LOS BANOS -- Plans to build a new Los Banos courthouse have been frozen for at least a year, because Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature used those funds to help address the state's budget woes.
As part of a deal to reduce the state's $15.7 billion deficit, Brown and the Legislature have decreased funding to the court system by $486 million, including $240 million from its operations budget, according to H.D. Palmer, the Department of Finance's deputy director for external affairs.
The Legislature agreed to replace the $240 million with funding from the court system's $300 million construction budget, as part of the recently passed state budget, he said.
With only $60 million left for courthouse construction throughout the state, projects in the planning stages, such as the relocation of Los Banos' Robert M. Falasco Justice Center from Fifth Street to G Street and Mercey Springs Road, have been placed on hold for the next year.
Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion, whose district includes Los Banos, said the news left him discontented.
"We all know what shape the state is in," O'Banion said. "I'm disappointed that it's not going forward. It may take a year or two, but hopefully the construction will happen."
Although it's uncertain if the one-year hiatus will be extended, Palmer said politicians will have to consider it in the next fiscal year.
"That's something the governor and state Legislature will have to look at," Palmer said. "That's why it's only a one-year pause, not five years."
Beginning in 2013-14, the state plans to decrease the court system's allocation by $125 million annually: $50 million from the construction budget and $75 million from operations, Palmer said.
State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said he didn't vote for the budget because of cuts to education and other areas such as the court system.
"The court system is an equal branch of government and we're withholding funds from them to do their constitutional duty. We say we care about public safety and education and that's what's getting cut in this budget," Cannella said.
Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the Legislature has directed an operational study to be conducted to determine if the court system is operating in the most efficient manner and whether the courthouses being planned are necessary.
Ruano said she does not have a timeline for the study.
The Robert M. Falasco Justice Center occupies about 5,370 square feet of its 15,000-square-foot building. The one-courtroom structure is owned by Merced County and is shared by the Sheriff's Department, Probation Department, county clerk and public defender. The District Attorney's Office is in a portable building at the rear of the permanent structure. A feasibility report identified numerous deficiencies at the facility, which was built in 1980.
In 2009, the state authorized $32.6 million to be spent on construction of a new Los Banos court facility with two courtrooms and room to expand to four.
Enterprise staff writer Corey Pride can be reached at 388-6563 or email@example.com.