On this wet, cold and getting colder January day, the Mississippi State Supreme Court turned on the heat — and the otherwise dignified Chief Justice William Waller, Jr. gave the State’s hitch-up-your-britches Governor a wedgie when he officially broke the news:
The Mississippi Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling, said Friday that Gov. Haley Barbour does not have the constitutional authority to cut the budget of the state’s court system.
Governors have been legislatively enabled to cut the budget to ensure Constitutional compliance; however, the State law says the governor can’t cut any program’s budget by more than five percent until he has cut every program’s budget by that amount.
The Supreme Court’s En Banc Administrative Order says that compliance with the Constitution also includes exempting the courts from the Governor’s cuts citing provisions for separation of power.
The State Fiscal Officer’s authority to make budget cuts pursuant to Section 27-104-13, or otherwise, is limited to “agencies” and “the Mississippi Department of Transportation,” and does not extend to the judiciary, which is constitutionally-established as a separate branch of government, rather than an “agency.”
The Order points to the distinction between a “separate branch of government” and an “agency”; however, in terms of the State budget, the distinction is between “units of government” and “arms of government”, more commonly known here as “general fund agencies” and “special fund agencies”.
The Mississippi blogs beat the socks off MSM getting this story up (credits below). The Sun Herald online, however, deserves a shout-out credit for running the AP story Miss. Supreme Court: Gov can’t cut judicial budget instead of the news briefs I found elsewhere that typically ended with read more in Saturday’s paper.
The ruling came the same day Barbour announced that January revenues fell by 12.2 percent, or $43.4 million. It is the 17th consecutive month revenue came in below estimates.
“I soon will be forced to look at whether additional cuts will be necessary in the current fiscal year beyond the $437 million in cuts already made,” Barber in a statement. “The law requires a balanced budget and I will uphold the law.”
Most agencies are losing 8.2 percent of their funding.
How did we reach this point? Easily is the unfortunate answer. Po’ folks that we are and have been for generations, we’ve not been too proud to use the equivalent of Walmart’s lay-away plan to meet the State’s Constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. Nope, no shame at all in putting our future on the line and rolling the dice – particularly after we hit the jackpot following the 1990 legalization of gaming.
We’ve been poor, according to former Governor Mabus, because we don’t have any money. Consequently, we started spending the revenue from gaming likely the neveau riche we thought we were.
The experience of a friend of mine provides the best description possible of the way we approach planning in the State. She was conducting a survey that collected data from low-income workers in food processing plant and one of the questions was Do you plan to have a child in the next five years. The question always caused participants to giggle, some even laughed aloud. She was able to ignore the response and continue until one group of women read it and, as we say, just fell out. What made the question so funny, one finally admitted, is they’d never planned any of their children, they just had ’em.
In other words, we just spent with no consensus plan in mind and, as a result, we just f*$%@& our money away. We spent millions renovating a stadium we now need to tear down; and many more filling college campuses with new buildings at a time when we should have been building infrastructure for online learning – and these are but two of our short-sighted spending decisions that total a greater number than one can count.
By the late 1990’s, we not only had more annual revenue in the State General Fund; but, like other states, we also had more control of federal funds coming into the State. On top of all of those millions upon millions of dollars, we also had a windfall from the tobacco settlement.
Despite all of that, we entered the new millennium robbing Peter to pay Paul and, now, Peter is out of money, Paul is dead broke, and the Supreme Court has called a showdown. Hopefully, it will force the Legislature to make long needed changes:
- Some state agencies are totally State funded. Small cuts run deep in these agencies. Others may have little more than the State funds needed to drawn down associated federal funds. in some cases every State dollar cut will result in the loss of one-to-three federal dollars. Small cuts run even deeper in these agencies.
- A third group of agencies, however, expects the Legislature to fund their basic needs so they can spend the locally appropriated funds as they wish. The oldest trick in the book is for a state agency to secure federal or private funding and use it to establish programs and/or construct buildings the State then has to pick up. Most, but not all, of the agencies in this third group represent all levels of public education.
- Last in this list of needed change but, by no means least, is the common practice of agencies keeping funds when the associated program funded by the legislature ends. This all goes largely without notice as positions are reclassified and take the money with them.
Many of these “arms of government” exist for the public benefit as their purpose is ensuring qualified individuals provide provide professional services. Special fund agencies often conduct the examination required for a license to practice. The associated fees required for an examination or license are deposited into the State Special Fund and returned to the organization through the appropriations process.
When all is said and done, the bottom line is the only place in the state budget that can offset a general revenue shortfall is the general fund with the expenses of the judicial branch of government excluded just as those for the legislative branch are off the table.
And that is the wedgie Chief Justice Waller put on the Governor. It is also our collective problem to resolve.
Credit and a thank you to these Mississippi Blogs:
Ipse Blogit broke the story early afternoon with REPORT – Justice Randolph tells CLE participants that MSSC says Executive Branch has no authority to cut Judiciary budget *UPDATE x2*. Separation of Powers: The Mississippi Supreme Court throws down the Gauntlet followed; and, since I’m uncertain which actually deserves credit for the copy of the Order, I’ll follow the lead of Y’all where both were mentioned in Breaking Constitutional Spat in Mississippi? Will MSSC and Governor Barbour Square Off. Best title, however, goes to Thus Blogged Anderson for Separation of powers … IN YO’ FACE!
Data in this post were taken from the State Fiscal Year 2009 Budget as passed by the Legislature and found on the website of the Department of Finance and Administration.