Cuomo: Court's Budget 'Out of Step' With State's Goals
ALBANY - The judiciary's effort to begin the road to financial recovery after several years of belt tightening hit a pothole Tuesday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the court system's request for a budget hike is out of line.
Cuomo, as constitutionally required, submitted the Judiciary's unaltered budget proposal to the Legislature along with his own executive budget.
But in his commentary, the governor noted that the spending proposal, representing what he described as a 2.7 percent hike and the Judiciary portrays as a 2.5 percent increase, is at odds with his goal of keeping overall state spending to 2 percent or less.
Although Cuomo did not mention the Judiciary in his oral presentation, nestled into the budget documents was a short criticism of the spending plan put forth by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti. Cuomo said in the budget document that the court system proposal "is out of step with our fiscally responsible goal for all of New York State government" and urged the Legislature to keep any increase "at or below 2 percent…so that it is in line with the rest of State spending."
Cuomo also stressed that over the past three years the political branches have kept their spending increases below 2 percent. But he did not mention the fact that while his administration and the Legislature saw meager increases in recent years, the Judiciary dealt with flat, zero-growth budgets.
The governor's remarks are by no means dispositive as the final budget, including the Judiciary portion, is a product of lengthy negotiation between the executive and legislative branches.
But the annual commentary is viewed as an indicator of how much of a fight the court system can expect as it lobbies for funding. With this year's criticism, it appears the Judiciary is in for a fight—and how much of a fight may become evident Feb. 5 when Prudenti appears before the Legislature to defend the proposal.
Prudenti on Tuesday said the court system's budget is fully defensible, and suggested she intends to make a strong case for the plan when she testifies before the Legislature in two weeks.
"We have worked diligently to submit a fiscally responsible budget, as close to a 2 percent increase as possible," Prudenti said. "As the chief judge always reminds us, the courts are the emergency room for the people of the state of New York in the most difficult times of their lives. We need to keep the courthouses open for them and in order to do so we have submitted what we believe is a reasonable budget."
Lippman and Prudenti have portrayed the 2014-15 budget proposal as one that seeks to end several years of backsliding and begins the process of shoring up a court system that has weathered difficult years, with numerous cutbacks ranging from layoffs to closing courts at 4:30 p.m. to make sure unionized employees are out the door by 5 p.m. and not collecting overtime.