The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee moved one step closer to eliminating state funding for civil legal services to the indigent in Wisconsin, voting 13-3 on Thursday to remove the funding from the 2011-2013 budget. The majority’s proposal (pdf) adopts Gov. Walker’s budget proposal to delete both the funding for civil legal services to the indigent and the statutory language that currently governs the administration of the grants. A motion to restore partial funding (pdf) was defeated 4-12.
Wisconsin currently provides about $2.6 million per year in state funding through the Justice Information Surcharge (pdf) to provide access to justice for Wisconsin residents who are experiencing serious civil legal problems but are unable to obtain legal assistance any other way because they have little or no income, are elderly, or are victims of abuse. Wisconsin’s civil legal services providers are a cost-effective way to provide a vital public service to thousands of Wisconsin residents. That much is clear from the most recent report from the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (pdf) to the Department of Administration:
“In 2009-2010, for every dollar of state civil legal services appropriation funding, Wisconsin’s civil legal services providers received or recovered $11.36 for their clients (a net gain for the state of more than ten dollars for every dollar invested).”