Kansas Illustrating Court Budget Trends

The just-passed Kansas courts budgets illustrate several trends you can find, in differing degrees, in many statehouses this spring: Shifting control back to locals after years of centralized management; tying any new funding to specific reforms or specific spending, like new computer systems; and increasing filing fees in ways that will increase funding, but nobody knows how much. Oh, and of course the threat of lost jobs and reduced services accompanies those trends.

Kansas court officials told the Associated Press that they are “unsure” if the new budget will allow them to avoid “furloughs.” Lawmakers approved $2 million toward a shortfall of some $8.25 million, with another $4 million or so expected from new filing fees. But the first $3.1 million of that money is earmarked for a new electronic filing system, not the operational shortfalls.

Meanwhile, any of the increases are tied to reducing the state Supreme Court power. Under the new law, local courts will select their own management and deal with their own budgets. Critics contend that measure reduces the ability to “spread around” funding to meet shifting demands.