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The Latest: DNR could raise park, camping fees

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Latest on Wisconsin state budget (all times local):

8:05 p.m.

Higher entry and camping fees could be charged at the most popular Wisconsin state parks under a budget provision approved by a legislative committee.

The Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to allow the state Department of Natural Resources to charge higher fees for the most popular parks.

A daily vehicle park entry fee could increase for a Wisconsin resident from $8 to $13. Annual pass fees which are $28 for Wisconsin residents would not change. Camping fees could increase up to $10 a night. Fees currently range from $15 to $20 per night.

How much the increases would be and for what parks would be worked out later by the DNR.
The most popular parks are Devils’ Lake, High Cliff, Kohler-Andrae, Peninsula and Willow River.
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6:48 p.m.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has voted to rescue a popular outdoors magazine published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that Gov. Scott Walker had wanted to end.

The Republican-controlled panel decided to allow the magazine to be published four times a year rather than six. Walker had wanted to end it, arguing that it falls outside the core mission of the DNR and the information could be distributed online.

But Democrats say Walker and the DNR wanted to kill the magazine as part of a push to silence information about climate change and other controversial topics.

Supporters of the magazine that’s been published for 98 years had been outspoken in support of having it continue.
The committee’s decision has to be approved by the full Legislature and Walker before taking effect.
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6:15 p.m.

Removing deer carcasses hit by vehicles would now be the responsibility of the state Department of Transportation, rather than the Department of Natural Resources, under a change made by the Legislature’s budget committee.

Under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget deer removal would have been up to whoever is responsible for maintaining the road. But the Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday to require the DOT to pay for contracting with private vendors or counties and municipalities.

However, there’s no new funding to pay for the deer removal.

Democrats say they are worried that DOT would not make removing a deer a priority and dead deer will litter roadways.
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4:40 p.m.

Public defenders would get a pay increase but not as much as Gov. Scott Walker proposed under a vote by the Legislature’s budget committee.

The Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday to approve a nearly $2 an hour increase in pay for district attorneys, in line with what Walker proposed. That amounts to about $4,100 a year.

But public defenders would see just a 1.83 percent salary increase in each of the next two years. Walker has asked for a 2 percent increase annually, the same as what state employees and judges are slated to get.

District attorneys and public defenders have complained about the ability to recruit and retain attorneys based on their current salaries.

The committee is working on revising the budget which must also pass the full Legislature and be approved by Walker before becoming law.
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4:25 p.m.

Salaries for Wisconsin’s judges would increase 4 percent over two years under a vote by the Legislature’s budget committee.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to approve the higher salaries which are in line with what Gov. Scott Walker recommended, but far below what Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wanted.

The raises apply to members of the state Supreme Court, appeals courts and circuit courts.

The National Center for State Court says that Wisconsin’s judicial salaries are the 43th lowest nationwide. Roggensack had asked for a 16 percent increase over two years to help bridge that gap.

Walker’s 2 percent raise for judges in each of the next two years would be the same as what state employees would receive.
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3:55 p.m.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has voted to retain the Wisconsin Parole Commission, but with half as many commissioners to make decisions on releasing prison inmates.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed eliminating the parole commission in his state budget proposal. The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to retain the commission but reduce its members.

The commission would continue with four commissioners rather than eight. Currently, four commission positions are vacant and two of them have been open since June 2013. The committee also voted to cut commission staff from five to two.

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 because of Wisconsin’s truth-in-sentencing law.
Democrats argued for a fully staffed commission to make inmate release decisions.
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3:35 p.m.

A popular outdoors magazine published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources may not be cut as Gov. Scott Walker wanted.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee planned to vote Wednesday to save the magazine. Committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling says instead of publishing six times a year, it would be cut back to four times a year.

Walker had proposed doing away with the magazine, saying it fell outside the main duties of the DNR. But supporters of the magazine that’s been published for 98 years pushed back in an effort to save it.

The committee’s decisions must be approved by the full Legislature and Walker before taking effect.
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3:25 p.m.

The Legislature plans to go along with Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed elimination of the state property tax for forestry.

Co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee said Wednesday that it will do away with the tax as Walker wanted, but won’t vote on it until later. It had originally planned to vote on the tax Wednesday.

Walker has threatened to veto the entire budget if property taxes increase.

The state property tax generates about $180 million over two years to protect and preserve Wisconsin’s forests. Instead, Walker is calling for replacing the property tax funding with money from the state’s main account that primarily comes from sales and income taxes.

The budget committee plans to vote on the proposal when it takes up other tax issues.
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2:10 p.m.

The Republican leader of the Wisconsin state Senate says he thinks the state budget is on track to pass the Legislature by the end of June.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday that he thinks the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee could be done with its work in two weeks. The current budget runs through the end of June but state government doesn’t shut down if there isn’t a new spending plan.

Republicans who control the Legislature haven’t been able to reach a deal on how to pay for roads. It faces a $1 billion shortfall.

Fitzgerald says he expects the budget committee will go along with Gov. Scott Walker’s call to eliminate a state property tax benefiting forests. Walker has threatened to veto the entire budget if property taxes increase.
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12:18 a.m.

A popular outdoors magazine published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that’s on the chopping block could get saved by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

The Joint Finance Committee also planned to vote Wednesday on Gov. Scott Walker’s push to eliminate a state property tax that generates money to benefit Wisconsin’s forests.

Walker has been lobbying hard to do away with the state property tax, but he hasn’t been saying as much to defend his call for ending the 98-year-old Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. Lovers of the magazine have been urging lawmakers to keep the print edition that goes to 80,000 subscribers alive.

Republicans have been pushing back against Walker’s call to end the state property tax, which amounts to about $27 a year on a median-valued home.

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