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Kentucky Chief Justice: Courts could not function with proposed budget cuts

Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr.
Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr.

Frankfort, Ky. – Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. testified before a legislative committee today about the Judicial Branch’s budget requests for Fiscal Budget 2016-2018. He also outlined the potential impact of the governor’s proposed budget cuts on state court operations statewide. The Judicial Branch budget is House Bill 306.

“Unless the legislature exempts the Court of Justice from the budget reductions the governor has proposed for his Executive Branch agencies, the Judicial Branch of state government will not be able to perform its constitutional and statutory functions,” Chief Justice Minton told the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary.

He appeared before the committee at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. Several committee members voiced their support of Chief Justice Minton’s request to adequately fund the state court system. You can find his complete remarks here.

The cuts would reduce the budgets of most state agencies by 4.5 percent by the end of FY 2016 and 9 percent for each of FY 2017 and FY 2018.

Chief Justice Minton told the committee that the Judicial Branch budget is already unbalanced due to years of being underfunded. He said the reductions could force the entire state court system to shut down for approximately three weeks in the current fiscal year, and abolish programs and lay off employees in FYs 2017 and 2018.

“We have nothing left to give,” he said.

The governor’s budget proposal exempts Executive Branch public safety agencies from the cuts but their work would be jeopardized by a crippled court system, Chief Justice Minton said. All the court system’s justice partners, such as prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement officials and social workers, have to pass through the courts.

Chief Justice Minton’s budget request for FY 2017-2018 includes funds for 15 Drug Court programs that are no longer supported by coal-severance money, repairs to two judicial centers and new employees to implement the juvenile justice reforms mandated by Senate Bill 200 in 2015. He is also asking for a Family Court judgeship for Daviess County and salary increases for Kentucky judges. The salaries of Kentucky judges rank last among the surrounding states and almost at the bottom in the nation. He told the committee that the low salaries could have a long-term effect on Kentucky’s ability to attract exceptional lawyers to judgeships.