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Archive for Sunday, January 6, 1991

STATE BUDGET WOES BRING FINANCIAL TRIALS FOR JUDICIAL SYSTEM

January 6, 1991

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District court officials will continue to have a trial on their hands this year thanks to budget restraints that hit in 1990.

During May, the Legislature mandated 1.75 percent across-the-board cuts for all state agencies, exempting only state aid to education. The cuts resulted in a reduction of nearly $1 million in judicial branch spending, after lawmakers already had cut the judicial budget by $1.5 million.

In an attempt to meet the legislative mandate, the Kansas Supreme Court imposed a statewide hiring freeze. Officials hoped the measure, which bars district courts from hiring anyone without permission of the Supreme Court, would save $1.5 million. It fell short, so state officials now are asking for an $800,000 supplement to their 1990 budget so the courts can continue to operate at current levels through the remainder of the fiscal year.

RON KEEFOVER, education and information officer for the state Office of Judicial Administration, said administrators have no contingency plan if the request fails.

But when told of a rumor among Douglas County District Court employees that the state would lay off some workers and close the courts a certain number of days per week if the request was not passed, Keefover said: "Those are possibilities."

Keefover refused to speculate how the Legislature might rule on the supplement request.

However, Rep. John Solbach, D-Lawrence, said he would support the measure. And he believes his fellow legislators will, too.

Solbach said he believes the courts have cut as much as they can from the 3 percent of the district court budget that wasn't earmarked for salaries.

IF THEY are forced to cut back further, Solbach said, court officials may have to lay off employees and close the courts periodically.

"There's only so much you can save by cutting back on phone calls," said Solbach, who recently was appointed chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"And when you make a decision, you can't just stand out in front of the courthouse and read it off a yellow pad of paper. You have to have somebody type it and file it and mail it."

But Solbach, who said he did not support the across-the-board cuts made in 1990, didn't have a simple solution for funding the supplement. He believes legislators will have to find the solution because Gov.-elect Joan Finney will not be able to recommend funding.

"I would be very surprised if the supplement is funded in the governor's budget," he said. "She simply doesn't have that flexibility. Her predecessor has essentially drained the treasury in order to fund highways and in order to fund tax breaks for some of our wealthier residents."

MIKE MALONE, Douglas County administrative district judge, said local court employees have done an outstanding job dealing with the budget restraints. He also applauded state judicial administrators for allowing local officials to hire people for a couple of key positions.

Still, he said, the freeze has taken its toll.

He said the system is bogging down beneath a steadily rising caseload.

"I sense that we're slowing down," he said. "I sense it takes longer to get cases into court. There have been noticeable delays caused by this."

The supplement, he said, "will guarantee that bad will not get worse."

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