Nonprofit Newswire | Nonprofits Sue Over Budget Cuts

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March 8, 2010; Stateline.org | Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the magnitude of the crisis we face in state budget deficits. The Pew-funded Stateline.org site identified the cumulative state government budget deficit between 2009 and 2012 to be $460 billion. According to Stateline, several states face court challenges of their to-the-bone budget cuts, particularly where governors have taken it upon themselves (such as through Minnesota’s “unallotment” process) to make unilateral cuts. The upside is that some sectors in states aren’t taking the budget cuts lying down, but challenging arbitrary budget decisions. The downside is that litigation costs the states money and sometimes throws the budget-making and gap-filling processes into the judiciary and out of the hands of elected legislators. State courts have already overturned Governor Pawlenty’s use of unallotment powers, though the governor is appealing to the state supreme court. In Arizona, litigation is challenging the decision of state legislators who designated already appropriated funds for other purposes. We aren’t surprised, but a big theme in these budget cases are challenges against cuts in state K-12 education funding, partly because there are legal questions concerning balanced treatment of school districts regarding per-pupil funding formulas. The Minnesota case was brought by Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance representing clients whose budget stake was a supplemental diet funding program (a small budget item compared to the $300 million Pawlenty cut from aid to cities and counties, the $100 million he removed from higher education, and the $236 million he sliced from human services). We presume other nonprofits are involved in lawsuits in other states. We will try to identify and track just what kind of traction these cases get and whether they help move deer-in-the-headlights legislators and governors to fix their budgets.—Rick Cohen