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Judicial Branch budget a win for the commonwealth as court system  receives funding to maintain operations, avoid mass layoffs

Judicial Branch budget a win for the commonwealth as court system receives funding to maintain operations, avoid mass layoffs

Bill Stephens

April 16th, 2016

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NEWS RELEASE

FRANKFORT, Ky., April 15, 2016 – Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. thanked justices, judges, circuit court clerks and employees for their support in an email tonight as he announced that the Judicial Branch has a final budget in the last hours of the last day of the 2016 General Assembly.

“After a tense budget session that went down to the wire, I can now confirm there’s good news for the Judicial Branch,” Chief Justice Minton said. “I’m pleased to announce that our funding is sufficient to continue court operations at nearly current levels and allow us to avoid the mass layoffs and programs cuts that would have occurred under House Bill 306.”

“I attribute this positive outcome to key interventions by Governor Bevin and members of the House and Senate,” Chief Justice Minton said. “I appreciate their efforts to protect the important work of the courts from additional crippling budget cuts. They listened when we explained how court operations would suffer from further reductions and they supported adequate funding when we needed it most. After cumulative budget reductions of 49 percent since 2008, one more biennium of extreme underfunding would have altered the environment of the courts as we know it.”

After sounding the alarm about the ramifications of a deep shortfall, Chief Justice Minton is relieved at the budget outcome.

“Today is a good day for our commonwealth,” he said. “All Kentuckians win when they can depend on a viable court system to provide essential services and administer justice in a timely manner.”

By the Numbers

Arriving at a Judicial Branch budget was a complicated process. Here is where the budget stands today:

Ø The total Judicial Branch General Fund budget is $728.4 million for Fiscal Biennium 2016-2018, which begins July 1, 2016, and ends June 30, 2018.

Ø On March 15, the House passed HB 306, which left the Judicial Branch with a $76.9 million shortfall over the two-year budget. On a positive note, HB 306 exempted the Judicial Branch from a 4.5 percent cut ($9.4 million) required of other state agencies in the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. The Senate passed HB 306 without changes on March 25 and sent it to the governor for his signature.

Ø On April 1, the House passed Senate Bill 126, which would have given the Judicial Branch $36.4 million in supplemental funding ($16.1 million in FY 2017 and $20.3 million in FY 2018). SB 126 would have required passage by the Senate on the last day of the session.

Ø On April 8, Gov. Bevin vetoed the HB 306 language regarding salary increases and the language requiring the Judicial Branch to return 9 percent ($11.7 million) to the state General Fund in each of the next two years.

Ø On April 14, the House and Senate reached a compromise in conference committee on HB 303, the Executive Branch budget bill. They included $34.2 million in supplemental funding for the Judicial Branch ($15.3 million in FY 2017 and $18.9 million in FY 2018) in HB 303, making the passage of SB 126 moot.

Ø On April 15, HB 303, which contains supplemental funding for the Judicial Branch, passed favorably out of both chambers. The bill will now go to Gov. Bevin, who has 10 days to sign or veto it.

Although the shortfall has been greatly reduced, the Judicial Branch will still need to create efficiencies to operate within its appropriation. Chief Justice Minton will be meeting with the Supreme Court justices later this month to begin discussions about where the court system can continue to cut costs. Once the veto deadline has passed, the Judicial Branch anticipates lifting the hiring freeze implemented on March 11, 2016. That will allow the courts to fill critical positions under the vacancy request process in place prior to the hiring freeze.

Chief Justice Minton acknowledged in the email to court personnel the stress they had been under during the budget session. “I realize it can be difficult to maintain morale when your job may be in jeopardy,” he said. “I want to thank the justices, judges, circuit court clerks and court employees who contacted their legislators, posted their support for the court system on social media and kept up their best efforts during this time of uncertainty. I’m proud of what we accomplished by working together as a strong, unified branch of government.”

Kentucky Judicial Branch
The chief justice of Kentucky is the administrative head of the state court system and is responsible for its operation. The Administrative Office of the Courts is the administrative arm of the court system. The AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget and supports the activities of 3,300 court system employees and 403 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks.

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