The fundamental mission of Pennsylvania’s courts is to deliver fair, timely and accessible justice for all.
Adequate funding allows that mission to be met.
The Judiciary receives about ½ of 1 percent of the state budget. Even though that amount is small, the Judiciary takes seriously its responsibility to be accountable and to cut costs.
Reducing the number of judges, not filling vacancies, renegotiating leases and contracts, increasing health care cost sharing and limiting merit and cost-of-living increases has saved more than $58 million over seven years. Even with tight budgets, Pennsylvania has kept its courtrooms open in contrast with other states.
In a perfect world, funds to operate the Judiciary would come exclusively from taxpayer dollars. That is the surest way to provide equal court access for all.
But tight budgets have forced the use of fees to support court operations. Fees totally fund the Judicial Computer System, and 13 percent of general operation funding comes from fees.
In fact, last year those filing fees were increased. But higher pension and health care costs and a decrease in filings have already exhausted the increase.
Increasing the collection of fines, fees and restitution is a priority of the Judiciary. Each year, the Judiciary collects far more in fines, fees, costs and restitution than it receives through its budget – this year, nearly 33 percent more and $7 million more than last year. Few of these dollars flow back to the Judiciary. They are distributed to state and local governments and programs, including those that support victims.
More than 85 percent of the Judiciary’s funds cover personnel costs. Because it is overwhelmingly personnel driven, the Judicial budget is relatively straightforward. Unlike the Executive branch, the Judiciary budget is not “program driven,” so there is little discretionary spending.
The Judicial Computer System (JCS) allows courts to track and manage cases, but it does much more.
For example, PAePay, which runs through the JCS, lets people pay court costs, fines, fees and restitution online. Over the last year alone, PAePay processed 23 percent more payments.
And, in 2014, 38,000 law enforcement and public safety officials from more than 20 criminal justice partners and law enforcement agencies depended on the JCS to perform their daily duties.
The JCS makes court information available to users such as the media, academics, attorneys, legislators, government agencies and for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Court records were accessed online more than 65 million times last year, free of charge.
Several Judiciary programs improve lives and save money.