CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia voters will decide whether the Legislature should have greater say-so over the judicial system’s budget.
The Legislature on Saturday night finalized passage of the Judicial Budget Oversight Amendment.
Lawmakers have discussed the resolution for the duration of the 60-day session. There were a couple of changes to the resolution on the final night.
The Senate amended the resolution to say lawmakers may not reduce the appropriation to an amount less than 85 percent of the most recently enacted budget.
The language was meant to address concerns about the Supreme Court raising its budget request artificially, anticipating legislative prerogative to lower it by a particular percentage.
The limit itself was meant to be a curb against potential retaliation by the Legislature against 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.”