The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 18, 2013

Alabama Chief Justice: Budget plan wiping out courts



MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's new chief justice, Roy Moore, said the state judicial system is in danger and conditions will worsen if the Legislature approves a budget recommended by the governor.

Moore said the system already is understaffed because of long-standing budget problems, and the governor's plan could mean more layoffs.

"We are basically being cut out of existence," Moore said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed a state General Fund budget that would give the court system $100.3 million for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That's down from $102.8 million this fiscal year.

The current budget is nearly a $23 million cut from the prior year's plan. To make up for the cut, the Legislature voted last year to raise the fees on all types of court cases ranging from traffic tickets to felonies. That was supposed to generate $25 million for the state's trial and appellate courts and $5 million for county circuit clerk's offices.

But Moore, who took office in January, said the fees are coming in at slightly less than half of what officials predicted last year, and the courts will end the year $13 million short of what they expected.

In addition, the governor's proposed budget doesn't account for a $6 million increase in mandated costs, primarily rising health insurance premiums for employees, he said.

Moore figures he would go into the new budget year behind by $19 million. "That could result in losing 25 percent of the people we have left," he said.

Moore wrote the governor Feb. 8 about his concerns. The governor's spokesman, Jeremy King, said Friday that they are not commenting.

The Alabama Constitution says the judicial system shall receive "adequate and reasonable funding." Moore faced budget problems when he began his first term as chief justice in January 2001. The General Fund appropriation back then was $120.1 million, which was more than the courts are getting 12 years later.

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