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Iowa Courthouses Set to Close Eight Days Between March and June PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 27 February 2009 15:07

Lynn CampbellIowa courthouses will close an additional eight days between now and June 30 if the $3.8-million cut to the judicial system approved Thursday by the Iowa House is also approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, State Court Administrator David Boyd told a panel of lawmakers this week.

That’s twice a month, or once a pay period, Boyd told the legislature’s joint justice-system budget subcommittee. Beginning in March, the courts would close on each day that the state’s 1,600 clerks of court and other judicial employees take a furlough, or unpaid day off, for a savings of $335,000 a day.

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday issued an order requiring all court offices to be closed for seven days before the fiscal year ends June 30, in anticipation of the $3.8-million budget cut. With the order, all 1,600 judicial employees will take unpaid leave and courthouses across Iowa will be closed March 20, April 10, April 24, May 8, May 22, June 5 and June 19.

One furlough per quarter is not that bad,” said Senator Rob Hogg, an attorney and Cedar Rapids Democrat. “But when you get to talking about eight -- two a month -- that is not acceptable.”

Yet the Iowa House voted 55-43 Thursday afternoon for a bill that includes a $3.8-million budget cut to the judicial system, a $957,000 cut to the legislative branch, and a $25.6-million cut to the executive branch, all before June 30. Democratic legislative leaders confirmed that they don’t intend to alter the level of cuts.

I think it’s fairly strong that that’s going to stick,” said Representative Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids), chair of the justice-system budget subcommittee. “At this point, I don’t see that changing a whole lot. ... It’s not signed by the governor yet, but I don’t have high hopes that it’s going to change a whole lot.”

Iowa’s courthouses already closed February 16 for the first of what was anticipated to be several furlough days between now and June 30.

A $3.8-million cut would represent 2.6 percent of the courts’ operating budget -- almost twice the 1.5-percent cut that agencies in the executive branch were ordered to take. It’s also much more severe than what court officials had proposed to Governor Chet Culver: a $1.7-million cut in the current fiscal year that would mean only three court-closure days.

Iowa’s court system will undergo much more drastic cuts -- 20 furlough days and between 80 and 160 layoffs -- if it’s required to take a $15.4-million cut next fiscal year, Boyd told lawmakers.