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State wraps budget year with $517 million surplus; aid increased for many schools; 10 more Wisconsin stories

MADISON -- The state government ended the first year of its two-year state budget with a $517 million surplus, according to an annual fiscal report released Wednesday.

Republican legislative leaders immediately hailed the surplus -- even though it's $207 million less than what was projected when the GOP majority approved the budget in mid-2013.

The state's fiscal numbers are a major issue in the governor's race.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker said his party eliminated a $3.6 billion budget deficit which was left by Democrats during the Great Recession.

Democratic candidate Mary Burke cites non-partisan figures showing that the state will have a $1.8 billion deficit for the next budget in mid-2015. There's also a $400 million shortfall projected for the current budget ending next June.

Walker says the figures assume no economic growth, which he expects will lead to higher tax collections.

On Tuesday, the state said tax collections from July through September were $55 million higher than expected but were down 2.3 percent from the previous year. A reduction in employee income tax withholding was cited as a reason.

Candidate Burke tries to distance self from Gov. Doyle

MILWAUKEE -- Despite what Republicans claim, Mary Burke is not Jim Doyle. The Democratic candidate for governor tried making that clear Wednesday to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board.

Burke was Doyle's commerce secretary for more than two years but she said there were things the two did not agree on.

The former Trek Bicycle executive said opposed a number of Doyle measures, including tax hikes for the wealthy, maximum allowable increases in UW tuition, and using state gas tax revenues to pay for public schools.

Incumbent Gov. Scott Walker is facing the voters for the third time since Doyle announced he would step down after two terms.

Each time, the GOP has tried equating the Democratic nominee with Doyle, citing issues in which the Republicans have changed course since 2011.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was given the Doyle label both times he ran.

Burke said she does talk with Doyle, but not often. He has given $10,000 to her campaign.

The governor's race has tightened up again. The latest Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday shows both Burke and Walker with 47 percent support among likely voters.

That's after Walker jumped out to a 5 percent edge in the last poll 15 days ago.

DPI figures show about half school districts will get more aid

MADISON -- About half of Wisconsin's 424 public school districts will get more general state aid than a year ago, according to final figures released Wednesday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Schools will share almost $4.5 billion dollars in general state aid -- 2.1 percent more than last year.

Most of the state's largest districts will get increases. The Milwaukee Public Schools get just under one percent more, and Madison four percent more.

Independent charter schools are private voucher schools are also getting a bigger piece of the pie.

The state budget approved by majority Republicans increases tax-funded vouchers for low-income kids by $768 per student in kindergarten- through eighth grades.

Each high school voucher student is worth $1,400 more. Milwaukee's voucher aid is $61 million, which otherwise would have gone to the city's public schools.

Pewaukee is getting the biggest percentage aid increase -- 150 percent to about $3.3 million. It's due to a six percent enrollment growth and declines in the district's property values.

The Minong Northwood district is getting the largest decrease, at almost 30.5 percent.

Cong. Duffy, challenger Westlund will debate

WAUSAU -- U.S. House Republican Sean Duffy will debate his challenger in his home community but they won't debate in her hometown that's over 150 miles away.

Duffy and Democrat Kelly Westlund are scheduled to meet Oct. 29 in Wausau at the UW Marathon County Center for Civic Engagement, but they won't debate in Ashland, where Westlund serves on the Common Council.

Each candidate's staff accused the other of not negotiating in good faith. Duffy, who's going for his third term, previously committed to an Oct. 30 debate in Ashland.

Westlund wanted three debates, including one in Superior but all those fell through.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Milwaukee cop who killed disturbed man is fired

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed a man in a downtown park has been fired.

Police Chief Ed Flynn said Wednesday that he terminated officer Christopher Manney for violating proper procedures in dealing with emotionally-disturbed people just before Dontre Hamilton was killed.

The 31-year-old Hamilton was sleeping in Red Arrow Park on April 30 when two officers were called to check on him. They didn't see him do anything wrong, and they left.

Manney later got a voice mail about Hamilton. Flynn said Manney came up from behind and patted down the victim -- something that's not in the policy manual.

The chief said the move instigated a confrontation which led to the use of force. Manney shot Hamilton 14 times, but Flynn said excessive force was not used.

Hamilton, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was not armed.

The victim's family and supporters have held a number of protest marches since the incident.

Nathanial Hamilton said the family's glad that Manney is no longer on the police force but they still want him to be criminally charged in the death. The district attorney is still investigating.

