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March 1, 2013
Governor’s budget calls for bonuses, new judges

By Megan E. Davis
Associate Editor

While he didn’t heed the state courts’ request for across-the-board raises for court employees, Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed 2013-14 budget does include a pool of bonus money aimed at all state workers.

Gov. Scott “I don’t believe there have been any pay adjustments for the majority of the state workforce over the last several years,” said Bonnie Rogers, policy coordinator for the Public Safety Policy Unit in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget. “I know the state attorneys and the public defenders are having some tremendous challenges with retention issues, and we’re very sensitive to that.”

Her words came during a presentation to the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, shortly after the governor released his budget last month.

Rather than raises, the governor proposed three bonus plans for employees.

The first $167.5 million plan, tied to a reduction in the unemployment rate, would fund $1,200 bonuses for all state employees. An additional $147.9 million plan targets top performers, allowing $5,000 bonuses for employees who receive outstanding performance evaluations and $2,500 for those who receive commendable evaluations.

“We believe that’s a good start,” Rogers said.

In a meeting several days later, State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice that the $5.5 million request for a 3.5 percent salary adjustment for all state court employees remains a top priority of the chief justice.

“This is a very serious problem in our branch,” she said. “We find ourselves running about 10 percent behind other competing government employers in terms of what we can offer our employees.”

Goodner also suggested the proposed bonus programs be adjusted to include 989 judicial assistants who under the court system’s personnel regulations do not receive performance evaluations.

“If we go that route, we definitely want to work out some sort of way to include judicial assistants in any type of increase that is given to other employees,” she said.

Though it contains no raises for employees, the governor’s proposal includes $4.2 million for courthouse repairs, which is also a court priority.

Scott’s recommended funding for a new roof for the Supreme Court would mean no more moving containers around to catch rain falling through the original 1948 roof.Additional repairs to three district courts of appeal include replacing air handlers and HVAC units.

The budget proposal also attempted to meet the courts partway in a request for new judgeships.

The governor recommends $4.4 million for 20 new judges, including one district court of appeal judge, 13 circuit court judges, and six county judges, along with judicial support staff.

The courts originally requested 64 new judges, though both Rogers and Goodner said their offices worked together to identify the most critical need for judgeships within the court system.

The governor’s $438 million suggested court budget also includes several other items sought by the courts.

It proposes $4 million to continue working through the state’s foreclosure backlog. It would fund the second of a four-year program to resolve foreclosure cases that piled up following the housing market bust in 2008. The money would be used to hire retired judges in order to work through an additional 160,000 cases in the 2013-14 year.

Additionally, the budget includes $5.5 million to continue eight drug court pilot programs — in Broward, Escambia, Hillsborough, Marion, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, and Volusia counties — targeted to a specific population at risk of ending up in prison.

Federal drug court funding of about $11 million expires on June 30. If the pilots do not continue, these drug offenders will likely end up in prison, with higher rates of recidivism and higher costs.

While a cell in prison costs $53.34 per day per inmate, the daily costs of the drug court is $20 for each participant.

[Revised: 12-05-2014]