Paying for prisons and cutting our courts

Note: Maybe you’ve noticed that we’ve started to post blogs examining different areas of the governor’s budget. Katherine has already written about housinghigher education and workforce development. However, we know that there are people more knowledgeable than us on these issue areas. So, if you think we’ve missed something or gotten something wrong, please post a comment or send us an e-mail. We really want your feedback to inform our future analysis!

Now back to public safety….

The Governor cites as one of his top budget priorities to “protect state public safety programs.” What this translates into is no significant budget cuts to the Dept. of Corrections and Dept. of Public Safety. That’s good news for Office of Justice programs that serve victims of crime and domestic abuse.

The Governor also proposes a nearly $23 million increase for Corrections in FY 2010-11 to cover some significant deficiencies in the agency’s operating budget. Plus, there is another $12.6 million increase in the Dept. of Human Services budget for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

What does not fare as well in the Governor’s budget are court-related services.  The Governor proposes a 5% reduction to the state’s court systems. Considering the size of the budget deficit, that may not sound unreasonable. Taken in context, however, the reduction would have a significant impact on court services.

For example, the judicial branch estimates that it would need an additional $53 million for the FY 2010-11 biennium just to preserve core functions. Instead, the Governor proposes $25 million in reductions.

One area of need within the Supreme Court is civil legal services, which provides legal assistance to Minnesota’s most vulnerable populations – low-income families, the elderly, disabled and children. Currently, more than 20,000 people who are eligible for services are turned away each year. Civil legal services received $2 million in one-time funding during the FY 2008-09 biennium. Under the Governor’s proposal, this one-time funding would not be renewed, plus civil legal services would likely receive an additional 5% reduction in the base budget – effectively a 12% cut. As a result, funding for these services would fall below FY 2006 levels and an estimated 5,000 additional families would go without needed legal assistance.

-Christina Wessel

About Christina Wessel

Christina served as the Minnesota Budget Project's deputy director until January 2014.
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4 Responses to Paying for prisons and cutting our courts

  1. Mike Madden says:

    Does the governor propose any alternatives to the shortfall needed by the judical system, or suggestions as to what services and functions that the citizens of Minnesota will just have to do without?

    • Christina Wessel says:

      No, he doesn’t. Since the courts are a separate branch of government, the Governor’s official line is, “As with the executive branch, the Governor suggests that these offices and institutions individually redesign their operations to increase efficiencies while minimizing the disruption of public services as much as possible.” That’s it.

  2. Michael Friedman says:

    You forgot to include that Public Defenders would also be greatly impacted by the Governor’s proposed 5% cut. Public safety will be impacted because there will be substantial delays in completing misdemeanor cases or felonies in which the accused is out on bail. And if the cops got the wrong person and public defenders aren’t adequately funded to demonstrate innocence, public safety is absolutely not well served.

    • Christina Wessel says:

      Thanks! I’ve gotten a few helpful comments like this, which are greatly appreciated. We’ll use this feedback to improve our published analysis of the Governor’s budget which should be out before the end of the month. If you’d like to e-mail me directly with any comments – the address is

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