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Gov. Scott approves $45.6 million loan to keep state court system afloat

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott approved a $45.6 million loan to patch a budget hole in the state court system on Tuesday, allowing judges time to scramble for a more permanent funding solution.

State courts receive their money from a trust fund supported mostly by mortgage foreclosure fees. But those fees have fallen off dramatically because of a moratorium on foreclosure filings by lenders.

The loan allows the courts to maintain their operations through March without furloughs or disruptions in services.

"We have a budget, (and) we're spending within that budget," said courts administrator Lisa Goodner. "This is very much a temporary solution."

It is the courts' second infusion of cash for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The Legislature appropriated $437 million for the courts based on projections for filing fees, but September estimates knocked that to $272 million, creating a $108 million shortfall.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady requested the most recent loan in September letters to Scott and the House and Senate budget committee chairs, Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Grimsley said last week the Legislature will "take care of their issues" going forward. Exactly how is uncertain.

The loan must be repaid no later than June 30, according to the Tuesday letter granting Canady's request from Jerry McDaniel, Scott's budget director.

The Legislature directed the courts and Clerks of Court to present new, less volatile sources for their budgets by Nov. 1.

Beyond the budget, state courts are struggling to tackle a backlog of mortgage foreclosure cases, which economists say is prolonging the housing crisis. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked the courts for a plan to tackle the pending cases, of which there were 364,235 as of Aug. 31.

Goodner said she will recommend revisiting a one-time strategy of creating special dockets for foreclosure cases. The 2010-11 program cleared out 44 percent of the backlog, but money for it was not renewed.

"I think everybody understands it's going to take us several years to climb out of the mess that we've been in," she said.

Gov. Scott approves $45.6 million loan to keep state court system afloat 10/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 9:43pm]
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