Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget cuts would devastate Connecticut’s court system so severely they would “compromise access to justice for our citizens,” the chief court administrator testified Friday before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
Cutting $64 million from the previously approved funding for the Judicial Branch next fiscal year would result in hundreds of layoffs and force the closure of multiple courthouses and a juvenile detention facility, Judge Patrick L. Carroll III said.
The reductions would affect virtually all aspects of court operations, weakening security, anti-recidivism and victim support programs and even the legal research services on which judges rely, he said.
“The actions I have just described paint a very dismal — but very real — picture of what will be required to meet the proposed budget cut,” Carroll told lawmakers. “They are inconsistent with the stated core functions of government.”
He added that, “We know we have to do our fair share” to help close a major projected deficit across the entire state budget. But “$64 million goes well beyond what the Judicial Branch’s fair shrae should be.”
State government is grappling with rapidly escalating debt costs — tied both to bonding and unfunded retirement obligations — at the same time its income tax revenues and the state’s economy in general are growing much more slowly than they did before the last recession.
The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting general fund deficits topping $500 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and $1.7 billion for 2017-18.
“As the governor said, we face a new economic reality in the state of Connecticut, we have to adapt to that,” Malloy spokesman Chris McClure said Friday. “Households don’t budget based on what they want to spend – they budget based on the dollars they actually have. We believe state government should do the same.”
But Carroll asserted that the court system is being asked to bear 11.2 percent of all of the cuts Malloy has proposed, calling that “widely disproportionate.”
The bulk of those cuts, if enacted by the legislature, would have to fall on personnel, the chief court administrator said.
Though he didn’t project a precise number of layoffs, Carroll said if 500 jobs were cut — about one-seventh of the entire branch workforce — the projected savings in the first year would not equal even half of the $64 million proposed cut.
Several factors typically cut the first-year savings in half, according to the Office of Legislative Research.
- Depending on the union involved, workers must receive two to eight weeks’ notice.
- Because the first two weeks of all state workers’ salary is withheld and not paid until they end employment, that expense also must be met.
- Accrued sick and compensatory time must be paid.
- Payments to the Unemployment Compensation fund increase.
- Pension fund contributions must be made.
About 1,000 layoffs, which would be “an impossible number to achieve,” would save $50 million, Carroll added.
Those layoffs would weaken programs across the board, including an ongoing “raise the age” initiative to end the treatment of juvenile offenders as adults.
It also would compromise the “Second Chance Society,” one of the governor’s biggest initiatives, which is designed to help offenders re-integrate into society and reduce recidivism.
Those budget cuts would mean “multiple” courthouses would be closed, but Carroll didn’t say how many of the 43 existing facilities would be affected.
A daily roster of 644 judicial marshals — about 200 less than guidelines call for — also would have to be reduced.
The 24-hour lock-up facilities in Hartford and New Haven likely would have to be closed, as well as one juvenile detention center.
The co-chairs of the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee both expressed concern over the proposed reductions.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, called them “draconian cuts that would cripple our judicial system in the State of Connecticut, and we cannot afford that.”
Sen. Beth Bye, D-Farmington, expressed fear over the loss of public access to court services.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said, “There is no appetite for additional tax increases” at the Capitol after legislators and Malloy ordered tax hikes last June worth $1.3 billion over this fiscal year and next combined.
But O’Neill also questioned whether these proposed cuts might leave the judicial system out of compliance with its obligations under the state Constitution.
“Do you think we’re getting close to that?” he asked Carroll.
“It draws us closer to it,” the chief court administrator replied. “Every cut that’s made has an impact on that.”
Carroll also asked O’Neill to consider the cost of weakening anti-recidivism programs that save millions of dollars in incarceration expenses in the long run.
“What is the cost if we eliminating crime victims’ services?” Carroll added. “Is that something you think we can do without?”