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Charlie Neibergall 

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley walks to the field before an NCAA college football game against Illinois, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Eagle Point road closure request returns, tiny houses approved

At its Tuesday meeting, the Chippewa Falls City Council revisited a topic that hasn’t been on the Town of Eagle Point’s radar since 2015: a railroad’s request to close an Eagle Point road.

The council voted to ask Progressive Rail to fund a traffic study of the area before closing down 95th Avenue in the Town of Eagle Point.

In 2015, Progressive Rail requested to build a 10-track railyard — adding nine rails to an existing one — near 95th Avenue (also known as Darrow Road). After the town expressed hesitation about closing 95th Avenue, the railroad suggested it would consider paying for and building an overpass over the construction site to keep traffic flow steady while the road was closed.

With the town’s encouragement, Progressive Rail began to pursue a traffic study before moving forward with the railyard’s construction, but eventually abandoned the project.

Now, Progressive Rail is again requesting that the Town of Eagle Point close down 195th Avenue — but instead of requesting permission from the town, has filed a petition with the state Commissioner of the Railroads in Madison.

The road is less than a mile long, Progress Rail argued in the letter, and would not have a significant impact on traffic flow.

“Along with the Town of Eagle Point, we were very surprised and disappointed to learn that on September 13, 2017, that Progressive Rail was petitioning to close 95th Avenue,” wrote Brian Kelley, Chippewa County Highway Commissioner, in an Oct. 2 letter to the Commissioner of the Railroads.

Dennis Ferstenou, chairman of the Town of Eagle Point, said the town neither denied closing the road nor agreed to allow an overpass in a September 2017 letter to the railroad commissioner.

The overpass would have cost the town in maintenance dollars, Ferstenou said, and the residents would have had to pay a portion of the cost. Ferstenou suggested the Town of Eagle Point, Chippewa County and Progressive Rail discuss resuming the traffic study before any decision is made.

The matter ended up with the city of Chippewa Falls at an October meeting of the Board of Public Works. The board ultimately recommended the city intervene in Progressive Rail’s petition and request the railroad fund a traffic study before any road was closed. That decision was approved by the city council Tuesday evening.

In other news, Hope Village, a Chippewa Falls organization that builds tiny houses as temporary homeless housing, has a reason to celebrate. The council voted 6-1 to approve a special-use permit for two more tiny houses to be built at Chippewa Valley Bible Church, 531 E South Ave.

At a previous meeting in October, the council had voted to wait until February and review the progress of two existing tiny houses in Chippewa Falls before granting Hope Village another permit. However, a request from a council member brought the matter back onto the table, and more than 20 city residents came to Tuesday’s meeting to speak in support of the tiny houses.

“I think with winter coming we need to get this done now,” council member C.W. King said Tuesday. “That’s the reason that I wanted to get it off the table and back up for a vote again, rather than waiting until February.”

Also in city news, Chippewa Falls’ Erickson Park project has received a state grant to the tune of $136,000. The total amount left to raise is roughly $288,000. The city is not involved in funding the project, which aims to improve Glen Loch and Erickson Park.


Marion Frank, a resident of the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls, prepared for the home’s 2017 Veterans’ Ball on Tuesday afternoon. Frank’s husband served in the Navy and has since passed away, she said. It will be her second year attending the celebration.

Idea at the heart of GOP tax plan: 'trickle-down' economics

WASHINGTON — The House Republicans’ tax-cut plan springs from a core argument: What’s good for big business and the moneyed elite is inevitably good for the economy and everyone else.

Their plan would slash corporate tax rates, end inheritance taxes for the ultra-rich and create new tax advantages for business owners. To help pay for some of those breaks, the plan would end tax deductions for college loans, high medical bills, moving costs and state and local income taxes.

It would also add $1.4 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

Taken as a whole, the tax plan would drastically lighten the burden on the powerful groups that Republican leaders say would strengthen the economy while eliminating some benefits for the middle class they’ve called their top priority.

Some new benefits for ordinary households — like a family credit — would expire in five years. And some existing benefits would erode with inflation.

