Let’s talk Trial Court Funding Workgroup + Fiscal Cliffs

Posted on December 1, 2012

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The whole concept of a trial court funding workgroup, complete with a stacked deck of those who routinely speak with one voice we’ve found troubling for some time. When we look at their charter, knowing how the AOC routinely refuses administrative records requests and redacts public contract language, we know with some certainty that this group seeks to preserve the status quo yet is also trying to extract greater funding from state coffers to preserve that status quo.

Even more disturbing and something that completely undermines the credibility of their charter is the fact that this group is stacked 6 to 4 with true believers so that any vote this committee takes is automatically stacked in the true believers favor. Adding insult to injury is former senator Isenberg whose name was added to Lockyer-Isenberg as a political favor as Mr. Lockyer was the principal drafter of this legislation. Unfortunately, Mr. Lockyer is tied up at the moment in the court system with his ex-wife and her shenanigans so his presence would probably amount to conflicting interests.

Both the judicial council as well as the AOC are seeking to flex more control over the trial courts and it is this group of true believers that they are counting on to deliver as the AOC’s office of governmental affairs still lacks credibility. A changing of the guard over at OGA does not address this as the new players still don’t represent the interests of the trial courts as they work for and pledged to serve the AOC.

What is happening with OGA appears to be an expansion of this lobbying office with people outside of the judicial branch who have little to zero knowledge of judicial branch operations and are all but completely isolated from those operations.  Since the ongoing assault on the Judicial Council and AOC programs is so expansive, it only makes sense to slice and dice the issues so that more talking heads can address those issues individually. Lobbying is no longer left to people whose credibility is all but totally shot, save one. In documents we’ve recently reviewed, those documents appear to refer to three (count ’em, three) OGA directors. One of those is a director whose credibility remains totally shot, one Donna Hershkowitz. We’re assuming that the AOC permits assistant directors to refer to themselves as directors and now there is two assistant directors and one director.

According to their charter, this TCFWG will meet approximately every 5 weeks on an agenda and supporting materials supplied by Jody Patel. The materials that will be provided for these meetings will be delivered to attendees three days in advance of the meeting. If it is anything like the judicial council (and you know it is….) there will be voluminous materials delivered that the attendees will not have time to review or verify before any vote is taken because this is the way the AOC prefers to conduct their business.

After all how could anyone possibly disagree with voluminous materials provided at the last moment when they don’t have either the time or resources to form an argument?

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It appears that Washington DC’s fiscal cliff impacts to California have been calculated. In this morning’s SFGATE there is an article titled Fiscal Cliff cuts could hit state hard . It starts out with California stands to lose as much as $4.5 billion in federal funding and more than 200,000 jobs next year if Congress fails to reach a deficit reduction agreement by Dec. 31. Add to this figure the abandonment of federal unemployment extensions and California is looking at a world of hurt and a plunge right back into recession and foreclosures.

By any account the U.S. deficit is and has been out of control. While the republicans tend to tout fiscal restraint one would be hard pressed to define a republican presidency where deficits did not explode in size and magnitude. If you’re spending about the same amount of money year after year there is only two ways to pay those bills. One is to raise taxes and the other is to lower taxes, sell bonds and transfer that debt to your grandchildren.  Our current deficit exploded with September 11th 2001, followed by off-budget costs to conduct two wars and the meltdown of financial institutions. Today, our debt is still largely financed by China – a China whose own economic activity is grinding to a halt due to lower exports to the EU and to the US. Australia remains the untouched entity in this financial morass but even their economy weighs heavily on raw material exports to China. Today China has stockpiles of merchandise that they can’t sell to world markets. Producers in China are going bankrupt and factories are closing all over the country. It’s apparent that China will not be able to finance U.S. debt and Chinese stimulus has only served to increase stockpiles of unsold goods and build stockpiles of mostly Australian raw materials.

There is no doubt that we need to decrease spending. However we also need to analyze how those dollars are spent and how less dollars might be more productive. A dollar spent in the defense sector is well known to create the least amount of jobs and economic activity, yet California is the home of many defense contractors and state coffers are reliant upon those high paying jobs to pay their own bills, so the ripple there turns into a tidal wave in Sacramento that will directly impact future judicial branch budgets.

The American people aren’t looking for a fiscal cliff. This fiscal cliff deal that was made in the summer 2011 to increase the debt ceiling would have never happened to a republican president because republicans and democrats in congress wouldn’t have allowed it. In fact, the debt ceiling was routinely increased under republican presidencies by both democratic and republican congresses. As borne by actual numbers, the debt ceiling has risen 4.5 trillion dollars under democratic presidencies and a staggering 10 trillion under republican presidencies. Today government spending puts us in a very exclusive club whose only other members are Japan, Greece and Italy, all of whose public debt exceeds their GDP by more than 100%.

CBO indicates that the U.S. will run out of money in February. Failing any meaningful cuts to budgets along with increased taxes on the wealthy and yet another increase on the debt ceiling will plunge the country back into a serious recession whose pain would be extended to the previously untouched. We’ve stopped conducting the two off-budget wars that got us in to this serious mess but we have other off budget matters that threaten our economic livelihood, namely the rapid increase in social security and medicare recipients as the baby boomers retire. So whatever approach our leadership takes must be a balanced approach that both raises taxes and cuts spending. Luckily, California is far less reliant on defense spending that we were in the early 90’s when military bases were closed all over the state.

By any stretch, whatever happens on capitol hill in the next 8 to 10 weeks will affect many. What we don’t wish to see is the fiscal cliff go into effect unmodified and whatever changes should impact the least amount of people. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions of how that should transpire.