Group that opposed Brown during campaign takes big budget hit

Cost-cutting or conspiracy? Inquiring minds want to know.

The budget drafted by Gov. Brown and his fellow Democrats includes a two-year, $71 million hit to the Division of Law Enforcement in the state attorney general’s office, a move that would eliminate hundreds of law enforcement personnel, including some 300 members of the California State Law Enforcement Association, a state workers’ union.

Grappling with a multibillion-dollar deficit, Brown and his colleagues are struggling to balance the books and are proposing cuts throughout the bureaucracy. The cut was among many in the budget, in addition to some $260 million in vetoes — most of it related to transportation funding — that Brown announced when he signed the main spending plan.

But the cuts aimed at the DLE raised some eyebrows.

The likely layoffs have sparked suspicions of political chicanery and not without some justification: There is some very bad blood here.  The CSLEA, rejecting Brown’s overtures, last year endorsed billionaire Republican Meg Whitman, Brown’s rival for governor. The fallout over that endorsement included a taped voice mail of a Brown campaign worker describing Whitman as a “whore.”

That incident drew wide attention during the heat of the rancorous gubernatorial campaign and figured in the televised debate last October between Brown and Whitman. CSLEA also spent $1.6 million to boost Whitman – which also rankled Brown.

To some, speaking privately, Brown’s budget cut looked like classic payback. “Why not? He’s got the budget cuts as cover,” said one Democrat. “But how would you ever know for sure?”

Brown’s office declined to comment but some familiar with the attorney general’s office and state Department of Justice have little doubt that it was a surgical strike by Brown, although others aren’t prone to buy the conspiracy theory.

“As far as retribution goes, I don’t think so. I don’t think he has it in his heart to do that. He’s looking to cut everywhere he can. But unfortunately, this one is really going to cost the citizens. I think you’re going to see a tsunami of crime roll across the state,” said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona, one of the few who spoke on the record.

He said the budget cuts would eviscerate key crime-fighting offices, forcing “the possible elimination of the department’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence…” He also noted that Brown fought proposed cuts when he served as attorney general.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris’ staff declined to speculate on Brown’s motive, although Harris issued a written statement saying the said the cuts would “cripple California’s statewide anti-gang and drug trafficking operations. Our Division of Law Enforcement leads 50 task forces across the state that target criminal gangs and drug trafficking organizations … These cuts will eliminate many, if not all, of these task forces and jeopardize many ongoing investigations.”

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