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Superior Courts challenge Governor Brown’s proposed budget

Dear Governor Brown:

We, the undersigned courts, have had the opportunity to review your proposed budget for the judicial branch for Fiscal Year 2017-18. We are seriously concerned with the lack of additional funding proposed for trial court operations and our ability to provide adequate access to justice for those in need of California’s court system.

While we understand the reasons stated in your proposed budget for not providing ongoing additional resources to the judicial branch, we wish to inform you and the Legislature about the impact this proposed budget will have not only on the many trial courts throughout the state but, more importantly, on the communities that we serve.  We provide this information to you as a supplement to the information provided to you by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and the Judicial Council of California as we join and support their efforts to seek additional funding for the judicial branch.

Without an increase in funding over last year, this proposed budget will result in a net decrease to our court budgets from this current fiscal year. This is due to, among other things, the rising cost of doing business in California (e.g., utility costs, rents, vendor expenses, employee salaries). It also results from governmental actions such as elimination of Proposition 47 funding, additional workload from voter-approved initiatives such as Propositions 57 and 64, legislative changes such as AB 2839 that considerably increase workload without accompanying offsetting funding and the proposed elimination of a court’s ability to place a hold on a traffic defendant’s driver’s license for failure to pay or appear, the latter of which appears to have the unintended consequence of reducing revenues to the trial courts, counties and the state. In Solano and Contra Costa, two courts that have imposed a moratorium on driver’s license holds, both courts have seen an approximate 25 percent reduction in collections.  To put it simply, as our expenses rise and our external revenues decrease, any annual budget that does not contain an offsetting increase is, in very real terms, a budget cut for the courts and a reduction in access to justice for Californians.

With no additional ongoing funding proposed in the budget for the trial courts, many courts will be required to layoff or furlough staff, reduce hours and/or eliminate programs in order to balance their budgets. Indeed, this has already begun: the Superior Court of Alameda County recently was forced largely to close its doors for a week, and has indefinitely shortened its clerk’s office hours.  Other courts will soon follow suit.

We note that on July 1, 2017, Executive Branch employees will receive a wage increase. Court funding should be adequate to ensure trial courts are able to provide employees equitable pay increases, and the public deserves courts that are appropriately staffed and able to recruit and retain staff to perform the critical functions that we fulfill.  These outcomes will not occur if the budget is adopted as proposed. Currently, there is no funding proposed in your budget for discretionary spending for the trial courts, which means that our courts are unable to provide minimal wage increases or address other cost increases without cutting other important operations.

We respectfully request that the trial courts be treated in an equitable fashion with the Executive Branch and that the trial courts be funded with a modest annual increase.  An increase of $158.5 million –which is the amount requested by the Judicial Council to address baseline cost increases, but which was not included in the Governor’s Budget for next fiscal year – would allow us to keep pace with rising costs of doing business in California and, more importantly, allow courts to preserve the public’s access to justice.

Sincerely,

Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa

Hon. Jill C. Fannin, Presiding Judge, Stephen H. Nash, Court Executive Officer, (plus hundreds of other California Superior Courts, Senators, Assemblymembers and officers)

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