Attorney general lets the Legislature budget
Patrick Morrisey promised that if elected, he would end the practice of having the attorney general sue on the state's behalf and then control how the settlements are spent.
Morrisey is working on that promise.
In the first legislative session after his election, Morrisey and legislators moved to end two decades of this dubious practice. The bill awaits Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's signature.
"If monies are being spent by a constitutional officer, they should be appropriated by the Legislature," Morrisey said.
Specifically, the bill would have the Legislature appropriate $7,459,000 of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Fund, where settlement funds are currently held. Of that sum, $3 million would go to a behavioral health program, $1.25 million to West Virginia University, Marshall University and West Virginia State University and $1 million to the West Virginia Affordable Housing Fund.
The remaining $1,859,000 would be used to hire personnel, upgrade technology and cover other operating expenses in the Attorney General's Office.
"As long as he (Morrisey) has enough money to fund the consumer protection part of his office, then any additional money should go back to general revenue to be appropriated by the Legislature," said Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.
"I think that's the problem that the former attorney general had. He appropriated the money as he saw fit a lot of the time."
This is how things should have been done all along. The money will fill the state's needs as determined by 100 delegates and 34 state senators, as the state's founders intended, rather than one man.
Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw, whom Morrisey unseated in November, used the money as he chose, with hefty amounts going for advertising and trinkets in the name of promoting consumer protection when in reality, they promoted McGraw's name.
For example, in one-seven month period before the 2004 election, McGraw used $688,540 from the fund for advertising. The office had spent a total of $117,823 on advertising in the previous nine years.
Morrisey also is requiring more professional case management, including the reporting of hours worked, from the roughly 100 attorneys employed by his office.
As the state's first Republican attorney general in 80 years, Morrisey is off to a good start. He has shown a willingness to work with a Democratic legislature, unlike his predecessor.