Legislature passes revenue changes to help cover Clerk of Court funding shortfall
Travis Hutson benefits from one generous address.

Florida’s 67 Clerk Offices are set to share an additional $24.1M per year.

Budgets for Clerk of Court Offices across Florida have barely budged in the last decade. That’s about to change.

Senators unanimously passed a measure (HB 977) that will help shore up Clerk funding shortfalls, which have caused them operational woes in recent years.

Clerk Offices — there is one for each county — operate on a monthly cash basis, relying primarily on fines and fees to fund critical public services. They get no apportionment from the state budget.

While that funding source wouldn’t change under HB 977, which the House approved last week, the bill will allow Clerk Offices to keep about $24.1 million more per year from what they collect rather than sending it into the state General Revenue Fund.

The bill also would change Clerks’ budgeting from monthly to quarterly.

St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, who tabled his identical version of the measure in favor of the one Bonita Springs Republican Rep. Adam Botana carried, said the bill is a standalone item without connection to other measures up for consideration this Session.

“(It’s) just sending the money to the Clerks that they rightfully and dutifully deserve,” Hutson said.

Recent events and long-term analyses have revealed flaws in Florida’s funding model for its Clerk Offices, which is set in the Florida Constitution.

The early months of the pandemic saw a nearly 50% drop in operating revenue.

Over the past decade, from fiscal year 2012 to 2022, court budgets grew 31%, State Attorneys’ budgets rose 34% and public defenders enjoyed a 39% uptick in funding, according to Polk County Clerk Stacy Butterfield. Clerks of Court, meanwhile, only had a 1.3% increase.

“Without essential funding, we can’t keep up with state, local and national wages,” she said during a Feb. 16 presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Civil and Criminal Justice.

“Employee costs make up over 90% of our budgets. These staffing issues directly impact our services. They affect daily processing and access to case data and create threats to our accuracy, timing and increase the risk of errors.”

Legislation over the last two years has helped. In 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a measure by Bradenton Republican Rep. Jim Boyd to allow Clerks to carry statewide reserves to plan for emergencies and submit funding requests for certain deficits, among other provisions. In 2022, DeSantis ratified another measure easing payment plans for court fines — a change proponents believe will increase fee and fine revenue.

But more needs to be done. This year, Clerk Offices will operate with a $36.5 million funding gap between their needs-based budget and their current revenue-limited one, according to the Florida Court Clerks of Court Operations Corporation.

Clerk Offices retain only about half the money they collect from fines and fees. Roughly 46% of that revenue goes back into the state for distribution to other agencies and outside trust funds.

Martin County Clerk and Comptroller Carolyn Timmann, President of Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, said the bills by Hutson and Botana “will provide the resources we need to support our judicial and law enforcement partners and the diverse communities we serve statewide.”

Prior to the bill’s passage Friday, Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach jokingly asked Hutson, “What’s the catch? There’s something up.”

Hutson answered wryly, “On this one, there’s no catch. We’re giving a lot of money to the Clerks.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Pill Mill Bill McClure

    April 28, 2023 at 7:40 pm

    That’s what you get when you don’t collect a state tax just so you can brag about that politically. You get piss poor wages and labor shortages. Same thing with county taxes being kept low. Only a small state income tax could see state workers paid a good bit more. Same thing with county taxes. Just a little bit more goes a long way. Keep voting for the hogs…if you are a county or state worker. You’re voting yourselves piss poor. Keep in mind that prices and cost of living ALREADY mean you’re getting royally slammed in the bung hole. What they are paying you already is not enough. Public sector in Florida is kept crippled for a reason. Small government mentality equals small minds in charge. They cover for the rich guy down the street. They are worried about his market share, his labor pool, his mountain of money that doesn’t trickle down.

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