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Walker championing tax relief while WTA says we're now 12th highest; budget crunch could cost jobs at UW-EC; 9 more Wisconsin stories

MADISON -- As Wisconsinites receive their annual property tax bills, Gov. Scott Walker is traveling the state Wednesday to remind those folks what he and other Republicans did for them this year.

Walker had news conferences planned in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Milwaukee, and Green Bay where he expected to detail this year's property tax relief measures.

In March, the governor and Legislature approved a cut of $131 for a typical homeowner, part of a package that returned the bulk of a nearly $1 billion state budget surplus to taxpayers.

Walker and lawmakers cut about $2 billion in taxes during his first four-year term that's about to end and he's promising more cuts in his next state budget which he'll unveil in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is the 12th highest taxed state in the nation, up from 13th a year ago, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. The watchdog group also says the Badger State also has the third-highest taxes among its Upper Midwest neighbors.

Illinois has the highest taxes in the region, and Minnesota is second.

The tax alliance used Census data in finding that Wisconsinites paid 11.4 percent of their average personal incomes in taxes in 2012. That's nearly a percent more than the national average.

Budget deficit could cost jobs at UW-Eau Claire

EAU CLAIRE -- UW Eau Claire might have to cut some faculty and staff jobs next year, as the result of a big structural deficit in its next budget.

The university expects to carry $4.5 million of current financial obligations into its next general operating budget.

Assistant chancellor Mike Rindo told WQOW TV that Eau Claire officials will review its spending, and look for ways to reduce expenses and increase revenues through higher student enrollments. The campus deficit is blamed in part on a drop in the numbers of students, along with cuts in state aid, and the two-year tuition freeze the state ordered after UW schools were found to have millions in reserves while raising tuition.

Rindo said academic affairs make up 81 percent of UW Eau Claire's budget, and they'll see the largest cuts, but non-academic units could see proportionately higher reductions.

Earlier this month, UW System President Ray Cross said he was working on a plan to cut expenses, and possibly reduce elective courses, throughout the state's 26-campus system.

New frac-sand mines opening under old rules

MADISON -- The state Department of Natural Resources continues to let new frac-sand mines open, even though the agency's environmental regulations expired nine months ago.

The Wisconsin State Journal said over 200 non-metallic silica sand mines were approved under a now-expired 2009 permit.

DNR administrator Russ Rasmussen told the Madison news outlet the permit was designed to avoid pollution from gravel pits, not the sprawling mines that make hundreds of rail shipments of silica sand each day to oil and gas drillers.

As a result, the State Journal said clay, sand, and chemicals have spilled into some of Wisconsin's cleanest trout streams as operators failed to keep heavy rains from washing away sand piles.

Rasmussen said the DNR was not able to add stronger environmental protections to its current rules, so he recently ordered a separate sand-mining permit. He could not say whether the state or the sand-mining firms face new liability, but the agency's legal division is looking into that.

Deb Dix, who oversees frac-sand mining for the DNR, could not say how many mines opened since the permit system expired.

The Midwest Environmental Advocates says at least four such approvals have been made.

Sportsman's license fees were used to pay for Gogebic studies

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says he'll decide whether hunters and anglers should have to keep paying for an environmental review of Gogebic Taconite's proposed iron ore mine.

It became public this week that the state used hunting and fishing fee revenues, plus tax money, to pay $260,000 that won't be recovered from the mining firm. It paid for several aspects of the state's oversight of the proposed iron ore extraction near Mellen in Ashland and Iron counties.

Critics said previous mining firms had to cover those costs, but Republican lawmakers approved a break as part of its 2013 law which eased environmental rules for Gogebic and similar projects.

The Republican Walker said he'd prefer that hunting, fishing, and trapping license fees be used only for those purposes and he'll review the use of those monies for the mining project.

He said DNR officials handled that, and his office had nothing to do with it. The agency has not commented.

Earlier, it said Gogebic was being billed for costs directly related to its proposal. The firm has paid around $350,000 so far, and both the state and the company can expect to pay more.

High Court will rule on Walker-related Doe probe

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided to rule on three cases tied to the John Doe probe into campaign fund-raising by Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans in the 2012 recall elections.

One case seeks to reinstate subpoenas thrown out in January by John Doe judge Greg Peterson. He sided with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other targets who received the subpoenas.

The judge said the activities at issue were not illegal. The other two cases challenged the legality of the Doe probe, which secretly took evidence on allegations of illegal campaign coordination between GOP recall candidates and the Club for Growth and other outside groups.

Judge Rudolph Randa halted the probe in May as part of the Club for Growth's federal lawsuit.

The state justices voted 6-0 to accept the three cases before them. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley did not take part, because her son works at a law firm which represents one of the investigation's targets.

Other justices expressed concerns over how their review will proceed, mainly because the records are not public, which is highly unusual in matters before the Supreme Court.

Also, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported four of the seven justices have benefited from donations by the Club for Growth to their own campaigns. Some experts say they should withdraw from the case for that reason.

EPA, National Guard will assist with racin lab clean-up

OSHKOSH -- The National Guard and the federal Environmental Protection Agency will help Winnebago County officials clean-up a house in Oshkosh where the deadly toxic chemical ricin was said to be made.

