The chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court wants the people working for the Kansas judicial branch to get a raise. He’s asking for a $20 million budget boost in each of the next two years to do it.
Led by Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, a trio of employees said Friday that salary issues were hurting the court system.
As evidence, they said some positions were difficult to fill because of low pay. Some workers, they said, have to take on other jobs to support themselves.
Nuss said he was hoping a larger budget, even in the midst of the state’s ongoing financial struggles, may be enough to make that situation better.
“We are losing efficiency through significant employee turnover,” Nuss said.
The roughly $20 million increase in each of the next two fiscal years would help pay for raises for both Kansas judges and other judicial workers, according to the details of the request announced Friday.
But that appeal for help also comes at a time when the state is facing a budget shortfall of almost $350 million this year. A larger shortfall of $582.6 million awaits in the next fiscal year.
Nuss based his request off a pair of reports released by the judicial branch Friday. Around one-quarter of judicial branch positions have starting salaries that fall below the poverty level for a four-person family, according to the report. And he pointed to rankings that also showed pay for district judges lagging behind other states.
“The judicial branch’s ability to continue to deliver high quality of justice in Kansas is suffering — directly related, in my opinion, to the low compensation rates that our employees and judges receive,” Nuss said.
Friction between the judicial branch and some lawmakers became a common theme this year. Five of the Kansas Supreme Court’s seven justices were up for retention votes on the November ballot. A campaign to oust four of those justices was unsuccessful, and all five were retained.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback didn’t say much Friday when he heard about the budget request, other than to say that lawmakers would look at the proposal. He also remained mum about what cuts may have to be made to close the state’s current shortfall.
“We’ll work with the Legislature,” Brownback said. “We’ll put forward proposals to them and see what they want to do with them.”
Nuss said he’s told lawmakers about the pay issues. But he hoped the findings of the reports released Friday would have an impact.
“All of our neighboring states in the last five years have increased the pay for their trial judges,” Nuss said. “In my opinion, I find it hard to believe that the citizens of Colorado and Nebraska and Iowa and Missouri and Oklahoma place a higher value on their system of justice than the people of Kansas.”