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Foundation concedes it undervalued state’s business climate ranking; Regents consider policy to limit money kept in reserve; 10 more state news briefs

The Tax Foundation has admitted that it gave Wisconsin too low of a rating for its business tax climate.

The group that brought you Tax Freedom Day reported Wednesday morning that Wisconsin ranked 43rd for its business tax friendliness -- down one place from a year ago.

State Assembly Republican Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield said there was no way Wisconsin's tax climate got worse, considering all the changes made in the new state budget which took effect in July. Other Republicans and reporters raised questions as well.

By the end of yesterday, the Tax Foundation issued a statement that it would make clarifications about this year's Wisconsin ranking. Foundation Vice President Joseph Henchman confirmed that the state retroactively cut individual income tax rates by .1%, while reducing the numbers of tax brackets from five to four.

He said the budget also included other reforms that were not taken into account in the Tax Foundation's ranking process. Henchman said they would be reflected in future rankings and "back-casted" if necessary.


Regents consider policy to limit money kept in reserve

University of Wisconsin campuses would have limits on how much money they could keep in reserve under a new policy to be considered by the Board of Regents.

It was learned this spring that campuses were sitting on a total of $650 million. That was when UW leaders were concerned about a lack of funding, and students were paying annual tuition hikes of 5.5%.

State lawmakers were so angry at the revelation that they ordered the first freeze in tuition since the UW merged with the old Wisconsin State University system over 40 years ago.

The new policy would require campuses to maintain reserves of 10% of their budgets, but they'd have to justify keeping more than 15%.

The regents' business and finance committee will discuss the new policy today. The full board will act on it tomorrow. The regents are meeting at UW-Parkside near Kenosha.


Hard Rock owners might build Menominee casino

The owners of the famous Hard Rock Café would build and manage the Menominee Indian casino and resort that's being proposed for Kenosha.

Media reports say the Seminole tribe, which owns the Hard Rock, will enter into a management and development deal for the $800 million project. More details are due out tonight.

The Menominee Tribe, which would own the new casino, has previously offered 25% of its gaming revenues with a project manager.

Go. Scott Walker has the final say on whether the casino gets built after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs gave its blessing earlier this year. Walker has said that all 10 other Indian tribes in Wisconsin would have to approve it, knowing that the Potawatomi has fought it for years because it would cut into revenues for that tribe's casino in Milwaukee. The Ho-Chunk and Oneida tribes also say they're against the project.


Foundation pays benefits to survivors of soldiers killed during federal shutdown.

The Pentagon arranged Wednesday to have a private foundation pay death benefits to the survivors of U.S. troops killed during the federal government shutdown.

Last Saturday's death of Milwaukee Marine Jeremiah Collins got tied up in the political finger-pointing in Congress over who's to blame for the shutdown.

In the meantime, the private Fisher House Foundation has agreed to pay full benefits to military survivors, including a $100,000 payment to help families with their immediate expenses and funeral costs.

The government will pay Fisher House back after the shutdown ends. The foundation offers a variety of services. They include short-term housing for families at military bases where their loved ones are treated for combat injuries.

Collins, a 19-year-old Marine lance corporal, died at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. The cause of his death is still being investigated.

Collins' mother, Shannon, said on NBC's "Today Show" that the government was hurting the wrong people -- and she'll never understand why.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he warned Congress that death benefits would not be paid during a government shutdown. They were not included in the military pay package approved a day before the shutdown began last Tuesday.


Bill would make it illegal to post threatening messages

A tougher law against bullying school kids online will be discussed today at a public hearing at the State Capitol.

The Senate Education Committee will take testimony on a bill making it illegal to make public posts on sites like Facebook if the messages threaten to harm any person or property.

The bill also requires the state's education agency to update its model school policy on bullying to include electronic threats. School boards throughout the state use the model policy to help with their own anti-bullying policies that have been required by law for some time.

Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) proposed the new measure. It adds to a current law which bans email and other electronic messages which intend to frighten, threaten, abuse, harass or intimidate another person.


Audit: Foster-care agency had $130,000 in questionable expenses

The agencies that place children in Wisconsin foster homes had $130,000 of questionable expenses over the past two fiscal years.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau checked the ledgers of five of the state's 24 child-placement agencies. Over 78% of the questionable expenses came from Thrive Treatment Services of Watertown, which places children with emotional and behavior issues into foster homes.

The audit said Thrive spent $5,500 state tax dollars on four holiday parties, $11,000 for a house in Adams County where foster care was not properly documented, and another $5,000 for a board meeting last year. Also, the audit showed that $200,000 was loaned to businesses owned by the CEO's relatives.

The group has not commented. Auditors recommended that the state Children and Family Services Department review Thrive's spending and that the $130,000 be paid back unless the costs can be justified.

Gov. Scott Walker said yesterday he would work with the department on the audit's suggestions and will work with lawmakers on any needed changes in state law.


Ashland woman says she’ll challenge Duffy

A City Council member in Ashland says she's seriously thinking about running against U.S. House Republican Sean Duffy next year.

Kelly Westlund has a consulting firm in Ashland. She's the first to publicly consider a run against Duffy, a Wausau area Republican who's in his second term.

The Prairie Badger blog says Westlund may be the strongest candidate the Democrats could put up against Duffy. She's a graduate of "Emerge Wisconsin," which trains Democratic women to run for office. Westlund also spoke at this year's Democratic state convention.

Duffy is currently being targeted by liberal groups who partially blame him for the federal government shutdown with his vocal support of delaying key parts of Obamacare. The progressive recently commissioned polls in House districts where Democrats consider GOP incumbents vulnerable.

They found that Duffy has a 40% approval rating in his north central Wisconsin district and a 46% disapproval rating.  The poll also found that Duffy would lose to a "generic Democrat" by 3 to 4 points.

Duffy got 56% of the vote last November in winning his second term over former state Senate Democrat Pat Kreitlow.


High-speed chase results in death in Milwaukee

A 34-year-old man was killed just before midnight after his car was hit by a speeding drug suspect who was chased by a Milwaukee police officer.

Authorities said the officer ended the chase only a few seconds after it began -- before the fatal crash.

Police said the 32-year-old officer saw what appeared to be a drug deal, and when a vehicle drove away, the officer tried stopping the suspect but couldn't.

After the crash, two of the three people in the vehicle that was being chased were arrested as they tried to flee on foot. One of them was on probation for robbery, and the other was on probation for a drug violation. The third person was still at large at last word.

Officials did not release the name of the man who died in the crash.

Milwaukee changed its policy on high-speed chases three years ago after four innocent people were killed by drivers who were fleeing. Now police chases are only allowed when there's cause that someone in the pursued cars had committed a violent crime or is a threat to others.


Mayor, ME question bill to criminalize co-sleeping while drunk

Two Milwaukee officials say they have problems with a state bill that makes it a felony to kill or injure a baby when sleeping with the infant while intoxicated.

Assemblywoman Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake) proposed the measure, saying it would hold adults accountable when putting babies at risk. She proposed the bill after Milwaukee recorded five unsafe sleeping deaths since the beginning of September.

Mayor Tom Barrett said it would be better to educate residents about the problem, and he kicked off a campaign yesterday to do just that. Firefighters will become involved in the effort for the first time.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office has investigated 12 deaths this year involving unsafe sleeping conditions.

Medical Examiner Brian Peterson says that if parents face the prospect of criminal charges, they'll be likely to hide some of the details of how their babies died so they don't incriminate themselves.


Police say progress being made in 3-year-old murder

It was three years ago tonight when a Wausau woman disappeared. Now, police believe that Stephanie Low was murdered in her apartment and was then taken away.

Police say they've checked out almost 400 leads in the case, some as recently as last week.

Kristopher "Spider" Torgerson has long been a person of interest in the case. Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel told WAOW TV that Torgerson is now a suspect. Officials have not given a reason for that conclusion.

Hardel said his investigators have made progress in the case, but not as much as they would like.

"We're not quite there yet, but we're getting close," he said.

Low was 22 when she vanished after she abruptly hung up while talking to a friend on the phone. At the time, her mother said Stephanie was threatened before she disappeared, but she never said how.

Torgerson was sentenced earlier this year to four years in prison on unrelated charges of battery and possession of methamphetamines.

A release of balloons is planned today to mark the third anniversary of Low's disappearance.


Shullsburg man found guilty of drunken homicide

A southwest Wisconsin man is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 23 for killing a woman in a one-car crash.

A Lafayette County jury found Kyle Monahan, 24, Shullsburg, guilty on two felony charges of drunken and negligent homicide plus a felony count of driving with a prohibited alcohol level.

The crash happened in August 2011. Passenger Rebecca Cushman, 21, of Dixfield, Maine, was killed. Authorities said Cushman was driving at a high rate of speed when his vehicle hit a creek embankment and rolled over several times. Both Monahan and Cushman were thrown from the vehicle.


Provision of union-limit law goes to Supreme Court

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 11 on one of the few remaining legal challenges to the state's public union bargaining limits.

The court will decide if it was constitutional to force local governments and public schools to abide by the Act 10 restrictions adopted in 2011.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled 13 months ago in favor of two plaintiffs, the Madison teachers and a Milwaukee city union. The state appealed. The Fourth District Appellate Court refused to rule on the matter and passed the case on the Supreme Court, saying it has sweeping effects on public workers throughout Wisconsin.

Until recently, there were questions about whether Colas' ruling applied to local unions statewide or just the two plaintiffs. The judge said it applies statewide, but he rejected a request to prevent unions statewide from having to recertify each year under the Act 10 law. State officials are proceeding with about 400 requests for recertification votes.

A half-dozen public employees have asked the courts to hold the state in contempt of court. A decision in that case is still pending.