FRANKFORT, Ky. — Some of Kentucky’s 177 elected prosecutors warned Friday that the state’s criminal justice system would “come to a halt” if they are not spared from Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to slash state spending by more than 17 percent this year.
Bevin has proposed spending cuts totaling $350 million, enough money to avoid a projected $200 million shortfall and put $150 million into a savings account to protect the state’s bond rating. The plan would mean nearly $16 million in cuts from the state’s prosecutors, which include county attorneys and commonwealth’s attorneys.
Friday, prosecutors told lawmakers the cuts would require them to lay off a third of their workforce. They would have to shut down the successful “rocket docket” program that diverts low-level drug offenders away from prison and into treatment programs that has so far saved the state $50 million in incarceration costs.
“The criminal justice system will come to a halt,” said Chris Cohron, co-legislative director for the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association.
Part of the problem is salaries for the 177 elected prosecutors are set by state law and cannot be reduced. The 17 percent cut would be about $150,000 per office if divided up evenly among the 57 commonwealth’s attorneys. One office is so small that its annual operating budget, minus fixed costs like rent and utilities, is $77,000.
“You would owe us $80,000 to even come up with his percentage of the cut,” Cohron said.
That means most of the cuts would fall on the three largest offices. Cohron said commonwealth’s attorneys in Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky would have to get rid of between 60 percent and 70 percent of their employees.
“It’s effectively shutting the doors,” Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said. “There is no way we can handle that caseload. It’s just impossible.”
Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said the governor has asked all state agencies to come up with a plan for cutting 17 percent “to help determine how to fund essential services critical to the needs of the Commonwealth.”
“We encourage every office to participate in this planning process so we can make informed decisions on how best to move forward with meeting the financial challenges facing the state,” she said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, a Republican, said he and other lawmakers will likely push the governor to exclude prosecutors and public defenders from the budget cuts.
“We need more money for the system, not less money,” said Jason Nemes, a Republican state representative from Louisville.