Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. testified before the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee today about what he considers the most pressing budgetary needs facing the Judicial Branch. The testimony took place at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort.
He said that the Judicial Branch’s funding request for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 focuses on four areas:
• Fund his top priority, which is the Judicial Branch Compensation Plan.
• Fund an adequate operating budget for the Judicial Branch.
• Fully fund the required employer cost of employee health insurance, retirement benefits and salary increments.
• Reinvest savings from House Bill 463 into the Judicial Branch.
Chief Justice Minton said that his primary concern is the ability to completely overhaul the Judicial Branch’s broken salary structure. Year of low wages and frozen salaries have left more than 800 of the 3,300 non-elected court employees under federal poverty guidelines for a family of four and an even greater number eligible for food stamps.
“It is simply unacceptable that so many of our employees work full time and still live in poverty,” Chief Justice Minton said.
“The other fallout from low wages is what I call the Judicial Branch brain drain,” he added. “We attract and train high-caliber employees whose dedication for the courts can’t withstand the enticement of higher salaries being offered by the private sector and the other branches of government. The ongoing turnover places a very real strain on the courts as we struggle to maintain a workforce that can continue to provide a high level of service.”
The Judicial Branch budget bill for the 2014-2016 fiscal biennium has been filed as House Bill 238. The bill requests $361.3 million for FY 2015 and $375.1 million for FY 2016. Chief Justice Minton said that an additional $10 million above the governor’s set-aside in each year of the fiscal biennium will allow the Judicial Branch to fully implement the proposed Compensation Plan.
Chief Justice Minton testified about the budget bill before the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and the Judiciary earlier this month.
The chief justice is the administrative head of the state court system and is responsible for overseeing its operation. Chief Justice Minton was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006. His fellow justices elected him to serve a four-year term as chief justice in 2008 and re-elected him for a second term in 2012.