Wednesday, July 25, 2001
George Upbeat About Spending on Judiciary in State Budget
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—There’s no money for widespread judicial pay raises or new judgeships in the state budget awaiting the governor’s signature, but the judiciary still fared well in light of the state’s budget-busting energy problems, California Chief Justice Ronald George said yesterday.
“Given the economic downturn and the energy crisis, I believe that the judiciary has fared reasonably well,” George said. “Under the circumstances, we easily could have faced some substantial cutbacks from last year’s budget.”
Instead, the chief justice noted, the court’s budget includes $87 million more than last year’s, including new money to increase court security and to promote implementation of the one-day, one-trial system for jurors.
The main budget bill was approved by the Assembly last week and passed the Senate on Sunday evening. The “trailer bills” needed to implement the $101 billion spending plan were sent to the governor Monday evening.
Gov. Gray Davis was expected to sign the budget today, but no signing ceremony had been scheduled as of press time, a spokeswoman said. Under state law, Davis can use a line-item veto to delete budget items, including court funding.
In January, the state enjoyed a multibillion-dollar tax revenue surplus and the judiciary looked forward to an 8.5 percent raise for all California judges—on top of the 8.5 percent raise which took effect this year—and creation of 30 trial court judgeships and five new Court of Appeal positions.
Then, sales tax revenue and capital gains tax collections fell and the state began spending billions of dollars to keep electricity flowing in California.
On May 11, George had a two-hour meeting with the governor in which he scaled back the judiciary’s wish list in recognition of the state’s fiscal problems, the chief justice said.
While the new budget does not include a large pay raise for all judges, it does include a 4 percent salary increase for the chair of the state Judicial Council—George—and for administrative presiding judges of the Court of Appeal and presiding judges of superior courts with 15 or more judges. Presiding judges in superior courts with four to 14 judges will get a 2 percent raise. The raises will take effect Jan. 2 if the budget trailer bill SB 742 is signed by the governor.
An across-the-board raise is not a dead issue, however. Even after the budget is signed, unions representing various groups of state employees reported that they will continue negotiating with Davis for raises for their members. State law says that when rank-and-file state employees get a raise, judges get an increase of an equal percentage.
The union negotiations could pay off for county supervisors as well as the men and women in black robes. Supervisors in Los Angeles and elsewhere receive automatic pay increases when superior court judges’ salaries go up.
If state workers get a raise through special legislation, George also plans to renew his request for a larger judicial raise, he said.
The leader of the judicial branch said he’ll also include the pitch in his budget request for the next fiscal year, which is due in September.
“I will target [pay raises and new judgeships] for next year’s budget provided that that’s realistic in the economic condition at the time,” George said.
The chief justice has frequently stated that pay raises are necessary to attract and maintain quality judges. Superior court judges make $133,052 a year. In this year’s State of the Judiciary speech, George noted that some first-year lawyers make more than veteran judges, and that many judges are tempted to leave the bench to become private judges or mediators for much higher salaries.
George said another “big ticket item” on next year’s agenda is state funding for California’s more than 450 court facilities. Currently, the facilities are owned by the counties in which they are located. The Judicial Council will recommend that the state assume ownership and pay for maintenance, much of which has been neglected in cash-strapped counties, he said.
A Judicial Council task force on court facilities is expected to issue a report in October which will detail the need for massive repairs to many of structures.
“Some are in danger of imminent collapse in even a moderate earthquake,” George said.
The judiciary also is mounting a two-pronged campaign to see that trial court employees are paid during budget standoffs like this year’s three-week impasse between Republicans and Democrats. Unlike county and state employees, trial court employees aren’t covered by labor laws which mandate payment of salaries when the state is operating without a budget.
“We might pursue legislation, or might get an opinion from the attorney general, so trial court employees will get paid during stalemates,” George said, noting that the state controller’s lawyers have indicated they need such guidance before they can issue checks. “We’ve asked for an opinion, and we hope to have some word soon from the attorney general.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company