Walker would veto any mining tax; finger-pointing continues ahead of Supreme Court primary; ailing Lady Gaga grants 'wish' for EC girl; more state news
MADISON -- The governor's office has indicated that Scott Walker would veto a proposed tax on minerals taken by mining companies.
Spokesman Cullen Werwie remains opposed to tax hikes, but according to Senate Democrat Tim Cullen of Janesville, Wisconsin mines would still get a better tax deal than similar sites in neighboring Minnesota - even with the so-called "tonnage tax."
The tax was part of Cullen's alternative mining bill, which he introduced after he objected to the package introduced by majority Republicans. Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald told a business conference in Madison Wednesday that some of his fellow Republicans have supported the tonnage tax but he's against it, and he's sure that Walker would veto it.
The GOP package would tax mining companies on their income, as opposed to starting a brand new tax on what's taken out of the ground.
Cullen said Republicans are ignoring the law they passed a year ago, in which miners and other companies will have no corporate income tax liability by 2015.
Meanwhile, the Americans for Tax Reform sent an e-mail to Walker and certain legislators, saying the tonnage tax would violate their pledge not to raise any taxes.
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will be the next to consider the mining package. No date has been set for that.
Bickering, accusations cloud Supreme Court campaigns
MADISON -- State Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack was put on the defensive Wednesday, as fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley renewed concerns about her safety less than a week before Roggensack stands for re-election.
Bradley submitted a court filing which said she was given added police security over two months before Justice David Prosser put her in a choke-hold in a June 2011 altercation. Prosser was not charged in the incident but Bradley said that to this day, she and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson lock themselves in their offices when working after hours because they remain concerned about Prosser's behavior.
Roggensack's been trying to downplay the court's internal strife in her campaign, calling it "gossip at its worst." She said Wednesday that the court has had no major outbursts since the 2011 blowup.
Roggensack said she also works nights and weekends without locking her door - and if there's a security plan, she wants to know more about it. Her campaign consultant, Brandon Scholz, said the timing of the liberal Bradley's court filing was political. If Roggensack loses in Tuesday's primary, the Supreme Court would lose its conservative majority.
Bradley denied trying to sway voters, while both of Roggensack's primary opponents expressed new criticisms.
Vince Megna said Bradley "confirms the sickness of our court."
Ed Fallone said Roggensack should retract her comments that everything's fine, and apologize to Bradley. In her court ruling, Bradley withdrew from a possible ethics ruling against Prosser, saying she was a direct witness to the behavior in question. A majority of the justices have now withdrawn - and it does not leave enough to rule on a complaint against Prosser from the state's Judicial Commission.
Meanwhile, the deadlines are getting close for those who want to vote absentee in Tuesday's primaries.
Today is the deadline to ask local government clerks to send absentee ballots by mail. Friday is the deadline to cast those votes in person at the clerk's offices. State officials expect less than 10 percent of Wisconsin's eligible voters to cast ballots on Tuesday.
The field of candidates for a State Supreme Court seat will be reduced from three to two - and there will be primaries for a host of local government and school board races.
Those planning to vote on Election Day will not have to show photo I.D's. The I.D. mandate is still tied up in the courts.
Walker says he does care about the less fortunate
MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says he knows he'll be accused of not caring about people in his Medicaid reform strategy under the Obama health reform law.
But Walker told the state's largest business group Thursday that it's just the opposite. He said he wants to empower people to control their own destiny, and make fewer people dependent on the government.
The Republican Walker confirmed that his budget would reduce income limits for Badger Care and other Medicaid programs to exclude those above the poverty line. It would remove limits on childless adults in Badger Care, and it would move those not in poverty to the federal government's insurance exchanges.
State Health Secretary Dennis Smith clarified late Thursday that the changes would not affect the elderly and disabled in Medicaid programs - and it would only affect income-based recipients. He said 87,000 people would be dropped from Medicaid, but 82,000 others would get in for the first time - so the net drop would be just 5,000.
