Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles
Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles ()

SACRAMENTO — Over the objections of the governor’s office, an Assembly subcommittee on Wednesday voted unanimously to bump the judiciary budget by $262.1 million in the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year.

The recommendation would add $157 million—all of it for California’s 58 trial courts—to the $105 million Gov. Jerry Brown already proposed to supplement the judicial budget with in his January spending plan.

The surprise vote by the three Democrats and one Republican was not foreshadowed on the subcommittee’s agenda, which simply listed a discussion of judicial branch funding issues. The meeting was dominated by a long line of trial court presiding judges, who individually thanked the Assembly members for signing on to a letter delivered to the governor Monday pleading for more court funding.

Unexpectedly, Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, made a motion to give the courts another $262 million—with a familiar caveat. None of the money could be spent, he said, on statewide computer projects, a nod to the Court Case Management System, the dismantled judiciary IT project that has become synonymous with expensive, failed IT projects in the state. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, said he also wanted “performance” language added into the budget to measure how efficiently courts spent their funding.

Madelynn McClain, a budget analyst with the governor’s Department of Finance, quickly objected, arguing that Brown’s $105 million proposal was more sustainable “given that the state is just emerging from a recession.” But the subcommittee moved to a vote without any more discussion.

“We appreciate the budget subcommittee’s support for the chief justice’s request to reinvest in the judicial branch,” Justice Douglas Miller, who chairs the Judicial Council’s executive planning committee, said after the vote. “It’s an encouraging step.”

The court funding issue will eventually go to a legislative conference committee with the Senate, which is expected to be just as supportive of providing additional dollars for the branch. The final decision on any extra funding, however, will be hammered out in closed-door negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor. And Brown has been adamant that the state must curtail new spending and add to its reserves.

The $262.1 million appears to be a figure derived from the $266 million that Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said would be needed in 2014-15 to maintain existing levels of court services. Budget watchers say they believe lawmakers subtracted costs for increased rents and personnel costs in the appellate courts and at the Administrative Office of the Courts—never as politically popular as the trial courts—to reach the $262.1 million figure.

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