Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of State Representative Bryant W. Clark of Pickens and State Senator John Horhn of Jackson.
SPLC claims that Governor Bryant’s budget cuts of nearly $20 million dollars from public schools are unconstitutional–that the law states only the legislature can cut the state budget. They’re asking the Hinds County Chancery Court to block the cuts that have been made.
“The Mississippi Constitution forbids any branch of government from exercising another branch’s core powers,” said Will Bardwell, SPLC senior staff attorney.
Senate appropriations chair Buck Clarke said this lawsuit is contradictory to one already in motion in the Supreme Court.
“They’re arguing… that one branch of government is doing what another should be doing,” said Clarke. “But there’s another lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to force the governor to do the same thing. That’s a little ironic, isn’t it?”
Clarke is referring to the current lawsuit between former governor Ronnie Musgrove against the state legislature that claims legislature has not held up their legal duty to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is the formula for public school funding.
Senator John Horhn said this lawsuit impacts more than just education.
“There’s been more than $20 million dollars cut from education this fiscal year alone,” said Horhn. “And it isn’t just education, other agencies have been cut as well. So if cuts are going to be made, they need to be made by the legislature as determined by the state constitution.”
Senator Clarke said that the governor was given the right to make the budget cuts by the legislature.
“We voted it into law that he could have that authority,” said Clarke. “We’re not always in session. We don’t always meet revenue projections. They’re just that.. projections. And cuts will sometimes have to be made. We voted to give him that authority. But hopefully with March and April numbers being up, he won’t have to make more cuts this year.”
Related: Budget cuts hit education
Clarke added that the governor is still regulated by the legislature as to how much he can cut and when.
“He can’t cut more than five percent from an agency without cutting five percent from agencies across the board,” said Clarke. “So we had some agencies that had already been cut 4.9 percent overall, before the education cuts… and they were cut less than one percent.”
News Mississippi will continue to follow the SPLC lawsuit through mitigation.