- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Walker to propose ‘significant’ tax cuts

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker plans to propose “significant” tax cuts in his State of the State address next week, reductions made possible by tax collections that far exceed earlier estimates, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Walker won’t reveal details until his speech on Jan. 22, but he is looking at property tax cuts and changing income tax withholding tables to immediately put more money into workers’ paychecks, his spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said.

“This is great news for the hardworking taxpayers of the state,” she said.

Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature have been discussing details of the proposal, Webster said.

“I want all taxpayers to benefit from these surplus dollars,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement. He did not specify what Walker may propose.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement that lawmakers would work with Walker to cut taxes as well as save some of the surplus. While Vos has been vocal in his support for using any surplus to cut taxes, Fitzgerald has been more cautious, saying some members of his caucus may want to put the money in savings or use it to address infrastructure needs such as road and bridge repairs.

Just how large the state’s surplus will be won’t be clear until the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau releases its updated estimate. Bureau director Bob Lang said Wednesday he was working to get it out as soon as possible, but couldn’t say when it would be released.

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Wis. GOP proposes erasing parts of court database

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The latest attempt to restrict public access to a popular online court records database is being circulated in the Legislature.

Rep. Mary Czaja (CHI’-ah), of Irma, and Sen. Glenn Grothman, of West Bend, are circulating a bill that would remove cases from the database in which charges were dismissed, the person was found not guilty or the case was overturned on appeal.

Similar proposals have drawn widespread opposition from users of the database, including media groups, landlords, and the state court system.

Grothman and Czaja, both Republicans, circulated their proposal for co-sponsors on Wednesday.

The court records database known as CCAP (SEE-cap) provides information free to the public about civil and criminal cases filed in Wisconsin circuit courts. It gets between 3 million and 5 million page views a day.

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State education department opposes standards bill

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Revising academic standards every six years would create legal, technical and other issues that make a Republican-backed proposal to do that unworkable, an assistant state superintendent told the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday.

The testimony against the bill comes amid Republican criticism of the process used to implement Common Core academic standards currently in place covering math and English. The standards, in place in 45 states, were adopted in 2010 in Wisconsin by state Superintendent Tony Evers.

DPI didn’t do enough to engage the public and the Legislature before adopting the Common Core standards, said Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, who sponsored the bill.

“I don’t think the standards themselves are unconstitutional,” Knudson said. “I think the process for adopting the standards was deeply flawed.”

Knudson’s bill would require a review of academic standards every six years. The state Department of Public Instruction would also be charged with creating model academic standards in regular and advanced math, English, science, social studies and the arts.

Public hearings would be required in each of the state’s eight congressional districts and DPI would also have to appoint an advisory panel that includes parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, business officials and others.

Assistant state superintendent Sheila Briggs said Knudson’s bill was unworkable for several reasons. For one, she said many districts would not have fully implemented a set of standards in the classroom before the process of reviving them would begin. Additionally, some standards, including those for science and social studies, would be forced to wait years to begin the process, despite calls from teachers and administrators to update them now, Briggs said.

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Wisconsin Legislature begins 2014 session

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Legislature kicked off its work for 2014 on a rare collegial note Tuesday, voting on bipartisan bills to combat heroin use and give state employees raises.

The truce promises to be short-lived, however. Larger fights are looming, including what to do if state revenues come in higher than anticipated. Republicans control the Senate and Assembly, but they’re in disagreement on several topics, including ways to combat drunken driving, increase the speed limit, change the Common Core education standards and anti-abortion proposals.

There’s little time for lawmakers to reach deals. The Senate and Assembly are expected to meet infrequently over the next three months as they try to wrap up business by the end of March before heading into campaign season.

Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, largely has been silent on some of the larger issues facing the Legislature, including what to do with any state surplus. An update on the state’s finances is expected any day, and Walker and Republican lawmakers are expected to push for tax cuts that they could tout while running for re-election in the fall. Walker is expected to lay out his priorities for the year Jan. 22 in his State of the State speech.

Still, lawmakers from both parties managed to come together Tuesday on the heroin measures and the contracts.

Heroin use and overdoses have spiked in Wisconsin as prescription drug addicts look for cheaper fixes. The Republican-authored bills would require identification to obtain prescription drugs; allow all emergency responders with training to administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts overdoses; provide immunity for anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose; and expand prescription drug collection drives.

Democrats still got in some shots, complaining that Walker’s decision not to accept federal money to expand Medicaid has left heroin addicts without treatment. But all four bills passed unanimously, and Democrats joined Republicans in praising the proposals’ author, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, whose daughter, Cassie, nearly died of a heroin overdose in 2009.

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