By John Celock
Kansas budget writers deleted a potential pay raise for judges but kept in place a pay raise for judicial staff.
The state House Appropriations Committee voted 13-8 Monday to reduce the proposed judicial pay raise from $22 million to roughly $6 million with the funds earmarked exclusively for staffer pay hikes. The move came amid debate of giving discretion to the judiciary on how to use the $6 million. The move comes as the committee looks at ways to reduce the budget proposal they will send to the full House.
“If some sort of magical windfall takes place and we can fund things at omnibus then I will fund it,” General Government Budget Committee Chairman Bill Sutton (R-Gardner), who offered the amendment, said. “I don’t want to knowingly fund it now and take it away later.”
Sutton said that he would have no problem restoring the rest of the judicial branch pay hike when the lawmakers finish the spending plan in May but is worried about the costs now. Sutton’s move comes as lawmakers try to figure out a budget plan absent a new state tax plan.
Sutton’s move was part of a bigger debate for lawmakers about how much to spend while they are not sure how much revenue the state will be bringing in. Budget writers have been grappling with a revenue amount tied to the state’s current tax plan, and waiting for tax writers to develop a new tax plan for lawmakers, that would likely hike revenue. At the same time, lawmakers are also developing a new school funding formula for the state that will likely require additional revenue.
Sutton’s proposal received opposition from several committee Democrats, who argued that the judiciary receive discretion on how they would spend the $6 million since it was a reduction in the increase requested. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Minority Member Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City) said that while she believed that the judiciary would spend the money on staff raises, she would be more comfortable if lawmakers were not dictating the spending plan to judges.
“I think that it is the wishes of the judicial branch to make those decisions,” Wolfe Moore said.
Appropriations Committee Vice Chairwoman Erin Davis (R-Olathe) said that she disagreed with Wolfe Moore, noting that there is a need to increase pay for judicial staff. She said the testimony received by lawmakers has stressed the need to address these raises to retain and recruit judicial employees.
Davis noted that the judiciary asked for funds to create two new office suites for judges and that she was concerned about the judiciary using any discretion on the spending to put the money towards the new suites and not staff pay raises.
“I would have a lot of heartburn if money went for that and that we have court employees get slighted,” she said. “I have heard no outcry for two new suites.”
Rep. Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville) said that in the past lawmakers have given discretion to agencies to spend funds and the money went for other issues and not for raises as lawmakers intended they be used. He noted an instance where the Department of Aging and Disability Services was given discretion to spend funds that lawmakers wanted to go towards a raise for nurses at state hospitals did not go towards the raises.
Wolfe Moore’s proposal was defeated by the committee.