Florida’s courts hammered yet again with budget shortfall

Sep 29, 2011

The following article was published in The Florida Current on September 29, 2011:

Florida courts hammered yet again with budget shortfall

By Christine Jordan Sexton

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady has warned Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders that the state’s court system is once again running short of money.

Canady this week asked that state leaders give the court system a $45.6 million infusion of cash to ensure that the state’s court system has enough funding to cover expenses until at least March, when the 2012 session is expected to be done.

He noted in his letters to Scott and the House and Senate budget chiefs that he told them in July that such an accommodation  might be needed.

The problem is that court filing fees, which are used to help bankroll the court system, continue to come in much lower than anticipated  because foreclosure filings have slowed. New estimates show that the court’s main trust fund will leave the court system with $108 million less than the amount budgeted for the current fiscal year.

It marks the second time this year that a drop in filing fees has caused a court system budget crunch.

In the previous case, the court system avoided a shutdown only when Scott agreed to an emergency funding request. In April Scott said he wanted to create a more stable funding source for courts.

“We’ve got to get a better handle on having a more logical way and permanent way to fund our courts,” Scott said at the time.

One idea that quickly emerged in the spring came from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who recommended that the state dedicate 2.5 percent of general revenue — which comes primarily from sales taxes — to the court system. His fellow legislators did not agree.

Canady said in his letters this week that he hopes to work with legislative leaders and the governor to “stabilize court funding” to avoid such transfers in the future.

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