(CN) – California Gov. Jerry Brown released his revised budget Thursday, but any mention of increased funding for California’s court system was notably absent.
The news comes as a huge blow to the courts. Earlier this year, judges and court clerks grappled with Brown’s plans to eliminate fines and fees, on which the courts are increasingly relying to stay open.
Brown’s initial January budget plan proposed doing away with $300 civil assessments, which judges can impose on people who don’t show up in court after being charged with traffic infractions, misdemeanors or felonies.
The governor also wants to repeal the suspension of driver’s licenses of people who don’t pay traffic tickets or other fines. While these penalties are spurned by the Brown administration as unfairly punishing the poor, they generate tens of millions in revenue for courts, cities, counties and special state programs. Brown’s May revision promises no new funding to recoup the loss.
State Department of Finance Director Jay Cohen said Thursday that Brown is interested in keeping the judiciary’s budget at its current level.
“We’re always open to conversations about adding more money, but as the governor said, if you put more money in the courts you’re taking from somewhere else,” Cohen said, quickly pointing out that at least the judiciary won’t see its budget cut this year.
“It’s basically the same budget we saw in January,” he said. “We’ve maintained the status quo for the May revision. There are no cuts proposed for the court system as there are in other areas.”
Brown’s January budget added $35.4 million in new funding to support California’s trial courts. The judiciary’s total budget stands at $3.6 billion.
In a statement, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Brown’s May revision is neither fair nor just.
“Under this proposed budget, trial courts receive a little more than a penny for every general-fund tax dollar, less than what the courts were receiving before the Great Recession. This is neither fair nor just,” she said. “We will continue to press for adequate and stable funding for our court system.”
Cantil-Sakauye’s reaction reflects the central theme of her State of the Judiciary speech in March, where she said the courts cannot fulfill their primary mandate of providing justice without budgetary support.
“We cannot provide the justice that Californians deserve without adequate and stable funding. Inadequate funding and chronic underfunding of the courts is just one way a justice system can become unjust,” she said. “To be sure, a justice system and our checks and balances can fail in the face of fear and prejudice. But they can also fail with lack of funding.”