Which Part of the State Budget Will Judges Cut?

March 29, 2022

Gov. Roy Cooper last year signed into law the first full state budget in three years. Now, if a group of allied litigants in the “Leandro” education funding case gets its way, judges will decide which parts of that budget to cut.

The legislature’s Fiscal Research Division reports just $3 million is unspoken for in the state budget (see page 18 of the link), meaning the General Assembly divvied up almost all of the state’s expected revenue.

But soon, the judiciary will decide whether to order $1.7 billion withdrawn from the state treasury to fund a litany of Gov. Cooper’s policy and budget priorities. (That same Supreme Court ruled just 15 months ago that “the power of the purse is the exclusive prerogative of the General Assembly,” but that’s another story – for the sake of brevity, this post will ignore the egregious Constitutional violations inherent in a court ordering a withdrawal from the state treasury).

So, with just $3 million unspoken for in the state budget, what will judges defund to pay for a new $1.7 billion withdrawal?

Will judges order public safety expenditures defunded? Will they raise taxes? Will they cut funding earmarked for the judicial branch?

Budgeting is a complex endeavor that requires elected officials to make decisions on competing interests. It’s for this reason the Constitution requires the legislature, comprised of 170 people elected every two years from all over the state, to handle the budget, not judges.

Nevertheless, some might argue the judges can just take money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund or surplus revenues to fund the projects Gov. Cooper wants but the legislature rejected.

That path risks leaving the state in the lurch during the next recession, which some expect to come next year. If judges slash the Rainy Day Fund in half today, they should be responsible for balancing the budget tomorrow. Will they order teacher salaries frozen and education funding cut? Will they order tax increases?

The ugly mess that accompanies a rogue judiciary writing $1.7 billion in bad checks is why our state’s founding legal document gives spending and tax authority to just one branch of government. Once judges insert themselves into the tax and spending process, there’s no going back.