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GOP leader says tolling needed to get federal roads money


Allowing open-road tolling on Wisconsin’s Interstates is the only viable way to raise state money to match whatever federal funding could be coming for transportation, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told county officials Wednesday.

President Donald Trump last month called on Congress to approve a $1.5 trillion federal infrastructure plan that likely would require states to put up some money to receive the federal funds. Trump’s plan would rely on state and local governments working with private investors to come up with much of the cash.

Republican legislative leaders have long been supportive of tolling in Wisconsin, and they reiterated that again Wednesday. Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that while he would be open to tolling if there’s a corresponding tax decrease, he’s “not in any way suggesting support” for it.

As with increasing the gas tax, Walker said he would only consider raising money from tolling if there is an equal or greater tax reduction elsewhere. And should Congress actually approve an infrastructure funding bill, Walker said he was confident the state could come up with whatever match is necessary, even without tolling or higher gas taxes.

Fitzgerald said Wednesday there was not enough support in the Senate to pass a gas tax increase or vehicle registration fee increases.

“The only way that we are going to be able to do this and the only way that makes sense is open road tolling,” Fitzgerald said.

Wisconsin would need federal approval to implement tolling. But Walker last year vetoed $2.5 million for a study into the possibility of tolling in the state. Walker said at the time of the veto that the state could move ahead with tolling without the study.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who appeared with Fitzgerald at the Wisconsin Counties Association event, has been a longtime backer of tolling as part of a way to raise money for roads in Wisconsin.

“We can all vote for tolling. It’s a good idea; it’s the future,” Vos said.

The Legislature is racing to finish its business for the year. Fitzgerald said he expects “chaos” over the next several weeks and he would not guarantee that several of Walker’s top priorities would pass during the final push.

There’s little time for the Legislature to act. The Assembly plans to meet five days in February while the Senate will be in session Feb. 20 and possibly only one day beyond that.

Vos said Republicans were on the “cusp of a potential agreement” on a juvenile justice overhaul along the lines of what Walker proposed earlier this year.

It would result in juvenile inmates being removed from the troubled Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake prison complex in Irma, north of Wausau. Fitzgerald said the major issue in reaching a deal is determining who would run new juvenile prisons Walker envisioned, the state or counties.

Vos said he hoped to announce a deal early next week under which the most serious juvenile offenders would be in one or two state-run prisons and the others would be housed elsewhere in prisons run in whole or in part by the counties.

Walker told county officials they could get more control over the prisons, but the plan would only work if all 72 counties were on board. He said he is calling for the Legislature to overhaul the system before it adjourns for the year.

Neither Vos nor Fitzgerald would say whether Walker’s proposal to give tax breaks to Kimberly-Clark in an effort to save 600 jobs in the Neenah area slated for elimination would pass.

Walker said he understood that offering tax breaks to Kimberly-Clark could lead to other businesses seeking the same deal. But he defended it, saying that keeping the benefits offered to Kimberly-Clark tied to job creation would cause a beneficial ripple effect across the economy.

Fitzgerald said he thought Walker was open to compromising on his proposed $100-per child tax rebate. Vos said it was too early to tell whether it would pass.

Vos and Fitzgerald agreed that a measure that’s a priority of counties and local governments will not pass this year. That’s a proposal to remove the so-called “dark stores” loophole to force mega-retailers like Menards to pay more in local property taxes. Fitzgerald said the issue was complicated and needs more study before the Legislature acts.

Anthony Wahl 

Snow is kicked up as two pairs of brothers Wyatt Wendt, left, and Chandler Wendt, front right, sled down a hill with Carson Miller, back left, and Brady Miller at Riverside Golf Course on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

Anthony Wahl 

Carson Miller starts laughing as he narrowly avoid a collision with his mother Heather Miller, back left, and family friend Dana Wendt while sledding on the hills of Riverside Golf Course on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

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Two former Edgerton teachers were passionate about teaching, former students say


Both men taught many years in the Edgerton School District.

