HARRISBURG – State Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s first appearance before a legislative panel went swimmingly Wednesday as she fielded one polite question after another from members of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
Kane, a Democrat who was sworn in barely one month ago, deftly fielded queries on topics as diverse as gang violence, child predators, consumer protection and the legal opinion by her office that has at least stalled Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to contract out management of the Pennsylvania Lottery to a British firm.
Democrats on the panel pledged their support to Kane who, along with being the first woman and Democrat to be elected attorney general, is seen as a rising star in the party. Members of the Republican majority seemed satisfied with her answers and no committee member criticized her office’s rejection of the lottery contract, despite Corbett’s insistence that it was legal and constitutional.
Kane, a former county prosecutor, urged the panel to support a 16 percent increase – nearly $13 million – in her office’s state appropriation for the fiscal year that starts July 1 instead of the level funding Corbett recommends in his state budget plan.
The money would offset rising payroll expenses and finance new initiatives to beef up prosecution of child predators and create a mobile street-crime unit to combat what she described as a proliferation of drug trafficking by cartels based in Mexico.
Keeping the appropriation at this year’s level would translate into a nearly 8 percent reduction because of increasing personnel costs. It would require 57 layoffs and may force some regional offices to close, she said.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, asked Kane whether the office’s finances are approaching “a tipping point” at which it can provide only minimal services.
Kane said she is not an alarmist by nature, but her office’s funding level is deeply concerning.
“It keeps me up at night, to be honest with you,” she said.
Kane, a Scranton resident, empathized with Sen. John T. Yudichak, D-Luzerne, when he described a triple murder that recently occurred in a community in his district which had not previously experienced such violence.
“This is a public safety issue. It is also an economic issue,” Kane said. “Your town has been overridden by drugs and gangs and guns and violence. Therefore, your businesses are suffering. No one is going downtown because they’re too afraid.”
After the hearing, Rafferty and Yudichak issued a joint statement calling for additional funding for the attorney general.
Kane seemed to score points with committee members by thoroughly answering their questions on the subject Wednesday.
“Your answers were more detailed than I anticipated,” said Sen. Michael Brubaker, R-Lancaster, thanking her.
In Hershey, Corbett continued a pavement-pounding campaign around the state in support of his budget plan, this time highlighting his proposal to add enough money for 9,300 children to join Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“We need to be a state that takes care of its own,” Corbett told reporters after a tour of Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital on Wednesday.
His proposal to add $8.5 million to CHIP is part of his $28.4 billion budget proposal that lawmakers are just beginning to consider. The subsidized health insurance program currently covers 188,600 children, according to the state Insurance Department.
Corbett said he is still deciding whether to appeal Kane’s rejection of the lottery contract with Camelot Global Services.