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Majority favor taxing rich if they'd get a break; 'State of the Tribes' speech set; more state briefs

MILWAUKEE -- A majority of voters favor higher income taxes on the rich, if it means lower property taxes for everyone, according to the new Marquette Law School poll released Monday.

Sixty-four percent of the 802 registered voters surveyed last week said they would support higher income taxes for those making over a $250,000 a year, so local property taxes could be lowered.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has promised to offer major tax reform if he's re-elected in November. One of his options -- eliminating the income tax in favor of a higher sales tax -- was only favored by 39 percent in the Marquette poll.

Also, just 39 percent said they would favor a higher sales tax to get a lower property tax. Even so, 42 percent said the property tax is the one tax they'd cut.

Marquette pollster Charles Franklin said the preference was consistent across all income levels.

Respondents also favored raising the minimum wage in Wisconsin. Sixty-two percent of the 802 voters surveyed want something higher than the current minimum wage of 7.25-an-hour, but only 25 percent want it raised to $10 per hour.

A proposed Democratic bill would gradually raise Wisconsin's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in two years after passage. A third of those surveyed would settle for $9.

As for jobs, voters appear to be willing to forgive Gov. Scott Walker if he doesn't keep his biggest campaign promise -- to create 250,000 private sector jobs by next January.

He only reached a third-of-that-goal as of a year ago, and the new poll shows that just 14 percent think he'll achieve it

Walker leads Democrat Mary Burke 47- to 41 percent in the Marquette poll, which was taken last week with an error margin of 3.5 percent either way.

Fifty-four percent said Wisconsin was heading in the right direction, and 44 ercent disagreed. Forty-nine percent said the state's budget situation is better, and just 20 percent said it was worse.

New Farm Bill inches toward passage

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The federal government could not order cuts in milk production to control supplies, under a compromise farm bill announced Monday.

The House and Senate agriculture committees announced a five-year package that does away with current price supports, and lets farmers buy insurance which pays out when the gap narrows between their milk price incomes and feed costs.

It leaves out the controversial stabilization program that would have ordered cuts in milk production when over-supplies drive down prices. House Speaker John Boehner strongly opposed the program, calling it "Soviet-style." He says the compromise does not have enough reforms but it's "worthy" of the House's support.

Some Democrats are complaining about a one-percent, $800 million annual cut in food stamps contained in the bill. Democrats had settled for half that much, while Republicans originally wanted a cut five times as big.

Many farm subsidy programs would continue under the new Farm Bill. It would cost almost $100 billion a year for five years -- a total cut of $2.3 billion a year from the current spending.

Bill would ban hand-held cells in work zones

MADISON -- Wisconsinites were to get a second chance Tuesday morning to tell lawmakers what they think about banning hand-held cellphones while driving in construction zones.

The state Assembly's Transportation Committee was to hold a public hearing on a bill that cleared a Senate panel earlier this month. The lead authors are Assembly Republican John Spiros of Marshfield and Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon.

The cellphone ban for drivers would only apply when workers are present in construction zones. Motorists could still use their cells to report emergencies.

Violators would be fined $20 to $40 for the initial citation and up to $100 for a second offense.

Schools earning 'Fs' could be closed under panel's proposal

MADISON -- Wisconsin public schools would get letter grades to judge their performance -- and those that flunk might have to close, or become charter schools.

It's all part of a revamped school accountability bill unveiled Monday by Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen.

The package also requires testing for tax-funded students at private voucher schools and the worst-performing voucher schools could not enroll more students in the choice program.

Olsen, a Republican from Ripon, says his panel expects to vote on the new measure Thursday. It's a souped-up version of a bill introduced last fall by Olsen and Assembly Education chairman Steve Kestell. The measure had a public hearing last September.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that legislative staffers have been fine-tuning the package since then, with help from both the state's education agency and lobbyists for charter and voucher schools.

Olsen says the "bottom line" is hold anyone who gets public education money accountable for results.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos plans to take up a school accountability package this spring. Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald says he won't make a commitment until he sees what comes out of Thursday's committee meeting.

Merciless cold will retreat Wednesday, return Saturday

It was brutally cold in Wisconsin Tuesday morning but a few degree less brutal than three weeks ago, when the wind-chill factors got down to 55-below.

At 7 a.m., the coldest wind-chill in the Badger State was 48-below in Rhinelander, with readings in the minus-30's and -40's throughout Wisconsin.

Actual temperatures were predicted to drop to 30-below -- and Sparta came the closest at 29-below at 7 a.m.. River Falls recorded -21 at 5 a.m.

The southern half of the state was in the minus-teens. About 350 Wisconsin Public Service electric customers were without power in the Stevens Point and Plover region.

Wind-chill warnings and advisories continue throughout the Badger State until around 10 a-m Wednesday.

