Self-imposed revenue crisis playing out in state’s court system and beyond

The Charlotte Observer reports of the strain on the state’s court system in the wake of state budget cuts in recent years. The state’s court system is expected to run out of funding for juror pay by April of next year, the Charlotte Observer highlights.

The ability of the state’s court system to operate effectively has been increasingly challenged amid cuts in state funding over the years. While other states have adopted technology and incorporated electronic filing systems, North Carolina continues to use a paper-based system, which slows down the judicial process. The time taken to complete civil and criminal cases has increased in recent years, the Charlotte Observer article notes, resulting in a judicial system that is inefficient, more costly, and less customer-friendly.

State lawmakers quoted in the article note their unawareness of the pending funding shortage for juror pay and state that the General Assembly is being asked for money that it doesn’t have. This is increasingly clear as stories throughout the state have highlighted yet another announcement that the state’s revenue collections are below projections.  Official estimates now put the revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year at $190 million.

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The growing revenue shortfall is a result of the General Assembly passing a tax plan last year that significantly reduces annual revenue. Our estimates suggest that the cost of the tax plan could reach more than $1 billion a year, a shortfall that was not fully accounted for in the creation of the second year of the two-year budget for FY 14-15. This reality must be central to the debate about the next two-year budget for core services like the court system.

The growing cost of the tax plan imposes serious long-term implications for North Carolina. The tax plan was originally projected to reduce state revenue by $513 million for the current fiscal year. This projected cost was subsequently revised upward by an additional $191 million, for a total cost of $704 million. And state officials now inform that revenue collections are an additional $190 million below projections, even after accounting for the revised $704 million price tag.

The state’s court system is not alone in dealing with the fallout from a lack of revenue. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Rockingham County Schools find itself challenged with providing basic supplies such as textbooks, printing paper, and toilet paper due to a lack of funding. Local communities across the state are feeling the squeeze resulting from continued state budget cuts.

The reality is that absent additional revenue becoming part of the budget conversation, more cuts across the state budget are likely to occur. What such budget cuts will mean for funding for juror pay, technology enhancements to the state’s court system, public schools, and other public investments remains to be seen.

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