by Lauren Lambert
Federal and state supreme court cases during 2011 have resulted in an unusually large number of decisions that will affect state budgets and policies for years to come. These rulings have reexamined the roles and responsibilities of state government. The cases come from California, Nevada, New Jersey and South Carolina.
California: Brown v. Plata et. al
Overcrowding in California's state prison system was an issue long before Governor Brown took office. In 2009 a three-judge federal court ordered the state to reduce its prison population from roughly 144,000 inmates to 110,000 inmates over two years. On May 23, 2011, in a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court upheld that order, ruling that the prison conditions in the state of California violated the Eighth Amendment. The decision means that the state will have to reduce its prison population by one-fourth over the next two years.
The ruling affirms Assembly Bill 109 signed by the governor in April 2011. The transition will be effective starting July 1, 2011. The first "deadline" for the Supreme Court decision is to reduce the state prison inmate population by 10,000 in November. A recent Los Angeles Times article wonders whether or not this deadline can be met.
On May 26, 2011, the Nevada State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional to use $62 million in local funds previously allocated to the Clean Water Coalition to help balance the state budget. Relying on local revenues to balance the state budget is not a new concept. The ruling meant that an additional $600 million (primarily taken from the transfer of local funds for state use) of the governor's budget may also be deemed unconstitutional. The Legislature enacted the bill under dispute, Assembly Bill 6, during a 2010 special legislative session.
Following the decision, Governor Sandoval released a statement.
New Jersey: Abbott v. Burke
On May 24, 2011, in a 3-2 decision, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ordered that the state restore $500 million in K-12 funding for FY 2012. The governor’s budget reduced overall K-12 appropriations by $1 billion and the court ruled that level did not meet the state’s constitutional obligation to “adequately fund” 31 of its poorest school districts, known as the Abbott Districts. The court stated that the proposed FY 2012 appropriations were well below the level determined by the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.
Funding for poor school districts has been a hot topic in New Jersey for decades. In 1981 the original Abbott v. Burke lawsuit, filed by the Education Law Center, challenged Chapter 212 of the Public School Education Act of 1975 which set the statewide school funding formula.
Following the decision, Governor Christie expressed his dissatisfaction in a video and a press release but confirmed that he and the Legislature would comply with the ruling by the June 30, 2011 budget deadline.
South Carolina: McConnell v. Haley
On Thursday, June 2, 2011 the South Carolina General Assembly adjourned for a scheduled break. The plan was to reconvene on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Also on that Thursday Governor Haley issued an executive order for the Legislature to cut its break short by a week and reconvene on Tuesday, June 7, 2011.
On Monday, June 6, 2011 Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell filed a lawsuit against the governor citing that she did not have the authority to force the Legislature to reconvene when on a scheduled break. In a 3-2 decision, the court ruled against the governor. The South Carolina State Supreme Court stated that during the regular session (which the assembly is still in), the Legislature maintains its ability to make its own schedule.
Here is a link to an NCSL resource on separation of powers.
Lauren Lambert covers state fiscal policy issues for NCSL.