Still, Smith said the state would have to spend an extra $650 million on Medicaid in the next two years due to rising costs.
Walker rejected a full expansion of Medicaid - one of the options in the Obama health package - and he turned down millions in federal money to pay for it. Democrats blasted the move, and some said Walker was putting politics before people, but Senate GOP finance chair Alberta Darling says the federal money could be taken away down the line.
Five lawmakers go to bat school software vendor Skyward
Five central Wisconsin legislators have asked their colleagues to do a flip-flop, and let more than one company provide software for a statewide database of public school students.
The five are going to bat for Skyward of Stevens Point, which lost out on a $15 million contract and is appealing the state's decision to give it to a Minnesota firm. Both firms already provide student data software to individual Wisconsin schools - and those which use Skyward say they'll have to spend up to $500,000 to convert to the other company's system.
Assembly Democrats Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore and Stevens Point freshman Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point are sponsoring the bill to allow multiple vendors - along with Assembly Republicans Scott Krug of Nekoosa and Marshfield freshman John Spiros. Stevens Point Democrat Julie Lassa is sponsoring a similar bill on the Senate side.
The governor and Legislature voted in the last session to allow a single vendor for the statewide system, which will let schools get information about things like grades and health records for every public and charter school student in Wisconsin.
State Superintendent Tony Evers defended the single-vendor system this week, saying it's more efficient and economical. The lawmakers said schools should be able to choose the software that's best for their districts, and Spiros says it's important to promote local firms. Skyward said the state's evaluation system was flawed in picking the Minnesota vendor of Infinite Campus and Skyward says it will have to leave Wisconsin if it doesn't win its appeal.
Foster care agent accused of skimming $6 million
MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers will hear more Thursday about accusations that a Middleton foster care agency overcharged taxpayers by over $6 million.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hold a hearing on a recent state audit of Community Care Resources. It accused owner Dan Simon of taking state foster care reimbursements for inflated salaries, lavish trips, and maintaining fleets of personal vehicles and boats.
State officials said the firm exploited weaknesses in the government's financial oversight. The Department of Children and Families has revoked Community Care's license, and it's seeking repayment of the overcharges, which reportedly totaled $1 for every $3 the firm received. Simon defended the reimbursements, saying the owners were grossly underpaid.
Richland Center couple named 'Outstanding Young Farmers'
A couple from southwest Wisconsin has been named one of four national Outstanding Young Farmers.
Brian and Stephanie Perkins of Richland Center received the honor at a recent program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Perkins run a 3,000-acre farm that makes both conventional and organic grains. They were among 10 finalists chosen from winners of state events.
The U.S. Jaycees runs the Outstanding Young Farmer program, with help from the Outstanding Farmers of America fraternity, John Deere, and the National Association of County Agriculture Agents.
The other national winners include a couple from neighboring Minnesota - Nick and Tara Meyer, who run a 200-cow dairy farm at Sauk Centre. The other winners were from California and Florida.
Ill youngster from Wausau meets ailing Lady Gaga
WAUSAU -- A terminally-ill youngster from the Wausau area had her wish come true Wednesday when she met Lady Gaga - who was suffering from injuries of her own.
Five-and-a-half year old Kaylee Gurbynski has an inoperable heart condition, and she's been wanting to meet the singing star.
Wausau radio personality Tony Waitekus of WIFC made some calls and to the surprise of many, Lady Gaga's managers arranged a meeting in Chicago where she was supposed to perform.
The show was canceled after she developed a hip injury and extreme joint inflammation, so Kaylee was the only fan to see Gaga Thursday - and Waitekus had high praise for the star, saying she wanted to meet the girl despite being able to barely walk herself.
Waitekus said he couldn't say enough about Lady Gaga for doing that.
Kaylee has Turner's Syndrome and a hypo-plastic left heart. She's the longest-living child ever treated with those conditions at Milwaukee Children's Hospital.
