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Joint Finance OKs one year's funding for embattled WEDC; panel would curb reciprocity; Gogebic files permit request, more state news

MADISON -- The state Legislature's finance committee has endorsed only one year of funding for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The panel discussed the agency's proposed two-year budget Thursday after members of another legislative committee hammered WEDC officials with questions about accountability shortcomings raised in a recent audit.

The finance panel voted 12 to 4, with Democrats voting no, to grant the job creation agency $59 million in the next fiscal year - $2 million more than this year.

The committee withheld the second year's proposed funding of $63 million until corporation director Reed Hall reports in December on how the agency complies with the issues raised in the audit.

Auditors said the WEDC broke state laws by not adopting key policies. Hall took issue with some of that, but promised to the Joint Audit Committee his agency follow the law. The audit also said the department approved job creation grants improperly, and did not keep enough of an eye on the grants and loans that are made.

In voting for the one-year allocation, Sheboygan Senate Republican Joe Leibham said the WEDC could be quote, "gone in a year" if it doesn't improve the way it provides its services.

Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards said his party disagreed with providing any more tax dollars to the WEDC.

Democrats also tried but failed to remove Gov. Scott Walker as the agency's board chairman. They also failed to give the board more power to hire the department's top officials, and set more of its policies.


Panel suggests nixing reciprocity for Minnesota students who choose Madison

MADISON -- A UW Madison advisory committee has recommended that students from Minnesota pay full out-of-state tuition, with the goal of admitting more freshmen from Wisconsin.

The panel said this year's freshman class has a much smaller percentage of Wisconsin students than a decade ago. To reverse that trend, the campus advisory panel proposed ending a long-time reciprocity agreement in which students from both Wisconsin and Minnesota pay about the same to attend the two states' flagship schools.

Minnesota students still pay more than the in-state tuition at the UW, but they get a discount of several thousand dollars. The governor, Legislature, and UW Board of Regents would all have to agree to drop the reciprocity - and UW officials say it's not likely to happen.

Madison provost Paul DeLuca said the change is short-sighted, because it would create a number of negative social and political effects. He said only wealthier students from Minnesota's Twin Cities could attend the Madison campus, and Wisconsin students who would otherwise go to Minnesota would instead provide more competition for the limited number of in-state slots.

Actually, about 100 fewer Minnesota students went to the UW this year, compared to the previous year. The campus has seen a large influx of international students.

Currently, cost for Wisconsin students to attend UW-Madison is $24,203 while cost for Minnesota students is $27,803. The same services -- tuition, books, room and supplies -- is $41,094, according to a schedule on the UW-Madison web site.


Gogebic seeking DNR permit to begin exploratory drilling

MADISON -- Gogebic Taconite applied for a state permit Thursday to do exploratory drilling at the site of its proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

Ann Coakley of the state DNR said her agency has 10 business days to review the application.

The firm asked for a license to drill 13 holes in bedrock, up to 1,400 feet deep. If the DNR agrees, it might be awhile before the work can begin.

Coakley says the mining firm is waiting for things to dry out. Parts of Ashland County had 21 inches of snow last week.

The drilling permit is the first step in a long process of environmental reviews and probable court challenges before Gogebic could actually start mining.

The company helped draft the mining incentive bill approved by the governor and Legislature this spring. It will ease certain environmental rules, and set more exact time limits for the state to grant new mining permits.


Police, EMS could still have residency rules under pending proposal

MADISON -- Wisconsin police, fire, and rescue personnel could still have limits on where they can live, under a budget proposal endorsed yesterday by the Legislature's finance panel.

Residency requirements would still be abolished for teachers and other non-emergency public workers. Safety personnel would have to live within 15 miles of the cities and counties they serve.

There was also talk of a financial penalty for those who don't comply, but the finance panel decided against it. The final plan was adopted 12 to 4, with all Democrats voting no.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to remove the residency issue from the budget altogether. Gov. Scott Walker's original budget would have thrown out residency requirements throughout the state. He said public workers should have the freedom to live where they want.

Local governments said they should have the right to set their own policies.

Dozens of Wisconsin communities have residency requirements, but the bill would have the biggest effect on Milwaukee - where some neighborhoods are filled with public workers forced to live in the city.

Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said those are some of the nicest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, and he feared they would deteriorate if public workers fled to the suburbs. Senate Democrat Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie said getting rid of residency would make Milwaukee closer to being like Detroit.


