Attorney General Becerra Seeks Resources to Match DOJ Fight Against Harmful Federal Overreach

Thursday, May 4, 2017
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No One Anticipated That They Would Play This Fast and Loose with the Law and Taxpayers' Pocketbooks

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra testified today before Senate Budget Subcommittee 5 on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary to outline why the Department of Justice (DOJ) is requesting adequate resources to enforce our state's new laws and effectively protect Californians.

“California is proactively taking steps to protect its people, which requires more resources than expected,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Department of Justice has developed a track record of efficiently and effectively fighting for the people of our state. Further resources would allow us to do even more on behalf of Californians in this unprecedented time.”

Below are Attorney General Becerra’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Madame Chair and Members of the Committee –

Good morning. First of all, I would like to thank you and your staff for accommodating my schedule and for providing me the opportunity to testify today.

It was important for me to be here personally today because this process is critical to our mission and work at the California Department of Justice. We couldn’t do it without you. It is our budget that truly determines what work we can and can’t do as a Department. 

I’ve said it so many times before in my career – the budget process is where we really know the values of an organization, where the rubber meets the road.

As I said to your Assembly colleagues two weeks ago, I want to acknowledge the hard work of the budget committees and the Governor to bring stability and balance to our state budget. There is no doubt that your efforts have driven all departments to find ways to become smarter and more efficient. 

But, even more importantly, it is why our state is truly ready to tackle the challenges ahead. It is why we can keep proving to Californians, day in and day out, that we’ve got their back

This committee has always been a partner in ensuring the Department of Justice has what it needs, and I certainly want to continue that tradition.

I also want to share some of my observations about the budget situation I walked into when I took the oath of office exactly 101 days ago. We are funded by 32 different funds. In 2006-2007, the Department of Justice relied on the General Fund for over half (51%) of its budget.  Today, that percentage has decreased by half to 25%. For comparison, over that same period, the overall General Fund has actually increased by 21%. 

DOJ has worked hard to do its part in strengthening the overall sustainability of the General Fund.

That’s the good news. 

The bad news is, the decision to increasingly fund the agency through distinct fees has threatened the capacity of DOJ to carry out many of its core functions. As you know, 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

On top of this reduced flexibility, several bills have been enacted which contain mandates upon DOJ, but which are missing an important component: funding.

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. Placing unfunded mandates on an agency and limiting its funding puts an agency like DOJ in a precarious position.  

Add to that the fact that last year, while enacting this current year budget, 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? 

Protecting and defending California families in this new environment takes a lot more effort. I have had to pull resources from wherever possible to respond to the federal administration’s actions. It’s not simply in one area. We have seen an impact on our workload across all sectors from health care to immigration to the environment to consumer protection. 

Just since the Assembly budget hearing last month, we have spent almost 3,000 additional hours working on:

  • Protecting seniors’ retirement savings from harm by urging the Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Ed Hugler to immediately implement the Fiduciary Rule ("Savers' Best Interest Rule");
  • Defending energy efficiency standards for consumer products that California has championed, but which Washington seems intent on abandoning;
  • Joining a multistate action to protect our students from misleading practices by loan servicers; 
  • Defending the rights of women to access essential healthcare services by leading and joining multistate amicus briefs filed in federal court; and 
  • Continuing to challenge the Trump Travel Ban and attacks on our cities so we can keep our families together and maintain the trust between our law enforcement and the communities they protect.

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.

But, to fight these fights take resources. And, we are doing much of this indispensable work while our talented workforce operates without competitive salaries. 

I won’t go into too much detail since I know time is limited. But as it stands, our law enforcement agents, criminalists, auditors, attorneys, and support staff are all underpaid relative to their counterparts in the private sector and even the public sector.  But, they are dedicated, steadfast, and passionate about the work they do.

So, as I have said before, I am not going to sugar coat this.  I am operating with a budget that was assembled without addressing the needs of current mandates and before our new reality of dealing with federal executive orders.  To put it simply, we can’t execute if we don’t have the resources to do it.

So, I am here today to ask this committee to take a new accounting of the budget challenges we face. I also acknowledge that this isn’t an easy request.  But, there is no more important mission for us than to uphold the progress we’ve made.

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.  And I am optimistic that together we can find a way to meet the challenges ahead and ensure that California continues to lean forward.

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