Court budget falls short, but reaction is muted
Officials say it is still early in the budget process
THE STATE’S COURT SYSTEM did not get a lot of loving in the House budget.
The state’s trial court is asking for what it calls a “maintenance budget” of $589.5 million for the coming fiscal year, an increase of about $28.5 million over the current year’s spending level. The governor, in his budget proposal, offered $577.5 million and the House last week came in at $567.8 million.
Court officials are clearly disappointed, but their response has been muted so far. In a joint statement, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, Trial Court Chief Justice Robert Mulligan, and Court Administrator Harry Spence said the House proposal is “less than what the courts need to continue the modernization process underway.” But the officials said it is still early in the budget process, noting that Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, is going to file amendments to the House budget that would add $21.6 million in funding to the courts. O’Flaherty could not be reached for comment.
A group of judges during budget deliberations a year ago voiced similar concerns about the court’s budget. “We are truly on the brink of a constitutional crisis,” said Paula Carey, chief of the Probate and Family Court.Since July 1, 2007, trial court staffing has fallen from 7,629 to 6,290, a 17.5 percent decline. The clerk offices at 36 courthouses are currently operating on reduced hours because of limited manpower. The court’s maintenance budget proposal would add 160 workers and fully fund collective bargaining agreements with union workers.
Court officials last year were proposing courthouse consolidations, but that talk has subsided for now. “All aspects of courts operations are being discussed as part of the trial court’s strategic planning efforts,” said court spokeswoman Joan Kenney.