But the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers argue that the goodies they would bestow on corporations and the wealthy would, in the political parlance of the 1980s, inevitably “trickle down” to everyone else.

Analyses from the White House contend that cutting the tax rates that corporations pay would ultimately result in $4,000 in additional income annually for the average U.S. household. It’s a claim that many mainstream economists have disputed as improbable. And it has provided Democratic lawmakers with a rhetorical line of attack against the tax cuts: They’re fundamentally unfair.

On Monday, as the House Ways and Means Committee worked its way through the bill, Rep. Suzan DelBene stressed what she described as the inequality at the heart of the bill.

“If a worker in my district had to move because his employer is forcing him to relocate his family or potentially lose his job, can he deduct his moving expenses under this plan?” asked DelBene, a Washington state Democrat.

No, she was told by Thomas Barthold, chief of staff for Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.

“But if a company, a corporation, decides to close its facilities in my district, fire its workers and move its operation to China, say, can it deduct associated moving expenses under this plan?”

Yes, Barthold said. That company could shrink its tax bill by deducting moving costs — something families could no longer do.

By cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, the bill would reduce the tax liability of corporations by $846.5 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. What’s more, businesses could deduct the expense of state and local income taxes. Families no longer could.

Companies could deduct the price of equipment bought for employees. Yet teachers could no longer deduct some of the costs of school supplies that they bought for students.

Nearly the entire net tax cut for individuals would come from two changes that would do nothing for most of the middle class: The government would repeal the alternative minimum tax, a provision that has long prevented many wealthy taxpayers from using loopholes to avoid paying taxes. The loss of the AMT would cause a revenue shortfall of nearly $700 billion over 10 years.

Also gone under the Republican bill: The inheritance tax on estates worth at least $5.5 million. That would let wealthy heirs keep an extra $172 billion over the next decade.

The plan would also allow business owners whose profits double as their personal income to pay, in part, at a discounted rate of 25 percent. This would cause the loss of an additional $448 billion over 10 years.

Given how these business owners are classified, the plan would let them deduct their state and local taxes from the equivalent of their personal income. By contrast, the employees of those business owners could not do so.

Taken together, that’s $2.17 trillion worth of benefits that would help mainly companies and the wealthiest segment of the U.S. population.

By getting rid of itemized deductions — such as for medical costs and state and local taxes — that now help many middle class and affluent taxpayers, the plan would raise an additional $1.26 trillion during the next decade.

Every tax overhaul tends to create some layer of inequality. The best chance for faster growth often comes from lowering corporate rates and clearing the underbrush of loopholes where companies can hide cash. What makes this tax plan unusual is that many of the tax breaks that Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump would like to preserve for companies would be taken away from families and individuals.

The solution isn’t simple. Lowering corporate tax rates can help make the United States more globally competitive. It can also help increase investment by domestic and foreign companies, which could spur job growth.

Yet critics note that the stock market is booming and the unemployment rate is an exceedingly low 4.1 percent. So the benefits for the job market could be minimal.

Still, advocates of the Republican plan argue that companies are ideally positioned to immediately invest savings from tax cuts.

“Business investment is likely more responsive to changes in tax policy than households,” said Scott Greenberg, a senior analyst at the conservative Tax Foundation, whose own analysis suggests that cutting the corporate rate to 20 percent — among other changes — would help generate roughly 1 million jobs.


House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., touts the GOP tax reform plan being crafted in the Ways and Means Committee this week during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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Chippewa County decides to join drug lawsuit

Chippewa County is joining nearly two dozen counties in suing manufacturers of prescription painkillers to get back some of the money the county has spent in combating the opioid abuse epidemic.

The Chippewa County Board voted on a 9-4 vote on Tuesday to join the lawsuit, which is supported by the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Not all supervisors thought it was a good idea. “This is like suing a gun manufacturer. This is stupid,” Supervisor Tom Thornton said. He said he would rather sue doctors who wrote the prescriptions that are being abused by people.

Thornton was among the four supervisors opposing the measure. Others were Dean Gullickson, Leigh Darrow and Larry Willkom.

Supervisor Kari Ives, a substance abuse counselor, said the lawsuit would be part of the solution to the crisis. It’s an important thing to support,” she said, but noted in our area methamphetamines is a larger problem.

