February 16, 2013

Fitzgerald Discusses Transportation Budget on WBEV


2/16/13 – Wisconsin would spend six-point-four billion dollars on transportation, under the two-year state budget Governor Scott Walker will ask lawmakers to approve. The Republican governor said Friday it includes 824-million dollars in new money. Walker would actually hold spending around its current levels – because six-point-one to six-point-five billion is spent on transportation now, depending on how the figures are counted. Walker said he would not propose increases in the gas tax or registration fees.


The governor said some of the state’s surplus could be used, along with expected revenue growth, plus bonding. Walker said bond repayments could be sped up a number of ways, including the sales of excess state property from previous highway projects. State Senator Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau addressed the bonding issue on WBEV’s Community Comment yesterday. The Majority Leader says he expects a debate in the Finance Committee about the level of bonding.


Walker said over a half-billion dollars would be devoted to repairing the Zoo Freeway interchange just west of Milwaukee at Interstates-94-and-894 and Highway 45. Walker said it would help the entire state because goods could be moved more quickly in-and-out of southeast Wisconsin. Another 236-million is planned to keep the re-building of Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge on time. And billions more would be devoted to a host of roads, bridges, airports, rail, and harbor improvements. The governor also said he would maintain funding for mass transit. And more recruits would be trained to fill vacant law enforcement jobs in the State Patrol.


Meanwhile, Fitzgerald says don’t expect to see any talk of toll booths in this session. While he says there has been more discussion than ever before, especially from several legislators in far southeast Wisconsin, Fitzgerald says the momentum is just not there. He also dismissed the possibility of a per-mile tax for vehicles in the state. “I know it’s not going to come to the Wisconsin legislature anytime soon, there’s not a chance that it could make it,” Fitzgerald said. Walker will deliver his proposed budget to the Legislature on Wednesday.


Watchdog Groups Oppose Lifting Fundraising Ban


2/16/13 – Government watchdogs cried foul Friday, after learning that G-O-P Assembly leaders quietly ended a four-year-old ban on campaign fund-raising while the state budget is being debated. The Wisconsin State Journal was the first to report that the Assembly Organization Committee used paper ballots – outside of a public meeting – to vote 5-to-3 on the rule change with all Democrats voting no. Lawmakers will still not be able to raise campaign cash in Dane County while the budget is being considered, unless members represent constituents in the county that surrounds Madison. But Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said it was like Republicans wanted to attract less attention by having the low-key paper ballot vote. McCabe said it was a vote Republicans could not have been proud of because quote, “They’re backing out of a policy of no shakedowns during the budget process.” The complete fund-raising ban during the budget process was adopted by Democrats when they ran the lower house in 2009 – and Republicans under then-Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon continued the ban two years ago.


Senator Upset With Lower Courts Holding Up Legislation


2/16/13 – State Senate President Mike Ellis says he doesn’t like the way lower courts are temporarily holding up laws passed by the Legislature. So he’s asked his colleagues today to co-sponsor a bill to force the State Supreme Court to take up legal challenges to state laws – and to make their rulings with 150 days. Democrats are up in arms about the idea. Assembly Judiciary panel member Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie says it’s an example of how Republicans try to change the rules when things don’t go their way. And he says constitutional questions are too important to be rushed with artificial deadlines. Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison says Ellis’s bill quote, “tramples the boundary between the legislative and judicial branches of government.” Risser says the bill would eliminate court trials and contested agency cases – and it quote, “violates the judicial process altogether.” Ellis says lower courts are negating acts of the Legislature – and he says issues that affect the entire state should be heard only by the Supreme Court. The Republicans’ limits on public union bargaining passed in 2011 were thrown out by a Madison judge last fall for local government and school employees – and while that’s still being appealed, a federal court ruled in favor of the law for all employees. Ellis say the conflicting rulings cause confusion. Also, the G-O-P’s photo I-D law for voting has only been used once since it passed in 2011. It’s been tied up in appellate courts, and voters have not shown their I-D’s at five elections since last April.


