Florida Courts Brace For Budget Shortfall

Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 01:00

Florida foreclosure filings have dropped off dramatically since December, triggering a cash-flow budget crisis for the courts that will bring the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund Balance to zero by the end of March.

The state courts are bracing for a more than $70 million shortfall, said state courts administrator Lisa Goodner. If the legislature does not come to the rescue with special appropriations, there would be no choice but to furlough employees in the court system.

"If we don't have money in payroll, we can't ask them to work," Ms. Goodner said.

She advised of a $70 million shortfall estimate to the house justice appropriations subcommittee, explaining she will have a firmer number once the budget estimating conference releases its figures.

Ms. Goodner explained to legislators that the courts were "totally within budget" and the crisis is "Not an expenditure problem - this is an income problem."

The Legislature "will have to come up with a supplemental funding package. I believe they will do that," Ms. Goodner said.

The cash-flow crisis underscores the vulnerability of relying too much on foreclosure filings in the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund, created in 2009 as a designated source of state revenue to fund operations of the judicial branch.

At the subcommittee meeting, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, said: "Given the current economic situation we find ourselves in, the budget situation we find ourselves in, I'm sure the court isn't just putting its eggs in that one basket. I'm sure the court is taking significant actions to resolve the problem by itself, in case that becomes necessary. What actions is the court taking to resolve the problem, if no additional funding is available?"

Ms. Goodner noted that there are cash reserves in mediation and court education trust funds, but she would need legislative authority to spend those dollars on the shortage. Without assistance from the legislature, she said, furloughing staff is the only option.

Reprinted with permission from the Florida Bar News.