Kansas Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss today announced the Supreme Court’s creation of a 10-member budget advisory council tasked with studying the consequences for Kansans and their courts if the Legislature makes no changes to its present Judicial Branch appropriation for fiscal year 2015.
During the 2013 legislative session the governor and Legislature made appropriations for a two-year budget, including FY 2015 (the year beginning July 1, 2014). Chief Justice Nuss stated that the advisory council was formed because the current appropriation for FY 2015 is approximately $8.25 million less than the Judicial Branch’s base budget request, and approximately $16 million less than its total budget request.
The chief justice expressed concern about the effect on Kansans caused by any court underfunding because it restricts their access to justice and undermines their confidence in their justice system. But he is particularly concerned about the $8.25 million reduction.
“Budget shortfalls in 2010 and 2012 resulted in the Supreme Court closing courts statewide and sending our 1,500 employees home without pay,” Chief Justice Nuss said. “Given this experience, we know that the simple solution to an $8.25 million reduction would be to close all state courts for about seven weeks. This is a terrible prospect to consider. While the court budget advisory council will consider many solutions to the underfunding problem, some statewide court closures may necessarily be part of their recommendations.”
Nuss went on to say that the current reduced appropriations for FY 2015 will mean reduced services for users of the Kansas courts, including businesses. As the Chief Justice explained in a recent budget cover letter to legislators:
“The importance of the Kansas Judicial Branch as a factor in the formula for private business success has been recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform. According to the Chamber’s 2012 national survey of senior business executives and corporate attorneys, Kansas courts rank fifth among the 50 states in the overall ranking of state liability systems, as perceived by U.S. businesses. Seventy percent of the business leaders surveyed report that a state’s litigation environment is likely to impact their important business decisions, ‘such as where to locate or do business.’ . . .”
According to the chief justice, while a healthy Kansas court system is vital to economic growth in Kansas, “A court funding shortfall endangers the Kansas pro-business climate currently promoted by the governor and many legislators.”
The Supreme Court appointed Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger to chair the court budget advisory council. In addition, Chief Judge Meryl Wilson of the 21st Judicial District (Clay and Riley Counties) has been appointed vice chair.
Other council members include Sheriff Don Ash, Wyandotte County; Bruce Buchanan, President, Harris Enterprises, Inc., Reno County; State Rep. Pete DeGraaf, District 82, Sedgwick and Sumner counties; District Magistrate Judge Ann Dixson, 16th Judicial District, Kiowa County; Marc Elkins, vice president and associate general counsel, Cerner Corp., Wyandotte County; Jim Minnix, Scott County Commissioner; John Vanier, chief executive officer, Western Star Agriculture, Inc., Saline County; and John Wheeler, retired Finney County attorney .
The council has scheduled its first meeting for Oct. 7 in the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka. The meeting will be open to the public. The council has been directed to report its findings and recommendations in writing to the Supreme Court by Dec. 13, 2013, so any court proposals may be made to the Legislature in January 2014 for consideration.