Expert: Changes to NCDOJ budget could be politically motivated

by: Scott Wickersham Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

A controversial budget proposal would strip millions from the Department of Justice and move the agency responsible for investigating government corruption under the governor.

The attorney general said he thinks this plan jeopardizes public safety and one expert said the whole move could be a pre-emptive strike in the 2016 governor's race.

The budget proposal calls for a 58 percent cut in the justice department budget, from $82 million to $34 million.

It shifts that money along with control of the state bureau of investigation and crime lab over to public safety.

Then the governor would appoint a new SBI leader.

Attorney General Roy Cooper calls that a conflict of interest.

“For 75 years, SBI has rooted out government corruption in the executive and legislative branch. And it’s because it has been an independent agency,” Cooper said.

Gov. Pat McCrory disagreed.

"Frankly, there could be conflict of interest with the attorney general, who is an elected position,” he said. "We have other public safety organizations under my responsibility now and we keep the politics out of all investigations."           

However, politics may have motivated the changes.                      
                               
“It has to be seen in a political light. Roy Cooper has all but announced that he will challenge Pat McCrory in 2016,” said political expert Michael Bitzer.

Bitzer said Republicans are using their majority to go after a rival and take more control at the same time.

“It is also about a fundamental shift in terms of the republicans trying to consolidate as much state government under their power,” Bitzer said.

Bitzer expects it to be one of the biggest battles of the budget season.

Cooper is vowing to join that fight.

“You can't let politics creep into law enforcement. And it may have in this situation,” he said.

Under the plan the new SBI head could not be fired by the governor after being appointed and approved by lawmakers.

Republicans argue that would free that person from any political ties while investigating.