Both had the ability to connect with kids and help them realize their full potential, even if they were considered outcasts.

Both recently died days apart at age 72. Their deaths have left many former students reflecting on their collective impact on Edgerton education.

John Bowen, who died Feb. 1, was a former seventh-grade English teacher at the middle school. He could interact with kids without being overly formal, allowing him to relate to students on their level, former student Tyson Trunkhill said.

Ron Walter died a few days before that, on Jan. 29. He worked as an earth science teacher at the high school and later led the district’s alternative program.

“The one thing that stands out about both Mr. Bowen and Mr. Walter is that they were the teachers who appreciated the misfits,” wrote former student Krista Olson-Lehman in an email to The Gazette.

Many former students posted condolences on the men’s obituary pages on local funeral home websites. The stories they told exemplified the men’s compassionate teaching styles.

Kids who attended Walter’s alternative program often had academic or learning issues. Jessie Edwardson Benash credited Walter with helping her graduate after a motorcycle accident transformed her outlook on school.

Benash’s accident ended her involvement in cheerleading and left her angry and frustrated. Her grades slipped, and she didn’t want to go to classes—until Walter called her and offered to drive her to school.

It helped her get back on track for graduation. She eventually completed her bachelor’s degree with honors and then earned her master’s, she said.

“He never made me feel bad for where I was at. He accepted me for where I was,” Benash said. “He motivated and pushed me without making me feel bad about myself.

“He knew how much potential we all had. We just had to find it.”

Timothy Roenneburg, a former student of Bowen’s, said Bowen could relate to farm kids and those bound for “white-collar careers.” He never treated people differently based on their backgrounds, Roenneburg wrote in a Facebook message.

Trunkhill echoed that, calling Bowen a humble and relatable person who was good at “boosting the underdog.”

Trunkhill continued his friendship with Bowen for years. They shared an interest in military history, cars and motorcycles, he said.

They built a motorcycle together more than 20 years ago.

“At the time, I thought he was kind of lonely. But I think what it turned out to be is he liked talking to people,” Trunkhill said of Bowen. “We used to talk on the phone nearly every day. He just liked catching up with people and seeing what they were doing.”

In her email to The Gazette, Olson-Lehman said Bowen had a quirky sense of humor. He made noises or sang songs without warning to snap the classroom back to attention.

Benash has shared Walter’s story dozens of times while on the motivational speaking circuit. She talks about her accident and its effect on the rest of her life, and how her beloved former teacher never gave up on her.

She hopes other teachers incorporate his message into their own lessons.

Mary Walter, Ron’s widow, said he let students call him “Wally” as long as it was the more formal “Mr. Wally.” Benash said he never enforced his requirement for formality.

Mary said her husband always referred to every student as his favorite. She hoped students considered him their favorite teacher because he loved kids and cared about education.

She said she has seen an outpouring of support from her husband’s students. Some sent flower arrangements to his funeral, and others shared messages on Facebook.

“I think it showed he was a very compassionate person. I don’t know how many of them said he turned their life around, or they wouldn’t be where they are today because of him,” Mary said. “I’m proud and happy ... that he was able to help these kids be productive in the community.”

Senate leaders announce 2-year budget deal to fund government, disaster aid


A sweeping two-year budget deal announced by Senate leaders Wednesday promises to end the shutdown threats that have plagued Congress but fails to address the nagging issue of immigration and will add to a deficit already ballooning because of the GOP tax cut plan.

Approval of the $300 billion bipartisan accord was not guaranteed, with votes expected today. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seized the House floor for nearly the entire day in a filibuster-like talkathon to demand protections for young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

In her eight-hour, seven-minute speech—a House record—Pelosi said she would reject the budget deal unless Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., agrees to consider legislation to protect them from deportation, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has done in the Senate.

If passed, the deal, which would also raise the nation’s debt limit for a year, would push ugly partisan fights over government spending well past the November midterm election. Theoretically it would allow Congress to focus on more substantive issues, such as immigration and infrastructure. It would be the first multiyear, bipartisan budget deal reached since 2015.

