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Shurtleff wants lawmakers to keep budget promises

Proposed trims aim at census suit, deduction law

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Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had some advice for state lawmakers seeking to cut his budget.

"I am not asking for a favor, I am asking you to keep your promises," he told a legislative appropriations committee Wednesday . "I am baffled that the legislative fiscal analyst would recommend that you not fulfill your obligations."

Lawmakers are looking to cut $915,400 from Shurtleff's budget this year, most of which would come through not appropriating money to pay outside legal counsel hired to defend the state in a recent census lawsuit and to defend a payroll deduction law passed by the 2001 Legislature.

Since those legal bills will have to be paid through hook or crook, the attorney general's office will have to reduce funding in other areas to make up the difference.

Adding insult to budget injury, the AG's office was running a $500,000 deficit from the year before, and there are still unpaid balances of more than $400,000 that have yet to be billed in the census lawsuit.

Shurtleff told the committee his office has already laid off 14 employees and eliminated $130,000 in much-needed computers, all at a savings of $795,000.

Those personnel cuts compromise the AG's ability to defend the state in court, Shurtleff warned. And it limits the ability of state attorneys to recover money owed the state, an amount that totaled $107 million last year.

"We are the foundation for everything you do," he said. "This budget recommendation attacks that foundation."

Lawmakers were generally sympathetic, but they pointed out that Shurtleff's budget cuts were, percentagewise, not much different than those asked of other state agencies.

But they agreed that if the state promised to pay for outside legal counsel, then that promise should be kept.

"There is a lot of credibility on the line," said Sen. Craig Buttars, R-West Jordan.

But Rep. LaMont Tyler, R-East Millcreek, said the legislative committee considering Shurtleff's budget never made any promises, and "whoever made the commitments should make up the difference."

Gov. Mike Leavitt's budget would also be cut by $484,000 or $106,000 more than Leavitt had recommended.

Most of the additional cuts would come in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, Leavitt's counterbalance to legislative fiscal analysts.

"Those cuts were not identified," said Lynne Ward, executive director of the office. "They just told me to suck it up."


E-MAIL: spang@desnews.com