“Shifting the Shaft” – DOC Lapses Fall Heavily on Local Aid for Juvenile Justice

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 10:00 PM by

The budget lapses recommended by the Department of Corrections (DOC) remind me of an expression that was occasionally used by a former Milwaukee-area Congressman, Jerry Kleczka. I’ve been observing Wisconsin politics long enough to remember when Kleczka served in the state Senate and co-chaired the Joint Finance Committee during the early 1980s.

Senator Kleczka was a strong-willed co-chair who watched the state’s purse strings carefully and who didn’t mince words. As I recall, he was known at the time as a fiscally conservative Democrat, although I think a better description would be to call him “fiscally responsible.” He believed in fiscal choices that would keep the budget in balance over the long haul – in contrast to the short-term solutions that were more frequently employed in subsequent years by lawmakers in both parties.

One of the indelicate expressions Kleczka would occasionally use was “shifting the shaft” – by which he meant that the state was shifting its own fiscal problems onto others, such as local governments or property taxpayers. That expression strikes me as an apt description of the DOC plan to make local governments bear a disproportionate share of the new round of budget lapses that the agency is making in the current fiscal year, particularly through cuts to Youth Aids.

The proposed lapse plan, which was unveiled by the Department of Administration (DOA) on December 23, requires the Dept. of Corrections to lapse $9.46 million to the General Fund. (Note: Lapses are essentially the same as other budget cuts, except the funding an agency lapses isn’t automatically removed from the base budget level that is the foundation for the next budget bill. Although that is potentially an important distinction, it doesn’t necessarily stop budget writers from recommending elimination of the funding in the next biennial budget.)

By far the largest single cut among the DOC lapses is from Youth Aids, which is the state aid to counties to help them pay the costs of juveniles sent to the Lincoln Hills correctional institution and for community-based programs for juvenile offenders. Youth Aids was already cut by 10 percent in the budget bill, and it has been eroded badly by inflation over the last decade. Taken together, the budget bill and new lapses reduce the 2011-12 Youth Aids funding by 14 percent (without factoring in the increased loss from inflation), at a time when DOC is charging counties 3.3 percent more for youths placed in the state’s juvenile correctional institutions.

The following figures illustrate that the lapses recommended by DOC and endorsed by DOA fall disproportionately on local aid, and especially on aid to counties for juvenile justice costs:

  • Cuts to juvenile justice programs account for half of the DOC lapses, even though spending for those programs constitutes just one tenth of the total DOC budget.
  • Youth Aids would lose $3.9 million, or 4.4 percent of its budgeted level for 2011-12, whereas the overall lapse for DOC is less than 1 percent of the agency’s total General Fund budget.
  • Including Youth Aids, the department’s aid to local governments is cut by $4.1 million, or 43% of the total lapses, even though local aid comprises just 8 percent of the total DOC budget.

The DOC cuts are one part of a much larger plan that would lapse $123 million to the General Fund in the current fiscal year, with much of that falling on the UW System. The proposed lapses don’t need to be approved by the full legislature, but they may be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee, which is likely to have a meeting to consider them in the next week or two. We’ll follow up with more information if or when such a meeting is scheduled.

Jon Peacock

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