Sorrell says budget cuts could compromise public safety

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(Host) Vermont’s top law enforcement officer says proposed state budget cuts would have a devastating effect on his office, and could compromise public safety.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb reports.

(Wertlieb) Attorney General Bill Sorrell says he understands the need to cut costs to eliminate a massive budget deficit. But he says Governor Jim Douglas has to decide what his priorities are.

(Sorrell) "It’s a core function of government to provide for the safety and well being of its citizens in not only good times but bad times and the Governor has said he’s holding law enforcement harmless in the budget cuts and not cutting states attorneys positions or sheriffs or state police and yet the attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer in the state and I could if the governor’s proposals are accepted by the legislature, lose more than 1/3 of my staff."

(Wertlieb) Sorrell says his office is already down one criminal prosecutor and has plans to lay off another. A has been left vacant in the southern Vermont Drug Task Force. He says additional cuts would affect other areas of public protection.

(Sorrell) "We have a reduced staff of criminal prosecutors right now and unless the legislature does something different from what the Governor recommends not only in the criminal enforcement arena but in environmental protection, civil rights, and consumer protection our office could be just decimated and those are really the core functions in the Attorney General’s Office."

(Wertlieb) Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville says the administration plans to meet with the attorney general to discuss his concerns, and says the governor won’t let public safety be compromised. But he says the attorney general’s office can’t be immune to budget cuts.

(Lunderville) Certainly the Attorney General has more than just prosecutors in his office… there’s administrative staff and others who work in there and I think there are opportunities for savings… what we really need to focus on is making the budget for all of state government sustainable, and part of that is labor costs which we’ve seen grow 70% since the beginning of the decade.

(Wertlieb) Sorrell says the governor could avoid some cuts by tapping into money set aside in the Rainy Day Fund. But Lunderville says the governor has already made his feelings known about tapping those reserves:

(Lunderville) We’ve got 5 months to go til the end of the fiscal year and I expect that the revenues we see coming in are gonna drop quite a bit so I wanna make sure we have those rainy day funds in place so if they do drop unexpectedly we can use ‘em…now if we use them now which really means running our budget into deficit they won’t be there when we need them most.

(Wertlieb) Sorrell says his office also generates a lot of money for the state. He says in the past 18 months, the attorney general’s office generated nearly $60 Million dollars from tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, and by recovering money from scam artists.

AP Photo: Toby Talbot

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