Senate Republicans are scaling back the amount of money they’re willing to set aside to hire four new judges and provide pay raises to judges and other employees in the Iowa court system. Republican Senator Julian Garrett of Indianola today said it appears the courts can cover some expenses by using money no longer needed for the pension system for judges.

“Their pension fund is in very good shape, so that will free up an extra $4.9 million, so in essence we’ve got roughly $5 million of new money for the judicial branch,” Garrett said. “…My understanding is the Department of Management’s opinion is that money can be used by the judicial branch.”

Caitlin Jarzen, director of government affairs for the Iowa Judicial Branch, said state law prohibits this kind of a transfer.

“This leaves us with a considerable shortfall to cover the required new items in the budget,” Jarzen said. “We’re 97% employees, so if this happens, that’s where we’re going to be forced to make cuts.”

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee today have approved an overall spending plan for the state’s court system that includes the $4.9 million originally destined for pensions. Senator Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, suggested the budget gimmick won’t work and their plan will lead to layoffs in courthouses that have the lowest volume of criminal cases.

“I think, honestly, it’s going to hurt rural Iowa more than in the bigger counties,” Taylor said.

The Senate GOP’s budget bill also calls for ending the practice of having the Iowa Supreme Court’s chief justice present lawmakers with a spending plan for the courts. That authority would be transferred to the governor. House Republicans have passed a separate budget bill for the state court system. It does not include the money transfer or ending the court’s direct input on budget matters.