Arnold Schwarzenegger’s staff must be pleased with this Marisa Lagos article in the SF Chronicle on the role of courts in the state budget. Lawsuits and court rulings have exposed many of the governor’s preferred budget “solutions” as being straightforwardly illegal. Last summer Calitics covered many of these lawbreaking cuts. But instead of respecting the law, the governor’s office has decided to attack the courts instead:
Courts in recent years have crushed attempts by California to cut spending by billions of dollars and have forced the state to spend hundreds of millions more than planned….
“The judicial branch is now a full player in the budget because the decisions they are making have an impact on what the governor and Legislature can or cannot do,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance. “The judiciary does not have to deal with the fiscal consequence of the rulings – they say you can’t do a spending reduction, but we have to come up with another $100 million in cuts somewhere else.”
Palmer is framing the judiciary as not really a part of governance in California, as a kind of mini-branch that is supposed to remain silent when the executive breaks the law to cut the budget. It’s an absurd claim, but also one that is very typical of this governor, who has constantly sought increased power for himself, following the unitary executive theory embraced by Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bush Administration.
The fact is that the governor and the legislature are bounded by the law. That’s the entire point of the law. If they want to change the law, they can go ahead and do so, but unless that happens, they are bound by what they’ve made. And in many cases, that means they can’t just cut a budget unless they engage in a wholesale rewriting of state law that they’re either unwilling or unable to do.
Other budget cuts, such as those to prisons, run afoul of the state and/or the federal constitution. In those cases it’s completely out of bounds for the governor to believe his desire to cut budgets and avoid a tax increase trumps the law and the constitution. But that is indeed what he believes.
John Adams once called the United States an “empire of laws, not men” and yet the governor appears to have instead decided Howard Jarvis is the state’s true Founding Father, holding the line against taxes by any means possible, even illegal means.
Americans are becoming inured to the systematic ignorance of the law by their political leaders. The Bush Administration and their Democratic enablers have set the tone – when your path is blocked by a law, ignore the law. It’s deeply damaging to our democracy, to our institutions, not to mention to our economy. We keep being told the state must “live within its means” – and yet those means never seem to include the law.