In 275 pages, the North Carolina Senate established what it considers the appropriate use of state money during the 2014-15 fiscal year. The Senate approved its Appropriations Bill late last week on a 32-10 vote.
And while much of it deals with appropriating funds among the state government and elsewhere, a large portion of isn’t so much about dollars and cents as it is about politics.
While you can find a number of interesting storylines in SB 744, let’s focus on one aspect today — a renewed effort to remove the office of the attorney general’s control and supervision of the State Bureau of Investigation. Perhaps more accurately it could be called taking it away from the current attorney general, Roy Cooper.
You see, Cooper is not only one of the highest ranking Democrats in state government, he is also likely to be pitted against Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in his re-election bid in 2016.
But taken at their word, Republicans in the Senate are more interested in government efficiency and saving money than in playing politics. In more than 20 pages of the bill, countless changes would be made in the state statutes confirming that the Department of Justice — run by the attorney general — would cease to run the SBI. Instead, the investigative unit would become part of the Department of Public Safety.
On the surface, this seems to make some sense. After all, under the auspices of the DPS are the State Highway Patrol, the prison system, the State Capitol Police and Alcohol Law Enforcement, along with a number of other agencies.
So who doesn’t think this is a good idea? The N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, for one, along with many of the state’s prosecutors. They appreciate the relative independence the SBI has under the Department of Justice. They fear being moved to the DPS will mean less money and agents for SBI work.
Included in the bill is also transfer of the state crime lab, which had been a source of problems for the SBI just a few years ago, but reportedly improved under the attorney general’s office’s direct supervision.
And Cooper himself isn’t sure that the move doesn’t have more to do with politics than practicality or penny-pinching.
Sen. Buck Newton believes otherwise. The Republican co-chairman of the Justice and Public Safety Budget Committee told The News & Observer that, “We tried really hard to take the politics out of it.”
That includes a provision that the director of this new SBI would be appointed to an eight-year term by the governor and subject to approval by the legislature. The idea is that the director, once appointed, wouldn’t have to answer to the governor throughout those eight years.
But we have our own reservations about putting the SBI under the same authority that runs Alcohol Law Enforcement. Why? The recent raids by ALE agents on local businesses.
Without the participation and maybe even knowledge of our own attorney general, federal prosecutors had ALE doing their bidding, seizing money and machines from local business owners without an explanation.
Those business owners, who are not believed to be the actual targets of the federal investigation, have been left in the dark and deprived of their working capital. Some may have to close their businesses.
If this is an indication of how the Department of Public Safety works, we’re not so sure we want it to be in charge of the SBI. They allowed a state of North Carolina government institution to essentially become a puppet agency for secretive federal investigators who sealed every document before descending upon our community, confiscating local money, all apparently without enough justification for a criminal charge at the time.
That’s not politics. That’s being practical based on recent experience.
— The Wilson Times