The Iowa Supreme Court announced their budget saving plan for Fiscal Year 2010 (which begins on July 1). Since the national recession has weakened state revenues over the last 12 months, the courts are reducing expenses by $5.4 million next year. Earlier this month, legislators outlined their plan to reduce the Legislature’s budget by 10% next year.

Here’s the release from the Iowa Supreme Court:

Budget Ax Continues to Hit Iowa Courts
Contact: Rebecca Colton, Counsel to the Chief Justice, (515)281-8205

Des Moines, June 25, 2009 – Today, the Iowa Supreme Court announced another round of cost cutting for the state’s court system-the second round of cuts since January. This latest round of cuts is necessary to balance the Judicial Branch budget for Fiscal Year 2010, which begins July 1.

“We must operate within the limits of our appropriation from the legislature,” said Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Iowa Supreme Court. “As stewards of public funds, the Supreme Court is resolved to do everything in its power to reduce our operating expenses. However, as the leaders of Iowa’s justice system we are deeply concerned about the impact continuing cuts will have on our ability to deliver quality court services to the public. Because of the effects of the nation’s economic downturn, people need court services now more than ever.”

For Fiscal Year 2010, the Supreme Court reduced Judicial Branch operating expenses by $5.4 million. The court cut approximately $635,000 in non-personnel expenses. The bulk of the cuts, nearly $4.8 million, come in the form of a statewide workforce reduction. Unlike the round of cuts earlier this year, the latest cuts do not include unpaid leave, judicial travel restrictions and court closures.

“The cuts imposed earlier this year such as court closures and travel restrictions were stop-gap measures required to cope with a severe, mid-year deappropriation. We need not resort to these measures now because we’ve had more time to plan and we have a full year during which to absorb the impact of the cuts,” said Chief Justice Ternus. “The supreme court is determined to keep the court system open to the public without interruption. Nevertheless, the cuts we implement today will impair our service to the public. With fewer judges and court staff to address the workload, delays will continue to grow and quality may suffer.”

The Judicial Branch will reduce its workforce primarily through the use of vacancies. All told, the Judicial Branch will eliminate or hold open nearly 50 vacant court staff positions that come from all levels of the court system. For the first time in years, the Judicial Branch will hold open judicial vacancies as a way to reduce expenses. The Supreme Court will make exceptions for judicial positions assigned to juvenile court and judicial positions for which a judicial district can show a compelling need to fill. In addition, the Judicial Branch will lay off about 15 members of its staff, including 13 court reporters.

“To cope with severe shortfalls in the early part of this decade, we cut deeply into the ranks of most of our staff, but we did not cut court reporter jobs. This year, we will reduce our court reporter workforce by 10% and begin pooling court reporters,” said State Court Administrator David Boyd. “This will be a big change for our judges. Even so I am confident that we can effectively cover all of the trial courts’ reporting needs by pooling court reporters. Pooling is much more cost effective than our traditional practice of assigning one court reporter to one judge. It will reduce court reporter down time and save taxpayers nearly $1.5 million.”
“Reducing our workforce is a tough decision. But there are no good or easy choices for reducing our operating budget,” said Chief Justice Ternus. “Every choice has drawbacks that affect our service to the public so the court took great care to approve measures that will preserve the fundamental functions of the judicial branch through the tough economic times ahead.”

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