The governator and the chief justice in a file photo ... ah, better days …
If court leaders were looking for the Legislature to save them from the governor’s proposed $168 million budget cut, those hopes were dashed late Wednesday.
The joint budget conference committee OK’d the cut without much discussion. But committee members held off on approving judicial leaders’ plans to close all state courthouses once a month. Lawmakers said they wanted to chew on specific ideas for whacking $168 million from the courts’ budget a little longer.
Perhaps in an effort to be helpful — or perhaps displeased with proposed monthly worker furloughs — a group of labor groups has offered its own cost-cutting and revenue-generating suggestions. Among them:
- Raise civil filing fees by an unspecified amount
- Add a surcharge to existing security fees
- Snag $50 million from the new courthouse construction fund
- Drain $181 million from money saved up for a new case management system
- Cut the salaries of Administrative Office of the Courts’ employees by 10 percent.
We haven’t heard what the AOC’s reaction is to these ideas, but we can guess.
Also on Wednesday, the conference committee chairwoman, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, warned court officials and sheriffs’ representatives to come up with some court security cost-cutting agreements quickly — or else.
“I’m getting to the point where I’m ready to take some drastic action,” Evans said, noting that negotiations between the two sides have not been going well.
Skyrocketing security costs have been a sore spot among court leaders for years. State law requires courts to contract with sheriffs for security, which means courts are generally stuck paying deputies’ salaries and benefits, and those costs are set by county supervisors.
Lawmakers have rebuffed any attempt to introduce competitive bidding for court security. It’s hard to see that changing, but Evans repeatedly said she was “frustrated” that the court leaders and sheriffs couldn’t agree on cost-containing measures.
The committee on Wednesday also rejected the governor’s plan to introduce electronic court reporting in California courthouses. Evans, a civil litigator, said the plan really wouldn’t save any money in the long-run.
“I don’t see it and I don’t buy it, having done this for many years professionally,” she said. “It doesn’t work. I guarantee it.”
— Cheryl Miller
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