DES MOINES | Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady made a personal pitch to state legislators Tuesday for adequate funding in the coming fiscal year to restore cuts and allow the state's court system to operate at peak efficiency.
Cady acknowledged that Iowa's courts are stressed due to continued underfunding coupled with a recent $3 million cut in operations. That has meant vacant full-time positions and unfilled judgeships.
All judicial branch employees except judges and magistrates are slated to take an unpaid furlough day May 26.
"That's difficult for us," the chief justice told reporters after Tuesday's justice systems budget subcommittee meeting. "Iowans deserve and want a full service court, and we want to provide it."
State Court Administrator David Boyd told legislators the judicial branch was operating at $5.4 million below it requested for fiscal 2017 funding level before the Legislature approved and Gov. Terry Branstad signed another cut of $3 million to the court system by June 30.
He warned another year of status-quo funding would be devastating to a system with 111 vacant positions, due to a hiring freeze and 60 of 99 counties sharing clerks.
He said the hiring freeze has been particularly troublesome for rural Iowa where 32 counties have two or fewer employees and where 29 clerks supervise 68 counties - meaning reduced hours if an employee is sick to takes a vacation.
Boyd presented four different budget "decision" packages that ranged up to a maximum of $15.5 million in new money that would re-establish the judicial branch's fiscal 2016 service level, cover needed technology advances, preserve labor-intensive specialty services like drug, human services and family courts, and provide a 5 percent salary increases to all judges and magistrates -- the second pay boost since 2008.
"I realize this will be a heavy lift," said Boyd, who was making his last budget presentation pending his announced retirement later this year.
"You can choose to invest in the judicial branch now, or you can choose to invest in the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services and the other stakeholders later because there will be a cost," he added.
Budget subcommittee co-chairman Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said he hoped the Legislature could find more money in fiscal 2018 to operate the court system, telling Boyd and Cady "we'll do our damnedest to get you where you need to be."
However, subcommittee member Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said lawmakers are looking at another tough budget cycle, adding "I would hope the courts would come close to what they're receiving this fiscal year but even that will be tough."
Reach Rod Boshart at 515-243-7220; firstname.lastname@example.org.