JFC approves $10.1 million GPR boost for DOJ, but pares back Evers proposal, Legal Services

The Joint Finance Committee approved a $10.1 million GPR boost to the Department of Justice that would include providing assistant attorneys general raises of 2 percent each in 2020 and 2021 while adding nine positions to the state crime lab.

But Tony Evers had proposed 14 new positions in the crime lab, and the GOP motion didn’t sign off on the three new positions for digital forensics the guv wanted. The GOP motion, approved 12-4 along party lines, also included a cut to the division that provides legal advice to the guv and others.

Overall, the GOP motion would add $10.1 million in general purpose revenue to the agency budget over the two-year biennium and $2.2 million in other funds.

That is $4.1 million in GPR less than Evers had proposed and $2.5 million less in other funds.

As part of the package, Republicans would reduce funding for the Division of Legal Services by $1.7 million over the biennium. That office, which provides legal representation to the guv, Legislature, other state officers and state agencies, was slated to receive $55 million over the two-year budget.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, noted Republicans were making the move at the same time that they were hiring private attorneys to represent them in ongoing legal fights, often with no caps on fees. That includes a challenge of abortion restrictions, environmental suits and challenges to GOP actions in a December lame-duck session.

Republicans have said they don’t trust Dem AG Josh Kaul to adequately represent their views in some cases. But Taylor said they were “rigging the system” against the people of the state.

“You don’t want them to have a voice. You don’t want them to have an attorney general who stands up for them,” Taylor said.

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said Dems were trying to make it sound like the agency’s funding was being gutted. But he stressed DOJ would see an overall increase of $10.1 million, which he called “healthy.”

The motion signed off on Evers’ plan to add $2 million to the treatment alternatives and diversion grant program.

Known as the TAD program, it provides grants to counties to create and operate deferred prosecution programs as an alternative to incarceration for those facing drug and alcohol charges.

Dems knocked the GOP motion as not enough after Republicans rejected their call to add another $6.1 million to the TAD program in the second year of the budget.