Shiane D. Jacocks
Last Thursday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stood before the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary to justify his department’s request for added resources to enforce the state's new laws and protect Californians from overreach by the federal Department of Justice.
"The [California] Department of Justice (DOJ) has developed a track record of efficiently and effectively fighting for the people of our state," said Becerra, "Further resources would allow us to do even more on behalf of Californians in this unprecedented time."
He explained, ”I walked into a budget at DOJ that not only had unfunded past mandates, but currently has no funding for five recently passed bills that are expected to be implemented.”
According to Becerra, if the DOJ is granted the requested funding, it will be better able to budget projects such as protecting seniors' retirement, defending energy efficiency standards for consumer products, joining a multi-state action to protect students from misleading loan services, defending women's rights to access healthcare, and continuing to challenge the Trump Travel Ban which impacts California cities and separates families.
When he addressed the subcommittee, Becerra shared his observations about the budget situation he discovered when he took the oath of office a little more than a hundred days ago. “We are funded by 32 different funds,” he explained. “In 2006-2007, the Department of Justice relied on the General Fund for over half (51 percent) of its budget. Today, that percentage has decreased by half to 25 percent. For comparison, over that same period, the overall General Fund has actually increased by 21 percent.”
Also, according to Becerra, the decision to increasingly fund the DOJ through distinct fees has threatened the capacity of the department to carry out many of its core functions. “When either the legislature or a voter initiative funds the agency using a fee, that fee is often designated for a specific purpose and only that purpose. Reliance on these special funds tends to limit an agency’s ability to be nimble and respond quickly to unanticipated emergencies when they arise,” he asserted.
On top of this reduced flexibility, he added that several bills have been enacted which contain mandates upon DOJ, but which are missing an important component: funding. “Placing unfunded mandates on an agency and limiting its funding puts an agency like DOJ in a precarious position,” Becerra stated.
“Last year,” Becerra added, “No one anticipated the extent to which federal executive actions would impact the people of California and the Department of Justice. Who knew that the federal government would play so fast and loose with the law and taxpayers’ pocketbooks?” he asked rhetorically.
"If it feels like the attacks are constantly coming, it's because they are. And, the hardworking women and men at DOJ are doing the best they can to serve our great state. I am proud of the great work we do at the DOJ, I am proud of what this committee has done in the past to support the mission of the Department of Justice."
Becerra stated in conclusion, “I am optimistic that together we can find a way to meet the challenges ahead and ensure that California continues to lean forward.”