Budget crisis requires agencies to be more efficient
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has been complaining that the Department of Justice is being treated differently in the budget process than other state agencies. And he is absolutely right.
No other state agency has been given as many additional resources as the Department of Justice over the last few years.
In the budget passed last year, the Department of Justice was given an 11 percent increase in funding and numerous new positions. Many other state agencies lost positions in that budget. But the Legislature gave the Department of Justice $18 million more over the standard base budget. That funding included $7.7 million to fund more positions at the State Crime Lab and $700,000 more to fight Internet crimes against children.
We gave the Department of Justice 31 new positions, while we had to cut tens of millions of dollars from other state agencies in a budget repair bill passed in March 2007.
The state is faced with an unprecedented budget shortfall due to the struggling national economy. We must find a way to squeeze every nickel out of every dollar at each state agency. Yet Attorney General Van Hollen has spent the last few weeks sending out editorials and holding press conferences around the state trying to scare people into giving him a bigger budget.
“I have the ability to create partnerships, to have the leadership within the office to free up resources—to do more with less.”
That quote from the attorney general is what set him apart in the Republican primary when he was running for attorney general. In fact, when his Republican primary opponent said he would work with the Legislature to get more money to attack the backlog at the Crime Lab, Van Hollen said he would eliminate the backlog without asking for more money because just throwing money at the problem wasn’t the conservative thing to do.
The state budget passed for the Department of Justice to fund the two years before Van Hollen took over was $159 million. The budget we passed for his first two years in office was $181 million.
That means so far the attorney general has not been asked to do more with less. The Legislature has met every request for additional funds from the Attorney General’s Office.
We have never asked the attorney general to live up to his promise to do more with less before now. The Department of Justice was asked to cut 1 percent under the budget adjustment bill passed earlier this year, just like other state agencies. But the attorney general’s starting point is stronger because the Legislature has given him more resources every time he asked for them even when we were being forced to make deep spending cuts elsewhere.
Now that a national economic crisis is forcing every state program to become more efficient, the residents of Wisconsin have a right to expect the attorney general to live up to his promise of doing more with less.
Sen. Russ Decker, D-Schofield, is Senate majority leader and represents the 29th Senate District. He can be reached at (608) 266-2502, Sen.Decker@legis.wisconsin.gov or by writing to him at: Room 211 South, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882.