More Cuts to Courts Under Proposed Budget

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – California’s trial courts, already beleaguered by a permanent $350 million cut in 2011, face another $125 million in cuts if voters fail to approve tax increases in November, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-2013 budget.
     Brown’s proposed budget, released Thursday, provides the state judicial system with $8.5 billion. The Trial Court Trust Fund will be increased by $50 million, paid for by an increase in civil court user fees.
     The courts’ General Fund budget has been reduced by 21 percent since 2008.
     Under the proposed budget, court security would be slashed by nearly $83 million and court-appointed counsel for juvenile dependency cases by $4 million.
     The budgets of many judicial branch programs would remain unchanged, however, and some will see modest increases from 2011-2012 levels.
     The real impact of last year’s $350 million cut has not been felt yet, since the Judicial Council has not determined how to allocate the cuts.
     While superior courts have reduced expenditures by $500 million since 2010-2011, if Brown’s proposed tax increases are not approved, the trigger cuts are the equivalent of court closures equal to 3 days per month.
     “We can’t spend what we don’t have,” Brown said in a press conference. “It’s not nice, we don’t like it, but the economy and the tax statutes of California make just so much money available.
     “We have to make hard decisions.”
     The California Court Case Management System (CCMS), a $1.9 billion attempt to modernize and consolidate the superior court database that could cost $3 billion by the time it’s rolled out in 2015, is listed in the budget as “being re-evaluated.” No estimates for its budget were made available.
     The CCMS program’s original price tag was listed $260 million, in 2004.
     Brown’s proposed budget includes big cuts to welfare programs and prisons.
     Education was largely spared the hatchet – for now. While proposed funding for education is the same as last year, schools will have to dig into dwindling reserves or borrow more money to keep programs intact. And trigger cuts will be deep for both K-12 and the state’s university system if voters fail to back Brown’s tax increases.
     The tax increases – a 0.5 percent sales tax increase and what Brown calls a “millionaire tax” but which will apply to single filers who make more than $250,000 a year – will go to the voters in November, thereby avoiding a showdown with Republicans in the Legislature over tax increases.
     The tax increases would raise an estimated $6.9 billion, leaving a deficit of more than $2 billion.
     Brown’s budget will get a revision in May.
     The Legislature must approve a final budget by July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

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