The next round of state budget cuts could touch some agencies with which Texas lawyers frequently interact.
On June 4, the Legislative Budget Board and Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy issued a memorandum instructing state agencies to submit appropriations requests proposing cuts to 10 percent of their 2014 to 2015 budgets. Among the entities that must propose cuts this August are:
• the Texas Supreme Court;
• the Court of Criminal Appeals;
• the 14 intermediate appellate courts;
• the Office of Court Administration (OCA);
• the Texas Judicial Council;
• the State Commission on Judicial Conduct; and
• the Texas Office of the Attorney General.
“Right now, the 10 percent cut has been thrown down, and we’ll look at it as we have in the past. . . . But about 90 percent of this agency’s budget is staff. Any time you look at 10 percent, you have to look at staff,” says Texas Supreme Court spokesman Osler McCarthy. He notes that “in theory,” cutting staff could impact how quickly the court issues opinions.
Because the judiciary’s budget was slashed last biennium and was cut by the 82nd Texas Legislative for the 2012 to 2013 budget, any further cuts would be difficult, says OCA administrative director David Slayton.
“We’re left with bare bones everywhere. Any additional 10 percent cut would certainly have a dramatic impact on our ability to carry out our functions,” he says.
Slayton explains that, like the Supreme Court, the budgets of the Court of Criminal Appeals and the 14 intermediate appellate courts mostly go for staff positions. Cutting staff could have a direct impact on “critical functions” like “moving cases,” and if the OCA’s budget decreased by 10 percent, the office couldn’t continue to provide the same level of support for the courts.
In an email, Lauren Bean, deputy communications director at the AG’s Office, writes, “We are currently reviewing our options and will submit a budget that is consistent with the Legislature’s instructions, but that also ensures we can continue recovering fraudulent Medicaid payments, providing legal representation for the State, and protecting Texas children from sexual predators.”
Seana Willing, the judicial conduct commission’s executive director, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.