Stave off court furloughs

The Kansas court system has a funding problem but also a clear solution. Speedy action by the 2015 Legislature can help stave off furloughs and ensure the courts are open when Kansans need them this spring.

Lawton Nuss, chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, notified judicial branch employees last week that the court was asking lawmakers to remove restrictions on the use of “electronic filing management fund” dollars, so that money already collected and earmarked for the electronic courts project could be used for other purposes in the fiscal year that ends June 30. The diversion of the funds would not harm the e-courts project, Nuss said, because more money has accumulated than the courts’ information technology department intended to spend on the project this fiscal year. The judiciary will ask for the money to be restored in future years, he said.

As it is, the state courts face a $3.6 million deficit this fiscal year, largely because new and higher court fees have not translated into the increased funding anticipated by the Legislature. The electronic filing management fund contains enough for Nuss to cover the gap when combined with savings from jobs left vacant and other self-imposed cuts.

When lawmakers passed legislation last year tying additional court dollars to policy changes, there was a lot of interest in the move toward statewide electronic case management – a goal that remains crucial for the court system and Kansans.

But the immediate priority is for the Legislature to give the judiciary the flexibility it needs to offset its current budget deficit.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman