A Budget That Could Cause a Broken Heart

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Kiri Torre, Court Executive Officer

The Superior Court has faced challenging times. Our court operations budget has been permanently cut from $63 million to $54.6 million, a 13.3% budget reduction since FY 2008-09. Most of those cuts have come in the way of staff reductions. In FY 2008-09 the court had 440 employees. Over the past three fiscal years, a total of 120 employee positions were eliminated through attrition and layoffs bringing our staffing level to 320 employees – a reduction of 27% percent.

The fiscal year 2012-13 budget, which begins July 1, 2012, will cause heartache for many who use the court system. If the Governor’s proposed budget is enacted, this is likely to be the first year in which the Court will be forced to drastically reduce services to the public.

From news accounts you might think that the proposed FY 2012-13 judicial branch budget is a status quo budget, which even restores some funding to the courts.  But that misses the real story.  The current year’s budget imposes massive cuts on the Judicial Branch totaling $350 million statewide. The only reason court-related services haven’t been drastically cut throughout the state already is that the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts found some one-time funds to temporarily cover the majority of the $350 million – for this year only. As a result, those massive cuts will be felt, full force, in FY 2012-13.  For our court, that means an additional $6.3 million in permanent cuts, over and above the $8.4 million cut we have already taken since fiscal year 2008-09.

The Governor’s budget proposes to increase civil fees by $50 million.  That may result in a restoration of $1 million to our court’s budget. But it would still leave $5.3 million to cut in fiscal year 2012-13.  Fortunately, the Court has been fiscally prudent and has accumulated a one-time fund balance which can be used to help manage the permanent reductions during the course of the upcoming fiscal year.   But we will still have to make painful cuts.

Events could make matters even worse.  If the temporary taxes proposed by the Governor are rejected by the voters, then there will be another $125 million cut to the Judicial Branch.  Our court would then have to cut at least an additional $2.5 million.  , That would make the total cuts, next year, $7.8 million.   Our court will have been cut 26% since FY 2008-09.

The Court is reviewing its options to reduce services to the public, based on these significant budget reductions. We will seek the input from court users prior to making the reductions.

These are very challenging times for the Judicial Branch and the public we serve. We will do our best to mitigate the impacts on the public to the extent possible. We await the May Revise of the Governor’s Proposed FY 2012-13 Budget, based on the outcome of current budget negotiations.  But those who respect the purpose of our courts in society must pay attention to the heartbreak that impends.

Watch Presiding Judge Diana Becton’s State of the Court presentation, expanding on the looming budget cuts and community outreach programs that are in danger of being eliminated in the process:

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