No agency is immune from budget cuts

Sometimes politicians will recite a list of “unnecessary agencies” such as the U.S. Department of Education.  In contrast, most people recognize the importance of the U.S. Department of Defense, especially in this age of terrorism.  One agency ordinary Americans expect to be available when they need it:  the courts.  But the courts are also facing budgetary cuts in these tough economic times.  Below is an article I found in The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) entitled “Budget cuts to close Kentucky courts for three days.”

In what the state’s chief justice says is an unprecedented action in modern history, Kentucky will shut its courthouse doors for three days to help cope with a slashed budget.

Also, drug courts will be cut, hiring restricted and the high school mock trial tournament program eliminated in response to the General Assembly’s $25 million cut to the state judicial branch budget, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said in email to more than 3,000 employees and 400-plus judges and clerks throughout the state.

Minton also complained that the legislature did not fund a pay-equity plan that would make judicial branch salaries competitive with the other two branches of government, or fund a capital project to replace the court system’s “obsolete” case management system, which he asserted is “at risk for failure.”

“In the modern history of the commonwealth, I do not know of a time that service to the public has been interrupted because there’s not enough money to keep the courts open,” Minton said at a news conference in Frankfurt.  “. . . We cut fat before, and we’re now cutting bone.”

The judicial branch already has cut 282 employees since 2008 because of earlier reductions.  Now, to avoid more layoffs, Minton said the courts will close their doors and furlough all employees on Aug. 6, Sept. 4 and Oct. 15.

The cuts are only for the first six months of the fiscal year, which starts in July, and Minton said he hopes the economy will improve, making additional measures unnecessary.  “If things don’t change, then further furloughs are going to be necessary,” he said, adding that leaders are “hoping to avoid the situation of mass layoffs for our folks.”

Bob Leeper, the Paducah independent who heads the Senate budget committee, said he was surprised to learn of Minton’s plan for furloughs.  He said the judicial branch, like most other parts of government, had warned lawmakers of the effects of the budget cuts.

“Everybody came with concerns – the judiciary was no different.  But to this level including furloughs?  I don’t recall anybody suggesting that was the case,” Leeper said.

In response to Senator Leeper – why are you surprised?  It is easy to talk about cutting fat from the budget, but the reality is, workers will be furloughed or fired.

The Money Heifer doesn’t want to be “doom & gloom” but there are many signs, including the article above, of lingering problems with the American economy.  There is no quick fix.  We, individually and collectively, dug a huge hole.  And that didn’t happen overnight.  And the recovery, as everyone now realizes, will not happen overnight.

At the state and local levels, there have been austerity policies implemented.  The federal government’s turn is in 2013.

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