Sanders: Cuts Would Shut Down Prosecutor's Office
Kentucky prosecutors on Friday told state lawmakers that they have little to nothing to cut from their budgets.
Governor Matt Bevin requested that most state agencies plan to cut around 17 percent from their current budgets in a letter sent to state officials last week. The cuts are expected to save the state around $350 million, state officials say. But prosecutors like Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said the cuts would “not only eliminate (specific programs). They would shut down our offices.”
Commonwealth’s attorney and county attorney office budgets both fall under the executive branch, which the Governor oversees.
“We’re talking one in three employees in our office if we implement cuts October 1,” said Sanders. By January, he said possibly 50 percent of his employees would be have to be let go, under the plan. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said the same scenario would likely play out across the state, with prosecutors in the largest judicial circuits affected the most.
“The bigger jurisdictions are going to bear the brunt of it. Our conservative estimate is the larger offices would have to look at laying off 60 to 70 percent of our total staff. That’s just not doable,” he told the committee.
Cohron said staff cuts would negatively impact the state’s heroin “Rocket Docket”—an efficiency program in place in over 30 of the state’s 57 judicial circuits that puts treatment ahead of incarceration for certain drug offenses. Local jails statewide are on track to save around $50 million by the end of fiscal year 2018 due to the success of the Rocket Docket program, he said.
Staff cuts could also restrict funding for advocacy of elderly, children and domestic violence victims, Cohron said, since criminal prosecution comes first. All non-court personnel, including victim advocates, would “have to be looked at being reduced immediately,” he said, adding that court appearances and timely disposition of cases would also be impacted by reductions.
“There are human costs to this,” he said.
Henderson County Attorney Steven Gold, who is also the president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association, said the state’s 120 county attorney offices collect child support, serve as a financial watchdog, and advise and assist county governments. They are also a key player all criminal cases in the Commonwealth, he said, “plus mental health, guardianship, child dependency/neglect/abuse, truancy and runaway” cases and more. While Gold said county attorneys “embrace” their work, they need the funding to meet their obligations. Budget reductions would work counter to that, he said.
“If we are to believe that out of the crucible that is court comes justice, we must have good people—well-funded, well-trained people—on both sides to make that justice a result,” he told the panel.
Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton) asked how much of a cut the prosecutorial system could withstand. None, Sanders said.
“How much of a cut we can sustain when we’re talking about budget reduction? Zero. Because…we’re already going to be short on funds. We’re already going to be laying people off,” he said.
Rep. Robert Benvenuti (R-Lexington) said government’s top priority is public protection. He encouraged prosecutors to make that clear when working with lawmakers in coming months.
“Don’t be shy about saying ‘why is the state spending money on this when we don’t have enough law enforcement officers on the street? When we don’t have enough prosecutors?,” Benvenuti said.
A report on factors affecting the state Department of Juvenile Justice and an overview of KASPER (the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System) were also presented to the committee.
From the Legislative Research Commission
Photo: Kenton Co. Administration Building