by Glenn Tschimpke
When Florida legislators met in 1998, they agreed that the State should fund virtually all court functions statewide to be implemented by 2004.
Three years later, local municipalities are still waiting for the additional money. The amendments to Florida Constitution Article V outline that all courts, from the State Supreme Court to county courts, would fall under State fiscal responsibility. This would ease local municipalities from providing funding for constitutionally required due process, which could take away from other local programs.
“In the past couple of years, the legislature has assisted local governments and reimbursed them with some of the costs,” said Britt Beasley, court administrator for the 4th Judicial Circuit and the Duval County Courthouse.
But like other court administrators around the state, Beasley is still waiting for fulfillment of the rest of the promise. While the amendment excludes some court costs, including communications services, utilities, maintenance and security of buildings, other costs supposed to be paid by the State are still being picked up by local governments. The salaries of court reporters and conflict attorneys, for example, are still being paid locally. Depending on the court’s level of activity, these costs could vary.
“These are certain costs we have no control over,” said Beasley. “We try to predict how much it will be in our budget for the coming year, but it’s not easy to say how much it will be.”
Local legal system leaders are holding their breath while legislators decide the fate of future State funding for the courts. The Senate recently passed SB 828, which re-authorized the County Article V Trust Fund. The House has yet to decide. The County Article V Trust Fund will sunset in July if no action is taken by the legislature. If that happens, the trust fund money will revert to general revenue. The significance is that when the money is in the trust fund, it can only be used for specifically designated programs, like funding local court systems.
If the money reverts to the general fund, it is subject to the whims of the legislature.
“When the legislature starts cutting expenditures, it can mandate cuts in general revenues, but in cannot reduce amounts within trust funds,” said Beasley.