The Impact of Sandy
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee , said the no-growth budget appropriately takes into consideration the state's fiscal situation, made all the more precarious by unanticipated and mounting costs related to Hurricane Sandy. Weinstein, a longtime advocate for indigent legal services, said Sandy will inevitably result in substantial legal needs for the most susceptible citizens.
"The timing couldn't be more useful," Weinstein said. "A lot of people, because of the economy, are unable to afford counsel, and here in the city and on Long Island a lot of legal issues have arisen [as a result of the storm]," Weinstein said.
Weinstein said it is too early, especially because of Sandy and the unclear impact it will have on the overall state budget, to predict how the proposal will fare when it is reviewed in the context of the executive budget the governor will present in January. However, she said the Judiciary budget seemingly balances the Third Branch's responsibilities and needs with the fiscal realities facing the state.
"Clearly, the court system has suffered layoffs and cutbacks and obviously if we had a different economic climate and we could bring back some of those positions, especially in family court, it would be ideal," Weinstein said. "The budget presented is one that recognizes the fiscal situation the state is in. It shows a lot of fiscal restraint."
Senator John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee in the upper chamber, praised Lippman and Prudenti for submitting a budget that actually decreases the state's tax-funded obligation.
"During the past two years, the Judiciary has done solid work in terms of expanding e-filing, something I want to build on, and has also absorbed the costs of the judicial raises while streamlining operations," Bonacic said. "I look forward to seeing the budget enacted with appropriate support for the judges' goals of enhancing funding for legal services."
There was no immediate reaction from the governor's office.
Milton Williams Jr., chairman of the board of Modern Courts, said in a press release that the budget recognizes the fiscal times yet still ensures "a robust judiciary." He called on the Legislature to enact the Judiciary budget without changes.
"It cannot be emphasized enough that any erosion of the court system will be detrimental to the economic health of our state," Williams said.
Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, said Sandy has already greatly expanded the need for civil legal services.