The Governor's budget for 2017-18 proposes a $280,000 General Fund augmentation to counties for increased trial court security levels resulting from a separate proposal to reallocate four existing vacant trial court judgeships to trial courts with greatest judicial need as of January 1, 2018. We recommend the Legislature reject the Governor's proposal due to a lack of justification that the proposed funding is needed.
LAO Bottom Line. We recommend that the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposal to provide a $280,000 General Fund augmentation for counties for increased trial court security costs resulting from the reallocation of vacant judgeships, due to a lack of justification that the proposed funding is needed.
2011 Realignment of Trial Court Security. As part of the 2011‑12 budget plan, the Legislature enacted a major shift—or “realignment”—of state criminal justice, mental health, and social services program responsibilities and revenues to local government. This realignment shifted responsibility for funding most trial court security costs (provided by county sheriffs) from the state General Fund to counties. Specifically, the state shifted $496 million in tax revenues to counties to finance these new responsibilities. State law also requires that any revenue from the growth in these tax revenues is to be distributed annually to counties based on percentages specified in statute. Due to this additional revenue, the amount of funding provided to counties to support trial court security has grown since 2011‑12 and is expected to reach nearly $558 million in 2017‑18—an increase of $61 million (or 12 percent). This additional revenue is distributed among counties based on percentages specified in statute.
Additional General Fund Recently Appropriated for Greater Levels of Trial Court Security. The California Constitution requires that the state bear responsibility for any costs related to legislation, regulations, executive orders, or administrative directors that increase the overall costs borne by a local agency for realigned programs or service levels mandated by the 2011 realignment. As part of the annual budget act, the state provided $1 million in additional General Fund support in 2014‑15, $2 million in 2015‑16, and $7 million in 2016‑17—above the tax revenue provided through the 2011 realignment—to provide counties with funding to address increased trial court security costs. Eligibility for these funds was limited to counties experiencing increased trial court security costs resulting from the construction of new courthouses occupied after October 9, 2011 (around the time of implementation of the 2011 realignment). Counties are required to apply to the Department of Finance (DOF) for these funds and only receive funding after meeting certain conditions—including that the county prove that a greater level of service is now required from the county sheriff than was provided at the time of realignment. Of the additional funds provided, DOF allocated $713,000 in 2014‑15, $1.9 million in 2015‑16, and currently estimates the allocation of about $2.7 million to qualifying counties in 2016‑17.
The Governor’s budget for 2017‑18 includes $7 million in General Fund support for increased trial court security costs resulting from the construction of new courthouses—the same amount that was provided in 2016‑17. The budget also proposes a $280,000 General Fund augmentation to counties for increased trial court security levels resulting from a separate proposal to reallocate four existing vacant trial court judgeships to trial courts with greatest judicial need as of January 1, 2018. (This would result in a full-year implementation of $560,000 in 2018‑19.) At this time, the administration has not identified which trial courts will gain or lose judgeships.
Absent information on which courts will be losing or receiving judgeships, it is difficult for the Legislature to determine whether trial court security levels are actually increasing. Counties with trial courts that are losing judgeships may be experiencing reduced costs due to the vacant judgeships. For example, certain trial courts provide judges with sheriff deputies in certain case types—such as criminal cases. To the extent such a court has a vacant judgeship it would likely experience savings that could be shifted to the court receiving the judgeship. However, counties losing judgeships under the Governor’s proposal will retain their funding.
Reject Proposed Augmentation. In view of the above, the administration has not shown that additional resources are needed. Accordingly, we recommend that the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposal for a $280,000 General Fund augmentation for increased trial court security costs.