CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians will vote next November on an amendment to the state constitution giving the legislative branch greater say-so over the judicial system’s budget.
The House of Delegates passed the resolution by a 93-1 vote on Friday morning. The Senate, which has already passed a version of the resolution 31-0, would still need to concur with some changes made in the House.
The main change places a limit of 10 percent as the amount the Legislature could reduce the judicial system’s budget unless there’s a two-thirds majority vote.
There would be exceptions in instances where tough times call for the Legislature to reduce all state spending by that much.
That is meant to curtail possible instances of undue legislative influence on decisions of the judiciary.
This year, the court system proposes spending $139 million, a thin slice of state government’s overall spending.
Controversy started with news reports about lavish furnishings at the Supreme Court.
The expenditures included the $32,000 couch in then Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s office, the $7,500 wooden West Virginia medallion inlaid into Loughry’s floor, the $28,194 rugs in Justice Robin Davis’s office and the $130,654 for extensive renovations of Justice Beth Walker’s chambers, even though those chambers were upgraded just seven years ago.
Representatives of the Supreme Court, including Loughry, have spoken out against removing the court system’s financial independence, citing separation of powers.
“We believe in the separation of powers and think all three branches ought to be co-equal and, of course, that we ought to have control of our budget,” Supreme Court Administrator Gary Johnson said after an appearance before the Senate Finance Committee.
Loughry, speaking before House Finance very early in this year’s legislative session, warned that in instances of disagreement between the Legislature and the Supreme Court — say, if justices decided to overrule legislation — the court should have protection against retaliation.
He also suggested the court system budget overseen by legislators could balloon as constituents and court administrators ask for more and more.
“I would just ask that you take a moment and consider the big picture,” Loughry said. “Our constitutional structure is carefully thought out.”