Joint Finance bans New York-style prohibitions on super-sized soda

MADISON -- If a state committee has its way, no Wisconsinite would have to worry about being denied of a super-sized soda.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted Thursday to prohibit Wisconsin communities from passing a ban on large sugared sodas, similar to the one pushed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Assembly Republican Pat Strachota of West Bend said she didn't want government telling her she couldn't have an extra-large soda and popcorn when she goes to the movies.

Democrats rejected the budget measure, saying that no Wisconsin city has passed such a ban. They also said the proposal was ironic, after the Assembly voted on Tuesday to try and make food stamp recipients spent at least two-thirds of their benefits on healthy, state-approved food items.

Brandon Scholz of the Wisconsin Grocers Association says the soda proposal is different, because it encourages consistent rules in communities throughout the state.


Court reversal revives Uniroyal-Goodrich wrongful death lawsuits

WAUSAU -- A state appeals court has revived a civil suit filed four years ago by relatives of employees at the former Uniroyal-Goodrich tire plant in Eau Claire.

The plaintiffs said materials with benzene resulted in a number of employee deaths and injuries. Circuit Judge William Gabler threw out the case in 2011, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

The judge said the claims should have been filed within three years after the actual deaths - but the plaintiffs said the three-year clock didn't start until the causes of the deaths and injuries were discovered.

The appellate judges called that a "genuine issue of material fact," and they sent the case back to the circuit court. The lawsuit has a number of petroleum firms as defendants including Exxon-Mobil, Texaco, British Petroleum and Sunoco.


Knowles-Nelson fund could be cut further

MADISON -- The state fund that preserves Wisconsin's nature and recreation lands could be reduced again, even though lawmakers agreed two years ago not to make any more cuts for a decade.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget would keep the bonding authority for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund at $60 million a year. The annual bonding was cut two years ago from $85 million, to help get rid of a large state budget deficit.

Casey Eggleston of the Nature Conservancy is sounding the alarm about another possible cut.

He says conservation groups like to see large tracts of nature land remain intact, so habitat can be preserved. Eggleston also says the stewardship program is key for hunters, anglers, and others who love the outdoors.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee is expected to consider the level of Stewardship Fund bonding in the next several days.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


Skyward files another appeal over database contract

STEVENS POINT -- A Stevens Point company has filed another appeal to try and win a statewide contract to install a new statewide public school student database.

Skyward argues that state officials used a biased and flawed system when it gave Infinite Campus of Minnesota a $15 million software contract.

The state Department of Public Instruction rejected Skyward's appeal last week. The firm filed a new challenge Thursday with the state Administration Department.

About half of Wisconsin's school districts use Skyward for their local student databases - and some districts said it would cost them up to a half-million dollars if they had to convert to the Infinite Campus system.

Skyward has said it would leave Wisconsin if it doesn't win the appeal, and move to another state where it can do business.

Infinite Campus serves about 10 percent of Wisconsin schools, and some state lawmakers say there's room for both companies.

Legislators of both parties say they have bills allowing more than one vendor for the new student database.

Several officials and groups have written the Administration Department on Skyward's behalf. U.S. House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse is among the latest to do so.


Air Guard contingent bound for Poland

MADISON -- About 100 members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard are on their way to Poland, for a joint training exercise with members of the Polish Air Force.

A unit from the 115th Fighter Wing was scheduled to leave Madison Friday morning in an F-16 aircraft to be used in the training.

Pilots, maintenance workers, and support personnel will spend just over two weeks at Lask Air Base. It's part of the first rotation of fighter aircraft by the U.S. Air Force Aviation Detachment in Poland.


Teenager who killed bicyclist while drag racing waived into adult court

MILWAUKEE -- A judge has ordered a 14-year-old girl to be tried as an adult, after she allegedly killed a bicyclist while drag racing in a stolen car in Milwaukee.

Illahje Davis is charged with reckless homicide, hit-and-run causing death, and two counts of vehicle theft.

Prosecutors said she and other teens were racing in a pair of stolen vehicles on a business street just east of Milwaukee's Timmerman Airport last August.

Police said Davis's car struck and killed 57-year-old Ronald Forbes as he was bicycling to work. The girl was ordered to stand trial on the adult charges before her lawyer filed a request to have the case heard in juvenile court. Circuit Judge Dennis Cimpl turned down that request Thursday.

Davis currently at the Lincoln Hills state school for juvenile offenders near Irma in Lincoln County. An arraignment date on her charges is expected to be set at a status conference on May 23rd.