Kansas chief justice says courts may have to close temporarily to meet budget

09/19/2013 11:10 PM

09/19/2013 11:10 PM

Kansas might have to close its courts for seven weeks during the fiscal year starting in July 2014 because the judicial branch budget approved by legislators is inadequate, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Thursday.

Nuss said the state’s courts need an extra $8.25 million over the next fiscal year to avoid steps such as forcing employees to take unpaid leaves. Nuss said the “simple solution” if lawmakers don’t boost the judiciary’s budget is to impose furloughs.

The chief justice announced that the Supreme Court has appointed a 10-member advisory council to review current spending levels and make recommendations.

The courts have felt a budget squeeze since the Great Recession, which started in 2007. Legal filing fees have risen to help fill the gap, but the Supreme Court ordered furloughs in 2010 and 2012.

Legislators appropriated more than $127 million for the judicial branch for the current fiscal year and provided for a slight increase for the next fiscal year, to almost $128 million. But the previous fiscal year’s budget was nearly $132 million.

Judicial branch spokeswoman Helen Pedigo noted that employee salaries account for 96 percent of the court system’s spending.

“There may be other efficiencies that can be found, but the chief one on the table is furloughs,” she said.

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