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Budget Humbug Closes Alaska Courts

JUNEAU, Alaska (CN) - A multibillion dollar deficit in Alaska forced the Christmas Eve closure of all 39 of the state's courts - and all 750 employees and 73 judges were forced to take the day off without pay.

The closure and November's "Black Friday" furlough day came as the judicial branch did its part to cut costs as Alaska grapples with a multibillion dollar budget deficit. The two closures saved more than $500,000, court system communications counsel Mara Rabinowitz told Alaska Public Media's KTOO.

When Gov. Bill Walker signed Alaska's operating and capital budgets into law for the 2016 fiscal year that began July 1, 2015, he and the Legislature reduced spending by 19 percent - or $1.1 billion - over the previous year.

"Due to dramatically falling oil revenues, reducing spending by more than $1 billion still will not balance the state's budget," Walker said when he signed the budget. "There is no end date to spending reductions."

Alaska's judicial branch accounts for 1.4 percent of the state's annual general fund spending.

The furloughs did not impact union employees. A small staff of judges and court employees remained on call for emergency proceedings.

Last month, Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Craig Stowers informed employees by letter that the best way to absorb $3.4 million in court system cuts and avoid layoffs would be mandatory unpaid leave, closing select courthouses and not filling vacant positions.

Courthouses will also be closed the last Fridays of March, April and May.

About 200 employees within executive branch departments of administration, law, and natural resources are also taking mandatory leave without pay for another $650,000 in estimated savings.

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