September 14, 2018 10:23:39 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed the governor's power to make midyear state budget cuts.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of two Democratic lawmakers, arguing that the state constitution gives legislators the power to set budgets. The suit also says a law that allows the governor to make midyear cuts violates the separation of powers between legislative and executive branches
In June 2017, a Hinds County chancery judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by Sen. John Horhn of Jackson and Rep. Bryant Clark of Pickens.
Supreme Court justices agreed with the dismissal Thursday. It said that while the Legislature has the power to write budgets, the executive branch has the "core power" to control budgets once they are set.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant cut more than $171 million from the state budget between July 2016 and May 2017 because tax collections fell short. The cuts included about $20 million to schools.
Mississippi, like many states, is required to maintain a balanced budget. Bryant has called the lawsuit "ridiculous" and said it was politically motivated. The governor said in a statement Thursday that he is pleased with justices' decision.
"Ensuring the state's budget is balanced is a statutory responsibility that I will uphold," Bryant said.
During oral arguments before the state Supreme Court in June, special assistant attorney general Krissy Nobile argued that the justices should rule in the governor's favor. She said legislators have the power to set the maximum amount of money agencies may spend, but the executive branch has the power to manage budgets, including making cuts if revenue falls short.
Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Will Bardwell asked the justices in June to strike down a Mississippi law dealing with the executive branch's role in midyear budget cuts. The law was written after the state Supreme Court ruled in another separation-of-powers case in 1983 that legislators were encroaching on executive branch duties by serving on some boards and commissions. Bardwell argued that setting budgets is a "core" power of the legislative branch.
In their ruling Thursday, justices wrote that the governor's midyear budget cuts "did not violate the doctrine of separation of powers, as the Executive exercised its own core power."
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