Kilbride makes court's FY14 budget request; Urges lawmakers to make 'rounding error'

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Kilbride has asked lawmakers to appropriate about $347 million in general revenue funds for the court’s fiscal year 2014 budget. Kilbride appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday morning to make the court’s budget request, the third one he’s made in his role as chief justice and one he said represents a more than 20 percent increase from the state’s fiscal year 2013 appropriation. Acknowledging the state’s tight fiscal situation and how the tough economic times have hurt courts throughout the nation, Kilbride said the need to be properly funded is “even greater now.” He also reminded lawmakers that the court’s budget makes up “less than one half of one percent of the entire state budget” and said if they make a simple “rounding error,” they could fully fund the court. “I would urge you to make that error,” Kilbride joked. The chief justice also stressed the importance of properly funding probation, an issue that Kilbride’s predecessor, former Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, pushed in his budget requests. Kilbride told the Senate Committee that 29 percent of the court’s $347 million request for general revenue funding would cover costs associated with probation. The court uses a formula to reimburse counties for providing probation services. “Why are we crazy enough to put that in there?” Kilbride said of the increased request for probation funding, quickly explaining that the court prepared its request at fully-funded levels. Probation funding from the state has been a decline over the past decade, decreasing from about $78 million in 2002 to less than $60 million in the past few years. In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, the state earmarked about $35 million in the court’s budget for probation services. After Fitzgerald referred to that amount as “dangerously inadequate,” Gov. Pat Quinn gave the court another $16 million in FY2010 and about $20 million more in FY2011. The court received about $281 million in general revenue funds from the state in FY13 and ended up reallocating some of the money in other parts of its budget to provide more funding for probation services. Probation aside, Kilbride said about 18 percent of the court’s budget covers operational expenses and  the remaining amount -- about 53 percent --  goes to pay the salaries of the more than 900 state judges, who are guaranteed pay raises under the Illinois Constitution. One lawmaker on the Senate Committee asked Kilbride what his response would be, as well as potential consequences to the state, if the legislature had to cut judicial salaries. “That’s a very good question. I would love to answer it,” Kilbride said before declining to, explaining that since judicial salaries are provided under the Constitution, the question could become a contested piece of litigation that he would likely come before the Supreme Court. Another lawmaker asked Kilbride about Senate Bill 1768, which was introduced in February and would create the Supreme Court Special Purposes Fund. Kilbride deferred to Mike Tardy, the director of the Administrator Office of the Illinois Courts who appeared alongside the chief justice at the Senate Committee. Tardy explained that this special fund in the state treasury would hold filing fees collected by the clerks of the appellate and Supreme courts. The courts typically collect about $405,000 in filing and other fees, Tardy said. The fund created by the legislation, he said, would be used to create and upgrade electronic filing and court management systems and allow the court to continue programs on access to justice and professionalism through some of its commissions and committees. Sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, SB1768 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week and awaits consideration by the full chamber.

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