Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Senators weigh Bell’s proposed budget, DLS’ lower recommendations

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell yesterday asked a Senate subcommittee to provide $293.3 million from the general operating budget for the judicial branch in FY 2002, but a Department of Legislative Services budget analyst advised legislators to spend less than the judiciary wants.

DLS recommended reducing the request by $39.5 million, according to briefing notes presented by budget analyst Cynthia M. Boersma.

“The effect of these reductions would be to limit the growth in the Judiciary’s budget to $28.2 million, or 11.6 percent, over the fiscal 2001 working appropriation,” according to the DLS report.

Alternative Dispute Resolution, a wide-reaching program that Bell implemented to keep disputes from becoming full-blown court cases, would receive $1.3 million less than Bell requested under the DLS recommendations. Bell hopes to increase the ADR budget to $2.58 million, about 230 percent of its FY2001 level of $1.08 million. However, the DLS recommends an increase of just 15 percent.

Bell’s 20-page response to the DLS recommendation noted that the judiciary’s request was only a small part of the state’s budget.

The judiciary’s budget “represents 1.4 percent of the entire State budget as submitted by the Governor to the General Assembly,” according to Bell’s response.

Other areas Bell and DLS, and the amount of proposed reductions, are:

  • Create nine instead of 16 new circuit court judgeships, and four instead of five district court judgeships ($2.55 million)
  • Delete funding for 14 new circuit law clerks ($530,000)
  • Delete funding for 17 new district court law clerks ($408,000)
  • Delete funding for state assumption of circuit court law clerks ($6.6 million)
  • Delete funding for state assumption of leasing space for circuit court clerks ($6.7 million)

The suggested reductions also include limiting the growth in information technology expenditures to 7 percent, for a $6.8 million saving.

“This reduction leaves $17.1 million in non-personnel funds for information technology projects in fiscal 2002,” according to the budget report. “Limiting growth to 7 percent will allow the Judiciary to make demonstrated progress in strategic planning before dramatic expansion in expenditures occurs.”

Yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Safety, Transportation and Environment of the Budget and Taxation Committee follows a similar judiciary budget briefing on Tuesday before the House Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Safety and Administration.

It was not clear which funding levels the Senate subcommittee will approve, since senators were saying that the judiciary needs to be able to hire more people who are proficient in technology.

“We’ve gotten burned in every state system by consultants,” said Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s. “We have been penny-wise and dollar-foolish” in not hiring in-house experts.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, agreed. “The more those systems don’t communicate with each other, the longer [consultants] can stay on board,” he said.