March 18, 2015

Budget Hearings: Judiciary Needs $30 Million Increase To Keep Up With Basic Costs

Justices from the PA Supreme Court told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday  medical benefits, pension costs, mandated cost of living increases and the continuing structural deficit mean the Judiciary needs a $30 million increase in its budget just to keep up with its basic costs.
If the Judiciary receives the zero increase budget proposed by Gov. Wolf, Justice  J. Michael Eakin said the Court System would not be able to make payroll for about 10 percent of its personnel complement of 3,000.  Funding at this level would cause significant delays in cases dispose or lead to courthouses closing their doors, he said.
Even if courthouse doors closed, Justice Max Baer added, the state wouldn't see savings since the Judiciary is statutorily forbidden from reducing judges' salaries or benefits, “which we would pay when they stay home.”
Last year the General Assembly imposed a “temporary” $11 increase on filings and citations, but not traffic citations, to provide the courts with new revenue, but those new fees are not bringing in the revenue projected.   The fee is heavily dependent on the House market, but a spokesperson for the Courts said Recorder of Deeds filling are down noticeably.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he hoped the Courts are not looking to increased fines and penalties, like Ferguson, MO to finance the courts.
The Justices agreed that would not be appropriate.
Prior to the budget hearings, the Court System released these 10 facts to know about the Judiciary's budget--
-- One-half of 1 percent of the state budget is received by the Judiciary;
-- The Judiciary has reduced its costs by $58 million over the last 7 years;
-- The Judiciary is supported by 5 funding sources: $347.4 million in state tax funds, $59 million from the Judicial Computer System fee, $50.5 million from filing and citation fees, $2.5 million from appellate filing fees and $1.4 million in federal funds;
-- Factors in rising costs: 62 percent increase in pension and healthcare costs, 9 percent in filling judicial vacancies, 8 percent mandatory salary increases, 8 percent merit increases and COLAs, 7 percent in staff vacancies and 6 percent other;
-- The Judiciary collects 33 percent more in fines, fees and restitution than in its budget;
-- Spending: 85.7 percent in salaries and benefits, 10.2 percent in county grants, 4 percent operating costs and .1 percent in fixed assets;
-- There has been a 23 percent increase in online payment of fines and restitution as a result of the PAePay system;
-- There has been a 38 percent increase in children who are safely remaining at home or placed more often with family members;
-- There has been a 19 percent reduction in the civil case inventory; and
-- In FY 2014-15 the Judicial System opened its 100th problem-solving court.
A copy of Chief Justice Thomas Saylor’s written testimony is available online.  For more information, visit the PA Courts Budget webpage.
Written testimony and a video of each House hearing will be posted on the Republican House Appropriations Committee webpage.  Information about Senate budget hearings are posted on the Senate Republican Caucus website.