Wyoming Fights Over

Budget Surplus

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- A projected state budget surplus of $1.8 billion next year, made possible by soaring oil and gas revenue, puts Wyoming in an enviable position as other states struggle to recover from fiscal troubles.

But some Republican legislators are criticizing Gov. Dave Freudenthal for proposing that the state sock away only $1.2 billion in savings over the next two years.

Freudenthal, a Democrat in a state where registered Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans nearly 3 to 1, defends the budget proposal he released Thursday, saying it uses some of the state's energy windfall for needed programs and infrastructure while acknowledging that the good times may not last.

The governor said even with his call for total state spending to exceed $6.8 billion over two years, the state is on track to meet its goal of having $4 billion in its permanent fund by 2010. That is about $8,000 for each of the just over 500,000 residents in the nation's least-populous state.

But House Speaker Randall Luthi (R) said the Legislature is likely to try to invest more than the statutory minimum in the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, as Freudenthal proposes. "The minerals are nonrenewable," Luthi said.

* SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Thousands of spectators gathered Saturday to watch the demolition of the city's tallest building -- but the Zip Feed Mill tower was stronger than it looked. The 202-foot-tall concrete structure, loaded with explosives, dropped slightly, leaned a little -- and stopped. Crews plan to dismantle it with a crane.

* FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Relatives cheered as 170 support troops from the 3rd Infantry Division returned from nearly a year in Iraq. Most of the division's 19,000 troops will return in January from its second tour in Iraq.

* YAZOO CITY, Miss. -- A Yazoo County jury convicted Earnest Lee Hargon of killing his cousin, Michael Hargon; Michael's wife, Rebecca; and the couple's 4-year-old son, James, on Valentine's Day 2004. Jurors will return Sunday to hear evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial.

* WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The body of the 17-year-old granddaughter of Powerball jackpot winner Jack Whittaker was hidden under a broken-down van for weeks after she died of a drug overdose in December 2004, police said. Brandi Bragg's boyfriend, Brandon Crosier, 19, was charged Thursday with unlawful disposal of a body and with two unrelated felony drug charges.

* PHILADELPHIA -- A 2-year-old boy was removed from his family, and his mother could face charges after the child handed his day-care teacher two packets of crack cocaine, and a search of his jacket pocket turned up nine more, police said.

* MADISON, Wis. -- Gov. Jim Doyle (D) vetoed legislation that would have capped the amount of money medical malpractice victims could win in court for their pain and suffering. Republican lawmakers drafted the measure to limit noneconomic damages to $450,000 for adults and $550,000 for minors after the state Supreme Court struck down Wisconsin's previous cap as unconstitutional.

-- From News Services