By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette tried to persuade a judge Friday to temporarily block provisions in the state budget that slash La Follette’s budget by nearly 50 percent, arguing the cuts have crippled his office and he can’t fulfill his duties.
La Follette, the only Democrat in a statewide office, filed a lawsuit in July alleging the Republican-authored cuts are unconstitutional. He has asked Dane County Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford to issue a temporary injunction blocking the provisions while she weighs the lawsuit.
At a hearing Friday on the injunction, Lanford listened to La Follette’s attorney, Roger Sage, and Assistant Attorney General Clayton Kawski make arguments but held off on a decision, saying she wanted to review affidavits Sage filed minutes before the hearing began.
La Follette angered Republicans in 2011 when he delayed publishing Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law that all but eliminated most public employees’ union rights for the maximum 10 days allowed under state law. Republican legislators retaliated by stripping him of his publication duties, passing a law in 2013 that shifted that job to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
The GOP also included provisions in the 2011-13 state budget that cut his office budget by 29 percent, reduced his 7.5-member staff to four and shifted his duty to issue notary commissions and register trademarks to the state Department of Financial Institutions, a Walker cabinet agency.
Republicans largely left La Follette alone in the 2013-15 state budget. The 2015-17 spending plan cut La Follette’s budget again, this time by 47.7 percent, to $536,800. The budget also cut his office’s staff from four full-time workers to two; transferred responsibility for maintaining records of municipal annexations and incorporations to the state Department of Administration; and moved the office into a 900-square-foot space deep in the state Capitol’s basement.
Sage argued Republican legislators violated the separation of powers doctrine by imposing the cuts. He also insisted La Follette’s office can no longer keep up with issuing apostilles, documents that businesses and residents need to operate overseas, adopt foreign children and study abroad.
Pam Rich testified that she’s an expert in office efficiency and studied La Follette’s operations for two days in late July. She said the office processes about 16,000 apostille requests per year and needs two more staffers to keep up with the demand.
Sage told the judge that a backlog of 500 apostille requests has built up in the month since Walker signed the budget into law on July 12. He said the affidavits he submitted are from companies warning that delays in apostille processing will cause them irreparable harm.
Kawski countered that Rich didn’t consider that La Follette could help process apostilles himself. He also argued that the Wisconsin Constitution created La Follette’s office and it doesn’t require him to issue apostilles.
The Legislature is free to change the secretary of state’s duties as prescribed by state law, he added. He noted, too, that one of the reasons for granting a temporary injunction is preserving the legal status quo; in this case, an injunction would upset the status quo because the budget is already law.
Lanford told both sides she had received an email from Dane County Supervisor Dorothy Krause urging her to block the cuts because they’re politically motivated. The judge said she planned to tell Krause such a message is inappropriate.
Krause said in an email to The Associated Press that she’s used to sending her thoughts “here, there and yonder to all kinds of electeds, including judges as part of my work.”
Dane County is the most liberal county in the state. It’s home to a number of Democratic legislators and liberal-leaning politicians.