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State Bar considers draining reserves with dues increase on horizon

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//April 13, 2012//

State Bar considers draining reserves with dues increase on horizon

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//April 13, 2012//

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State Bar of Wisconsin leaders are considering approval of a budget that drains reserve money, contingent on a future dues increase, to financially sustain the organization going forward.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Margaret Hickey on Friday pitched to the Board of Governors a $35 dues increase to take effect July 1, 2013; the start of the 2014 fiscal year. The increase would require use of more than $99,000 in reserve money to help balance the 2013 budget, which includes a potential $286,206 deficit.

“We voted to dip into the reserves, with the provision that we raise dues next year,” Hickey said. “It was voted on just like that. Those two things go hand-in-hand.”

But some members questioned if the proposed dues increase would become reality, even if adopted by the board at its June 13 meeting.

If the board endorses the dues hike this year, members have the option of abandoning the increase prior to adoption of the 2014 budget.

For that reason, board member Jane Zimmerman said an increase effective with the upcoming budget should be considered.

“Why not this year?” Zimmerman asked Friday. “It seems like we would just be kicking the can down the road. I understand it’s tough economic times, but it doesn’t make sense.”

President-elect Kevin Klein acknowledged there will be inevitable turnover on the Finance Committee and throughout the board prior to a vote on the 2014 budget, and the financial picture of the bar could improve in that time.

“They will be able to vote whatever way they want to,” Klein said. “We can pass a budget for this year, but it has nothing to do with a dues increase for 2014.”

Board member Nate Cade said abandoning the financial commitment of a dues increase later would be short-sighted.

While this is his last year on the board, Cade said he hoped that even if the economic state of the bar improves, new members wouldn’t use that as a reason to avoid a dues increase.

“That would be a cop out,” he said. “Even if investments improve by 30 percent, the money could be used for a rainy-day fund.”

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