By Diane Rey and Len Lazarick
For Maryland Reporter
The bill is titled the Protection of Marylanders’ Rights Act of 2019, but it might also be dubbed the Attorney General’s Budget Protection Act, since it seeks to keep the governor from underfunding the AG’s budget.
The legislation is part of the long-running skirmishes between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democrat Attorney General Brian Frosh over what cases the AG should pursue.
The bill, SB450, requires the governor to fund the attorney general’s office starting in fiscal year 2021 at least at the level appropriated in fiscal year 2018 — $37.6 million. It also mandates an additional $1.7 million to pursue cases against the federal government and consumer protection, for a total of at least $39.3 million plus any amount the state receives from the settlement of a case in which the attorney general represents the state.
Settlements vary, but the Office of the Attorney General estimates they average about $6 million a year.
Frosh testified in favor of the bill before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Wednesday, along with bill sponsor Sen. Jim Rosapepe,D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. There were no other witnesses for or against the bill.
Underfunded by $800,000, legislative analysts say
The bill analysis states that the governor’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget appropriates $41.8 million in total funds to the office of the attorney general, not including adjustments for statewide personnel actions. The Department of Legislative Services estimates that, despite $6.9 million in growth between fiscal 2018 and 2020, the office’s base operations are underfunded by more than $800,000. “The budget shortfall likely means a significant slowdown in hiring,” it says.
The budget does not include money from settlements.
“Those increases in staffing to protect Marylanders’ rights were not funded in the governor’s budget… We couldn’t put the additional cops on the beat, additional lawyers in the courtroom,” said Rosapepe.
Frosh said the bill “ensures the important work of our office will continue.”
He gave examples of legal battles his office has waged, including “the inhumane separation of families at the border,” stopping the drilling for oil and gas off the coast, putting doctors who operate “pill mills” in prison, and suing Volkswagen for environmental damages.
He said recoveries in the Consumer Protection Division have exceeded $10 million a year for the past four years in a row.
“We achieve outstanding results in the face of budget challenges,” he said.
He said 8 vacant positions were cut from the budget. “That’s how we balance our budget, by holding positions open … It cuts $500,000 of general funds from our budget. It’s very difficult for us to meet the needs we’re obligated, charged, to meet under the law.”
Rosapepe said the bill would return with amendments.