Last month, the Alliance broke the news that the AOC has revised its revenue predictions downward, and now anticipates a significant shortfall in Trial Court Trust Fund (TCTF) revenues. On March 25, the Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee voted unanimously to request an additional $70 million from the state's general fund to close the gap.
In response to the Alliance report, Justice Miller, Chair of the Executive and Planning Committee, wrote a memo to presiding judges and court executive officers in which he contends that the revenue projections were not “off.” He claims that the new numbers “reflect a five-year downward trend in Trial Court Trust Fund (TCTF) revenues,” a trend that “judicial branch leaders” have been monitoring with the AOC’s Fiscal Services Office since the beginning of the 2008–09 fiscal year. He emphasizes that this $70 million “ongoing deficit” represents approximately 3.3 percent of the Trial Court Trust Fund’s ongoing revenue. You can find the text of his response here. At the March 25 meeting, AOC finance director Zlatko Theodorovic reported that the AOC was “not surprised” by the revenue shortfall. A report of the March 25 meeting of the TCBAC is available at this link.
The AOC may not have been surprised, but we certainly were, and so was the Legislature. If these new figures represent a predictable continuation of a “five-year downward trend in TCTF revenues,” why did the AOC give a revenue projection to the Department of Finance that was off by $70 million before the Governor issued his budget proposal? Why doesn’t the Chief Justice’s three-year budgetary “road map” account for this long-anticipated shortfall?
The fact is that with this $70 million shortfall, and without a bailout from the general fund for court employee benefit payments, the actual demand on the general fund will be $97 million. In other words, the entire $100 million offered by the Governor’s office in the current budget proposal won’t open any courtrooms or hire back any employees. It won’t restore anything. The money’s already gone.
You can read an article by Courthouse News’s Maria Dinzeo on the shortfall and Justice’s Miller’s response here.
The political task to achieve needed funding is daunting. The unexpected shortfall makes it even harder. On one point, the Alliance agrees with Justice Miller: “The projected reduction in revenues,” he wrote, “represents a challenge for the branch.”
That’s putting it mildly.
Directors, Alliance of California Judges