Campus surpluses, help for highway budget overruns on Joint Finance agenda; suit targets church's cemetery fund; more state news
MADISON -- State lawmakers were expected to decide Tuesday whether to spend $27 million to pay for extra road salt and snow removal costs during the brutal winter.
If the Joint Finance Committee does not approve the funding, county highway officials say they'll have to cut back on road maintenance to make up for what they spent this past season. The extra funds could be provided by an unexpected DOT surplus of up to $37 million dollars for the current fiscal year. Also today, the finance panel will be asked to approve a new system to make sure U-W campuses cannot sit on millions-of-dollars in surpluses like they did a year ago. That upset lawmakers who responded by freezing the university's tuition. The finance committee will also consider a contract to have a firm administer $25 million in tax money to help new Wisconsin businesses get off the ground. Sun Mountain Kegonsa -- a joint managing firm based in Fitchburg and Santa Fe New Mexico -- would contribute $300,000 to the state's new venture capital fund, and raise $5 million more.
Half of the fund would have be invested in new companies within a year, and all of it within two years.
New UW System lobbyist started work Monday
MADISON -- The U-W's new vice president for university relations started his new job Monday, as concerns continued to surface about his hiring.
Jim Villa, a former Milwaukee County aide and campaign adviser to Gov. Scott Walker, will earn $178,000 a year to lobby lawmakers and improve the UW's public image.
The Associated Press reports that at least two members of the Board of Regents expressed concerns about Villa in e-mails the university released.
He was hired by U-W President Ray Cross from among five finalists.
The AP said the e-mails it obtained showed that Regents John Drew and Tony Evers were both concerned about Villa. Evers wrote that he had read "scary" information about the new appointee -- but Regent Chuck Pruitt tried unsuccessfully to assure Evers that Villa was not considered an "ideologue."
Villa told the AP that he appreciates that candidates' strengths and weaknesses are discussed in a competitive process and he looks forward to working on behalf of the university and earning stakeholders' respect.
Diocese' cemetery trust is creditors' $60 million target
Chicago's federal appeals court will hear arguments June second on whether the Milwaukee Archdiocese must open its cemetery trust fund to creditors in the church's bankruptcy case.
The creditors, mainly victims of sex abuse by priests, say the church should open up the $60 million in its cemetery maintenance budget, as part of the settlements the victims are expected to get.
The church says it would violate the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment, and would go against a 1993 federal religious freedom law.
Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley ruled in favor of the creditors, saying there would be no such breach of religious freedom.
Milwaukee Federal Judge Rudolph Randa disagreed, and allowed the church to keep its cemetery funds.
The creditors say Randa's ruling should be thrown out, in part because he bought plots in the church cemeteries and has numerous relatives buried there. The creditors call that a conflict of interest on the judge's part.
Sunny, warmer weather needed for farmers to catch-up
Almost a quarter of the Wisconsin corn crop is normally planted by now but thanks to the cold and wet spring, only two percent of the corn was in the ground as of Sunday.
Six percent of the spring field tillage is done, up from just one-percent a week ago as tractors spent most of last week in the sheds again.
About 18 percent of the Wisconsin oat crop has been planted. That's five percent more than a week ago, but it's well below the norm of 59 percent by this date.
Thirty-seven percent of the state's farm fields have surplus moisture, up from 35 percent a week ago.
All of the state's crop reporters say we need sunny and warmer weather. Oneida County still has frost in the ground.
Fewer traffic deaths was silver lining to winter's misery
The extended cold and snowy winter had at least one positive effect -- fewer people dying in Wisconsin traffic crashes.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's preliminary figures, 27 people were killed in 21 mishaps throughout the Badger State in April. That's the lowest number of traffic deaths for an April since the end of WWII in the 1940's.
The total was two less than a year ago, and 15 less than the average for the past five years.
For the first four months of this year, 115 people have died in crashes -- 18 fewer than the year before, and 22 less than the five-year average.
Six motorcyclists and 16 pedestrians have been killed in Wisconsin crashes so far this year.
Meanwhile, the annual Memorial Day "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign is about to begin. It runs from May 19th-June 1st.
Bond set in family squabble that ended in shooting
WAUSAU -- A judge in Wausau set bond at a $1 million Monday for a man charged with shooting and wounding an aunt and uncle.
Prosecutors said Kyle Schaefer, 21, was leaving a basement when he opened a door and began firing without warning.
Three bullets struck Patrick and Sandra Schmitt, who were still at a Wausau hospital at last word. Patrick was in serious but stable condition, and Sandra was listed as good.
