Government

Iowa attorney general describes 'makeshift' operation, warns against budget cuts

Mike Naig (from left), Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Rob Sand, State Auditor, Mike Fitzgerald, Treasurer of State, and Tom Miller, Attorney General, stand and clap as members of the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals arrive for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Mike Naig (from left), Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Rob Sand, State Auditor, Mike Fitzgerald, Treasurer of State, and Tom Miller, Attorney General, stand and clap as members of the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals arrive for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — His budget has been “cut to the bone” over the past decade and any further cuts would be unsustainable, Attorney General Tom Miller told lawmakers Thursday.

In his annual appearance before the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee, Miller said the Attorney General’s Office budget has been cut 37 percent from nearly $10 million to almost $6 million since fiscal 2009.

“You get a sense that we’re putting all this together with baling wire to some extent so that we’re able to produce the work you and Iowans want,” Miller said. “It’s very much a makeshift operation that is working so far, but it’s really tenuous. Any future cuts would be devastating.”

To illustrate his point, Miller described how the office has — with legislative approval — transferred money the past two years from the Consumer Education and Litigation Fund to pay for criminal prosecutions, handle appeals and defend the state in litigation.

“Using restricted funds to pay for core government functions is an unsustainable and irregular budget practice,” Miller told lawmakers. “That can’t go on forever. At some point, general fund dollars should fund criminal prosecutions.”

He pointed out that those funds help county attorneys prosecute the most complex cases. In 2018, veteran trial attorneys in his office tried 32 cases in 27 counties and opened 106 new cases. Those included 28 murder charges and 23 people charged with an element of sexual abuse. There are cases pending in 67 counties.

“That’s a big savings for those counties,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, noting that most of those cases are in rural counties.

Miller noted that county attorneys in larger counties, Linn and Polk, for example, have larger staffs with more experience in prosecuting murder cases.

The Attorney General’s Office also has seen a 28 percent increase in consumer complaints since 2014 to 3,495 last year, Miller said. In the past, the Consumer Protection Division was funded by state appropriations. Now it’s funded by consumer judgments and settlements, not taxpayer dollars.

Last year, the victim service programs served 77,147 Iowans. Nearly 41,000 cases involved domestic abuse, more than 19,000 involved violent crimes and over 17,000 were sexual abuse cases.

The number of victims served has increased 175 percent since fiscal 2013 — from 25,053 people to 77,147 last year, Miller said.

Nearly 10,000 Iowans volunteered 275,138 hours to victim services, which is equivalent to 132 full-time staff.

Chairman Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, questioned the funding for those services. In the past, legislators have been told that if they cut the state funds they will lose federal funds. Worthan said that hasn’t been the case.

“If we had a portion of that $5 million to use elsewhere,” he said, it could be appropriated to Miller’s criminal division or “I could put nine DCI agents or highway patrolmen out there for $1 million, 14 counselors in the prisons and community-based corrections facilities and 18 to 20 correctional officers.”

However, no changes were recommended to the attorney general’s budget.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.