Lawless effort comes just 15 months after Supreme Court ruled “the power of the purse is the exclusive prerogative of the General Assembly”
Attorney General Josh Stein yesterday suggested a court reverse provisions of the state budget by ordering hundreds of millions of dollars withdrawn from the Rainy Day Fund and spent instead on Gov. Roy Cooper’s failed budget requests.
In a court filing for the long-running Leandro education funding lawsuit, the Attorney General’s office argued funds could be withdrawn from different state accounts and redirected to Cooper’s priorities: “The [enacted state] budget reserves billions in unappropriated cash available for expenditure…The Act reserves $2.268 billion to the Savings Reserve, which is unappropriated cash available for expenditure.”
Money in the Rainy Day Fund is not “available for expenditure.” The Rainy Day Fund exists, in part, to cover state spending in the event of a recession. Before the last recession, the General Assembly, then controlled by Democrats, declined to adequately bolster the Rainy Day Fund. When the recession hit in 2008 and 2009, the legislature was forced to freeze teacher pay and slash education funding because the Rainy Day Fund did not have enough reserves to cover revenue shortfalls.
The recklessness on display is astounding. The Attorney General would have the judicial branch gut the state’s spending reserves on the eve of a potential recession. And this suggestion comes just 15 months after the state Supreme Court ruled “the power of the purse is the exclusive prerogative of the General Assembly.”
The filing from the Attorney General appears to contemplate no bounds whatsoever on the judiciary’s power to direct state spending. He went on to suggest the court could access “more than $3 billion in reduced revenue and tax cuts over the course of the next two fiscal years” to fund Cooper’s priorities. In other words, a court could raise taxes to cover new spending it orders into law.
There’s a lot of wild talk of a crisis of democracy. But it is indeed a crisis for the state’s highest law enforcement officer to suggest a radical and hitherto illegal realignment of the separation of powers.