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AG McKenna lobbies for law enforcement funds

In his second visit to Kitsap County in as many weeks, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna expressed support for allocating funds for law enforcement when the economy recovers.

“The state needs to take a look at revenue projections and set aside future revenues that come in as the economy begins to grow again to support law and justice,” McKenna said, “so a portion of the sales tax or the B&O tax will be allocated for local governments to support law and justice, programs like Drug Court, mental health services and related public health services.”

Such a practice will lessen the impact of budget cutbacks should that become necessary in the future.

“I don't see how we can require local governments to carry the load we’re asking them to carry,” he said. “Counties don’t have the same kind of revenue sources that the cities and the state has. When you rely on property tax, real estate excise taxes and sales tax you are very vulnerable to economic cycles. The state has its own problems, but needs to get back in the business of supporting the law and justice system.”

McKenna was addressing the monthly Kitsap Bar Association meeting, in conjunction with Law Day.

Prior to the luncheon, he met with county officials, including Sheriff Steve Boyer and Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge, before touring the Kitsap County Jail.

“I had not been in there before,” he said to some laughter.

“Kitsap County is really a leader in law enforcement in our state,” he said. “You’ve had declining crime rates for eight years, which means that communities are safer than they were the year before. The jail is under-capacity, which means that low-level offender programs like Drug Court are working. Local residents may not realize it, but they are lucky to live in a place that has such a high level of skill, in criminal justice and law enforcement.”

“The biggest worry I have about Kitsap County,” he said, “is the budget pressure on Drug Court. Almost no one who finishes Drug Court ever gets in trouble with the law or with drugs again. Because of the budget, the number of people in the program has been cut from 200 to 80. This is a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish.”

McKenna said budget stress trickles down from government into families. As the unemployment rate has nearly doubled in the last two years , there is an increased stress on families.

Some of them don’t handle it very well, leading to increases in child abuse and spouse abuse.

“The deep recession leads to an increased burden on family court and other services,” he said. “While the system is under greater stress, every level of government is taking a major hit. We all have to do more with less resources.”

This year’s Legislature has already finished its budget, but McKenna has already suited up for the next round.

“I will speak out with a renewed commitment to providing significant funding to the counties for the law and justice system,” he said. “There will be many other people with strong and legitimate claims for increased state funding as the economy recovers. But regardless of what you think about the quality of life in this state, we cannot have a real quality of life until you have safe and healthy communities.”

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