New Hampshire's proposed e-court system comes up against Governor Lynch's lean budget
By Eileen McGuire-Mahony
Concord: NEW HAMPSHIRE: In a budget that stripped funds from nearly every agency in the state, New Hampshire's Governor, John Lynch, has set aside funds for one new program. The judicial branch stands to benefit from the program, designed to set up an 'e-court' for electronic filing of some records. Still, the New Hampshire judiciary as overall taken fiscal hits and some advocates of the e-court system are saying the funds allocated aren't enough.
Having requested $86 million, the courts received $74 million as Governor Lynch unveiled his $10.7 billion budget, one that cuts spending 3.3% for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The Granite State judiciary is expected to trim jury trials, reduce the hours allotted to judges, and lay off some staff. However, the e-courts system is still in the works, even if some court officials say it's going to take more money to bring the system on line and handle it on a day-to-day basis.
Lynch intends to give the courts $600,000 in start-up costs to install video-conferencing capabilities in court rooms and to set up a call center. Additionally, his budget allocates $2 million over the next two years to run e-courts, a system courts officials say is vital to streamlining and modernizing New Hampshire courts.
The $2.6 million represents only half of what the judicial branch was hoping for; they had sought $5 million over five years to run e-courts. Now, some officials are saying they may ask the legislature, currently dominated by Republicans in both chambers, for more money; this could lead to pushing back e-court's implementation until they can sign a contract for the full cost of the system.
Governor Lynch's budget now goes to the House and, ultimately, the Senate. Both have GOP majorities but Lynch's fellow Democrats are upset over cuts to welfare and entitlement programs. Lynch has presented his across-the-board cuts as unavoidable to right the state's economy and it remains to be seen how much legislative Democrats will be able to do to save favorite programs from sharing in the funding cuts.
Republicans have expressed support for Lynch's plan but have also indicated they will fight some of its contents. Having promised to let no tax increases through the current session, they are set to fight provisions in the budget that create new fees and prolong items due to sunset. GOP leadership has also targeted Lynch for overestimating revenue and shifting some costs down to counties and towns.