Senate Bill Could Plug NV Supreme Court Budget Hole
As KNPR's State of Nevada reported about a month ago, the Nevada Supreme Court is in the midst of a financial shortfall.
Because its budget comes from assessments on traffic citations, funding hinges upon how many tickets law enforcement officers write.
Lately, it's been a lot fewer – so much so that the courts might run out of money by the first of the month if nothing changes.
Senate Bill 469, though, would give the Supreme Court an emergency cash infusion to help carry it over.
The bill would provide just under $600,000 this fiscal year, which Chief Justice James Hardesty told KNPR’s State of Nevada, would cover the shortfall.
However, Hardesty said there is a larger problem at work. There are nine different accounts in the court’s budget, everything from salaries to operating budgets. The shortfall is impacting just one of those accounts. Hardesty says the court is at budget or even over budget in all the other accounts, but the court is not able to move money where it is needed.
Hardesty said the court has asked the Legislature for the power to move funds, but so far it hasn’t been done.
“This is a problem, I think, for many state agencies and it’s certainly a challenge for the court as well,” Hardesty said.
The impact of the shortfall is being acutely felt in specialty courts like drug courts where in one jurisdiction there is a back log of several months.
“This is really not healthy for public safety. It certainly isn’t really good for rehabilitating defendants and it isn’t consistent with our criminal code that gives them the right to participate in these programs if they otherwise qualify,” Hardesty said.
Hardesty believes having courts funded through traffic tickets is a poor idea and he thinks it gives the appearance of impropriety.
The other problem with traffic tickets and administrative fees as revenue sources is they are not consistent and can drop without warning, as they did by 15 percent this year.
“If you don’t know what your income is, you don’t know what your means are,” the chief justice pointed out. “In the case of traffic tickets, the court had no idea how many traffic tickets law enforcement is going to write.”
He hopes the next legislative session will look using the general fund for the high court, which is how many other states fund their supreme courts.
James Hardesty, chief justice, Nevada Supreme Court