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Property tax, park fees, judicial salaries up for votes

in Wisconsin news

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee planned to vote on several parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year spending plan on Wednesday. Those include:

— PROPERTY TAX: One of Walker’s top budget priorities is eliminating the state property tax, which benefits forests and costs the owner of a median-valued home about $27 a year. He would replace the roughly $180 million raised over two years with money from the state’s main account. Opponents say that puts funding for Wisconsin’s forests in jeopardy because it would have to compete with money for all other parts of state government including education, medical assistance and prisons.

— CAMPING AND PARK FEES: Walker’s budget would allow the Department of Natural Resources to raise state park admission and camping fees according to parks’ popularity. Under the budget, an annual vehicle park entry fee could increase from $28 to $38 for a Wisconsin resident and the daily fee could go from $8 to $13. The non-resident annual pass could increase from $38 to $48. Camping fees could increase up to $10 a night. Fees currently range from $15 to $20 per night.

— OUTDOORS MAGAZINE: Walker wants to eliminate the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine published by the state DNR that features stories and photos highlighting Wisconsin’s hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities, like hiking and camping. Supporters say the magazine is a valuable tool and since it’s funded by subscriptions, ending publication won’t save any money. Walker argues the state should not be in the publishing business and the department can use online social media to spread its message.

— PAROLE COMMISSION: The state Parole Commission would be eliminated under Walker’s plan and replaced with a parole director the governor would appoint. There are 3,044 inmates currently serving a prison sentence who were convicted of a crime that is eligible for parole. Only crimes committed before 2000 are parole-eligible.

— JUDICIAL SALARIES: Walker’s budget calls for increasing the salary of Wisconsin’s judges 2 percent each of the next two years, which is the same as what state employees would receive. Wisconsin’s judicial salaries are the 43th lowest nationwide, according to the National Center for State Courts. Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wants a 16 percent increase over two years.

— DISTRICT ATTORNEY, PUBLIC DEFENDER PAY: District attorneys and public defenders, who have complained about the ability to recruit and retain attorneys based on their current salaries, would see pay increases under Walker’s budget. The money provided would allow district attorneys to increase salaries nearly $2 an hour while public defenders would get a 2 percent increase in each of the next two years.

— DEAD DEER: Current state law calls for ending state-funded removal of dead deer along state roads starting in July. With no state program, the responsibility of removing deer carcasses from the side of the road would fall to whoever is responsible for maintenance of the road.

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