Negotiators are hoping to include the accord in what would be the fifth—and possibly final—short-term continuing resolution of this fiscal year. That extension would fund the government past Thursday’s deadline until March 23, after which legislation with funding at the new levels, a so-called omnibus bill, would need to be approved.

The agreement circumvents the strict budget caps imposed under a 2011 budget deal and adds $57 billion in new spending equally to both defense and nondefense accounts through fiscal 2019, according to those familiar with the talks. Republicans have been pushing for the military increases, and Democrats insist on parity for domestic programs.

The result would be a boost in Pentagon spending of about $80 billion each year beyond what the law allows, rising from $551 billion in fiscal 2017 to $647 billion by fiscal 2019. Nondefense accounts would increase by more than $60 billion, to $597 billion by 2019.

The package also includes $90 billion in supplemental disaster aid spending for coastal and Western states and Puerto Rico, ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires—more than had been suggested earlier in a House bill but not as much as California and others sought.

Unlike the past agreements to avoid the steep “sequester” cuts in 2013 and 2015, the deal announced Wednesday would be only partially offset with spending reductions or new revenue elsewhere, making it a nonstarter for many conservative Republicans—especially after the GOP tax package added nearly $1.5 trillion over the decade to deficits.

“No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked hard to find common ground,” said McConnell.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., touted many Democratic priorities, including a two-year extension of funding for community health centers, a 10-year extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and money to fight the opioid drug crisis.

“This budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship,” Schumer said. “We have reached a budget deal that neither side loves but both sides can be proud of. That’s compromise. That’s governing.”

Pelosi’s opposition, though, thrusts the immigration debate back into the budget standoff, much the way President Donald Trump did Tuesday when he said he’d “love to see a shutdown” if his immigration priorities, such as a border wall and limits on legal immigration, were not part of the budget package.

“The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities,” Pelosi said Wednesday. But after surveying the Democratic caucus, she said the absence of immigration legislation was a deal breaker for some members.

Pelosi wants Ryan to commit—as McConnell did last month as part of the deal to end the three-day government shutdown—to consider bipartisan measures to protect the immigrant Dreamers as Trump ends the Obama-era program that shields them from deportation, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Pelosi seized the House floor in a rare filibuster-like speech that began about 10 a.m. EST. Standing in 4-inch heels the entire time without a break and surrounded by colleagues, Pelosi’s speech shattered the previous record for the longest in the House, set in 1909.

The Senate is expected to launch an immigration debate in a matter of days, as soon as the shutdown threat is averted.

“Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support,” she said.

Ryan, however, has made no such commitment on Dreamers, stoking concerns that any immigration bill would simply languish in the House.

The immigration debate drove the shutdown last month, as Democrats pushed McConnell to agree to prioritize the issue, but it had not been part of more recent budget negotiations, despite Trump’s nudging.

Pelosi’s support for the budget deal will be vital because Ryan will almost certainly not be able to pass spending increases over objections from his conservative flank, including the Freedom Caucus, without relying on Democratic votes.

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Homicide charge filed against driver of car shot by deputy


The man accused of driving a getaway car was charged Wednesday with recklessly causing the death of a passenger shot by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy.

Jose G. Lara, 32, of Milwaukee is charged with second-degree reckless homicide in the death of Christopher J. Davis, 21, also of Milwaukee, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday.

Deputy Juan Ortiz fired two shots into the car as it sped toward him Feb. 24, 2016, in the parking lot of Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge in East Troy, according to a letter written by then-District Attorney Dan Necci, who said the shooting was justified.

One of Ortiz’s bullets hit Davis in the head.

Police were on the scene for a drug investigation, where an informant was supposed to buy cocaine in the village of East Troy, according to the complaint.

A man who was in the car with Lara and Davis told police Lara drove off because he had a “weird feeling,” according to the complaint. Officers approached the car, and Lara started to drive away as officers ordered him to stop.

