Gov. Scott: ‘I’ll make court funding a priority’

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David Royse of the News Service of Florida reports that money to pay for an adequate court system will be a priority for the Scott administration, Gov. Rick Scott told prosecuting attorneys Monday, but also challenged the court system to be efficient.

Scott’s remarks echoed similar ones to the Florida Bar Association earlier this year, but the fact that he is repeating the pledge appears to lend credence to his assertion that it will be a top concern.

“I am acutely aware of the funding crisis faced by the courts,” Scott said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday to the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association luncheon in Naples. “I plan to make court funding a priority during the next legislative session.”

“The judiciary is a coequal branch of government.  The courts need a steady, predictable funding source so that our citizens can be confident in the steady, predictable administration of justice,” Scott continued.  “Anything less is simply unacceptable.”

The courts last year had to ask for an emergency infusion of cash before the end of the fiscal year because of the slowdown in foreclosures that followed questions about whether banks were filing fraudulent paperwork.

Lawmakers in 2009 changed the funding mechanism for the courts, creating the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund, which is paid into by court system users – and was heavily propped up by the fees coming from the huge number of new foreclosure cases. But when the scandal arose and a moratorium on new foreclosure cases was put in place, the courts found themselves looking at a shortfall.

Lawmakers this year considered a permanent, steady source of money for the courts, but the issue was tied up in a wide-ranging proposal to more broadly overhaul the court system, a push that failed in the waning days of the legislative session.

The court system last year put in place an emergency budget freeze and a hiring freeze, and narrowly avoided having to implement widespread furloughs.

But while the governor again pledged to make steady court funding a priority, he also stressed that courts “must operate in light of the fact that we are living through very difficult economic times.”

In his prepared remarks, Scott also reiterated a pledge not to sign a tax increase, and not to support “measures that increase the cost of living for ordinary citizens….

“Every dollar that government spends, whether it is for roads, Medicaid, parks or courts, should be accounted for so when a funding request comes across my desk, the first question I ask is this: has the money been spent effectively in the past, and what measures exist to show that,” the governor planned to say in his speech, which was released by his office.

Scott told the prosecutors they could help find ways to improve efficiency in the courts, through technology or streamlining functions.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.