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SACRAMENTO � As the governor prepares to release new budget figures Friday, judicial leaders are pushing for more control of the judiciary’s share of revenues. Court administrators have asked � with the governor’s blessing so far � to extend a controversial spending formula to the entire judiciary, a broad budget category that includes the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, the Judicial Council and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center. The change would give the judiciary more money in good economic times and more freedom from the governor and Legislature, who now hold the branch’s purse strings. But the concept doesn’t sit well with some lawmakers � and court-employee unions � who see the judicial bureaucracy as bloated and secretive. “It would be very hard to justify more growth in that part of the budget,” said Michelle Castro, a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union. At issue is the state appropriations limit, better known as the SAL, a formula based on increases in population, inflation and per-capita income. Since last year, the trial courts’ budget has been tied to the SAL, which has grown by an average of 5.3 percent over the last five years. Now court leaders want the rest of the judiciary budget tied to the coveted SAL as well. “Fundamentally the issue of having the judicial budget adjusted by SAL is to ensure that the judicial branch has the necessary independence,” said Kate Howard, director of the Judicial Council’s Office of Governmental Affairs. If successful, officials hope to spend the extra budget money on some or all of three items: statutorily required raises for judges; a hike in judges’ base pay and the addition of a small number of judgeships each year � beyond the 150 new judges the Administrative Office of the Courts hopes to see placed over the next three years. But if the Legislature has no oversight of the judiciary’s budget, labor unions say they fear the money will go to administration, not courtrooms. The AOC had 490 employees two years ago and now has approximately 800, Castro said. “There’s no other government agency that has grown that fast,” she said. Howard doesn’t dispute the numbers but said most of the new employees were added to handle the workload associated with taking control of the trial courts from California’s counties. Some are negotiating facility transfers while others are doing work once performed by county employees, from accounting to computer maintenance, she said. The Legislative Analyst’s Office in a February report also criticized the proposed SAL extension as a bad fiscal policy that “will likely lead to overfunding of the courts.” The judiciary budget has yet to clear two mark-up subcommittees, where court officials have faced tough questioning from lawmakers about their spending plans. Partly in response to those concerns, the AOC recently dropped this year’s request for $12.3 million to beef up its information technology division. Howard said the funding delay was not significant since new computer systems are being deployed “over a number of years.” Despite that setback, Howard said officials are hopeful the governor’s revamped budget will include money to hire interpreters in civil cases and to expand self-help services for low-income court users. The two programs are part of the chief justice’s platform calling for greater public access to the justice system.

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