by Tom Loftus, @TomLoftus_CJ –
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said Wednesday the judicial budget as approved by the House budget committee on Tuesday would have a “catastrophic” impact on Kentucky’s court system.
Minton complained last month about what he said were inadequate funds set aside for the judicial branch in Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget proposal, but he said that the House budget committee’s budget is even worse.
Minton said in a news release that on Tuesday night, he warned all courts employees in an email that the budget news surprising and “very grim.”
The House committee’s budget leaves the court system about $36 million short of meeting its needs in 2016-17 and about $41 million short in 2017-18, the news release said.
“The consequences of the House version of the Judicial Branch budget, if enacted, can only be described as catastrophic,” Minton said in the news release. “Because personnel costs make up 87 percent of our budget, the shortfall will have a significant impact on our non-elected employees.”
The House committee’s version of the budget calls for slightly reducing the court’s annual General Fund appropriation from $337,449,600 this year to $336,149,600 in 2016-17, and to $334,540,900 in 2017-18.
Although this is slightly more money that Bevin had set aside for the courts, Minton said that the House committee budget is worse because it includes new provisions that mandate how part of the reduced courts budget must be spent. One mandate requires raising salaries of elected circuit court clerks.
Minton had not requested raises for the elected clerks. He had, however, asked for raises for judges which the House committee did not include in its budget.
The one positive part of the House committee’s budget, Minton said, is that it did exempt the judicial branch from a 4.5 percent funding reduction in the current fiscal year. Minton testified before a House committee last month that a cut that big so late in the current year would have forced shutting down the courts for about three weeks.
But the judicial budget bill as passed by the House committee Tuesday is expected to be passed by the full House late Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve already been in contact with members of the Senate, and I will also ask them to exempt the Judicial Branch from further cuts and restore an appropriate level of funding to the court system.,” Minton said in his news release.