He offered a hint of sympathy for courts administrators, who, he noted, have had to make do with less for several years. "Certainly if the rest of the budget were in good shape, and not subject to significant realigning, there would be a tendency to leave the Judicial Branch budget alone," he said. "But since we're going to be running around looking for money over the next couple of months, they may be asked to come up with something else."
Other Judiciary Committee members, including the two co-chairs, Rep. Gerald Fox III and Sen. Eric Coleman, did not return calls last week seeking comment.
In recent years, the Judicial Branch has reduced spending by leaving some positions open, by cutting the budget of the Public Defender's Office, by closing the Norwalk juvenile court facility, and by closing some courthouse law libraries, and cutting back hours at others.
This year, the Judicial Branch budget does call for one notable reduction a cut in the criminal victim compensation fund. About $3.6 million in payments are slated to be made in the current fiscal year. That number would drop to $2.7 million by fiscal year 2015.
In contrast, prosecutors and assistant public defenders would receive 3 percent raises in each of the next two years. The increases, arrived at in collective bargaining agreements, would cost the state about $12 million more each year.
There's also an additional $9 million budgeted next year for the state's "raise the age" initiative, which moves most cases involving 16-year-old and 17-year-olds from the adult criminal justice system to the state's juvenile courts. The goal is to get troubled teens into educational and vocational training programs instead of prisons.
While there's an initial outlay for the state, Judicial Branch leaders have said that the long-term impact will be to ease crowding in adult prisons, which would save the state money.
Thomas Siconolfi, executive director of administrative services for the Judicial Branch, said court officials will present their numbers to legislators starting on Feb. 19. "There's nothing to say people will be enamored by what we say," Siconolfi said. "I think the legislature has a very daunting task ahead of it."