Two state legislators filed a complaint in Hinds County District Court this week attacking Governor Phil Bryant’s mid-year cuts in appropriations to education and other state agencies on separation of powers grounds. Clark v. Bryant. A Mississippi statute, MC §27-104-13(2), gives the executive branch the power to make monthly midyear budget cuts when revenues fall below budget projections. Over the past year, the governor has made over $170 million in mid-year budget cuts affecting most state agencies; according to the plaintiffs, the Mississippi public schools took the biggest hit, being cut by over $20 million in February and March alone.
These cuts were made unilaterally, without any consultation or involvement of the legislature. Plaintiffs claim that by allowing the executive branch to control budget making, which is a legislative power, §27-104-13(2) is in violation of the constitution’s separation of powers doctrine that forbids any branch of government from usurping another branch’s core powers. Plaintiffs ask the court to declare that the statute is unconstitutional, to permanently enjoin the governor from making mid-year cuts pursuant to that statute and to roll back the cuts made in February and March.
Meanwhile, oral argument was held last week on the appeal of former governor Ronnie Musgrove’s lawsuit against the legislature for its failure over the past decade to fully fund the amounts called for in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (“MAEP”). Plaintiffs in this case claim that the legislature has violated its own laws by underfunding the MAEP statute by more than $1.3 billion since the 2008 recession. In July 2015, Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary held that Mississippi legislators are not obligated to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.