April 10, 2013

Proposal to divert attorney general funds rejected

A legislative committee defeats a LePage effort to move funds for the state’s legal representation.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday spurned Gov. Paul Le-Page’s proposal to divert $300,000 from the Attorney General’s Office to the executive branch.

The proposal, tucked inside the governor’s $6.3 billion two-year budget plan, would have cut by more than 50 percent a relatively obscure spending line in the budget of the Attorney General’s Office. Lawmakers voted 7-6 Tuesday to reject the proposal.

The vote was nearly along party lines, with the Democratic majority opposing the proposal. Rep. Stephen Moriarty, D-Cumberland, voted with the Republican minority.

The LePage administration argued that the money would be used for legal cases in which the attorney general declines to represent the state. But Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, has said the proposal may be illegal because it violates a provision of state law that says the attorney general must represent the state whenever it’s involved in a legal proceeding.

The governor’s proposal would have cut into funding for the Attorney General’s Office that typically pays for expert testimony in homicide cases, computers, telephones and travel stipends for investigators.

It wasn’t expected to go far in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The Judiciary Committee vote came a day after lawmakers on the Education Committee voted to reject the governor’s proposal to shift $1 million from public education funding to pay for legal defense for the commission that authorizes charter schools.

The committee voted 10-2 against the measure.

The plan met resistance from public school advocates and Mills.

It was billed by the LePage administration as a contingency for an instance in which Mills declined to defend the Maine Charter School Commission against a legal challenge of a decision to approve or deny a charter school application.

Democrats and public school supporters questioned the necessity of such a legal fund when the Attorney General’s Office typically represents state agencies in legal matters.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at smistler@pressherald.com

On Twitter: @stevemistler

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