Vt. SC says no to governor's budget request

John O'Brien Aug. 11, 2008, 4:34pm

Vermont Supreme Court

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Legal Newsline) - Vermont's Supreme Court will not cut its budget by five percent, as requested by Gov. Jim Douglas.

Instead, as court administrator Lee Suskin wrote in a letter to Secretary of Administration Michael Smith, the Supreme Court will cut 2.6 percent of its budget -- $825,000.

Douglas' suggestion would have shaved $1.6 million. He is attempting to reduce the overall state budget by $32 million because of a predicted shortfall.

Suskin wrote there are two reasons the Supreme Court could not comply.

"First, you have evaluated the priority and necessity of expenditures and reduced some accounts less or not at all and others to a greater extent than the average reduction," Suskin wrote.

"In the process, you have weighed the relative necessity of judicial branch expenditures against those in the executive branch and have chosen to assign the highest percentage cut to the judiciary.

"Second, our capacity to reduce expenditures while providing constitutionally mandated judicial services to the citizens of Vermont is limited... (T)he organizational structure of the judiciary is largely established by the constitution and acts of the Legislature, and any of our expenditures are required by law irrespective of funding levels."

The decision drew criticism from Finance Commissioner James Reardon, according to a report in the Bennington Banner. Reardon said the letter did not include specific details about the Court's budget.

"It's hard to ascertain what they can achieve or can't achieve because there was really no detail provided," Reardon said in the report.

Suskin wrote that the Court did not want to have its budget cut by any more than any other state agency.

"As an independent branch of government, we are prepared to accept the average reduction percentage and not more," Suskin wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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