To the Press:
This is an open letter from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, to Gov. Corbett regarding funding for the Attorney General's Office.
To: Governor Tom Corbett
225 Main Capitol Bldg.
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Governor Corbett:
As you know, I have never previously written to you personally to discuss budgetary matters. I have my views on the budget as a whole and a number of components therein, but I typically work through my leadership in expressing any thoughts I might have related to the budget. However, today I write to you as Minority Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding a matter of great urgency. Specifically, I am referring to the line item funding allocation for the Office of Attorney General contained in your proposed budget.
My role on the Judiciary Committee as well as my detailed discussions with the Office of Attorney General have given me a unique perspective on the current needs of the OAG. I have come to realize that your suggested allocation of $76 million is simply insufficient to equip the OAG to do all that they can and should be doing to ensure that the interests of the people of Pennsylvania are adequately protected. In fact, I am urging an increase in their allocation to $86 million.
With your indulgence, I would like to discuss some of the details and give a few examples illustrating why there is a shortfall and what the consequences of that shortfall are.
First, your budget proposal purports to "level fund" the OAG at the same rate as last year's budget. However, the fact that the allocations are identical year-to-year is misleading. Due to general inflation, plus cost increases specific to the OAG (such as increased retirement costs, health benefits and other costs attendant to the AG's labor agreement with AFSCME), level-funding actually results in a 7.8 percent cut to the OAG's purchasing power. In other words, this represents a 7.8 percent cut in their ability to conduct investigations and enforce the law.
Another example of how the OAG is getting squeezed can be found in how enforcement of the Tobacco Settlement Fund is enforced. The OAG is tasked with being the "sole enforcer" of the Settlement Fund requirement that the agreement be "diligently enforced." The OAG is allocated $600,000 per year for this purpose, but actual costs are in excess of $967,000 per year. Thus, they are forced to provide more than $360,000 each year out of their already overburdened general fund. This has not been increased despite the fact that the Tobacco Settlement Fund takes in approximately $330 million per year.
What are the consequences of insufficiently funding the OAG? In a word, they are dramatic. As you know, the OAG is currently conducting a great number of investigations into violent drug gangs, child predators, consumer fraud cases and a wide variety of other matters. Underfunding of the units conducting these investigations forces the office to cannibalize resources, delay or drop promising investigations and risks leaving the people of our Commonwealth under-protected against some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
Governor, I have seen with my own eyes technological investigatory techniques which are truly breathtaking. For example, without revealing more than I should in an open letter, I would say that I have seen computers which showed, in real time, the locations of hundreds of people using the internet to share child pornography. Agents could literally go out today and arrest these perpetrators, however, there simply aren’t the resources to accomplish that.
But there could be. The addition of just a few million more dollars that could make all the difference is an infinitesimal percentage of the total budget. But it would transform the OAG into the muscular, effective sword of justice that it was meant to be, and that we require in these difficult times. It is important not only that the work of the AG actually get done, but also that the people believe that it is being done. The people need to have confidence in our justice system. It is crucial that both the legislative and executive branches make sure that we are not short-changing the investigatory or the enforcement roles of the OAG. The people will not forgive us if we fail to protect them.
Governor, I know as a former Attorney General, you understand how the office works and how labor-intensive and expensive the work of the AG is. I trust that you will treat your deliberations on what the appropriate funding level for the OAG is with all the care and seriousness it deserves. That is why I am hopeful that you will agree with me that we can do nothing other than fully fund the Office of Attorney General. I, and my colleagues, would be happy to discuss this with you or representatives of your administration anytime. I look forward to working with you on this.
Very Truly Yours,
Senator Daylin Leach
17th Legislative District