Judiciary's Request for Increase in Funds Receives Early Support
ALBANY - The judiciary's quest for its first budget hike in more than five years has elicited, if not an outright endorsement, at least empathy and preliminary support from two key lawmakers and other important constituencies.
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, the longtime chairwoman of the lower chamber's Judiciary Committee, said that even with the requested 2.5 percent increase the court system wouldn't have enough money to do all that it should.
"The need is greater than the budget they submitted," Weinstein said in an interview Monday, three days after receiving the Judiciary budget proposal. "The impact of the cuts the courts have suffered in the past and the impact that it has had in the delivery of judicial services certainly makes the case for an increase."
But Weinstein said it is too early in the process to predict how the budget request will fare.
"We have to wait for the governor's budget to see what happens with the agencies and what the state's fiscal situation looks like," Weinstein said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, said the Judiciary's request for a spending increase comes as no surprise after years of no-growth budgets. However, he stopped short of endorsing the Judiciary's $1.81 billion proposal and suggested it will be carefully scrutinized by the Legislature.
"The courts have done a solid job managing their much smaller resources over the past several years," Bonacic said. "I think anytime you propose more than a 2 percent spending increase there will be some questions by the Legislature—and this slightly exceeds that percentage. I'm sure that will be focused on during the budget hearings. However, given the substantial reductions the courts have lived with, the need to make this budget request does not surprise me."
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti (See Profile) on Friday unveiled a proposed spending plan they said is necessary to sustain court operations (NYLJ, Dec. 2).
The budget, which Prudenti described as a "road to recovery" plan to end several years of backsliding and begin moving forward, would add $15 million in funding for civil legal services while allowing the Judiciary to fill some critical positions that went unfilled during a lengthy hiring freeze.
It would also allow the courts, which were shutting down at 4:30 p.m. to ensure that employees are out the door by 5 p.m. and not accumulating overtime, to remain open until 5 p.m.