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More tight budgets set for Attorney General, state public defender’s office

Though Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had requested a 9 percent increase in state general funds for his office next year, and 5.3 percent overall, the budget set this morning by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee shows just a 5.4 percent increase in general funds and 0.7 percent overall. That’s partly because of various shifts that lawmakers are making in how funds are accounted for that state agencies pay to one another, including agencies that pay the Attorney General for legal billings. The bottom line is that the Attorney General’s office will be able to add one deputy attorney general for the Idaho Transportation Department, funded by that agency’s dedicated funds; another for the Idaho State Police funded by the Alcohol Beverage Control fund; and a paralegal for the Idaho State Tax Commission, which is a general-fund agency. Not included are additional attorneys for the special prosecutions unit, but if a separate bill, SB 1080, passes addressing that unit and adding another deputy attorney general and an investigator, JFAC would have to address the funding for that later in a trailer bill.

Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, noted that Wasden told JFAC that the state is spending far more to contract for outside attorneys than it would spend to add lawyers in his office. “I think we need to encourage review … to see if there are perhaps some savings that could be attained there,” Miller said, estimating that the state could add 26 deputy attorneys general and save $140,000 per lawyer, compared to what it’s spending for outside attorneys. “I think a review of this would be a good thing,” Miller said.

The budget then was approved on a unanimous vote, as was every agency budget considered this morning. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “This can be an ongoing discussion we have with the Attorney General. … They didn’t get to this overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight. Frankly, if we had more general funds, maybe we’d look at a different approach.”

The joint committee also set a budget for the State Appellate Public Defender for next year at $2.1 million, matching the governor’s recommendation and showing just a 1 percent increase. Like Gov. Butch Otter, legislative budget writers OK’d the hiring of one more attorney there, but rather than provide additional funds, shifted money within the agency’s budget from operating expenditures to cover the new hire.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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