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Walker offers new budget, pledges to cut taxes; Chancellor praises budget; State school head says plan hurts struggling schools; more briefs

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

Gov. Scott Walker highlighted his desire to cut taxes when he spoke to lawmakers last night about the new two-year state budget he asked them to approve.

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The governor proposes using a current surplus to give a $106 income tax cut in each of the next two years to average families of four where both parents earn a total of $80,000 a year. He also plans to reduce the bottom three of the state's five income tax brackets.

In his 40-minute budget address, Walker said he wanted to cut taxes every year he's in office.

"I want to cut taxes over and over again until we are leading the country in economic recovery," said the governor.

The governor also touted his plan to expand private school choice - in which low-income kids get tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools in up to nine new areas that include Madison and Green Bay.

Some Republicans are against it, and Walker has vowed to try to address their concerns.

Public schools would get no increase in their state revenue limits. A small increase in state school aid would be given to property taxpayers, who could then decide in referendums whether schools deserve more money. Voters have been generous lately. Almost a half dozen revenue cap exemptions were approved statewide Tuesday.

The budget includes small property tax hikes of less than 1% a year.

Lawmakers expect to rewrite parts of the budget before approving it in June.

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Chancellor says proposed UW budget is best in years

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed biennial budget package increases University of Wisconsin tax funding by $180 million, and interim Madison Chancellor David Ward calls it the best budget in years for the university

But Democrats say Walker should have restored the school aid he slashed two years ago.

They also said the governor is wrong not to take millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and he should have done more to help the middle class.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says Walker's proposals are "bad for the short term, and bad for the long term."

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State superintendent says budget proposal doesn't help schools

State public school Supt. Tony Evers says the governor's proposed budget does not help schools that are struggling to make ends meet.

Evers says the Legislature should consider spending at least $225 more per student.

Gov. Scott Walker did propose a 1% increase in state school aid. But he refused to let schools automatically increase their revenue limits, and he's giving the money to property taxpayers who will have the choice of giving it to their schools by approving revenue cap exemptions.

On Tuesday, voters in nearly a half-dozen Wisconsin school districts approved such exemptions. Rhinelander voters agreed to give their schools an extra $4 million over the next three years.

Senate Democrat Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said it should be up to the government to restore school funds that were cut two years ago.

"It's time to renew our commitment to our children's future," said Shilling.

But Republicans say the state's doing exactly that by giving parents in districts with failing schools the option to use tax-funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools.

Senate GOP finance Chairwoman Alberta Darling said those children cannot wait. But other Republicans have problems with parts of the Walker school choice plan. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the package has "a lot of moving parts," but he believes some expansion will be passed.

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Forecasters say major story headed for state

Forecasters now say that most of Wisconsin will be hit by a major snowstorm that's rumbling into the nation's mid-section.

Over a foot is expected in spots between Colorado and Illinois. Three to six inches are predicted for all of Wisconsin except the far north by the end of tomorrow. Parts of the Fox Valley and southern Wisconsin could also get some freezing rain with this storm.

The National Weather Service has issued winter weather advisories for most of the Wisconsin for tonight and tomorrow.

In Kansas, forecasters expect up to 13 inches of snow from a system that grew stronger as it left the Rockies. The storm has already caused at least one traffic death in Oklahoma, where an 18-year-old man died after his pickup truck slid into an oncoming vehicle on slush and ice.

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Budget proposal would end all public employee residency requirements

Wisconsin's public employees would no longer have to live in the communities they serve under the governor's budget package.

Gov. Scott Walker was expected to propose an end to residency requirements in Milwaukee. But in a surprise move, the Walker budget would wipe out residency mandates in all of Wisconsin's city, village, town and county governments and public school districts.

Many places require employees to live where they serve so they can be available at a moment's notice for emergencies and know first-hand what their fellow taxpayers are living through. But many workers say it stifles their freedom.

Residency mandates are not uniform throughout Wisconsin. In some places, only department heads must live in town.

In Milwaukee, both the police and fire unions have been fighting to end a residency mandate for all city workers that goes back 75 years.

Mayor Tom Barrett accused Walker of paying back both unions for supporting him in his previous two elections. Barrett said the state budget should not be used to give favors to campaign donors.

The mayor also said some of the homes that public employees leave could be left vacant and that would add to an existing foreclosure crisis. The Journal Sentinel says the city government is now Milwaukee's largest landlord due mainly to thousands of foreclosures. Barrett says some of the vacant homes have become magnets for crime.

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Budget plan adds 700 state employees

Over 700 more people would be added to the state government's payrolls under the two-year budget that Gov. Scott Walker submitted to the Legislature.

