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Oneidas embrace Kenosha casino; 'tax-relief' bill further dissected; more state news

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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Green Bay's Oneida Indian tribe has come out in favor of the proposed Menominee off-reservation casino and resort in Kenosha.

That leaves the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk as the only tribes opposed to the project, only a few days before Gov. Scott Walker announces whether he'll approve it. Walker's decision is expected on Tuesday.

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“They are our closest neighbor,” said Edward Delgado, the Oneida Tribal Chairman, while talking about the Menominee. “They welcomed us here almost 200 years ago when we needed a place to go.”

Earlier this week, Menominee chairman Craig Corn said his tribe could offset gaming revenues the other tribes might lose because of the Kenosha casino's presence.

Delgado said the Oneida would have a role in banking and marketing services -- but Corn emphasized it's not a revenue-sharing arrangement. Walker says he would only approve the Kenosha casino if the community and all other state tribes endorse it -- and if it does not result in an overall increase in state gambling. The Potawatomi says the Menominee project still fails to meet Walker's criteria. Corn said he's confident the governor would see it in a different light "after he reviews all the facts."

Poorer school districts will receive more tax relief than wealthier

MADISON -- Thousands of homeowners will get nothing -- or close to it -- under the $100 million property tax relief plan passed this week by the state Legislature.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says property owners in 82 school districts will be short-changed.

That's because the tax relief is being funneled through the state's school aid formula, which gives more money to the poorest districts than the richest ones.

(For details on your school district, go to https://wistax.org/docs/facts/1382040511-2013-prop-tax-cut.pdf)

Republicans could have given everybody an equal amount of tax relief by using the so-called "first dollar formula" which exempts part of a homeowner's tax liability. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the GOP decided to give more relief to the state's poorest areas. He acknowledged problems with the school aid formula, and vowed to address them as early as the next budget.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker will sign the tax relief measure on Sunday in Burlington, after the Assembly gave final legislative approval Thursday.

Walker proposed the tax relief a week ago, after the state had a higher-than-expected surplus in its last budget. Democrats said the measure was timed to help Walker's re-election bid next year, and the amount of the tax relief is only a dollar or two per week for the average homeowner.

Still, the vast majority of Democrats voted in favor of it. Only 17 of the 54 Democrats in both houses actually voted no.

More historic buildings would catch tax break under proposed bill

MADISON -- More of Wisconsin's historic buildings would be preserved under a doubling of the state's tax credit for those projects.

The Assembly passed the measure 88-to-4 Thursday with four Republicans voting no -- Steve Nass, Adam Neylon, Chris Kapenga, and Rob Hutton.

Developers would get tax credits of 20 percent of their qualifying expenses to preserve historic buildings that date back to 1936 or before. That doubles the current rate for the second time this year. The state credit was just 5 percent before it was doubled in the new state budget in July. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the tax break will cost $8.6 million over the next two years, based on the current usage of the credit.

Lawmakers say the cost will most likely be higher, because it would be more lucrative for developers to do historic projects. Racine, Green Bay, and Kenosha are among the places that have projects pending. There were concerns that the tax break might get out of control.

The Joint Finance Committee would examine the situation by reviewing the tax credit in 2015.

Local governments could remaining frac-mine influence under proposal

MADISON -- Local governments would lose much of their authority to regulate frac-sand mines, under a bill proposed by a state Senate Republican.

Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst says mining companies are being hampered by a patch-work of restrictive local ordinances -- and it would be easier for the mining firms to deal with uniform rules administered by Madison.

Communities could still use their zoning authority to regulate silica-sand operations. They would not be able to use their police powers to impose things like noise limits, or hours of operation.

Blasting activities would remain under state rules -- much to the chagrin of Ashland County officials, who are considering an ordinance to limit exploratory blasting at the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine.

They fear that blasting would loosen asbestos on the property. The Sierra Club blasted Tiffany's proposal, calling it an assault on local control which threatens natural resources.

The Wisconsin Towns Association says the bill would affect local road usage agreements for frac-sand trucks, which seek to minimize highway damage.

Senate Republican Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls says any state bill would have to address local road agreements.

Tiffany is looking for co-sponsors for his legislation, and he's giving them until Monday to sign onto the bill.

Meanwhile, Tiffany has also proposed a constitutional amendment that would make it more likely that the state's Chief Justice would have the same philosophy as the majority of the Supreme Court.

Tiffany wants the chief justice to be chosen every two years by a majority of the court's seven members -- and that person could serve no longer than six years in a row. Currently, the member with the most seniority is the chief justice, and there's no limit on that term.

Tiffany is asking his co-sponsors to sign onto his amendment, which would have to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and then by the voters in a statewide referendum.

Current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has held the court's leadership post since 1996. She's one of two liberals on the seven-member court, which has a four-member conservative majority and a swing member.

The court has had a number of sharp public disagreements in recent years, but things appear to have quieted down over the past year or so.

Guard troops welcomed home to Oshkosh

OSHKOSH -- About 80 Wisconsin National Guard troops were to be welcomed home Friday afternoon after they spent 10 months in Afghanistan.

Gov. Scott Walker will be among the dignitaries on hand for a ceremony on the E-A-A grounds in Oshkosh.

The troops are members of the Guard's 121st Field Artillery unit based in Plymouth. They conducted support missions in which they fired rockets from specialized truck-mounts.

