Eve, but Jean Fox never showed up -- and her daughter did more than just get worried.

She looked at bank records to track her mother's purchases, and found she that bought gas in Waukesha and Roscoe, Ill., near Rockford before she was found in the Chicago area.

Myra Fox said her mother was confused, but otherwise okay. She said Alzheimer's disease runs in her family.

Childless widow giving $100,000 for new playground

MIDDLETON -- An 82-year-old widow who never had children is giving $100,000 so kids can play at a new park in Middleton.

Lucille Taylor tells the Wisconsin State Journal that she and her late husband Harvey loved watching kids play -- and they decided before he died eight years ago that they'd invest in a new park.

The Taylors were never rich. She cleaned houses, while he drove trucks and repaired engines.

Wise investing and a relatively-thrifty lifestyle helped build up their nest egg.

Taylor was going to wait until after she died to leave the money, hoping nobody would ever find out who gave it. But Middleton officials proposed an 11-acre park on land that used to be part of Taylor's family farm -- and she made the donation now to honor her family's name and history.

The new park will be named the "Harvey John and Lucille Taylor Park." A playground is scheduled to open there next spring. Future plans call for hiking-and-biking trails, and three football fields.

UW-Madison lab will verify if remains are those of fallen Canadian soldier

MADISON -- The DNA lab at UW Madison will determine if human remains are those of a Canadian soldier who could have been mistakenly buried in Germany almost 70 years ago.

Pvt. Lawrence Gordon, 28, volunteered to serve in France with the U.S. Army during WWII. He was killed during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. Staff Sgt. David Henry of Viroqua was wounded in that attack, but he made it home.

Henry's grandson Jed tells WISC TV in Madison he began searching for Gordon two years ago while filming a documentary about his grandfather.

The London Daily Mail wrote in September that Gordon may have taken a German military jacket from a pile of clothing taken from prisoners of war who surrendered.

The report said German officials could have declared Gordon an unknown soldier when they buried him in that country. His wallet helped eventually identify Gordon. Henry asked the UW Biotechnology Center to confirm the soldier's identity.

WISC said the French government is performing the initial DNA tests, and the UW will then receive samples to check for a confirmation. If the tests are positive, Gordon's remains will be sent home to Canada.

Trempealeau marathoner joins elite club of runners

About 75 Wisconsin runners have completed marathons in all 50 states. The latest is Sheri Nichols of Trempealeau, north of La Crosse.

She completed the national circuit on Dec. 8th, when she ran in a 26-mile event in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The 47-year-old Nichols has been in 53 marathons in all.

She said marathon running has helped her tackle all kinds of things in life -- even large but mundane tasks like doing eight loads of laundry. Nichols says anything can be accomplished by keeping at it, and never quitting.

The Fifty States Marathon Club said about 3,300 people throughout the world have finished marathons in all 50 states.