Not optimal, but better than the alternative of shutting it down till 2015.
The Travis County Commissioners Court agreed [last] Tuesday to restore some money to the Travis County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit after Gov. Rick Perry in June eliminated state funding for the office. The five-member commissioners court voted 4-1 on the proposal, which will cost Travis County taxpayers about $1.8 million next year.
Lehmberg told the commissioners on Tuesday that continuing the unit’s work was vital and that it affects both Travis County and all of Texas.
She said the staff had already “scrubbed down our budget” to eliminate unnecessary costs.
The new budget will be substantially less than the unit’s previous annual operating budget of $3.7 million, which had been funded by the state. Its annual budget will now total $2.5 million, including $1.8 million from county tax funds and up to $734,422 from forfeited property controlled by the county.
The smaller budget will require the unit to reduce some of its responsibilities. At least 52 of its current 425 cases — primarily in insurance and tax fraud — will be returned to the referring state agencies, and the unit will no longer take statewide cases, Lehmberg said.
The plan will also reduce the number of employees from 34 to 24.
The proposed budget for the unit will take effect in October, when its new fiscal year begins.
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who was the only vote against the proposal, argued forcefully against using taxpayer money to fund the unit.
“Is it fair to the taxpayers of Travis County to take [the unit’s budget] on?” he asked.
Though the other four commissioners acknowledged the difficulty of asking taxpayers to shoulder the burden, “we have to make some of the tough decisions here,” said Commissioner Margaret Gomez.
“We have a moral responsibility as well as the district attorney to prosecute crime,” said Commissioner Bruce Todd. “My fear is that some of that would be lost by simply saying, ‘no.’”
See here for the last update. I think this was the right thing for them to do, but Commissioner Daugherty’s question is valid. Really, the thing I’d be worried about is that the Lege will take this as a precedent and try to foist responsibility for funding the PIU on Travis County going forward. If they did it once, they can do it again, right? I hope Travis County has a good lobbyist on retainer, for its own sake. Perhaps the eventual adjudication of that complaint about Perry’s veto threat will help clarify things. BOR has more.