Lehmberg Visits Commissioners Court
D.A. and staff discuss possible responses to Perry's PIU veto
By Michael King, 12:30PM, Tue. Jun. 18
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg offered testimony at Commissioners Court this morning, accompanied by TCDA staff members discussing the 2013-14 budget of the Public Integrity Unit, and whether the Court can find funding to replace the roughly $3.5 million vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
The Court was considering whether county monies could replace the money Perry line-item vetoed after he demanded Lehmberg's resignation for having been convicted of a DWI – and she declined to step down. Lehmberg summarized for commissioners the PIU's duties – which include prosecuting ethics violations and other crimes (e.g., environmental crimes) all over the state, and she noted that although Perry de-funded the office, its prosecutorial obligations remain the same.
The commissioners asked about the scale of the problem, whether there is any chance of a reversal of Perry's decision, and whether any other sources of funds might be available. They were told the total annual budget of the D.A.'s office is about $21 million, with $3.5 million currently dedicated to the PIU. About 400 cases are currently pending, with slightly more than 280 based solely in Travis County; newly appointed Pct. 2 Commissioner Bruce Todd had asked if any of the costs might be underwritten by other counties. Lehmberg responded that might be theoretically possible, but that often local D.A.'s are disinclined to prosecute politically sensitive cases in the first place, or lack the resources to do so. (Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty was absent.)
Lehmberg noted that while there are some efforts at the Legislature to overturn Perry's veto, she was unable to say whether any of them might succeed. Even should there be sufficient support from Republican legislators for funding the office, Gov. Perry determines the agenda for special sessions; if it's not on his call, presumably it cannot be considered. County Judge Sam Biscoe eventually summarized, "So the future of the Public Integrity Unit depends on Travis County." The Court took no action and has some time to make a decision, since the FY2014 budget does not take effect until Sept. 1; Biscoe recommended that the matter return as a proposed action item in the next week or two.