The following are excerpts from the speech I delivered to the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees.
These are difficult days, to be sure. The reality of the budget situation requires an extraordinary commitment to our fiscal obligations and to our court users, and a partnership among the three branches of government unlike any in recent memory.
It must be noted that serving our core mission has been a significant challenge during the past few years. Two years ago we absorbed a budget cut of $33 million and lost 300 staff. Last fiscal year we managed another cut of $52 million and lost another 170 staff.
This year, we have been asked to reduce our budget by an additional $39 million in order to pay for contracted raises for unionized staff. The increase needed to pay for these raises has not been included in the proposed budget. Therefore, the shortfall must be absorbed in our existing allocation.
That said, we know what our duty is and we are struggling to meet our core functions and responsibilities to the public so that litigants will not suffer a reduction in services.
It is through three key principles—partnership, commitment and sacrifice –-that we have kept the work of the judiciary on course and brought benefits to programs in the other branches. It is a testament to the creativity and hard work of judges and staff alike that the judiciary has been able to stay true to the core mission of the courts.
We intend to seek additional creative solutions and services without spending additional money. Our Web site, njcourts.com, is a wealth of free information for the public on foreclosure, on representing one’s self in court, on court decisions and schedules.
We even have videos posted online to inform citizens about our programs. We are looking at every program, every budget item, and every practice area to find efficiencies to improve how we spend and how we operate. We follow every opportunity to secure grant funds for initiatives and to expand efforts where we can.
The leadership team of this organization, judges and managers alike, have brought us successfully through the budget cuts, caseload increases and need for new programs, such as the foreclosure mediation program, during the past few years.
Their sacrifice has been great. In order to get everything done, staff put in as many as 60 hours a week. Family life and individual pursuits suffer from such long hours.
Our most senior managers have not received a raise since 2007 despite their increased workload. I am here to tell you that our managers, our staff and our judges are amongst the most committed and hardest working public servants in all of New Jersey. I am proud to be here and to have had the opportunity to tell you about their successes and their challenges.
All branches of government are being challenged because of the fiscal crisis confronting our state. The judiciary intends to participate in the cost reductions that are being asked of our partners in government and of the citizens of New Jersey.
Despite these difficulties our goal remains the same, to provide timely justice to the citizens who access our court system.