House panel wants to take $12M from AG's consumer protection fund

By Chris Dickerson | Mar 4, 2014

CHARLESTON – A House Finance Committee proposal would take $12 million from state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s Consumer Protection Fund.

Needless to say, Morrisey’s office isn’t too happy about this plan.

"This legislation would gut the Consumer Protection Fund by leaving it with only six months of revenue and restrict our office's ability to protect citizens against scammers and businesses that seek to take advantage of our neighbors and friends,” AG spokesman Beth Ryan said. "This move runs counter to an agreement reached last year between the Attorney General's Office, the Governor's Office and the Legislature that would provide three years of operation revenue ($12.3 million) for the Consumer Protection Division and then return all moneys in excess of that to the General Fund.

“That agreement has already resulted in our Office returning more than $7 million to the General Fund; many additional millions were scheduled to be returned this year.”

Late Monday, the House Finance Committee voted 14-9 to take $12 million from the Consumer Protecton Fund to help restore cuts to other state programs such as a program that allows seniors to remain in their homes. All Democrats and Republican Del. Bob Ashley voted for the measure. The nine votes against all were Republicans. Morrisey is a Republican.

The Consumer Protection Fund has a $19 million balance. It is used to operate the Consumer Protection Division and pays consumer restitution. This House bill plus one passed Monday by the Senate that would take $5 million from the fund for the state budget would cut that balance to less than $3 million.

According to MetroNews, Republican Del. Daryl Cowles spoke against the measure.

“We are decimating the Consumer Protection Fund,” said Cowles, R-Morgan. “We are doing this at 10 o’clock without the attorney general being invited.”

Del. Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, argued that the fund balance is too high.

“There’s no reason to have a balance of 19 million dollars,” Craig said, according to MetroNews. “We aren’t trying to limit the attorney general, but these are quality programs.”

Ashley, R-Roane, argued that providing funds to programs for one year wasn’t a permanent solution.

“This is a charade,” Ashley said, according to MetroNews. “We are putting out false hope. Let the attorney general do his job.”

Still, Ashley voted for the bill.

"Transferring one-time revenues to establish comprehensive new programs is fiscally reckless and ignores the significant budget challenges our state faces,” Ryan said Tuesday. “The House is setting up another fiscal cliff that will strand seniors and our state's most vulnerable citizens."

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Earlier this session, the House passed a bill that takes some powers away from the AG’s office. It was sent to the state Senate, but has yet to be discussed there.

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