Ortiz entered the parking lot and reported seeing another officer with his weapon drawn, according to Necci’s July 2016 written decision.

Lara drove the car toward Ortiz, who said he fired two shots as he got out of the way, according to the decision. Ortiz said he had heard the car’s tires squeal and engine rev, and he thought his life was in danger.

After hearing the gunshots, the third man in the car said he saw one bullet come through the windshield and hit Davis, according to the complaint.

Lara later told investigators he was not trying to run over Ortiz, but he could see how Ortiz would have believed that, Necci wrote.

After Lara left the parking lot, he accelerated to speeds exceeding 100 mph, according to the complaint. Police pursued the car into Muskego, where Lara and the man fled on foot before being caught by police.

Davis was found in the car but died an hour later at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, according to the state Division of Criminal Investigation report.

The third man told police Davis was an “innocent person,” according to the complaint. The man said he saw a lot of blood on Davis’ head before dumping water on it.

The man told police he knew Davis was still breathing, but Lara “just kept going.”

According to state statutes, someone is guilty of second-degree reckless homicide if he “recklessly causes the death of another human being.”

Case law from a 1970s state Supreme Court case argues someone who commits a crime is also responsible for other crimes that come “as a natural and probable consequence of the intended criminal acts.”

Ortiz is now a detective for the sheriff’s office.

Lara’s attorney could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Assistant District Attorney Haley Johnson—when asked why the homicide charge came nearly two years after the incident—said in an email she could not provide any more information.

Lara already faces charges in the incident. On July 11, 2016, he pleaded not guilty to felony counts of conspiracy to deliver cocaine and attempting to flee a traffic officer.

Lara is scheduled for a final pretrial hearing at 2:30 p.m. Thursday on his drug and eluding officer charges. Online court records say that is also scheduled as his initial appearance on the homicide charge.

It was not immediately clear how the new charge will affect Lara’s jury trial scheduled to start Monday, Feb. 19.

Gazette at a Glance for Feb. 8, 2018

Local • 3A, 7A-8A

Golden K places truck on ice

Members of the Kiwanis Blackhawk Golden K of Janesville pushed their red Truck on Ice Suburban onto the Traxler Park Lagoon on Wednesday for the club’s annual Truck On Ice fundraiser. Three guess of when the SUV will go through the ice cost $10, and $20 buys eight guesses. The grand prize is $3,000.

Benefit planned for sick girl

Two seniors at Evansville High School, Logan Katzenmeyer and Kellan Sunness, have organized a princess and superhero benefit ball for Katzenmeyer’s cousin, Harlow Phillips, 4, who was diagnosed with a Stage 4 neuroblastoma in September. Proceeds from the dinner and silent and live auctions will be split between Harlow’s family and a neuroblastoma research and awareness organization.

State • 2A, 6A

Others could get tax breaks

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that proposed job-retention tax credits for consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark could be extended to other paper companies if there are “significant opportunities” to retain and add jobs. Walker wants the Legislature to approve increasing job-retention tax credits from 7 percent of payroll to 17 percent to entice Kimberly-Clark not to close a pair of factories.

Interviews warm up cold case

New information from two sisters who were 11 and 13 when their mother was killed in 1982 in northern Wisconsin resulted in a murder charge against their father more than 35 years later, a lead investigator in the case said Wednesday. An Oneida County Sheriff’s captain said recent interviews with the couple’s daughters helped lead to the murder charge.

Sports • 1B-3B

Vonn, Shiffrin together at last

Separated in age by about a decade, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin head to the Pyeongchang Olympics as the past, present and future of ski racing in the United States and around the world. Each has an Olympic gold medal in her specialty: Vonn in the downhill in 2010; Shiffrin in the slalom in 2014. Now arrives the first—and, presumably, last—chance for them to share the spotlight at a Winter Olympics.

Submitted photo 

Harlow Phillips

Logan Katzenmeyer