Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget for Clerks Dilemma for State; 2 First Coast Lawmakers Are Trying to Find the Solution

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget for Clerks Dilemma for State; 2 First Coast Lawmakers Are Trying to Find the Solution

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | Legislative budget-writers this year are determined to strike a deal to end an annual funding quagmire that has forced clerks of court to "beg" lawmakers for additional cash.

The clerks run day-to-day operations at county courthouses. They are responsible for, among other things, records management, processing appeals and collecting fines.

Since a 2009 change, the Legislature has been responsible for funding the budget. Prior to that, the county-based system was funded by court-related fees it collected.

The change has sparked big money problems.

"The real weakness is that the Legislature has not appropriated enough money for the clerks to do their jobs," said state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. "They have had to come back with hat in hand having to beg for money."

There have been failed efforts in recent years to again take the clerks' $445 million budget out of the state's appropriations process. If that occurs, the entire system could return to a fee-based approach.

If removed, the state would lose $55 million in annual revenue but no longer be responsible for routine operating deficits that have resulted in recent years, which is something legislative leaders want. Since 2009, lawmakers have spent $162 million filling clerk budget deficits.

As their chamber's top judicial budget-writers, cobbling together a budget fix has fallen to Bradley and a fellow First Coast lawmaker, state Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville.

It will be no easy task.

"Is it too much to ask for there to peace in the land?" said Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart. "If you [Bradley] can do that, it would be a major accomplishment."

As it has in recent years, the House has proposed pulling the clerks completely from the state budget. On the Senate side, Bradley wants to largely remove the clerks from the state budget but hang onto a fraction of the system's funding stream. …

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