Park Service considers fee to access ice caves

CORNUCOPIA -- Visitors might have to bring some money to see the Apostle Islands' ice caves if they're open to the public this winter.

The National Lakeshore is considering a $5 fee for those 12-and-older. Last year was the first time in five years that it was cold enough for people to walk safely along a two-mile ice path from Meyers Beach near Cornucopia to the ice-adorned sea caves.

A boom in social media spread the message internationally -- and almost 138,000 people ventured in the sub-zero cold to see the ice caves, while park staffers scrambled to provide security and other services. They charged $3 per car in a small parking lot, which brought in $47,000 -- only a fraction of the costs borne by the National Park Service.

Most folks had to park on adjacent Hwy. 13.

Public open houses have been set for 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 22 at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland and from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Headquarters, 415 Washington Ave., Bayfield. Written comments are also being accepted.

Learn more about the park here:

Border county wins grant for underwater search device

WINONA, Minn. -- A Minnesota county along the Wisconsin border will get an underwater robot to help find drowning victims in the Mississippi River.

Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand said he pursued the new equipment, after a La Crosse man and three Minnesotans drowned when their sport utility vehicle plunged through the ice on the river last January.

The driver and two passengers were found within a day of the incident, but it took two weeks to find the Wisconsin victim -- Andrew Kingsbury of La Crosse -- after an extensive search.

Brand said an underwater robot came from Carver County in Minnesota to help with the search. Without it, he said they never would have recovered the final body. So the Winona sheriff's force is getting its own robot, with a camera so officials above the surface can see what's happening underwater.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is providing a $136,000 grant. Donations will cover the remaining $10,000.

Brand expects the new robot to be put into service by the end of the year.

Bangor man will go to prison for assaulting young girl

LA CROSSE -- A Bangor man is about to go prison for sexually-assaulting a 12-year-old girl and videotaping the incident.

William Clark, 28, struck a plea deal with prosecutors this week. They agreed to recommend a prison sentence of no more than ten years, in exchange for guilty pleas to two counts of possessing child pornography. Two others were dropped -- repeated child sexual assault, and intimidating a victim.

They'll still be considered in a sentence that will be announced on Jan. 5. Police said they began investigating Clark last November, after the girl told officers he molested her each day since May while promising to give her shoes and makeup. Prosecutors said Clark told the girl he'd shoot her if she reported the sexual abuse.

During the investigation, the FBI sent photos from Clark's cell-phone to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and that agency identified 48 pictures and a movie depicting known child porn victims.

Dozens indicted for playing fake prescription scheme

MILWAUKEE -- Thirty-four people have been charged in a scheme in which fake prescriptions were used to obtain over $300,000 worth of painkillers.

Over 100 criminal charges were filed in Milwaukee County for purchases of oxycodone in 11 counties in southern and eastern Wisconsin.

The defendants were accused of presenting false prescriptions at drug stores, or letting their names be used so others could get the medications.

Prosecutors said most of the prescriptions were generated on computers, but some were apparently written on pads stolen from doctors' offices.

Investigators said a dozen doctors were named on the prescriptions and those obtaining the drugs used both Medicaid and private insurance.

The charges include medical assistance fraud, illegally delivering controlled substances, and obtaining drugs by fraud. All the defendants are from southeast Wisconsin. Twenty-nine of the 34 suspects live in Milwaukee.

Man gets 5 years prison for threats, filing false liens

WAUKESHA -- A 31-year-old man has been sentenced to five years in prison for making threats and filing false liens against a judge and 27 other public officials in New Jersey.

Michael Rinderle pleaded guilty in August to charges of engaging in retaliation and making threats.

Authorities said the threats came after officials charged Rinderle's common-law wife with a number of traffic offenses.

He's reportedly part of the Sovereign Citizen movement, which claims that federal, state, and local laws do not apply to them.

Sheriff who lost in primary launches write-in bid

JUNEAU -- Dodge County Sheriff Patricia Ninmann, who lost in a primary, now says she'll run as a write-in candidate in the Nov. 4 general election.

Sheriff's patrol sergeant Dale Schmidt won the Republican primary in August with about 52 percent of the vote. His name is the only one on the ballot next month, since there's no Democratic candidate. Gov. Scott Walker appointed Ninmann in April of last year, after former Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls retired.

She told WBEV Radio in Beaver Dam that many people have encouraged her to run as a write-in. She said she has management experience that her opponent lacks and he never met with her after the primary to work on a plan for moving the sheriff's department forward.

Schmidt says he remains confident he'll win the election, and he'll keep focusing on his plans for the office.