The unit returned to American soil last week. They were debriefed at Fort Bliss in Texas.

Mayors of cities along the Mississippi River asking for more aid

Mayors of cities along the Mississippi River say they're in dire need of more federal money for projects that will keep commerce flowing.

The Delta Regional Authority and the Mississippi River Cities &Towns Initiative met Thursday in Memphis.

They agreed to do what they can to reduce freight bottle-necks, and increase container shipping.

To achieve that, the mayors say they'll need Congress to approve more funding for lock-and-dam improvements and dredging projects.

Last winter, barges ran aground in low water on the Mississippi near St. Louis. It caused commercial traffic to stop on sections south of Wisconsin that were not frozen.

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton said his city and others have had to use their own money for emergency projects. He called that appropriate, saying the Mississippi is a federal interest and not a local waterway.

Natchez Mississippi Mayor Larry Brown said some locks-and-dams on the river are older than 50 years -- and they need to be updated to avoid failures that can severely hold up river shipping. Thirteen mayors attended Thursday's meeting, none from Wisconsin.

Tornado victims can apply for SBA loans

Tornado victims in northeast Wisconsin have until Monday to apply for disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Loans of up to $200,000 are available for qualified residents to fix or replace buildings. Up to $40,000 in loans are available for losses of personal property.

A half-dozen tornadoes and heavy thunderstorms hit northeast Wisconsin Aug. 6-7. Five of the twisters landed in Outagamie County, including one in the city of Appleton.

The disaster relief is open to folks in Outagamie, Brown, Shawano, Waupaca, Winnebago, and Calumet counties.

For more information, visit www.sba.gov/disaster.

Marshfield man will plead to murder charge

MARSHFIELD -- A Marshfield man who was given a new trial in the death of his lover will settle the case with a plea deal.

Eric Mayer, 32, was supposed to go on trial next week in Marathon County for felony murder. Instead, a plea and sentencing hearing is now set for Monday. Terms of the plea bargain will not be released until then.

Mayer originally pleaded guilty to felony murder in the death Cynthia Tyler, 43, of rural Stratford. An appeals court allowed Mayer to withdraw the plea, after he said his attorney did not tell him about the facts that had to be proven for his conviction.

That got him out of a 10-year prison term.

The killing occurred in March of 2009, while Mayer was living at Tyler's home.

Officials said the two argued while driving home from a fish fry. After they got home, Mayer claimed she kicked him in the mouth -- and he then hit her in the face. He told investigators he called 9-1-1 because she didn't wake up after that. Mayer then moved to Marshfield to live with relatives. While his criminal case was pending, Mayer had filed for divorce from another woman.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

Hearings to begin on deer-improvement plans

MADISON -- The first of 35 public hearings will be held next week on a wide-ranging plan to improve Wisconsin's deer hunting.

For western Wisconsin residents, the nearest hearing is at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 29th at the DNR Service Center, 890 Spruce St., Baldwin.

DNR study teams made recommendations based on 62 ideas from Texas researcher James Kroll. They include longer deer seasons -- the formation of county deer management committees, reducing the numbers of management zones, and letting landowners shoot more antlerless deer as long as they provide tissue samples for the DNR to study.

The complete list of proposals is on the DNR's Web site, along with the entire list of public hearings. The first ones will take place Tuesday in Eagle River, Eau Claire, Park Falls, Prairie du Chien, Richland Center, and Schofield. All hearings will start at either 6 or 7 p-m. They'll continue through Halloween.

For more information, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/trustee.html.

Authorities ID man killed in a Madison apartment fire

MADISON -- A man killed in a Madison apartment fire has been identified as Christopher Williams, 51.

An autopsy showed that he died from smoke inhalation and burns.

Firefighters were called to a south side Madison apartment complex Wednesday afternoon, where Williams was found dead in his second floor apartment amid flames and heavy smoke.

It only took about 20 minutes to put out the fire, but units were called back a couple hours later after the flames rekindled.

Officials said the victim was carried into a hallway, but could not be resuscitated. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It destroyed Williams' apartment, and heavily damaged units next to it, and underneath it.

The apartment was located on Bridge Road, near Squaw Bay on the south side of Lake Monona near the 12/18 Beltline.

Shawano man convicted of killing ex-girlfriend, relative

SHAWANO -- A jury has convicted a Shawano man for killing two people, including a woman who threatened to expose details of an affair they had. Jurors deliberated for five hours late Thursday in Oconto County, before finding Daniel Schmidt, 30, guilty of two homicide counts. He shot-and-killed 32-year-old Kimberly Rose of Gillett and her 22-year-old brother Leonard Marsh in May of 2009.

Authorities said Schmidt was upset when Rose interfered as he tried patching things up with his wife -- and she threatened to expose details of their affair which she kept in a journal.

Also, investigators said Rose loaned Schmidt $1,000 to buy a motorcycle, and he never paid her back. She expected marijuana from a growing operation she later threatened to expose.

Schmidt's attorney said authorities never recovered a weapon -- and the defendant's DNA and fingerprints were not found at the murder scene or on Schmidt's clothes the day of the incident.

A sentencing date could be set Friday. Schmidt faces two mandatory life prison terms, but the judge has the option of setting a minimum eligibility date for a supervised release.

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