When Gov. Jim Doyle entered office, one of the most daunting and pressing challenges facing his administration was the financial problem haunting the state budget. Now his 2003-2005 budget plans seeks to restore fiscal responsibility for Wisconsin’s future, a task that has forced painful cuts to be made in every area of state spending.
One such sacrifice will work to eliminate 15 district attorney positions from its 2004 budget.
The cuts would save approximately $900,000 from the state prosecutor’s budget. However, these cuts come at a time when the vast majority of prosecutors’ offices in Wisconsin already find themselves severely understaffed.
“Volume is high, quite high. We have over one hundred more referrals this year than we did at this same time last year,” Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said. “It’s been a terrific struggle just to keep up.”
In Dane County, the district attorney’s office is already set to lose three positions due to the loss of federal grants.
Blanchard said losing even more positions could potentially have drastic repercussions.
“There’s no middle management here,” Blanchard said. “When you have cuts, you lose the people that directly serve the public interest in the courts, the people on the front lines.”
The situation is similar all across the state, Blanchard added. With offices understaffed and the number of referrals rising, the cuts really impinge on the ability of the system to work in a thorough and timely manner, he said, adding that a shortage in district attorney offices means delays in the prosecution of crimes.
Such delays could hit the victims of crime hard, who want their cases charged. These delays could then postpone the resolutions the victims are seeking.
Blanchard also expressed concern about what he called “quality of life crimes.”
These, he said, are minor crimes such as traffic violations or fighting, behaviors that generally take place with some frequency in a city like Madison.
He feels it is important for the community to address these crimes quickly when they occur in order to set a tone for the city, making it clear what a city considers unacceptable.
Blanchard suggested that a community’s ability to effectively prosecute lawbreakers is greatly diminished if such cuts are enacted. In this way, the state prosecutor’s budget may come at the expense of public safety.
The governor’s office has not yet made a decision as to which Wisconsin counties will see cuts.
“A decision has not been reached yet,” said Doyle spokeswoman Jessica Erickson. “The situation is still being evaluated.”
Since creating new district attorney positions requires an act of legislation, it is unlikely that they will resurface once lost.