Madison, WI – In the June issue of Wisconsin Lawyer, arriving in State Bar of Wisconsin member mailboxes this week, Wisconsin Director of State Courts A. John Voelker takes a closer look at continued reductions in court funding and the implications for the justice system, taxpayers and our communities.
For more information contact Attorney Andrea Gage, public relations coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org agage wisbar wisbar agage org, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.
“What happens when delays affect an individual’s ability to resolve a dispute or get legal protection from a dangerous situation? What happens when businesses can’t get their cases heard in a timely manner?” asks Voelker. “As a result of budget cuts in recent years, courts around the country have had to make difficult decisions, and not without consequences…. Is Wisconsin going to end up in the same situation? There are signs the answer is yes.”
Voelker explains that in Wisconsin, circuit court funding comes mainly from three sources—the state, the counties, and court fees and surcharge revenue. But recent reductions in state funding are starting to have a destabilizing effect on that “three-legged stool” structure. In addition to facing a $5.8 million cut in state appropriations during the 2013-15 state budget biennium, the court system must lapse to the state general fund another $11.8 million.
“Less than one penny of each state tax dollar is used to support the state court system,” writes Voelker. “Increasing state investment in the court system to just one penny per state tax dollar total would help stabilize this leg of the funding stool, as well as reduce stress on our county partners and help ensure that we are able to provide effective court services.”
Voelker explains that each funding source is limited in what it can provide. According to Voelker, nearly 70 percent of the amount collected in fees and surcharges now goes to the state’s general fund or to other non-court programs at the state level. Meanwhile, counties face strict levy limits and financial pressures. State support payments to counties for court costs have not increased since 1999, and have been reduced during the last several years.
“If Wisconsin is to be a strong state with strong communities, we need public safety, we need a strong economy, and we must protect people in need. Underfunding the court system diminishes our ability to do all these things,” writes Voelker.
The State Bar of Wisconsin has created a court funding committee to further examine the issue. The State Bar is also actively lobbying legislators and the administration to ensure that the court system is provided the resources necessary to carry out its constitutional and statutory obligations. To learn more about these efforts, contact State Bar Public Relations Coordinator Andrea Gage at org agage wisbar wisbar agage org.