Monday, April 5, 2010
McCoy Makes New Pitch to AOC for Funds to Avert 500 Court Layoffs
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles W. “Tim” McCoy has renewed his plea for the Administrative Office of the Courts to divert $47 million funds in order to avoid 500 layoffs scheduled to take place in September and criticized an AOC report from last week which concluded those layoffs do not need to take place.
“In our view they take an overly optimistic view of the near-term ability of the state government to fund the courts, and in my view they need to become much more realistic about the capacity of government to continue funding the courts at the level we were used to,” he told the MetNews on Friday.
The AOC report, however, posited that the court was overreacting to its fiscal difficulties and working with “overly pessimistic” budget predictions. Although it acknowledged that the “level of reductions and unfunded costs facing all 58 of California’s trial courts is far too large and is not sustainable,” the report concluded that “the scale of staff reductions planned by the LA Superior Court is larger than necessary, due to underestimated savings resulting from staff attrition and layoffs, additional funding not reflected in the courts plan, and other issues.”
The court has already laid off 329 employees, and McCoy has said previously that it anticipates a loss of up to 1,800 positions over the next two years.
The report also noted that the court’s budget predictions and estimates did not take into consideration funding proposed in the 2010-2011 Governor’s Budget—which includes a funding proposal for court employee retirement, health benefits, and retiree health costs—or the contribution of its judges—whose salaries cannot constitutionally be reduced during their terms—who donate a percentage of their compensation to the court.
Based on the AOC report’s calculations, the court should have operating reserves in excess of $128.6 million by the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year—as opposed to the $24.2 million the court predicted.
“[W]hile the court under this scenario would still face significant fiscal challenges that will require reductions and reorganizations in services and operations, the level of reductions that would need to be implemented, and the urgency with which these changes must be effected, are substantially less than the court has assumed,” the report stated.
McCoy, however, defended the court’s decision in a 12-page letter, dated Wednesday, accusing the AOC report of “unfounded optimism and an overestimation of the savings due to staff reduction.”
He insisted that the savings per position of $75,246 proposed by the AOC report was a “gross overstatement,” since the court only achieved a savings of about $46,000 per position in its March layoff, and expects to achieve savings of $64,900 in the next round of cuts. McCoy added that median salary for a court employee, not counting subordinate judicial officers and revenue-offset employee positions, is $64,761, and the vast majority of employees impacted by the layoffs will be those at salaries below the median.
“By every measure, by every standard, and by all reason, the layoffs now underway in Los Angeles and planned for later in this year are necessary and appropriately sized and timed,” McCoy said. “Every indication points to the need to redirect SB 1407 funds as soon as possible.”
Authored by Sen. Don Peralta, D-Oakland, and signed into law in 2008, the measure provides a $5 million lease revenue bond to help the state upgrade its courthouses.
But the AOC report counseled against redirecting these funds, saying that such an approach “would too narrowly focus on one solution,” and “could significantly impair the ability of the branch to address critical facility needs in courts throughout the state for years to come.”
Rather than tap into the SB 1407 revenue, the report proposed “a broader and more flexible approach,” incorporating such options as new fees, fines or other revenue options; reduction of current funding cuts; and conversion of some ongoing reductions to one-time or limited-term cuts.
McCoy contended that the judiciary could not “realistically expect to be sheltered from new cuts or relieved from ongoing cuts already imposed” and expressed doubt that the public would support an increase in taxes, fines or fees to support court operations.
“The time has come for the Judicial Council to look inwardly for accessible resources,” he said, insisting that the court “cannot, and of course should not, proceed as proposed by the AOC.”
He further argued the AOC’s approach was “ill-conceived,” since it would “recklessly compress layoffs, courtroom closures and courthouse closures into an unmanageable one-year time frame” beginning in the next fiscal year, which begins 15 months from now.
McCoy charged Friday that the AOC “would basically put off for one year facing the hard realities that need to be faced now,” by counseling the court to postpone layoffs and spend its dwindling reserves in hopes that cuts to the judiciary’s budget will somehow be restored.
“We can’t put off for tomorrow what is best done today,” he said. “Their approach just puts the whole organization at risk by putting off for too long decisions that need to be made.”
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company