Gov. Walker’s proposed Supreme Court block grant will give the court system flexibility in spending for the coming biennium, however some are concerned that the block grant still leaves the court system struggling to make ends meet.
The proposed state Supreme Court block grant, after the first year of the biennium, removes the statutory language that determines how much the state gives counties.
The state courts are funded by surcharges such as forfeitures, fines and fees, along with state and county money.
“We have unshackled the courts from a ‘mother may I’ approach,” Brian Hagedorn, Walker’s chief legal counsel, said at the lunch session Tuesday held by the Milwaukee Bar Association.
Hagedorn has been Walker’s chief counsel since he took office and was Walker’s policy advisor on the courts when drafting the budget proposal.
The proposed block grant, said Hagedorn, gives the Supreme Court a pot of money and lets the court decide what its priorities are.
“If the block grant passes,” he said, “there is an incredible opportunity for the court to rethink how it delivers resources.”
For example, Hagedorn noted that the Supreme Court, in its budget request, had asked for $2.1 million to implement mandatory e-filing. While the Walker did not grant that request, the block grant gives the court the authority to put aside money for it.
“Quite frankly I think the money is there to do it,” Hagedorn said, citing how the court is getting an additional resources – about 4.5 percent more — because there is no lapse in the budget.
However, First Judicial District Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers and some who attended the lunch event were concerned.
Kremers said he agreed that the block grant would give the court system flexibility, but disagreed that there would be enough money to implement programs such as mandatory e-filing.
“The court system gets less than a penny of every revenue dollar spent …” said Kremers. “If they just gave us a penny for every dollar we could easily fund all of the programs we talked about.”
He also took issue with Hagedorn’s characterization of the $11 million budget lapse.
“We were told, ‘Yes this is your cost to continue, but we’re going to take $11 million away,” he said. “I think the more appropriate view is, ‘We’re just giving you the money you need to continue your operations and programs but we’re not giving you anything new. So we’re just putting you back to where you were.’ That, I think, is a more appropriate way of looking at this lapse issue.”
Kremers said the effect of the last budget’s lapse is apparent in the circuit courts and gave a number of examples, including how Milwaukee County is short on court reporters and has heard from state Court of Appeals judges that court reporters are behind in transcripts.
“We have been bare bones for a long time,” said Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Brostrom after Kremers and Hagedorn spoke. “So many social problems are dealt with in the courts … People should not forget how fundamental and important the judicial branch is.” Follow @erikastrebel