By MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 16, 2013….Clerks of Court told lawmakers Wednesday they'd like a stable and predictable source of money from year to year, rather than being at the whim of the legislative process.
"Right now, we're in such a crisis we never know if we can make payroll or not," Sarasota Clerk of Court Karen Rushing told the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Budget Committee.
The clerks are proposing a continuing appropriation from the Clerks of the Court Trust Fund that would be set at prior year funding plus a workload increase if collections from court fees and fines increased over the previous year.
"Fees will still be collected for the services we provide," Rushing told the panel. "Then there is going to be a budget process that the Legislature is involved in."
Rushing said clerks unanimously support the idea.
A 1998 revision to the state constitution implemented in 2004 required the state to fund the state courts system – rather than having clerks simply rely on the funds they collect through fees and fines. In 2009, the clerks' budget was 17 percent lower than their previous years' budget.
Last year, lawmakers cut their budget by 7 percent, and the clerks had to go back to lawmakers to get a nearly $30 million tide-over payment from the Legislative Budget Commission to get them through the Fiscal Year.
Under the proposal, a clerk-court operations group would appropriate money to the clerks – hopefully on a monthly basis, Rushing said.
"I'm well aware of the fact that we had clerks who were bankrupt, literally, in their counties," said Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. "And it's ridiculous to have, you know, a constitutional officer in this position – and it's our fault."
The panel did not take any action on the proposal but is responsible for writing the Senate version of the part of the budget that includes court funding.
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