House panel slices state prosecutor's budget

March 17, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli survived a legislator's attempt to end the independence of his office, but he now faces the possible loss of one-third of his office's funding.

A House of Delegates Appropriations subcommittee has recommended that the state prosecutor's budget be cut from $744,000 to $509,000 and that the office lose four of its 11 positions.

The full committee will take up the recommendation before submitting its version of the budget to the entire House. The House and Senate are expected to agree on a budget in the next two weeks.

Subcommittee members argued that Mr. Montanarelli has expanded the scope of his office, which was created in the 1970s as an independent agency to investigate wrongdoing by elected officials. Several delegates complained about investigations Mr. Montanarelli pursued involving non-elected or minor officials, as well as lengthy probes that did result in any charges.

Mr. Montanarelli denied he was trying to reach beyond his stated duties.

The prosecutor managed to fend off an attempt to merge his office into the attorney general's office and thereby end its political independence. The House Judiciary Committee on Friday killed that bill, which Mr. Montanarelli contended was introduced as political retaliation for his role in the prosecution of former Baltimore County councilman Gary Huddles.

Del. Richard Rynd, a Baltimore County Democrat and a longtime friend of Mr. Huddles, said he proposed the bill as a cost-saving measure. Mr. Rynd said his bill was not linked to the prosecution of Mr. Huddles, who was acquitted in November of theft charges stemming from a campaign finances investigation.

Although pleased that the bill died, Mr. Montanarelli said the proposed budget cut "would have a devastating effect."

He said he will make do, as other state officials must during these tough fiscal times. "We're taking our cuts like everyone else is.

"I think the committee was motivated by economic reasons, and they felt I had expanded the types of investigations that the state prosecutor was originally conceived to do," he said.

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