By Patrick Flannery
Jan. 25, 2012 — Our state legislature convened in early January with serious issues to address.
Legislators from all political stripes must find reasonable solutions to battle prescription drug abuse, meth use, state debt and public pensions. Other items of discussion will be expanded gambling and legislative re-districting.
I tuned into KET recently to listen to Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget address. My ears were not anticipating good news. There is no doubt that resources are limited at this time to operate state government. While I was expecting to hear a speech regarding shared sacrifice across the board, I heard something much different. Our state’s CEO proposed budget cuts to the Kentucky State Police, prosecutors and the courts while the budgets of public defenders stayed the same.
Yes, that’s right. The Governor has proposed cutting the budget of the KSP and our prosecutors across the state. The Department of Public Advocacy (Public Defenders) howls relentlessly about the high volume of their caseloads. I cannot disagree. Public defenders work hard and quite zealously representing Kentucky’s indigent criminal defendants. However, public defenders are only involved in some criminal cases, not all.
Prosecutors (County Attorneys or Commonwealth) are involved in all criminal cases and in many other areas such as county government, child support and child abuse, neglect and dependency. This begs the question. If public defenders are struggling with a high volume of cases doesn’t that mean that our prosecutors are juggling an even higher caseload? Justice and fairness call for equal budget treatment when it comes to prosecutors and public defense attorneys. If that means shared sacrifice, so be it.
Cuts to the KSP are even more troubling. The KSP is more than troopers in gray uniforms and cars. This budget cut proposal will not only affect the amount of troopers that are working the road in our communities, but will also negatively impact the forensic chemists and detectives. KSP crime labs are stretched thin. These crime fighting scientists play a critical role in the prosecution of drug and alcohol related offenses.
These budget cuts will not make our communities any safer. This, on top of last year’s “House Bill 463,” is making it harder to hold criminal’s accountable and to keep them in jail. House Bill 463 was passed last year as a budget savings act. It does so by trimming the prison population. I agree that the criminal code needs to be revisited from time to time. However, 463 is making it more difficult to retain criminal defendants awaiting their trial and easier for convicted criminals to breeze past the parole board.
Fortunately, there were some good proposals. The Governor sees the wisdom in helping addicts with rehab and is giving more funds to social workers. Education funding at the K-12 level will not be reduced.
The Governor is forced to cut state spending. If Gov. Beshear takes the position that there is no more fat to cut, he shouldn’t balance the budget by cutting into the bone and marrow of law enforcement.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Patrick Flannery.