Supervisor Florian Skwierczynski said the lawsuit is a great opportunity for the county to recover some of its costs.

Both Polk and Green Lake County have voted against the resolution, although Polk County will reconsider that vote next week, Corporation Counsel James Sherman said.

“The societal costs associated with the opioid epidemic are staggering and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, amount to over $75 billion annually,” says the resolution passed by the County Board.

“(The) county has spent millions in unexpected and unbudgeted time and resources in its programs and services related to the rise of the opioid epidemic,” the resolution said. “All sums that the county expends in addressing, combating and otherwise dealing with the opioid epidemic are sums that can not be used for other critical programs and services that the county provides to county citizens, residents and visitors.”

The resolution says the main cost to Chippewa County to be part of the lawsuit will be staff time gathering records, complying with information requests and determining just how much the opioid epidemic has cost the county. The resolution does not break down where any money will go within the county if the counties win the lawsuit.

“Defendants’ goal was simple: to dramatically increase sales by convincing doctors that it was safe and efficacious to prescribe opioids to treat not only the kind of severe and short-term pain associated with surgery or cancer, but also for a seemingly unlimited array of less severe, longer-term pain, such as back pain and arthritis to name but two examples,” the lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin says.

Drug companies knew their “products were addictive, subject to abuse, and not safe or efficacious for long-term use,” that lawsuit says. It names Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and subsidiaries of the companies. Three doctors in California and Utah are also listed.

“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement that also said the company is “deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution.”

Endo Health Solutions said in a statement its “top priorities include patient safety and ensuring that patients with chronic pain have access to safe and effective therapeutic options” while preventing opioid abuse. It said it couldn’t comment further on pending litigation. Johnson & Johnson said in a statement it had not yet received the counties’ complaint but that the allegations in similar lawsuits are “legally and factually unfounded.”

“Responsibly used opioid-based pain medicines give doctors and patients important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain,” the company’s statement said. “At the same time, we recognize opioid abuse and addiction is a serious public health issue that must be addressed.”

More than 52,000 Americans died in 2015 from drug overdoses, most of them involving prescription opioids or related illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Wisconsin, 1,824 people died from opioid overdoses from 2013 to 2015, according to the lawsuit. One of the local governments taking legal action, Washington County, with a population of about 131,900, had 542 hospitalizations involving opioids last year, according to the lawsuit, and 70 opioid overdose deaths from 2013 to 2016.

Eau Claire County is also participating in the lawsuit.

In other action

The board approved a tax levy of $18,728,228. The board approved the 2018 county budget last Thursday. Another resolution approved by the board authorized taking out $2.1 million in general obligation refunding bonds. The levy passed on an 8-5 vote, with Supervisors Jared Zwiefelhofer, Gullickson, Willkom, Ives and Darrow voting against.

The board received an update on the West Central Wisconsin Community Development Block Grant program. Federal money is funneled through the state to small municipalities. Chippewa County is the lead county for a 10-county area, including Barron, Buffalo, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix. The city of Eau Claire within Chippewa and Eau Claire county is excluded from the regional program. The County Board approved a resolution on a 13-0 vote to apply for block grant funds for housing projects in the counties. Participants in the housing program must have incomes of 80 percent or below their county’s median income.

A donation of a 3.7 acre parcel from the Larson Cottage Partnership to add to the Round Lake Special County Forest unit was approved on a 13-0 vote by the board. The property is subdivided from a 12.2 acre parcel. The 3.7 acres has a fair market value of between $20,000 to $25,000.

The county’s Executive Committee will meet in a session closed to the public at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, to hear an update on applications for the county administrator positions. The county is looking for a replacement for County Administrator Frank Pascarella who is scheduled to leave next month. The committee’s meeting will be in room 302 of the courthouse at 711 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls.

Supervisor Matt Hartman was absent from Thursday’s meeting. Supervisor Chuck Hull spent 20 minutes at the county meeting before leaving. Hull is also a member of the Chippewa Falls City Council, which was meeting for much of the same time the County Board was in session.