An organization of volunteers who advocate in court on behalf of children in the state’s foster care system is among the groups that could lose more than half of its grant funding from the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund unless the Texas Legislature shores up the CVCF.
The Texas Office of the Attorney General noted in its appropriations request, submitted Aug. 30 to the Legislative Budget Board, that the “most significant challenge” facing the OAG is the budgetary crisis looming over the crime victims’ fund.
Daniel Hodge, the state’s first assistant attorney general, says the OAG will impose a 57 percent across-the-board reduction to all CVCF grantees if the Legislature doesn’t take action. But Hodge says he believes lawmakers will find a way to take care of the CVCF’s shortfall.
“I’m convinced this will get resolved,” he says.
Organizations like Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are concerned about the impact if cuts described in the appropriations request are imposed. Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA’s chief executive officer, says a 57 percent cut would drop her organization’s grant funding from the $8.5 million it is receiving annually in the current biennium to $3.6 million per year. She says CASA would expect to go from serving about 25,000 children to 10,836.
“It’s significant at a time when the number of children going into the foster system is increasing,” Spriggs says.
Hodge says the Legislature created the fund in 1979 and added its grant program in 1997. As noted in the OAG’s appropriations request, the Texas Crime Victims Compensation Act requires victims’ claims to be fully satisfied before funding goes to crime victim service organizations.
The shortfall in the fund is the result of a decline in revenue and an increase in spending, Hodge says.
According to the OAG’s appropriations request, court costs imposed on defendants convicted of misdemeanors and felonies made up 65.5 percent of all CVCF funding in fiscal year 2011, but the court cost collections have decreased by an average of 3 percent since 2008.
Hodge says local governments collect the money paid by defendants. A lack of adequate reporting has prevented the OAG from determining what is causing the decline in collections, Hodge says. To find out why collections are down, the OAG is working with the Office of State Comptroller, which has audit authority over funds due to the state, he says.
As noted in the appropriations request, however, the shortfall is more a function of spending than the decline in revenue. Hodge says that in the 2011 session, the Legislature used $45.75 million from the CVCF to fund state agency programs and statewide nonprofit organizations that previously received state general revenue.
The fund also has cash-flow problems. Hodge says that when the 2014 fiscal year begins, the CVCF’s cash balance will be only $5.4 million, down from $191 million at the end of fiscal year 2003. He says the Legislature will have to statutorily authorize short-term bridge loans from the state treasury to the CVCF to cover payments for crime victims’ compensation claims in the first quarter of the 2014-2015 biennium because the fund does not receive revenue from court costs until the end of each quarter.
Hodge says the OAG is working with stakeholders and legislative leaders to solve the CVCF’s problems.
“We’re going to build broad consensus and get it done,” he says.
State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the OAG, says one of the first things that needs to be done is to stop financing swaps that allowed the Legislature to take some of the crime victim funds for programs that historically received general revenue. Otto says he is looking at whether there is a need to prioritize grant awards. He says he also is working with the Office of Court Administration to determine why court-cost collections are down and what can be done to provide more incentives for local governments to collect that money.
The legislative appropriations request submitted by another agency described the potential impact a 10 percent cut in its funding might have.
The LBB and the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy directed state agencies in a June 4 memorandum to detail how they could reduce their baseline budgets by 10 percent. According to the appropriations request that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) submitted Aug. 30 to the LBB, a cut of that magnitude would require a reduction in its workforce of approximately 4,800, of which almost 3,200 would be correctional and parole staff.
TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark says the agency is only seeking funding necessary for its operations.
Notes Clark, “We’ll strive to make sure lawmakers understand the impact of any specific reductions on public safety, our agency operations and our employees.”