Since there is little or no sentiment in the state Legislature for finding new ways to finance essential services, where would the chief justice get the money the court system needs? From education.
Moore suggested that the $9.4 million set aside to expand the voluntary preschool program for 4-year-olds should have been given to the judicial branch. The pre-K program helps prepare children for school, improve their academic performance and start them on the way to a better life — a life that that would not necessarily include involvement with the court system.
Moore pointed out that the pre-K program “didn’t exist the last time I was chief justice,” while the judicial branch is written into the state Constitution.
Without getting into the on-going battle about whether the Constitution does (or should) guarantee Alabama children an education, if one follows the chief justice’s reasoning, there are other programs and appropriations that did not exist a decade ago. Why single out pre-K?
Moore’s suggestion is questionable because pre-K gets its money from the Education Trust Fund and the judicial branch gets its money from the General Fund. Is the chief justice suggesting, as others have, that money should be shifted from one state budget to another rather than find a way to enhance General Fund revenue?
While the state’s two-budget system is not without its limitations, it does limit the ability of politicians to raid programs they do not like and put the money into pet projects. As surely as the Education Trust Fund protects education funding, the General Fund guarantees the judicial branch will be funded as well.
The problem, of course, is that in these post-recession times, neither of the state budgets are flush with money and Montgomery’s leaders have no stomach to raise more revenue. As a result, priorities have to be set and, based on those priorities, cuts must come.
It is hardly surprising that the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, speaking to a meeting of lawyers, would argue the cause of his own branch of government.
However, the solution he proposes — to take money from education, move it to the General Fund, and from there to the court system — reflects priorities this page does not share.