Friday, January 11, 2002
Davis Proposes Increase in Civil Filing Fees, Cuts for Trial Courts
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—The cost to file a lawsuit in California would increase 10 percent and the state would assess a 20 percent surcharge on all criminal fines, under the state budget proposed yesterday by Gov. Gray Davis.
The filing fee increase would raise an estimated $15 million for the state’s General Fund, and the criminal fine surcharge would raise $45.8 million, budget documents indicate.
At a Capitol press conference, Davis said new levies and cuts in many state programs are needed to balance the budget. He said the gap between the state government’s anticipated revenue and proposed spending is expected to reach $12 billion by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
“Preparing the budget has been a very painful exercise,” Davis said.
In the judicial branch, cuts include $23.2 million, or approximately 1 percent, from the budget for trial courts statewide. Department of Finance spokesman Calvin Smith said details such as how much each court will lose have not been ironed out.
Other judicial branch cuts include $2.9 million due to anticipated vacancies within the Supreme Court’s staff and $1 million for reduced workload by court-appointed counsel.
An additional cut of $7.2 million from the current budget will be achieved by further delaying implementation of the “one day or one trial” jury service program in Los Angeles County, Smith said. California Chief Justice Ronald George has hailed the one-day, one-trial system as one of the most important jury reforms implemented by the state. George was not available for comment yesterday.
William Vickrey, administrative director of the courts, said the proposed budget “in effect becomes a status quo budget for next year for the trial and appellate system.” He said the budget cuts from some areas but funds mandatory increases for the trial courts to cover such things as previously negotiated salary increases for employees and to pay for more court interpreters.
“We are at least in a position...where we will not, as in past years, find ourselves in situations where we see courtrooms going dark and criminal cases being dismissed because we can’t meet time requirements mandated by law,” Vickrey said.
In late December, George told the MetNews he didn’t think filing fee increases would be seriously considered by the Legislature, because many members of the Democratic majority have previously argued that such increases hamper access to the courts for low-income Californians.
Vickrey agreed yesterday, predicting it would be “a real challenge” for Davis to get the idea through the Legislature.
Davis’ budget also proposes a loan of $28.1 million from the Trial Court Improvement Fund to the General Fund. The loan is one of many included in the budget, for a total of $5.6 billion.
In addition to the loans, the budget assumes the federal government will give California $1 billion to cover a portion of Medi-Cal expenses, food stamps for immigrants, spending for increased security and other expenditures.
Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Republican candidate for governor, criticized the budget as “deficit spending hinged on a whim and a prayer.”
“Governor Davis seeks to paper over the $12 billion budget deficiency with one-time transfers and loans, yet continues to avoid addressing the underlying structural problem that allows expenditure levels to exceed the state’s revenue stream,” Jones said. “This is Gray Davis’ version of deficit spending.”
During his press conference, Davis refused to answer a reporter who repeatedly asked whether he believed the budget included deficit spending.
“My budget is balanced, it is responsible, it funds California’s vital services and it does not require new taxes,” Davis said.
Timothy Gage, the governor’s budget director, said the approximately $127 million in a variety of new fees contained in the plan are not “taxes.”
“It’s a lot more than semantics,” Gage told reporters during a briefing at the state Capitol. “Taxes are broad-based—these fees are focused in a very particular fashion.”
Along with the fees, which will be paid by hospitals, people who request information from the Department of Motor Vehicles and those who hold certain types of water permits, the governor proposed $70.8 million in new penalties.
Gage noted that his office and many financial analysts have predicted improvements in the economy as the year progresses. A better economy could improve state tax revenues, Gage said, and could improve the state’s fiscal situation to make the budget process easier as the July 1 beginning of the new fiscal year approaches.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company