A new weather system is supposed to bring southwest winds into Wisconsin late Wednesday and into Thursday, delivering highs in the teens Wednesday and 20's on Thursday.

Most schools in Wisconsin were closed Monday and Tuesday, but that's not stopping kids from getting out. Monkey Joe's in Waukesha added 50 percent more staffing for Tuesday to handle the large numbers of kids playing on the center's indoor jumps and slides. The Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha sold out of its Monday waterpark passes by the afternoon.

Teachers in Milwaukee are grumbling because they couldn't enter their buildings Monday to grade the semester's final exams they administered last week -- and those grades are still due Wednesday.

'State of the Tribes' address set for Feb. 13th

MADISON -- The head of the Menominee Indian nation will discuss the status of all 11 Wisconsin tribes when he delivers an annual address to the state Legislature. Craig Corn will present the "State of the Tribes" address on Thursday, Feb. 13th.

Corn's tribe is trying to get Gov. Scott Walker to approve a new Menominee off-reservation casino in Kenosha, even though two other tribes oppose it. The issue seems to have down-played other concerns raised by the state's Native American tribes.

A year ago, Lac Courte Oreilles Chairman Gordon Thayer accused the state of not giving the tribes enough credit, hurting natural resources with its support of mining, and spreading propoganda about Indian spear-fishing.

Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer walked out of the address because it made him so upset. Kramer later became the Assembly's GOP majority leader.

Service Tuesday for slain Purdue student from West Bend

WEST BEND -- Students from Purdue University are expected to attend the funeral Tuesday evening of a classmate from West Bend.

The western Indiana school said Monday it would provide charter bus service for students wishing to attend the service for 21-year-old Andrew Boldt. He was shot to death last Tuesday while working as a teaching assistant in a computer engineering class on the Purdue campus.

One of his fellow engineering majors, 23-year-old Cody Cousins, is charged in the slaying.

Purdue says a student bus was to leave early Tuesday afternoon for St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in West Bend, where a visitation was being held ahead of the 7 p.m. service.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels has said he would attend the funeral.

Plea deal will keep former LaX officer out of prison

LA CROSSE -- La Crosse Police found that 63 packages of drug evidence were tampered with, after a former lieutenant was arrested for stealing drugs from the evidence room.

Brian Thomson struck a plea deal last month that will keep him out of a state prison. That's after he pleaded guilty to his original charge of attempted illegal narcotics' possession.

The La Crosse Tribune obtained an audit report of the police evidence room. It found that 63 packages of meth, cocaine, heroin, and prescription pills had envelopes or tape that appeared to be tampered with. Thomson admitted stealing meth that was seized in other drug arrests -- and he tried stealing painkillers as well.

Thomson was caught after his colleagues set up a sting operation in the evidence room last August. At least one felony drug case against another man had to be dropped because Thomson tampered with the evidence.

He's scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 25th to either a year in the county jail, or electronic monitoring at home. Thomson resigned after his arrest, ending 15 years on the La Crosse police force.

Former officer-turned alleged burglar, negotiating plea deal

A plea deal is apparently in the works for a former Waupun police lieutenant on two charges in a crime spree last summer in two corners of Wisconsin.

Online court records show that 44-year-old Bradley Young has a plea hearing set for March 5th in Barron County where he earlier pleaded innocent to vehicle theft and eluding an officer.

He also has a status conference set for March 4th in Burnett County, where he pleaded innocent to theft and burglary.

On Monday, Young appeared in Green Lake County Circuit Court on seven felony charges -- including three burglaries and another vehicle theft. A status conference in that case is set for Feb. 25th.

Prosecutors allege Young broke into grocery stores in Berlin, Markesan, and Waupun -- burglarized a restaurant and stole a pick-up truck in Green Lake -- crashed the truck after a police chase across the state in Barron County -- stole another vehicle near Rice Lake -- and entered a cabin near Spooner where he was surrounded by officers and gave himself up.

No charges have been filed in the Waupun store break-in, where $3,000 were reportedly stolen. State authorities continue to investigate that.

Warrant issued for man accused of dog's fatal beating

STEVENS POINT -- A judge in central Wisconsin issued a warrant Monday for a man who skipped out on a court appearance for allegedly killing his dog with a hammer.

Cody Phillips, 26, of Bancroft was free on a $500 bond, which he's now likely to lose.

He was charged last Friday with a felony count of fatal animal mistreatment for slaying his dog Clyde.

Phillips was quoted as telling investigators he beat Clyde because the dog defecated in his home -- and if he got rid of the pet, his wife might come back.

Portage County sheriff's investigators said the dog was later found in a nearby ditch with a broken jaw, a muzzle, and signs of several blows.

Court officials said a new appearance would be set once Phillips is apprehended.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau