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SACRAMENTO � Legislative Democrats may trim or even eliminate $1.8 billion in proposed courthouse bonds in favor of funding more politically popular projects, leading lawmakers have suggested in recent days. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger included courthouse construction in the massive 10 year, $222 billion infrastructure spending plan he unveiled this month � a political coup for Chief Justice Ronald George and judicial leaders who lobbied for courts to make the funding list. But after a week of hearings on the governor’s plans, Democratic leaders said the public would rather see money earmarked for courts spent on affordable housing, repairing hospitals or other problem areas not funded in Schwarzenegger’s initiative. “I think it’s safe to say, after watching the hearings, that Dems want to downsize the courts and prison components,” Steven Maviglio, an aide to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu�ez, said Monday. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday that courts don’t rank among Californians’ top priorities. “We know voters have certain preferences,” the Oakland Democrat was quoted as saying. “They don’t like money for jails because they don’t think that’s important in their lives. They’re not very excited about building courthouses because most of them think Judge Judy has a very fine courthouse.” Perata spokeswoman Alicia Dlugosh on Monday confirmed the leader’s published comments. “The tone Don took � was if we are forced to choose between courts [and] jails and repairing our dams and improving our ports, the answer is pretty clear.” The lawmakers’ comments reflect the lack of a sizable constituency for California courts. Schools have millions of students, teachers and parents. Roads have millions of drivers. Millions of people visit California courtrooms every year, but political candidates rarely tailor campaign platforms around courthouse issues. And while the judicial branch frequently lobbies for administrative-type bills, it doesn’t have � and hasn’t needed � the political structure required to sway public opinion enough to affect lawmakers. “I generally refer to issues such as this as infrastructure for the democracy,” state Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, said Monday during a brief hearing on the court construction bond. “This is not as recognizable as issues for the other two branches of government, but it’s critical for democracy’s survival.” Chief Justice George downplayed Perata’s comments as simply reflecting “public perception.” “That doesn’t mean he thinks that, because my conversations with him certainly reveal that he understands the need.” George said the governor approached him at a recent social event and reiterated his belief that courts should receive bond money. And, the chief justice said, his conversations with legislative leaders about bond funding have remained cordial. “There’s nothing personal about anything here,” George said. “Everyone’s trying to meet an almost infinite list of needs with a finite amount of financing.” William Vickrey, administrative director of the courts, said the lawmakers’ remarks reflect polls’ findings that the judiciary is the least understood branch of government. “I think there are strong individuals like Sen. [Martha] Escutia, and Sen. Dunn and Assemblyman [Dave] Jones that will be speaking up for the need to begin making progress in this area.” Dunn on Monday urged the judiciary’s leaders to speak up for themselves. “My plea for everyone is to keep that voice loud.”

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