By Dinesh Ramde
Milwaukee (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday exempted the state Department of Justice from certain budget cuts that would have meant less money for organizations that help victims of sexual assault.
The department had warned the organizations earlier this month that their individual grants could be cut by 40 percent or more. A statement from Walker’s office said the governor decided to preserve about $294,000 in funding for sexual-assault victim services and another $45,000 to prevent child pornography.
“We are now helping make sure that funding goes toward preventing sexual predators from preying on our children,” Walker said in the statement.
When Justice Department officials said they planned to scale back the overall grants program by 42.5 percent, they said they had little choice.
One reason was that the agency has to comply with mandates in the state budget that call for all state agencies to cut spending by 10 percent. Another was that revenue from criminal surcharges that fund the grants had dwindled from $1.76 million in the fiscal year that ended in mid-2008 to $1.39 million for the year that ended in mid-2011.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen at the time implored Republicans who control the Legislature’s finance committee to exempt Justice Department programs from the cuts. To address the cuts in the meantime, the department proposed slashing $294,350 from services for sexual-assault victims.
When Walker saw the proposal, he decided to protect the funding by reducing the amount the department would have to cut, spokesman Cullen Werwie said. He acknowledged that other state agencies might now have to make even steeper cuts as a result of the exclusion.
Walker’s decision restores about 15 percent of the money that would have been cut, so instead of a 42.5 percent decrease in funding, the cut will be more in the neighborhood of 27.5 percent, Justice Department spokeswoman Dana Brueck said.
Ian Henderson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said his group was assessing Walker’s plan.
“We’re still trying to confirm what this is actually going to mean for the grant,” he said.
The final cuts across all agencies must still be approved by the Department of Administration. Then the department must submit them to the Legislature’s finance committee, which would automatically approve them unless a committee member objects. That would prompt a hearing.
Democratic Sens. Bob Jauch of Poplar and Lena Taylor of Milwaukee launched petition drives on their websites Monday calling on the governor and Legislature not to cut services for sexual-assault victims beyond the original 10 percent stipulated in the 2011 budget.
Eric Peterson, Taylor’s chief of staff, said the petition would remain active Tuesday because Walker’s decision left room for additional cuts down the line.
“It’s a good first step but it’s not a long-term solution,” he said.