ALBANY - The judiciary on Nov. 30 submitted a do-more-with-less budget request of nearly $2 billion that increases aid for civil legal services by $15 million, provides $10.9 million in additional support for indigent criminal defense caseload caps, includes $8.2 million in funding for the second phase of judicial pay raises and still manages to cut state operational expensesthe portion covered by state tax dollarsby $212,013.
Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti said cost efficiencies resulting from expanded e-filing, continued constraints on hiring, restrictions on overtime, increased use of online rather than printed materials and general belt-tightening helped offset the investment in civil and criminal legal services as well as the expenses of mandatory pay increments for non-judicial employees and a raise of about 4.3 percent for judges.
Although the total budget would increase about 3.9 percent, the state-funded operational budget would decrease .012 percent. In general, the 187-page spending proposal is largely a status quo proposal, reflecting what the judiciary says is a new way of thinking in light of several years of strict constraints.
"It is a zero-growth budget," Prudenti said in an interview. "It is a delicate balance between the judiciary's obligation, which I feel very strongly about, to provide the judicial and non-judicial staff with what they need to fulfill their mission, and also at the same time being sensitive to the need to be a responsible partner in government."
There are no new capital projects, although the budget would re-appropriate $51 million from the 2007-08 budget for a court officer training academy in Brooklyn. Courts will generally continue to close down at 4:30 p.m. to avoid overtime expenses, judicial hearing officers will be scaled back to support mainly Family Court operations and only critical positions will be re-filled as employees retire or leave the court system, Prudenti said.
"I have had to come up with many, many, many cost-saving measures," Prudenti said. "We are continuing to fill only the most critical positions where they are most needed, in the trial courts. We are not filling any positions at the Office of Court Administration and we will be taking a careful look on a weekly and monthly basis of how many people are leaving the court system and carefully filling only essential positions."
The budget presented to Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders Friday and posted to the OCA website (http://www.courts.state.ny.us/admin/financialops/Budgets.shtml) includes $18 million to cover incremental pay raises to which non-judicial employees are entitled under the Taylor Law, even though contracts with the 12 unions representing those workers have expired.
It also includes funding for the second phase of a three-year judicial pay boost. Last year, after 13 years without a raise, judicial salaries were increased about 17 percent. Unless the Legislature rescinds the second year of the pay hike, judges will receive raises of about 4.3 percent when the state fiscal year begins on April 1.
Prudenti said the budget is designed to constrain spending while providing resources necessary for the day-to-day operation of the courts and substantially advancing one of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's major priorities: support for civil legal services.
This year, Lippman was able to double the amount provided to civil legal service providers, from $12 million to $25 million. Next year, he would increase that by 60 percent, to $40 million.