Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California courthouses across the state will get a $5 billion face lift, part of several dozens of bills signed at the same time the state's historic budget impasse ended with the signature of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday.

Quietly lost among the political tumult of a $42 billion deficit, Schwarzenegger signed legislation that gives the Judicial Council authorization for $5 billion in bond money to build new or renovate old courthouses throughout the state, taking back the authority stripped from them by Republicans last year.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George outlined the need for the repairs in September at a state bar meeting. He told the audience that the decaying courthouses pose a safety risk.

"California's judicial branch cannot wait for the economy to return to health before considering how best to serve the public," he said. "There simply are too many challenges to meet - with or without much-needed additional resources - that must be dealt with now."

Schwarzenegger signed legislation last fall allowing the $5 billion to be raised, but with the budget impasse the funds had been delayed.

Another bill signed by the governor allows counties continuing paying extra benefits to local judges, a move touted by the Judicial Council.

Despite the victory, the court still faces financial uncertainty. The budget accord passed on Thursday calls for a budget cut from the courts of $100 million. However, if stimulus funds expected to come from the Federal Government exceed $10 billion, the budget cut will be rescinded.

The legislation for the stimulus funds were approved last week but the exact amount coming to California has not been clarified.

California's budget deficit soared from $7 billion to $42 billion in less than a year.

The state has one of the worst bond ratings in the country and inconsistent revenue streams that fluctuate wildly in boom times or bust. Schwarzenegger joined Democrats and a handful of Republican who broke ranks with the anti-tax party faithful to gain passage of the budget.

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