The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 18, 2013

Alabama Chief Justice: Budget plan wiping out courts

(Continued)

On the other hand, the Legislature has raised court fees and created other revenue-raising measures during that time to try to increase the court system's money from outside the General Fund.

Moore's first term as chief justice ended in 2003, when a state judicial court removed him from office for not following a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building. He ran again for chief justice last year and defeated Bentley's former chief of staff, Chuck Malone, in the Republican primary.

Moore said court system employees haven't had a cost-of-living raise since 2008, and the court system has cut 261 positions, mostly court clerks and juvenile probation officers. That leaves 1,818 employees, he said.

"Our judges and judicial employees continue to make herculean efforts to maintain the justice system with every decreasing funds and staff," he said.

In Moore's view, Bentley created a morale problem for those employees Feb. 5 when he proposed a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for education employees who are paid from the state education budget, but no increase for employees of state government programs, including the courts, who are paid from the General Fund.

"It is very difficult to explain to the many hardworking and dedicated court employees and officials of this State why your budget proposes more money for new programs and certain employee salary raises, while court employees have not received salary increase since 2008 and may well be faced with losing their jobs," Moore said in his letter to the governor.

When Bentley unveiled his budget proposals Feb. 6, his state finance director, Marquita Davis, said he was able to propose a raise for educators because the income and sales taxes that flow into the education budget have started recovering from the recession. But she said he could not propose one for employees of state agencies and departments because the taxes that flow in the General Fund remain flat.

The Legislature has not yet acted on Bentley's budget proposal or pay raise recommendation. Lawmakers have until mid-May to do that.

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