Archive for Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Courts report budget crisis

Judicial system wants $1 million added to current-year funding

January 17, 2001


— The Supreme Court plans to ask legislators to add $1 million to the current budget of the Kansas court system to help it keep up with personnel costs, Chief Justice Kay McFarland says.

McFarland also said Tuesday that Gov. Bill Graves' proposed budget is inadequate for the judicial branch for the state's 2002 fiscal year. Fiscal 2002 begins July 1.

The chief justice noted that the Supreme Court has ordered district and appellate courts to delay filling any personnel vacancies for 60 days in hopes of saving enough money to stay within current budget.

McFarland made her comments during a meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which handles budget legislation. Reaction from committee members was mixed.

"We have just sunk farther and farther below what our needs are," McFarland told the committee.

Budget concerns aren't new for the court system. The Supreme Court has ordered delays in hiring for seven of the past nine years.

In addition, McFarland noted to legislators that 50 staff positions lost by district courts in 1991 weren't restored for seven years, even as case filings increased.

But legislators attempted to address the problem last year, approving a plan to increase court docket fees to raise another $3.9 million for the court system.

McFarland said that initiative is working as planned: It improved salaries to keep workers from leaving court offices and to attract better applicants.

But the initiative also reduced turnover, making it lower than the governor's staff had estimated for budget purposes.

"It's too bad we were caught up in our own success," said committee Chairman Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

The current budget for the court system is $87.5 million. Graves recommended a revised 2001 budget that adds $208,000 in overall spending but it presumes the courts will divert $1.4 million in salary expenses to cover operating expenses.

McFarland noted that salaries make up 97 percent of the state's costs for the judicial branch.

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