April 27, 2011 – The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has voted to approve funding for 45 new positions in the Office of the State Public Defender to handle the workload generated by expanded eligibility standards that take effect in June.
Commencing its voting on Governor Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-13 biennial budget, the JFC voted 12-4 on April 26 to approve a motion to fund the new positions. However, the motion also eliminates a provision of the eligibility law that would have automatically indexed eligibility standards to future increases in the federal poverty level. As approved by JFC, SPD eligibility standards will be set at 2011 levels unless increased by the Legislature in the future.
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 the 45 new SPD staff positions to handle the anticipated increased caseload. Gov. Walker’s proposed SPD budget as approved by JFC funds those new positions, which under Act 164 are created effective June 19, 2011.
In addition, the JFC also approved Gov. Walker’s budget proposal to increase funding to help fill the hole in the perennially under-funded SPD private bar appropriation, which has repeatedly run out of money during the second year of the biennium. The SPD budget as approved by JFC increases the private bar appropriation by $3.6 million, which will not cover the entire shortfall in the next biennium. A subsequent motion by Democrats on the committee to add an additional $5.8 million to the appropriation failed on at 4-12 party-line vote.
The funding approved by JFC also does not address a projected shortfall of $3.5 million for the current 2009-11 biennium, which ends June 30, 2011. The remaining shortfall this year will be carried forward into the next biennium and added to the projected shortfall in FY 2013.
In December 2010, the JFC authorized an additional $5.4 million to partially offset the current budget’s estimated $9 million shortfall. Even with this additional money, the SPD has run out of funds to pay private bar bills and will not be able to pay again until the beginning of the next biennium on July 1, 2011.
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.
Continue to monitor WisBar.org and visit the State Bar’s Government Relations page for updated information on these and other budget issues.
By Adam Korbitz
, Government Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin
State Bar responds to Governor Walker’s proposed state budget - March 9, 2011
$5.4 million SPD private bar reimbursement supplemental appropriation approved - December 14, 2010
Private bar appropriation expected to run out of money at least five months early - October 27, 2010
Governor signs bill expanding public defender eligibility limits - March 17, 2010
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