Judy Sheridan in the Weatherford (TX) Democrat reports:
County law enforcement officials walked into a Thursday morning budget session of the commissioners court packing their guns.
Most of the heat, however, seemed to be applied by Precinct 3 Commissioner John Roth, who asked Sheriff Larry Fowler to use some of his forfeiture funds — from the seizure of cash and property — to rescue the fiscal year 2011-12 general fund, where commissioners seek $2 million in cuts.
“You know we’re in a tough spot,” he said as he confronted the sheriff. “I’m asking you to see how much money could go into the [general fund] budget. How much do you need to keep in reserves?”
Fowler had told the court he wanted to use the funds — which he estimated at about $350,000 — to augment the low salaries of dispatchers and clerical personnel over the next two years.
“Basically, I have the money to do this,” he said, “to bring administrative and communications people up closer to what the rest of the county’s making.”
“It’s not a pay raise; it’s just putting the money where it belongs.”
“If you could work on that number,” Roth persisted. “I want you to consider it because we’re strapped for money, but we want to keep boots on the street.”
Thursday, the sheriff’s office asked commissioners for $14.6 million, according to Capt. Mike Morgan, up from the $14.2 million budget adopted last year.
This is wrong. All money spent or available to a government should be controlled absolutely by a representative legislature. The fact that this council has to negotiate with armed men over how public money is spent makes a mockery of America’s founding principles. We might recall James Madison, in the The Federalist No. 58, discussing why the power of the purse should remain solely with the people’s elected representatives:
The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of the government. They, in a word, hold the purse—that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.
This notion, that all public money should be directly controlled by the legislative, is a core principle that legislators and advocates should adhere to in attempting to reform forfeiture laws on either the state or federal level.