Court Funding & Budget
The need for sufficient and stable funding of Florida’s courts is a constant one, but in recent years this need has become even more pressing. In its budget request for fiscal year 2013-14, the court system is asking the Legislature to invest in existing judicial branch resources – particularly court personnel and property.
Judges and court staff are committed to using resources as efficiently as possible and are always seeking innovative ways to use technology and take other steps that result in greater efficiency and enhanced performance.
That’s not to say court funding is about judges or courtrooms. Because it’s not. A clear view of court funding focuses on the individuals, families, and businesses who need the courts to achieve justice and resolve disputes. Florida’s state courts must be there to meet those needs when families and businesses come through the courthouse doors – as hundreds of thousands do every year.
Cuts in State Court Staffing Sustained net reductions since FY 2007/08: 246 positions.
Florida’s state courts are called upon to fairly and efficiently resolve cases that are important to individuals, families, businesses, and to our economy as a whole. Reductions in court staff affect the court system’s ability to process cases in a timely manner.
Florida’s court system receives less than 1% of the state’s total budget. But the recession that gripped the United States still forced significant cuts in court budgets and staff positions - even as Florida’s citizens and businesses turned to the courts in greater numbers.
Florida’s Court System Participated in the State’s Spending Reductions
A few years ago, the courts worked with the Legislature to avoid further cuts and a dedicated funding source was put into place, with revenue from court filing fees flowing into the State Courts Revenue Fund. However, heavy reliance on foreclosure filing fees as the principal source of revenue for the trust fund made the judicial branch budget susceptible to volatility beyond its control.
Some context: Florida’s courts typically generate more than $1 billion a year, which is enough to support court operations–if the revenue was spent that way. But a significant portion is spent on non-court programs and services. In order to stabilize funding for the court system, a workgroup of judges and clerks of court recommended changing the distribution of this $1 billion to pay first for the operation of the courts and clerks, through their legislatively authorized budgets, before funding non-court needs.
In the spring of 2012 the Legislature chose a different solution for restoring revenue stability for the courts: Most of the mortgage foreclosures filing fees were directed away from the court system’s trust fund and into the state’s general revenue fund. Because of its size, the general revenue fund can better withstand the volatile nature of the foreclosure filing fees. General revenue was then used as a primary funding source for the courts; the court system’s budget in the current fiscal year is comprised of about 75% general revenue. This change helped the courts avoid the cash flow problems that had caused problems in recent years. Also, since the court-related revenue flowing into the general revenue fund is roughly the same as the amount of general revenue appropriated to the courts, court users continue to pay for the court system.
The benefit derived from the efficient administration of justice is not limited to those who utilize the system for litigation, but is enjoyed by all those who would suffer if there were no such system. Stabilizing Revenues for the State Courts System and Clerks of Court: Recommendations of the Revenue Stabilization Workgroup, November 1, 2011
Stabilizing funding for the clerks of court remains an issue. As stated in the Revenue Stabilization Workgroup Report, “The work of the courts and clerks is inter-related and each entity depends on the other to provide access to the courts as provided for in Florida’s constitution.” Stable funding for this interdependent system remains a priority.
As we look to Fiscal Year 2013-14 the state courts system encourages the Legislature to invest in the existing resources of the system – especially personnel and property. The emphasis of the courts' legislative budget request for next year’s budget is to “invest in the investment” the state has already made in the judicial branch.