Chief justice warns courts can't absorb more cuts

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. sent a
letter to legislative leaders Thursday warning that additional
budget cuts would have a drastic impact on a Kentucky court system
that already has reduced its workforce by more than 200.
Minton sent the letter in response to a proposal by the state
Senate calling for another round of cuts to all branches of state
government to funnel more money into Medicaid.
Lawmakers have competing proposals for dealing with a $166.5
million shortfall in the program that provides medical care for
more than 800,000 poor, elderly and disabled Kentuckians. One,
approved by the House, calls for shuffling funds within the
Medicaid program. The other, approved by the Senate, calls for 2.26
percent across-the-board cuts.
Minton said the additional cuts would mean "a staggering 28.5
percent reduction" in the judicial branch budget since 2009.
"That is unprecedented," he said. "And it significantly
compromises the ability of the judicial branch to perform its
constitutional and statutory functions."
A growing chorus of government agencies joined the judicial
system Thursday in protesting the proposed cuts, including public
schools and universities.
Kentucky Education Association President Sharron Oxendine called
it "a dark day for public schools." She warned of potential
layoffs in districts across the state if the Senate proposal were
to be approved.
"It would be devastating," Oxendine said.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday for a Medicaid
budget fix that called for the cuts. Senate President David
Williams said it is the only responsible action that lawmakers
could take. Gov. Steve Beshear had recommended that $166.5 million
be shifted from next fiscal year's budget to fill this year's gap.
He said next year's budget could be balanced with cost savings
achieved by privatizing of some Medicaid programs.
Differences in the two approaches will have to be resolved in a
legislative conference committee appointed by House and Senate
leaders. The House officially rejected the Senate version Thursday
afternoon, an action necessary before the conference committee,
which will be made up of House and Senate leaders, could begin
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said an obvious compromise would be
for committee to meld the proposals, transferring the money as
Beshear wants but also approving most of the cuts called for by the
Senate to be used only if Beshear is unable to balance next year's
Medicaid budget through savings initiatives. Stumbo said he
believes such an offer could yield a quick resolution.
However, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said House Democrats will not
agree to cut in education funding as proposed by the Senate.
Beshear reacted strongly to the Senate's proposed Medicaid fix,
saying it would require unnecessary cuts to several government
services, including public schools and universities, public safety
and job creation.
Minton said the proposed judicial system cuts are especially
unwelcome in the wake of reductions over the past three years that
forced the loss of 235 employees through layoffs and attrition.
"I respectfully submit that while the judicial branch is
willing to share in the state's collective sacrifice," Minton
wrote, "the court system cannot absorb further cuts without
severely curtailing our daily operations."
The legislation is House Bill 305.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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