Courts told to expect a 4.2 percent budget cut

first_img Courts told to expect a 4.2 percent budget cut Courts told to expect a 4.2 percent budget cut ‘In order to do that it may mean reductions in services’ September 15, 2007 Managing Editor Regular News Mark D. Killian Managing Editor and Gary Blankenship Senior Editor As legislators began the “daunting task” of trimming some $1 billion from the state’s budget, chairs of the two committees that will hold great sway over the judicial branch’s new allocations say they will make reduction recommendations with an eye toward protecting the public.The chief justice and other court system leaders also learned during pre-special session hearings in Tallahassee the last week of August to expect cuts in the neighborhood of 4 percent, instead of the potentially crippling 10 percent cuts the governor had asked all state agencies and branches to prepare for.Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations, said the governor put the branches and agencies through the 10 percent budget reduction exercise so lawmakers could have some flexibility in taking a look at areas that could be modified in the budget.“I’ve been told it is going to be more like 4.2 percent,” said Crist, adding some areas will see reductions greater than that percentage while others, less.“In order to do that it may mean reductions in services; it may mean the reduction of some programs; it may mean some reduction in staffing; it may mean some internal changes for efficiencies; but we are going to be looking at what keeps the public safe,” Crist said.Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Orange Park, chair of the House Safety and Security Council, also warned that Florida’s revenue crisis may not be just a one-year problem. State budget experts have predicted the state could face a $2.5 billion shortfall next year.“It’s probably going to be a long-term affair over several sessions,” Kravitz said.“The priority should be in protecting the public safety in these budget cuts,” he added. “That’s the main reason government exists, to protect the public.”Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, said he hopes to mitigate the impact of cuts on the judicial system, in recognition of its status as a third, co-equal branch of government.“When you have funding issues in other areas, you have a funding crisis,” Seiler said. “When you have funding issues with the courts, you have a constitutional crisis.”Chief Justice Fred Lewis testified before both Crist’s and Kravitz’s committees August 28. He told lawmakers the judicial branch is willing to do its share, but reiterated in order to keep the citizens of Florida safe “we do have to have an operational, fully funded court system to resolve these disputes.”In recommending areas for reductions, Chief Justice Lewis said the courts did their best not to eliminate jobs.“I think this committee and the legislature recognizes that over the years we were operating not with fat, but we were operating from flesh and blood,” Lewis told the Senate panel.State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner said the state court system accounts for only about 0.7 percent of the total state budget. Lewis also noted the trial courts are still trying to implement Revision 7 to Art. 5, the 1998 constitutional amendment requiring the state to take over more funding of the trial courts.“So if we cut too far into this, we are just really rolling back Revision 7,” Chief Justice Lewis said.Crist also said he will try to “tread lightly” on the state attorney and pubic defender budgets, saying they are on the “top of the list of do not disturbs.” Both the Florida Public Defender Association and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association have expressed concerns that any cuts in their members’ respective budgets would mean the elimination of desperately needed positions, since about 95 percent of those budgets are tied up in salaries and benefits.Rep. Mitch Needelman, R-Melbourne, asked if lawmakers could be given specific guidance on what would be the effects of 2, 4, 6, or 8 percent budget cuts. Eighth Circuit State Attorney William Cervone, vice president of the FPAA, said that would be a difficult prediction to make. He noted, for example, that a state attorney could not eliminate a victim assistance unit because by law state attorneys are required to provide those services, although the state attorney could cut back that unit.“Give us the flexibility as individual officers to see where we can afford it and we will try to have the least impact on public safety,” Cervone said, noting that a full 10 percent cut could mean a layoff of about 10 percent, or 200, of the state’s approximately 2,000 assistant state attorneys.Eighth Circuit PD Rick Parker, president of the FPDA, told the Senate panel that each assistant PD in the state already averages a caseload of 600, and the turnover rate for PDs last year was 24 percent.Rep. Nicholas Thompson, R-Ft. Myers, asked about requiring judicial approval as a way to reduce depositions and hence costs in third degree felony cases. But Fourth Circuit PD Bill White said many third degree felony cases are settled before depositions are taken, and in other cases the depositions help lead to an early plea bargain, saving time for prosecutors, public defenders, and the courts.Crist noted that in the past two legislative sessions “we funded the courts first and then everybody else second because for the last eight years prior, the courts were [treated] like a stepchild in the process.”“As you know the trial courts are basically where the rubber meets the road, and one of the things we all realize is when there is a downturn in the economy, unfortunately, one thing happens — crime increases,” said Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Belvin Perry, chair of the Trial Court Budget Commission.“We realize this state is suffering great pain,” Perry said. “They only thing we are asking. . . is that you give us a voice in determining what gets cut.”Second District Court of Appeal Chief Judge Steven Northcutt, chair of the DCA Budget Commission, reminded lawmakers that DCAs’ budgets also are in people and buildings — not programs — and filings have risen 5.3 percent in the past few years, with the biggest percentage of that increase coming in the form of criminal and juvenile cases. He noted the DCAs have not received any new judges to deal with rising caseloads since 1999, and 1993 before that.Victoria Montanero, director of the Justice Administrative Commission, said her agency, which has about 30 people to process invoices for state attorneys, public defenders, capital collateral regional counsels, the guardian ad litem program, and conflict attorneys, is being overwhelmed with bills. Just since the July 1 beginning of the fiscal year, an additional 13,000 invoices have been received, and private attorneys acting as conflict counsel — heeding a legislative deadline — have submitted an additional 4,000 bills. Cutting staff will only slow down payments, which in turn could make private attorneys more reluctant to take court appointments in conflict cases, she said.Rep. Kravitz said the House Policy and Budget Council will have the major say in the lower chamber on crafting the initial budget cuts. The panel, he said, will hold hearings before the special session begins later this fall, and probably have its initial meetings on a proposed bill during the session’s first week.Crist said while lawmakers take on the “very daunting task” of finding more than $1 billion in reductions, he will work to “spread the pain to make it as painless” as possible.“We are going to have to work together to face these challenges,” Crist said.last_img read more

China Could Set OW Prices

first_imgOffshore WIND staff, April 03, 2014; Image: siemens According to the China Securities Journal, China could set preferential power prices for offshore wind projects this year.With this measure, the country would attract more investors to this industry and speed up its further development.After years of struggle, China granted approval for the three of its first four offshore wind power concession projects in the third quarter of 2013.In July 2009, China set feed-in tariff for onshore wind power which were 0.51, 0.54, 0.58 and 0.61 yuan per kilowatt hour, representing a significant premium comparing to the average rate of 0.34 yuan per kilowatt hour for coal electricity generators.last_img