Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Later this week, the Michigan House Judiciary Committee is taking testimony on HB 5371.

The bill exempts prosecuting attorneys from paying some fees in the Michigan Court of Appeals and the circuit courts.

The legislation is undoubtedly intended to ease the strain on county prosecutors’ budgets, which are being pinched along with the budgets of all other governmental agencies.

But, in at least as the COA is concerned, this may be akin to passing a (nonexistent) buck.

Last month, COA Chief Judge William B. Murphy appeared before the Judiciary Subcommittee of House Appropriations to plead for an honest budget from the Legislature. See, Michigan Lawyers Weekly, “Judges begging for budgets.”

The problem, Murphy told the lawmakers, is that for a number of years, part of the COA’s budget, nearly $2 million, has been based on anticipated fee revenue. But the court never collects what’s anticipated.

In fact, for 2009, there was a $500,000 shortfall. Murphy said budget assumptions based on fee revenue have not been adjusted to reflect what’s actually collected.

If HB 5371 becomes law, it will affect COA fee revenue.

And if the Legislature is to take Murphy’s complaint seriously, it will need to allocate even more real dollars to the COA to make up for the imaginary ones being collected in the clerk’s office.

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