Part XIII addressed the intensive, thorough working practices of the first Wisconsin Sentencing Commission. This post describes the budget difficulties that resulted partly from that approach.
Between the diligence of the Commission’s methods, and the increasing number of worksheets it received as compliance rates increased, it was perhaps inevitable that commissioners and staff began to complain of budget restraints. By the early 1990s, the Commission began to scale back many of its efforts; they made fewer on-site visits, called fewer meetings of the full commission, and held up publication of further newsletters after 1992. Meanwhile, its requests for additional staffing and technological upgrades were rejected. However, the Commission would continue to apply the intensive guidelines development methods it was using previously, characterizing its guidelines work as “necessary to fulfill our statutory responsibilities.”
By the time the Department of Administration instituted an across-the-board 1.5% cut for fiscal year 1994 budget proposals, the Commission believed that even those statutory responsibilities were threatened. Shane-DuBow wrote to the Department Secretary in protest, claiming “there [were] no additional realistic actions the Commission [could] consider” for reducing costs that would not prevent the Commission from meeting its statutory charges. The Commission would hold steadfast to its position, overrunning its 1993 budget by $1,000 to perform what they considered to be essential work on the guidelines. In an attempt to buttress her case, Shane-DuBow would subsequently perform a time-use assessment that found that the Commission was, using its current methods, 1.5 full-time staff positions short of fulfilling its “basic responsibilities” of guidelines development, education, and distribution.
Stagnating budgets would soon become the least of the Commission’s financial worries. In his 1993 biennial budget proposal, Governor Tommy Thompson eliminated the Commission’s funding entirely, and included language repealing the guidelines system as a whole. According to Commission chairman, Representative, and Minority Caucus Chairperson David Deininger, Thompson’s was “not a philosophical or political type of policy change, but an economic one;” Deininger was told that budget analysts in the governor’s office had become interested in combining or eliminating various boards and commissions as a means to save money. Deininger’s subsequent defense of the Commission in front of his colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee was apparently successful, as the legislature restored the Commission’s funding in the final budget bill, 1993 Wisconsin Act 16. However, the reprieve had come with a caveat: an audit of the Commission by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).
Part X will describe the audit.