by Max Brantley
You gotta get up early for Joint Budget's personnel subcommittee and reporters aren't always around when excitement breaks out. Like earlier this week.
Rep. Jim Medley of Fort Smith (who, it should be noted, is a Republican who lives off the blessings of a government money flow to his area agency on aging, and handily serves as an in-house lobbyist for such agencies at the same time) was waiting in ambush for Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah and the court's budget.
After first postponing Hannah's planned presentation for 30 minutes or so, Medley dumped a proposal few on the committee had seen previously -- to lop fully 14 jobs off the court's 44-person payroll. Medley named specific names, including Hannah's own secretary. He then proceeded to recommend cuts of a third or more in virtually every budget line item -- for travel and training, for example, and even a reduction from $5,000 to $1,500 in the money to pay special justices when a regular member recuses.
Sen. Jim Luker challenged Medley on where the proposal was coming from and on what thinking it was based. Medley was smart enough to avoid saying it was anything like a payback for the Lake View decision or, more likely, the decision that threw a constitutional monkey wrench into using the General Improvement Fund as a huge legislative pork barrel. Medley's only apparent ally in the exchange seemed to be Republican Rep. Eric Harris, but Medley did most of the jawboning. However, this is a subcommittee loaded with Republicans, quasi-Republicans and the sort of legislator likely to take direct retribution against the court over its GIF ruling.
Hannah also got a pummeling from Sen. Steve Faris in questioning. It concerned the justices' annual six-week summer vacation and, moreover, the question of whether the court staff gets to knock off for six weeks at that time as well. By the account I heard from someone who was there, Hannah didn't handle the staff vacation question very adroitly. (Common court staff observes normal work rules, but it's anyone's guess about working practices of the individual justices' employees during the hiatus.)
Mercifully for Hannah, time ran out before a vote was taken. But the subject is likely to arise again next Tuesday morning. It might be worth the early hour for enterprising reporters.