The county health department asked for help in running the clean-up project, which began Wednesday and is scheduled to run through mid-day Thursday.

Access to the house has been restricted for six weeks due to possible contamination. Officials say the public has not been at risk, since all of the hazardous materials stayed inside the house.

Prosecutors said Kyle Smith, 21, a UW Oshkosh student, made ricin there.

A federal grand jury found that Smith intended to use the chemical as a weapon, even though his attorney denies it. He's scheduled to go on trial Feb. 17 in federal court.

Election called to fill Grothman's Senate seat

MADISON -- A new state senator will be elected next spring to replace Congressman-elect Glenn Grothman of Campbellsport.

Gov. Scott Walker announced the timeline Tuesday and candidates can start circulating nomination papers now. They must be filed by Jan. 6.

Three Republicans have said they'll run for the post. If they all file, they'll square off on the state's previously-scheduled primary day of Feb. 17.

The general election for the post will be April 7, the same day as contests for the State Supreme Court and local government posts.

Grothman, one of the state's most conservative lawmakers, was elected to Congress in November. His tenure in Madison officially ends when his current term expires on Jan. 3.

Three Republicans have said they'll run for his old state post -- Assembly Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville, Ozaukee County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt, and Calumet County Supervisor Ralph Prescott.

Lake-effect dumps 9 inches on Cornucopia

SULLIVAN -- Parts of northern Wisconsin are getting pounded again by lake-effect snow.

Cornucopia, the state's northern-most community in Bayfield County, received 9 inches Monday into Tuesday.

Madeline Island, near Bayfield, had almost seven inches. Saxon in Iron County had just over five inches.

Forecasters predict up to 11 inches in some places, by the time the storm clears out late Wednesday afternoon.

One- to three-inch snow totals are projected away from the higher elevations closest to Lake Superior. This comes a few weeks after much of the far north had around 24 inches of snow, and parts of Iron County had close to eight feet, much of which has since melted, making way for the new snow.

Winds of up to 20 miles an-hour are causing problems with drifting. The National Weather Service has a winter storm warning in place until 6 p.m. Wednesday for Iron and Ashland counties, and advisories until noon in other parts of the far north.

Meanwhile, colder temperatures have returned throughout Wisconsin as a new high-pressure system moved in. Wind chills were in the single digits in the north this morning. Actual temps were in the teens and 20's. Most of Wisconsin expected flurries Wednesday with highs in the 20's.

Milwaukee man gets 7.5 years for robbery gone bad

MILWAUKEE -- A 20-year-old man will spend 7.5 years in prison for his role in an attempted optical store robbery that killed one of his accomplices.

Tedric Sanders was sentenced Tuesday for a hold-up in mid-August at Innovative Optique in suburban Glendale. His accomplice, Joshua Drake, was killed by a store employee during an exchange of gunfire that involved at least 21 shots.

Police said Drake, Sanders, and at least one other prison tried robbing the store. Sanders escaped with a minor gunshot wound to his head. He was driving to a hospital when his car got involved in a hit-and-run crash. Officers caught up with Sanders at the hospital.

He struck a plea deal in which felony murder and bail-jumping charges were dropped, and he ended up pleading guilty to attempted robbery.

Sanders must also spend 7.5 years under extended supervision once he leaves prison.

Body found in burned-out car

MADISON -- Dane County authorities are still trying to determine how a person died in a burned-out car that was found in a field.

Officials said a badly-burned vehicle was discovered around 8 p.m. Monday off a road in the town of Medina and a person's remains were found inside.

Sheriff's detectives, crash reconstruction experts, and the Dane County medical examiner's office were all gathering and processing evidence Tuesday.

No other details were immediately released. Sheriff's officials have asked the public for help in solving the mystery.

Milwaukee homicide victim identified

MILWAUKEE -- A woman found shot to death in a car on Milwaukee's northwest side was identified Tuesday as 24-year-old Keanna Moore.

Police found Moore's body on Sunday afternoon. The auto was parked in an alley near an apartment building.

Officials said the death is apparently a homicide, but they have not released more information.

No arrests have been made. One of the victim's friends told WITI TV she had no idea that Moore had ever went to the area before and to her knowledge, Moore never knew anyone at the apartment complex where her body turned up.

Wisconsin's most expensive mansion on the block

LAKE GENEVA -- What might be Wisconsin's most expensive house is on the sales block.

Zillow real estate web site says Black Point, a four-story mansion on a 464-foot lakeside spread near Lake Geneva, has an asking price of $12.2 million, however Zillow estimates a fair market value of $3.5 million.

It's listed as a single-family European Estate with 11,000 square feet, 10 bathrooms, 5 bedrooms, a 4-vehicle garage, and luxurious amenities which include a pool, sauna, cabana, curved staircase, nine fireplaces, and much much more.

The home is located along Geneva Lake on Black Point Drive.

According to the property's Web site, Seipp Brewing Co. owner Conrad Seipp bought 27 acres in 1887 and built his former home.

Zillow has posted a Web listing of the most expensive house for sale in each state. It appeared Wednesday on MSN's home page.