Kansas chief justice: 2014 furloughs loom
TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas might have to close its courts for seven weeks during the fiscal year starting in July 2014 because the judicial branch budget approved by legislators this year is inadequate, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Thursday.
Nuss said the state's courts need another $8.25 million during the next fiscal year to avoid steps such as forcing employees to take unpaid leave. Nuss said the "simple solution" if lawmakers don't boost the judiciary's budget is to impose furloughs.
The chief justice announced that the Supreme Court has appointed a 10-member advisory council to review the possible consequences of current spending levels and make recommendations for efficiencies. The council's first meeting is Oct. 7 in Topeka.
The courts have felt a budget squeeze since the Great Recession, which started in 2007. Legal filing fees have risen to help fill the gap, but the Supreme Court ordered furloughs in 2010 and 2012.
"This is a terrible prospect to consider," Nuss said in a statement.
Legislators appropriated more than $127 million for the judicial branch for the current fiscal year and provided for a slight increase for the next fiscal year, to almost $128 million.
But the previous fiscal year's budget was nearly $132 million. Spending for fiscal 2015 would be 3 percent lower than for fiscal 2013.
And judicial branch spokeswoman Helen Pedigo noted that employee salaries account for 96 percent of the court system's spending.
"There may be other efficiencies that can be found, but the chief one on the table is furloughs," she said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican, said legislators must continually balance requests for more funds against how well agencies perform. Still, he said, he welcomes the Supreme Court's appointment of an advisory council on the budget.
"It is positive progress when agencies and branches of government take a critical look at their budgets to ascertain future needs and obligations with the goal of better serving the people of Kansas and utilizing taxpayer funds most efficiently," he said in an email.