Earlier this year, the state’s trial court system experienced a near-catastrophic cash flow crisis. Declining revenues from fewer civil case filings and supposedly less-than-stellar budgeting resulted in a scare for the pay of trial court personnel.
Gov. Mike Beebe (D) stepped in with emergency funding and several austerity measures were put in place to staunch the bleeding in an effort to keep the pay problem in check until the February 2012 fiscal session.
Looks like something may have to occur sooner rather than later.
Today, Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Jim Hannah and Arkansas Judicial Council President Judge Ralph Wilson sent a letter to all Circuit Judges in Arkansas, which reads:
We have just completed a meeting of the special taskforce which was created for the purpose of analyzing the causes of the decline in the revenues remitted to the state Administration of Justice Fund and to propose recommendations for short and long-term solutions to the problem. Our immediate and primary focus has been on the shortfall in funding available to the Auditor of State to meet the payroll obligations for Trial Court Assistants.
After the last meeting of the taskforce we advised you of our request to the Governor that emergency funds be made available to cover any shortfall between now and the meeting of the General Assembly in February. As you know, the Governor responded by providing funds to meet the payroll needs through the end of December. Yesterday we received updated information about collections for the Administration of Justice Fund and, unfortunately, the revenue has not improved and continues to further decline.
Further information provided by the Auditor of State and Department of Finance and Administration suggests that, based upon this rate of collection and absent any additional emergency assistance, there will not be sufficient revenue to meet the expected payroll obligations in January. In response to this information, the task force voted this afternoon to recommend to the Auditor of State that they schedule and notify employees of 3.5 unpaid furlough days for all Trial Court Assistants between January 26 and January 31, 2012.
This is obviously not an option which anyone prefers. It may still be avoided should there either be additional court costs and filing fees remitted to the Administration of Justice Fund or additional emergency funds provided to the Auditor. Absent these possibilities, however, the Auditor of State will be required to take action to limit employment for which they have no ability to pay. In an attempt to assist the Auditor in meeting this legal obligation and in providing employees with as much notice as possible, the taskforce made this recommendation.
Early next week there will be a meeting between several circuit judges on the taskforce and Mr. Charlie Daniels, the Auditor of State. There will also be a special conference call with the Board of Directors of the Judicial Council. We sincerely hope through all of our collective activity to remedy the problem such that no furlough of employment will be necessary. In order to plan for “the worst”, however, this action was taken.
We regret the continued stress which this action will cause to you and your families, especially at this time of year. We appreciate your continued patience and recognize the importance of your services to our system of justice. We will keep you informed of any further developments.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Beebe, said the Governor is aware of the situation and is looking at options to help. DeCample said, at this time, Beebe has not made any decision past December to assist with payroll needs while the review of the situation continues.
There are an estimated 120-130 trial court assistants in Arkansas.
Talk Business will update this story with additional information if it becomes available.