The judges who work in Citrus County know well what elements of the local court system are essential to providing the best and most effective service to county residents. Now, they must share that knowledge with state legislators, who soon will begin identifying which of those services are truly essential and worthy of getting a piece of the state's increasingly shrinking pool of money.
To that end, Circuit Judge Ric Howard will travel today to Tallahassee along with a number of other local officials to discuss this and other issues with the local legislative delegation.
This lobbying effort is not simply a plea to keep the paychecks coming for those employed by the court system. At stake is the continuation of a number of successful programs and services that have kept the courts here functioning for many years.
Eliminating those programs, Howard said, would be like jamming a stick into the spokes of a moving bicycle. The damage would be a lot worse than skinned knees, however.
In 1998, voters around the state approved Revision 7, which aimed to provide uniform support for court systems throughout Florida and to erase the inequities that led to small, rural counties being overshadowed by their larger and more politically powerful counterparts.
The legislature has until 2004 to implement the changes, chief among them a shift in funding responsibility from the counties to the state. This year, lawmakers finally will begin their work by identifying which services truly are essential and therefore worthy of funding.
That puts the functions of the court system into political tug of wars with a host of other state issues, from school class sizes and high-speed rail lines to the countless pet projects of the legislators, at a time when the capital leadership is more intent on gutting social programs and giving tax breaks to the wealthy than in serving the needs of the citizens of Florida.
This is a precarious playing field to place vital functions such as funding for prosecutors, public defenders and programs including mediations, child-support enforcement, and drug courts.
It would be a nearly impossible sell for legislators to argue that funding for courts should be shrunk, but history shows that nothing is beyond the realm of consideration when the great minds gather in Tallahassee and money is on the table.
The leaders of the Citrus County court system are to be commended for their foresight in recognizing the potential dangers that are lurking as the Legislature takes up this important task for reaching out to the local legislative delegation to be advocates for keeping the courts running. But they cannot do it alone.
All Floridians must demand that their representatives in Tallahassee fulfill the intent of Revision 7, which was to improve the court system, and not go for the easy out of slashing court funding in order to divert those dollars elsewhere.
Does this impending battle impact you directly? Only if you have ever been the victim of a crime, own a business, have children or parents, own a house, are divorced, have a dispute with a neighbor, know someone in need of medical care, pay insurance or earn a paycheck.
In short, if you have a pulse, the court system affects you in some way. If not, feel free to sit this one out.
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