Judges, Perdue strike deal on budget

Gov. Sonny Perdue and Chief Justice Leah Sears averted a constitutional crisis Friday with a compromise to help balance the state budget.

Perdue had cut the judiciary's June budget by 25 percent because otherwise the state would fail to meet its constitutional obligation to end the 2009 fiscal year with a balanced budget.

The state Superior Court judges had threatened to sue the governor because they contended he was trampling the state constitution by withholding about $2 million in funding to a co-equal branch of government.

But an hour before the state Judicial Council was to decide on the lawsuit, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears announced she and Perdue had compromised. The governor would withdraw his demand the courts cut spending by 25 percent; state judges would then voluntarily reduce their spending by 25 percent not paying monthly bills and deferring certain expenses until July when state fiscal year 2010 begins.

Gubernatorial spokesman Bert Brantley noted the governor got what he wanted — a balanced budget and 25 percent reduction in court spending in June — without having to fight a costly legal battle to decide if he had authority to trim judicial funding in a fiscal emergency.

Brantley praised Sears and the judiciary for working with the governor.

"It is a good outcome and it is the right outcome as well," Brantley said. "The main point here is we're going to meet budget."

Sears, who retires this month, said in a press release that her understanding with Perdue was the judiciary could request funding in the 2010 budget to make up for those fiscal 2009 expenses.

The potential constitutional confrontation arose from the constitutional demand for a balanced budget that collided with a constitutional provision that the governor does not control the judiciary budget .

Whether the judiciary gets the extra funding in the next fiscal year will depend on tax revenues, Brantley said.

"They're willingness to work with us this year is a good sign for next year," Brantley said.

For her part, Sears thanked the governor "for your willingness to work with me in a way that constructively addresses a very real fiscal problem while avoiding an equally important constitutional dilemma."