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DAs ask: Where’s our stimulus money?

Prosecutors say Patrick promised $4.1 million in aid

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / June 13, 2010

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Top state prosecutors are questioning why Governor Deval Patrick and his administration failed to deliver on what they say was a promise to provide their offices with $4.1 million in federal stimulus funds.

The prosecutors say they need more funding to avoid further erosion of their ability to protect the public.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said he has twice asked the governor to explain why the promised stimulus money has never been provided. Prosecutors said their 11 offices are the only arms of the public safety sector in government never to receive any.

“Why were the district attorneys the only public service entity to receive not one penny — not a penny — in federal stimulus money from Washington?’’ Blodgett said during a joint interview with several of his peers in Worcester last week.

He said that prosecutors had worked with Senator John F. Kerry to ensure a portion of the money sent to Massachusetts would be set aside for them.

“John Kerry told us we were going to get $4.1 million. Minimum,’’ Blodgett said during a break in the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association meeting on Thursday. “He helped put it in. We were supposed to get it. And we didn’t get it.’’

Blodgett said he twice had asked Patrick why prosecutors, who have dealt with budget freezes and budget cuts in recent years, have been excluded. Blodgett, who said he most recently asked Patrick about it during an MDAA meeting two months ago, called the governor’s response vague.

“ ‘I hear you,’ ’’ Patrick said, according to Blodgett.

Public Safety Secretary Mary E. Heffernan, the administration’s top public safety official, said there was no $4.1 million earmarked for prosecutors. Federal stimulus money was used to keep state prisons open, to avoid State Police layoffs, and to help cities and towns rehire laid-off police and firefighters, she said.

Heffernan also said she was with Patrick in April when he met with Blodgett and other district attorneys. She said the governor made two promises to them at the time — he would not cut their budgets further in fiscal 2011 and would steer any new federal money toward them.

Heffernan said Patrick has kept his promise to maintain their 2011 budgets at current levels.

“The district attorneys are probably one of only a handful of agencies that were level funded,’’ she said. “In my public safety department, I don’t know of any other agencies.’’

She also said no new federal money has arrived and it is not clear whether any more will come to Massachusetts or any other state.

“The DAs are valued partners to this administration,’’ she said. “If money becomes available . . . we absolutely would include the DAs in that consideration.’’

Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz, both said that despite leaner budgets, their offices had reached out to thousands of children of all ages with programs and public events aimed at crime prevention despite leaner budgets. Prosecutors offer sessions on cyberbullying, drunken driving, among other topics, they said.

“The biggest bang for the buck the Commonwealth of Massachusetts gets is the money spent on prosecutors,’’ Cruz said. “We do many unfunded mandates, we keep people safe, and we don’t usually complain about’’ budget struggles.

The prosecutors said they fully recognize the tough budget climate. But, they said, they have already laid off employees, required workers to take unpaid furloughs, and have been unable, in some cases, to retain the experienced attorneys they need to effectively protect the public.

They also say they have already cut spending by 8.5 percent over the last two budget cycles.

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

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