Court Funding Budget
The need for sufficient and stable funding of Florida’s courts is a constant one. but in recent years this need has become even more pressing. Judges and court staff are committed to using resources as effectively as possible and are always seeking innovative ways to use technology and take other steps to achieve greater efficiency and enhanced performance.
That is not to say court funding is about judges, staff, or courtrooms – because it is not. A clear view of court funding focuses on the individuals, families, and businesses who need the courts to achieve justice and resolve disputes. Sufficient and stable funding, however, ensures that Florida’s state courts are there to meet those needs when individuals, families, and businesses come through the courthouse doors – as hundreds of thousands do every year.
Florida’s courts system accounts for less than 1% of the state’s total budget. Nevertheless, as the recession gripped the United States, the courts system still participated in state spending reductions. The system experienced significant cuts in court budgets and staff positions – though numerous citizens and businesses continued to seek justice through the courts.
Florida’s courts typically generate about $1 billion a year, which is more than what is needed to support court operations. However, a significant portion is spent on non-court programs and services. A few years ago, the courts worked with the Legislature to avoid further cuts, and a dedicated funding source was put into place, with revenue from court filing fees flowing into the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund. However, the trust fund relied heavily on foreclosure filing fees as its principal source of revenue. Marked and unpredictable swings in foreclosure filings as the mortgage industry struggled with loan-documentation problems made the judicial branch budget susceptible to volatility beyond its control.
For the 2013-14 fiscal year, most of the mortgage foreclosures filing fees were directed away from the courts system’s trust fund and into the state’s general revenue fund. Because of its size, the general revenue fund can better withstand the volatile nature of the foreclosure filing fees. General revenue was then used as a primary funding source for the courts. Since there is court-related revenue flowing into the general revenue fund, court users continue to pay for the courts system. Although today the courts system’s budget is comprised of more than 75% general revenue, the judicial branch continues to experience some fiscal instability due to incoming filing fee revenue not meeting the authorized appropriations that are supported by the trust fund. The courts system is working with the Legislature on a long-term solution to ensure stable funding to meet the needs of the users of the courts system.
When the courts system does not have sufficient and stable funding for staff, buildings, or technology and other resources, there is a risk of delays in processing cases that are important to individuals’ lives and to the livelihood of businesses, there is risk that people could be put in harm’s way due to safety or security concerns in aging courthouses, and there is a risk that opportunities will be lost to maximize the taxpayers’ investment through modernized and enhanced court operations. Thus, as it looks to fiscal year 2014-15, the State Courts System encourages the state to invest in the people, places, and tools of the judicial branch that are necessary to effectively and efficiently operate the courts system for the benefit of those for whom the system exists.