ALBANY - With no seat at the negotiating table and no chips to play even if it was involved in budget discussions, the Judiciary enters the annual dance with the executive and legislative branches mainly hoping to avoid stepping on anyone's toes.
So far, so good.
Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday delivered the Judiciary's 2013-14 budget request to the Legislature without revision, as constitutionally required. But perhaps more significantly, the governor gave the Third Branch's no-growth, nearly $2 billion budget request a glowing endorsement.
Cuomo praised Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile), Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for proposing flat budgets to fund their operations in the next year.
"Flat funding is actually very hard to achieve," Cuomo said. "This is a job well done."
Referring specifically to the court's budget, he said it held the line on spending "yet ensures the courts have the resources necessary to uphold their constitutional duty."
"I commend the Judiciary for their continuing efforts to meet the state's fiscal goals by rethinking how the courts do business and for their continuing partnership with the executive branch," he said.
Although the governor must transmit the Judiciary budget unaltered, he can recommend cutbacks, and has done so in the past, and his remarks are viewed by the Office of Court Administration as a barometer of battles it could likely face. But with Cuomo's comments, and prior support from key lawmakers, early signs signal smooth sailing for the Judiciary budget.
Lippman, who two years ago endured withering criticism from the governor and cutbacks resulting in hundreds of layoffs, was elated.
"The commentary demonstrates not only our own efforts to re-engineer and streamline the Judicial Branch of government but also our close and collaborative relationship with the governor and the executive branch," Lippman said. "We feel we are on the same wavelength and doing what is best for the state. We know what it is to be a collaborative branch of government. We recognize that while we are independent, and defend that staunchly, we also recognize that we are interdependent with the other branches. We get it."