A previous update explained that the Judicial Council had been handed the reigns by the Legislature in steering $150 million in unallocated cuts to the courts that came down in the last state budget, and that the proposal from the Budget Working Group was to remove the entire $4.8 million in interpreter budget reserves.
On Wednesday last week we asked a few stewards and officers to voice their concern with the Judicial Council, and the word quickly spread. The ensuing flood of phone calls and emails from interpreters helped convince the Judicial Council to back away from the recommendation of taking the entire $4.8 million in reserves from the court interpreter budget. Instead, the council voted on Friday to take $3 million and leave a, “cushion,” of $1.8 million. Although taking $3 million dollars from the understaffed interpreter departments is clearly a mistake, it is a clear victory that CFI was able to push the Judicial Council away from the cuts that were recommended by the Budget Working Group. We maintained our baseline budget and our reserve in a time when other programs are experiencing devastating cuts.
Some of the emailed comments from interpreters made it into an early version of the written comments packet, including the official CFI letter signed by the President, Curtis Draves. The final version of the written comments was distributed to the Judicial Council and to everyone in attendance at the meeting, but doesn’t seem to be available online. An overwhelming majority of the written public comments came from CFI members, urging the members of the Judicial Council to vote against the proposed cut to the interpreter fund.
President Curtis Draves, Staff rep Brandon Scovill, and lobbyist Ignacio Hernandez were present at the San Francisco meeting on Friday. Curtis and Brandon shared some prepared remarks during the public comment period, reminding the Judicial Council that California courts are still not meeting the Federally mandated level of interpreter services, and that interpreters’ salaries have been stagnant for years.
Ultimately there was very little debate or discussion over our issue. The budget working group presented their proposal to the council, explaining that the interpreter budget held a $4.8 million budget reserve from savings during the closures in the ’09/’10 fiscal year and that they are predicting another $1.5 million in additional surplus from unspent baseline funds in ’10/’11. They recommended removing the entire $4.8 million reserve and allowing the $1.5 from last year to roll over to this year. They noted that AOC staff had suggested an alternative proposal of taking only $3 million and leaving the $1.8 in reserves. The Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, noted that interpreter expenses have been unpredictable in past years, and that a “cushion” was needed to avoid exhausting the fund. A motion was made, seconded, and passed with near unanimous support. The only dissenting vote was Judge Wesley of L.A. who had made a motion earlier in the day that included taking all of the interpreters’ reserves.
Despite the victory for CFI, interpreters will likely find it frustrating that taking money from the interpreters’ reserve will have no impact on interpreter coordinators, who are reimbursed from the same fund. Since coordinator reimbursements are capped at a set dollar amount, the $2.2 million spent on coordinators will not be affected. In region 3, where 10% of the State’s interpreter employees work, coordinator costs are close to $1 million, 40% of the state’s interpreter coordinator expenses.