By State Rep. Tony DeLuca
Earlier this year Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his state budget proposal for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Unfortunately, his proposal woefully under-funds the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. As former Attorney General, Corbett should be very familiar with the important role that the office plays in protecting the people of Pennsylvania. However, since becoming governor he has done little to reflect his understanding and support for Pennsylvania’s Top Cop.
Now, if you read the governor’s budget proposal or his press releases you would be lead to believe that the Office of Attorney General is not being cut, but rather will be flat funded at the same level as last year. These are misleading statements at best.
Since becoming governor, Corbett has cut state funding to his former post by more than $5 million. Not only has he exacted these harmful cuts, he also negotiated and signed new contracts raising the salaries for union employees within the AG office, which increased overall personnel costs, without giving the AG the additional funds necessary to offset those increases. Furthermore, it was recently announced that the AG’s federal funding will be cut by an additional $5 million. I recognize that Corbett can’t stop federal funding cuts, but he can certainly propose to replace those cuts with additional state dollars.
The Commonwealth has had several tough budgets in a row, but the last thing we should be jeopardizing is the investigation and prosecution of criminals. Unfortunately, funding cuts and increased personnel costs have that exact effect because they hamper the attorney general’s ability to properly investigate and prosecute criminal activity. I know this because Pennsylvania’s attorney general gave testimony before the House Appropriations Committee to that effect. I’m not talking Attorney General Kathleen Kane, I am talking about the testimony of former Attorney General Tom Corbett.
At a 2010 House Budget Hearing then-Attorney General Corbett made an impassioned plea for increasing the Office of Attorney General’s budget, stating that “we [referring to the OAG] can’t get much thinner” and “we are really stretched at this time.”
Due to increases in union contracts, Corbett claimed that the AG’s office was “going to lose good attorneys” if it did not receive an increase. He further asserted that if the office was flat funded, he would “lose 21 positions across the agency.” These losses included agents in the child predator unit, drug law enforcement unit, drug strike task force and the firearm task force. In the years since Corbett’s impassioned plea for funding, he has been responsible, as governor, for millions of dollars of additional cuts far beyond what he received when he was AG. His cuts and rising personnel costs, for which he is also responsible, have put his former agency in a position where anything but a substantial increase in funding poses a threat to the public’s safety.
It is important to note that when then-Attorney General Corbett was arguing that the agency needed more money to do its job properly, the AG’s office was receiving $86.5 million in state funding. He testified that if the Office of Attorney General’s budget was reduced by five percent ($82 million) “the agency would be a shell.” Three years later Corbett is asking Attorney General Kane to run the same office with just $78 million in state funds, $5 million less in federal funds and substantially higher personnel costs.
Corbett’s budget proposal generally calls for increases to law enforcement agencies. For instance, the State Police stand to receive an $8.8 million increase in state funds and the Department of Corrections would receive a $60.5 million increase. The governor is apparently willing to spend more money on criminals already in prison, but keeps cutting the funding of the agency that gets those criminals off the street. With recent state and national tragedies involving child sexual abuse, gun violence, drug trafficking and large scale fraud against consumers, Pennsylvania can ill afford more cuts to the very agency responsible for putting these criminals behind bars.
As former Attorney General one would think that Corbett would know better than to play politics with funding for criminal investigations and prosecutions. Well, one would think.
Rep. Tony DeLuca represents the 32nd Legislative District in Allegheny County. He is Democratic Chairman of the House Insurance Committee and a veteran House lawmaker.