Texas’ multimillion-dollar crime victims fund may be out of money as soon as next year according to a recent report from the Houston Chronicle. According to the state attorney general the reason in part lies with the reduced collection of funds by Texas criminal courts from criminals across the state.
Another reason is that the fund is a frequent victim of raiding by money-hungry lawmakers. The fund, initially created by the legislature in 1979, has repeatedly been dipped into by lawmakers needing money for various other state agencies. The fund has also been accessed to provide money to nonprofits dedicated to helping victims of crimes. The myriad groups seeking to access the limited money in the account has served to diminish the fund to dangerously low levels.
State Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, acknowledged this fact saying, “What we’ve done is leaned more and more on these crime victim funds to fund other worthwhile programs.” He went on to say that “What we need is truth in raising the funds and spending it for what we raised it for. And that ought to be throughout state government.”
The legislature announced that it would hold a hearing on the issue this week to investigate the problem and determine how to ensure victims are not left without a resource to turn to.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the fund in 2010 paid victims $75.5 million while giving victims advocacy groups nearly $36 million in grants. Though the figure is high this is actually down from an all-time record of $85 million in payouts to victims in 2005. When the fund first began such numbers would have been unthinkable and only got to such a place after rising steadily over three decades.
State Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the legislature is notorious for concocting gimmicks to move money into the general fund to make it appear that more money existed in the fund than actually did. “The Legislature robbed Peter to pay Paul and crime victims are going to pay the price.”
One bit of good news at least is that part of the reason for reduction in money in the fund is the declining crime rate. With a lower crime rate there are fewer criminal court appearances and the fees collected from criminal court make up 65% of the fund.
Though a spokesperson for the AG’s office wasn’t willing to discuss the extent of the problem, predictions have pegged the shortfall net year at $16 million. If this should come to pass then many organizations will face slashed budgets as grans are reduced to stop the hemorrhaging of money.