Danedri Thompson
[email protected]
The Kansas Supreme Court will furlough workers due to a budget impasse in the state legislature.
Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss said the court will shutter for five days, because legislators failed to approve a $1.4 million supplemental appropriation for the judicial branch. Although House and Senate negotiators agreed to the supplement, binding action fell short due to disagreements related to other areas, including school funding.
“This impasse creates an operational dilemma for the state court system,” Nuss told reporters April 4.
Without the appropriation, the court does not have enough money to make payroll through the end of the fiscal year.
Budgetary issues also threaten to sideline operations in Kansas state parks. Legislators failed to pass a supplemental budget bill that would send $800,000 to the park system.
Park officials say the additional funds are necessary due to offset 2011 losses related to long periods of high summer temperatures and persistent blue-green algae blooms at some reservoirs that discouraged visitors. Kansas state parks hosted more than an estimated 6.1 million visits in calendar year 2011, down from an estimated 7 million visits hosted in 2010. Fewer visitors meant lower revenues.
“Not having the additional funds will hamper us, but we have no plans to close any state parks, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said.  “Until the supplemental funding is received, we’ve been drawing from the park road improvement fund to pay park employees.”
Court officials, Nuss said, aren’t willing to gamble on the hope that the legislators will pass supplemental appropriations when they return to Topeka in three weeks.
Statewide closings of all district and appellate courts are set for April 13 and 27, May 11 and 25 and June 8.
Delaying implementation of the furlough program would require the judicial branch to concentrate furloughs over a shorter number of pay periods. The one-day furloughs will reduce employee paychecks by about 10 percent over one pay period. That, court officials said, would make things more difficult for the 1,500 employees to manage.
“The Supreme Court simply believes it has no real choice but to act now, rather than face the uncertainties of what may happen when the legislature returns,” Nuss said. “If we gamble on getting the supplemental appropriation when the legislature returns, but something arises that prevents it, then the impact on our employees is more severe over the time that is left.”
The majority of the court’s budget is devoted to salaries of its more than 1,500 employees. Remaining funds are limited by state law to other purposes.
Judges themselves will be working on furlough days, because under the Kansas Constitution, their salaries can not be lowered unless all state officers’ salaries are reduced.
During a press conference, the Chief Justice also took issue with the suggestion from some legislators that the court system has available reserve funds that could be used.
“The judicial branch does not have financial reserves to access, because for the past few years the legislature has specified that the court system must operate only with the bare minimum appropriation needed to keep our courts open, while maintaining at least 80 unfilled job vacancies from previous staff levels,” Nuss said. “Since almost all of the court budget is for salaries, we do not have the flexibility other governmental entities have to postpone other expenditures to manage cash flow.”