- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A judge on Friday ruled against a lawsuit by two Democratic legislators challenging the power of the Mississippi governor to make midyear budget cuts.

The ruling by Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise came only two weeks after Rep. Bryant Clark of Pickens and Sen. John Horhn of Jackson had sued. Will Bardwell of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the lawyer who represented to the plaintiffs, said they agreed to a quick ruling by Wise during a Wednesday hearing to speed the case on its way to the state Supreme Court.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of the state constitution’s meaning, and we look forward to asking that the court reaffirm its longstanding view of the separation of powers,” Bardwell wrote in an email to The Associated Press. He filed notice of his plans to appeal within hours of the ruling Friday.

The lawmakers say the cuts are unconstitutional because they violate the separation of powers, which reserves budget-writing for legislators. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says they’re wrong about the state constitution, and that the governor is clearly authorized to spend less than the maximum amount appropriated by lawmakers.

“The governor is obviously pleased with the result, and he still believes budget control is an executive function,” spokesman Clay Chandler said.

Bryant has cut $171 million from the state budget since July. The governor also has withdrawn $50 million from the state rainy day fund to cushion shortfalls and was given legislative approval to withdraw $50 million more.

It’s not the first time separation-of-powers issues have been litigated in Mississippi. In 1983, then-Attorney General Bill Allain won a landmark lawsuit finding that it violated separation of powers for legislators to serve as voting members of executive-branch agencies. The decision chipped away at the micromanagement of agencies by lawmakers, although they remain more powerful in Mississippi than in other states.

Wise rejected a request for a temporary order blocking Bryant’s ability to order budget cuts, agreeing with the state that there was little urgency in the case as Bryant has made multiple cuts to the budget in recent months and the longtime legislators have known about the law for years.

“Mississippi law statutorily requires the state to operate on a balanced budget and the measures set forth exist to eliminate the possibility of a budget deficit at the end of the year,” she wrote.

Wise wrote that the challengers failed to provide enough proof to overcome the strong presumption that the Legislature had acted constitutionally when it drew up the law.


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/Jeff_Amy .

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