Three days into the simultaneous conventions of the State Bar and the California Judges Association, the leaders of both groups – plus the visiting chief justice – have synched their talking points.
Their message to Long Beach convention-goers has been clear: The courts’ financial situation is horrible. Next year will be worse unless the governor and lawmakers restore some money. The judicial branch taking an unfair share of state reductions. The branch is not like the DMV or another state agency. It deserves a guaranteed funding source to avoid the annual budget battles.
Such a measure “would embed into our state constitution a mandatory indexing formula designed to fundamentally change how the justice system is funded,” new State Bar President Jon Streeter said.
"We need a new funding mechanism," added David Rubin, the newly minted president of the California Judges Association.
No one was offering specifics. Like who would pony up for an initiative campaign. Or why voters, who have historically ranked courts right down there with prisons in funding importance, would give the judiciary special treatment.
“We feel that the gravity of the problems of the judicial branch is not fully understood,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
Returning the branch’s good friend SAL would help a lot, too, she added. SAL, or state appropriations limit, was an automatic growth factor that boosted trial courts'funding annually without a demonstrated need. From 2000 to 2006 that factor averaged 5.3 percent – a tidy sum that added tens of millions annually. But when the budget crisis hit in 2009, the Legislature revoked the courts’ SAL.
Restoring SAL would be an impressive feat, especially with the governor signaling that the budget is likely to include more spending cuts next year. But Cantil-Sakauye didn’t appear fazed Saturday when she referenced her past as a blackjack dealer in preparing for the fight ahead.
“I always note the wager,” she said, “but I wait and watch for the tell.”.