Chief Justice John Minton says cuts to court personnel will follow if Beshear’s budget enacted
Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton warns of substantial personnel cuts if Gov. Andy Beshear’s budget allocation for the Judicial Branch of government is enacted.
During remarks before the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice, Public Safety and Judiciary on Tuesday, Minton laid out his requests for the next two years and described the consequences of the governor’s proposal for his branch, which is $390.6 million for Fiscal Year 2021 and $396.2 million for FY22.
“If the enacted budget incorporates the governor’s set-aside number, the Judicial Branch would have to cut 387 positions, which is 11.4% of our non-elected workforce,” he said. “I’m sure you can understand how damaging that would be to the Commonwealth and the court system.”
He told the panel circuit clerks face an additional cut of $5.4 million, due to moving drivers license functions from the clerks to the Transportation Cabinet, following the unsuccessful roll-out of the REAL ID program last year.
“With $5.4 million in restricted funds moving to the Transportation Cabinet, it will be difficult to maintain the 137 deputy clerks who are currently funded through that revenue,” Minton said. “In addition to issuing drivers licenses, the majority of these deputy clerks also handle court business.”
He pointed out the set-aside would result in a $63.8 million deficit over the next two years, without the cuts.
Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, described expressed dismay at the governor’s proposed Judicial Branch budget.
“That is a heavy hit to the operations budget, to say it nicely,” Petrie said. “We may talk about criminal justice reform, but if you remove that much money from the operations budget, and that many people who actually put it in effect, you might as well throw criminal justice and civil justice and the rest of it right out the window because your percentages are going to be down so much it’s not even funny.”
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said the budget will hurt many Kentuckians, in addition to those employees who may lose their jobs.
“I think this budget jeopardizes drug courts,” Nemes said, “because that’s not a Constitutional obligation and would be on the chopping block before a number of things. It jeopardizes our children in the Court Designated Worker program and getting services to them. It jeopardizes out legal aid funding and other things, which is obviously problematic.”
Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said he feared the impact of the cuts across the state. “I feel confident this body can come together and I’m sure you would rather see our budget than the Executive Branch budget.”
The Chief Justice replied, “I’m here today with that hope.”
Minton said what he would like to do is give all Judicial Branch employees a 2.5% raise each year, on top of the 1% proposed for all state employees by the governor, to make them more competitive with Executive Branch salaries and judges salaries around the country.
He also noted new courthouses are needed in Butler, Clinton and Owsley counties plus renovations to existing buildings in Crittenden and Jessamine counties.