Wednesday, May 15, 2013
State Courts Get Shut Out in May Revise of Governor’s Budget
‘Disappointed’ Chief Justice Vows to Work With Lawmakers to Fix ‘Critical’ Situation
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday proposed a $96.4 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year, funneling more money to K-12 schools but giving no funds to courts beyond those he proposed in January.
The budget takes a largely cautionary approach to spending. The governor announced a spending plan that is $1.2 billion lower than he projected in January despite the state receiving $4.5 billion more than expected from personal income taxes so far this fiscal year and a surge of revenue from the sales and income taxes voters approved last fall.
The governor styled his proposal “a call for prudence, not exuberance.”
He wants to spend extra money on schools in economically disadvantaged communities, giving California a new narrative from the multibillion dollar deficits that led to teacher layoffs, IOUs for state workers and deep spending cuts for nearly all government programs just a few years ago.
But the proposal brought expressions of disappointment from Democrats anxious to restore health care programs and social services, and from advocates of court funding.
“I am disappointed that the May Revision provides no more fiscal relief to the courts,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in an email sent to judicial officers statewide. “Given the state’s current fiscal condition, I had hoped for more effort to help stop the downward spiral of the judicial branch budget. Our budget situation remains critical with the severe toll taken on the state court system after successive years of reductions, including $261 million in ongoing cuts for the trial courts beginning July 1.”
‘Heartened’ by Speaker’s Comments
The chief justice promised to labor on, saying she “was heartened by [Assembly] Speaker [John] Perez’s comments last week about the need to begin reinvesting in the courts and hopeful that the Legislature and the Governor can work toward reversing some of the damaging impacts on access to justice before a budget bill is passed and signed.”
Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, called the governor’s plan pessimistic and suggested that lawmakers will not have to stick with the same revenue forecast. The Legislature’s nonpartisan budget analyst is expected to provide its own economic forecast.
Perez’s Senate counterpart, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, mentioned the courts, along with welfare, health care, and other social spending as areas that were left shortchanged by earlier cuts that the state should consider rolling back.
“I agree we must aggressively pay down our state’s debt and set aside money for a reserve, but there’s a disappointing aspect to this proposal,” Steinberg said in a statement. “It’s important that we also begin making up for some of the damage done to tens of thousands of Californians.”
A lack of new court funding will be bad for consumers and businesses, Los Angeles attorney and Consumer Attorneys of California President Brian Kabateck said.
“The governor talked this morning about a ‘give and take’ with the Legislature during budget negotiations in the weeks ahead,” the CAOC president said in a release. “Well, the courts have already given to the tune of $1.1 billion in general fund revenue lost since 2007. That’s why courthouses are closing and trials are being delayed and important services are being denied. It’s time for the state to start giving back to the courts. It’s time for lawmakers to understand that we need to start restoring this cornerstone of our democracy.”
Trial Court Survey
He cited a recent survey of trial court officials showing that at least 61 courthouses in the state have been closed or are slated for closure, at least 175 courtrooms have been closed, at least 16 courts have closed one or more locations where traffic cases are heard, and at least 20 counties have announced furlough days this year, with courts there closed on average more than one day a month.
The administration is taking a cautious approach in what it estimates the state will have over the next 12 to 18 months. Its forecast for growth of personal income is lower in part because the federal government did not extend a 2 percent payroll tax reduction.
The governor projects that personal income growth will be only half that originally forecast this year, falling from 4.3 percent to 2.2 percent.
Brown’s spending plan earned him rare praise from Republican lawmakers, who generally called hailed it as common sense approach.
“We have common ground with the governor in a belief that we cannot return to a culture of overspending that drives new budget crises,” Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in a statement.
Brown also faces challenges to his plan to shift more money to disadvantaged schools.
The governor is setting aside $1.9 billion to modify the state’s K-12 funding formula by giving proportionately more money to schools with high numbers of lower-income students, English-learners and foster children. But Brown’s plan has been criticized by lawmakers in his own party because some of the school districts they represent are wealthier and would not see as much extra money.
While backers of Brown’s proposal have characterized the proposal as a matter of civil rights, some Democrats suggested that giving disadvantaged students more money would mean that not all students would be treated equally.
“The local control funding formula is an interesting problem because it’s not really a partisan issue. It’s more of a geographic issue,” said Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, who serves as vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. “I think most legislators would like to see some changes in that formula.”
The governor said spending more on disadvantaged children is the right thing to do and said Democratic lawmakers “in their heart-of-hearts” want to help them.
“I think the idea in a Democratic Legislature of helping the less advantaged is very persuasive,” he said.
In addition to personal income tax revenue running ahead of projections, California voters approved Brown’s Proposition 30 last fall to increase the state’s sales and income taxes. Under the state’s education funding formula, most of the extra money will be sent to public schools.
Overall K-12 spending is projected to rise from $47.3 billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year, Brown’s first budget since reclaiming the governor’s office, to $66.5 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year. His budget provides $1,046 more per student in the coming fiscal year.
Brown also is proposing to use $1 billion to help public schools implement more rigorous academic standards.
The governor faced a $25 billion deficit when he took office in January 2011. The plan he released Tuesday maintains a $1.1 billion reserve fund for unanticipated expenses.
Brown’s budget proposal now goes to the Legislature, which has a June 15 deadline to pass a spending plan, although that limit has been missed on numerous occasions.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company