Larry Lee, WSAU-WIFC, Wausau
State's turkey harvest up by 28 percent last year
MADISON -- Wisconsin turkey hunters were a lot more successful last fall than the year before. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said just over 7,000 turkeys were taken in the 2012 fall season. That's up 28 percent from the previous year.
Just over 54,000 permits were issued, and 13 percent of the hunters took home turkeys - up from 10 percent the year before.
The DNR said last year's mild winter and spring boosted the population of gobblers. This year's spring turkey season starts on April 6th with a youth hunt. The regular season opens on April 10th.
Oversight committee open to more UW campus autonomy
MADISON -- A Wisconsin Senate committee is open to giving the UW System more flexibility to manage their budgets and set tuition, but at a hearing Thursday, the lawmakers made it clear that the public university must remain accountable to state officials and taxpayers.
The Senate's Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges discussed recommendations from a task force on giving UW campuses more flexibility, so they can do more with less money.
Panel members said the Legislature will tread carefully, after learning that the university's new centralized Human Resource computer system overpaid $34 million in benefits to a number of its 79,000 employees.
Board of Regents' vice president Michael Falbo told lawmakers it should never have happened, and the UW is doing everything it can to fix it. The task force urged legislators to consider a number of flexibility proposals.
Options include a change in the system's governance to give campus advisory boards more of a say, and moving employees to new UW personnel systems.
The task force said the Board of Regents should give lawmakers a comprehensive plan on the setting of tuition. It also recommended merit pay for top employees, but without extra funding from taxpayers.
Milltown man pleads innocent in brutal death of fiancé
BALSAM LAKE -- A northwest Wisconsin man has pleaded innocent in the brutal beating death of his fiancé.
Scott Youngmark, 45, of Milltown entered the plea Thursday to a Polk County charge of first-degree intentional homicide.
The defense said it was working on a request to move Youngmark's possible trial, citing excessive pre-trial publicity. A judge will hold a hearing on that request April 16th.
Authorities said Youngmark was freed on a reduced bond for bail jumping just 15 days before he allegedly stabbed and beat 47-year-old Kari Roberts. She was found dead in her apartment on Dec. 1st.
Prosecutors said Youngmark was awaiting sentencing at the time for a 2011 incident in which he stabbed a man just below the neck, and hit another man in the jaw with his knee.
After he was arrested in that case, officials said he asked family members to encourage witnesses not to testify against him. He ended up striking a plea deal.
Authorities said Youngmark has also had numerous convictions in neighboring Minnesota from 1996 through 2008.
Hacker may have access medical records of 43,000
MILWAUKEE -- A hacker might have obtained personal information from 43,000 people treated at hospitals and clinics affiliated with Milwaukee's Froedtert Health system.
Froedtert officials said Wednesday that a staff member's computer received a virus which allowed the hacker to get files on various patients. Less than 3 percent had Social Security numbers. The other stolen data included medical history numbers, diagnoses, clinical information, and things like names and phone numbers.
Froedtert said it had no proof that patients' information was compromised, but the medical group sent out letters this week to those affected.
The patients were treated at Froedtert's main hospital in Wauwatosa and facilities in Menomonee Falls and West Bend.
Eau Claire Kwik Trip sold $2 million Powerball winner
EAU CLAIRE -- The Valentine Cupid will steer lots of old friends to the Powerball players in Eau Claire who won $2 million in Thursday night's drawing.
A ticket sold at a Kwik Trip in Eau Claire won the game's second prize of $1 million - and it had the Power Play option, which doubled the winnings. It was the nation's biggest prize last night, as it was the only ticket to match all five regular numbers but not the Powerball.
Nobody won the jackpot, so it goes up to $60 million for the next drawing on Saturday.
Two Wisconsin players won the third prize of $10,000 Thursday night. Those tickets were sold at a Kwik Trip in Sparta, and a Swetz Roadside Convenience store in Stevens Point. Almost 9,000 Wisconsin players won smaller prizes.