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Economy and waning tax revenue put strain on courts

IL Staff
June 19, 2012
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The Indiana University Public Policy Institute, a part of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, released an issue brief Tuesday saying that Indiana’s courts are doing more with less as a result of the nation’s economic downturn, reduced local funding and increased demand.
 
“This is an important example of how the economy and local-government budget restrictions affect public services and the public well-being,” said Public Policy Institute Executive in Residence and retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. “In this case, there is a direct impact on Hoosiers’ access to effective and timely justice.”

In addition to examining how budget cuts affect the delivery of judicial services, the brief, titled “Courts and the Economy,” addresses how courts’ financial challenges could have an impact on local and state economies. It also considers how other states are shifting more judicial funding from local governments to the state to increase the efficiencies, effectiveness and equity of judicial services.

Since 1994, Indiana case filings have increased 27 percent and the cost per filing increased from $78 to $106, according to the study. In 2010, Indiana state and local governments spent nearly $400 million to fund judicial operations, with 66 percent of that total coming from county and municipal governments that were hit hard by the recession of 2008 and by the state’s constitutional amendment capping property tax rates.

“To maintain fiscal discipline, Indiana’s courts were forced to lay off technology and support staff, to freeze salaries, and to reduce overall budget sizes,” the report noted.

The report pointed out that federal cuts forced Indiana Legal Services, which provides legal assistance to low-income Hoosiers, to reduce its budget by 17 percent from 2011 to 2012. In addition, the Marion County Law Library, which provided legal materials to individuals who represent themselves in civil cases, closed as a result of budget cuts.

“Indiana courts have withstood the worst of the 2008 recession, but a revenue-constrained environment in local government creates significant uncertainty for future years,” the report concludes. “The Indiana judiciary can be cautiously optimistic for its future and should use the lessons from other states on how best to improve court operations.”

The full report can be viewed online.

 

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