The shootings occurred Saturday night at a home in the Marathon County town of Maine, northeast of Wausau. Prosecutors say they're not sure about a possible motive
A criminal complaint said Schaefer was grieving the loss of his grandmother to cancer, and had lost a job after having it less than three days. He's charged with two counts of attempted homicide, and three charges of reckless endangerment.
Schaefer is due back in court a week from tomorrow, when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Re-trial underway in case that spurred 'voluntary intoxication' defense ban
STURGEON BAY -- The murder case that convinced the governor and Legislature to ban "voluntary intoxication" as an allowable defense is having its second trial this week in Door County.
Testimony began Monday in the case of Brian Cooper, 37, of Plainfield Illinois. He's charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and sexual assault in the raping and strangling of 21-year-old Alisha Bromfield and her unborn child in August of 2012. Cooper's first trial ended in a hung jury.
Authorities said Bromfield had joined Cooper at his sister's wedding in Door County, and she was not interested in rekindling a romance. In February, state Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater told fellow lawmakers that Cooper claimed to be too drunk to have intended to kill Bromfield and her unborn child.
Both houses later approved Nass' bill to ban voluntary intoxication as an acceptable defense in future homicide cases. The governor signed the law in mid-April, about two weeks after the Senate's final passage. Prosecutor Raymond Pelrine told jurors in his opening statement Monday that Cooper loved Bromfield and "if he couldn't have her, no one could."
The defense said the two were a couple at one time, but she got pregnant by another man when she went to college. The re-trial is expected to last most of the week.
Milwaukee chef named 'Best in the Midwest'
MILWAUKEE -- Justin Aprahamian, who owns the Sanford restaurant in Milwaukee, received the award from the James Beard Foundation Monday night in New York. He was the only nominee from Wisconsin, and he beat out five other chefs from Minnesota and Missouri.
Aprahamian grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, and he graduated from the culinary program at Waukesha County Technical College.
He bought Sanford in late 2012 from the D'Amato family. The fine-dining establishment specializes in seasonal dishes -- plus meals inspired by the new owner's Armenian background.
For a look at his menu, visit http://sanfordrestaurant.com/menu-3/exploration-menu.
Man facing charges for allegedly sharing pot-laced cookies
STEVENS POINT -- A Stevens Point man has pleaded innocent to serving up marijuana-laced cookies to his former co-workers.
Darren Blair, 21, is charged in Portage County with reckless endangerment, placing foreign objects in edibles, and delivering the main ingredient in marijuana.
Prosecutors said Blair brought the cookies to the Charcoal Grill in Plover on March 22nd, and a female co-worker ate two of them before getting sick.
She reportedly told officers that Blair asked everyone if they wanted "pot cookies." He was arrested during a traffic stop and police said he was carrying a bag chocolate chip cookies and cookie dough, both of which smelled like marijuana.
Blair has waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and a pre-trial conference in the case is set for June second. He's free on a $1,500 bond, and he's still working but not at the restaurant.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
S.S. Badger ready to sail after EPA-approved refitting
MANITOWOC -- The car ferry that crosses Lake Michigan at Manitowoc will open its season on May 16th with a cleaner-burning coal, as ordered by the federal government.
The owners of the S.S. Badger spent over $1 million to install new combustion controls, as part of a consent decree with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department.
The boat must reduce its coal-ash emissions this year, and eliminate them next year.
The Badger has carried vehicles for decades between Manitowoc and Ludington, Mich. It's the nation's last steam-fired coal-burning vessel.
Chief Exectutive Officer Bob Manglitz said the new controls were installed over the winter and after the Badger sets sail, they'll know if it will reduce coal usage by the goal of 10- to 15 percent.
Manglitz said it would not only meet the terms of the consent decree, it would also save on fuel costs.
The Badger was ordered a few years ago to stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan. It has received federal extensions while looking for the most efficient method.
Brewers tap balloon scavenger scheme to promote baseball
MILWAUKEE -- About 500 balloons were placed throughout Milwaukee overnight. The people who find them are getting goodies from the Brewers as part of their upcoming "Spring Madness" promotion, which includes various discounts for three games next week.
Fans were invited to search around Miller Park and other Milwaukee landmarks for the balloons starting at 5 a.m. In past years, the team held scavenger hunts for lawn ornaments of Bernie Brewer and a couple of the Klements' Racing Sausages. The first year, people hoarded multiple Bernies -- and some tried selling the free characters on E-Bay. The balloons prevent that kind of thing -- and each fan can only claim one voucher. Most vouchers are for two free tickets to one of three Brewer games against Pittsburgh next Tuesday through Thursday. A few also had vouchers for larger prizes like a night in a stadium suite, a game-used Brewers' jersey, and autographed baseballs.