|Some counties are pulling out of the local benefit business: San Bernardino: Will start phasing out its benefits package for judges next year. All judges elected or appointed before Jan. 1, 2008, are eligible for benefits totaling approximately $19,700 each for a total annual cost of more than $1.2 million. Riverside: Began phasing out local judicial benefits in 2003. Capped annual health, dental and vision benefit costs then to $600,000 among 47 judges and agreed not to cover new judges. Reduces benefit cap by $12,766 each time a covered judge leaves. Fresno: In 1997, the county agreed to offer health and life insurance only for judges on the bench at that time. Cost in the 2006-07 fiscal year: $14,600. SOURCE: Counties|
It’s a goal fraught with potential trouble for judiciary leaders, however. George has already hit up a wary Legislature for better retirement benefits for newer judges as well as a second round of 50 new judgeships � two initiatives with multimillion-dollar price tags. It’s also unclear whether judges in generous counties will accept being excluded from added state benefits � and keep any complaints under wraps so they can present a unified lobby for improved pensions and new judgeships. But George said he’s confident the judiciary can seek a legislative fix without an internal fight � and without a large bill. “The beauty of this is, much of this we might be able to do within our judicial branch budget,” the chief justice said. “Some of this involves getting authority, not asking for money.” Possible solutions might include increasing access to disability benefits, which may be cheap enough to be funded through existing appropriations, George said. Through Wednesday, though, no bills had been introduced that address county-provided benefits to judges. ONE SENTENCE, MANY MEANINGS Today’s benefits disparity has its roots in California’s budget troubles in the mid-1990s. As a struggling economy sank tax revenues, counties foundered trying to fund basic government services, including court operations. Twice the Legislature had to appropriate emergency funding to keep the doors to some courthouses open. Those economic pressures led the state to take on more responsibilities and costs for public services. Throughout the 1990s, then-state Sens. Bill Lockyer and Phillip Isenberg moved to unify the municipal and superior courthouses while shifting the bulk of the courts’ budget to state control.
|Some California counties provide superior court judges additional benefits beyond what’s provided by the state. A few of the more generous offerings: Los Angeles
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