SAN FRANCISCO—The Judicial Council’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee held a public meeting today to review the dire state of California’s court construction funding. The Immediate and Critical Needs Account, established by the Legislature in 2008, has been ravaged by dual impacts: During the state’s budget crisis, approximately $1.4 billion was taken from the fund to support both the state’s General Fund and local trial court operations. These funds have not been restored, and this number could climb to an estimated $4 billion over time.
At the same time, court-collected revenues—which feed the court construction fund as well as a wide range of other state and local government programs—have undergone a steep decline in recent years. The committee discussed how the long-term stability of future revenues is in question due to the broad and understandable concern about the level of court fines and public discourse about reducing those fines—the very fines upon which the construction program relies.
“We've discussed the status of the construction fund in other public meetings, always expressing our concern about its long-term viability," said Justice Brad Hill. "But the cumulative impact of the fund redirections and the reduction of revenue from fines and fees creates a perfect storm. In the meantime, new and improved courthouses remain urgently needed across the state. The issues are many: security, overcrowding, life-safety, and accessibility among them. Many buildings are not earthquake-safe. But unless revenues increase or another funding source is found, the construction program cannot proceed as planned.
“That said, we are going to find a path forward. We have to. It is imperative that all of us, working together, find a way to continue on with this vital program.”
Since it was founded by the Chief Justice five years ago, the advisory committee’s ongoing oversight of the program and cost-cutting measures—totaling more than $300 million—have helped the court construction program proceed in the context of significant fund redirections.
The advisory committee’s next public meeting, scheduled for August 4, 2016, will involve developing a framework for moving the program forward, which will then need to be approved by the Judicial Council. In the meantime, the committee directed council staff to work with the state Department of Finance to recommend by August 4 what projects can proceed given the condition of the construction fund. The committee also stated that any ongoing projects may proceed "pursuant to prior JCC and legislative authorizations and appropriations if the state Department of Finance and Executive Committee of the Court Facilities Advisory Committee concurs."
The judicial branch construction program has successfully completed 23 projects. Another 23 projects are under way—six in construction, and the others in site acquisition, scope definition, or design.