Supreme Court upholds governor’s mid-year budget cut authority

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A lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of a state law that allowed Gov. Phil Bryant to reduce the Legislature’s appropriations for education has been rejected by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

In a unanimous decision released Thursday, the nine-member Supreme Court upheld the decision of Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise, who had rejected the lawsuit filed by Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, and Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson.

Horhn and Clark were questioning the constitutionality of the state law that gives the governor the authority to make mid-year budget cuts, within parameters, when revenue collections are below the amount appropriated by the Legislature.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Chamberlin, who wrote the unanimous decision, said the Constitution gives the governor “the core power to control the budget of state agencies.” He went on to say the governor making mid-year budget cuts was “an exercise of the executive’s core constitutional power.”

The Supreme Court reasoned that under the Constitution’s separation of powers the Legislature has the authority to appropriate, but that it is the executive’s duty to ensure revenue comes in to cover those appropriations.

The Legislature, in the law in question, outlined how the governor was to fulfill his duty of ensuring a balanced budget when revenue did not meet projections.

The lawsuit was filed by Jackson attorney Will Bardwell of the Southern Poverty Law Center after Gov. Phil Bryant made multiple rounds of budget cuts in fiscal year 2017 because of a revenue shortfall. The governor’s cuts included $20 million to the Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of the basics to local school districts. The lawsuit argued those funds should be restored to local school districts.