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Will Budget Cuts Finally Hit Palo Alto Courthouse?

Governor Jerry Brown signed the new budget Thursday including additional cuts to the California judiciary.

How will justice be served in California if our courts are not properly funded? While the state government has cut funds in education and public transportation, budget cuts in the court system will create a vulnerable judiciary, court representatives told Palo Alto Patch.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget Thursday which includes an additional $22.8 million cut to the $350 million reduction already made to the state court system. The budget also includes a transfer of $300 million reserved for courthouse construction and renovation to the state’s general fund.

Brown and Democratic legislators developed the new budget, which resolves a $9.6 billion deficit, after their failure to win Republican votes for temporary tax extensions or a public vote on tax extensions.

According to Associated Press, “Brown's finance director, Ana Matosantos, said the administration felt the forecast was reasonable because the state's cash flow was coming in higher than revenue projections, mainly due to gains among upper-income residents. Should the money not materialize, however, the administration made clear that more cuts would be made during the middle of the fiscal year.”

California courts began adjusting to the news of budget cuts but have not yet publicly addressed their financial plan.

“We just received information about the latest budget action this week, Public Information Officer of the Superior Court of Santa Clara County Carl W. Schulhof said. “We have not put out any specific strategies for dealing with these latest cuts.

Despite facing a new strict budget, the court has been successful in managing its funds and will continue to do so through its new plan.

“To this point, we’ve been able to maintain operations without laying anybody off, primarily because we’ve been maintaining a very high vacancy rate in our staffing, we’ve been consistently in about a 15 percent vacancy rate for our court staff for well over a year,” he said. “That’s allowed us those salary savings [and] allowed us to make it to this point.”

However, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recognized immediate concerns about the effect the budget cuts will have on the court system.

"The cumulative impact of the cuts to the courts in the last three years will have the effect of court closures, fewer services to court users, and the specter of more furloughs and layoffs for employees," she said in a statement sent to Patch.

Spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts Philip Carrizosa acknowledged Cantil-Sakauye’s concern about budget cuts and the initial hesitancy of court leaders to justify the spending plan.

“The Chief Justice of California was opposed to the additional $150 million budget cut that was originally opposed by the Democrats and later enacted by the legislature and approved by the governor,” he said. “[Cantil-Sakauye] said [they] would be devastating cuts to the judicial branch.”

Carrizosa added that further legislative action is necessary to resolve the state’s economic shortcoming.

“It is true that California [has] suffered a massive deficit in its budget and the legislature and the governor have done their best to produce a balanced budget,” he said.

The main problem with cutting funds from the court system, Carrizosa said, is the impact it will have on the public.

“We just wish they had not taken out $350 million for the budget for the courts because it’ll affect not only the courts but also the public that uses the courts,” he said.

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