District of Columbia court officials are preparing for another year of less-than-requested funds for capital projects, in light of the fiscal year 2013 budgets approved last month by the House and Senate appropriations committees.
Unlike other state court systems, the District's local courts – the D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals – are funded by Congress. In the court system's budget request, officials had asked for $349 million for operations and capital improvements to fund the appeals court, Superior Court and the combined court system. Court officials had asked for $153 million for capital improvements for courthouse facilities, planning to use $65 million for an expansion to the Superior Court's main building.
In the version approved by the Senate appropriations committee on June 14, the court system would receive $225.3 million, which would include $33.7 million for capital improvements. On June 20, the House appropriations committee approved a slightly higher overall budget of $232.1 million, including $39 million for capital improvements. Both versions will now go before the full House and Senate for consideration.
In a statement, D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric Washington said that cuts in recent years have forced the courts system to "defer critical infrastructure improvements" that are part of the court's facilities master plan and delay "modernization and related safety and efficiency improvements." He noted that these delays ultimately push up the costs of these projects over time.
While the court system was able to fund major renovations over the past decade, including to the Historic Courthouse that is home to the appeals court, "more recently, the Courts’ capital budget has been austere given the economic challenges facing the Nation," Washington said.
However, he said that the approved fiscal year 2013 budgets would still allow the court to move forward with the Superior Court expansion project. Partial funding for that project was already approved in past budgets.
Washington said that the budgets, as approved by both committees, would also allow the court to finance general maintenance and repairs to the court system's five buildings – a total of 1.2 million square feet – in downtown Washington.
The good news for the court system is that the rest of its requested budget remained fairly intact in both the House and Senate versions. The court system requested $13.1 million for the appeals court, $114.9 million for Superior Court and $67.6 million for the court system.
The House version would provide $12.8 million to the appeals court, $113.9 million for Superior Court and $66.3 million for the court system. The Senate version would provide $13.1 million to the appeals court, $111.7 million for Superior Court and $66.7 million for the court system.