15 December 2008

Cutting Prosecutorial Budgets to the Bone

Some of you might have noticed that there seems to be a little bit of economic difficulty in the world at this moment. State governments are reeling from the effects of all this. Where I work (in Virginia), the Commonwealth is retightening its belt because of "the growing shortfall, saying it could balloon an additional $1 billion or $1.5 billion, beyond the $2 billion gap that forced cuts earlier this year." However, it doesn't appear that Virginia is doing anything nearly as bad as the Commonwealth just over the border: Kentucky.

Kentucky is facing a $456 million dollar budget shortfall and it's slashing everywhere. Bluegrass Politics reports that prosecutorial offices across the Commonwealth will have to cut 4% out of their budgets by the end of the fiscal year. They are going to have to choose between three options by 01 January 2009: short term lay-offs for everyone in the office, long-term layoffs for select members of the office, or salary reductions. The short-term layoffs are being labeled "furloughs" and require each and every member of the office to take 3 weeks unpaid leave with the office having the choice of just closing for 3 weeks or staggering people so that the office is merely understaffed.

The Mountain Eagle, a prominent local paper in Eastern Kentucky, laid out the cuts a little more precisely. Commonwealth Attorney offices have three options: cut staff salaries 14-16%, one week "furloughs" (up to three weeks), or firing people (which is being characterized as "laying off"). The Eagle spoke to a Commonwealth Attorney who filled in some of the blanks. He is going to have to go with the furloughs because he has to do everything he can to keep hold of his staff. Before any of this his employees had already had their salaries cut by 4% as of 01 July 08, had been denied their usual raise of 3-5%, and had their health insurance premiums increased (added to another 4% cut over 4 months it works out to about a 25% loss in pay from employees who all earn less than $25,000). If any of his employees quit, retire, or take unemployment he loses them permanently and in an office with 2 part-time and 2 full-time employees that's a massive loss. Another interesting point is that the Commonwealth Attorney says the governor is not allowing staggered furloughs (although their length can be lessened if the Commonwealth Attorney can find money somewhere else). This means that if the furloughs go forward the Commonwealth Attorney himself will be the only person available for anything that goes on, no matter how many courts are running.

The article should be available here as of 24 December 08 - under 10 December 2008.

Yeesh. I grew up in Kentucky, and, since it will always be "home", the draw to return has been strong at times. And yet, there are times I am so glad that I am tied to Virginia by that bar exam. If there'd been reciprocity I might be somewhere around Lexington wondering if I was going to have a job much longer.

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