The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts Finance Department coordinates the Pennsylvania state court system’s finances and manages development of the judiciary's annual budget.
The state judiciary, a core function of government, receives about one-half of one percent of the total state budget, about the same as the legislature.
More than 90 percent of the judiciary’s expenses are fixed. The judiciary is totally reliant on the executive and legislative branches for the funding it needs to meet the state constitution requirement that courts be open to provide justice for all. The judiciary does not have the power to appropriate funds or to tax to raise money for its operation.
The judiciary retains a certified public accounting firm to conduct an annual audit of the Judiciary's financial transactions in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards in the United States. The accounting firm is selected via a competitive bid process. Since 2000, the international accounting firm of Ernst & Young, LLP has conducted the audit; most recently it has been conducted by a member firm of Ernst & Young, LLP.
The audit examines the financial activity related to funds appropriated to the state court system.
Pennsylvania's judiciary collects far more in fines and fees than it receives in its budget. Over the last six years, the court’s state appropriations have totaled less than $1.77 billion, and the collections from criminal courts alone have exceeded $2.78 billion.
The revenue the judiciary collects does not, for the most part, flow back to the courts. The dollars go largely to state and local governments for appropriation as they choose.
In addition to the millions of dollars collected for state and local governments, the judiciary has developed and implemented innovative programs that generate savings for other agencies:
In fiscal year 2010-11, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille called for a freeze on interim judicial appointments as a means of saving money during tight fiscal times. While freezing vacancies can have the negative effect of delaying justice, over the past three years, not filling vacancies has saved taxpayers more than $9.8 million.
"Although the judiciary’s fundamental function is the delivery of fair, timely and accessible justice, the collection of court-ordered financial sanctions is important, not just in terms of dollars but also in restoring victims’ lives and in enforcing the rule of law,” said Chief Justice Castille.
Once again, the judiciary collected and disbursed far more in court-ordered payments than it receives in state funds to operate courts throughout the Commonwealth. Of the $469 million collected, little flows back directly to the courts.
In 2012, the rate of collection equaled last year, despite five years of declining case filings. 45 percent of the total collected was distributed to the state; 35 percent to counties; 11 percent to municipalities; and 8 percent was paid to crime victims for restitution. A small portion of the collections was distributed to various entities such as schools, libraries and tax agencies.
In 1987 when tax revenues were ruled out as a funding source, the Judicial Computer System (JCS) Account was created to fund development and maintenance of the statewide computer system used by the courts. Today the JCS, among the best of its size in the county, serves as a data keystone of Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. The system promotes efficiencies within the judiciary and in other government agencies and provides lifesaving information for law enforcement officers. The JCS is funded by fines, fees and court costs, and these resources have seen a steep drop-off since 2008, declining $33 million. In addition, $28 million was borrowed from this account to fill budget gaps for general operations. Together, this loss of resources impacts the long-term operational stability of the JCS.
A fund balance and sustainable revenues need to be maintained to enable the JCS to undertake multi-year projects and to maintain existing systems. To the extent comparisons are possible, annual expenditures for the JCS as detailed in the judiciary's budget appropriation are consistent with those of the executive and legislative branches.
Careful planning by AOPC Judicial Automation staff has consistently ensured adequate availability of funds for computer opertions despite overall declining revenues and the need to loan funds for the judiciary's general operations.