On the basis of a mere statute, the trial court has fabricated a constitutional right to pension funding and effected a
wholesale reordering of the State’s constitutionally-enshrined fiscal process.
The trial court’s contrivance of a constitutional right to billions of dollars in annual appropriations impermissibly trespasses on the Legislature’s plenary, discretionary, and exclusive power to appropriate; the Governor’s constitutional veto power to line-item appropriations; and the constitutional right, under the Debt Limitation Clause, of the citizens of this State to ratify or reject all legislative decisions that purport to bind future legislatures – and future taxpayers – with regard to appropriations.
But it gets worse. The Constitution makes no provision for judicial participation in the annual budget process, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly warned that that the Judiciary lacks power to direct the Legislature to make an appropriation or the Governor to recommend or approve one. The trial court, however, departed from this historical practice and precedent and impermissibly thrust itself into the annual budget process as a super-referee and permanent player. Indeed, the trial court has already set a hearing date for Plaintiffs’ FY 2016 series of pension funding claims. Under the trial court’s ruling, the plenary and discretionary authority that the Constitution gave to the elected Branches in budget matters will henceforth and forever be filtered through the lens of the Contracts Clause and have to pass judicial muster as being “reasonable and necessary.” In elevating a statute to constitutional status and then allowing the Contracts Clause to trump all of t_he fiscal provisions of the Constitution, the trial court has. erased the dividing line of separation of powers.
But it gets even worse still. The trial court’s decision threatens to thrust the State back t9 the dysfunctional, pre-1947 era when inflexible earmarking of State revenues for specific programs and purposes crippled the State’s ability to deal with pressing societal needs. The court not only created an immutable, constitutional right to annual pension funding in the amount of ever-increasing billions, but also gave the Legislature the blue print for permanently locking down ever-increasing fractions of the State budget. Now, by the simple expedient of calling a statutory right “contractual,” any given legislature may evade constitutional limits on it power and bind its successors in perpetuity. As time goes by, more and more of the State’s budget will be frozen in this way. The trial court’s decision has begun the unravelling of the 1947 constitutional reforms.
In short, the court’s decision is critically flawed, counter to Supreme Court precedent, and contrary to constitutional design. It cannot stand.
So if we get a constitutional amendment in November to require making pension payments then we are all good as the state would have no issues with obeying the state constitution, as opposed to a state law.
But then there’s that other part of the constitutional amendment that the study commission report recommended. The one that never gets mentioned in town hall meetings about being able to “modify some benefits”. If that part gets through then the state should have no problem with making payments to fund benefits that they would be able to modify as necessary.