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Archive for Friday, February 8, 2002

Chief justice makes case for funding increases

Courts can’t meet payroll, legislators told

February 8, 2002

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— All Kansas courts will have to close for three days between now and July unless the state provides more money quickly, the state's top judge warned legislators.

"We can't meet the payroll," Supreme Court Chief Justice Kay McFarland said Thursday.

In testimony before House and Senate budget writers, McFarland said the judiciary needs a supplemental appropriation of $600,000 in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and an additional $3.6 million for the following year.

Gov. Bill Graves has proposed both appropriations, but the $3.6 million for fiscal 2003 hinges on passage of his $228 million tax increase plan.

McFarland said salaries consume 97 percent of the court system's budget, so personnel costs are the only place to save money.

Already, she said, vacancies at the district and appellate courts are going unfilled for at least 90 days, making extra and unpaid days off for employees the only other way to cut expenses.

"I'm sitting here, preoccupied with trying to keep the doors open," McFarland said. "We can't change the rules and say, 'OK, no more divorces in Johnson County, we don't have time for them."'

Legislators told McFarland she had made a case for the court system, but said they're not sure the Legislature will increase taxes.

"Why don't you just sue the heck out of us?" said Sen. Paul Feleciano, D-Wichita.

McFarland replied: "Suing won't get you anything soon."

The judiciary's current budget is almost $79 million, about $554,000 more than in the previous fiscal year. But that increase did not cover raises granted to employees by the Legislature, or other costs such as health insurance.

In addition, the number of cases filed in Kansas courts has risen nearly 46 percent in the past 15 years, while the number of judges rose 8 percent and court workers has increased 10 percent.

McFarland compared the judiciary to nesting hens that have more eggs placed in front of them.

She said the hens will try to sit on all the eggs, no matter how many.

"Because they're sitting on so many eggs, they can't hatch anything," she said. "I don't want the court system to be in that role."

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