Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul is requesting a 10.5% increase in his 2023-25 biennial budget to fund local law enforcement, programs for children and fight the opioid epidemic.
Kaul and all department heads are required to submit their budget proposals to the state Department of Administration by the end of the month.
Kaul's is being announced as he is in a tight election battle against Republican Eric Toney for attorney general, who, along with other Republicans, have made crime the central issue of the race.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tuesday, Kaul said the criminal justice system has been "significantly underfunded" for decades by the Republican-led Legislature, and now is the time for the state to step up.
In November 2021, Kaul announced a $115 million "Safer Wisconsin" legislative package that included using a portion of the state's surplus for public safety including gun violence and mental health initiatives.
The Legislature never held a hearing on the proposal.
Kaul said Tuesday he has included some of his ideas from Safer Wisconsin in his budget proposal.
"Right now there is a massive state budget surplus, this would require (the state legislature) to invest just a portion to help communities fight crime," Kaul said.
More: What you need to know about Josh Kaul, the Democratic attorney general running for another term in Wisconsin
More: What to know about Eric Toney, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin attorney general
Kaul's budget includes 19 additional special agent and criminal analyst positions and 16 DNA analysts, toxicologists and crime scene response specialists to help meet the demand for services in the State Crime Lab.
Wisconsin DOJ is also requesting two additional violent crime prosecutors.
Under the budget proposal, DOJ would create a new Crime Victim Services grant program, expand Sexual Assault Victim Services grants and increase reimbursement for county victim/witness assistance.
Kaul wants to fund a 24-hour hate crime hotline to help increase the number of times these crimes are reported so law enforcement can better address hate crimes in Wisconsin.
"We are not able to effectively combat crime if crimes go unreported," Kaul said. "One area of underreporting includes hate crimes."
Funding for children
The Office of School Safety in the DOJ was created in 2018 after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The office was charged with distributing $100 million in grants and has since expanded with school programs and services including Speak Up, Speak Out School Resource Center and a confidential tip line.
Federal grant funding will run out by the end of 2023. Kaul has asked for about $2.2 million over the biennium to continue school safety operations and additional school investments.
DOJ would also like to increase the number of special agents working on CyberTips about missing and exploited children. In 2021, the task force that leads the team investigated 4,534 CyberTips and made 468 arrests. CyberTips have increased over 400% since 2013.
Fighting the opioid epidemic
Kaul said Wisconsin is experiencing the nationwide increase in overdose deaths due to strains caused by the pandemic but also because of the increasing variety and prevalence of deadly fentanyl analogs.
Kaul is requesting additional toxicology staff for the State Crime Lab and funding for the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program, which provides district attorneys or judges an option to offer nonviolent offenders the opportunity to enter into voluntary substance abuse treatment.
Kaul said program revenue pays for TAD, but the Legislature did not approve it in the current budget.
If he's reelected, it will likely be another uphill battle for Kaul to get his proposals approved.
On the campaign trail, Toney, the Fond du Lac County district attorney, said the Wisconsin Department of Justice should have original prosecution authority in Milwaukee. He also introduced a "Safer Streets, Safer Homes" plan in May.
He recently sparred with Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson over the mayor's budget proposal, which includes cutting 17 police officers.
Toney touted his endorsements from sheriffs and district attorneys across Wisconsin and accused Kaul of "defunding police at the DOJ by cutting positions.
"I will immediately fill these vacant positions at the DOJ," Toney said. "Kaul's actions show we can't trust him with public safety and that's why Democrat and Republican law enforcement across Wisconsin have endorsed me to help keep our streets safe."
Kaul said his biennial budget request is "tailored to focus on fighting crime"
"Through grant programs that will support crime prevention, investigation, and prosecution implemented by local agencies and organizations," Kaul said.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin AG Kaul wants a double-digit budget increase to fight crime