‘Public’ Budget Debate Is Fiction, Issues Really Settled In Private

If you wonder what is going on with the state’s budget, due June 16, then you should realize that it’s not a public process. One writer called the public hearings on California spending part of a “fiction” that it’s a public process, and that must be frustrating to hundreds or thousands of people wondering about job security or if they’re going to have access to the courthouse.
But it’s not just the legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown Gov. Jerry Brown was quoted in the L.A. Times recently saying that negotiations over the state budget would take place “a lot in private, and a little bit in public.” That was before the talks skipped over the hard stuff and went into private discussion. From what we can tell, some $100 million in increased court spending seems secure on the legislative side but the governor has not signed off yet. How does that compare to other issues?
Well, a proposal to restore a dental program for poor adults is in the Senate spending plan and would cost more than the courts increase – $131 million. Read about that here

Budget Fight Will Happen In A Hurry, Behind Closed Doors

That tick-tock you hear from Sacramento is the budget clock ticking away, with lawmakers facing loss of their paycheck if they miss the once-ignored June 15 budget deadline (voters put that penalty on them a few years ago). One of the more critical observers, the right-leaning Dan Walters at the Sacramento Bee, outlines what we can expect and explains what the lawmakers mean when an item, like the state courts funding, is being “left open.”

“That’s political speak for those items that will not be resolved in public but rather behind closed doors, with the largest left to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature’s top leaders,” writes Walters, adding that “… the committee’s public sessions are aimed at maintaining the fiction that writing the budget – more than $200 billion in all forms of spending – is an open process. Their major value, really, is to provide clues to the many conflicts that linger just 10 days before the constitutional deadline for enactment.”

It’s worth noting that increasing courts funding by $100 million dollars is not at issue between the Assembly and Senate, but remains unresolved between lawmakers and the governor. At any rate, Democrats are in total control: Up until three years ago, it took a two-thirds vote to pass a budget, but you may recall voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring only a majority. Walters contends that an “unintended consequence” is that lawmakers have less time to work out disagreements.

You can get a good overview from his column here.

Between The Lines, The $100 Million Increase Holding On

Reading between the lines, it seems like the California budget deadline of June 15 will be met and the courts will get about $100 million more than originally proposed, which some officials have said will likely “halt the bleeding” for Los Angeles County courts but is not expected to reverse any of the cutbacks, like the closures of 10 courthouses and going from 26 landlord-dispute courtrooms to six.
The latest signs come from the wire service Reuters, which is reporting that the Assembly counter-budget proposal “… would increase funds for child care programs by $250 million and aid to poor families by $200 million. It also proposes $200 million for scholarships at state universities and more than $600 million for adult education.” That report notes that both the Assembly and state Senate propose plans would increase court funding by $100 million.
A labor lobbyist pretty much signs off on the deal. From the news service: “They [lawmakers and the governor] don’t have a lot of super-big problems compared to past years,” said Barry Broad, a lobbyist for the Teamsters and other unions in Sacramento. The story is here.  

‘Notices’ Are Next Step Toward Looming ‘Lawmageddon’ Court Crunch

Los Angeles residents who endure the “carmageddon” of an I-405 commute can also brace for a looming “lawmageddon” as Superior courts cuts move from the drawing board to the courthouses; and it’s starting to happen in other areas that were holding out in hopes of more state funding. The notice process is vital, not that the public is ever going to notice, because state code requires “written notice” to both the public and the Judicial Council before closing courtrooms or reducing clerk’s hours.
That starts the shutdown clock ticking, and many notices are like the May 13 statement from the San Mateo Superior Court Officer announcing, among other things, that domestic violence and civil harassment restraining orders would no longer be available in the Northern Branch and people will be “redirected” to Redwood City. Four of six courtrooms in the South San Francisco branch will be closed.