AP Interview: Nessel blasts GOP-proposed cuts to her budget
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Republican-backed cuts to her budget would have a “devastating” impact, limiting the office’s ability to protect consumers, prosecute sexually abusive clergy and look into wrongful convictions.
The general fund reductions proposed by the Senate and House range between 10% and 15%, or $4.2 million to $5.3 million, not including sizable cuts to what are known as restricted funds. They are seen as payback for some of the Democrat’s moves since taking office in January, like reaching a legal settlement to prohibit faith-based adoption agencies that contract with the state from discriminating against LGBT couples.
“The proposed cuts would be devastating to the residents of our state,” Nessel told The Associated Press in an interview this past week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. “It’s very short-sighted of the Legislature to think that cutting the budget of my office is in some way going to punish me personally for any of my views that I disagree with them on. The fact is it’s going to punish their constituents, and it’s going to be harmful to all our state residents.”
She listed a number of a ways that the funding reductions would hurt, and she said lawmakers may not know that for every $1 allocated to the department, it can generate $10 or more.
The consumer protection division this year has received more than $15 million in settlements that went to the state or to defrauded victims, Nessel said. Her office has intervened to scale back utility rate increases, saving customers.
She is planning to file major lawsuits against companies over the opioid epidemic and drinking water contamination related to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. She has formed a task force to charge caregivers who abuse elders and vulnerable adults, and units to crack down on payroll and auto insurance fraud. A new wrongful conviction integrity unit will investigate inmates’ claims of innocence.
“The savings, ultimately, to the taxpayers of our state or the restitution that taxpayers of our state see through our office is so enormous that the amount that you pay for those services is really a drop in the bucket,” Nessel said.
She also noted that legislators have yet to appropriate $2 million that she and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requested in March for a multi-year investigation into Catholic priests. Nessel recently announced sexual assault charges against five men.
“Not only do you have a situation where the Legislature has not deemed that investigation worthy of a nickel. But in drastically reducing our budget, it’s going to impact the investigation because all but two people on that case are volunteers,” she said.
They work in the office and help with the clergy probe by volunteering their time during nights and weekends.
“With this budget cut, we’re going to lose many of those staffers, too,” Nessel said. “It could be dozens and dozens of attorneys and investigators that we end up losing.”
She said while a price cannot be put on one’s safety or security, the average cost per rape victim is $122,000 — including factors such as lost educational attainment, worker absenteeism, substance abuse addiction and suicide attempts.
“You will have more victims out there, and you will not see justice potentially for so many victims that have already been abused,” Nessel said. “To use partisanship in that fashion I think is so disappointing and should disturb everybody in our state.”
Republicans have been angered over Nessel’s legal opinions that said laws enacted in December’s lame-duck session are unconstitutional and her vow to not enforce a state abortion ban if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in an April radio interview that the Senate was applying “legislative pressure” on Nessel through the budget process.
Asked about reducing the attorney general office’s budget, House Speaker Lee Chatfield told the AP at the business conference that the House plan — which is not finalized — has “many cuts because we are doing everything we can to ensure that we’re funding our roads, because that’s what the people want and that’s what the people deserve.”
Budget negotiations will likely extend into the summer. The next fiscal year starts in October.
“Everyone understands that this is process and this was step one in the process,” Chatfield said.
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