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Last Updated: 5/27/2010
Budget Issue: Court Security Fee Increase
Program: Judiciary
Finding or Recommendation: Reject Governor's proposed fee increase. Instead consider using competitive bidding for court security or a temporary redirection court fine and fee revenues currently being set aside to fund various court construction projects costs.
Further Detail

Current law requires trial courts to contract with their local sheriff’s offices for court security. Courts thus have little opportunity to influence either the level of security provided or the salaries of security officers. Accordingly, county sheriffs have little incentive to contain costs of the security provided, and the courts have no recourse to ensure that they do. Total court security costs have increased from about $263 million in 1999-00 to about $520 million in 2008-09. While most of these costs are funded each year from the General Fund, a small portion is funded with revenue collected from a $30 court security fee paid by individuals convicted of a criminal offense (including all non–parking traffic violations).

As part of the 2009-10 budget package, the Legislature temporarily increased the court security fee from $20 to $30 until July 1, 2011. In addition, statewide standards that would in effect limit court security expenditures were also adopted. However, despite these changes, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) indicates that trial courts currently have a funding shortfall of about $56 million relative to their security costs. In order to address this shortfall, the administration proposes as part of the May Revision to increase the current $30 court security fee to $45, which it estimates will raise an additional $60 million in 2010-11 to fund court security costs.

In addition to court security fees, various other criminal fines and penalties have increased significantly in recent years. For example, the amount paid by an individual who chooses to attend traffic violator school after being cited for exceeding the posted speed limit by between 1 and 15 miles per hour has increased from $186 in 2008 to about $264 today. This represents an increase of about 42 percent since January 1, 2009. Given the recent increases and the difficulty in collecting fines and penalties as they get larger, the Legislature may want to consider alternatives to a further increase in the court security fee. 

For example, as we have recommended in the past, the Legislature could direct the courts to contract on a competitive basis with both public and private security providers and, thus, achieve General Fund savings and greater efficiencies. As we discussed in our Analysis of the 2008-09 Budget Bill, establishing a competitive bidding process would provide a strong incentive for whichever public agency or private firm that won the bid to provide security in the most cost-effective manner possible. Courts would be able to select among the proposals offered to them be different security providers, thus allowing them to select the level of security that best meets their needs. Depending upon when and how this change was implemented, we estimate that the state could save about $20 million in 2010-11 and in excess of $100 million annually within a few years.

In order to help offset the estimated increase in court security costs in 2010-11 (or to achieve General Fund savings), the Legislature could redirect court fine and fee revenues currently being set aside to fund various court construction projects costs. Specifically, our analysis indicates a total of $60 million could be transferred from the Immediate and Critical Needs Account and the State Court Facilities Construction Fund in 2010-11 without delaying any of AOC’s planned court construction projects. We would note that the Legislature could transfer more than $60 million, but this would likely delay particular projects (including perhaps those that have already been approved and are in the planning and design stages). Obviously, the extent of the impact would depend on the level of funding that was transferred.