Thursday, June 16, 2011
Lawmakers Pass Budget, Cut Another $150 Million From Courts
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
California’s Democratic-controlled Legislature voted yesterday to cut $150 million from the state’s courts, over and above the $200 million previously proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The cut, which court officials said they first became aware of late Tuesday, came as legislative leaders scrambled to meet yesterday’s constitutional deadline. Lawmakers would have lost their pay and per diem, beginning today, if no budget had been passed.
The legislation headed to Brown’s desk, however, is viewed as a stopgap while Brown continues to look for Republican votes—he would need two in the Assembly and two in the Senate—to enact a plan that includes a temporary extension of expiring tax increases to fund schools in the coming fiscal year, along with an authorization for a special election this fall so voters can decide whether to extend the tax hikes for an even longer period.
The judicial branch cuts were enacted in the 2011 budget bill that passed the state Senate by a margin of 23-15 and the Assembly by 51-26.
State of the Judiciary
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who is expected to address the issue in her State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature June 30, criticized the cuts in a statement issued prior to the vote.
“This budget proposal is devastating and crippling to the judicial branch and to the public it serves,” the chief justice said. “With these cuts courts cannot provide these fundamental services or protect the rights of Californians. By marginalizing the courts, California strikes a blow against justice. Courts are not a luxury. They are at the heart of our democracy. These cuts threaten access to justice for all.”
The Alliance of California Judges and California Judges Association also criticized the action.
The alliance cited an earlier analysis showing that the additional cuts would require closing trial courts two days each month in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
“We hope that the outcome of this reduction is less drastic than predicted, but our trial courts are once again suffering a serious and unsustainable loss of services to the public,” the group said. “There are few, if any, remaining resources to backfill this cut with any more ‘one time’ solutions.”
The alliance took the occasion to reiterate its call for prioritization of local trial court funding, saying those moneys “must be fully delivered to the trial courts without reduction or reserve,” and not used to advance the controversial Central Case Management System.
“CCMS should be delivered to the courts using it, to be implemented upon local servers for those courts, and the continued maintenance of that product should be managed by each of those courts within their own operating budget,” the alliance proposed. “In this way, the CCMS product will be preserved for future further development and deployment when the Legislature makes specific funds available, beyond current operating needs. All other expenditure for development and deployment should be suspended.”
The group further called for reduction of central administrative spending “to the barest minimum,” criticizing the Administrative Office of the Courts’ previous proposal to take 10 percent of the previously proposed cuts out of trial courts.
“The AOC and Judicial Council have a budget of $142.0 million and the Court Facilities Program has a budget of $228.0 million,” the alliance said. “So far, the AOC has only proposed an $8.0 million reduction to the general revenue portion ($99.0 million) of its own budget.”
‘Top Heavy Administration’
Further cuts should be made to the “top heavy administration,” the alliance said, calling for “the immediate public disclosure of the line item budgets for the Judicial Council and AOC,” that moneys now held in the AOC’s Modernization Fund the Trial Court Improvement Fund be transferred to the trial courts, and that the Judicial Council “promptly convene a gathering of peer-elected trial court representative judges from each trial court to discuss and then advise the Judicial Council regarding the allocation of these extraordinary budget cuts.”
CJA President Keith Davis, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge, issued a statement saying the cuts “will severely limit the ability of courts to hear all of the various types of cases brought to the courts for adjudication” and imploring Brown “to avoid further financial devastation to the trial and appellate courts of this state.”
Even as they advanced a detailed proposal to close California’s remaining $9.6 billion deficit, Democratic leaders intended for the governor to continue negotiating with Republicans.
“The governor pushed for a better plan and we support his plan,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said during the floor debate on the Democratic proposal.
Steinberg said Democrats want to continue working with Republican lawmakers to see if they will provide enough support to go to the ballot with the tax questions later in the year.
“I would love nothing more than to come back sometime between June 15 and July 1 and pass Plan A,” Steinberg told reporters.
Republican lawmakers have not agreed on the tax matters and say they want reforms to public employee pensions, a spending cap and regulatory changes to help California businesses. They criticized the Democrats for trying to pass a budget that was released just hours before the floor sessions and without Republican support.
“What we have before us is a Democrat budget that reflects a Democrat vision,” said Sen. Bob Huff, Senate Republicans’ lead budget negotiator. “Clearly, the Democrats didn’t want to go down this path to reform.”
Democrats had tried to scare voters with the possibility of an all-cuts budget, only to lose their nerve and use gimmicks and accounting maneuvers to preserve programs, said Huff, of Diamond Bar.
Steinberg responded to Republican complaints by saying the Legislature would pass comprehensive pension reform and take “real steps” to overhaul the state’s business regulations later in this year’s legislative session.
Under the plan approved yesterday education would see $3 billion less in state funding than Brown called for when he released his revised budget proposal in May.
Steinberg said the majority party’s plan also includes more than $500 million in cuts to state programs to help close California’s remaining $9.6 billion deficit.
It also relies on tax and fee increases Republicans say will be challenged in court if they are enacted without a two-thirds vote. Those include increasing car registration fees and extending a quarter-cent sales tax that otherwise would expire next month, aides said.
Democrats still hope Republicans will agree to ask voters later this year to extend temporary tax increases, Steinberg said. The main debate revolves around asking voters to extend the increases to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes that were approved two years ago. The sales and vehicle tax hikes will expire June 30, while the income tax increase expired in January.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company