Monday, May 9, 2011

PA Courts Face Big Budget Gap

The Pennsylvania courts system predicts a $47 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, coming on top of a current $12 million funding gap.

In the "State of the Commonwealth's Courts 2011," the Supreme Court highlights what it calls six years of inadequate funding.

Courts system spokeswoman Amy Kelchner says the problem is that most judiciary funding pays judges' salaries, and those positions and pay rates are set by state law.

Kelchner says over the past six years, the judiciary has saved $17 million by leaving vacant judge positions unfilled, implementing a hiring freeze, and renegotiating contracts.

Kelchner says a court fee was passed several years ago to help fund the system, but that measure has sunset and isn't coming back.

"The courts should not be funded on fees. You should not restrict people's access to the court system to fund the courts. We really do believe the courts should be funded through the General Fund monies that come in, and the courts take up less than one-half of one percent of the state budget."

Kelchner says the judiciary has used money set aside for its computer system to pay for operating costs, but those funds will be gone by next year.

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