June 30, 2011 – Governor Scott Walker has signed the 2011-13 biennial state budget into law, issuing 50 line-item vetoes of various provisions in the bill but enacting it largely as passed by the Legislature.
Gov. Walker signed the budget bill, 2011 Wisconsin Act 32, at a ceremony in Green Bay on June 26, 2011.
The Legislature finished action on the budget bill on June 16, 2011, sending it to Gov. Walker for his review. The new biennium begins on July 1, 2011.
While many of the vetoes were technical in nature, among the higher-profile items Gov. Walker vetoed was a plan to bring the bail bondsman industry back to Wisconsin. In his veto message regarding the provision, Walker stated, “I am vetoing this provision because it does not provide sufficient time to properly evaluate the proposal and to plan for appropriate regulation of this industry prior to the date of implementation.”
Walker suggested the Legislature consider the plan in separate legislation, and said he agreed with the measure’s intent to control local government costs and ensure attendance of criminal defendants in court.
The state Senate gave the budget bill final passage on Thursday, June 16, 2011, on a 19-14 party-line vote, a day after the Assembly passed it on a 60-38 vote that was also along party lines. Legislative leaders introduced the budget bill at Gov. Walker’s request in March 2011.
The budget bill as signed by the governor contains some initiatives the State Bar of Wisconsin supports, but also contains several provisions that the State Bar opposes, such as the elimination of all state funding for indigent civil legal needs and the elimination of public financing for Wisconsin Supreme Court campaigns.
Judicial compensation commission vetoed
Gov. Walker vetoed in its entirety a provision in the budget bill that would have created a judicial compensation commission to study and make recommendations on judicial pay. The purpose of the commission would have been to assure that highly qualified individuals serve on the bench without unreasonable economic hardship.
The State Bar’s Board of Governors has a long-standing public policy position in favor of a judicial compensation commission. The Wisconsin Supreme Court included a proposal for such a commission in its 2011-13 budget request, but it was not included in Gov. Walker’s proposed budget bill when he introduced it in March.
Under the plan Gov. Walker vetoed, every biennium the judicial compensation commission would have reviewed judicial salaries in Wisconsin and made a recommendation to the governor and the Legislature. Those recommendations would have been incorporated into the governor’s biennial budget bill but could have been modified by the Legislature. Generally, the salaries of judges and justices would have been increased by the same percentage as that given to state employees as part of a general salary increase or by the amount recommended by the commission, whichever was larger.
In vetoing this provision, Gov. Walker stated: “I object to the requirement to provide a certain amount of funding for judicial salaries in the 2013-15 biennium. I also object to required salary increases for justices and judges when state employees are facing salary reductions due to increased contributions for health insurance and pension. Judicial salaries are included in the compensation plan, similar to all other elected officials, and will be adjusted as necessary under that system.”
Assistant district attorney compensation plan modified
Gov. Walker partially vetoed provisions in the budget bill to provide pay progression to assistant district attorneys (ADAs). In those provisions, the Legislature had extensively modified a provision Gov. Walker had originally proposed when he introduced the budget in March. Gov. Walker had proposed using $1 million annually from the justice information surcharge to fund a pay progression plan worked out by district attorneys and the Office of State Employment Relations (OSER).
The Legislature eliminated the governor’s original plan and proposed instead that during the 2011-13 biennium, district attorneys would retain the base funding for ADAs who have retired. Under the budget bill as passed by the Legislature, the difference between the salaries of attorneys who retire and the salaries of new attorneys who replace them could have been used to fund a pay progression plan. The union representing the ADAs, the Association of State Prosecutors, and OSER were to submit a pay progression plan to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee by Sept. 30, 2011.
In signing the budget bill into law, Gov. Walker vetoed the provisions requiring OSER to work with the Association of State Prosecutors to develop the plan, as well as the requirement that the plan be submitted to the Joint Finance Committee. Gov. Walker also vetoed the funding source for the plan – namely, the savings from retirements.
In his veto message, Gov. Walker stated: “I object to the requirement that OSER must work with the Association of State Prosecutors on a pay progression plan without involving the District Attorneys. . . . I also object to the selection of this bargaining unit to receive a pay progression system when no information has been presented to indicate there is a recruitment or retention problem among this group.”
Gov. Walker retained budget language directing OSER to develop a pay progression plan for ADAs, saying: “I continue to support a system that increases retention of experienced prosecutors around the state and this partial veto maintains that support.”
The State Bar’s Board of Governors supports a proposal to provide increased compensation to ADAs. The budget act does not contain a similar compensation provision for State Public Defender staff attorneys. As President Jim Boll recently stated, the State Bar supports adequate funding for both prosecutors and public defenders.
Other provisions unaffected by vetoes
Walker left intact several other provisions of interest to State Bar members, including funding of new SPD staff positions authorized in eligibility legislation passed last session.
When the previous Legislature enacted 2009 Wisconsin Act 164, which expanded financial eligibility for public defender representation from the antiquated 1987 Aid to Families With Dependent Children limits to current W-2 limits, it also authorized 45 new SPD staff positions to handle the anticipated increased caseload. The budget act as signed by Gov. Walker fully funds those new positions, which under Act 164 were created effective June 19, 2011. However, as passed by the Legislature and enacted into law, the budget act also locks in SPD financial eligibility limits to 2011 W-2 limits and does not index them for future W-2 increases, as originally provided in Act 164.
In addition, the budget act increases funding to help fill the hole in the perennially underfunded SPD private bar appropriation, which has repeatedly run out of money during the first half of odd-numbered years. The budget act increases the private bar appropriation by $3.6 million, which will not cover the entire shortfall in the next biennium.
The State Bar’s Board of Governors has long-standing public policy positions in favor of both expanded SPD eligibility standards and adequate compensation of private bar attorneys who take SPD cases.
The budget act also increases biennial funding to reimburse counties for court interpreter services by $366,700. The State Bar supports the continued funding of the court interpreter program.
Unfortunately, the budget act also completely eliminates funding indigent civil legal needs as well as public financing of Supreme Court campaigns.
The Legislature first provided funding for civil legal services for low-income individuals in the 2007-09 state budget when it included $1 million for that purpose, a move long-supported by the State Bar. A study released by the State Bar in March 2007 (Bridging the Justice Gap: Wisconsin’s Unmet Legal Needs) showed that more than 500,000 state residents routinely cope with evictions, divorces, and other critical legal issues on their own.
The state budget for the current 2009-11 biennium, which ends on June 30, 2011, significantly boosted state funding for indigent civil legal needs by adding $4 to the justice information fee and designating that money be used to provide grant funding for civil legal services through the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, Inc. (WisTAF). The budget act eliminates that funding.
The budget act also eliminates public funding of Wisconsin Supreme Court campaigns. Under Gov. Walker’s original budget proposal, funding for the program would have been limited to the amount of money generated by a voluntary income tax check-off, but the Legislature modified the bill to eliminate the program altogether.
The State Bar’s Board of Governors has long supported public financing for Supreme Court campaigns using general purpose tax revenues as under the current program.
Finally, the budget act as signed into law maintains the Wisconsin Judicial Council as an independent agency but cuts half the funding for the council’s staff attorney position. Under the bill, the other half of the funding will have to be transferred from the budgets for the Director of State Courts, the State Law Library, or from some other source under the Supreme Court’s control. Gov. Walker did not propose any similar changes to the Judicial Council when he introduced his budget bill, but the cuts were inserted into the bill by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.
Continue to monitor WisBar.org and visit the State Bar’s Government Relations page for updated information on these issues.
By Adam Korbitz, Government Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin
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