Courts Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

First District Court of Appeal

California Supreme Court

Four state courthouse construction projects may be headed for the dust bin  to free funds to pay for $550 million coming due on the Long Beach Courthouse construction project.

The California Judicial Council previously shelved seven courthouse building projects in October, the victims of budget cuts.  Nineteen projects continue to move forward as money allows.

On Thursday, the Court Facilities Working Group voted to recommend the council court  four courthouse projects slated for Sacramento, Los Angeles, Fresno and Nevada City.

By fiscal year 2013-14, nearly $1.5 billion of court user fees originally designated by the legislature to be set aside for court construction will have to be borrowed, transferred to the state General Fund, or redirected to keeping courts operating, according to a statement by the Judicial Council, the courts’ policy-setting body.

This year the legislature ordered $50 million a year be permanently diverted from construction to court operations.

The Long Beach courthouse, currently under construction, is due to open in fall 2013.

The building project currently carries an obligation of roughly $60 million a year for service payments to a private firm for financing, design, construction, operations and maintenance of the 31-courtroom building.  That would eliminate construction funds needed to pay debt-service fees on an estimated $550 million in court construction projects, according to the council statement.

“Difficult and devastating as it is to tell more courts that their much-needed and long-awaited projects may not move forward, the branch has a responsibility to proceed with only those projects that we know we can currently afford,” said Justice Brad R. Hill, chair of the working group and presiding justice of the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

The draft recommendations are publicly available online and open for public comment for two weeks.



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