Even the father of the state trial court funding system isn’t sure what to do about the judiciary’s budget woes.
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, whose name adorns the 1997 bill that shifted court financing from the counties to the state, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the only fix to massive budget cuts over the last five years is “just more general fund money.”
“When you have a $3 billion system and you pull $1 billion-plus out of it, it’s not done without enormous pain,” Lockyer said.
The former Senate president pro tempore led off a marathon hearing about the troubles courts and court users are facing because of staff layoffs and courtroom closures. And he readily admitted he had no magic cures in mind.
“It’s just the process of negotiating as hard as you can to get a fair share” in the budget, he said. “I don’t think there’s any other answer.”
Asked if shifting more budgeting control to local courts would help, Lockyer said that would be “bad policy mostly because they’re bad budgeters.”
“If people really want their way, to have a court responsible for their budget … then give it all back,” Lockyer said. “Say ‘Fine. The state’s out of the business. We’re realigning similar to some of the changes made to the criminal justice system. Fine, you get it all back. Local property taxpayers get to pick up 100 percent. Have a good time.’ … That would be a mistake for you to make.”
Lockyer’s testimony followed the release Monday of an Assembly Judiciary Committee report that suggested the branch had made deep cuts to front-line services that hurt court users even though many of the reductions had been offset by money shifted from other sources.
Retired Judge Steven Jahr, administrative director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, conceded that the cutbacks could have been worse but argued that trial courts will still have to absorb $475 million in budget hits. And with certain line items like trial costs and judges’ salaries protected by law, court leaders have little choice but to reduce services that hurt the neediest users, he said.
Some cuts, he said, “we simply can’t say no” to.