Legislature Diverts Funding From Court Construction to General Fund

yolo_county_courthouseThe legislature did on Tuesday what Judge David Rosenberg had admonished Davis Enterprise Columnist Rich Rifkin about, saying it could not be done, when they moved about 300 million dollars from the court construction fund to the general fund.

Back in mid-April, Davis Enterprise columnist Rich Rifkin challenged the new Yolo County courthouse project, arguing “One area where the state might save some money without too much pain is with its ambitious plan to build 35 new courthouses and to renovate six old ones. In 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 1407. It provides five billion dollars for these 41 projects.”

“$5 billion is a lot of money — especially when our state is in such dire straits. Any savings generated by defunding SB 1407 would help,” he wrote.

Judge Rosenberg, who is the presiding judge in Yolo County, quickly responded, writing, “His column is so full of misstatements and misconceptions that I felt compelled to respond.”

The Judge argued that “this project is not straining any budget — state, county or local. Not one penny of taxpayer money is used for the courthouse project. No state general fund money is used for the project. The project is completely funded by a statewide surcharge assessed against everyone convicted of a violation of the criminal law.”

Mr. Rifkin’s idea was for the legislature to allow that money to be used for the general fund and current cuts to the budget.

Judge Rosenberg argued that to do so “would violate state law, which requires that the money collected from people who violate the law should be used for court facilities.”  He further argued that “to do so would ignore the constitution, which would mandate some sort of nexus between the fee and the expenditure — using the funds from those convicted of crime to pay off a county’s debt has no nexus; using the funds to pay for court facilities certainly does.”

Earlier this week, the legislature of course did what Judge Rosenberg said could not be done.

In an article this morning, Judge Rosenberg told the Daily Democrat that the Legislature had diverted about $300 million from the court construction fund to the general fund, which would leave only $90 million left in the statewide fund.

“Clearly, there is not enough money in the statewide court construction fund to move all 41 critical needs projects forward,” he told the Daily Democrat in an email. “Ultimately, the Judicial Council will make the determinations as to which projects move forward and which will be delayed.”

Nevertheless, due to how far along in the process Yolo County is, Judge Rosenberg remains at least publicly optimistic.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the Judicial Council will keep the Yolo County Courthouse project moving forward with little or no delay,” the Judge told the paper.

Meanwhile, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye issued a strong statement on Tuesday about cuts to the judicial branch budget.

“I am completely dismayed and gravely concerned about how the proposed budget cuts will affect the judicial branch and the public we serve,” she said.

“In addition to a $350 million dollar cut to the judicial branch, the Governor and the Legislature propose sweeping the judicial branch’s funding for infrastructure projects—projects to build safe and secure courthouses for the public,” the Chief Justice added.  “The money will be placed in the state’s general fund. These cuts are unsustainable and incompatible with equal justice for all. This is a sad day for justice in California.”

Unfortunately, such statements are ultimately self-serving.  It is certainly not clear that the money going to the courts is any more pressing than the far more money that has been cut from education and social services.

More to the point, as Mr. Rifkin pointed out over two months ago, “Yet in reality, there is no reason SB 1407 could not be temporarily changed.”

He wrote, “Until we are out of the economic crisis, the legislature could redirect those new court security fees to the general fund. Once our economy picks up, that new money could then be put in the ICNA, where it would finance courthouse projects as needed.”

Judge Rosenberg argues that we need a new courthouse.  I agree.  Just yesterday a number of people had to wait on the stairs as yet another contingency of in-custody defendants were paraded across the courthouse chained together.  One attorney noted that this whole process was so archaic, and there can be no disputing that.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 Comments

  1. Mr.Toad

    Less money for construction fewer jobs. Yeah the leg took the money just like they took money from First 5 but the effect will be that this area will continue to have one of the worst job markets in the country. This is the victory that the no new taxes [edit] have brought.

  2. Tecnichick

    to think that the state needs 41 new court houses over educating our children is absurd! Get the priorities straight here. Without that money being diverted, there will be job loss in the line of lay offs from positions that rely on the general fund like public safety for example. That fund for construction will only employ a number of people temporarily.

  3. Briankenyon

    A great day for fiscal sanity in our state! Ain’t it great when egotistical blowhards like Rosenberg have to wake up and smell the reality coffee!

  4. Rifkin

    Anyone interested in my full reply to what Judge Rosenberg claimed in his op-ed, which itself was a reply to my column, can read it here ([url]http://lexicondaily.blogspot.com/2011/04/judge-rosenberg-claims-my-column-was.html[/url]). I am not kind to the judge in this exchange. He deserves (figuratively speaking) to have his teeth kicked in over this one. I told Rosenberg directly in an email I sent to him that I lost all respect for him over his antics about the new courthouse he wants. He needs to learn to be a bigger man.

    David Greenwald points to the most important disagreement the judge and I had: his claim that what I suggested should be done (for the short term) was [i]illegal and unconstitutional.[/i]

    In thinking about Judge Rosenberg’s commentary, I have to conclude the man is not very intelligent and not very wise. He doesn’t even seem to have good command of the English language.

    Surely he knows the law far better than I, a non-lawyer, know it. But for him to just make sh!t up about the state constitution, which surely he must know was incorrect when he wrote it, was very bad form for a sitting judge.

    My best guess is that he wants that shiny new building for himself. He has his ego wrapped up in this project. He wants future generations to seem his bronze likeness mounted on a tall stallion out front of the David Rosenberg Memorial Courthouse.

    His ego was punctured by my proposal. It got his off his game. The judge went all out of whack when he wrote his op-ed attacking me and foregoing the truth.

    I am still waiting for his ernest apology.

  5. Rifkin

    Correction: “He wants future generations to [b]see[/b] his bronze likeness mounted on a tall stallion out front of the David Rosenberg Memorial Courthouse.”

  6. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]The legislature did on Tuesday what Judge David Rosenberg had admonished Davis Enterprise Columnist Rich Rifkin about, saying it could not be done, when they moved about 300 million dollars from the court construction fund to the general fund.[/quote]

    Finally some fiscal sanity from the legislative branch of state gov’t!

  7. Frankly

    [i]In thinking about Judge Rosenberg’s commentary, I have to conclude the man is not very intelligent and not very wise. He doesn’t even seem to have good command of the English language. “[/i]

    Rich, wasn’t this the same Dave Rosenberg that went head to head with Rush Linbaugh on a local TV? He had to have some smarts to match up with the Great One, right?

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