The Judicial Branch budget passed earlier this year underfunded the courts by almost $15 million. That appropriation created an almost 10% gap in funding for the courts in FY 2010. This gap, created by the Democrat’s budget, was likely to lead to a reduction of access to justice for Iowans and another year of furloughs for court employees.
However, Democrats found a way to fill much of this gap with Senate File 478, the final bill passed in the 2009 session. The bill, signed by the Governor on Monday, raises court fees and even creates new ones. The increased fees are expected to net an extra $16.7 million annually. That is another $16.7 million it will cost Iowans to access the courts.
While the $16.7 million in increased fees would be more than enough to fill the budget shortfall faced by the courts, SF 478 only appropriated an additional $11 million dollars to the Judicial Branch. The remaining $5.7 million will disappear into the General Fund and the courts are left with a $4 million dollar deficit.
If past performance is an indicator of future behavior, we can expect the Judicial Branch to use some of the same methods used this year to achieve budget savings. This will likely mean less access to the courts, with a disproportionate amount of the burden being born in rural areas.