Feb. 21, 2013 – Bolstered by a rare budget surplus and improving tax revenues, Gov. Scott Walker introduced his biennial budget proposal, Assembly Bill 40, last night to the Wisconsin Legislature. While details of the governor’s plan are still emerging, it does contain a number of items of interest to State Bar members.
Proposal Will Fund Pay Progression
The governor’s budget includes new money to fund pay progression for assistant district attorneys (ADAs), state public defenders and assistant attorneys general.
Last session, the Governor signed 2011 Wisconsin Act 238, a bipartisan proposal to establish a new pay progression system to increase the pay of ADAs. While that legislation established the pay progression program, the Legislature delayed implementation of the program until the start of the next biennial budget.
Gov. Walker’s plan will not only fund pay progression for assistant district attorneys, but will be expanded to include attorneys from the State Public Defenders office and the Attorney General’s office. In the Budget in Brief report, the governor said it is vital to have a robust criminal justice system to prosecute and defend the accused.
Retaining experienced attorneys on both sides of the courtroom is necessary for an efficient and effective criminal justice system and pay progression will reward attorneys with increasing years of service.
Cale Battles is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached at org cbattles wisbar wisbar cbattles org, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
No Increase in Private Bar Rate
The governor did not invest any new resources to increase the $40 per hour rate for private attorneys receiving public defender appointments.
The $40 per hour rate is the lowest in the country and has not been increased since 1992. Potentially of greater concern is the large structural deficit in the private bar’s reimbursement budget. The State Public Defender has indicated the deficit is more than $6 million, and those attorneys taking public defender appointments will stop receiving payments as early as April. Gov. Walker’s proposal did include new money to fix the structural deficit going forward, but the current year end deficit will remain.
Other Proposals of Interest to State Bar Members
The State Bar will continue to push for funding for civil legal services for the poor. A study released by the State Bar in March 2007 (Bridging the Justice Gap: Wisconsin’s Unmet Legal Needs) showed more than 500,000 state residents routinely cope with evictions, divorces and other critical legal issues on their own.
The funding for civil legal needs was removed in the 2011-13 budget and Wisconsin remains one of the few states that provide no state funding for this program.
Other items of interest include:
The budget will now be the focus of the Legislature over the next four months. The Joint Finance Committee will hold statewide hearings in the coming months and begin voting on individual provisions in April. The Legislature will also debate and vote on the proposal in late May or June. All the budget actions should be complete before the fiscal year begins on July 1, 2013.
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