Issue: Court Funding

Nationally, there is a growing awareness that cuts in court budgets are putting the quality of justice at risk. Responding to this growing threat, the ABA has recently established a Task Force on the Preservation of the Justice System. Other groups are also trying to build awareness of the necessity of funding state courts adequately.

*The percentage of money the state spends on the Judiciary from its general revenue budget has declined during the last 20 years.

  • In fiscal 2011, the Judiciary budget was about 2 percent of the state's overall general revenue budget.
  • The Judiciary spends more than 70 percent of its budget in its circuit courts, about 91 percent of which is for salaries for judges and court personnel. Counties are required to fund the operations of the circuit courts.
  • The salaries and positions of the state's 408 judges and commissioners, 116 circuit clerks and 45 chief juvenile officers are set by state statute. The positions and salaries of the remaining staff – more than 2,600 people – are subject to each year's appropriation by the General Assembly.
  • In fiscal 2010, the Judiciary disbursed more than $309.9 million as court costs, bond refunds, fines, fees, surcharges, garnishments, restitution, court judgments, prosecutor and law enforcement training funds, and sheriff's fees. Of that amount, approximately $31.9 million was paid into general revenue or other funds the state administers.
  • Between January 2004 and the end of October 2010, Missouri courts received more than $5.97 million in overdue fines and costs from the Department of Revenue's tax offset program and more than $9.4 million through the Judiciary's debt collection program.

Bottom Line: Underfunded courts hurt all taxpayers, who are forced to foot the bill when legal proceedings drag or people are wrongly imprisoned.