Circuit court expenses should be paid by state Takeover: The governor's support looks political, but courts ought to be funded by Annapolis.

October 07, 1998

REQUIRING Maryland's 24 local subdivisions to help pay the bill for this state's circuit courts makes no sense.

It drains precious resources from poorer local governments and leads to unequal courthouse situations, based on local wealth. It also lets the state escape paying its fair share.

Belatedly, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has decided that the state should assume full responsibility for Maryland's circuit courts. He should have done so three years ago. That's when a commission reported ways to pick up more of these expenses on the logical ground that "the courts of Maryland are state courts."

He also pledged four years ago as a candidate for governor to help Baltimore City with its heavy courthouse expenses.

But he never delivered on that promise until this past week. By then, his move was seen as an election-year attempt to win the endorsement of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

That is unfortunate, because state takeover of Maryland's trial-court expenses -- an estimated $73 million a year -- is long overdue. The General Assembly took a meager step in that direction in its last session, picking up local expenses for courthouse interpreter services and the first $5 of per diem juror payments.

Much more needs to be done, though.

The Commission on the Future of Maryland Courts called for the unification of the circuit courts to provide central direction and uniform operating policies.

A good step in that direction would be assumption by the state of its fiscal responsibilities. Given Maryland's healthy budget surplus, now would be an ideal time to start phasing in 100-percent state financing of trial courts.

Such a move would free local money for other vital areas. Mr. Schmoke, for instance, wants to shift the city's $9 million in courthouse funds to pay for several hundred additional police officers.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey says that she has no philosophical opposition to a state takeover, that it would depend strictly on finding money in the state budget to pay for it. This is one area, it appears, where both candidates agree that local governments ought to be given a break.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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