Worry for California Courts|as Legislature Passes Budget

     (CN) – The $156 billion budget California lawmakers passed Sunday gave a $40 million boost to courthouse construction, but fell far short of the $266 million the judiciary hoped to raise for the trial courts this year.
     Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye unveiled in January a “budget blueprint” for the courts that set a $1.2 billion funding goal over the next three years, with $266 million more needed this year just to stay afloat.
     “We are nowhere near adequate funding of the [justice] system and nowhere even their own treading water mark, and that’s unfortunate,” Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, said on Sunday. “This budget simply does not focus on the priorities that Californians have set.”
     Assembly budget chair Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also said found the insufficient boost to court funding but highlighted the “meaningful expenditures that will touch the lives of each and every Californian.”
     “I’m confident we have laid the framework for continued and progressive investment into the future,” Skinner added.
     High-speed rail and preschool education won out, with $250 million in carbon offset revenues allocated to the giant transportation project and $264 million going to expand children’s programs, such as 11,500 preschool slots for low-income 4 year-olds.
     Budget conference meetings preceding the final vote on the budget, passed just six hours before the midnight deadline Sunday, revealed a compromise that stuck with the $160 million Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in May, plus $40 million for courthouse construction projects.
     Lawmakers on both sides were disappointed, but resigned.
     “This is more than where we were before,” Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, said, but added, “I am sorry we couldn’t do some of the other court augmentations.”
     A visibly annoyed Gorell also said noted that the “significant access problem in our local courts” deserves priority.
     “I’m going to support it because of the construction funding but there is a dire need to get more operational money in the courts,” he added.
     Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, blamed the small augmentation to the judiciary’s budget on Gov. Brown’s budget proposal, which limited spending on programs to $500 million.
     “I think we’re all disappointed in how much we’re able to invest in our courts,” Weber said. “Many of us thought that the governor’s concept was prudent and wise. We’ve been limited to $500 million to spend on programs. The needs are much greater than what we’ve been given as a budget to expend.”

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