No Relief for California Courts in May Revise

     (CN) – Despite optimism from California’s chief justice and the leader of the State Assembly that Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget will restore some funding to the courts, Brown said no new money will be heading the judiciary’s way this year.
     “The judiciary is getting the same amount of money they had the year before, ” Brown said at a press conference Tuesday.
     This year’s proposed budget reveals an ongoing, permanent $535 million cut to the judicial branch, with $475 million of that cut to be borne by the trial courts.
     The May revised budget for fiscal year 2013-14 didn’t propose any new cuts to the judiciary, but it also didn’t add any new money. Brown’s budget unveil comes after days of preceding speculation that some money would be restored to the state judiciary that has been shuttering courthouses and laying off employees up and down the state.
     Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye expressed her disappointment in a statement shortly after the budget release. “Given the state’s current fiscal condition, I had hoped for more effort to help stop the downward spiral of the judicial branch budget,” she said. “Courts across the state are already closing courthouses, courtrooms, and reducing the hours they serve the public. We need adequate, ongoing funding for the courts that will permit us to reverse the damage caused by five years of budget cuts.”
     Last week, Assembly Speaker John Perez called for protecting court funding in what he termed a “budget blueprint” for California. “We want to make sure we improve access to courts. We believe that we can avoid the worst in court closures that would limit court access. We believe we could restore funding to the courts but we also think that has to come with strict accountability reporting requirements to ensure that the courts allocate the resources in accordance with the appropriations we make.”
     On Tuesday, Brown recognized growing support in the legislature for a better-funded judiciary, saying, “The Speaker has spoken about giving more money and I’m sure there will be a lot of give and take as we go through the process.”
     But he quickly qualified, “What I’m saying is they are getting level funding, so obviously their costs are going up and they have to figure out ways to control it. All these institutions, courts, universities, hospitals- huge costs and everybody has to get used to managing it. Because we’ve been used to this overcommitment. I’m trying to find a balance between spending and holding the line.”
     He later added that state-funded agencies and programs shouldn’t expect more money out of Sacramento. “Everybody wants to see more spending. That’s what this place is- a big spending machine. You need something, you come here and see if you can get it. But I’m the backstop at the end and I’m going to keep this budget balanced.”
     In her statement, Cantil-Sakauye remained hopeful that Perez’s blueprint will prevail in the series of legislative budget hearings to be held in the coming weeks before the legislature’s June 15 deadline to pass the budget.
     “We needed critical support a year ago from the other two branches and now the need for justice is urgent. I am heartened by Speaker Perez’s comments last week about the need to begin reinvesting in the courts. I am optimistic that the Legislature and the governor can work toward reversing some of the adverse impacts on access to justice before a budget bill is passed and signed.”

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