Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Davis Proposes $52 Million Funding Cut for Courts as Part of Budget-Balancing Plan
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—Gov. Gray Davis yesterday proposed cutting $49.6 million from the trial courts and $2.8 from the appellate courts and Judicial Council as part of a plan to bridge a $23.6 billion gap in the state budget.
The details of the one-time cuts would be determined by the Judicial Council.
At a press conference in the Capitol, Davis told reporters he also advocates a $1.3 billion increase in the vehicle license fee, often called the “car tax,” and a $472 million tax increase on cigarettes—about 50 cents per pack—and other tobacco products.
The remainder of the gap between projected revenues and spending authorized in prior budgets would be bridged with loans, an expectation of federal assistance, refinancing existing obligations and issuing $4.5 billion in bonds that would be repaid, with interest, using future installments of settlement money from the tobacco industry.
California Chief Justice Ronald George was vacationing and unavailable for comment, but William Vickrey, administrative director of the courts, said it’s too early to tell which courts will bear the brunt of the cuts.
The Judicial Council will meet soon to decide where to tighten purse strings, Vickrey said. All totaled, the judicial branch will have about 4 percent less money during the next fiscal year, even though court costs are increasing, he said.
“We first got involved in the discussions just late last week, so we have a lot of work in front of us,” Vickrey said.
“The good news is that the reductions that have been made are one-time reductions and they are unallocated reductions, which means the judicial branch will have the flexibility ... to handle the problems differently in Los Angeles, say vs. Contra Costa County,” he added.
He said the goal will be to “minimize the short-term impact on the public and to do it in a way that does not result in permanent setbacks in our effort to improve our court system.”
Some of the savings will be realized through hiring freezes, and some courts will be asked to delay or defer new programs, Vickrey said.
The governor’s $49.6 million cut for the trial courts is the product of two budget items—a $59.2 million reduction from the Trial Court Trust Fund and a $9.6 million increase in the courts’ general fund.
Davis earmarked the $9.6 million for “increased costs associated with providing security at trial court facilities.” The money would go to the Judicial Council, which would disburse it to the trial courts.
Calvin Smith, a program budget manager for the Davis administration’s Department of Finance, said the money likely will find its way to counties “to cover the costs of specific [memorandums of understanding] and bargaining agreements where local sheriff’s departments have agreed to provide salary increases to their employees [who provide security to the courts].”
Davis called his $98.9 billion budget “responsible,” and said, “Closing the gap was an extremely painful process.”
The governor rejected some lawmakers’ suggestions that the budget could be balanced with nothing but cuts, or nothing but tax increases. A budget relying solely on cuts “would not be fair to public safety, public education or health insurance for children,” he said, while massive tax increases “would not be fair to California taxpayers.”
Much of the state’s budget problem can be attributed to a nationwide economic slowdown and problems in the stock market, Davis said. Since 2000, revenue from taxes on capital gains and stock options has declined $19 billion, he noted.
Republicans attributed the state’s budget problem to spending, which has increased steadily under Davis.
“During Governor Davis’ first term in office, state spending has increased by an unprecedented 37 percent,” Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, said in a written statement.
Bill Simon, the Republican candidate for governor, did not make recommendations to balance the state’s budget, but indicated that the problem would not exist if it were not for Davis’ “gross mismanagement.”
“For three years, Governor Davis spent our tax dollars like there was no tomorrow,” Simon said. “Now tomorrow has arrived, and all Californians are going to suffer because the governor was too busy fundraising to provide the leadership and make the tough decisions that would have prevented this crisis from growing out of control.”
The unveiling of a revised budget after tax season is an annual event which typically marks the beginning of serious negotiations in the Legislature. The state constitution sets a July 1 deadline for enacting a budget for the fiscal year which begins that day, but there is no penalty for missing the due date.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company