I write this column, we are at what is supposedly the half-way point of the
legislative session. So, where do things
stand for the judicial branch? Frankly,
to borrow a phrase from the great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, when summarizing
the current state of the FY 17 budget discussion: "It's déjà vu all over again!" At least it seems that way.
month I presented the FY 17 judicial branch operating budget request to the
legislature's Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee. Our request for FY 17 is simple,
straightforward, and similar to last year's request. We are asking for $5.6 million additional
funding in order to maintain our current level of service to all Iowans in the
fiscal year beginning July 1.
Specifically, the additional $5.6 million is necessary
to cover both salary annualization—i.e., the cost of salary
increases given during FY 16 along with increases in monthly health insurance
premiums—or salary adjustment funds to cover new salary increases and insurance
premium increases in FY 17.
Additionally, we are requesting a 5% salary increase for judges and
magistrates, totaling $2.3 million.
Judges and magistrates have had only one salary increase since July 1,
Just as this
time a year ago, there
is no agreement between the House, Senate, and Governor on the total size of
the state's FY 17 budget, let alone on how much will be allotted to each of the
joint appropriation subcommittees.
Here's what we do know. The
Governor's proposed FY 17 budget is $7.412 billion, and it includes the entire
amount requested by the judicial branch.
Senate Democrats have set their budget target for FY 17 at $7.408
billion. House Republicans have set
their budget target for FY 17 at $7.320 billion or approximately $88 million
less than the Senate target.
specifically related to the judicial branch budget situation, the Governor's
proposed budget for the entire Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee is
$759.6 million, nearly $17 million above the FY 16 budget. The Senate Democrats have established a
target for our appropriations subcommittee at $757.6 million, or approximately
$15 million above current funding. House Republicans, on the other hand, have
set their target for the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee at
$738.89 million, or approximately $4 million below funding for the current
fiscal year. So, there is a difference
of approximately $19 million between the two targets. The Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee targets include funding
for the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety, the
Attorney General's Office, and the Public Defender's Office in addition to the Iowa
salaries and benefits of judicial branch personnel compose 96% of our operating
budget. We have made great strides in
recent years toward becoming the best court system in the nation. However, should we experience a significant
shortfall in our budget request; it will be very difficult for the judicial
branch to meet our six goals as outlined in Chief Justice Cady's state of the
full-time access to justice
an efficient, full-service court system
faster and less costly resolution of legal disputes
open and transparent
fair and impartial justice for all
next critical date in the process will come on March 16 when the Revenue Estimating
Conference is scheduled to meet to project state revenues for the balance of FY
16 and all of FY 17. We will have a
clearer picture of the situation at that time.
addition to our regular general fund operating budget request, this year the
judicial branch also submitted a capital budget request. This is a request for funding out of the
state's infrastructure budget, and is not part of the state's general
fund. Specifically, we are requesting
infrastructure funding to cover the state's responsibility for the technology,
furniture, fixture and equipment needs of the Polk County Court complex project
currently under construction.
closing, be assured we are doing—and will continue to do—all we can to secure
the necessary funding to provide the services Iowans demand and expect from the
judicial branch. I close where I began,
with another line borrowed from Yogi Berra:
"It ain't over 'til it's over."