SACRAMENTO -- After years of budget bloodletting, California's courts received a $160 million bump in funding in Gov. Jerry Brown's new budget plan -- although with some strings attached and a stern warning that the state's judicial leaders need to do more to tighten spending.
The governor's revised budget includes $60 million more than he proposed in January, tying the increase to a two-year plan for the massive California court system that calls for several reforms, including extracting more contributions from court employees for pension costs.
The overall court budget of about $3.6 billion covers everything from the state's 58 trial courts, which compose most of the spending, to the California Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts, the judiciary's much-maligned bureaucracy.
In a statement, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has been highly critical of the $1 billion lost in court funding over the past six years, called Brown's most recent budget "encouraging," although she indicated the courts need more money restored to provide adequate services.
The chief justice had backing from state legislators, who recently proposed restoring more than $200 million in court funding in the upcoming budget year. Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and the judiciary committee chairman, said Brown's courts budget is still "far short" of the hundreds of millions of dollars it needs to handle its caseloads and keep courthouses open and running.
Brown, however, cautioned judicial leaders: "You can't just say we need more money or we shut" courthouses.
The budget news is still better than last year, when the governor required the trial courts to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from reserve funds to help cover budget cuts. And the court system has stabilized from past cuts, which at one point forced judicial leaders to take the controversial step of closing courthouses certain days to save money for the first time in California history.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz