Judge rejects lawsuit challenging budget based on union concessions

A Superior Court judge today dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state budget on grounds that it depends on an unreliable $1.6 billion in savings from union concessions–just hours after officials from the state employee unions announced their members had rejected the givebacks.

“This is a changing landscape,” Judge James Graham told the lawyers representing the state and the plaintiffs, two Republican legislators and a conservative think tank, Friday morning.

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Martha Dean with the plaintiffs in the case outside the Superior Courthouse

Plaintiff’s lawyer Martha Dean argued that the state constitution requires state legislators to adopt a balanced budget.

“We knew the budget wasn’t in balance when it was approved because the [employee union] agreement was not accepted,” she said. “The budget is not in balance… and they’ve already authorized the spending.”

But the judge said state budgets routinely depend on anticipated savings, which is not unconstitutional.

Perry Zinn-Rowthorn, the associate attorney general for litigation, told the judge budgets are meant to be a “work in progress” and there are plenty of remedies to close the new budget gap.

“We don’t know what this budget is going to look like, but it likely will not rely on these savings,” he said. “It’s a budget that was balanced when it was passed.”

But Jack Fowler, whose conservative think tank launched the lawsuit along with Sen. Len Suzio and Rep. Christopher D. Coutu, said the state should not being relying on unrealistic savings.

They “would have been on firmer ground if [the budget] had said it would have come up with $1.6 billion in savings by the sale of unicorns,” he said standing outside the courthouse.

Graham said before dismissing the lawsuit, if he allowed the case to move forward it would have the judicial branch determining what budget projections are realistic.

“Is that really what you are asking me to do?” he said to Dean.