Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, California Supreme Court
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, California Supreme Court (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

SACRAMENTO — A bipartisan group of state legislators has asked Gov. Jerry Brown to restore “adequate funding” to California’s courts in his revised budget, which is scheduled to be released next week.

In separate letters, expected to be delivered to Brown’s office on Monday, senators and Assembly members request that the governor go beyond the $100 million budget boost he included for the courts in his original January spending plan.

The Assembly letter seeks an additional $236 million, which would give the judiciary enough to keep court operations at their current levels and to cover an anticipated $70 million shortfall in fee revenues. Senators did not ask for a specific amount, just enough to restore “adequate funding” to the branch.

“We recognize that a fair and independent judicial branch is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said a letter signed by 35 of the 40 senators. “Absent sufficient funding, the courts will be further crippled and unable to fulfill their obligations to the people of the state of California.”

Lawmakers’ pleas for additional court funding come as the governor preaches a message of spending prudence and the need to set aside surplus money to pay off debt and build a so-called rainy day fund. In a rare appearance before a legislative budget committee last week, Brown endorsed a November ballot initiative proposal to mandate a state reserve, saying it provided “a great opportunity to exercise restraint on an ongoing basis.”

Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer declined to comment specifically on the letters or the upcoming May revision release. He acknowledged that the judiciary has been hard hit by years of general fund cuts and internal fund borrowing.

“But unlike most other budgets that took General Fund reductions during that period, we were able to mitigate the General Fund reductions to the judiciary through a combination of offsets—such as special fund transfers, fee increases, and use of reserves—to keep the judiciary’s operating budget at a fairly stable level,” Palmer said.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in January released a three-year budget blueprint that called for an additional $612 million in funding in the next fiscal year to start rebuilding “a fully functioning” judicial branch. In recent months, Judicial Council members, Administrative Office of the Courts lobbyists and judges have pressed lawmakers individually for additional money to reopen closed courthouses and end trial court employee layoffs, noting the local impacts of judicial branch cuts.

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.