State Will Review Skyward Challenge


2/16/13 – Wisconsin’s education agency says it will promptly review a Stevens Point company’s challenge to the awarding of a 15-million-dollar software contract to a Minnesota firm. Skyward of Stevens Point filed a formal appeal Friday to the selection of Minnesota’s Infinite Campus to run a statewide information database of all Wisconsin public and charter school students. The Department of Public Instruction received the appeal, and promised a quick decision. Skyward said the selection process was not fair or transparent – and the Stevens Point said it should get the contract or the entire process should be voided. Skyward said it found problems that allowed Infinite Campus to score better – and the costs of each company’s proposal were not evaluated correctly. The state had a former Doyle attorney observe the process, and she found no problems. And Infinite Campus said everything was fair and square. But Skyward said if it doesn’t win the contract, schools that already use Skyward’s system will have to pay more to convert to the new operation – and it wouldn’t leave Skyward with enough business to keep the company in Wisconsin. Some school districts say they should have the choice of both firms, but the governor and Legislature approved only a single vendor for the school database. D-P-I Superintendent Tony Evers defended the single vendor concept, saying it’s more efficient and its saves money.


Petri in the Area


2/16/13 – Congressman Tom Petri kicks-off a series of town meetings Saturday afternoon with a stop in the area. The Republican from Fond du Lac says the meetings will begin with a brief introduction followed by an opportunity for attendees to share their thoughts on any issues of interest. Petri will be at the Waupun Public Library this afternoon (February 16) from 3pm to 4pm. He’ll start the day at the Portage Public Library at 12:30pm. Another meeting is scheduled in Columbia County this Tuesday (February 19) at the Columbus Community Building over the 1 o’clock hour.


Father that Killed His 3 Children Strikes a Plea Deal


2/16/13 – An Argyle man struck a plea deal Friday, and was convicted of burning down his family’s house and killing three children along with an unborn baby to collect insurance money and start fresh. 33-year-old Armin Wand-the-Third pleaded guilty in Lafayette County Circuit Court to three counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, felony murder, and arson. He still faces more than three life terms in prison. The only way he can escape that is if the judge agrees to allow a supervised release down the line for good behavior. The plea deal asked for the arson and felony murder terms to be served at the same time – and there was nothing else. Wand was supposed to go on trial a week from tomorrow for a fire last September that killed three of his sons and an unborn child. His wife Sharon was badly burned, and a two-year-old daughter was the only child to survive. Sharon Wand’s mother said her daughter was relieved that she would not have to testify in a trial. She filed for divorce from Armin in January. Meanwhile, Wand’s brother Jeremy still faces charges in the incident.


$85,000 Restitution for Man that Killed Endangered Whooping Crane


2/16/13 – A South Dakota man has to make 85 thousand dollars restitution for killing an endangered whooping crane last April. Twenty-six year old Jeff Blachford will also be on probation for two years and is also prohibited from hunting, fishing or trapping anywhere in the U.S. for the two years.  He had to surrender his rifle as part of the sentence handed down in a federal courtroom in South Dakota.  The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo will manage the proceeds from the restitution to fund a whooping crane conservation effort.


Sheen Befriends Girl Injured in the Dells


2/16/13 – The girl who fell 100-feet from a ride at Extreme World at Wisconsin Dells three years ago has a new friend. Teagan Marti is getting help from Charlie Sheen. The actor has donated 10-thousand dollars for a therapy dog to help the 15-year-old with her rehab. Lucia Wilgus of Eau Claire got the wheels rolling on this one. She became friends with the Marti family after Teagan’s mishap – and she’s been raising funds for a therapy dog. This week, Wilgus contacted a family friend – who happens to be Sheen’s godfather – and he made a pitch to the actor. He asked for six-thousand dollars, but Sheen decided to give 10-thousand for extra costs. The dog is being trained in Fond du Lac to be Teagan’s constant companion and do tasks for her. Sheen said he likes to “pay it forward.” He doesn’t always like to talk about his charitable activities, but he spoke up about this one to encourage more people to donate. Teagan’s mother couldn’t believe Sheen’s gift. The girl will get the dog on her next birthday in September. She has not decided on a name yet, but Sheen would like it to be called “Charlie.”