Topeka — The Kansas Supreme Court said Friday it will reconsider future court closings and employee furloughs after key legislators promised that the judicial branch would receive funding to cover a revenue shortfall.
Chief Justice Lawton Nuss issued a statement saying he was “encouraged by the assurances given today by the chair of the House Appropriations Committee and other committee members that the Judicial Branch would receive its supplemental appropriation for Fiscal Year 2012. The Court will meet Monday to consider this development.”
Earlier Friday, Appropriations Chair Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, and other members of the Appropriations Committee promised to fund the judiciary when the legislative session reconvenes next week.
They also criticized the decision by Nuss to close courts and issue employee furloughs for five days. They said Nuss should have known the Legislature would provide the funds needed by the courts even though the Legislature had a budget meltdown and failed to approve the funding before taking a nearly month-long break.
The judicial system needed $1.4 million to make payroll for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Both the House and Senate agreed on the funding, but the overall budget deal fell apart when the House refused to sign the appropriations bill because of a dispute over school funding.
A few days after legislators left town, Nuss ordered the courts closed for five days, resulting in the furlough without pay of 1,500 employees. The first furlough occurred April 13, and the remaining ones are scheduled for April 27, May 11, May 18 and June 8.
During a meeting of the Appropriations Committee on Friday, Republican and Democratic legislators expressed unhappiness with the decision, saying that they were getting heat from constituents.
“If I’m going to get beat up, I want to know why,” state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said to Kim Fowler, the judicial branch fiscal officer, who spoke with the committee.
Appropriations committee members said Nuss should have realized that despite the budget breakdown, the Legislature eventualy would have provided the dollars.
State Rep. Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, told Fowler that he was struggling with the idea of why the courts couldn’t trust the Legislature.
But Fowler said that when the Legislature took its annual break, legislators made no assurances that the funding would be forthcoming. Nuss had been warning legislators since January of the need for supplemental funds because of a drop in case filing fees.
Fowler noted that House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, issued news releases that said the courts should use internal funds to make up the shortfall, something that Nuss said was inappropriate.
But Rhoades said the Legislature always intended to provide the funding. “We’ve already taken the public hit,” he said.