The package includes new staffers for Wisconsin to comply with the Obama health care reform law, more engineers to replace more expensive private contractors and additional tax auditors to get scofflaws to pay up.

Walker proposes a 1% increase to the state's fulltime workforce of just under 70.000, not including University of Wisconsin personnel.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he's concerned about the number of new people the governor wants to bring in. He and Senate GOP finance Chairwoman Alberta Darling also say the Walker budget has too much borrowing. Much of that is for the proposed $500 million increase in transportation projects. Walker wants to speed up the payback by selling off state-owned power and heating plants.

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Wisconsin milk production increase leads the country

Wisconsin's milk production continues to out-pace the country as a whole.

The National Ag Statistics Service said the state's dairy cows pumped out 4.9% more milk in January than in the same month a year ago. The national increase was just .5%.

California, America's top milk producer, had a drop in its output by 4.3% to just under 3.5 billion pounds.

Second-place Wisconsin made just over 2.33 billion pounds of milk last month. The state's dairy herd grew by about 5,000 to over 1.25 million head. Average production per cow rose by 80 pounds, to 1,870.

Also, the federal government reported a record national milk output for all last year. Just over 200 billion pounds were made last year with a .4% national increase in cows.

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Governor proposes ending employee double-dipping

Gov. Scott Walker announced most but not all of his major state budget proposals during the past few weeks.

But did save some surprises for yesterday when he submitted his two-year spending package to the Legislature and delivered a 40-minute speech about it.

In a written budget summary, Walker said he wants to end the practice of double-dipping by state and local public employees who retire, return to government work, and then collect both a pension and a paycheck.

The purpose is for the returnees to mind the store until their replacements get hired. But it became a bone of contention after a UW-Green Bay official joined many others who retired out of fear that Walker would cut into their pensions - only to come back to the same job later in a pre-arranged deal with his bosses.

Under Walker's budget measure, retirees would have to wait 75 days to return to government service instead of the present 30 days, and if they work more than two-thirds of a full schedule, they'd have to stop taking pension money and pay into the retirement system again.

Also, Walker's budget summary mentioned ways to make it easier for rent-to-own businesses to operate in Wisconsin. Lawmakers previously raised concerns about interest charges in those outfits. The governor did not give details of what he had in mind.

Also, you can expect more surprises as journalists, special interests and Walker opponents dig into the details of the $68 billion budget in the coming weeks.

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Man dies after shooting deputy

A suburban Milwaukee man died last night after he shot himself in an incident in which he also wounded an Adams County sheriff's deputy.

Thomas Costigan, 55, of West Allis died last night from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Authorities have not released the condition of the injured deputy, who was identified as Todd Johnson.

West Allis Police said Costigan was reported missing on Tuesday night, and he might have been with his wife, whom he was ordered to stay away from as part of a restraining order.

Authorities tracked the two to a home in the town of Big Flats, about 15 miles south of Wisconsin Rapids. When officers went there, Costigan reportedly fired several shots at them. He wounded Johnson before shooting himself. Adams County Sheriff Sam Wollin said the deputies did not return the fire.

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Eau Claire man claims $2 million Powerball prize

A retired Eau Claire man cashed in a $2 million Powerball ticket Wednesday.

Richard Ingles won the second prize with a Power Play doubler in last Wednesday night's drawing.

Ingles, 71, said it was just another big stroke of luck after he and his wife Lillian both survived major health scares.

Ingles managed to get a liver transplant five years ago in spite of his age. And his wife went into a coma after having complications from knee replacement surgery. She's now on the mend.

Ingles received $1.3 million after taxes. The store where he bought his winning ticket, Kwik Trip on Eau Claire's MacArthur Avenue, is getting a $40,000 commission.

Nobody won last night's Powerball jackpot so it goes up to $80 million for Saturday. One Wisconsin player won $10,000 by matching four regular numbers plus the Powerball. About 9,000 players in the state won something.

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Former mayor pays $770 in fines for groping incident

Former Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan will pay $770 in fines and court fees to settle allegations that groped a woman's breasts during a drinking binge in 2011.

Ryan avoided jail time when he was sentenced yesterday. He pleaded no contest on Monday to a pair of misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges, which were reduced from fourth-degree sexual assault in a plea deal.

The groping incident came during a three-day drinking binge in Elkhart Lake, which spurred a recall election that Ryan lost a year ago.

Ryan, 49, told a judge yesterday that he admitted "drinking to excess." He has admitted a number of times that he's an alcoholic.

Ryan served almost three years of his only four-year term to which he was elected in 2009.

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