California Courts Face Huge Shortfall in Funds

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California trial judges and court officials moved on Tuesday to plug a staggering shortfall in the Trial Court Trust Fund, brought on by inaccurate filing fee revenue projections made by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
     The Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee voted unanimously to request $70 million from the state's general fund to close the gap. By 2014-2015, the fund will be short by $56 million, according to numbers provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts. That shortfall is projected to worsen to $67 million in future years.
     "We had a two-hour meeting with the Legislative Analysts' Office yesterday. They understood it and they're not surprised," said AOC finance director Zlatko Theodorvic. "We're not surprised either. We just now finally, based on the most recent actuals, are able to make a more accurate projection of our 2014-2015 numbers."
     While revenue estimates that go to support trial court operations are projected to decline by $35 million in 2014-2015, a separate problem has contributed to the fund's dwindling balance. The judiciary has been paying court employee pension and health benefits for the last two years out of the Trial Court Trust Fund, which is meant to fund trial court operations rather than employee benefits.
     Theodorovic said those benefits should be paid for by the state general fund. "We took it on the backs of the Trial Court Trust Fund to fund these benefits, which they should fund," he said. "We feel this is the time to make it clear that the state has an obligation to maintain the allocations to the trial courts, so it's not the whims of the revenue coming in and out of the trust fund."
     He noted the future $67 million deficit assumes the judiciary does not make a benefits payment in 2014-2015. Otherwise, he said, the deficit would total $97 million.
     The judiciary's Improvement and Modernization Fund also has an ongoing deficit of $25 million, again mostly due to declining revenues.