Attorney General Mark Shurtleff asked a legislative subcommittee Tuesday morning to fund his unit that targets fraudulent identity mills operated by and frequented by undocumented immigrants in Utah.
The requested $840,600 isn't in the base budget but Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who is Senate chairman of the committee, said funding the $840,600 requested will be "a top priority" but also worried that it is currently competing for state dollars in education, health care and state parks.
Thatcher said, however, "the real purpose of government" is to protect people and he viewed the Secure Strike Force falling into that category.
"It is a top priority of mine," he said.
Started in 2009 using federal grant money, the strike force has shut down 29 fake identification mills manufacturing driver licenses, social security cards and green cards some of which Ken Wallentine, chief of law enforcement for the attorney general, marveled about the quality of to the committee as "astounding."
The strike force, in its tenure, has netted 287 arrests and opened up 465 investigations.
Wallentine said by funding it at about $713,000 a year and shifting a little more than $127,000 from other areas of the attorney general's budget each year, the current request is just under what they've been operating on.
"We've stretched those funds beyond what the federal government thought would be its elasticity," Wallentine said. "We believe we've done what you asked us to do. You asked us a few years ago to not take a shotgun approach … but a rifle shot approach. We certainly have done that."
But Wallentine was caught off guard when subcommittee member Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, suggested more funding so the strike force could fan out across the state something current funding levels don't allow the unit to do with its nine full time employees.
Wallentine said to do that would require double the current request.
Shurtleff, who noted it was the last time he'd make a request before the committee given he's not running for re-election, said he wasn't worried about the funding and believed the strike force would be in place for the coming year.