Chief Justice John Minton asks Senate for help with judical branch funding, thanks 48 members of the House who voted against budget

03/17/2016 11:15 PM

FRANKFORT — Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. has watched resources dwindle for the court systems in recent budget sessions, but this time around he’s predicting very grim outcomes if the trend continues.

HB 306, the judicial branch’s biennial budget bill, would create a $76.9 million shortfall over the next two fiscal years on top of 49 percent overall budget reductions the court system has endured since 2008, Minton warned House members a day before they voted on the budget.

Even with the dire predictions, the legislation cleared the lower chamber with a bare-bones constitutional majority of 51 members voting in favor of the funding plan and 48 opposing.

Minton applauded those that voted against the bill, calling it the “right thing to do.”

“I am very appreciative and grateful for those members of the General Assembly who paid attention to our very serious issue with this budget, and they voted against this bill,” Minton said in an interview with Pure Politics. “It was the right thing to do. I’m grateful for that.”

As the budget moves to the upper chamber, Minton will takes his call to senators to ensure the courts can continue their work.

“We have been a structurally imbalanced budget now for the past two budgets for sure,” Minton said, explaining the situation going into the budget session.

“That plus the additional 9 percent cuts will mean there will not be enough money to operate the court system as we have been operating it,” he continued. “The services that over the years the court system has developed to try to serve the commonwealth better — we won’t be able to do that anymore.”

HB 306 exempted the judicial branch from Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed 4.5 percent cut for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which the governor applied to multiple state agencies. Minton said had that cut been left in the budget, the court system would have had to shutdown statewide for about three weeks.

While that cut has been nixed in the House’s proposal, Minton said starting July 1 there won’t be the dollars needed to “operate at the level we have.”

“We’re going to have to find ways to reduce personnel because we simply can’t make the payroll to continue to operate a lot of the things we have been doing to try to address the drug problems, the incarceration problems … juvenile justice reform. We just simply will not be able to afford to do that any longer,” Minton told Pure Politics.

Minton said the courts’ operating budget is 87 percent personnel.

“We have very little left to give,” he said.

With his cries for help falling short in the House, Minton will now turn to the upper chamber and request “for the Senate to do what the House should have done” by exempting the courts from Bevin’s proposed cuts and appropriate the courts to operate at “the same level.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate would likely keep the House funding proposal in place when they pass their version of the budget.

“We don’t know the impacts of that, but we think — it’s my position that we will probably accept those numbers of the House on the judicial branch budget and go ahead and pass it,” Stivers said.

When asked directly about the potential for “catastrophic effects” on the judicial branch, Stivers pointed the finger at House Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Budget Chairman Rick Rand.

“Apparently the House didn’t think so, and the House leaders, Speaker Stumbo, who is an attorney, felt it was the appropriate amount of money … for the (Administrative Office of the Courts) to operate on,” he said.

The Senate and House have eight working days on the legislative calendar to agree on changes to the budget before the veto recess begins on March 30.


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