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Attorney General Van Hollen Responds To Senator Deckers Column, Budget crisis requires agency efficiencies
Senator Russ Decker claims that no other state agency has been given as many additional resources as the Department of Justice in the past few years. This isnt true. Indeed, one need only go back two budget cycles to find out that the percentage increase in the Department of Justices budget has been less than all state spending over that four year period (about 3.1 % per year compounded compared to about 4.3% per year).
It is true that I asked for substantial new funding for DNA resources in the last budget to address a problem neglected for too long. DNA evidence helps law enforcement and prosecutors catch and convict offenders, while exonerating the innocent. I wanted the lab to analyze evidence instead of merely collecting it in a backlog. At my request, the Legislature and the Governor doubled DNA resources to the crime lab. Last year, our DNA analysts worked almost four times as many cases as 2006. Thats making taxpayer money count.
It is also true that I asked for and received funding increases to the Department of Justices law enforcement unit that investigates Internet Crimes Against Children. Protecting kids is a priority of mine. I dont think the public wants us to back down from protecting their children by locking up those who would prey upon them.
And I havent just expanded the number of state agents investigating these terrible crimes. Ive also worked with local officials to leverage our limited resources as I promised I would. When I took office, there were 23 local law enforcement agencies affiliated with the task force. Today, they number 87. Law enforcements web is growing, with more officers trained to help snare offenders.
The truth is that we have been very effective and efficient at the Department of Justice. Not just by making our resources go further, but also by recovering more taxpayer money. For example, since I took office, we have collected or are in line to collect about $30 million in judgments from our efforts to civilly enforce Medicaid fraud laws. This money, wrongfully taken from taxpayers, goes back to the state Medicaid Program. Putting this number in perspective, in 2006 the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit collected $437,000 through civil enforcement. This difference far exceeds any additions there have been to the Department of Justices budget.
I dont think Senator Decker is saying that we should roll back the enormous improvements to the crime lab or step down our efforts to fight sex predators. As near as I can tell, he is arguing that because the Legislature and Governor have partnered with me in the recent past to target these critical areas, the Department of Justice should receive a cut above and beyond what is given to other public safety agencies. Thats absurd. You dont impose extra cuts that may create new backlogs, will reduce assistance to already overburdened prosecutors and local law enforcement in cases ranging from homicides to arson, or reduce consumer protection and environmental enforcement merely because the Department recently received funds that helped me efficiently address the DNA backlog, expand our fight against Internet predators, and better address Medicaid fraud.
Senator Decker is right to say that these times require agency efficiencies. Good government always requires efficiencies, regardless of the fiscal situation. Thats why I returned $1.2 million to the treasury before these budgets were ever proposed. And I am prepared to accept the cuts the Governor proposed in his budget. While the Governors cuts will have some effect, they will not cripple our ability to enforce laws and support law enforcement.
The Department of Justice, however, should be exempt from the deepest cuts engineered by two Madison-area legislators who found millions for Madisons Yahara River. These deep cuts that are not imposed on other public safety agencies like Corrections and the District Attorneys and are not imposed on the agency that receives our historic Medicaid fraud recoveries.
I think the public agrees with me when I say that public safety is a priority that doesnt change because of an officeholders political party. I am hopeful the full Legislature will agree, too, when they have a chance to vote on the budget.