Politics

Kentucky faces a potential “constitutional crisis” if the court system undergoes budget cuts as proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, says chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Bevin’s proposed budget cuts nearly all state spending by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent over the next two years.

Chief Justice Minton on Tuesday told legislators that the Judicial Branch will be unable to perform necessary functions under the cuts and would have to shut down for three weeks during this fiscal year.

“We just simply couldn’t make payroll between now and June 30 if we have to give back $9.5 million,” Minton said.

Minton is requesting that the Judicial Branch be totally exempted from the cuts.

The courts system is already predicting a $26 million shortfall in the 2017 fiscal year, he said. Under Bevin’s cuts, the system would face shortfalls of $38.1 million in both fiscal year 2017 and 2018.

“We’re a lean branch of government with no more fat to cut. Losing 9 percent of our budget for the next two years would potentially decimate our ability to do what we’re constitutionally obligated to do,” Minton said.

The courts are constitutionally required to provide speedy trials. Minton said the system’s ability to quickly conduct bail review and domestic violence restraining orders would also be delayed.

“The system isn’t built for shutdown,” Minton said.

Minton said that “it’s possible” that the state’s drug court system would also be shut down as a result of the cuts. The program allows those convicted of drug crimes to participate in substance abuse programs instead of serving time.

Bevin has said the budget cuts are necessary to cover the cost of the expanded Medicaid program and because of the state’s underfunded pension system.

The Kentucky Constitution restricts the Judicial Branch from changing salaries of the 403 judges, justices and law clerks in the state.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.