By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Millions have been slashed from the State’s Attorney General’s Office for fiscal year 2016 budget due to severe cuts in appropriation from the State General Fund Budget (SGF).
This might not come as a shock since in 2015 the Office’s budget was zeroed out of the SGF.
“Zeroing out” the AG’s budget was explained away by saying the office had outside funds and litigation settlement such as the State’s share of the National Mortgage Settlement Fund to keep it in operation. However, those funds have been rapidly depleted because of continued zero funding.
After the passage of the 2015 budget, Strange wrote, State Senator’s explaining zero funding would “substantially jeopardize our State’s ability to prosecute criminals, provide justice for victims, and defend challenges to the laws passed by the Legislature.”
In a recent email, Mike Lewis, communications director for the Attorney General wrote, “We’re presently evaluating the impact of the cuts on our FY2016 operations. We’re exploring all options to continue to carry out our mission in the most cost effective way possible while minimizing the impact on our dedicated employees and upon legal services to the State.”
Lewis also said that the office is looking for additional revenue sources to help close the gap created by the funding cuts.
The office had requested $23,654,000 in total funding for FY2016. A minimum $17,594,000 was needed as direct funding from the SGF. However, when the cuts were completed, the Attorney General’s office received only $12,275,000 in direct appropriations from the SGF budget.
In the past, this lack of funding had been explained away by saying the Attorney General was hoarding money. However, al.com’s, John Archibald and others, have reason to suspect a more sinister reason for taking a meat cleaver to the AG’s budget.
In a recent column Archibald wrote, “Since the AG’s office is prosecuting House Speaker Hubbard on 23 felony violations of the ethics law, that crunch could be sweet to Hubbard. It could delay his Lee County trial, perhaps. It could poke the AG in the eye and force him to fire some of those pesky prosecutors.”
AG Strange told the journalist, “Whatever they do, and whatever they think they are going to do to hinder our office’s activities, or send some message, it’s not going to impact our commitment to public corruption.”
Such heavy-handed cuts could leave many cases languishing in a legal netherland.
However, the Attorney General’s Office says it is determined to avoid any layoffs.
Insiders say Strange and Chief Deputy Alice Martin will not back down on funding the Special Prosecution Division which oversees the investigation, and prosecution of white collar crimes and ethical violations.
Not surprisingly, the Republican legislative supermajority says they are tough on crime. But, if actions speak louder than words, in this case, money doesn’t just talk…it screams.